Book reviews / Non fiction

Book review: The Scout Mindset

This book was a really quick read, covering some of the themes and concepts found in books like Thinking, Fast and Slow and Irrationality. However, it feels a lot more accessible than both of those, choosing the studies and ideas carefully, rather than referring to hundreds of studies. It also does a good job of having several people introduced throughout the book that demonstrate some aspect of the Scout Mindset. It makes it feel coherent and easy to link together the different concepts.

The book outlines that most of the way we think are like a ‘soldier’, we determine whether or not something fits into an existing pattern or belief, and try to rationalise away those that don’t. The Scout, does the opposite, they attempt to find out whether or not something is true. One of the people she uses to demonstrate this difference is the different investigators in the Dreyfus Affair and the man who ultimately had the original conviction overturned.

If you’ve read similar books, you might not consider giving this one a go, but I think it’s still worth the read. This is mainly do to the last few chapters, where the author Julia Galef talks about how ‘to wear your identity lightly’. I think this is what people find difficult to do and therefore go down their own ideological rabbit holes, never to be seen as ‘rational’ again by others. It’s something I see more and more of, where people I used to know to have lots of ideological commonality, have now diverged. These are along different political and social reasons, but regardless, two people who used to agree on 99% of things can somehow take these different roads to a place where they can’t recognise each other any more.

The passage I liked most was “the better your message makes you feel about yourself, the less likely it is that you are convincing anyone else” (page 206). I think that basically sums up about 99% of online arguments.

There were lots of good case studies she raises, examples where people questioned some of their own motivations and positions, which generally led to better outcomes, such as better treatments for HIV/AIDS patients in the early days of treatment. I like that she came to this viewpoint through her own work in the effective altruism movement.

It was just a really good read and I like the idea of holding identity lightly. I think I do that anyway, but as she points out, it’s really easy to slip into the ‘soldier’ mindset, so I shouldn’t beat myself up too much about it when I find out that I’ve been led down a path by my own motivated reasoning.

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