Change Your Mind Slowly

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.

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Coping in an Unpleasant World


Part III of Julia Galef’s The Scout Mindset (2021) is Thriving Without Illusions.  In its first chapter, Coping with Reality, she writes:

One of the most fundamental human needs is to feel like things are basically okay:  that we’re not failures that the world isn’t a horrible place, and that whatever life throws at us, we’ll be able to handle it.

As we navigate this cold, cruel, oftentimes absurd world, we must keep despair at bay.  And the way to do that is with honest coping, not self-deceptive coping.  Galef’s suggestions include staying positive by counting your blessings.  Be grateful for what’s in your war chest.  Avoid self-justification (it wasn’t my fault), denial (everything’s fine), false fatalism (it’s hopeless) and sour grapes (it’s not worth it anyway).

Galef tells a helpful story about a baseball pitcher’s philosophy about his performance.  When interviewed to explain a bad pitching streak he replied “Random variations.  It won’t continue.  At some point, it will break”.  That’s a good mindset – coming to terms with risk and variation gives us mental calmness and composure in what can be an unpleasant world.

Chapter 8 is Motivation Without Self-Deception.  Probabilistic thinking is vital; develop an accurate picture of the odds that can be adjusted as decisions are made and new knowledge acquired.  Chapter 9 delineates two types of confidence:  1) Epistemic confidence (certainty about what’s true); and 2) Social confidence (self-assurance).  Unfortunately, people judge others on their social confidence, not epistemic confidence. 

An understanding of elite myside bias gives me equanimity in the midst of the immense wrongness and immorality of the people “in charge” – politicians, academics and mainstream journalists.  There is so much propaganda and narrative driven bullshit on the internet now.  People who are willing to use state or institutional power to fight a problem that only exists in their minds are the cause of current anti-liberalism and discontent.  But it’s just variation.  At some point it will break and elite social confidence will collapse as enough writers with epistemic confidence call them out.

Arnold Kling regularly points to writers (he calls them his Fantasy Intellectual Team) who see the complete inability of western leaders to grasp or reckon with – let alone address – glaring domestic weakness and the damage being wrought by “woke” ideas.  The left’s freak out over Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and the new government “Ministry of Truth” are concerning developments.  But again, it’s random variation, temporary wrongness – free speech will win out because it’s moral, correct and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Here are a couple of Quillette articles to place in our War Chest of coping knowledge, as we wait for humanity to be cured of its woke mind virus infection:

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Climbing Aboard Our Scout Horse

Part II of Julia Galef’s The Scout Mindset (2021) is Developing Self-Awareness.  Chapter 4 begins by pointing out the signs of and impediments to a scout mindset.  Her fundamental formula for failing to be a scout:

[feeling confident] + [being smart] = biased wrongness

That may seem counterintuitive but it’s empirically true.  Cognitive elites are both arrogant and wrong.  Much of this chapter summarizes what Keith Stanovich established in our last book, The Bias That Divides Us (2021).  Feeling or believing you’re a scout (claiming to be objective and knowledgeable), does not make you one, and in fact it makes it worse.  Actually behaving like a scout makes you one:  1) Admitting when you’re wrong; 2) Accepting criticism; 3) Attempting to prove yourself wrong; 4) Always taking precautions against being wrong; and 5) Seeking out good critics. 

Chapter 5 explains how we can detect bias by using “thought experiments”.  Galef suggests scrutinizing reasoning by comparing it with how you would have reasoned in a counter factual world.  She gives five tests.  The ridiculously absurd move by the Biden administration to create a governmental truth bureau in response to Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter gives us occasion to see how out of touch our biased (non-scout) cognitive elites are:

The Double Standard Test:  If Trump was in office and established a “Disinformation Governance Board”, mainstream media would completely freak out.

The Outsider Test:  Anyone who is not in the mainstream orthodox left can see the Orwellian authoritarian danger of attempting to centralize truth determination with a single arbiter.

The Conformity Test:  As soon as the expected and ongoing attack of this bad idea kills it, the Left will pretend that they never held the view that a Truth Czar is a good idea.

The Selective Skeptic Test:  Mainstream media is almost completely ignoring how stupid it would be to allow the political Left to officially label conservative views as “disinformation”.

