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The Knowledge Illusion  By  cover art

The Knowledge Illusion

By: Steven Sloman,Philip Fernbach
Narrated by: Mike Chamberlain
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Publisher's Summary

We all think we know more than we actually do.

Humans have built hugely complex societies and technologies, but most of us don't even know how a pen or a toilet works. How have we achieved so much despite understanding so little? Cognitive scientists Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach argue that we survive and thrive despite our mental shortcomings because we live in a rich community of knowledge. The key to our intelligence lies in the people and things around us. We're constantly drawing on information and expertise stored outside our heads: in our bodies, our environment, our possessions, and the community with which we interact - and usually we don't even realize we're doing it.

The human mind is both brilliant and pathetic. We have mastered fire, created democratic institutions, stood on the moon, and sequenced our genome. And yet each of us is error prone, sometimes irrational, and often ignorant. The fundamentally communal nature of intelligence and knowledge explains why we often assume we know more than we really do, why political opinions and false beliefs are so hard to change, and why individually oriented approaches to education and management frequently fail. But our collaborative minds also enable us to do amazing things. This book contends that true genius can be found in the ways we create intelligence using the world around us.

©2017 Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach (P)2017 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“In The Knowledge Illusion, the cognitive scientists Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach hammer another nail into the coffin of the rational individual... positing that not just rationality but the very idea of individual thinking is a myth.” (The New York Times Book Review)
 

“In an increasingly polarized culture where certainty reigns supreme, a book advocating intellectual humility and recognition of the limits of understanding feels both revolutionary and necessary. The fact that it’s a fun and engaging page-turner is a bonus benefit for the reader.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Sloman and Fernbach offer clever demonstrations of how much we take for granted, and how little we actually understand... The book is stimulating, and any explanation of our current malaise that attributes it to cognitive failures - rather than putting it down to the moral wickedness of one group or another - is most welcome. Sloman and Fernbach are working to uproot a very important problem... [The Knowledge Illusion is] written with vigour and humanity.” (Financial Times)

What listeners say about The Knowledge Illusion

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  • Overall
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Welcome insight into what we do and don't know

Informative look at humans and how we process information and perceive knowledge. The authors look at how modern times (and the attendant mass quantities of information and the increasingly specialized nature of expertise) and technology (which makes such information nominally available to anyone with Internet access) combine to make present-day humans simultaneously ignorant while believing themselves to be well-informed. The most interesting parts of the book for me where the sections discussing how individuals mistake the ability to find information for current knowledge, but in fact we often do not know how things work or the nuances of complex processes. Other parts of the book discuss topics that have been handled in book length by other authors, so are less new but nicely integrated into the whole. This includes heuristics, how people react to evidence that cuts against their beliefs, the impact of such processes on politics and opinion, and suggestions for how to become more truly knowledgeable. The authors make persuasive and necessary cases for the fact that no one has the time or mental capacity to truly understand nuance in all the areas necessary for daily life, that we have to rely on experts for certain things, and that a key to being informed is to learn how to evaluate experts. Which is a lesson everyone should learn.

12 people found this helpful

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Move Along, Nothing to See Here

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Someone who does not think objectively for themselves

What could Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

More analytic content, less soapbox.

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

Performance was reasonable but slow. Thank goodness for 1.X times speed options

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

A few of the early chapters presented some interesting premises.

Any additional comments?

Authors far to readily applied the adjective "discredited" to positions with which they disagree.

8 people found this helpful

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People are more ignorant then they think they are

People are more ignorant then they think they are. 🚽Do you know how exactly toilet works when you flush? You think you do but... 🐝The society is a hive mind to some extent (we have problems to draw a line on which knowledge is in our head and which is not). Our hyper social setting enabled to develop culture, civilization and with the internet (memes are fastest comparing to genes) hive mind is more available then any time in history (similar jump was probably with language and then written word). In our society best skill is to know where and how to search information, how to process it and where to put it then keep it in our head. Our individual deliberate thinking is limited (on our area of expertise and still cant encompass all), but we are using our collective information processing and knowledge storage (the whole is more than its parts). Most of great discoveries and thoughts were actually discovered through collective intelligence, we just usually contribute them to someone who formulated and propagated them most loudly. 📰On history: complex causes of some event in history is usually switched for some mythos/narativ that serves some learning/explanatory purposes, usually for some side. In this way events was usually recorded and told - they were formed for what you want to say, not for actual facts (see Bible for example). ⚖️The fact of collective knowledge also points out that distributed processing (capitalism) is better then central processing (communism), because more knowledge is involved in collective decision making. The knowledge illusion is especially visible in politics... This book shows how we evolved this collective meme mind and its features and flaws. Human hive mind grow in complexity over time in comparison to unchanging hive mind of the bees for example (memes vs genes). 🖲Very interesting idea for me was also that computers, internet and alike technology is now more and more part of our hive mind/knowledge - therefore is actually beyond our control/grasp (but we have a blind spot there more or less) and it can lead to singularity. But for now, we trust to our silicon friends as human extensions, which they are not - they dont understand our intentions, which can lead to disasters on airplanes etc. 📚For more information about human thinking and its fallibility I would recommend How We Know What Isnt So from Thomas Gilovich and classics Thinking Fast and Slow from Daniel Kahneman. Also Yuval Noah Hararis books explain from a bit different view how we construct shared stories/virtual realities. ➡️My conclusion is that we know much less how things work than we think (but there are many people that thinks they are experts on everything), so with some critical thinking and verification (for example by peer review, background), listen to the experts!

3 people found this helpful

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some golden nuggets and a lot of fluff

book was ok and has some enlightening points, but it also has a lot of unnecessary information. It also takes some controversial topics and kind takes a side then calls you ignorant because the "facts" say so. e.g big bang, global warming etc

3 people found this helpful

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Excellent!

One of the best books I've read in years and the simple explanations on the common illusions we live in modern society are quite eye opening..

3 people found this helpful

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great insight into our delusional selves.

You will contemplate and study more after reading. You may even tie your tongue when you internalize the meaning of this book.

3 people found this helpful

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Better options are available

A poorly written rehashing of ideas that were discussed in many other books, you're time is better spent reading something else

1 person found this helpful

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great synthesis of ideas

this book got me thinking really hard. it was wonderful. I started it thinking that illusion was too big an idea but by the end I was convinced.

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Nice introduction to the subject, that we ...

... never think alone. What disappointed me the authors did not write much about knowledge encoded in tradition, culture, custom etc.

1 person found this helpful

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Separating from your belief herd? May not be so easy.

We are our beliefs and those beliefs are embedded in us by our religious, cultural and educational groups. If and when you discover the core, let’s say creationist, beliefs of your faith group are wrong, you’ll lose not only your beliefs, but the body of people to which those beliefs belong. We never think alone. It’s like that commercial “can you hear me now?” Without the same beliefs, you lose communication and identity in the group. You lose not only faith, but community. This book helps explain the critical division in national politics in the US, UK, Germany and Brazil as well as helps us think about divisions around immigration, class, and Islamophobia. It’s a must read for anyone interested in challenging their own assumptions. They in fact are not simply your own.