Derek Sivers

Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking - by Richard Nisbett

Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking - by Richard Nisbett

ISBN: 0374112673
Date read: 2016-02-07
How strongly I recommend it: 2/10
(See my list of 320+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Damn I wanted to like this. And even looking at my notes, I see there are some good points about clear thinking, especially by keeping context in mind. But maybe something in his writing style put me off. Not sure why. Found it very hard to finish.

my notes

Darwin’s theory of natural selection owes a great deal to Adam Smith’s theory that societal wealth is created by rational actors pursuing their own selfish interests.

So much of mental life is inaccessible.

Statistics are essential for reasoning about a huge variety of problems.

What’s needed is the ability to code events and objects in such a way that rough-and-ready versions of statistical principles can be applied to them.

The situations we find ourselves in affect our thoughts and determine our behavior far more than people’s dispositions.

Female-named hurricanes don’t seem as dangerous as male-named ones, so people take fewer precautions.

Know as much as you possibly can about what kinds of stimuli produce what kinds of effects. A book by Adam Alter called Drunk Tank Pink.

A less obvious implication of our susceptibility to “incidental” stimuli is the importance of encountering objects - and especially people - in a number of different settings if a judgment about them is to be of any consequence. That way, incidental stimuli associated with given encounters will tend to cancel one another out, resulting in a more accurate impression. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” To Lincoln’s adage, I’d add: Vary the circumstances of the encounters as much as possible.

Monk 1 asked his abbot whether it would be all right to smoke while he prayed. Scandalized, the abbot said, “Of course not; that borders on sacrilege.”
Monk 2 asked his abbot whether it would be all right to pray while he smoked. “Of course,” said the abbot, “God wants to hear from us at any time.”

The lesson here is one of the most powerful in all psychology. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Remember that all perceptions, judgments, and beliefs are inferences and not direct readouts of reality.

The situation confronting another person may be impossible for me to see. So I’m particularly likely to underestimate the importance of the situation for another’s behavior.

We trust people we ought not to, we avoid people who really are perfectly nice, all because we fail to recognize situational forces that may be operating on the person’s behavior.

It’s past behavior over the long run, observed in many diverse situations, that is the excellent predictor, not behavior observed in only a few situations, especially a few situations all of the same type.

We should choose our acquaintances carefully because we’re going to be highly influenced by them. This is especially true for young people: the younger you are, the more influenced you are by peers’ attitudes and behaviors.7 One of a parent’s most important and challenging roles is to make sure their children’s acquaintances are likely to be good influences.

In a book called The Geography of Thought, I proposed that these different social orientations were economic in origin.16 Greek livelihoods were based on relatively solitary occupations such as trading, fishing, and animal husbandry, and on agricultural practices such as kitchen gardens and olive tree plantations. Chinese livelihoods were based on agricultural practices, especially rice cultivation, requiring much more cooperation. Autocracy (often benevolent, sometimes not) was perhaps an efficient way of running a society where every man for himself was not an option. So it was necessary for Chinese to pay attention to social context in a way that it wasn’t for Greeks.

Pay more attention to context. This will improve the odds that you’ll correctly identify situational factors that are influencing your behavior and that of others.

Realize that other people think their behavior is more responsive to situational factors than you’re inclined to think - and they’re more likely to be right than you are. They almost certainly know their current situation - and their relevant personal history - better than you do.

Recognize that people can change.

Westerners have believed that the world is largely static and that objects, including people, behave as they do because of their unalterable dispositions.

Belief in mutability is generally both more correct and more useful than a belief in stasis.

When many people were involved in surveying land, it made sense to require that almost every student entering a top college know something of trigonometry. Today, a basic grounding in probability, statistics and decision analysis makes far more sense.

Microeconomics is the study of the way individuals, corporations, and entire societies make choices. Microeconomists are also in the habit of telling us how we should make decisions.

The tongue-in-cheek name that some behavioral economists use to describe their enterprise is “libertarian paternalism.” These economists will tell you how to make choices and arrange the world so that you’ll be likely to make good ones. But they’re not forcing you. You can always choose to ignore the choices they steer you toward making.

If our beliefs are incongruent with our behavior, something has to change: either our beliefs or our behavior. We don’t have direct control over our beliefs but we do have control over our behavior. And because dissonance is a noxious state, our beliefs move into line with our behavior.

Change people’s behavior and their hearts and minds will follow.

Our decision making is characterized by bounded rationality.