The Status Quo Bias Test.  Government does not have the ability to dictate what is true and what is false.  It is not the status quo and no one in his right mind would choose to make it so.

Chapter 6, How Sure Are You?, is funIt provides a calibration tool of 40 questions designed to measure certainty.  Certainty is the enemy of scouts.  We can never ever be completely certain about anything.  We shoot for truth on our scout horse but we’re going to miss a lot of the shots we take. 

The section ends with the Equivalent Bet Test.  Your degree of certainty must be based on what’s at stake if you’re wrong.  Steven Pinker taught us that here on 12/7/21.  Knowledge is probabilistic.  There’s no such thing as “scientifically proven”.  Certainty is useless and damaging to knowledge because false certitude, along with an incorrect understanding of liberty, are the grand enemies of truth and peace.

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Reasoning Is Combat – But It Need Not Be Only Combat

Part I of Julia Galef’s The Scout Mindset (2021) lays out her thesis.  Humans have two very different ways of thinking – as a soldier or as a scout (we are all both).  The section concludes by observing that even though our minds evolved to be soldiers, our world is becoming one that rewards the ability to see things clearly.  “More and more, it’s a scout’s world now”.

Galef answers the second question in the book’s subtitle, Why Some People See Things Clearly and Other’s Don’t, by explaining that many cannot see clearly because they are self-deluded in a soldier mindset (leftist journalists are the worse).  Motivated reasoning and myside bias turns them into conflictual cognitive combatants.  Reasoning and wealth are both war, as we’ve seen on this blog for years – it’s why I call it the War Chest.  Soldier mindset and wealth accumulation are both coercive because they’re “held against” others.  The claim ‘this is mine’ or ‘this is a fact’ is always subject to legitimacy challenge.  Militaristic cognition is baked right into the English language.  Galef gives dozens of examples on pg. 7-8.

Her advice is that we should try to be more scout minded instead of soldier minded.  She guides us through 6 overlapping categories of the functions that soldier motivated reasoning serves:

  1. Comfort:  Avoiding Unpleasant Emotions
  2. Self-Esteem:  Feeling Good About Ourselves
  3. Morale:  Motivating Ourselves to Do Hard Things
  4. Persuasion:  Convincing Ourselves So We Can Convince Others
  5. Image:  Choosing Beliefs That Make Us Look Good
  6. Belonging:  Fitting In to Your Social Group

Human beliefs serve many different purposes.  As you can see from those 6 soldier mind functions above, truth is not the only goal for rationality.  There is epistemic rationality (truth or at least well justified beliefs) and instrumental rationality (acting and believing to achieve goals – truth and morality be damned).  Galef’s point is that we tend to overvalue immediate goals and undervalue truth, which gives us an accurate map of reality.  As we’ll see here later, acting and believing like a scout and less like a soldier is a rewarding process of developing good habits and skills.  It takes work because our naturally evolved mindset is that of a soldier who thinks truth is overrated and wants to pick a fight.

We need the soldier if someone attacks our values (tries to breach our Schelling Fence).  But being a scout is morally and epistemically superior and more rewarding in the long-term.  Reasoning is indeed combat.  But it doesn’t have to be only combat if we train our inner scout.

Incidentally, the blogger who alerted me to the knowledge crisis we’re exploring writes that it is still ongoing, as woke scolds continue in their attempts to impose false “luxury” beliefs on us all.

Fortunately, humanity’s woke mind virus has been isolated and will eventually be eradicated.

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Soldier vs. Scout Mindset

The last three books we explored explain the knowledge crisis humanity now faces, then conclude with a chapter of recommendations on what to do about it.  Our new project, The Scout Mindset:  Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t (2021) by Julia Galef, is 16 chapters of recommendations on not what to think but how to think (like a scout).  The book is absolutely compelling in its clarity, honesty and usefulness as a cognitive tactical scope.  It’s one of the best books I’ve read on thinking effectively in an intelligent, truthful manner.  Plus, it’s an easy, entertaining read.  I devoured it in a weekend.

Here’s an outline of the book from the rationalist community

Even Erza Klein loves it (his interview with Sam Harris from our last book/post exemplifies soldier tribalism).  He wrote the first blurb on the back cover extolling The Scout Mindset.

