Head in the Clouds


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Yes Recommended Yes Recommended. No, keep my events secret No, keep my events secret. Apr 06, Wendy Bunnell rated it it was ok. The content was rather interesting, but the tone was so smug and condescending, it was distracting. And listening to it in audiobook didn't give this smug tone problem any favors, as the reader wasn't inserting anything that wasn't in the text, but man, I don't think a tone could say any more clearly "if you don't know all of these random facts, you are definitely an ignoramous!

It wasn't. This was a professional narrator, and I don't think he got the tone wrong, as it was clearly the author's intent to sneer at his audience. The other main gripe about this book was how "padded out" it seemed. What could have been an article was somehow a book, and as a result seemed rather repetitive. This was terrible, but I did fast forward through a couple chapters when the first couple of paragraphs made it clear that the author was taking some annoying political stance and calling anyone who doesn't agree an idiot.

But, now I feel very well versed in the Dunning Krueger Effect sorry if I spelled that wrong - it was an audiobook.

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I'm sure the author would judge me harshly. Just as he pretentiously judged people who mispronounce words. Wow, that is the height of snobbery, as many people who mispronounce words are either speaking English as a second language, or they learned the word through reading. Oh, clutch the pearls, some uncouth fool learned a word by reading and didn't have a nanny or private school tutor around to read it to them.

It was also very annoying that his only measure of "success" for adults is income. But, my thoughts on reading this after finishing, the author is the only person who can't read this book, as he is the only person who already knows everything. For the record, my husband and I are often a pretty formidable trivia team. I knew most of the very important facts he vested with so much importance.

But then I'm old and still rely on maps and written directions instead of GPS, so I'm not the generation he's talking about. Jul 03, Daniel M. First, the author. William Poundstone is a professional author with 15 books in his publication list. That is, as the title suggests, you still need to know facts about the world in order to navigate it with any kind of depth of understanding or efficiency. The more you know, the better off you are in many ways. So I have a bit of potential confirmation bias working here, but at least I know about the existance of confirmation bias, so I can watch out for it.

That is, most people rate themselves as above average in almost any area of expertise. And, the less competent you are, the more this is true. The book is full of data about how people understand rather little. The second section is about the Knowledge Premium—with many of his own surveys showing a correlation between broad knowledge, wealth, and overall benefits in life.

The answer is to be mindful about what you learn, and notice that news sources with broad coverage e. The biggest surprise of the book is that so many people are SO convinced about their beliefs religious, political, or economic , but they have little actual knowledge about them. In a bizzare upending of order, those that have the strongest beliefs on a topic tend to know less about that topic. The more then know, the more they admit there are multiple explanations and strategies. For instance, people who believe strongly that the US should take military action in Syria are also the least likely to be able to find it on a map, or to say anything factual about the country.

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By contrast, people who can list the neighbors of Syria have a much more nuanced understanding of the issues about Syria. A few bon mots… p. It boosts your self-assessment. Dick p P In general, readers of broad news aggregators e. An aggregator does not substitute for a good general purpose newspaper. But you need to know that the north polar ice cap is floating ice, and that melting floating ice makes no change in water level, as you see in your tumbler of ice melting in the midday sun.

People tend to echo the beliefs of those around them rather than determining them on their own. To form opinions on the scientific and technical issues driving public policy today—climate change, net neutrality, stem cell research, genetically modified organisms—it is not enough to [just] learn some facts. One must deliberate over those facts and actively seek out evidence that challenges what one wants to believe or initially suspects to be true.

This is not something that many average citizens have the time or inclination to do. We fake our opinion, going along with the crowd. Deliberative polling is a method to teach a group of people about a complex topic. First, you take a poll on the topic. THEN, you teach a class on that topic with all perspectives represented, as unbiased as you can. This adds knowledge to the group and gives them time to deliberate on this. THEN you re-poll and look for changes. Aug 27, John Wood rated it really liked it. Why do we need to know things if we can look them up on the internet?

This book cites many studies to reveal why it is good to know things, basically concluding that good basic knowledge is better than knowledge of a more specific nature and that this knowledge often correlates to higher income. It is also true that often people who know very little, believe that they are quite knowledgeable. I was relieved to know that personally, judging by my knowledge of the sample questions, I really am ind Why do we need to know things if we can look them up on the internet?

I was relieved to know that personally, judging by my knowledge of the sample questions, I really am indeed as smart as I thought I was. Now that I've got the bragging out of the way, I will say that I enjoyed the book and will continue to learn new facts. After all, you need to know what to Google and how to word your query to find what you are looking for. So, keep on learning.

