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.

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