EU Science Hub

Annual lecture: Ignorance and the Community of Knowledge

JRC Annual Lecture 2017 - Ignorance and the Community of Knowledge
Sep 25 2017

Steven Sloman is a cognitive scientist who studies how people think. His recent book "The Knowledge Illusion", written with Philip Fernbach, sets out how our habits of thought influence the way we see the world and then decide what actions to take.

Humans have built hugely complex societies and technologies, but most of us don’t know how a simple technology such as a pen actually works. How have we achieved so much despite understanding so little?

Sloman argues that we survive and thrive despite our mental shortcomings because we live in a community of knowledge.

The key to our intelligence lies in our connections to the people and things around us. We’re constantly drawing on information and expertise stored outside our heads: in our bodies, our environment, our possessions, and the community with which we interact—and usually we don’t even realise we’re doing it. 

These findings have the potential to help us re-think the place of knowledge in policymaking and our democracy by responding to the incredibly complex political and societal challenges we face with communities of knowledge that are, as Professor Sloman says "the super-intelligence of the future".

Download presentation: "Ignorance, the Community, and Policy" by Steven Sloman, Cognitive, Linguistic, & Psychological Sciences, Brown University

Organisations like the JRC are trying to draw on these ideas in practice in making better sense of the wealth of knowledge available for EU policymaking.  Its recent drive to develop knowledge and competence centres that bring experts and policymakers together in real and virtual communities of practice and knowledge is an example of an attempt to build communities of knowledge.

The event will be moderated by Simon Kuper of the Financial Times.

Simon is the author of an influential weekly column in the Financial Times, which frequently looks at current social and political issues from a European perspective. As a British citizen based in Paris who grew up partly in the Netherlands, Simon is a journalist able to write in the English language about European politics from more than one cultural perspective.

He is also the author of several books about European and global football. Simon has also been involved in a recent JRC research project on “big data, psycho-targeting and the future of democracy” on which two of his recent articles were based.  

The project investigated the extent to which psycho-targeted social media advertising was used as a tool of political influence, notably via social media, in political campaigns in 2016.

It found that psychological influencing techniques are now heavily used in social media campaigns in combination with demographic targeting. However, psycho-targeting at the individual level is not (yet) common practice in political campaigns.

The project was led by Ian Vollbracht, a researcher at the JRC. Ian will comment on whether these new communication methods could be used to develop Professor Sloman’s ideas and whether the shift towards audio-visual means of political communication via social media should encourage organisations such as the Commission to re-think the focus of its communication activities.