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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Increased Wisdom From the Ashes of Ignorance and Surprise

  • Author(s): Ranney, Michael Andrew
  • Munnich, Edward L
  • Lamprey, Lee Nevo
  • et al.

© 2016 Elsevier Inc. What one knows, what one does not know, and what one wants—as well as the dynamics among them—play major roles in psychology. We herein discuss such dynamics—namely, learning—as a desire-driven, generative process that increases knowledge and wisdom through cycles in which incoming information (a) exposes new areas of ignorance, (b) changes one's preferences, and (c) creates an appetite for more knowledge. Evidence is presented that shows that when salient feedback along two described dimensions—numerical and/or mechanistic—conflicts with one's estimates, predictions, or explanations, it can trigger surprise, which in turn produces wisdom-enhancing conceptual change. Highlighting ignorance's importance in increasing wisdom, we describe (1) interventions utilizing surprising information (for instance, from our Numerically Driven Inferencing paradigm), and (2) a specific focus on global warming as a touchstone for increasing wisdom, which includes (3) a direct-to-the-public website for fostering conceptual changes regarding that central phenomenon of climate change (

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