Unlock the secrets to understanding yourself and others with the surprising science of the human mind's greatest power: introspection.
“Are you sure?”
Whether in a court room, a doctor’s office, a gameshow’s hot seat, or a student’s desk, we are always trying to answer that question. Should we accept eyewitness testimony or a physician’s diagnosis? Do we really want to risk it all on a final question? And what should we be studying in order to do as well as possible on a test? In short, how do we know what we and others know—or as importantly, don’t know?
As cognitive neuroscientist Stephen Fleming shows in Know Thyself, we do this with metacognition. Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, is the most important tool we have for understanding our own mind. Metacognition is an awesome power: It is what enables self-awareness as well as what lets us think about the minds of others. It is the ultimate human trait, and in its most rarefied forms is a power that neither other animals, nor our current artificial intelligences, have. Metacognition teaches us the limits of our own knowledge. Once we understand what it is and how it works, we can improve our performance and make better decisions. For example, on the SAT, it helps us gauge when we should skip a question rather than lose points getting an answer wrong.
Know Thyself, like the metacognition itself, is equal parts scientific, philosophical, and practical. And that means, like Thinking, Fast and Slow and Predictably Irrational, it’s that rarest of books: one that can both expand our minds and change our lives.
About the Author
Stephen M. Fleming is a Sir Henry Dale Wellcome Trust/Royal Society fellow at the department of experimental psychology and principal investigator at the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, University College London, where he leads the Metacognition Group. He lives in London.
"What a wonderful book. From self-doubt to self-awareness, and everything in between. Steve Fleming, who has made his career study thoughts about thoughts, or metacognition, takes the reader on a journey into what it means to be a being that knows its self, and, as a consequence, can contemplate the self inside others."
—Joseph LeDoux, author of The Deep History of Ourselves
"Know Thyself is an extraordinary book. Written by a leader in the science of self-awareness, it is both accessible and erudite, a self-help manual and a work of scholarship. It will be a rewarding read for anyone who wants to understand how metacognition (and its failures) affect us in personal and public life – in education, sports, law, politics, and in our ever-deepening engagements with AI."—Cecilia Heyes, Professor of Psychology at University of Oxford and author of Cognitive Gadgets
"I used to believe that in psychology 'If it’s interesting, we can’t measure it. And, if we can measure it, it’s not interesting'. After reading this book I realize how wrong I was. Nothing is more interesting than exploring our own minds and now there are rigorous new methods to quantify such explorations. Steve Fleming provides a superb guide to these methods, and furthermore, he demonstrates the crucial importance of developing self-awareness for dealing with society’s most pressing problems."
—Christopher Frith, Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at University College London and author of Making up the Mind
"In Know Thyself, cognitive neuroscientist Stephen Fleming synthesizes this multifaceted research into an admirably coherent narrative and outlines how the resulting knowledge may be applied to solve societal problems . . . In the end, the book makes a convincing case that self-awareness is a key feature of human existence and that our growing knowledge about it will be important for addressing many of our societal problems . . . Fleming’s book finally heaves metacognition into a long-deserved place in the scientific spotlight."—Science
“A rational person must practice what the neuroscientist Stephen Fleming, in ‘Know Thyself: The Science of Self-Awareness’ (Basic Books), calls ‘metacognition,’ or ‘the ability to think about our own thinking’—'a fragile, beautiful, and frankly bizarre feature of the human mind.’”
—Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker