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The human paradox that is common sense

July 25, 2011 1539

Duncan Watts writes in New Scientist that ‘common sense’ can help us make sense of human behaviour – but can also undermine our ability to understand it.

He addresses the scepticism that many people feel about social science disciplines, and “what [they] have to say about the world that an intelligent person couldn’t have figured out on their own”. He points out that this reveals a common misconception about the nature of social science.

Duncan Watts asks: “Why does rocket science seem hard, while problems to do with people – which in some respects are clearly much harder – seem like they ought to be just a matter of common sense?” And he answers the question by pointing out that common sense is able equally to rationalise one type of behaviour and also its opposite – resulting in all kinds of prediction errors.

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