The Illusion of Explanatory Depth, sometimes called the Bicycle Problem, refers to our tendency to assume we know more about something than we actually do.

That second monicker is derived from an example commonly used to illustrate this bias: most of us think we understand how a bicycle works, but if we actually had to map out all the parts and how they fit together, with specificity, the majority of us would fail to do so.

We feel like we know how a bicycle works, but (beyond the superficial) that feeling is an illusion.

The same is true of many things, not just bicycles.

An illusory sense of self-knowledge is perhaps even more common (and pernicious) than engineering-related understandings, in part because few of us invest the time and effort necessary to develop a holistic appreciation of who we are, what we care about, and what we believe, but also because such issues can be nebulous and thus tricky to concretely convey.

I find that writing helps with this, as committing formless thoughts to definite language forces me to lock those ideas into place, rather than allowing my brain to rearrange things as I consider them, lending hollow of conceptions the veneer of sense.

It also allows me to assess those ideas once they’re thus fixed, to work them like a block of marble, slowly chiseling away the bits that don’t make sense, that I don’t truly believe, and that upon reassessment are pointless or joyless pursuits.

This is part of why jotting down thoughts and arguments and ideas on a regular basis can be so fulfilling: it helps us hone our overall communication skills, but it also provides us with opportunities to present, question, and edit our thinking within a less-biased context, and in which a spotlight is pointed at (previously concealed) flawed and incomplete conclusions.

This is true of longer written works, but journaling, writing letters, and briefly presenting our ideas about whatever comes to mind (as a blog or essay) is arguably one of the better habitual writing investments we can make, as it forces us to embody our otherwise fleeting thoughts, tangibly confront them, and over time grow comfortable hewing, chipping, gouging, and smoothing them until they become accurate portrayals of our internal selves.

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