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0px 36.0px; text-indent: 18.0px; font: 14.0px ‘Helvetica Light’; min-height: 17.0px}Introduce the curse of knowledge experiment and open a loop for thatElizabeth Newton earned a Ph.

D. in psychology at Stanford after she designed a simple experiment that showed the difference between how well someone could communicate a message versus how well they thought they could. She began the experiment by assigning people to one of two groups. The Tappers were given a list of well-known songs, such as Happy Birthday, and told to tap out a song by knocking on a table. The Listeners were told to try to guess which song was being tapped out. Newton’s experiment lasted for 120 songs. Of those songs, only 3 Listeners guessed correctly, a 2.5% success rate.

What made the experiment interesting was that that right after the Tappers tapped out the song, but before the Listeners could guess the song, Newton asked the Tappers to predict how likely it was that the Listeners would guess correctly. The Tappers predicted that there was a 50% chance that the Listeners would get it correct. But how could the Tappers predict a success rate of 50% when it was only 2.

5%? Newton was awarded a doctorate because of this discovery. But it takes some background to explain, and the answer lies in how the brain understands ideas. Explain conceptsIn The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker explains that memory is modelled by cognitive scientists as a network of concepts. A concept is an abstraction or a generalization of a class or group of objects that have similarities. A rainbow is a concept for the typical multi-colour arch that often appears in the sky. Even though every rainbow we see in the world is actually slightly different, the concept of a rainbow is a generalization and represents the average rainbow. Concepts are essential to language and thought. The brain uses concepts to help create meaning by creating levels of abstraction.

For instance, a dog is part of the animalia kingdom, the chordata phylum, the mammalia class, the carnivora order, the caniformia suborder, the canidae family, the canis genus, and the canis lupus species. Each of these levels are concepts and each is a different level of abstraction. The concrete thing that exists is the dog itself.

The closest concept, and the least abstract, is the canis lupus species concept and this concept groups things that look like dogs together. The most abstract concept is the animalia concept. This concept groups together many animals and separates them from things like plants and fungi. We find meaning when we can organize and group things.

Concepts help us make sense of thingsThe brain has interesting ways of dealing with concepts. To our eyes, a rainbow looks like it has bands of colour. However, a black and white photo of the same rainbow would show no banding. In reality, it is a continuous spectrum. What happens is that our brain minimizes the differences between things that belong to the same concept and maximizes the differences between things that belong to other concepts. Our brain makes all the shades of one colour look more like the prototype of that colour. For instance, our brain makes all the shades of yellow look more like what we think the prototypical yellow looks like.

While our brain may seemingly deceive us in some cases, such as this rainbow, the benefits of concepts are worth it. Without concepts, everything we saw would be new and different from everything else. Concepts help us generalize things, observe patterns and create meaning from experience.

 Explain that knowledge is a network of conceptsThere can also be concepts of concepts. The colours contained within a rainbow are concepts and the rainbow itself is a concept that contains them. Concepts are also linked to each other depending on their relationships. A rainbow is linked to water and refraction, and refraction is linked to physics.

A rainbow is also linked to a pot of gold, which is linked to a leprechaun, which is linked to a story, which is linked to entertainment. In fact, Pinker suggests that all of our concepts are linked together into a huge web of knowledge. Our web of knowledge organizes our shows us how concepts are interrelated. Something new only makes sense if we are able to fit it into our existing web of knowledge.Similarities to computer scienceWe can make this more visual by borrowing some ideas from computer science. A computer and a human brain are actually quite similar. A computer and a brain both have a need to store and organize data, they both need to respond to inputs, and they both use language.

Luckily, computer scientists have developed interesting ways to store data. They call them data structures. While there are many data structures, we are interested in trees and graphs.

We can use these to help visualize memory and concepts.What is a tree and how does it apply to conceptsA tree is used to represent a hierarchical structure. The most common example of a tree that everyone is familiar with is the file system directory of a computer.

The directory starts at the root folder and it has folders within folders as necessary. A file system directory is like concepts. Just as a folder is an abstraction for the things inside it, a concept is an abstraction for the things inside of it. When we think of concepts, we can think of a file system of folders. If we had a sports folder, we could put in football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and so on. Another example of a tree is a library catalog system.

The library catalog defines categories to organize books. It can start with the highest generalizations such as fiction, non-fiction, and periodicals. Each of these is then categorized again by subject or style and then those categories can be categorized even further. Even books themselves are organized using a tree. The table of contents is a tree. The table of contents uses abstraction to group similar parts of a document together. Trees create order.

Trees act like a roadmap. Trees let people know where they are and where they are going. What is a graph and how does it apply to conceptsA graph is a set of nodes connected by lines. Each node stores a piece of data and each line to represents a relationship between two nodes.

