“Fake” Knowledge: Knowing and the Illusion of Knowing

Saturday, October 14th, 2017 at 2:30pm

Past Event

A nomenclator was a slave whose duty was to accompanying his master in canvassing the streets of Classical Rome in order to recall the names of those his master encountered. Each of us is, in a way, both that ancient politician and that slave, relying on others’ memories to supply us with knowledge, and others relying on us for the knowledge we recall for them. Hence, knowledge has always been, in part, a distributive entity, requiring a delegation of mental tasks, an implicit commitment to a social contract.

Histories have documented the occurrence of mass delusions—which also leads us to question our collective intuition. Close to the origins of humankind is a fascination with the unknown and the unverifiable, with the early cultivation of spiritual life and religion proving as a testament to this. What is apocryphal and what should believe in? Even to the present day, as technology and science become evermore complicated, we are asked to distinguish between proven fact and educated speculation.

In the age of a seemingly omniscient internet, an impersonal cloud-mind (with which—despite attempts to humanize Siri and “her” ilk—no one can yet lay claim outside of fiction to a convincing reciprocal emotional relationship), when the object of our confided ignorance is no longer a person but a thing, when our subjective sense of self is no longer limned by the encounter with another, what happens to our ability to distinguish internal from external knowledge? Are we led to an illusory sense of our own knowledge?

Is the immediate, distributive information of the internet changing the way our brains work, possibly holding the promise of transcending the limitations of individual knowledge? If so, does the virtue of its collective knowledge lead us further to question the very value of our individuality? Or are we heedlessly (or ineluctably) heading toward a human-machine collective heretofore only within the purview of science fiction?

There is great excitement in the scientific community about the prospect of forming a transitive partnership with a seemingly unlimited source of knowledge. Where, however, is the place of wisdom? Does more information, more knowledge, inevitably lead to superior opinions, decision-making, and moral understanding? Is collective knowledge always less susceptible to the pretense of knowledge that individual thinking is? The history of human advancement would suggest otherwise, replete as it is with counterexamples to the superiority of collective knowledge over individual reasoning


Paul Boghossian

Silver Professor of Philosophy, NYU

Paul Artin Boghossian is Silver Professor of Philosophy at New York University and director of its New York Institute of Philosophy. Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has published many papers in the philosophy of mind and epistemology, on such topics as color, rule-following, eliminativism, naturalism, self-knowledge, a priori knowledge, analytic… read more »

Daniel Kahneman

Professor Emeritus, Princeton University

Daniel Kahneman is Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton., He is best known for his joint research with Amos Tversky on human judgment and decision making. Tversky did in 1996. Kahneman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. He is the author… read more »

Eric Kandel

University Professor, Columbia University

Eric R. Kandel, M.D., is University Professor at Columbia; Kavli Professor and Director, Kavli Institute for Brain Science; Co-Director, Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute; and an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. A graduate of Harvard College and N.Y.U. School of Medicine, Kandel trained in Neurobiology at the NIH and in Psychiatry… read more »

Mark Mitton


Mark Mitton is a magician who is fascinated by using magic to better understand how we see the world. He performs magic and produces unique entertainment around the world, and explores the limits and potential of perception. Mark’s specialty is physical misdirection, or what some call “embodied cognition”. He regularly presents on ‘Perception & Deception’… read more »

Daphna Shohamy

Associate Professor of Psychology, Columbia University

Daphna Shohamy is an Associate Professor at Columbia University’s Mind, Brain Behavior Institute and Department of Psychology and a member of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science. Dr. Shohamy’s research combines brain imaging in healthy humans with studies of patients with brain disorders to understand how our expectations and experiences change the way memories are… read more »

Steven Sloman

Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, Brown University

Steven Sloman is a Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences at Brown University where he has worked since 1992. He did his PhD in Psychology at Stanford University from 1986-1990 and then did post-doctoral research for two years at the University of Michigan. He is currently Editor-in-Chief of the journal Cognition. Steven is a… read more »

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