👉 The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t by Julia Galef


Part I: The Case for Scout Mindset

Chapter 1: Two Types of Thinking

Explains the soldier mindset using military metaphors in reasoning, showing its ubiquity and naturalness.

In directionally motivated reasoning… we disproportionately put our effort into finding evidence/reasons that support what we wish were true.

Chapter 2: What the Soldier is Protecting

Discusses the emotional comfort and social reasons, like impression management and signaling, that motivate the soldier mindset.

Emotional reasons:

Social reasons:

“We use motivated reasoning not because we don’t know any better but because we’re trying to protect things that are vitally important to us.”

Beliefs can be deep-rooted, well-grounded, built on fact, and backed up by arguments. They rest on solid foundations. We might hold a firm conviction or a strong opinion, be secure in our convictions or have an unshakeable faith in something.” This soldier mindset leads us to defend against people who might “poke holes” in our logic, “shoot down” our beliefs, or confront us with a “knock-down” argument, all of which may be our beliefs are “undermined”, “weakened”, or even “destroyed” so we become “entrenched” in them less we “surrender” to the opposing position

Chapter 3: Why Truth is More Valuable Than We Realize

Examines the unconscious trade-offs between soldier and scout mindsets, and our biases that cause us to overvalue the former.

“Are we rationally orrational?”

As always there are some biases in our decision-making that cause us to go for the soldier mindset:

Part II: Developing Self-Awareness

Chapter 4: Signs of a Scout

Suggests that the illusion of being a scout can be broken by concrete examples of scout-like behavior, such as acting on criticism or proving yourself wrong.

Some cues to look for (and at the same time signs you might be a scout):

“A key factor preventing us from being in scout mindset more frequently is our conviction that we’re already in it.”

“The only real sign of a scout is whether you act like one.”

Chapter 5: Noticing Bias

Introduces the concept of “forcing” and offers thought experiments like the double standard test and the outsider test to detect motivated reasoning.

“Forcing is what your brain is doing to get away with motivated reasoning while still making you feel like you’re being objective.”

Chapter 6: How Sure Are You?

Emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between levels of certainty and the idea of calibration.

The key idea is to get good at being wrong because we like to feel certain. However, quantifying ones uncertainty is also a prediction how likely I am right.

“Your strength as a scout is in your ability… to think in shades of gray instead of black and white.”

You should aim for this skill:

“being able to tell the difference between the feeling of making a claim and the feeling of actually trying to guess what’s true.”

Jeff Bezos openly stated that when he started Amazon, he believed there was only a 30% chance of success and even warned investors that they could potentially lose all their money. Similarly, Elon Musk expressed that the chances of SpaceX working were less than 10%. Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum, admitted that he has never had 100% confidence in cryptocurrency and consistently remains uncertain about it as a sector.

Part III: Thriving Without Illusions

Chapter 7: Coping with Reality

Advocates for honest coping mechanisms in emergencies over the distortion of reality.

Chapter 8: Motivation Without Self-Deception

Argues for motivation derived from the recognition of bets worth taking based on their expected value rather than overconfidence.

“Scouts aren’t motivated by the thought ‘This is going to succeed.’ They’re motivated by the thought ‘This is a bet worth taking.’”

Chapter 9: Influence Without Overconfidence

Differentiates between epistemic and social confidence and discusses communicating uncertainty effectively.

There are 2 types of confidence:

People will judge by social confidence. People will not trust you if you are uncertain (due to inexperience/ignorance/stupidity) but not if you seem uncertain due to reality being messy and unpredictable.

Quote: “You don’t need to promise success to be inspiring… There are lots of ways to get people excited that don’t require you to lie to others or to yourself.”


Key Principles of the Scout Mindset

The Scout Mindset leans on several key principles:

How it can be applied

How and Why the Soldier mindset manifests

This mindset can manifest through various aspects:

Similarities to “Thinking, Fast and Slow”

👉 Thinking, Fast and Slow

Here are some parallels with the Soldier Mindset:

Shifting from Soldier to Scout Mindset

Some pratical steps:


Quote 1

The example of intellectual honor I find myself thinking about most often is a story related by Richard Dawkins from his years as a student in the zoology department at Oxford. At the time there was a major controversy in biology over a cellular structure called the Golgi apparatus - was it real or an illusion created by our observational methods?

One day, a young visiting scholar from the United States came to the department and gave a talk in which he presented new and compelling evidence that the Golgi apparatus was, in fact, real. Sitting in the audience of that talk was one of Oxford’s most respected zoologists, an elderly professor who was known for his position that the Golgi apparatus was illusory. So of course, throughout the talk, everyone was stealing glances at the professor, wondering: How’s he taking this? What’s he going to say?

At the end of the talk, the elderly Oxford professor rose from his seat, walked up to the front of the lecture hall, and reached out to shake hands with the visiting scholar, saying, “My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years.” The lecture hall burst into applause.

Dawkins says: “The memory of this incident still brings a lump to my throat.” It brings a lump to my throat too, every time I retell that story. That’s the kind of person I want to be - and that’s often enough to inspire me to choose scout mindset, even when the temptations of soldier mindset are strong.


Some good summaries/critics: