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

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  3,221 ratings  ·  420 reviews
When it comes to what we believe, humans see what they want to see. In other words, we have what Julia Galef calls a soldier mindset. From tribalism and wishful thinking, to rationalizing in our personal lives and everything in between, we are driven to defend the ideas we most want to believe--and shoot down those we don't.

But if we want to get things right more often, ar
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 13th 2021 by Portfolio (first published June 4th 2019)
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There is a kind of smug, self-satisfaction to books like this that invariably make me feel, regardless of how useful parts of them might prove to be, uncomfortable. I used to think of political beliefs as existing on a continuum running from left to right. Then I thought of this continuum as being more like a circle, where the far left and far right end up virtually touching – something the current pandemic has made particularly clear to me as I’ve watched as some Marxists have started sounding ...more
Apr 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
Here's a way to tell scientific intelligence from legal intelligence. Both may start from the idea that something cannot be done and think up arguments to explain why. However, the scientist may discover a flaw in the argument that leads him change his mind and to discover a way to do it...

The legal thinker will merely try to patch the flaw in the argument, because, once he has chosen a side, all his intelligence is devoted to finding arguments for that side.

― John McCarthy

I was a bit of a
Ozzie Gooen
Apr 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
TDLR: A solid book with mass appeal to help people care more about being accurate. Highly readable, easy to recommend.

Also, see this related LessWrong post, which provides an excellent summary. This is much better than my notes. https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/yFJ7v...


The Scout Mindset is the sort of book I'm both happy with and frustrated by. I'm frustrated because this is a relatively casual overview of what I wish were a thorough Academic specialty. I felt similarly with The Life You Can
Matthew Jordan
May 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I was surprised by how much I loved The Scout Mindset. I've been following Julia Galef's work for many years, and spent a long time immersed in the literature on rationality, decision-making, and belief formation, so I expected the book to be kind of boring. Instead, I found it extremely persuasive and even quite moving. Every page was jam-packed with important ideas, and the examples masterfully supported the main arguments. It also was never polemical. Julia Galef does not want you to be on he ...more
Ross Blocher
Aug 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I’ve found it! It’s the book everyone should read. In The Scout Mindset, Julia Galef has distilled important lessons on the weaknesses of thinking that could (and do) fill many other books. Galef lists some of these related tomes, such as Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) and Thinking Fast and Slow, both favorites of mine. The result fills a niche somewhere between social psychology and self-help, but the advice is sound, relatable, and scrupulously backed by evidence. The hardest thing is to d ...more
Apr 27, 2021 rated it liked it
Julia picks interesting cases to support her claim, so in a way, she satisfied my selfish want to find stories in the non-fiction. Thanks, Julia.

However (there's always that however), what I did not like was the same-old-same-old tradition among modern-day non-fiction writers who think it's the best strategy to make it to that 200+ pages by adding as many evidences as they can to validate their precious insights. It's annoying. I don't want to get used to this stupid tradition just because Julia
This book is superb. It is like Rationality: From AI to Zombies but targeting a wider audience.

People tend to overestimate the value of self-deception excessively. When I talk about rationality, some will immediately jump to "but self-deception can be useful." I agree. Self-deception can indeed be helpful but to a limited extent. Self-deception is not going to, for example, magically make all existential risks vanish.

When talking about rationality, the most important thing is defining what we m
Dylan Matthews
Mar 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Julia’s a friend so I’ll avoid being too effusive. But this is a rare book that actually makes you want to be a better, or at least a better-reasoning, person.
Stefan Schubert
Apr 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The Scout Mindset is a spirited defence of truth-seeking and intellectual honesty. Julia Galef argues that we by default are in the "soldier mindset", where we're trying to defend our views come what may. We're making our beliefs part of our identity, so feel personally threatened if someone challenges them. Instead, she argues, we should adopt the scout mindset - we should be genuinely curious; genuinely open to changing our mind.

Galef argues that adopting this mindset or attitude is key to bec
Jul 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a book about self bias.

The first half was very interesting, author provides very good examples of our judgment flaws and proofs her point that we tend to jump into conclusions without investigating all available data.
Now, her main motivator for a reader is "finding the truth". As noble and idealistic as it sounds, probably more "down to earth" benefits would be more convincing to average Joe.

