Monday, September 26, 2022

Review of Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin To Munger by Peter Bevelin

This review was written by Eugene Kernes  

Book can be found in:
Book Club Event = Book List (11/26/2022)
Intriguing Connections = 1) How to Teach? How to Learn?

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“It is our brain, its anatomy, physiology and biochemistry and how these parts function that set the limits for how we think.” – Peter Bevelin, Part One: Chapter One: Our anatomy sets the limits for our behavior, Page 4

“Failure to detect threats is often more costly than false alarms.  Our ancestors learned through trial and error that in the log run, pain could be avoided if they were fearful.  They survived the dangers because they learned how to respond.” – Peter Bevelin, Part One: Chapter Three: Adaptive behavior for survival and reproduction, Page 24

“Predictions about the future are often just projections of past curves and present trends.  This is natural since our prediction about the future are made in the present.  We therefore assume the future will be much like the present. But the future can’t be known until it arrives.” – Peter Bevelin, Part Three: Chapter One: Systems thinking, Page 126

Mistakes provide information on how to resolve them.  It is a mistake to not correct the mistake.  Reality is complex and mistakes cannot be eliminated, but preventative measures can be taken to mitigate the harm.  To understand mistakes requires an understanding of how information is processed.  Understanding the process of thinking requires recognizing the various influences on thoughts, and the misjudgments that are made.  Knowing the influences and thinking traps, provides information on how to avoid the misjudgments and improve thinking.  Knowing the influences also facilitates an understanding on how others think, and behave.  

The physical existence provides some limitations to understanding and thinking.  The mind and body are interconnected, for expectations are converted into a biochemical reality.  Thinking is shaped by interactions with the world.  Experiences change how the brain is wired.  Individuals have different values and ways of thinking because they had different experiences.  Different experiences that can create difficulty communicating values.

The Shaping of Experiences:
The brain microwires itself continuously in response to experiences.  Nobody has the same micro wiring of the brain because of different life experiences.  Different life experience makes individuals unique.  No individual has the same experiences with life’s various factors.  Different experiences produce different outcomes in values and character.  Making it difficult to understand other people’s behaviors, because they have different understandings.  To understand others requires the near impossible, adapting to their situation and experiences.  

Brain connections develop, change, and weaken depending on the experiences.  The more similar the experiences, the more connections made about those experiences making it easier to remember and learn within those experiences.  Experiences become stored representations of behavior and their outcomes, that are used within forthcoming situations.  

Emotions impact judgements.  Better to wait after an emotional event, before making decisions.  As emotions influence behavior, they need to be understood.  Attributing negative emotions upon a behavior can reduce the behaviors appeal and usage.  

Evolutionary Competition: 
Conflict arises due to limited resources.  Competition is a form of conflict that influences the distribution of the resources.  Environment changes within regions and time, changes the success of forthcoming decisions.  People need to adept to the changes, which can change biology and social infrastructure.  Evolutionary changes can be quick, but complex development requires a lot of time and variation.

For humans, survival depended on cooperation within the society which provides incentives for cooperative behaviors and informational exchanges.  Within groups, Individual weaknesses could be compensated by other individuals or group behaviors.  Cultural evolution is usually much faster than genetic evolution.  What has been learned by the community gets passed down, and combined with even more learned information.  Culture is something that is learned, while genetic biology is inherited.

Humans are not driven by happiness, but harm avoidance.  Ancestral trial and error taught that more pain could be avoided by being fearful.  That avoiding even false alarms provides less pain than failing to detect threats.  Surviving dangers by learning how to respond.  

What that means is humans are more sensitivity to pain, and remembrance of negative stimuli.  Pain aversion encourages interpretation of choices and events with favorable values.  Which includes a preference for reasons that already support internal belief system.

Planned Uncertainty:
Uncertainty and unknowns make people feel uncomfortable.  Categorizing ideas simplifies complexity and makes the ideas easier to recognize, differentiate, and understand.  Understanding the complexity leads to information as to why things happen, which facilities predictions about the future.  Predictions about the future are based on patterns within events.  Knowing the patterns reduces uncertainty and increases comfort. 

What is known is important to remember, but there is an attraction to new information and novel experiences.  Brain is stimulated by novelty.  The potential rewards obtained from the yet unknown motivates a search for exploration.  To make discoveries and learn.  

Knowledge of the past can guide decisions, but the context of those decisions has changed, which requires taking into account the difference between present and future conditions and consequences.  Past experiences are valid for similar conditions.  As conditions change, past experience cannot readily be used for predictions, because the consequences will be different.  Hindsight makes everything seem obvious and simple, but the forthcoming events have a lot of variability in outcomes and random chance.

