Metacognition, Thinking & Learning

Echo Chamber Brilliance

Aren’t you glad that we know how to really think?

I don’t know how often you might hear (or think) that. I get it all of the time. Especially from close acquaintances. They are aware that I have received many accolades in the area of learning and teaching people to think. They come to me with ideas, thoughts, and problems to be solved, and I help them through.

I give them nudges. Identify logical fallacies. Point out flaws in their rational thinking. Inform them of methodological illiteracies. Apprise them of their statistical naïvety. Correct them in their interpretations of outcomes. The list goes on and on. Having years and years of experience in presenting extremely complex information in an understandable manner, more often than not, I see the light bulb of understanding light up. And I smile when I, inevitably hear, “Wow, I’m glad we can really think.”

This isn’t an occasional experience. This happens over and over. And, it means that over the years I have withdrawn more and more from social contact. I like people, I just find it increasingly difficult to deal with so much self-proclaimed brilliance. I try to avoid the endless follow-up ideas and insights that come from these naïve geniuses. A single monumental moment does not mean that someone knows how to think.

I have learned that everyone is a real thinker. In our day, everyone has access to information, and so that means that everyone is now an expert genius. With so much available, how have we ended up where we are?

Don’t researchers know that working in a mediocre institution, publishing an endless stream of mediocre findings in an ever-exploding supply of mediocre journals and publications, means that they are mediocre researchers? If they aren’t, why don’t they publish in top journals with top researchers? Mediocrity is not brilliance or genius. Mediocrity is mediocre.

Just because they live in an echo chamber of brilliance (we are all brilliant and we will keep telling each other that) doesn’t mean it is true. It doesn’t matter where we lie on the spectrum of genius. From the top-ranked scientists at top-ranked institutions to the gaggle of fifth-grade drop-outs who hang out together at the RedNeck Saloon, we all belong to our own “communities of practice”. Places where we reinforce our own thinking through echo chambers of brilliance.

In our age of social media networking tools, it is easy to find other like-minded people. We can easily expand our echo chamber and receive reinforcement from halfway around the globe. Suddenly our idea isn’t just self-discovered brilliance. There is a whole society of people out there who have also discovered that the earth is flat. Injecting foreign agents into our bodies is bad. Taking medications that effect our brains ruins us. Watching the thermometer drop in January means the earth is cooling.

I am so tired of hearing, “I don’t put much stock in research. We all know that you can find research to back up anything.” The reason I’m tired of hearing it isn’t that it is false, but because it is true – and everyone has access to that research. Or, at least has a friend who read about it on Joe’s Climate Conspiracy blog. Good research is still opaque and closely guarded behind firewalls and pay-per-view. As a result, uninformed echo chambers have nothing but poor to mediocre research findings that are published in self-propagating echo chamber journals that are peer-reviewed by echo chamber colleagues and simplified and interpreted by “like” addicted purveyors of pop science.

I’ve outlined a problem I see it and expressed my frustrations. I don’t know if you see what I see, maybe or maybe not. For me,  I need to find a solution(s). I know that offering to teach people how to think is fruitless – everyone already knows how to think. I know that writing about the shortcomings of our education system gets me nowhere. I also know (but don’t like) that withdrawing from society doesn’t help.

I’m publishing my metacognition app (Cognaware) to help people gain some insight into how little that they actually know what they think that they know (and – more dangerously – know what they don’t know). I hope that it makes a difference. However, I also know, along with myriads of other like-minded people, past attempts at bringing light into the darkness is difficult at the best of times – and these aren’t the best of times to be bringing a paradigm shift into the way people think (think “the age of enlightenment).

I guess that I just have to wind down my self-imposed exile and keep trying. Bring back the optimism that infused me when I started this journey and then rediscovered after my life-changing illness. Hiding won’t get me anywhere, so I’m planning a comeback. Like Michael Jordan, I’m going to make a comeback – again.

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