Julia Galef on “Why "Scout Mindset” is Crucial to Good Judgment"

Imagine for a moment you’re a soldier in the heat of battle — perhaps a Roman foot soldier, medieval archer or Zulu warrior. Regardless of your time and place, some things are probably constant. Your adrenaline is elevated, and your actions stem from your deeply ingrained reflexes, reflexes that are rooted in a need to protect yourself and your side and to defeat the enemy.

Now, try to imagine playing a very different role: the scout.

The scout’s job is not to attack or defend; it’s to understand. The scout is the one going out, mapping the terrain, identifying potential obstacles. Above all, the scout wants to know what’s really out there as accurately as possible. In an actual army, both the soldier and the scout are essential. “scout mindset,” the drive not to make one idea win or another lose, but to see what’s there as honestly and accurately as you can even if it’s not pretty, convenient or pleasant…

…Just as soldier mindset is rooted in emotional responses, scout mindset is, too — but it’s simply rooted in different emotions…

…For example, scouts are curious. They’re more likely to say they feel pleasure when they learn new information or solve a puzzle. They’re more likely to feel intrigued when they encounter something that contradicts their expectations…

They’re more likely to say they think it’s virtuous to test their own beliefs, and they’re less likely to say that someone who changes her mind seems weak.

…And, above all, scouts are grounded, which means their self-worth as a person isn’t tied to how right or wrong they are about any particular topic. For example, they can believe that capital punishment works and if studies come out that show it doesn’t, they can say, “Looks like I might be wrong. Doesn’t mean I’m bad or stupid.” This cluster of traits is what researchers have found — and I’ve found anecdotally — predicts good judgment... 

…If we really want to improve our judgment as individuals and as societies, what we need most is not more instruction in logic, rhetoric, probability or economics, even though those things are all valuable.

What we most need to use those principles well is scout mindset. We need to change the way we feel — to learn how to feel proud instead of ashamed when we notice we might have been wrong about something, or to learn how to feel intrigued instead of defensive when we encounter some information that contradicts our beliefs. So the question you need to consider is: What do you most yearn for — to defend your own beliefs or to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?