The future cannot be known until it happens.  What we know about the future, are just historical trends projected forward.  Exact probability is only possible in situations where all possible outcomes are known, and the outcomes are equally likely.  The probabilities could be obtained given a large number of trials.  Even within probabilities, there are basic rules.

Planning does not eliminate intended or unintended consequences.  Uncertainty about causes and outcomes prevents complete anticipation of events.  Consequences depend on contingent events.  Planning uses models, which can provide a false sense of certainty which increase chances of mistakes.  Some systems have a lot of know factors in which formulas are easily fillable.  Some systems have a variety of hidden factors and many more contingent causes.   

Checklists are a form of planning, but their usefulness depending on context, reducing reliance on memory for needed information, are usable, and are in sync with reality.

Because of uncertainty, and other factors, there is a preference for immediate gratification at the expense of the future.  Paying more for the contemporary reward. 

How To Change Behavior:
Effective change comes about when individuals take internal responsibility for the change.  Leading to discovery of ways on how they can help themselves, rather than by pressuring them to help themselves.  Asking questions can provide information on behavioral consequences, which causes the individual to think for themselves.  Finding their own reasons to change.  

Individual responsibility should be for upside, and downside.  People need to take accountability of their actions.  Taking individual responsibility by thinking for oneself rather than delegating thinking to others.  Diffusion of responsibility through more people reduces the personal responsibility creating a situation where everyone seems responsible but nobody is actually responsible.

Changing behavior is more effective when individuals are praised, rather than punished.  Encouraged to do what is right, then disapprove of what went wrong.  Create incentives depending on what is wanted to be achieved.  Know the factors that determine needed results such as differences between skill and chance.  Properly ascertaining situational factors and individual roles can determine what needs adjustments.  Failure can be due to a poorly designed system, rather than a culprit.    

What happened, already happened and cannot unhappen.  Punishment is meant to provide a warning to others, so that others can avoid doing the same error, or stop repeat offences.  Others are changed by what happens to others.

Internal responsibility makes people more committed, and therefor harder for them to give up.  Hard to change after investing a lot of effort into something.  Change would require accepting wasted effort.  By being consistent, pain of accepting a loss can be avoided.  When decisions are challenged, people become defensive and even more committed to their ideas.  Public statements make people more committed therefor unlikely to change.  If the idea might need to change later, better to avoid making them public.

Explanations makes persuasion and behavior modification easier because the reasons for the change become understood.  Logic has limits in persuading people to change their minds.  Appealing to emotions can also change behavior.  

As humans want to belong to groups, social approval is an effective behavioral modification device.  Reciprocity is a social responsibility.  Individuals want to give back when someone else has given them something.  

Error Correction: 
The sooner bad news is shared, the sooner the problems can be corrected.  By knowing what can go wrong and the consequences, can preventative measures be taken.  Preventative measures such as a margin of safety.  Preventing something from happening usually requires less effort than solving something.  Knowing what to avoid reduces mistakes.  

The challenge is not to deceive oneself, because self-deception is easy.  Usually, individuals deny or distort reality to become more comfortable, especially when the identity and self-interest are threatened by reality.  Rather than bend reality to suit understanding, bend understanding to suit reality.  Ignoring unpleasant facts does not make them disappear.  Bad news informs of what is needed to be changed.  Need to face reality when the costs of denial are larger than benefits of facing reality.  

Confirmation bias prevents people from discovering where their ideas are wrong, and therefore prevents learning how to correct them.  Need to search for disconfirming evidence, and unlearn wrong ideas.  Need to consider alternative understandings.  An objective outsider can provide a guide to what is wrong.  Opposition can provide very valuable feedback, such as describing errors.

Unreal expectations are caused by overconfidence.  Overconfidence in expectations creates conditions for becoming vulnerable to disappointment.  Overconfidence in abilities can lead to disaster when trying to overcome limits.  Understanding limitations means understanding capacity.

By Association: 
Associations can be misleading.  People are more complicated than simply all good or evil.  Motivations are complicated and are not simply financial.  Social and moral motivations influence behavior.  

First impressions do not provide much information.  Appearances do not determine the character of the individual.  An appearance can be a social mask. Decisions about people should be made by what was actually accomplished, and their past behavior.  

Contrast distorts how information is perceived.  Comparisons tend to attract successes over failures.  Comparisons should be limited to oneself past and present.  Comparisons with others creates internal friction.  If goals are achieved, how other faired should not matter.  Then again, internal frictions such as envy or greed can motivate a response that benefits the individual and society.  

