A decade ago, the psychologist Rebecca Lawson published a lovely paper on "cycology". She posed a simple question: could people draw the basics of a bicycle? About 40%, including those confident in their ability to sketch pedals and forks, found it impossible. Fundamental errors included a bike frame linking the front and back wheels, making it impossible to steer, and the chain looping round both wheels (ditto). Even cyclists struggled. "It seems that many people have virtually no understanding of how bicycles work. .. despite bicycles being highly familiar and most people having learnt how to ride one," Lawson, from the University of Liverpool, concluded. Our personal knowledge, then, of how even everyday objects function is sketchy and shallow. We are individual ignoramuses who somehow manage to pool intelligence, and then brazenly bask in the collective glory. Lawson’s finding is writ large in The Knowledge Illusion, a recent book that exposes us for the intellectual shams we ar...

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