- We think we know our own thoughts, but actually experiments with children show that we may not be able to identify even our own thoughts correctly.
- Expertise allows an analogy. Chess experts know the board so well that they say they can see a position’s strength without thinking. We are similarly expert about our own thoughts, and we make inferences so fast we often don’t see the underlying thoughts. [See note on paragraph 2]
- It might seem as though psychologists with the theory above are committed to believing that we only get our ideas about our thoughts by watching our own actions. But, psychologists don’t necessarily need to believe this. Instead, they imply that we can base our ideas about our thinking on fleeting impressions of internal activities that aren’t themselves thoughts. Since everything is internal, no one else can challenge it, and this is why we believe we infallibly know our own thoughts.
Oof, this was a dense one. The content isn’t necessarily that hard to understand. But, if you didn’t get it, then this passage will be harder than the average passage, I think: it’s more abstract than average. Other passages are easier to muddle through with a partial understanding, but this one demands total, precise comprehension. I’m going to explain this using bullet points.
- What we think we do: observe our inner thoughts with 100% certainty.
- What actually happens: we’re experts at interpreting our own minds. So we make intuitive expert judgements the way chess players do. We can state our conclusions, but we can’t necessarily explain our reasoning.
- What are we observing: fleeting sensations and emotions (see lines 51-52). These are not thoughts. They are other internal mental phenomena.
- Sooooo….where are the thoughts? Who knows! The passage doesn’t specify.
- Why do we feel so damned smart about our thoughts? Because no one else can see inside our heads. So when we notice “I feel angry” and then we say “my thoughts are that you are wrong”, no one can challenge us in our conclusion. Whereas in fact we didn’t observe our thoughts, we only felt emotion.
- Why does the passage mention chess players? Because they’re experts who can make judgements based on hidden intuitive data. These judgments happen too fast to examine all the reasoning. We are experts about our own mind, and similarly our judgements happen too fast to examine all the reasoning. But expertise changes our perception, and we think we can directly perceive things. (This is an illusion)
- What about kids? They are only mentioned to show that humans can’t always identify their thoughts.
- How can researchers know what adults or kids are thinking? Shrug. There’s no space to explain all this in a 400 word passage. Take it as true that it’s possible to prove somehow.
Note on Paragraph 2
The example of chess players in paragraph 2 is the most potentially confusing paragraph. You may have gotten either of the following impressions:
- Chess players can directly perceive their thoughts. But we aren’t experts, so we can’t.
- Both chess players and people can directly perceive thoughts.
Both of these ideas are wrong. What paragraph 2 is actually saying is that experts think they can directly perceive entities. But, this is an illusion. Look at the following language:
- Lines 25-26 “This illusion is analogous to….when we become experts” (This implies that experts also have an illusion)
- Line 27 “Greater expertise appears to change….our knowledge…..our very perception” (This is only an appearance)
- Lines 29-30 “Appears to us….able to see”
- Line 33: “Chess experts claim the ability” (maybe they don’t actually have it. In other words, they do correctly perceive strength, but they did have to make a calculation. The calculation just happened so fast they didn’t see it.)
And then lines 35-41 show that because we are expert in our own thinking and make fast judgements, we may have a similar illusion. We move so quickly that we don’t see all the steps in our own thinking.
So chess experts are expert at chess, and we are experts at our own minds. This lets chess experts see chess strengths, and lets us describe our state of mind. But, it can also give us the illusion of understanding all the steps involved in making final judgements. We don’t actually have the ability to see the thoughts that make up all the steps in our judgements.
How expert judgement happens
E.g. This is how judgement happens:
- Chess player sees board
- Chess player notices black knight in a certain position.
- Chess player reasons 10 steps ahead and notices the knight can threaten a rook
- Chess player determines black is in a strong position
The passage is saying the chess player only notices steps 1 and 4. Steps 2 and 3 happen too quickly to notice. The chess expert thinks they are directly seeing the strength of the board, without calculation, but they are incorrect.
Step 4 is equivalent to our thoughts. The chess player doesn’t directly see it. Instead it’s a rapid judgement based on steps 1-3. But the judgement happened so fast the chess player doesn’t notice steps 2-3, and they incorrectly think they directly observe step 4.
Observations of our thoughts happen similarly.
Make sense? Just imagine there are four steps happening in your head, like the chess player. In our case, we only see step 4. Because steps 1-3 happened so fast, we don’t notice them, and incorrectly believe we directly perceive the thoughts in step 4.
Answer C to question 8 is a trap based on a misunderstand of paragraph 2. The point of that paragraph is that we can make quick inferences about parts of our mental state, just like chess players can quickly see the strength of a position. The error is that chess players think they do it without calculation. This is wrong: the calculation just happens so fast that they’re not aware of it. Likewise, we process our thoughts so quickly that we don’t even notice those thoughts, and thus we don’t actually know them directly.
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