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The Scipionic Circle 66 (Formally Mind Macros): Dealing With Our Weaknesses, Naïve Realism and Cognitive Blind Spots, and How to Spot Charlatan's
"We assume that other reasonable people see things the same way we do. If they disagree with us, they obviously aren't seeing clearly."
Welcome to another issue of The Scipionic Circle - I hope you find something of value.
Food for Thought
I. Dealing With Our Weaknesses
“When encountering your weaknesses you have four choices:
1. You can deny them (which is what most people do).
2. You can accept them and work at them in order to try to convert them into strengths (which might or might not work depending on your ability to change).
3. You can accept your weaknesses and find ways around them.
4. Or, you can change what you are going after.”
“Which solution you choose will be critically important to the direction of your life. The worst path you can take is the first. Denial can only lead to your constantly banging up against your weaknesses, having pain, and not getting anywhere. The second—accepting your weaknesses while trying to turn them into strengths—is probably the best path if it works. But some things you will never be good at and it takes a lot of time and effort to change. The best single clue as to whether you should go down this path is whether the thing you are trying to do is consistent with your nature (i.e., your natural abilities). The third path—accepting your weaknesses while trying to find ways around them—is the easiest and typically the most viable path, yet it is the one least followed. The fourth path, changing what you are going after, is also a great path, though it requires flexibility on your part to get past your preconceptions and enjoy the good fit when you find it.” — From Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio.
II. Naïve Realism and Cognitive Blind Spots
“The brain is designed with blind spots, optical and psychological, and one of its cleverest tricks is to confer on us the comforting delusion that we, personally, do not have any. In a sense, dissonance theory is a theory of blind spots—of how and why people unintentionally blind themselves so that they fail to notice vital events and information that might make them question their behavior or their convictions. Along with the confirmation bias, the brain comes packaged with other self-serving habits that allow us to justify our own perceptions and beliefs as being accurate, realistic, and unbiased. Social psychologist Lee Ross calls this phenomenon "naïve realism," the inescapable conviction that we perceive objects and events clearly, "as they really are." We assume that other reasonable people see things the same way we do. If they disagree with us, they obviously aren't seeing clearly. Naïve realism creates a logical labyrinth because it presupposes two things: One, people who are open-minded and fair ought to agree with a reasonable opinion. And two, any opinion I hold must be reasonable; if it weren't, I wouldn't hold it. Therefore, if I can just get my opponents to sit down here and listen to me, so I can tell them how things really are, they will agree with me. And if they don't, it must be because they are biased.”
“All of us are as unaware of our blind spots as fish are unaware of the water they swim in, but those who swim in the waters of privilege have a particular motivation to remain oblivious. When Marynia Farnham achieved fame and fortune during the late 1940s and 1950s by advising women to stay at home and raise children, otherwise risking frigidity, neurosis, and a loss of femininity, she saw no inconsistency (or irony) in the fact that she was privileged to be a physician who was not staying at home raising children, including her own two. When affluent people speak of the underprivileged, they rarely bless their lucky stars that they are privileged, let alone consider that they might be overprivileged. Privilege is their blind spot. It is invisible; they don't think twice about it; they justify their social position as something they are entitled to. In one way or another, all of us are blind to whatever privileges life has handed us, even if those privileges are temporary. Most people who normally fly in what is euphemistically called the "main cabin" regard the privileged people in business and first class as wasteful snobs, if enviable ones. Imagine paying all that extra money for a short, six-hour flight! But as soon as they are the ones paying for a business seat or are upgraded, that attitude vanishes, replaced by a self-justifying mixture of pity and disdain for their fellow passengers, forlornly trooping past them into steerage.”
“Drivers cannot avoid having blind spots in their field of vision, but good drivers are aware of them; they know they had better be careful backing up and changing lanes if they don't want to crash into fire hydrants and other cars. Our innate biases are, as two legal scholars put it, "like optical illusions in two important respects—they lead us to wrong conclusions from data, and their apparent rightness persists even when we have been shown the trick." We cannot avoid our psychological blind spots, but if we are unaware of them we may become unwittingly reckless, crossing ethical lines and making foolish decisions. Introspection alone will not help our vision, because it will simply confirm our self-justifying beliefs that we, personally, cannot be coopted or corrupted, and that our dislikes or hatreds of other groups are not irrational but reasoned and legitimate. Blind spots enhance our pride and activate our prejudices.” — From Mistakes Were Made (but Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.
III. How to Spot Charlatan's
“I have used all my life a wonderfully simple heuristic: charlatans are recognizable in that they will give you positive advice, and only positive advice, exploiting our gullibility and sucker-proneness for recipes that hit you in a flash as just obvious, then evaporate later as you forget them. Just look at the “how to” books with, in their title, ‘Ten Steps for—’ (fill in: enrichment, weight loss, making friends, innovation, getting elected, building muscles, finding a husband, running an orphanage, etc.). Yet in practice it is the negative that’s used by the pros, those selected by evolution: chess grandmasters usually win by not losing; people become rich by not going bust (particularly when others do); religions are mostly about interdicts; the learning of life is about what to avoid. You reduce most of your personal risks of accident thanks to a small number of measures.” — From Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
“The most convincing statements are those in which one stands to lose, ones in which one has maximal skin in the game; the most unconvincing ones are those in which one patently (but unknowingly) tries to enhance one’s status without making a tangible contribution (like, as we saw, in the great majority of academic papers that say nothing and take no risks). But it doesn’t have to be that way. Showing off is reasonable; it is human. As long as the substance exceeds the showoff, you are fine. Stay human, take as much as you can, under the condition that you give more than you take.”
“One should give more weight to research that, while being rigorous, contradicts other peers, particularly if it entails costs and reputational harm for its author. Someone with a high public presence who is controversial and takes risks for his opinion is less likely to be a bullshit vendor.” – From Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
Taleb's Bullshit Detector: "Avoid taking advice from someone who gives advice for a living, unless there is a penalty for their advice."
Quotes to Ponder
I. Lucius Annaeus Seneca on guarding our time:
“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”
II. Ernest Hemingway on true nobility:
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
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Thank you for reading,
P.S. Are you on Instagram? Every day I'm sharing my favorite philosophy and literature quotes, akin to the quotes to ponder section in this email.