The Scientist Mode, the Scout Mindset and Flashcards

by JaimeRV10 min read29th Aug 20211 comment

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Spaced repetitionJulia GalefRationalityBooks
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Introduction

In this post my goal is to present some of the main ideas from these two ways of thinking. 

The "Scientist Mode" is a mindset presented by Adam Grant in his book “Think Again”. Even if in the book this mindset is only referred at the beginning, I will associate the main ideas of the book to this "Mode" in order to make the concepts easier to understand, remember and implement. 

The "Scout Mindset" is explained in the book with the same name by Julia Galef. Her book has three main goals:

  1. Make us realize that truth isn't in conflict with your other goals.
  2. Learn tools that make it easier to see clearly.
  3. Appreciate the emotional rewards of scout mindset.

All three points are important, however, here I will just focus on the second one: the implementation of these mindsets. For a detailed Outline of her book one can read this post (https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/HDAXztEbjJsyHLKP7/outline-of-galef-s-scout-mindset)

Both ways of thinking overlap in many core ideas, however, I personally see both mindsets as complementary and I think many people (including me) could benefit from a bit clearer thinking. For that in the last part of this post I write a link to a desk of flashcards to facilitate its implementation. 

In the first part I will introduce the main concepts divided in the following sections:

  • Raising Self-Awareness
  • Calibrating your confidence
  • Having a Challenge network
  • Disagreeing with others
  • Redefining your Identity

But first some definitions:

Scientist Mode: Treat your emerging views as a hunch or a hypothesis and test it with data.

Scout Mindset: Be motivated to see things as they are, not as you wish they were. The idea is to be a truth-seeker.

 

Raising Self-Awareness

Having Self-Awareness is about having "a sense that your judgments are contingent—that what seems true or reasonable or fair or desirable can change when you mentally vary some features of the question that should have been irrelevant."

Scientist Mode

  • Seek out information that goes against your views
  • Embrace the joy of being wrong: Laugh at yourself. Focus less on proving yourself and more on improving yourself.

Scout Mindset

Here Julia Galef defines 3 of her Signs for having a Scout Mindset

  • Prove yourself wrong
  • Take precautions to avoid fooling yourself
  • Point to occasions in which you were in soldier mindset

Together these signs come with 5 Thought experiments one can do to test the views on something. In all of them you have to ask yourself a specific question and reflect on the answer in order to see if your views correspond with the:

  • The double standard test: Are you judging one person (or group) by a different standard than you would use for another person (or group)?
  • The outsider test: How would you evaluate this situation if it wasn’t your situation?
  • The conformity test: If other people no longer held this view, would you still hold it?
  • The selective skeptic test: If this evidence supported the other side, how credible would you judge it to be?
  • The status quo bias test: If your current situation was not the status quo, would you actively choose it?

 

Calibrating your confidence

Scientist Model

  • Beware of getting stranded at the summit of Mount Stupid: To prevent overconfidence in your knowledge, reflect on how well you can explain a given subject.
  • Harness the benefits of doubt: when you find yourself doubting your ability, reframe the situation as an opportunity for growth. Knowing what you do not know is often the first step toward developing expertise
  • Complexify contentious topics: seeing the shades of gray can make us more open

Scout Mindset

  • Be okay not feeling certain: "Your strength as a scout is in your ability [...] to think in shades of gray instead of black and white”
  • Be willing to stay confused: when something contradicts your views and makes you should treat them as clues for a new theory.
  • Be calibrated in the probabilities you assign.

 

Having a Challenge network

Scientist Mode 

Adam Grant recommends to:

  • Seek out information that goes against your views: discussing with people with other views can be particularly helpful.
  • Try to learn something new from each person you meet: “Ask people what they have been rethinking lately or start a conversation about times you have changed your mind in the past year.”
  • Build a challenge network, not just a support network: “your most thoughtful critics…identify them and invite them to question your thinking

Scout Mindset 

Here Julia Galef defines 2 of her 6 signs of having a scout mindset related to this idea of “Challenge network”: 

  • Have good critics: “Can you name people who are critical of your beliefs, profession, or life choices who you consider thoughtful, even if you believe they're wrong? Or can you at least name reasons why someone might disagree with you that you would consider reasonable[...]?"

For your Challenge Network:

  • Find to people you find reasonable.
  • Find to people you share intellectual common ground with.
  • Find to people who share your goals.

 

Disagreeing with others

Scientist Mode 

It is recommendable to Approach Disagreements as Dances, Not Battles:

  1. Don't shy away from constructive conflict: Try framing disagreement as debate: people are more likely to approach it intellectually and less likely to take it personally.
  2. Have a conversation about the conversation: you can sometimes make progress by expressing your disappointment or frustration and asking people if they share it
  3. When asking to others try to ask better questions:
    1. Practice the art of persuasive listening: increase your question-to-statement ration.
    2. Question "how" rather than "why": when the other person tries to explain how they would make their views a reality, they often realize the limits of their understanding and start to temper some of their opinions.
    3. Ask "what evidence would change your mind?"
    4. Ask how people originally formed an opinion
  4. When answering try to:
    1. Acknowledge common ground: willing to negotiate about what's true
    2. Remember that less is often more: instead of diluting your argument, lead with a few of your strongest points
    3. Reinforce freedom of choice: reminding them that it's up to them to choose what they believe
    4. Don't shy away from caveats and contingencies: acknowledging competing claims and conflicting results doesn't sacrifice interest or credibility
  5. Expand your emotional range: you might try showing some curiosity or even admitting confusion or ambivalence

Scout Mindset 

These are a couple of signs that you have the Scout Mindset when it comes to your interactions with others: 

  • Do you tell other people when you realize they were right?
  • How do you react to personal criticism?