May 22, Anil rated it it was ok. Not only does this book fail to provide a good insight on knowledge, knowledge acquisition, and value of implication, but also it oversimplifies investigating facts. Basically, the author relies on questionnaires that he conducted to draw conclusions in the majority of the book. It undermines the real reasoning, in my opinion, why one still need to know what facts are. Also, the book is not necessarily a page-turner. Hence, reading becomes like a chore after a while.

Mar 04, Batsheva rated it liked it Shelves: non-fiction. Why is it important to know stuff? From a purely practical perspective, one has to recognize the limits of one's own knowledge to be able to effectively look new information up. Otherwise, the ignoramus blissfully believes that he or she is an expert, with inevitable disastrous results. TL;DR Knowing facts may not make you rich though it is associated with higher incomes , but may make your brain work better. Also, knowing a few facts along with some critical thinking skills helps you evaluat Why is it important to know stuff?

Also, knowing a few facts along with some critical thinking skills helps you evaluate if that information you're googling is legit or belongs in the realm of "alternative facts. I listened to the audio version of Head in the Cloud. The narration was fine although it was even slower than normal I think, because I set the speed to 2x rather than my usual 1. I suspect there may have been some charts and visuals in the printed and ebooks, but not having access to them didn't make me feel as if I was missing anything. As for the content -- in general I have to agree with Poundstone's assertion that it's good to know a lot of facts and how to find out things and how to reas I listened to the audio version of Head in the Cloud.

As for the content -- in general I have to agree with Poundstone's assertion that it's good to know a lot of facts and how to find out things and how to reason. He argues that it isn't good enough to know that you can access facts anytime through the web, you have to know how to do this effectively, how to sort out the junk from the facts, and you have to know what you don't know.


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In other words, it's possible to be so ignorant that you don't even know that you are ignorant. Poundstone sets out to show just how stupid people are by devising and administering a number of quizzes in which he asks questions such as how long does it take to boil an egg and which way does a light bulb screw in. He expresses amazement that people can be so ignorant. Well, I'm amazed that he's amazed. I don't know how long it takes to boil an egg but I can do it. I don't know which way a light bulb screws in but if I screw it the wrong way at first, I know what to do next.

And it won't be going online to see what Wikipedia says about screwing in lightbulbs. Poundstone peeves away at people who mispronounce words and names Gide, Goethe, Keynes. He thinks we should all know how many candles are on a menorah and recognize the art of Damien Hirst. These are all fine things to know, but there's a hint of snobbism in claiming that people who don't know these things are somehow incapable of reasoning or are somehow inferior. And there's always the bottom line -- how much more money do people who know these things earn on average?

Because I guess that's what really matters. Even if you follow Poundstone this far and agree that everyone should achieve a certain level of cultural education, he takes it a step further by implying that people who lack facts will make stupid political choices. And that people who have the facts and a minimum level of reasoning ability will make smart political choices. If only this were true. Unfortunately or not political choices are made on more than facts and reasoning.

There is also emotion and one's personal circumstances and the fact that there's rarely a perfect candidate or perfect bond initiative, etc. We are not robots, so reason and facts are only a part of our decision making arsenal. Interesting, if sometimes infuriating. Mar 18, Angela rated it it was ok Shelves: nonfiction. If you're smart enough to be reading this book, then it's almost certainly not a surprise to you that "general knowledge" might not be as "general" as the name implies.

You can feel smug when you know the answers to the "general knowledge" questions the author poses -- "Haha, what kind of dumb-dumb can't locate Nebraska on a map? I mean, that makes sense, but mostly I associate him with light bulbs". In this manner, I picked up a few factoids along the way, which made the read more interesting. As a librarian, I'm totally on board with Poundstone's main idea: that is, "Known facts are the shared points of reference that connect individuals, cultures, and ideologies. They are the basis of small talk, opinions, and dreams; they make us wiser as citizens and supply the underrated gift of humility -- for only the knowledgeable can appreciate how much they don't know.

Head in the Clouds

Nonetheless, an interesting little book on a topic well worth considering. Jul 30, Kelly Knapp rated it it was amazing. Poundstone answers some of the most difficult questions that a teacher or educator may be asked by other educators or involved parents. I have long worried about the move from learning to research methods. There needs to be a balance. Definitely makes you question your level of general knowledge. I like the last thought of the book - The one thing you can't Google is what you ought to be looking up.

Context, not necessarily facts are power. Dec 17, jeffrey rated it liked it. Although I didn't always agree with the specifics, the advantages of having a good general knowledge seems indisputable. It is also sad and frightening to realize the implications of a population of uninformed or misinformed individuals. Mar 13, Mavin Waganda rated it it was amazing. In this day and age, information is easy to get thus making us lazy to dig deep and understand in-depth knowledge. Sadly, few of us know that this is an issue.