The Facebook Graph is a good example of a graph. Graphs are essential for social media because the platforms are built to show relationships. On a typical social media platform, people are represented as nodes. When a person follows someone, that action is represented as an arrow connecting two nodes. Nodes can also be things.

When a person likes something, such as a city or a restaurant, that action can also be represented as an arrow between two nodes. Facebook has a Graph Search tool that lets people search their graph and find relationships. Google also uses graphs. The Google Knowledge Graph is used to show relationships between information so that the search results can include interesting connections. Graphs in general are a useful way to store information. We know that cognitive scientists model memory as a network, which means that we can think of memory as a graph.

Our web of knowledge is like a graph database. The nodes are concepts and the lines connecting the concepts show how the concepts fit together.Tie in the tappersWe can now understand why the Tappers overestimated how well their message would get through to the Listeners. The Tappers were hearing the song in their head as they tapped out the message. The Listeners, on the other hand, were just hearing taps.

The Heaths explained that the Tappers had knowledge that made it difficult to imagine what it would be like to not have that knowledge. This is the Curse of Knowledge. Once we have knowledge of something and it is in our web of knowledge, we have a hard time re-creating the web of knowledge or the state of mind of those who don’t have that knowledge. Pinker notes that the Curse of Knowledge is one of the best reasons for poor communication. Our definitions of concepts can be differentBut that’s not the only difficultly we must overcome.

Each of us has a library of concepts, similar to a set of folders on a computer. These folders include simple things like colours, animals, and cars, but they also include very abstract things like monetary policy and the rights of citizens. Unfortunately, as the level of abstraction increases, so does the variation in our definitions of those concepts.

Our knowledge of abstract concepts is dependent on our experience, and because our experience is unique, our definitions of concepts can differ. Consider the concept of love. A child would likely define love as the feeling of comfort and support of their family. A 70 year old man who was separated from his wife by war, then returned to her and had five kids, and then watched her suffer through cancer and die, would likely define love much differently than the child. The fact that the definition of concepts can differ also helps us understand how politics can be so divided. The left and the right have a hard time understanding each other, likely because of their experiences in life. We know from experience that if we went through all of the things that someone else did in their life, we would probably make a lot of the same decisions as them. This is because we would have definitions of abstract concepts that are similar to theirs.

We would find meaning in things that they found meaning in. We must remember that having different definitions of abstract concepts can result also in poor communication. It’s like trying to transfer files between computers where each has a slightly different folder structure. To tie something new to your web of knowledge, you need to know where to put itFinally, there is one last important thing to mention.

The psychologists Bransford and Johnson conducted an experiment by where they asked a group of people to read, understand, and remember the following paragraph:The procedure is actually quite simple. First you arrange things into different groups depending on their makeup. Of course, one pile may be sufficient depending on how much there is to do. If you have to go somewhere else due to lack of facilities that is the next step, otherwise you are pretty well set. It is important not to overdo any particular endeavor. That is, it is better to do too few things at once than too many. In the short run this may not seem important, but complications from doing too many can easily arise.

A mistake can be expensive as well. The manipulation of the appropriate mechanisms should be self-explanatory, and we need not dwell on it here. At first the whole procedure will seem complicated. Soon, however, it will become just another facet of life. It is difficult to foresee any end to the necessity for this task in the immediate future, but then one never can tell.The group had difficultly remembering this passage.

A second group was then told, before they read the paragraph, that the paragraph was about washing clothes. With this little bit of extra information, the second group remembered twice as much as the first. A third group was told the topic after they read the paragraph, but they remembered about as much as the first. What this experiment shows is that people can only understand new information if they know how this new information fits in with their existing web of knowledge.

They need to know where to attach the new concepts to the web. Fragments of information can’t just float around the brain, they need to be attached to the web. To communicate an idea, we need to communicate the relationships between conceptsOnce we know where to store the new concepts in the web, we need to show the logical relationships between the concepts within the idea. These relationships are defined by language and grammar.

Grammar is the standardized set of rules that allow the transfer of information from one head to another. The rules of grammar consist of the rules of syntax and the rules of word formation. The rules of syntax are what governs the ordering of words and punctuation. The rules of word formation are what makes words like verbs or pronouns have the correct form. The rules of word formation are what turns the verb write into writes, wrote, and writing, depending on the context of the sentence. While concepts are the nodes of our knowledge graph, grammar is the arrows.Include a sketchTie it all togetherTherefore, in order to successfully transmit an idea from one head to another, we should approach it like how we would add new concepts to a knowledge graph.

We should first do our best to understand what it is like to not have that idea and we should determine what new concepts are needed to understand the idea properly. We must then consider the other person. We need to assume that their knowledge graph will have slightly different definitions of concepts. We should then do our best to make sure that the region of the knowledge graph where we want to attach the new concepts is properly defined. We must then locate the idea in their knowledge graph by explaining how the idea fits in overall.

Then we must show how the concepts within the new idea all tie together.


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