Galef’s approach focuses on three realizations:  1) Truth is not in conflict with our goals; 2) There are cognitive tools that enable us to see clearly; and 3) A scout mindset is much more emotionally rewarding than defaulting to our inner soldier.

Working through Galef’s book makes us a better scout and a better soldier.  Scouting out superior ground allows us to aim a truth weapon at the face of any enemy cognitive soldier.  Special forces scout training begins here next week.

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Go On, Git

The final chapter of The Bias That Divides Us (2021) tells us what to do about myside bias.  Stanovich’s advice – point it out!  Take aim at those arrogant elites and blast away if they try to cancel you.  Back those snobby know-it-alls into a corner with the help of the gunslinger writers I cite, call them out on their false worldview and chase them away.  Don’t let them walk through your mind with their dirty feet.  His advice is similar to Jonathan Rauch’s last chapter of The Constitution of Knowledge (2021) – unmute!

As we keep wokeness out of our lives, we should also recognize the societal damage it is causing.  Stanovich gives 9 recommendations, the first of which is to avoid cognitive elites.  You cannot engage a hostile partisan tribal mind because it is not about reason or truth.  It’s about power and coercion.  The Klein Harris interview on pg. 156-157 illustrates why you can’t argue with a conflict theory person.  If a conversation begins with “speaking as an X…”, walk away.  We need not play the game of morally superior identities.

Recommendations 2-5 suggest epistemic humility in our beliefs.  Recommendation 6 tells us to avoid activating convictions by resisting unprincipled bundling.  Last week’s post articulates the deceptive herding of various grievances into one unifying, false worldview of oppression.  Woke positions from issue to issue are inconsistent and are not held together by a coherent philosophy.  The circular firing squad of intersectionality collapses into nonsensical futility.

Recommendations 7-8 warn us to steer clear of identity politics.   Fortunately, I can do that because I’m not beholden to a woke university, corporation or law partnership for my livelihood.  Recommendation 9 calls out academia’s failure.  I pity those who are silenced by the Left, ceding their free speech rights out of fear of being cancelled.  Any clear-thinking human (or A.I.) mind can see that attacking or silencing people for their identity is morally wrong.  It was wrong to disadvantage blacks, jews, women and homosexuals and it’s just as wrong to target white, heterosexual males because of their identity.

The noxious immorality of our current cognitive elites was recently highlighted in N. S. Lyons anniversary blog post about Washington D.C. elites: 

The limitless narcissism and navel gazing, the gaslighting and dissimulation, the illiteracy and greed of the place is surpassed perhaps only by the weight of its decadent banality – by the same painfully shallow ideas (and people) circulating ceaselessly through an incestuous and wholly unaccountable apparatus insistent on regurgitating them over and over again in entitled cries for more money and power and attention.

Finally, it is easy to avoid woke Twitter zombies because they are stupid, or, as blogger Cactus puts it more politely, they espouse a total lack of rigor and do not consciously consider the positions they are taking. They do not factually investigate them, nor do they check whether those positions are consistent.

To any leftist ideologue reading this –> Yer darn tootin – git your high falootin hide out of our truth saloon or we’ll use our cognitive six guns to blast yer false belief system.

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Particularly Virulent

Chapter 5 of The Bias That Divides Us (2021) is The Myside Bias of Cognitive Elites.   Stanovich, having established that intelligence is no defense against myside bias and that it is driven by memeplexes acquiring minds, now delves into a blindness towards myside bias that is particularly virulent among cognitive elites.  As a conservative thinker, I was amused by this chapter.  It reveals the misguided arrogance consuming leftist elites. 

There is a massive blind spot among elite academics, particularly in the field of psychology, who devote enormous amounts of time and energy trying to justify their false worldview.  Stanovich writes:  “When one steps back and looks at the last two decades worth of studies attempting to find links between conservative ideology and negative cognitive/personality psychological traits, one is struck by the low yield of these attempts, given the effort expended in terms of the sheer number of studies.”  The election of Donald Trump made it much worse.  The last section of the chapter is The Great White Whale of the Cognitive Elites:  Finding Deficiencies in Trump Voters.