If you want to be the know-how read this book. Aug 07, Daniel rated it really liked it Shelves: economics , science , misc-nonfiction , psychology , skepticism , politics , read-in The book is an interesting romp through the topic of what people know and how much their knowledge matters - or seems to matter.

I was happy to see the always-fascinating marshmallow test make an appearance. Imagine a simple 15 minute test given to four-year-olds that reliably in the social science sense predicts quite a bit of how the rest of their lives are going to go - whether they might get fat, get hooked on drugs, go broke, score high or low on the SAT, etc. I was dismayed to find zero The book is an interesting romp through the topic of what people know and how much their knowledge matters - or seems to matter. I was dismayed to find zero mentions of IQ.

It's the elephant in the room that Poundstone painstakingly ignores even as he dances around it. As anyone who has read the simplest introduction such as Intelligence: All That Matters would know, if you're exploring correlations between what a person knows and how much money the person earns, and you don't control for IQ, you haven't isolated the role of knowledge itself. IQ correlates both with how much a person ends up knowing and earning, and is a strong candidate for being causal for both. To at least begin to separate the effect of knowing things from raw cognitive power, you would have to compare people with the same or similar IQ scores who differ in their amounts of knowledge.

Given all the social science Poundstone cites, I'm not sure how he missed what has been a rather important part of psychology for over a century, also having predictive power for individual outcomes. If the book gets another edition, the political sections will need an update to account for the Trump era. The factual errors and gaffes of earlier politicians mentioned by Poundstone seem quaint in comparison to the proudly-doubling-down ignorance of Trumpism. Trump, our Dunning-Kruger effect incarnate, is steadily erasing his predecessors' intellectual shortcomings like the Wisconsin glaciation grinding the upper midwest flat during the last glacial maximum.

And although the book isn't terribly forward-looking, it should at least mention the potential impact of the exploding field of Artificial Intelligence AI. In particular, Poundstone rightly points out the perils of our unknown unknowns a Rumsfeldian term sadly absent from the book which refers to things we don't know that we don't know , and how today's dumb computers are largely useless as advisors unless we have some idea of what we need to look up. But AI offers at least a glimmer of hope that one day our computing devices may be "intelligent" in a real sense not just in a marketing hype sense.

Head in the Clouds

That is, maybe someday our computers can warn us - persuasively - against making the kinds of life errors, financial errors, health errors, and so on, that ignorant people routinely make and we are all ignorant this way at least some of the time. Maybe someday our computers will actually know things , detect what we need to know, and choose to be nice to us. That might level the playing field somewhat between today's know-somethings and the know-nothings. Of course a lot of things would have to break the right way to result in such a benevolent outcome.

But Poundstone could have at least tried to future-proof the book a little, instead of writing as if the computers of the s will never change. This shouldn't be the only pop-psychology book a person reads, but I doubt it would be for many readers of this book. It should appeal to trivia buffs seeking to justify their trivia buffery, or to anyone who is curious about human nature and individual differences. But do yourself a favor and read a little something about intelligence, lest you get too carried away with Poundstone's preliminary correlations.

Jul 07, Mark rated it it was amazing Shelves: nonfiction. Not only that, but the book is written well enough to be a speedy read, and despite the light-hearted title, the question posed by the subtitle is deadly serious. In part one of the book, the reader will learn all about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which states that those most lacking in knowledge and skills are least able to appreciate that lack.

Psychology students surveyed on grammar, logic, and jokes are also asked to estimate both how well they scored and how well they did relative to others. Lowest-scoring students estimated their skills were superior to two-thirds of the other students. Similarly, when gun lobbyists at a shooting competition voluntarily took a National Rifle Association-published gun safety quiz, gun owners who knew the least about safety wildly overestimated their knowledge. In quizzes, the only way to score well is to know, and Poundstone says there are real consequences to the growing lack of simply knowing things.

A comparison of verbal, mathematical, and digital media skills and knowledge of US Millennials were among the lowest of twenty-two other nations in all categories. Although happiness is hard to measure, survey participants scoring higher on knowledge quizzes generally correlated positively with higher incomes and greater happiness. Reading it will likely change your reliance on looking up facts compared to simply knowing them. While the book is enormously entertaining in addressing an important topic, by the end of the book, readers should also prepare to be humbled by the number questions they are unable to answer!

