Illusion of Explanatory Depth

Posted on November 17, 2006  Comments (11)

The “Illusion of Explanatory Depth”: How Much Do We Know About What We Know?

Often (more often than I’d like to admit), my son (Darth Vader over there on the left) will ask me a question about how something works, or why something happens the way it does, and I’ll begin to answer, initially confident in my knowledge, only to discover that I’m entirely clueless. I’m then embarrassed by my ignorance of my own ignorance.

I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if it turns out that the illusion of explanatory depth leads many researchers down the wrong path, because they think they understand something that lies outside of their expertise when they don’t.

Great stuff. It took me a lot longer to stop asking why, why, why than most kids. I only gave up after years of repeated obvious clues that I was not suppose to ask why (once I aged past 5 or 8 or something – I actually have no idea when it is no longer desired). But most days I, curious cat, want to ask how does that work, why do we do that, why can’t we… I just stop myself. But it does mean I asked myself and realized I don’t really know. So I am at least more aware how little I really know, I think I am anyway.

The internet is a great thing. Google doesn’t mind if you ask as many questions as you want.

Related: Theory of KnowledgeFeed your Newborn Neurons

11 Responses to “Illusion of Explanatory Depth”

  1. Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog » The Illusion of Understanding
    November 25th, 2006 @ 5:04 pm

    It is important to understand the systemic weaknesses in how we think in order to improve our thought process. We must question (more often than we believe we need to) especially when looking to improve on how things are done…

  2. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Sarah, aged 3, Learns About Soap
    January 4th, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

    […] Great. I remember such discussions with Dad (Chemical Engineering professor). The only danger I saw was him getting tied of -why, why?, why? (when I was older). And sometimes giving me answers the teacher didn’t like (a way of doing math problems that wasn’t the way my teacher was teaching). […]

  3. Brent Hoff
    March 11th, 2008 @ 1:56 am

    Very interesting question, John. I have two kids and ask me all the time how stuff works. I really thought I knew more than I actually know.

  4. Forecasting Oil Prices at Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog
    July 17th, 2008 @ 8:15 pm

    This is another example of how tricky it is to predict financial markets. I am a bit surprised for relatively longer periods (like a year) the professionals do so poorly.,,

  5. Curious Cat Science Blog » Poor Reporting and Unfounded Implications
    December 9th, 2008 @ 3:24 pm

    Correlation is not causation. And reporting of the form, “1 time this happened” and so I report it as though it is some relevant fact, is sad…

  6. Curious Cat Science Blog » The Year in Bad Science
    December 29th, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

    In a world where rigorous evidence from scientific research languishes unpublicised, the media continued to churn out bogus wacky science stories…

  7. Encouraging Curiosity in Kids » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
    October 28th, 2011 @ 5:30 am

    Once you get them used to thinking and looking things up they will start to do this on their own. A lot of this just requires thinking (no need to look things up – once a certain base knowledge is achieved). But you need to set that pattern. And it would help if you were curious, thought and learned yourself…

  8. ASQ Influential Voices: Future Engineers and Scientists » Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog
    February 13th, 2012 @ 6:59 pm

    In my opinion, we currently do a pretty good job, sadly, of discouraging kids as much as we can. So reducing those barriers is key, then we need to actually build ways that help kids…

  9. Theory of Knowledge: Can We Trust Our Memories? « The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog
    May 23rd, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

    […] The Neuroscience of Deming – Illusion of Explanatory Depth – Nobody Gives a Hoot About […]

  10. Your Online Presence and Social Network for Managers » Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog
    July 17th, 2013 @ 9:14 am

    […] Writing your own blog is the very best online way to create a brand for yourself (and to learn and grow). Given the workplace today, and how the future seems likely to unfold, building your own brand is a valuable career tool. Writing your own blog also builds your understanding of the topic. As you put your thoughts into words you have to examine them and often build a more complete understanding yourself before you can write about it. […]

  11. Children are Amazingly Creative At Solving Problems » Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog
    July 8th, 2014 @ 10:22 pm

    […] an unlikely hypothesis. Exploratory learning comes naturally to young children, says Gopnik. Adults, on the other hand, jump on the first, most obvious solution and doggedly stick to it, even i…. That’s inflexible, narrow thinking. “We think the moral of the study is that maybe […]

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