The Curse of Knowledge Bias: Do You Know What I Know?

Today, recognition (as a method of liberation) no longer focuses on the individual and his or her identity as a unique extension of his or her self. Rather, it focuses on group identity and how the individual acquires his or her value by participating in that group identity. As a result, recognition, as a philosophical concept, is today almost exclusively discussed in progressive and collectivist circles.

Not long into his talk, the lecturer took an unexpected turn: “The essence of recognition is rooted in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Beatitudes.” Though it was not a religious setting, nor an audience that discusses recognition in religious terms, it was not the lecturer’s claim that took hold of my attention. Rather, what he said next, which was a simple digression, had me distracted for the rest of the lecture.

“The Sermon on the Mount is a story in the New Testament. It is a story pivotal to the Christian text, and it is Jesus’s longest documented speech.” He continued, “Now, I am not sure how much you know about Christianity, so a quick note: Christianity is, one of the three Abrahamic religions, alongside Judaism and Islam. That means that all three religions uphold the Old Testament as holy, with Abraham as a patriarch of the Old Book. The Christian text – the New Testament – differentiates the Christian religion from the other two religions. Of the three, only Christianity upholds the New Testament as a Holy Book. The Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes is thus a uniquely Christian story and, therefore, unique to the thought – or might I say philosophy – of Jesus, as the founder of Christianity.”

During that lecture, I was experiencing what psychologists call, “the curse of knowledge.” The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias where we assume that others have the same background knowledge as we do. It is hard to imagine not knowing something that we have known for so long. That is why it can be difficult for an expert to teach a novice their area of expertise. Their skill or knowledge becomes effortless. Like muscle memory, they no longer think about what they know or do so well. It is also the reason why we sometimes misjudge other people’s intentions or reasons for disagreement.”