“The illusion of explanatory depth”, Dunning-Krueger and all that jazz…

The universe is a freakin’ confusing place. And we don’t like to be confused. And we don’t like not fitting in with our gang (people used to get eaten by sabre-toothed tigers for sticking out from the crowd, after all).

Add it – and the fact that our consciousness is a kludge of 2mm of neurons with ideas above their station – up, and watcha got? You got the illusion of explanatory depth, is what you got…

The misunderstood limits of folk science: an illusion of explanatory depth
Leonid Rozenblit* and Frank Keil

People feel they understand complex phenomena with far greater precision, coherence, and depth than they really do; they are subject to an illusion—an illusion of explanatory depth. The illusion is far stronger for explanatory knowledge than many other kinds of knowledge, such as that for facts, procedures or narratives. The illusion for explanatory knowledge is most robust where the environment supports real-time explanations with visible mechanisms. We demonstrate the illusion of depth with explanatory knowledge in Studies 1–6. Then we show differences in overconfidence about knowledge across different knowledge domains in Studies 7–10. Finally, we explore the mechanisms behind the initial confidence and behind overconfidence in Studies 11 and 12. Implications for the roles of intuitive theories in models of concepts and cognition are discussed.
Keywords: Concepts, Epistemology, Meta-cognition, Knowledge, Overconfidence

this bit from the intro is good for understatement!

Folk theories, we claim, are even more fragmentary and skeletal, but laypeople, unlike some scientists, usually remain unaware of the incompleteness of their theories (Ahn & Kalish, 2000; Dunbar, 1995; diSessa, 1983). Laypeople rarely have to offer full explanations for most of the phenomena that they think they understand. Unlike many teachers, writers, and other professional “explainers,” laypeople rarely have cause to doubt their naïve intuitions. They believe that they can explain the world they live in fairly well. They are novices in two respects. First, they are novice “scientists”—their knowledge of most phenomena is not very deep. Second, they are novice epistemologists—their sense of the properties of knowledge itself (including how it is stored) is poor and potentially misleading.

We argue here that people’s limited knowledge and their misleading intuitive epistemology combine to create an illusion of explanatory depth (IOED). Most people feel they understand the world with far greater detail, coherence, and depth than they really do. The illusion for explanatory knowledge–knowledge that involves complex causal patterns—is separate from, and additive with, people’s general overconfidence about their knowledge and skills. We therefore propose that knowledge of complex causal relations is particularly susceptible to illusions of understanding.

Hat-tip to Sam Gunsch


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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