The malevolence of this moral panic* in leftist thought is not just that it’s wrong, but that it’s wrong in obviously exploitable ways.  Elite bias results in the affective polarization and vicious divisiveness we see today.  Academics cannot see the perspective of the other side.  All major happenings become what Scott Alexander calls “scissor events”, that splits people apart into totally different polarized realities where each is incredulous that the other side could possibly believe differently.  And the blame is not equal.  Leftists are more at fault for this “firehose of bullshit”.  They are conflict theory, not mistake theory people, so there is no arguing with them.

Arnold Kling points to a blogger named Cactus, who in turn cites Wesley Yang articulating what’s going on with the academic Left. 

This framework of course proved very useful in academia. It is a machine for generating discourse and imbuing that discourse with moral and sociopolitical significance. It is most effective at propagating discourse when it unburdens itself from a burden of proof or from the tests of proportionality or reasonableness, and hardens into a dogma… [and] …has a way of turning into a warrant to dispense with any limiting principles on the claims one can make without challenge, and swiftly move toward totalizing accounts of reality.

A necessary condition of fighting one aspect of this many-tentacled beast is to fight all of its other aspects. Over the years, this movement has elaborated a continually advancing series of dimensions of oppression that it is necessary to invoke anytime any other dimensions of oppression are invoked, so as to ensure that the unity of all oppression is centered in our discussion of any particular of oppression. This peculiarity of the movement is rooted in both the academic parlor game of Left academe, and the prime directive of the non-profit professional activism sphere, which is to manufacture out of various discrete grievances, a single seamless synoptic picture of the world that can yoke together those various grievance under the sign of a single unifying mission.

Heterosexual, healthy, wealthy white males are the scapegoat oppressors in the Left’s cynical, fake moral emergency.  It’s utterly absurd – and yet, here we are.  Next week, we get to Stanovich’s advice on what to do about all of this.

* Per Wiki, a moral panic is a widespread feeling of fear, often an irrational one, that some evil person or thing threatens the values, interests, or well-being of a community or society.  It is “the process of arousing social concern over an issue”, usually perpetuated by moral entrepreneurs [Twitter hacks] and the mass media, and exacerbated by politicians and lawmakers.

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Chicken Egg Mind Virus

Chapter 4 of The Bias That Divides Us (2021) is Where Do Our Convictions Come From?    Stanovich brilliantly draws an analogy between beliefs and genes.  What if we do not acquire our beliefs, rather they acquire us!  This is what researchers using a “memes-eye” point of view have found to be true – and it’s intellectually startling, as I wrote here on 1/19/21.  Richard Dawkins answered the age-old riddle:  which came first:  the chicken or the egg?  in his groundbreaking book The Selfish Gene (1976).  The answer is the egg came first.  A chicken is just the egg’s way of making another egg, of replicating its DNA.  The DNA molecules in turtles, lizards, snakes (and humans) found different but also successful ways to propagate themselves as well. 

Beliefs (both good and bad, true or false) are the same – but they don’t propagate through bodies, they reproduce and spread in minds.  Problematic (false) ideas are “parasitic mindware”.  As I wrote here on 9/29/20, postmodern “woke” thought is a mind virus that has now been isolated, thoroughly analyzed and will eventually be eradicated by clear thinking writers.

This is why so many smart people believe woke nonsense like critical race theory.  Stanovich writes:  One commonsense view of why belief X spreads is the notion that belief X spreads simply “because it is true.”  This notion, however, has trouble accounting for beliefs that are true but not popular, and for beliefs that are popular but not true.  Memetic theory provides us with another reason why beliefs spread:  Belief X spreads among people because it is a good replicator – it is good at acquiring hosts.

But who’s to say which beliefs are true and which are false and parasitic?  One might ask me “Maybe it’s your mind, Overmann, that has been infected by a conservative mind virus”.  Me and the writers I cite here every week don’t think so.  Stanovich explains why it’s cognitive elites who are infected with false, distal beliefs in the next 2 chapters.  Jonathan Rauch addressed it on pages 217-220 (Am I Cancelling You Right Now?) of The Constitution of Knowledge (2021).  And Julia Galef explains the soldier mindset protecting false views in The Scout Mindset (2021), which will be our next project.

