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I found a book at Waterstones yesterday called The Knowledge Illusion, it said that knowledge does not reside in our individual brains but as a collective consciousness, To function, individuals rely not only on knowledge that is stored within our skulls but also on knowledge stored elsewhere, be it in our bodies, in the environment or especially in other people. Put together, human thought is incredibly impressive, but at its deepest level it never belongs to any individual alone.  And yet the mind supports the most sublime, incredible phenomenon of all: consciousness. How can any of this be possible with a mind that is so imperfect? The book ties scientific fact whilst considering what the mind is for, and that we should think the brain as something that extends from the individual skull and as an emergence of multiple brains interacting. That individual brains know relatively little but a hive mind knows a lot.

What are your thoughts? :)

3 Answers


Dear Katherine,

I have not read the book, but I did locate it on GOODREADS...the authors are cognitive scientists? And the book was only released this last March 2017?

In a general sense, I like the ideas very much. Maybe these concepts are part of a great self-reflection now gaining momentum in humankind?... at least I hope so! Here are a couple of thoughts for you...

1. Marianne recently posted some links talking about narcissism; the idea that "I, myself" somehow know better than other people, and are superior to them... Well, maybe a book like this can help us gain a more realistic perspective, and NOT try to force our own beliefs onto others.

2. Which leads into the question of what is the true meaning of power? Is it more the old murderous failure of the jungle law of truth and claw, or is it more like these words from Benjamin Zander, the musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra?


katherine24 Virginia

Thanks for answering, what you said Virginia regarding a self-reflection now gaining momentum in humankind, reminds me of some Enlightenment quotes:-

There was once a holy man who lived in a state of ecstasy but was regarded by everyone as insane. One day, having begged for food in the village, he sat by the roadside and began to eat when a dog came up and looked at him hungrily. The holy man then began to feed the dog; he himself wold take a morsel, then give a morsel to the dog as though he and the dog were old friends. Soon a crowd gathered around the two of them to watch this extraordinary sight.

One of the men in the crowd jeered at the holy man. He said to the others, "What can you expect from someone so insane that he is not able to distinguish between a human being and a dog?"

The holy man replied "Why do you laugh? Do you not see Vishnu seated with Vishnu? Vishnu is being fed and Vishnu is doing the feeding. So why do you laugh, oh Vishnu?


The Lord Krishna said to Arjun, "You speak of me as of an incarnation of God. But today I wish to reveal something special to you. Follow me."

Arjun followed the Lord a short distance. Then Krishna pointed to a tree and said, "What do you see there?"

Arjun replied "A huge vine with clusters of grapes hanging on it."

The Lord said, "Those are not grapes. Go closer and look at them carefully."

When Arjun did that he could hardly believe his eyes for there before him were Krishna's hanging in bunches from Krishna."


Funny what you said about narcissism, some people believe that it was the ego that separated us all and makes us selfish and grasping.  

Hard though, I mean take for inventions, if you invent something you certainly want to put a patent on it before someone else steals that idea and makes money off it themselves.  In that scenario you consider thought as individual and not collective. 

Virginia Virginia

Hi Katherine, your last comment - about the patent? Those beautiful teaching stories from India; well I have read that many of the greatest Sanskrit spiritual texts, no one even knows now who composed them. And that is because the great beings who wrote them purposely did not sign them or take credit; they considered them universal!

And so I might speculate that even the inventions; the patent is a Western cultural thing, because I don't think you can invent unless, like the words of Sir Isaac Newton, you have "stood on the shoulders of giants" who came before you...

katherine24 Virginia

Nice! :) :angel:

Virginia Virginia

You are posing some intriguing and thoughtful questions Katherine, ty!


The book you are referring to "The Knowledge Illusion":


reminds of:







I did not have the occasion to read it, and there are still many theories about knowledge, considered to be awareness, more or less understanding and familiarity with facts, information, descriptions or skills, learnt through education and experience, and filed in our "memory". Psychologists often refer to a "collective memory", but is this "collective memory" only depending on education, living conditions, learning and learning capacities, and on more or less direct influences from our surroundings, kins, cultures, heritage and traditions?

And is knowledge an illusion or is rather what we think to know an illusion - as we realise too often how little we know?

There is also the question of "innate knowledge" and "innate behaviour" or instinct, which might come from our genes or, rather, from a "collective memory":



Your question raises many other questions, also that of our consciousness and of our beliefs and interpretations of our own self ...

Descartes, in his "Discourse on the Method", said "Je pense, donc je suis" or "Cogito, ergo sum" - but there must be much more to say about our conscience and our unconscience ...

katherine24 Marianne

Thanks for answering Marianne, funny that you mention Descartes, I did quote him from his book on Mediations and Other Metaphysical Writings, in my question but deleted it.  :)


I don't think an individual's knowledge is an illusion, but it is of course true that individuals would have very little knowledge were it not for the collective knowledge from which they learned.

katherine24 TheOtherTink

Certainly far more neurons firing amongst us, TheOtherTink, which is why I enjoy batting ideas back and forth. Still we are all different in the way we acquire knowledge or apply it, but then we can all benefit from the result.

Marianne TheOtherTink

Lol - you're welcome, Katherine, that was the first thought, which came to my mind, and the theories of the "unconscious mind" and "collective consciousness":