Sunday, August 6, 2023

Book Report - "The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't" by Julia Galef

 General Overview

The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t by Julia Galef explores the soldier and scout mindset. The soldier mindset is when you are unable to change your beliefs, ideologies, or way of thinking, and have the inability to listen to other ideas that are not like yours. The scout mindset is when you are able to step away from your beliefs and listen to every side of the conversation. This allows you to be more open about a certain situation, and acknowledge what is actually happening. You are able to understand the truth and make rational decisions if need be. Throughout the book, Julia Galef uses real-life examples of situations that relate to the topics that are mentioned. Some topics would include, what it actually means to be a scout, how bias does affect your beliefs, understanding how we cannot always be 100% confident in something, being comfortable with confusion, and how our beliefs can become our identities. 

The overall point of the novel is to understand the scout mindset, learn what tools can help us develop a scout mindset, and how we can develop a scout mindset. This helps us understand what is the truth of a situation rather than what we want to see and believe. 

Favorite Part

There were multiple parts of the book that held my attention for long periods of times, but one of my favorite chapters was Chapter 5: Noticing Bias. In this chapter, Julia Galef helps you understand how motivated reasoning affects your views and/or reactions to certain situations. She introduces the five common thought experiments which include the Double Standard Test, the Outsider Test, the Conformity Test, the Selective Skeptic Test, and the Status Quo Bias Test ( Galef, 71). Each of these helps you understand what your true thoughts are, and if it is affecting the way you think. Each of these tests asks a question. The Double Standard Test asks “Are you judging one person (or group) by a different standard than you would use for another person (or group)?” (Galef, 71). The Outsider Test asks “ How would you evaluate this situation if it wasn’t your situation?” (Galef, 71). The Conformity Test asks “If other people no longer held this view, would you still hold it?” (Galef, 71). The Selective Skeptic Test asks (If this evidence supported the other side, how credible would you judge it to be?’ (Galef, 71). The Status Quo Bias Test asks “If your current situation was not the status quo, would you actively choose it?” (Galef, 71). In my opinion, this was one of the most eye-opening chapters from the book. I never understood how bias could come in so many different forms, and that it can affect how we feel about ourselves. As humans, we do not want to be wrong as it is embarrassing to be wrong because of the effect it has on our egos. The chapter taught me that our reactions will change based on whether we are wrong or right. This includes if our beliefs are questioned, proven to be wrong, or if an opposing viewpoint has voiced their opinions. When you are proven to be wrong or that your bias is affecting the way you are thinking, we often feel embarrassed because we think of our judgment as our final one. However, it is important to acknowledge that it is never a final call, it should be viewed as the beginning of a way of learning more about the subject (Galef, 72)

This chapter also reminded me of the first lecture of this class which introduced us to the list of bias and fallacies that people often use. Confirmation bias plays a significant role, because we will favor the evidence that proves our beliefs. Ad hominem plays a role in how we react when our belief is wrong or challenged. An example of this would include “Well they just don’t know about what they’re talking about” especially if they are a part from the opposing group. This made me realize that I did not have a scout mindset as I do some of these things, despite referring to myself as open-minded. 


This book mostly ties into the course through the way how someone with a belief in a certain myth would think, or how they allow themselves to believe in pseudoscience. An example would be the topic of believing in Bigfoot, aliens, UFOs, and the Jersey Devil. Due to the “evidence” that was provided to the general public about these various topics, a community of these believers began to emerge along with their motivation to prove that it does exist. It brings solidarity with one another especially if they are perceived as “crazy” to believe in such a thing. There is a chapter in the book that talks about the signs of whether your belief has become your identity. It talks about how when your belief is stigmatized, it gives you more of a reason to stand up to one another (Galef, 188). It persuades you to believe in the stigmatized belief even more. It would make sense why these beliefs are still current in the present day. There is more of an urge to prove others wrong rather than listen and understand the full picture. 

Pseudoscience seems to create answers to questions that we do not know. In the book, Galef discusses how we are unable to lean into confusion and we should be willing to be confused if our beliefs are proven to be false (Galef, 166). It is better if we do not immediately find evidence to prove our point as it could be premature and it is better to understand the world first. In our current society, when we do not understand why something works, we are quick to act to understand. However, it seems to have developed the belief of pseudoscience as it provides “answers” or relief to what we do not know about. This could be seen when it comes to the Mozart Effect. Parents will play Mozart or classical music to their babies to alleviate their worry and confusion about whether their child will become intelligent or not. It can also be seen when there is confusing evidence or articles that do not make sense to the claim they are attempting to show justification for. We do not allow ourselves to be confused about how something works. Believers also refuse to acknowledge when something is wrong. It is okay to not have the answer to everything and that we are unable to control the future. 


On the Snapchat app, they have an A.I. that you can chat to and ask questions. I have never used it as I never had a reason to. However, I decided to use the A.I. to see whether or not they know about the soldier and scout mindset. I wanted to know how they would react to the questions I ask in regards to the soldier and the scout mindset. The soldier mindset is usually a common mindset with humans today. Since the A.I. was likely designed and programmed by a human, I wanted to see if they would have a biased or unbiased viewpoint. I went into detail by adding if they are 100% confident about anything, due to the fact, there is a chapter that discusses our inability to always be 100% confident (Galef, 82). I asked the A.I. about how it feels when they are wrong. It was discussed in the book that when we are wrong, it feels as if we are suffering a defeat. However, it should be viewed more as an update to our information, and it will help us expand our knowledge. When someone has a soldier mindset, they are likely to find evidence to back up their point to prove they are right rather than learn more about the topic itself. Lastly, I asked about what is the soldier and scout mindset because I wanted to see if the A.I. knew about it and if it could understand the concept of it since there are people who are unfamiliar with it. I have provided screenshots above of the conversation. 


When thinking about this book outside of class, it reminds me of how current politics work in the United States, especially when it comes to the disputes between the two main parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. Right now, the US government is divided in half. One side is the Democratic party while the other side is the Republican party. When it comes to addressing certain issues or creating policies that are deemed as controversial, it can become difficult due to the lack of communication between both sides. When it comes to communication, I mean that they are unable to listen to each other when one side is talking. It is not just politicians that become the issue. It is the citizens of the United States. Everyone has to pick a side in order to fit in, however, they can both cause disagreements depending on the person you are with. In the last few chapters of the book, Galef talks about how beliefs become identities and how it can affect our way of thinking. This is a prime example of it. In the chapter “Hold Your Identity Lightly”, Galef talks about how beliefs or ideologies should not become your identity. You are less likely to get into debates when someone insults your identity. You also create more bias towards your way of thinking because you want to defend your beliefs. You are also least likely to listen to the other side because you believe that they have no idea what they are talking about. 

Democrats want to defend their party when it is insulted. Republicans want to defend their party when it is insulted. They will show no credibility with each other when evidence is presented to each other because of the bias they hold against each other. They do not want to find the common ground between the two parties because there is an inability to learn from each other. The practice of the scout mindset would be able to provide less of a soldier mindset that the two parties have for each other. It is not likely to immediately change your mindset, but through the practice of putting bias aside and understanding each other while being curious of what each other has to say, it can create a difference. 

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