The Importance of Knowing: A Big Think Mentor Workshop

Mihnea Moldoveanu: An epinet is a diagram. It's a diagram that lets me figure out and map and keep track of what you're thinking, what you're thinking I'm thinking, what other people in the room think about what I'm thinking and what each thinks about what every other person in the room is thinking. That sounds like a lot and that's why you need a diagram. And it's a little bit different than your traditional social network diagram in that you don't have only people that are connected by edges and lines, you also have various beliefs. So if I think that you think that today is Friday, then there's going to be an arch that takes us from me to you to the proposition today is Friday. If I think that you think that I think that today is Friday, there's an arch that takes me from me to you back to me and back to the proposition today is Friday.

Why is this very helpful in the context of something like a meeting or a gathering of any kind or an email exchange? When we have a meeting there are a lot of unspoken suppositions and a lot of attributions that I make. I think about what other people think and what they think I think, and sometimes I have conversations with somebody that are meant to be dramaturgical, so they're meant to be a piece of theater that we play out for the benefit of other people in the audience. So I might try to persuade you that it's a good thing for you to put your hat in the ring for a presidential race or a decanal race, not because I think that's a good thing but because I think somebody else thinks that I don't think that's a good thing. I want to persuade that person that in fact I think highly of you.

So, what I've done in that case is I've used the topology of the beliefs that various people have and the beliefs that they have about other people's belief in the room to create a situation. So you can think of an epinet first of all as a diagram, but then you can also think about it as a design tool. And it's a tool for the design of human interactions in context that are high-stakes, interpersonally acute if you will because that's where we spend a lot of time obsessing about what everybody thinks and what everybody thinks we think. And complicated. Even the very simple structures that I was telling you about have a very complex interactive belief hierarchy. There are things that I believe that you don't know about. There are things that you believe that I don't know about. There are conjectures that you have about what I think, which I am oblivious of because I can't even imagine some of them. And there are things that I can conjecture about you which you may be oblivious of.

And it's very important to not necessarily to obsess and to become neurotic about this, but it's important to be precise. And it is valuable to be precise. And that is what a lot of the epinets work that we've done tends to show that more greater precision, greater depth, so if I think more carefully about what you think and what you think I think and what you think I think you think, then it makes me more likely to respond to your concerns. It makes me more likely to address problems, issues and complaints that you might have. It makes us more likely to be able to coordinate our actions successfully. It makes us more able to co-mobilize in order to do something that's important to both of us. And that comes from greater precision, it doesn't come necessarily from a catchall theory like let's say game theory or interactive epistemology that go bonkers in terms of the formalism, but they don't focus on the precise structure of the beliefs as they occur in a human group interacting in real time.


In this 5-part Big Think Mentor workshop Mihnea Moldoveanu teaches us how to systematically analyze the epistemic structure of networks by using a diagramming tool called the epinet. In this lesson Moldoveanu introduces us to epinet basics. Moldoveanu is Associate Dean of MBA Programs at Rotman School of Management. His latest book is Epinets: The Epistemic Structure and Dynamics of Social Networks.

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