Sean Illing I’m guessing you think the internet and our balkanized media landscape has made things worse.
Steven Sloman It's very clear that we're even more in a bubble than we ever were. I've been shocked by how little I know about half the American population. I just can't get my head around the way they think at all. And that hasn't changed. Even though I make an effort, it's still the case that everyone around me sees things the way I do, and I'm sure nearly everyone in Grand Rapids, Michigan, sees things differently. But I don't talk to those people.
The internet is clearly making it worse in the sense that we can reach out and form these online communities of fellow believers. And the fact that our news is getting individualized makes it much worse. So, even if I want to understand what the other side sees, Google is constantly feeding me the things I want to see.
And that's bad for all of us.
Sean Illing So do you have any thoughts in terms of practical solutions to this? How can we cultivate more self-awareness and less biased reasoning? How can we seek out wiser communities of knowledge?
Steven Sloman People who are more reflective are less susceptible to the illusion. There are some simple questions you can use to measure reflectivity. They tend to have this form: How many animals of each kind did Moses load onto the ark? Most people say two, but more reflective people say zero. (It was Noah, not Moses who built the ark.)
The trick is to not only come to a conclusion, but to verify that conclusion. There are many communities that encourage verification (e.g., scientific, forensic, medical, judicial communities). You just need one person to say, "are you sure?" and for everyone else to care about the justification. There's no reason that every community could not adopt these kinds of norms. The problem of course is that there's a strong compulsion to make people feel good by telling them what they want to hear, and for everyone to agree. That's largely what gives us a sense of identity. There's a strong tension here.
My colleagues and I are studying whether one way to open up discourse is to try to change the nature of conversation from a focus on what people value to one about actual consequences. When you talk about actual consequences, you're forced into the weeds of what's actually happening, which is a diversion from our normal focus on our feelings and what's going on in our heads.
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