Book is very well edited and readers can follow thought process in a smooth way. It is written
Fredrik deBoer
Jan 11, 2022 rated it liked it
This review was originally published in my newsletter.

Julia Galef's The Scout Mindset is not for me, in ways both big and small. To start with, it should be called just Scout Mindset, not The Scout Mindset. No, I will not be justifying that statement with an argument. Beyond that injustice, it's an engaging precis on some important topics by a thoughtful author, and a book that was clearly a labor of love. And at times I couldn't stand reading it.

Galef’s book, her first, is part of a burgeoning
Cristina Balan
Mar 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021
I started reading this book with a strange feeling: I could not understand the link between a scout and how people think. Slowly into the book, I realised that I was wrong: there is a strong connection between how people in general think and react, and the inquirer's mindset.

Critical thinking is the muscle we lack training. We pay the costs, while the burden gets bigger only because we are not true to ourselves. We keep lying ourselves instead of scrutinising arguments, researching, checking if
Rob Barry
Sep 05, 2021 rated it it was ok
In considering how I liked this book, one of the author’s phrases come to mind: “Just as there are fashions in clothing, so, too are there fashions in ideas.” Understandably, people are trying to make sense of a world that makes less and less sense every day, and I believe the current rationality movement is is the latest fad to capitalize upon the need for more certainty. In turn, this book will seemingly appeal to those who are already convinced that they will be able to see things clearly whe ...more
Aug 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
Can people be rational? Yes, sometimes, but it's hard.

Therefore, in The Scout Mindset, Julia Galef urges readers to think like scouts rather than soldiers. Scouts seek the truth, whereas soldiers indulge in motivated reasoning to defend their intuited or identity bound positions.

I found that the value of The Scout Mindset was Galef’s constant warnings to readers—often but not always imagined as rationality bros—that they are more irrational than they think. In fact, I wonder if, in seeking ratio
Jan 05, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: came-recommended
Yet another strong rec from the esteemed Henry! I was probably the target audience for this book — interested in rationality and convinced of its merits but uninformed about specific tools or strategies — and I found it entertaining and practical. Parts 2 and 4, 'Developing Self-Awareness' and 'Changing Your Mind', were the most applicable to me; I especially liked the sections on using thought experiments to detect bias, applying the equivalent bet test to approximate quantitative estimates, an ...more
Apr 18, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, skimmed
The 'scout mindset' seeks to discover what is correct through fact-checking, and rationalizes toward conclusions that lead to “the motivation to see things as they are, not as you wish they were.” The 'soldier mindset' leads us to defend our beliefs against outside threats. “We change our minds less often than we should but more often than we could.” "There’s no such thing as a 'threat' to your beliefs. If you find out you were wrong about something, great—you’ve improved your map, and that can ...more
Trey Hunner
Jun 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks
This was a great book and I'd like everyone to read it. The discussion about soldier vs scout mindset is a framing of the world that will stick with me. I need to re-read the various sections on strategies for adopting a more truth-oriented life, as those ideas I'll need to do work to internalize.

The discussion near the end of the book on identity really resonated with me.

Holding an identity (athlete, Democrat, feminist, etc.) is neither bad nor good. Identity can make hard things rewarding (e.g
Aug 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci
Going into this book, I entered with the bias that I knew I'd most likely love reading this. Julia Galef has been a person who has the skill to teach better ways of thinking in a kind and productive way, at least as much as I have encountered her through her previous videos and essays. It's hard to find words that would do this work justice. I came out from this knowing more about myself, how to think, what to notice in my own viewpoints, and at the same time the book has a rightful positive out ...more
Julian Schrittwieser
One of the best books I've read, contains a lot of good advice and practical tips on how to optimize your thinking for accuracy. Worth re-reading once a year. ...more
Dan Stoyell
Dec 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Solid book! If you've poked around the rationality community before I don't think anything in here will be groundbreaking, but Galef has a good and accessible prose. She has a clear, well-explained framework for how to implement the Scout Mindset, and focuses on actionable changes you can make, which I appreciated. ...more
Yigitalp Ertem
I listened to The Scout Mindset after watching some Big Think and Bayesian Thinking related videos from Julia Galef but I didn't find the book very helpful. Rarely interesting, mostly garnishing a simple thesis. The parts about tech-billionaire-appraisals and inductive examples starting with Facebook/Reddit posts and ending with overarching generalizations about 'how we'd better think' made me even more disinterested. Bored towards the end, I still tried to preserve my scout mindset and finished ...more
Tobias Leenaert
Nov 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
Quite a useful book, also for activists/people who want to make the world a better place.

