Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Knowledge Illusion

Most of us have no real understanding of how little we know.  


This topic is beautifully explored in the book The Knowledge Illusion, by Peter Fernbach and Steven Sloman.  We
have individual ignorance yet collective wisdom.

Many of us rely on intuition, which is a simplified analytical perspective. Intuition can be 'good enough' in many situations. Unfortunately, intuition gives us the illusion that we know a fair amount when we actually don't. When asked to explain things we often cannot. This is the illusion of explanatory depth.

Deliberation allows for more thought, reflection and analysis and is commonly achieved by suppression of the more immediate intuitive explanation. Deliberation reveals how little we individually know about most things. It is collective (group) knowledge that allows humans to excel and flourish. There is no cure for the superficiality of our individual knowledge. Awareness of its existence is the treatment.

Recently I was giving and infection prevention lecture to high ranking folks in my institution. The focus was evidence based interventions, process of care and outcome measures in infection control. A gentlemen (a physician) interrupted me and suggested that we look into the tile grout of the main floor in the hospital, as grout is porous and seemingly teeming with bacteria, thereby posing an imminent infection control risk. This was intuitive (yet misguided) and certainly not deliberative. If pressed on the mechanisms of hospital acquired infections- the illusion of explanatory depth would have been revealed.

Know your limitations and know your knowledge gaps. Be aware.


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