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The Cato Unbound article “Overcoming Our Aversion to Acknowledging Our Ignorance” has been mentioned on this blog before. In it, Dan Gardner and Philip Tetlock discuss differences in cognitive styles found in a population of analysts. The article describes the groups as follows:

One group of experts tended to use one analytical tool in many different domains; they preferred keeping their analysis simple and elegant by minimizing “distractions.” These experts zeroed in on only essential information, and they were unusually confident—they were far more likely to say something is “certain” or “impossible.” In explaining their forecasts, they often built up a lot of intellectual momentum in favor of their preferred conclusions. For instance, they were more likely to say “moreover” than “however.”

The other lot used a wide assortment of analytical tools, sought out information from diverse sources, were comfortable with complexity and uncertainty, and were much less sure of themselves—they tended to talk in terms of possibilities and probabilities and were often happy to say “maybe.” In explaining their forecasts, they frequently shifted intellectual gears, sprinkling their speech with transition markers such as “although,” “but,” and “however.”

Using terms drawn from a scrap of ancient Greek poetry, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin once noted how, in the world of knowledge, “the fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Drawing on this ancient insight, Tetlock dubbed the two camps hedgehogs and foxes. The experts with modest but real predictive insight were the foxes. The experts whose self-concepts of what they could deliver were out of alignment with reality were the hedgehogs.

An interesting concept, and expanding on the idea that cognitive styles could vary in different conditions and with various tools eventually led to this very ACE competition in which DAGGRE is playing a part.

The idea that humility and acknowledging the limits of one’s own knowledge led to improved predictive insight is another fascinating factor, and it leads well into this research by Shenhav, Rand, and Greene in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. Not only does the research suggest that belief in God is directly tied to an individual’s reliance on intuitive answers over reflection in general problem solving, but it also ties back in with Tetlock’s observations – the third study noted in the article found that inducing conditions that promote a mindset of intuition over reflection increased self-reported belief in God.

“One big thing” indeed. Discussion and comments are welcome.