The Scout Mindset by Julia Galef (Summary)

— 4 minute read

I recently finished reading The Scout Mindset (Julia Galef) which I picked up on the recommendation of Dan Luu.

It's a great short book that I found very useful. The core idea is that there are two kinds of mindsets, soldier mindset and scout mindset and it's useful to approach life through the later.

Soldier mindset arises from directionally motivated reasoning, "which evaluates ideas through the lences of 'Can I believe it', and 'Must I believe it?' ..... [vs] accuracy motivated reasoning [which] evaluates ideas through the lense of 'Is it true?'"

Directionally motivated reasoning has an end in mind, and our biases kick in to confirm that end. On the other hand, accuracy motivated reasoning seeks for the most truthful model of reality possible.

The soldier deludes herself, the scout seeks the truth.

Why we delude ourselves permalink

Soldier mindset is attractive because it gives us immediate benefits that I think we crave for from an evolutionary perspective. These broadly are emotional- comfort, self-esteem and morale- and social - persuasion, image, and belonging.

Humans want immediate rewards, and delusion allows us those kinds of rewards. The fruits of truth are better but take time, and in the moment, can be bitter.

Being a scout: permalink

  • Seek the truth

    • The truth is valuable because it allows us to a better model of reality.
    • An accurate picture of the odds helps you make better choices.
  • Accept Criticism

    • Darwin paid particular attention to those who criticized, rather than those who praised.
  • Feedback is essential to improvement.

  • Look for silver linings

    • Even when wrong it's a chance to learn, and to grow. This ties in to the powerful idea of having a growth mindset
  • Think of Expected Value rather than mere probability.

    • There are things with low probability but high Expected Value. Look for these things
    • Seek opportunities with low downsides but high upsides

    "The low odds Musk assigned to his own projects’ success left many people scratching their heads. In an appearance on 60 Minutes in 2014, interviewer Scott Pelley tried to understand Musk’s logic: Elon Musk: Well, I didn’t really think Tesla would be successful. I thought we would most likely fail . . . Scott Pelley: But you say you didn’t expect the company to be successful? Then why try? Elon Musk: If something’s important enough you should try. Even if the probable outcome is failure."

  • Have a lot of social confidence, but not so much epistemic confidence

    • When it comes to epistemic confidence, doubt is a good friend.
    • Admit uncertainty, but
      1. justify why you are uncertain
      2. give estimates
      3. have a plan
  • Change the game

    • Sometimes we can reach solutions by changing the game, or at least changing the rules of the game.
    • Problems can (and should) be attacked from multiple angles.
    • This important lesson is called Reframing in Engineering Design.
  • Revise your opinions incrementally over time

    • Update your beliefs as you get new information.
  • View Errors as a learning opportunity

  • Have a beginner's mind.

    • Do not approach problems (or people) with strong preconceived notions
  • Be aware of the unknown unknowns

  • Empathize

    • People have reasons to act as they do, even if you do not understand why.
    • Try to see things from their perspective.
  • Adopt an "ideological turing test" mindset

    • Understand the opposing side as deeply as possible
  • Hold your identities lightly

    • Holding an identity lightly means thinking of it in a matter-of-fact way, rather than as a central source of pride and meaning in your life. It’s a description, not a flag to be waved proudly.
    • This allows you to know when to cooperate, and when to disrupt using an accurate lense.
  • Change your surroundings

    • Change the people around you. This is often the best way to change your behavior and habits.
    • Ties in together with the idea of intentionally designing your environment(also explored in Atomic habits)

    But in the medium-to-long term, one of the biggest things you can do to change your thinking is to change the people you surround yourself with. We humans are social creatures, and our identities are shaped by our social circles, almost without our noticing.