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Elites Should Be Worried (they’re not)

Chapter 3 of The Bias That Divides Us (2021) is Myside Thinking:  The Outlier Bias.  It establishes scientifically that cognitive elites suffer much more from myside bias than others.  The greater a person’s level of intellectual sophistication, the greater their level of political bias.  The next two chapters delve into how this happens and then why it creates such a massive blind spot.  Elites are devastatingly wrong in their distal beliefs on a wide range of issues – sexuality, morality, race, family structure, crime, productivity, marriage, incentives, educational practices, wealth and poverty.  Those last two are what we address here weekly on this blog.

Blogs are becoming much more important.  If you haven’t heard about the emergent movements of Effective Altruism, Longtermism and AI Alignment, you will. just offered five $100,000 prizes for the best new blogs.  They’re looking for fresh scout mindset ideas on moral philosophy and big picture thoughts on personal agency, science and economics.  My blog’s too old to qualify but it addresses one aspect of the AI Alignment problem.  A powerful Artificial Intelligence entity would read all blogs before deciding whether or not to alter our current economic system by redistributing wealth.  I will continue to assemble and amplify myriad books and articles on why confiscating my clients’ wealth for the “greater good” would be morally evil and economically ineffective, inefficient and destructive.

My approach is a strong defense against redistribution not only because it utilizes Game Theory and cumulative Bayesian reasoning but also because it actively searches for and addresses counterarguments as they arise.  For example, ever since my analysis of three books to conclude that Meritocracy is a moral and efficient means of allocating resources (4/6/21-11/2/21), every week I Google news the word Meritocracy and read the articles. 

Here’s a counter argument result:

That author is criticizing James Lindsay’s new book and thinks it’s a foregone conclusion that Meritocracy has been rejected as implausible.  He’s cynically wrong.  Lindsay’s views (parsed through here 9/9/20-11/24/20) expose the myside bias on sexuality and race displayed by elites and this clearly intelligent albeit wrong critic.

Here’s an article from the Thinking Fast and Slow (2011) author on the value of adversarial collaboration (kind of what we’re doing here by comparing arguments and counterarguments):

Finally, Scott Alexander writes that there has been a “semantic shift” in the notion of justice:

In this week’s image the crowned caricature elite in the chair looks worried.  Today’s elites are not; they should be.  Why aren’t they worried?  Because of myside bias.

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Island of False Beliefs

Chapter 2 of The Bias That Divides Us (2021), Is Myside Processing Irrational?, is a bit challenging.  If you’re reading the book with me, don’t get distracted by the math, Koehler’s Proof B or number of scientific studies Stanovich cites.  You can brush up on Bayes Theorem by re-reading chapter 5 of Pinker’s Rationality (2021) or just stipulate that the logic and science leading to his conclusions are correct. Stanovich’s key finding in this chapter is also explained on pgs. 292-298 of Pinker’s book.  The guts of what’s going on in today’s harsh marketplace of ideas is that many smart people are trapped in a Tragedy of the Rationality Commons.

Stanovich begins with the knowledge projection argument – in an environment where most of our prior beliefs are true, projecting prior beliefs onto new information will lead to faster accumulation of knowledge.  That’s good myside bias.  The problem is that it can also isolate certain individuals on “islands of false beliefs”, from which they are unable to escape.  That’s bad myside bias.  Those trapped keep reaching into a bag of beliefs that are largely false, using their considerable intelligence to rationalize those beliefs and ward off skeptics.  Why can’t they flee the island of false beliefs on the back of Knowledge King Moonracer?  Because of the high cost of belief change.

Bad myside bias stems not from Bayes Rule but from Game Theory.  Prior beliefs reflect what the reasoner wants to be true instead of what they have grounds to believe to be true.  Everything is driven by the goal of being valued by one’s peers and not being sanctioned or ostracized by them. Identity protective cognition is a type of symbolic behavior.  Truth is subordinated to virtue signaling to the in-group.  Stanovich writes that many actions purportedly expressing concern for [fill in the blank… racism, wealth inequality, global warming, transgender ideology… whatever] are not truth driven but signal a treasured but false belief.  Symbolic acts of expressive rationality are done out of concern for “being a certain type of person”. 

Next week, we get to who is responsible for this tragic trashing of the intellectual commons (it’s snobby elites).  The negative consequences of myside bias fall on other people, not those clinging to false beliefs, stranded on islands of bad ideas.  Their beliefs, however, have resulted in a fractious and politically divided society that can’t seem to agree on the truth. 

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