The Scout Mindset Book Summary - The Scout Mindset Book explained in key points
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The Scout Mindset summary

Julia Galef

Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't

4.6 (584 ratings)
28 mins

Brief summary

The Scout Mindset by Julia Galef explores the importance of having an honest and open-minded perspective towards information in order to make better decisions. It teaches readers to abandon biases and approach situations with curiosity to see what's really there.

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    The Scout Mindset
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    What’s so bad about the soldier mindset?

    Let’s get started by answering that question from earlier: What’s so bad about the soldier mindset?

    After all, being a staunch defender of your beliefs doesn’t sound so terrible, right? When you put it like that, having a soldier mindset sort of sounds like a good thing.

    To explain why it’s not, here’s a story. It’s a famous one, a true one, and it does a particularly good job of demonstrating the damage that a soldier mindset can do. It’s the story of the Dreyfus affair.

    Our story begins in 1894, in France – specifically, inside the German embassy in France. In the German embassy, a cleaning person has found a torn-up memo in a wastebasket. Now, this cleaning person just so happens to be a French spy, and that memo just so happens to contain information about French military matters. Someone has been selling French secrets to the Germans.

    In short order, Albert Dreyfus, a French army officer, is accused of treason. The handwriting on the memo is similar to Dreyfus’s. Dreyfus has also had access to the information revealed in the memo. And, what’s more, Dreyfus just doesn’t seem to be such a great guy – he’s a gambler and, rumor has it, a womanizer.

    Dreyfus pleads his innocence, but he’s found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island.

    Now, you probably already know this, but Dreyfus was innocent. What’s more, there was plenty of evidence pointing to his innocence. So why was he imprisoned? This is where the soldier mindset comes in. The people who investigated Dreyfus wanted to believe that he was guilty. Why? Well, his guilt fit nicely into their worldview.

    You see, Dreyfus was Jewish. The French military at that time was highly anti-Semitic. He was also apparently of dubious character. Remember: rumors of gambling and womanizing. So the investigators weren’t looking at the evidence and asking whether it pointed to guilt or innocence. They were assuming guilt, and focusing on evidence that supported that assumption. 

    For instance, a second handwriting expert also analyzed the memo, and he said it hadn’t been written by Dreyfus. But the investigators chose not to believe that. And when the investigators searched Dreyfus’s home for further evidence, and found nothing, they didn’t pause and reconsider. They concluded he must have disposed of it. 

    Even when a second man came under suspicion – a man whose handwriting matched the memo’s exactly – experts reasoned that he’d learned to copy Dreyfus’s handwriting! 

    So, why isn’t the soldier mindset such a great thing? Well, for one, it can result in an innocent person being wrongly accused and sent to prison!

    But more generally, the main drawback of the soldier mindset is that it can blind us to the truth. If we’re so busy seeing what we want to see and seeking evidence that backs up what we already believe, then we may never see what’s really there or have our beliefs changed for the better. But if the soldier mindset is so obviously bad, why do people adopt it in the first place?

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    What is The Scout Mindset about?

    The Scout Mindset (2021) explores two very different mindsets: that of the soldier and that of the scout. It explains that most of us have a soldier mindset – we cling to our beliefs and often ignore evidence that might prove us wrong. But we can all learn to be scouts, seeking out truth and improving our “map” of the world.

    Who should read The Scout Mindset?

    • Anyone who wants to overcome their inherent biases
    • People who want to learn how to be wrong
    • Truth seekers

    About the Author

    Julia Galef is an expert in rational decision-making and a cofounder of the nonprofit Center for Applied Rationality, an organization that specializes in rational thinking and human cognition. She’s also the host of Rationally Speaking, a podcast that promotes critical thinking and science education. The Scout Mindset is her first book.

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