Your independent impression about something is essentially what you'd believe about that thing if you weren't updating your beliefs in light of peer disagreement - i.e., if you weren't taking into account your knowledge about what other people believe and how trustworthy their judgement seems on this topic. Your independent impression can take into account the reasons those people have for their beliefs (inasmuch as you know those reasons), but not the mere fact that they believe what they believe.
Meanwhile, your all-things-considered belief can (and probably should!) also take into account peer disagreement.
Armed with this concept, I try to stick to the following epistemic/discussion norms, and I think it's good for other people to do so as well:
- I try to keep track of my own independent impressions separately from my all-things-considered beliefs
- I try to feel comfortable reporting my own independent impression, even when I know it differs from the impressions of people with more expertise in a topic
- I try to be clear about whether, in a given moment, I'm reporting my independent impression or my all-things-considered belief
One rationale for that bundle of norms is to avoid information cascades.
In contrast, when I actually make decisions, I try to always make them based on my all-things-considered beliefs.
For example: My independent impression is that it's plausible that an unrecoverable dystopia is more likely than extinction and that we should prioritise such risks more than we currently do. But this opinion seems relatively uncommon among people who've thought a lot about existential risks. That observation pushes my all-things-considered belief somewhat away from my independent impression and towards what most of those people seem to think. And this all-things-considered belief is what guides my research and career decisions. But I think it's still useful for me to keep track of my independent impression and report it sometimes, or else communities I'm part of might end up with overly certain and homogenous beliefs.
This term, this concept, and these suggested norms aren't at all original to me - see in particular Naming beliefs, this comment, and several of the posts tagged Epistemic humility (especially this one). But I wanted a clear, concise description of this specific set of terms and norms so that I could link to it whenever I say I'm reporting my independent impression, ask someone for theirs, or ask someone whether an opinion they've given is their independent impression or their all-things-considered belief.
My thanks to Lukas Finnveden for suggesting I make this a top-level post (it was originally a shortform).
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