your understanding is my understanding: evidence for a community of knowledge
s. a. sloman, n. rabb 2016
In four experiments, we tested the community-of-knowledge hypothesis, that people fail to distinguish their own knowledge from other people’s knowledge. In all the experiments, despite the absence of any actual explanatory information, people rated their own understanding of novel natural phenomena as higher when they were told that scientists understood the phenomena than when they were told that scientists did not yet understand them. In Experiment 2, we found that this occurs only when people have ostensible access to the scientists’ explanations; the effect does not occur when the explanations exist but are held in secret. In Experiment 3, we further ruled out two classes of alternative explanations (one appealing to task demands and the other proposing that judgments were mediated by inferences about a phenomenon’s understandability). In Experiment 4, we ruled out the possibility that the effect could be attributed to a pragmatic inference.
to learn an language or to communicate fully with another person we need to understand first the gist of the meaning (thus the exact translation can sometimes be misleading compared to a rough translation) and then must proceed from there to understand the particular meaning given by the speaker or writer or originator.
in communication, as well as translating and other informational arts involing words, and more generally, we would be deluding ourselves if we believed there is an exact translation or match from one word–meaning to another. rather, there is a region, a cloud of possible meaning, dependent on context, within which the intention resides.
the process of revolutionary thinking, so–called “genius”, may be just to think beyond the metaphors that we unknowingly use. easier said than done, since if we understood all that we do, this would be simple. but we do not understand all that we do, and perhaps never will, and that may just the way of things. but that doesn't mean we can't keep trying.
why are some things better understood than others? it may be that our system of understanding leads us to some things more than to other things. thus the things we encounter more rarely are not because they are less important or valuable or consequential, but because of the way we are.
cannot truly understand knowledge without understanding ignorance, good without evil, truth without falsehood. those that pretend to do so, fail.
when you know there are limits to words and thinking and doing, then you are already on your way.
to deal with reality, we first need to understand reality. to deal with a problem, we first need to understand we have a problem.
genius and survival mean understanding when you have a weakness and dealing with it rather than just let it be.
the sooner we know something isn't right, the sooner we can do something about it. this and other things are the basis of effective action. we don't need to be in an emergency situation to see how useful this can be.
things like bull shit detectors and being able and willing to review your thinking processes will gradually and incrementally improve your chances.
why do the negative emotions fall away when we can better understand? it is because they are mostly based on misunderstanding. anger comes from misunderstanding the control people have over their own actions. jealousy and disgust come from misunderstanding the worth of things and processes. sadness and fear come from misunderstanding the nature of change.
hope is about understanding our ignorance. not about denial, as we are taught to believe. hope arises from understanding that although the world is bound by darkness, we do not, can not know our fate is in darkness. this is not by denying that the darkness exists, but by knowing that the light will come.
most people do not know what they are doing — even those who think that they do.
we really do not know the damage we cause as we do it, but also we do not know the good we do as we do it.