Dec 30, CarolynKost rated it liked it Shelves: education. This book was just not as convincing or as stimulating as it could have been. It was a cross between an airplane read and an Atlantic monthly article, which would have been a better venue for Poundstone's ideas. Ecclesiastes was right: there is nothing new under the sun. Socrates indicted the written word as a corrupting force; folks predicted that radio and then TV interfered with family life and made humans stupid; we criticize the Internet.

Same thing, different technology and different age. At least Poundstone refrains from engaging in the pseudo-neuroscience regarding the ways that the Internet is changing our brains, but he makes similar arguments. The major takeaways and the themes of the book are three p. The most delightful is the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which describes what happens when people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is; like students believing they scored much higher on a test than they in fact did.

That's relevant to the digital world because "The Internet isn't making us stupid but it can make us less aware of what we don't know. Incomplete knowledge creates distorted mental maps of the world The discussion of the non-scientific popularity of gluten-free products pp. While careful to emphasize correlation over causation, Poundstone examines the incomes of people who know about sports people who know more earn more and compares the audiences of Fox and NPR, which he states may in part relate to the venue, i. TV vs.


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That relates to the last section, "Strategies for a Culturally Illiterate World," which proposes that we consume information in smart ways. In short: obtain your information from a variety of sources, not too customized; avoid ideological echo chambers; and make sure your sources are intelligent and well-educated. Those latter two should be clarified. What does that mean exactly?

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An Ivy League credential does not inoculate one against idiocy or fake news and often these days is an indicator of an elitist and staunch leftist partisan, rather than a signal of a dispassionate critical thinker. I was hoping for more, but older generations are always concerned about the changes they see on the horizon. The fact is that the coming generations will deal with them just fine. Better to heed Max Ehrmann in Desiderata: "doubtless the universe is unfolding as it should.

Sep 04, Paul rated it it was amazing. Why should I learn anything when I can just look it up on Google? That's the question this book attempts to answer. Many areas of knowledge correlate with the quality of our lives, including areas like health, wealth and happiness. The author is not suggesting that everyone should be smart enough to appear on a TV show like "Jeopardy. It's possible that learning improves cognitive abilities that are useful almost anywhere, including in a career. How bad is the ignorance of the average American? Less that 10 percent of Americans don't know what country New Mexico is in.

About the same percentage of younger Americans can find Afghanistan on a map, according to a National Geographic poll. More than half could not find Delaware on a map. People who don't know which city has an airport called LaGuardia correlates with thinking that there are at least twice as many Asians in America than there actually are. Not knowing that the Sun is bigger than Earth correlates with supporting bakers who refuse to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

Thinking that America has more people has more people than India correlates with refusing to eat genetically modified food. Not knowing how many US Senators there are, or thinking that early humans hunted dinosaurs, correlates with refusing to vaccinate children for measles, mumps and rubella. According to a report from the Educational Testing Service the people behind the SAT's , more than half of Millennials don't know the poison that killed Socrates; they can't name the Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson; they don't know who recorded "All Shook Up" and "Heartbreak Hotel"; they don't know who in popular myth designed and sewed the first American flag; they can't name the secret project that built the first atomic bomb; they can't name the largest ocean on Earth, the longest river in South America or the city whose airport is Heathrow.

Wow and not in a good way. These people are going to be running America in the near future? This is a very disheartening book, and is extremely highly recommended. Jul 15, Peter Geyer rated it it was amazing Shelves: society , culture , science , owned , politics , united-states. Quite a few years ago, at the onset of what was called "the information revolution", a continuing theme was that access to this somewhat amorphous category of "information" was an obvious boon and benefit for all concerned.

In Australia, this line was continuously peddled by a particular senior politician. To me, what this person neglected to add that you needed to know something about what you wanted to know, what William Poundstone might call "context" — the construct of personal interest was l Quite a few years ago, at the onset of what was called "the information revolution", a continuing theme was that access to this somewhat amorphous category of "information" was an obvious boon and benefit for all concerned.

To me, what this person neglected to add that you needed to know something about what you wanted to know, what William Poundstone might call "context" — the construct of personal interest was left aside as well: the last sentence in this book is "the one thing you can't Google is what you ought to be looking up" In this entertaining and insightful book, replete with surveys, survey methods and relevant commentary, Poundstone puts forward the idea of a general knowledge being important.

Much of the material is correlated with income, but also education and political beliefs. Some of the results from his research are surprising, the vast majority insightful. General ignorance is a theme, applied to all levels of society. I found it interesting that those without religious belief tend to know more facts about that area than believers, but that's an area of personal interest.

Poundstone's examination of opinions on climate change and level of scientific knowledge doesn't have the expected o and so there may be variations for other nations.

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