Here Julia Galef also differences between two types of confidence when speaking: "social confidence" vs "epistemic confidence". We should have "social confidence" and be confident when speaking but do not necessarily need "epistemic confidence" and talk with certainty (even if you do not what you are talking about).

Three ways to communicate uncertainty without looking inexperienced or incompetent:

  • Show that uncertainty is justified.
  • Give informed estimates.
  • Have a plan.

Julia also reminds us that even under ideal conditions, learning from disagreements is still hard, e.g., because:

  • We misunderstand each other's views.
  • Bad arguments inoculate us against good arguments.
  • Our beliefs are interdependent -- changing one requires changing others.

I personally see these last points only as a reminder that learning from disagreement is not easy, but we should not be discouraged.

 

Redefining your Identity

Scientist Mindset 

Define your identity in terms of values, not opinions: see yourself as someone who values curiosity, learning, mental flexibility, and searching for knowledge. As you form opinions keep a list of factors that would change your mind

Scout Mindset 

Here Julia Galef explains that we should watch out that our beliefs (“opinions” for Adam Grant) do not become part of our identities. Because if that happens, we will feel personally attacked when someone attacks one of these beliefs making us less prone to change our point of view and less receptive to listen. Some suggestions of signs that we are defending a belief that has become part of our identity: using the phrase "I believe", getting annoyed when an ideology is criticized, using defiant language, using a righteous tone, …

As a Scout it is recommended to hold your identity lightly, meaning to think of it in a matter-of-fact way, rather than as a central source of pride and meaning in your life. Identifying as a truth-seeker can make you a better scout. 

Other ways of implementing a Scout Identity are choosing the communities you are in (which can be online) and your role models.

 

Flashcards

When reading books about rationality, clearer thinking, … I personally feel I can see the Matrix a bit better. But this feeling tends to last a few days, weeks at best. 

To improve rationality, decision making, ... one can also use the tools and mini-course in Clearer Thinking (https://www.clearerthinking.org/) which I strongly recommend. 

To actually change my “mindset” though, I have found that what works best is small doses of rationality taken daily in order to build a habit. 

This can be done short reminders or quizzes for example through the app Thought Saver (https://app.thoughtsaver.com/).

For those of you who do not know this app, it lets you create customized flashcards and later you receive automatic quizzes via email. In this way you can reinforce what you want to learn.

For the Scientist Mode and the Scout Mindset I have made a simple deck of cards with the concepts of this post. The cards are written more like reminders than like questions, since my idea was not so much to memorize these concepts/tools but actually to remember applying them to progressively change the way I think.

In case you want to try the desk, here is the link: https://app.thoughtsaver.com/share/CpXHNy3rAj 

Also if you know of a better tool (to remind you daily to implement Rationality-concepts) please share it in the comments.

 

Bonus

In the book “Think Again”, Adam Grant also focuses in how to use this rethinking-ability not just for ourselves but with our kids, in our organizations and in our future. Since these parts are not treated in the Scout Mindset, I did not include them in the Flashcards. However, they are very practical, so I leave the main ideas of the author here:

Teach Kids to Think Again:

  • Have a weekly myth-busting discussion at dinner: teach kids to become comfortable with rethinking. Pick a different topic each week and rotate responsibility around the family for bringing a myth for discussion
  • Invite kids to do multiple drafts and seek feedback from others: they might learn to embrace confusion--and stop expecting perfection on the first try
  • Stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up: help them broaden their possibilities. They don't have to be one thing--they can do many things

 

Create Learning Organizations:

  • Abandon best practices: we might be better off adopting process accountability and continually striving for better practices
  • Establish psychological safety: psychological safety often starts with leader’s role-modeling humility.
  • Keep a rethinking scorecard

 

Stay Open in Rethinking Your Future:

  • Throw out the ten-year plan: planning just one step ahead can keep you open rethinking. Personally, I do not see this advice very useful since people underestimate what they can do in one year but underestimate what they can do in ten years. I would say one should be flexible to change the long-term plan but still having this long-term plan can help us to have a direction
  • Rethink your actions, not just your surroundings: build a sense of purpose often starts with taking actions to enhance your learning or your contribution to others
  • Schedule a life checkup: life checkup on your calendar once or twice a year
  • Make time to think again: your calendar is likely full of doing and I should set a goal of an hour per day/week for thinking and learning. And maybe also another hour for rethinking and unlearning…ask other people what ideas/opinions I should be considering

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1 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 5:34 PM
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I'm not really sure why this appears to have been downvoted; I only skimmed the article so IDK if there was something really controversial or wrong that I missed, but it might just be that the information here could probably be summarized more effectively at the beginning (or at the end, at least). I have a decent understanding of the "scientist mode" in part from the name alone, and I've read Scout Mindset; I think personally I'd want to just read a summary list of "where are these two mindsets different? Why might I want to choose one over the other?" Otherwise, I think this is a fine summary of the points (based on the parts I did read)