If something surprises you, your view of the world should change in some way.
We’ve argued that you should approach your career like a scientist doing experiments: be willing to test out many different paths and gather evidence about where you can have the most impact.
More generally, this approach of open truth-seeking — being constantly, curiously on the lookout for new evidence and arguments, and always being ready to change our minds — is a virtue we think is absolutely crucial to doing good.
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One of our first-ever podcast episodes was an interview with Julia Galef, author of The Scout Mindset (before she wrote the book!).
Julia argues — in our view, correctly — that it’s easy to end up viewing the world like a soldier, when really you should be more like a scout.
Soldiers have set views and beliefs, and defend those beliefs. When we are acting like soldiers, we display motivated reasoning: for example, confirmation bias, where we seek out information that supports our existing beliefs and misinterpret information that is evidence against our position so that it seems like it’s not.
Scouts, on the other hand, need to form correct beliefs. So they have to change their minds as they view more of the landscape.
Acting like a scout isn’t always easy:
- There’s lots of psychological evidence suggesting that we all have cognitive biases that cloud our thinking.
- It can sometimes be really painful to admit you were wrong or to come to think something unpleasant, even if that’s what the evidence suggests.
- Even if you know you should change your beliefs, it’s difficult to know how much they should change in response to new evidence — the subject of our interview with Spencer Greenberg.
- Having good judgement is actually just a difficult skill that needs to be practiced and developed over time.
But if we want to form correct beliefs about the world and how it works, we have to try.
And if we want to do good, forming correct beliefs about how our actions will impact others seems pretty crucial.
Why are we talking about this now?
Up until a few weeks ago, we’d held up Sam Bankman-Fried as a positive example of someone pursuing a high-impact career, and had written about how we encouraged him to use a strategy of earning to give.
Sam had pledged to donate 99% of his earnings to charity — and a year ago his net worth was estimated to be more than $20 billion. We were excited about what he might achieve with his philanthropy.
On November 11, Sam’s company, FTX, declared bankruptcy, and its collapse is likely to cause a tremendous amount of harm.
Sam appears to have made decisions which were, to say the least, seriously harmful.
If newspaper reports are accurate, customer deposits that were meant to be safely held by FTX were being used to make risky investments — investments which left FTX owing billions of dollars more than it had.
These reported actions are appalling.
We failed to see this coming.
So this week’s thoughts on the scout mindset are as much a reminder for us at 80,000 Hours as anyone else.
In the coming weeks and months, we want to thoughtfully examine what we believed and why — and in particular, where we were wrong — so we can, where needed, change our views.
There are so many questions for us to consider, in order to shape our future actions — here are a few:
There aren’t yet clear answers to these questions.
As we learn more about what happened and the wider effects of the collapse of FTX, we’re going to do our best to act like scouts, not soldiers: to defend beliefs only if they’re worthy of defence, and to be prepared and ready to change our minds.
We’ve released a statement regarding the collapse of FTX, and hope to write more on the topic soon.
We’re optimistic that the work of identifying, prioritising, and pursuing solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems will continue. We hope you’ll be with us in that project.