There is a conflict of interest when someone provide information that can improve the individual which, in which someone benefits from individual’s use of that information.  Cannot readily trust those that have a conflict of interest.  Those in authority have their own conflicts of interest which induces them to not want the best for the individual.  Expertise can be faked.  Statements should be evaluated based on their underlying facts, not to personal qualities of whom is delivering the statements.  

Informational Awareness: 
Shared information draws attention, while missing information tends to be ignored.  Need to search for alternative explanations and consider missing information.  The digital age has provided more access to information, and misinformation.  More information does not necessarily lead to having more knowledge or making better decisions.  

What is being presented on the news is subject to biases and vulnerabilities.  The media can be manipulative and use deception.  When considering information, need to consider the normal outcomes of similar situations.  Better to have accurate information than dramatic information.  Facts need to be provided for vivid stories.  Within events, need to figure out the difference between meaning and noise.  

Evidence of confirmation carries more weight than lack of evidence against an idea.  Evidence can cause a variety of explanations, rather than a single explanation.  Seek evidence that is contrary to the selected explanation.

Members within a group have different motivations, information, and interpretations.  Need to create an environment where everyone is able to speak and openly disagree.  That can come about when preventing social pressure.

Knowledge is only useful if there is someone who can perceive the information being signaled.  Information is useless without a perceiver.  Names to ideas are not knowledge for to understand something require knowing what happens.  Meaning about size comes about in relation to other related objects.  Miscommunication occurs when the speaker and responder are using the same words but with different implied meanings.

Specialists know a lot about their information, but not other pieces of information that are important.  Specialization means a lack of range in ability.  As problems and ideas do not stick to just a specialization, need to compensate by acquiring important ideas from various disciplines.  Gather ideas from other disciplines, and figure out their reliability.  Knowledge does change, but there is no need to question important ideas until evidence arrives that they are wrong.  Learning and re-learning are a lifelong journey.

To Act, Or Not To Act: 
Decisions are not limited to action.  Waiting and doing nothing, is a decision.  There are costs to acting, or not.  Doing something is not necessarily what obtains results.  If outcomes are inappropriate, then do not do what causes the outcomes.  Avoiding bad behavior by inactivity, is a very active activity.

If something displeases the individual, the individual should not do that to others.  Popularity does not mean righteousness.  No need to do displeasing activities just because others are doing them.  

Solvable problems could be corrected, therefore no need to worry about them.  Problems that cannot be resolved means that there is no reason to worry about them either because nothing can be done about them. 

This book is a collection of succinct summaries of various influential ideas.  To understand each idea would require more research.  More detailed accounts of the ideas can be found in their original sources.  

There are a variety topics and thinkers, but they are concentrated within business economics, and a few individuals.

The claims and ideas can be contradictory.  Having the same idea, but in a different context produces different conclusion.  The sporadic placement of similar ideas makes even complimentary ideas appear contradictory.  

An example of contradictory claims is recognizing the value of hearing out the opposition, but in another context asking to disregard what others are saying or doing.  A complimentary claim that appears contradictory explains that doing nothing is an activity in has the connotation of facilitating action, but then asking not to confuse doing something with results. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•How can mistakes be used? 
•What is needed to improve decision making?
•How to avoid misjudgments?
•How does the physical reality influence thinking?
•How do experiences shape thinking and the physical reality?
•Why can communication be difficult between individuals? 
•How does the brain wire itself?
•How do emotions influence thinking?
•Why do conflicts arise? 
•What is evolution?
•How did ancient humans survive?
•What is the social infrastructure? 
•Do people seek happiness?
•Why are individuals sensitive to pain and how does that influence thinking?
•Can the future be planned?
•Why is uncertainty uncomfortable? 
•How can history be used? 
•How to change individual’s own and other people’s behavior? 
•What is the use of punishing others?
•How to understand associations between people and ideas?
•What are the limits to information?
•Can evidence confirm ideas?
•What are the benefits and limits of specialists?
•When should decisions be acted upon?
•What makes genes difficult to understand? 
•What are the limits to evolutionary explanations?
•What determines mental capacity?
•How do bacteria interact with the cycle of life? 
•What is Pascal’s Wager? 
•What is the Elihu Root System?
•What is the price of money?
•Does it matter whether success is deserved or not?  What determines deserved success? 
•Can encouragement and criticism be relied upon? 
•How effective are drugs?  What can impact a drug’s efficacy?
•How to manage with stress?

Book Details
Publisher:         PCA Publications [Post Scriptum AB]
Edition ISBN:  9781578644285
Pages to read:   300
Publication:     2022
1st Edition:      2003
Format:            Hardcover

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5