Mind Macros


I condense the most profound lessons from my 20-hour reading weeks in to a four-minute newsletter every Monday. Read an issue below.

  • I include two passages for each category:
    - Practical advice
    - Food for thought
    - Quotes to ponder
  • For each passage, I provide context, pose a question or prompt an exercise.
  • My goal is to extract the most valuable content from everything I read and share it with you in four minutes.
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Mind Macros Issue 001

Hello friends, welcome to the first issue of Mind Macros - I hope you find something of value.

Food for Thought

1. Mimetic desire: why you want what you want.

"In the universe of desire, there is no clear hierarchy. People don’t choose objects of desire the way they choose to wear a coat in the winter. Instead of internal biological signals, we have a different kind of external signal that motivates these choices: models. Models are people or things that show us what is worth wanting. It is models—not our “objective” analysis or central nervous system—that shape our desires. With these models, people engage in a secret and sophisticated form of imitation that Girard termed mimesis (mi-mee-sis), from the Greek word mimesthai (meaning “to imitate”)." — (from: Wanting by Luke Burgis)

We want things—money, love, fame, respect, prestige and power. A fantastic abundance of desires graces our western culture. We think of desire as a linear relationship between us and the thing we want. If somebody questions our reasoning, we often explain ourselves in one of two ways. Either we want an object because it suits our preferences, or we highlight its objective qualities. Claiming that we choose autonomously, away from the influences and desires of others, is what René Girard calls 'The Romantic Lie.’

René Girard (1923-2015), a French social scientist, changed the world of desire with Mimetic Theory. In Girard's view, desires are not intrinsic but external, determined by those around us. We traditionally think of desire as a relationship between ourselves and the desirable object. However, Girard's mimetic theory explains the triangular relationship of desire which begins with the subject, mimicking a model to obtain the desired object. Models are people who signal what is worth wanting, motivating us to imitate those around us.
Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires. — René Girard

Mimetic desire occurs in the following order: models desire objects; subjects imitate the models, which mimics the desire for the objects. Desire is not a straight line but flows through invisible models.

2. Our brain processes risk detection and risk avoidance largely in the emotional part of our brain, not our "thinking" part.

"It is also a scientific fact, and a shocking one, that both risk detection and risk avoidance are not mediated in the “thinking” part of the brain but largely in the emotional one (the “risk as feelings” theory). The consequences are not trivial: It means that rational thinking has little, very little, to do with risk avoidance. Much of what rational thinking seems to do is rationalize one’s actions by fitting some logic to them." — (from: Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

By recognizing that we make most of our decisions out of the emotional part of our brain, we can build logical scaffolding around our risk detection and avoidance strategies. When our brain cannot be trusted, syllogisms (see below) can prove invaluable.

Practical Advice

1. Perspective blindness.

"Perspective blindness' refers to the fact that we are oblivious to our own blind spots. We perceive and interpret the world through frames of reference but we do not see the frames of reference themselves. This, in turn, means that we tend to underestimate the extent to which we can learn from people with different points of view." — (from: Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed)

We judge others based on incomplete information, causing us to believe an inaccurate narrative. This extends to decisions, opinions, beliefs and eventually, our identity. Through perspective blindness, we construct a distorted view of reality, which becomes the map we use to navigate life.
The incompleteness is not the issue, but our failure to recognize it is. If we acknowledge that much remains unseen, we can keep an open mind as situations unfold.

2. Aristotle's guidelines on reaching logical conclusions with syllogisms.

"Aristotle investigated the methods by which several propositions could be linked together to produce an entirely new proposition. Two propositions (called the premises) would be taken to be true, and another (called the conclusion) would follow from the premises, forming a three-line argument, called a syllogism. “A syllogism,” according to Aristotle, “is discourse in which, certain things being stated, something other than what is stated a conclusion follows of necessity from their being so.” In other words, a syllogism accepts only those conclusions that are inescapable from the stated premises.

The propositions in the first two lines are the premises; the proposition in the third line is the conclusion. If the argument is valid and you accept the premises as true, then you must accept the conclusion as true.

Consider the following syllogism:

All poodles are dogs.
All dogs are animals.
Therefore, all poodles are animals.

The three propositions above form a valid argument (albeit a simplistic and obvious one). Since the conclusion follows of necessity from the two (true) premises, it is inescapable." — (from: Logic Made Easy by Deborah J. Bennett)

Quotes to Ponder

1. Epictetus on showing that you read through your actions and character.

"Don't just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. Books are the training weights of the mind. They are very helpful, but it would be a bad mistake to suppose that one has made progress simply by having internalized their contents."

2. Charlie Munger on forming airtight opinions.

"I never allow myself to hold an opinion on anything that I don't know the other side's argument better than they do."
To pursing knowledge,

Matthew Vere.
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