Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Review: The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't

The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don'tThe Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't by Julia Galef
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really got into this book. Galef's presentation style is clear. Although in some ways this is a 'self-help' book with tips and suggestions for improving one's mindset, she does a great job of balancing that with the conceptual framework, explanation, and justification of the mindset. She avoids the pitfalls of some self-help books which oversell their advice and make their advice all-encompassing. After all, that would be soldier mindset!

In many ways, there is nothing knew here. The basic idea is to avoid motivated reasoning and other cognitive biases so that one can get an accurate and objective picture of themselves and their world. But instead of just saying those biases are bad, don't do them, Galef explains why we so often fall into the trap and how we can work to create a mindset that makes it easier to avoid them. This is where the solider vs scout mindset comes. I love this metaphor: it worked right away in mind for making sense of this.

The soldier's job is defense and protection (and offensive as well). As a mindset, this becomes a matter of defending our beliefs or persuading others. This mindset develops to protect ourselves and those we love from harm; from false or wrong ideas. However, it can often lead to motivated reasoning (as well as other biases) in order to serve that protection. And this can actually undermine that goal--because it can lend itself to evasion and avoidance of realty and hard truths.

The scout on the other hand is sent out to survey the landscape, get the lay of the land. Their mission is one built on getting the most accurate understanding of the landscape one faces (exactly where is the bridge? where are the enemy positions? etc). Hoping the bridge is where you think it is doesn't make sense: you have to go and look where it is and make sure. As a mindset, this translate to a commitment to accuracy and the search for truth. Motivated reasoning doesn't make much sense here: if the goal is accuracy, we need to be focused on arriving on the truth as best we can. If we are motivated by some state of affairs to be true we can be blinded by that and miss the actual state of affairs. We'd fail as scouts.

That's the basic difference and from that Galef explains ways on how to foster and encourage a scout mindset. I found it very useful; and I've already felt the difference it is making on my approach to things.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 25, 2023

Review: The Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized Ethics

The Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized EthicsThe Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized Ethics by Benjamin J.B. Lipscomb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fascinating book! I was fully engaged throughout listening to it. The author does a good job, I think, of balancing the philosophical and the biographical. And the philosophical is handled well: I am familiar with Foot and Anscombe’s work and I don’t think there were any egregious errors or missteps. Moreover, I think a reader not as familiar would be able to get a handle on the ideas as discussed here.

While I knew that Foot and Anscombe were associates, I had no idea the depth and intimacy of the relationships between the four women on which the book focuses: Philippa Foot, G.E.M. Anscombe, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch. That these women were not only at Oxford around the same time, but were friends and intellectual interlocuters sort of blew my mind. A convergence of brilliance and ability like one rarely sees. The author details their friendships, but also the ways in which they intellectually influenced each other.

I am most familiar with Foot, having read much of work of the years. I have read little of Anscombe outside of the few works in moral philosophy she wrote. I was familiar with Murdoch, though never really read any of her work. And Midgley, I was only vaguely aware of the name. However, after reading this work, I ordered Midgley’s Beast and Man and hope to get to it sooner rather than later. She sounds like she pulls together many of the insights of Foot and the others in some promising ways.

I was also fascinated by the intellectual life of Oxford at this time. First, the depth of the education these women received is amazing – I am so jealous! What it took to get into Oxford and then proceed through successfully sounds incredibly challenging but also rewarding. Second, the seriousness with which intellectual life was treated came through and also makes me jealous!

These thinkers and their ideas should be more front and center in the philosophical world. They still are on the margins, but their insights continue to inspire and influence.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Review: Echo Park

Echo Park (Harry Bosch, #12; Harry Bosch Universe, #16)Echo Park by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the fascinating things about reading the Bosch stories after the TV show is noticing the way it diverges. Not just in terms of plot details (Several aspects of this book were adapted for Season 1), but also characters. Irvin Irving is the biggest difference: the TV show changes the character almost entirely. But Bosch is more reckless, more of a loose cannon/lone wolf in the books. That's there in the Welliver Bosch, but he's a bit more composed on the show.

The book is great; as exciting, and as fast a read as Connelly typically produces. The dialogue is pithy and witty. The story dives into some of the darkness of the human soul; but it also its light. I particularly liked the metaphor of the dog you feed: there is a good dog and bad dog in each of us, and who you become is partly a matter of which you choose to feed. How very Aristotelian!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Review: Scythe

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)Scythe by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shusterman has a produced an original and compelling story about a world where humanity has conquered mortality. The Scythe exist to keep the population levels under control, performing regular "gleanings" of the population. The story follows two teenagers chosen to be trained as Scythe apprentices. The story raises deep and important questions about the meaning of life, the role of mortality in being human, and the importance of moral character, especially how to maintain one's character while wielding incredible power.

The author does a good job of balancing these heady existential questions with the action of the story and the world-building. The world he creates is all-too familiar, but utterly foreign as well. At nearly every point where I though I knew where the story was going and it seemed in danger of becoming trite, Shusterman throws you are curve that keep things fresh. For a book about death and killing, it could still be funny and sweet.

View all my reviews

Review: Heir to the Empire

Heir to the Empire (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, #1)Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Zahn does a tremendous job of capturing the original trilogy characters while introducing some interesting new ones. Obviously the most important is Thrawn. I came to know Thrawn first through Rebels and then Zahn's new (canon) Thrawn trilogies. The original Thrawn shares with his canon version his incredible tactical and strategic mind, his art-influenced deep insight into alien cultures, and his cool, logical approach to all things. The original Thrawn, though, is clearly a bad guy; a true heir to the empire. The canon Thrawn, though working with the Empire, seems more morally ambiguous. I suspect the Ahsoka series will bring in more of the "bad guy" Thrawn.

I was underwhelmed by Mara Jade. Given the attention the fandom gives her, I was expecting more. She came off as far too bitter and petty; though extraordinarily capable and intelligent. I presume her character gets more developed in the subsequent books.

Talon Karrde was fun; a classic honorable thief type. The ysalamiri are intriguing, though I doubt they'd make into the new canon.

View all my reviews