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

Book review by Deane Barker
tags: critical-thinking
2021
Julia Galef
271
8/10

At first, I didn’t like this book, but it won me over in the end.

At its heart, it’s about confirmation bias – how we defend our positions by acknowledge evidence in favor of them and ignoring or downplaying evidence against them. Galef calls this “the soldier mindset,” because we’re always defending.

She argues in favor of “the scout mindset,” where we are constantly trying to determine the truth, whether or not it contradicts the positions we believe in. Scouts try very hard to prove themselves wrong. They want to be correct, not just feel correct.

About a third of the way through the book, I was thinking that she was just taking some basic ideas of confirmation bias and stretching them out into a book. However, the rest of the book was quite good.

Galef talks about why we suffer from the soldier mindset. She provides lots of examples of it, both in general (breastfeeding mothers) and specifically (cooperation with government agencies in improving AIDS treatments). She gives examples of how to determine when you’re falling back into a solider mindset, and what to do about it.

More than anything. Galef gets you excited about being wrong by taking the sting out of it. You’re not wrong, you just got smarter. You updated your position. You acted responsibly.

She makes the scout mindset seem like a heroic position, and that in itself is worth the time to read the book.

I have a particular position related to my industry that I defend like a soldier. Galef has persuaded me to investigate it like a scout instead. I’m preparing to be wrong, and it’s kind of exhilarating.

This is item #15 in a sequence of 616 items.

You can use your left/right arrow keys to navigate