Try this out on a friend. Ask them these questions:
- On a scale of 1 to 7, rate how well you understand how a zip works.
- How does a zip work? Describe in as much detail as you can all the steps in a zip’s operation.
- Now, on the same 1 to 7 scale, rate your knowledge of how a zip works again.
They will almost certainly give a lower estimate the second time, becuase the task has revealed to them how little they actually understand about a zip. This is called the Illusion of Explanatory Depth. The truly terrifying thing is that we are all subject to this illusion, about all of our knowledge. None of us actually know a fraction of the stuff that we think we know.
The reason for this is that we confuse other people’s knowledge with our own. Because other people that we trust understand stuff, we think that we understand that stuff ourselves. We are all prey to this confusion, from A-level students (and teachers), to scientists, politicians, and “experts” of all kinds.
Sloman and Fernback argue that this is because our minds are equipped and optimised for thinking in groups, rather than individually.
The ideas in this book are related to the ideas of Tversky and Kahneman, which are outlined in Thinking Fast and Slow. Thinking Fast and Slow is a longer and more scientifically dense book, but The Knowledge Illusion is also a really fun read, and much shorter.
New research has shown that reducing peoples’ noradrenaline levels boosts their metacognitive insight. Propranolol, a noradrenaline antagonist, increases peoples’ estimation of the accuracy of their decisions, without affecting the actual of accuracy of decision making.
There are potential applications in the treatment of OCD and schizophrenia.
New Scientist No. 3129, 10th June 2017, p.12.
Pre-industrial societies are very different from ours. Some of them kill grandparents when they get to a certain age. Individuals are often fluent in ten or more languages. They feast when food is plentiful, but are happy to go without for several days if there is nothing to eat.
Until a few thousand years ago, all humans lived in this way. It is what we evolved to do. This book is a fascinating account of Jared Diamond’s lifetime of observation of pre-industrial people from around the world. It is long, but packed with packed with intriguing stories from tribal societies.
Not surprisingly, Jared Diamond thinks that we have a lot to learn from these people.
The Rorschach test is often regarded as an example of the unscientific and subjective research methodology of the Psychodynamic school. In fact it was an early attempt at objectivity.
One research group gave the Rorschach test to Nazi prisoners in 1945, and rejected their own results because they couldn’t believe them. Those results are now being reappraised.
New Scientist No. 3120, 8th April 2017. p.42-43.
Lucid dreams are the experience of being conscious while dreaming. Most of us can only remember our dreams when we wake up. Many people achieve lucidity for a moment or two before waking up. But some people regularly have lucid dreams, in which the world around them seems tangible and real, and they are “awake”, and aware that they are dreaming.
Ursula Voss at the Goethe University Frankfurt has discovered a way to use electrical brain stimulation to induce lucid dreams. Kristoffer Appel at Osnasbrück University is now able to communicate with lucid dreamers inside their dreams. This might one day lead to new therapies for anxiety disorders.
One participant looked around his dream for something that might convey signals from outside. He was in a bus terminal, and spotted a ticket machine. Soon, it began to beep.
The article also contains instructions on how to achieve lucid dreams yourself.
New Scientist No. 3113, 18th February 2017, p. 32 – 35.
We know from Loftus that it is possible to insert memories into people’s minds. But is it possible to erase memories, or to remove traumatic associations from memories of adverse experiences?
Neuroscientists are investigating a process called “reconsolidation.” It seems that every time a memory is recalled, it is just as if a new memory is being laid down. This process can be manipulated with drugs, ECT, or even by playing Tetris during reconsolidation.
“We can reverse-engineer the brain’s time machine, hijack it or jump-start it.”
New Scientist No. 3111, 4th February 2017, p.36-39.
Rachel Yehuda noticed that people with post traumatic stress disorder have lower levels of cortisol. Which is contrary to what you would expect, given that cortisol is “the stress hormone”.
To work out why, she has to convince a community of Holocaust survivors to subject themselves to scientific study.
Cause and Effect.