Why We Never Think Alone

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* Book: The Knowledge Illusion. Why We Never Think Alone. By Steven Sloman.

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"argue that our intelligence depends on the people and things that surround us and to a degree we rarely recognize." [2]



Author Steven Sloman interviewed by Gareth Cook.

* "Tell me more about this idea that what we know is “social”?

SS: People fail to distinguish the knowledge that’s in their own heads from knowledge elsewhere (in their bodies, in the world and—especially—in others’ heads). And we fail because whether or not knowledge is in our heads usually doesn’t matter. What matters is that we have access to the knowledge. In other words, the knowledge we use resides in the community. We participate in a community of knowledge. Thinking isn’t done by individuals; it is done by communities. This is true at macro levels: fundamental values and beliefs that define our social, political and spiritual identities are determined by our cultural communities. It is also true at the micro level: We are natural collaborators, cognitive team players. We think in tandem with others using our unique ability to share intentionality. ndividuals are rarely well described as rational processors of information. Rather we usually just channel our communities.

* What do you mean that we are “cognitive team players”?

The deliberative mind is designed to work with other people. When we’re crossing the street, we have to think about what oncoming drivers are thinking, and we often make eye contact with them to confirm that we’re on the same page. This kind of meshing of cognitive gears is even more pronounced when we’re engaging in any group activity: playing sports, sitting around the dinner table telling jokes, fixing our car or trying to crack the genetic code. We think together. We feed one another’s intuitions, we complete one another’s thoughts, we hold knowledge that others can make use of. There’s a division of cognitive labor.

Some cognitive anthropologists have made a strong argument that human beings are the only animals—indeed, the only cognitive systems—capable of this kind of collaboration. Humans are capable of sharing intentionality. We don’t merely pursue collective goals as many animals can do (for instance, some species hunt in packs), but we pursue a common goal together. When, for example, a child and parent are building a sand castle together, they are literally sharing thoughts: they are pursuing a common end result and doing so with knowledge that they hold in common, about the weather, the tides (if they’re on the beach), the availability of tools, et cetera. If one runs into a problem, the other might help. This requires that they understand that they share a goal. There are clever experiments showing that this kind of sharing of mental states is common and easy for even young children but beyond the capabilities of our closest genetic relative, chimpanzees." (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/you-do-not-think-alone/?WT.mc_id=SA_MB_20170621)