Originally posted November 3, 2017
Why do people pretend to know things? Why does confidence so often scale with ignorance? Steven Sloman, a professor of cognitive science at Brown University, has some compelling answers to these questions.
“We're biased to preserve our sense of rightness,” he told me, “and we have to be.”
The author of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, Sloman’s research focuses on judgment, decision-making, and reasoning. He’s especially interested in what’s called “the illusion of explanatory depth.” This is how cognitive scientists refer to our tendency to overestimate our understanding of how the world works.
We do this, Sloman says, because of our reliance on other minds.
“The decisions we make, the attitudes we form, the judgments we make, depend very much on what other people are thinking,” he said.
If the people around us are wrong about something, there’s a good chance we will be too. Proximity to truth compounds in the same way.
In this interview, Sloman and I talk about the problem of unjustified belief. I ask him about the political implications of his research, and if he thinks the rise of “fake news” and “alternative facts” has amplified our cognitive biases.
The interview/article is here.