(a note: I'm afraid that it's mostly people who already have a big part of the "scout mindset" will read the book. Those are people who probably are already not in need of more reasons to doubt; they doubt *too much*. )
Jan 01, 2022 rated it liked it
This is an interesting and provocative book, in the vein of Thinking Fast and Slow (which I admittedly have not read but which Julia Galef references a lot!), that aims to help you improve your critical thinking. It's a well reported and well-executed book, and gave me some good tips for how to think about things moving forward. She delivers concrete mental tests for us to evaluate information or ideas to avoid getting into the trap of polarized thinking or confirmation bias.

The basic premise o
Ali Abookazempoor
Dec 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
Shelves: psychology

This book is informative and mind-opening. A kind of “how to” not a “why” book trying to redeem your “scout mindset” (curious and researching) from your “soldier mindset” (defensive and biased).

I have three main issues with the book: bias, shallowness, and avoiding variance. The irony is that these three are some of the main traps which you are hopefully supposed to overcome by mastering the provided guidelines in the book.

1- Bias: Counting the exact number of real life soldier and scout mindset

Ben Hughes
Apr 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I spent today reading @JuliaGalef's excellent book "The Scout Mindset" cover to cover. This is one of the most important books I've read recently, and it provides a unique and under-appreciated lens with which to approach belief, disagreement, social relations, and identity.

The ways in which cognitive biases lead us to self-deceive at the expense of truth is well documented and covered in several other works. Learning about them, and avoiding barriers to clear thinking, is worthwhile and importa
I feel like three stars comes off as harsher than I intend, because this is more like 3.5 territory. A very accessible read, so it sounds contradictory to say in some ways that was a downside for me - but it did feel very pop psychology at times and if you're expecting a strong emphasis on academic evidence over anecdotal examples, I think you'll feel a little let down. BUT, there was a lot of solid, sensible advice for decision-making, striving for intellectual honesty, and engaging with those ...more
Jun 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Re-read of probably the best non-fiction book I read last year. I think about the Scout vs. Soldier Mindset all the time now. I use a version of her identity chapter in my class to really good effect. Must read.
Bill Kupersmith
Aug 22, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
There is a category of nonfiction located in the peripheries connecting popular psychology, self-help, and intellectual journalism (what the French would call haut vulgarisation) that includes Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers, Lisa Verona’s Remember, and Ethan Kross’s Chatter. I turn to them when a surfeit of fiction has left me in need of adjusting my internal compass and checking how well I am situated with real life. Julia Galef’s The Scout Mindset is my latest choice. Like the other b ...more
Marc Alexander
Mar 10, 2022 rated it really liked it
Good little summary / how-to guide for those who wish to become more open-minded and sensitive to evidence and truth.

It’s one of the few ‘rationality’ books where the focus is heavily on the ‘how-to’ rather than one the ‘here’s how bias x y z is leading you astray'. I imagine books are, on balance, not that effective at teaching critical thinking, but as far as I know, critical thinking is exceptionally difficult to teach and generalizing from the examples we're given or trained on is rare. Edu
Laurent Franckx
Feb 20, 2022 rated it really liked it
One of the formative moments in my live was when, at the age of the fourteen, I discussed religion with my Jesuit teacher and communism with a rather left-wing relative.
One of the things that really infuriated me at the time was to be confronted with two intelligent and educated adults who were constantly using what I considered to be profoundly intellectually dishonest arguments. Their key strategy consisted in focusing on the slightest weak point in my arguments, while completely ignoring the
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Julia Galef is co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality. She hosts Rationally Speaking, the official podcast of New York City Skeptics, which she has done since its inception in 2010, sharing the show with co-host and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci until 2015.

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“Discovering you were wrong is an update, not a failure, and your worldview is a living document meant to be revised.” 22 likes
“The best description of motivated reasoning I’ve ever seen comes from psychologist Tom Gilovich. When we want something to be true, he said, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe this?,” searching for an excuse to accept it. When we don’t want something to be true, we instead ask ourselves, “Must I believe this?,” searching for an excuse to reject it.4” 5 likes
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