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In rationality circles inferential distance is a term used to refer -- in a rather subjective way -- to knowledge gaps and conceptual gaps. It is an important component of the typical mind fallacy.

An inferential gap exists when one person has well-developed concepts that another person does not. This might refer to ideas such as evolution through natural selection, mutually assured destruction, Transubstantiation, or the offside rule. The people who understand the concepts are likely to see them as fairly straightforward and central pieces of knowledge, and those who do not are likely to see them as cryptic and confusing.

It is important to note that inferential distance can exist even regarding equally knowledgeable people talking on the same subject; a scientist and a young earth creationist may each have a well-developed body of data supporting their worldview. If they view each other as ignorant or confused, they probably do not understand each other's position very well (high inferential distance). However, if they do understand each other's positions perfectly well (low inferential distance), they may accept that the other is not ignorant, but still view the other as entirely wrong.

Correctly judging the inferential distance between you and your audience is often difficult, but is necessary to successful communication. You have no hope of explaining that offside traps work more or less the same whether you play with three backs in a 3-5-2 or a sweeper in a 4-4-2 if your audience is American. You will have to give a significant amount of background information before your statement becomes meaningful, and you will have a significant challenge simply in keeping your audience interested enough to follow your explanation. Unsurprisingly, the same is true if you are talking about a proof that the multiplicative group of a finite field is cyclic.

There are two good partial solutions to overcoming inferential gaps. One is to give new info slowly. Rather than start by trying to explain the offside rule, check to see if your audience has ever seen a football (AKA 'soccer') game; rather than try to get to your final point right right now, start the journey and see how far you can get. The other is to become more entertaining. I have no interest in listening to a drunken hoodie trying to explain football to me, but might listen to a good comedian; skill in being an engaging speaker translates fairly well into skill in explaining new ideas, simply because the audience always has to be willing to do most of the work involved in understanding.

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