The Curse of Knowledge
The smartest people in our society have a major bias called the “curse of knowledge”. This is a bias people have when they understand something and then assume that it’s obvious to everyone. I’m not talking about an expert’s ability to explain what hypertrophy or mitosis is – they do that everyday. I’m talking about the vocabulary they use when explaining important concepts to us.
Experts and the Rest of Us
Educated people tend to use the topic-specific words to explain an idea, but these words are jargon that are commonly used within the community of scientists, philosophers, and other members of academia on a regular basis. Everyone else outside of the community is unfamiliar and uncomfortable with these words. The “curse of knowledge” makes the explanations we need too complicated and we never really grasp what’s important.
In fact, these words can make explanations distracting. Experts might scoff and say, “Well, that problem would solve itself if people would read more!”
Sure. But I believe the problem can be solved from both ends. People can read more, and members of academia can, for lack of a better way to put it, dumb it down without diluting what’s crucial. In fact, the Feynman Principle might be considered the antidote to the curse of knowledge, as it explains complicated subjects in very simple language. Why not give both sides the path of least resistance?
After all, the goal is to share knowledge and to connect our society with its experts. What good is all that intelligence and education if it doesn’t add value to the lives of others? How can we be happy and live well if we don’t try to learn how to be happy and live well?
Live A Better Life
It’s partly because of this bias that everyday Americans and experts have grown increasingly divided, giving legs to the anti-vax movement, to flat-earthers, to pyramid scheme participants, and impulse purchases. In order for Americans to be better truth-tellers, to make better decisions, and to learn about how to live a better life, we need to understand and practice countering our logical fallacies. Though, I don’t want to call them logical fallacies.
“Logic leaps” is something a lot of experts and professors like to say during instruction, and it gets the point across just as quickly as “logical fallacy”. So let’s call it that. Everyone makes logic leaps. It’s natural and is apart of being human. Our brains are not designed to think logically all of the time. If we did we would be more machine than human.
When we make a logic leap, it means we’ve missed an important detail. Often, people will use logic leaps against us in order to try to win arguments, to persuade us to do something or to change our beliefs about something. People in business, law, health and fitness, academia, and in casual conversation exploit these in us all of the time.
You’re likely to hear a lot of these yourself if you’re paying close attention. Here are a few common logic leaps that many of us make even in casual conversation.
- Straw Man – This is a logic leap when someone takes what you’re saying and rewords it so that it’s similar but not exactly the same so that it can be more easily argued with.
- Bandwagon – Everyone else is doing it, which means it must be true, right? Not always. Just because a choice is popular does not mean it is the right one. Everyone may believe a particular person is a nice person. When you’ve seen that one person snarl at you as they walked by, you could say you’ve defeated the bandwagon logic leap because you have evidence that they are not a nice person.
- Appeal To Authority – “My dad said the Earth is flat, so it must be true.” While quoting experts and figures of authority can bolster your argument, just because a person has authority does not mean what they believe is true.
- Correlation/Causation – If two things appear to be related, it doesn’t mean that one of those things definitely caused the other. Like all logic leaps, this may seem easy to catch, but it’s actually difficult when we do it in practice.
- Anecdotal Evidence – Anecdotal evidence can be really supportive in making your case, but one anecdote is not enough to prove a rule. Anecdotes also tend to overlook that they are completely separate situations with different circumstances. The rest of us are not as likely to achieve the same results.
- Fallacy Fallacy – This is my favorite one. Just because someone is bad at arguing doesn’t mean they’re wrong. (I suffer this one all the time. Just kidding.) We tend to think we’ve beaten people when they’ve said something ridiculous, but the actual argument they use has no change on the actual truth of what they’re saying. This fallacy is probably synonymous with the moment we decide to stop listening to someone’s argument, or when we have chosen to believe that they can not change our minds about the topic.
I believe that if you can understand what makes a good or bad argument, understand a little bit about how our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions work, and of course understand the tools and pitfalls of communication, you can learn to live a more meaningful life where untruthful information can be filtered out, leaving only the fruitful truth for you to learn from.