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Seminar: How Common is Common Sense?

Mark Whiting

The University of Pennsylvania

Thursday, May 26 2022
10:00 - 11:00 AM
Via Zoom


We all possess common sense, or believe we do.  But what exactly is it that we possess and how common is our possession of it?  In spite of centuries of debate regarding the nature and purpose of common sense, spanning philosophy, sociology, psychology, and history, as well as more recently artificial intelligence, there remains no clear answer to these fundamental questions.  In this talk, I propose an empirical framework for characterizing the content of common sense and quantifying its commonness with two measures: the extent to which everyone agrees on the truth of a statement, and the extent to which everyone knows what everyone else thinks about the truth of that statement. I will report on a large scale online experiment measuring common sense, and discuss how the approach used in this work can be expanded to study a range of traditionally elusive concepts about humans across scales, from individuals, to teams, and even to societies.  I will end by considering how this attitude toward measurement may also help navigate current empirical challenges in the social behavioral and economic sciences, such a generalizability and replicability.


Mark E. Whiting builds systems to study how people behave and coordinate at scale. He is a postdoc under Duncan J. Watts in the Computational Social Science Lab at the University of Pennsylvania.  He is affiliated with Computer & Information Science in Engineering and Applied Science and Operations, Information and Decisions at Wharton.  He was previously a postdoc under Michael S. Bernstein in the HCI group in Computer Science at Stanford.  He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in Industrial Design from RMIT and KAIST respectively, and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from CMU.