Sam Radford

August 19, 2021

Fooling ourselves

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.
—Richard Feynman

I started reading The Scout Mindset by Julia Galef last night. It’s a book focussed on helping people get better at seeing clearly and rationally.

Much as we might like to think otherwise, this is no easy task.

She starts out the book with Feynman’s quote above.

It’s a powerful reminder – we easily and regularly fool ourselves!

In chapter one, Galef contrasts two ways of engaging with the world: ‘the soldier mindset’ and ‘the scout mindset’.

She then argues that we need to become like scouts if we want to reduce our repeated fooling of ourselves.

When we’re operating with the soldier mindset we see reasoning as defensive combat. We view being wrong as a defeat. When gathering evidence, our aim is to fortify and defend our existing beliefs and perspectives.

But when we adopt a scout mindset, we see reasoning as mapmaking. Our sole interest is in whether something is true. We see being wrong as nothing more than an opportunity to revise our map. Our goal when gathering evidence is to make the map as accurate as possible.

So, do we want to defend the beliefs we already hold (like a soldier)? Or do we want to seek an understanding of the truth, no matter how that may contrast with – and even contradict – our present beliefs (like a scout)?

I found this a helpful metaphor. 

Whether it’s analysing a project at work, reflecting on a relationship, or considering personal beliefs, we’ll all be better off if we appraise things with the mindset of a scout rather than a soldier.


Got some thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from you – do hit reply or drop me a note.

@samradford |