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Home>UPDATE: This flaw in the human mind explains why the world is full of overconfident, bumbling know-it-alls

UPDATE: This flaw in the human mind explains why the world is full of overconfident, bumbling know-it-alls

UPDATE: This flaw in the human mind explains why the world is full of overconfident, bumbling know-it-alls

09/29/2017

By Jeremy Olshan, MarketWatch

Why it's essential to both know what you don't know and how you know what you do know

Whenever I crack under questioning, when the only answers I can muster are tortured strings of wells, ums and you sees, my interrogators like to make me squirm for 30 seconds or so before finally putting me out of my misery.

"Daddy, just Google it."

You try satisfying my 9-year-old boys' boundless curiosity about "What causes hurricanes?" or "Why is there war in Syria?" or "How come farts smell?" without eventually being told to seek digital assistance.

Unlike the other million ways my kids insult my intelligence, I'm grateful when they send me to search engines in shame. By forcing me to own up to the limits of what I understand about the universe, they help me, for at least a few fleeting moments of humility, to overcome one of the human mind's most persistent and destructive biases, what psychologists call "the illusion of explanatory depth."

Sure, I waded through Katrina's floodwaters, edited dozens of stories on ISIS and shared in the bounty of 43 years of man's flatulence, but, as my children proved, my actual knowledge of these subjects is middling at best. At least I'm not alone.

We all tend to mistake our shallow puddles of understanding for vast oceans, cognitive scientists Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach write in their essential new book "The Knowledge Illusion," (http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/533524/the-knowledge-illusion-by-steven-sloman-and-philip-fernbach/9780399184352/) and this gap between what we think we know and what we truly know leads us to bungle decisions at work, at home, at the ballot box and, perhaps most relevant to readers of this site (http://www.marketwatch.com/), in our brokerage accounts.

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