Part IV of Julia Galef’s The Scout Mindset (2021) is Changing Your Mind. Its first chapter, How To Be Wrong, starts with Philip Tetlock’s exhaustive studies on forecasting the future, which conclude that most experts are “roughly as accurate as a dart-throwing chimpanzee”.
We are all wrong much of the time. The best forecasters Tetlock found were the ones who constantly updated their forecasts as new information became available. Eagerly admitting they were wrong at first greatly improved their ultimate accuracy.
Far too many humans exhibit moral and epistemic arrogance. They deploy “belief system defenses” and refuse to admit they are wrong. Galef suggests instead to think of mistakes as updating. Like this blog, knowledge is a stream of thoughts, caught in the middle of updates. Worldviews should be living documents meant to be revised. Chapter 11 is Lean In To Confusion. Being wrong, being confused, is a good thing – anomalies pile up causing a paradigm shift to more accurate map of reality.
Galef gives many examples of people who were puzzled. A scout is willing to stay confused, remain curious about why it’s confusing. Scott Alexander, whose thinking I greatly admire, is several of her examples – Scott once concluded a point with “…if you’re the type of person who is interested in things”. Yes, Scott, I am that type of person, which is why I read so much and write this weekly blog. Isaac Asimov said: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka’ but ‘That’s funny’”.
The last chapter in this section is Escape Your Echo Chamber. Ironically, her advice is to not pursue dialog with or read rhetoric from those with whom you vehemently disagree. No. That won’t work, it just pisses off both sides. Galef teaches instead:
- Listen to people you find reasonable
- Listen to people you share intellectual common ground with
- Listen to people who share your goals
I’m very cynical of polemic people who waste their time and energy arguing on the internet. I only listen to writers whom I trust and admire – even if I don’t agree with them. For example, Freddie DeBoer is a Marxists but I read his blog regularly because I respect his honest clarity of thought – even though I’m about as anti-Marxists as they come. Freddie had to shut down his comments section on 5/12/22 because readers began a vicious feud about trans-gender ideology.
Galef concludes the section:
We need to lower our expectations, by a lot. Even under ideal conditions in which everyone is well-informed, reasonable, and making a good-faith effort to explain their views and understand the other side, learning from disagreements is still hard (and conditions are almost never ideal).
Next week, we arrive at the final section of the book before moving on to my next project – Francis Fukuyama’s just published Liberalism and Its Discontents (2022). It’s really frikin’ good! The book coheres ideas I’ve written about here weekly for almost 8 years – notions that I’ve thought deeply about my entire life…. and will continue to.