Jul 4, 2021

The Scout Mindset


The Scout Mindset by Julia Galef has been one of my favorite reads this year. I read the Kindle edition, but I liked it so much, I want to purchase a hard copy too.

I can't do justice to the book without quoting the whole thing, but here's a few Kindle highlights that still stick out to me a week or two after finishing the book. You can find all my highlights on Goodreads.

The opposite of scout mindset

"Motivated reasoning" allows us to reinforce our existing beliefs and fool ourselves into thinking we're objective when we're not.

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.

The opposite of the titular scout mindset is the "soldier mindset", which is about defending something that already exists, rather than being curious about the unknown or inexplicable.

we often use soldier mindset to protect our egos by finding flattering narratives for unflattering facts.


In scout mindset, 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 only help you.


Every time you say, “Oh, that’s a good point, I hadn’t thought of that,” it gets a little bit easier for you to acknowledge good points in general.

The idea that a scout forms their beliefs based on the mental "map" available to them, was a really useful metaphor. When new parts of the map are revealed, they simply update their beliefs. Instead of wrapping your beliefs into an identity, it can be freeing to remember that your current worldview is based on a set of inputs that aren't as fixed as they seem.

Confidence and Uncertainty

Two chapters on confidence and uncertainty that I really liked.

We tend to conflate epistemic confidence and social confidence, treating them as if they’re a package deal.

Epistemic confidence is about the probability of an event whereas social confidence is about charisma. Charismatic personalities can often sound more convincing about probabilities, because we confuse these two things.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to admit uncertainty, because we also confuse two types of uncertainty:

When people claim that “admitting uncertainty” makes you look bad, they’re invariably conflating these two very different kinds of uncertainty: uncertainty “in you,” caused by your own ignorance or lack of experience, and uncertainty “in the world,” caused by the fact that reality is messy and unpredictable.


Showing that you’re well-informed and well prepared on a given topic doesn’t require you to overstate how much certainty is possible on that topic.

Other people

This should be printed out and given to every adult in the world:

The instinct to judge other people’s behavior as stupid, irrational, or crazy is very common, and it’s also a sign that there’s something you’re missing.

Differing opinions doesn't mean it's a binary world:

All too often, we assume the only two possibilities are “I’m right” or “The other guy is right”—and since the latter seems absurd, we default to the former. But in many cases, there’s an unknown unknown, a hidden “option C,” that enriches our picture of the world in a way we wouldn’t have been able to anticipate.

There's a whole section here about how to change people's minds, but I didn't highlight any good parts from it.

In summary

Personally, I find all those facets of scout mindset inspiring—the willingness to prioritize impact over identity; the confidence to be unconfident; the courage to face reality. But if I were to name one single facet I find most inspiring, it’s the idea of being intellectually honorable: wanting the truth to win out, and putting that principle above your own ego.

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