The Commonalities of Common Sense

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How common is common sense? A straightforward question that, surprisingly, has yet to receive a definitive science-based answer. Now, PIK Professor Duncan Watts and co-author Mark Whiting of the Wharton School and the School of Engineering and Applied Science present a new way to quantify common sense among both individuals and collectives. (Image: Courtesy of Mark Whiting)

Throughout human history, survival and the formation of complex societies have heavily depended on knowledge. Equally crucial are the assumptions about what others perceive as true or false, namely common sense. This is evident in everyday situations like adhering to road rules: Pedestrians naturally avoid walking into traffic, while drivers refrain from driving on sidewalks to bypass congestion.

However, deviations from these seemingly intuitive principles of interpersonal conduct remain prevalent. Despite the ubiquity of common sense, there is no unanimous consensus on what individuals collectively perceive as true or false.

Now, Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor Duncan Watts and Mark Whiting of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and Wharton School have developed a unique framework to quantify the concept of common sense. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers present a way to quantify common sense at both the individual and collective levels.

“Common sense is something that we all believe we possess, but rarely, if ever, are we forced to articulate which of our beliefs we consider ‘commonsensical’ or who else we think shares them,” Watts says. “What Mark and I set out to do was create a framework for answering these questions in a systematic, empirical way.”

This story was written by Nathi Magubane. To read the full article, please visit Penn Today.