The rest of your life begins now. Nothing that happened yesterday can be retrieved.

Marriage is for getting over the periods of unlove.

Sending people a twenty-dollar voucher they can use for ticket purchase nets 70 percent more ticket sales than mailing them a letter with a promo code for a twenty-dollar discount. People don’t want to lose money by failing to cash in on the voucher they possess; but they’re willing to forgo the possible gain of using the promo code

Offering to increase pay for teachers if the academic achievement of their students improved had no effect on student performance. Giving teachers the same amount of money at the beginning of the term and telling them they would have to pay back that amount if their students failed to meet a specified target resulted in a significant positive effect on student performance.

Children who got the award after having contracted to draw with the markers in order to win it drew with the markers less than half as much as children who got an unanticipated award or no reward at all. The young contractors realized that drawing with the markers was something they did in order to get something they wanted. The other children could only infer that they were drawing with the markers because they wanted to.

The people who tell you to give away every article of clothing you haven’t used for a year are right.

Frame everyday life events in such a way that the relevance of statistical principles is obvious and you can make contact with them.

Code the events in such a way that approximate versions of statistical rules can be applied to them.

Performance is a variable, and regression to the mean is expected after an especially good performance - or an especially bad performance. An execution that’s better than average is expected on probabilistic grounds alone to be followed by something closer to the mean, that is, worse. An execution worse than average is expected to get better.

Detecting covariation (or correlation): you have to pay attention to all four cells in order to be able to answer the simple question about association.

Compute the ratio comparing the number of people who don’t have the disease but do have the symptom with the number of people who don’t have the disease and don’t have the symptom. Since the two ratios are the same, you know that the symptom is not associated with the disease.

Often a given correlation is so consistent with plausible ideas about causation that we tacitly accept that the correlation establishes that there is a causal relation.

Causal inferences are often irresistible. If I tell you that people who eat more chocolate have more acne, it’s hard to resist the assumption that something about chocolate causes acne. (It doesn’t, so far as is known.)

Inquiry is fatal to certainty. - Will Durant, philosopher

There is a fairly plausible hypothesis called the “germ exposure theory” that could account for the correlational and natural experiment evidence. Now are you ready to get your baby dirty? Personally, I’m not sure I would be. Natural experiments, correlational evidence, and plausible theories are all well and good. But I would want to see a true experiment of the double-blind, randomized control sort, with babies assigned by the proverbial flip of a coin to an experimental high-bacteria exposure condition versus a control, low-bacteria condition. Both the experimenter and the participants (the mothers in this case) should be ignorant of (blind to) the condition the babies were assigned to. Ignorance resulting from this double-blind design rules out the possibility that results could have been influenced by either the experimenter’s or the participant’s knowing what condition the participant was in.

Assumptions tend to be wrong.

Scared Straight kids to be more likely to commit crimes than kids in the control group who were exposed to no intervention at all. D.A.R.E., as it has been conducted for the past thirty years at least, doesn’t decrease children’s use of drugs. Why doesn’t D.A.R.E. work? We don’t know. It would be nice if we did, but causal explanations are unnecessary.

Studies that rely on correlations to establish a scientific fact can be hopelessly misleading.

Experiments in which people (or objects of any kind) are assigned randomly to one treatment versus another (or no treatment at all) are in general far superior to research based on multiple regression analysis.

Assumptions are so often wrong when it comes to human behavior that it’s essential to conduct experiments if at all possible to test any hypothesis about behavior that matters.

Does classroom size affect learning? Are multivitamins good for your health? Is there employer prejudice against the long-term unemployed - simply because they’ve been out of a job for a long time?

All the questions in this chapter ask whether some independent or predictor variable - an input or a presumed cause - affects some dependent or outcome variable - an output or an effect.

Pragmatic reasoning schemas, that is, sets of rules useful for thinking about everyday life situations.

They’re not concerned with truth or validity at all but with assessing whether a person’s conduct is proper. This branch of logic is called deontic, from the Greek deon, meaning duty. It deals with what kind of situation constitutes an obligation, what kind gives permission, what’s optional behavior, what’s beyond the call of duty, and what ought to be done.

Highly general pragmatic reasoning schemas include Occam’s razor, the tragedy of the commons,

Some powerful pragmatic reasoning schemas are merely empirical principles that facilitate correct solutions to a broad range of everyday problems. These include the fundamental attribution error, differently, loss aversion, the status quo bias.