Why read what I write? What are my plans for alexvermeer.com, and why should you care?
The start of a new year is the chance to review our plans and get the most out of the next year. A big part of my review and planning this year revolved around this blog.
A while ago I wrote what I want this blog to be: valuable, structured, imperfect, regularly updated, honest, referential, broad, deep, and truth-seeking. These are ‘meta’ goals – and all still true – from before I had ironed out exactly what I wanted to write about.
There have recently been a bunch of popular books about human psychology, such as:
- Ariely, Predictably Irrational
- Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness
- Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice
- Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
- Thaler & Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
- Tavris & Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)
- Marcus, Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind
What I’ve read so far about cognitive psychology, rationality, and the like is fascinating stuff! It’s a true shame to think many people will never learn about it! And not just because it’s cool, but because it’s useful too. Just think how our political systems would be improved if there was a universal understanding of our motivations and thought processes, and how to make better decisions and judgements! Same goes for donating to charity, philanthropy, thinking about global issues, business, buying a house, raising kids, etc. etc..
That it, in essence, my “reason why”. Humanity is pretty awesome, but has some embarrassing and shameful history. There is this sense that so much more is possible, that our potential is vast, that how far we have come is the tip of the iceberg on how far we can rise.
The other day I took out a stack of books from the library that I’m enthusiastically planning on reading (though I maybe got carried away with how many I took), including:
- Baron, Thinking and Deciding
- Hastie & Dawes, Rational Choice in an Uncertain World
- Stanovich, Rationality and the Reflective Mind
But I also realized a problem right away. Even for someone like me who whats to read them, it’s an intimidating amount of stuff to get through! This knowledge needs to be summarized, analyzed, and distilled for a broad audience – and this is exactly what I want to work on.
The popular books on human psychology are a good start. Take Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, for example (which I’m reading right now). It is a simple, easy to follow explanation of the two-system human mind, with plenty of examples and anecdotes about how the mind works, common biases, and typical human irrationality.
But many people will not even read a whole book on such a topic, so it needs to be distilled even further.
As I learn about logic, probability theory, decision theory, and rationality, I want to write concise, accessible summaries that highlight the key ideas and conclusions.
Self-awareness involves a thorough understanding of our minds, our beliefs, and our values. The literature on heuristics and biases, rationality, behavioral psychology, cognitive science is very applicable here.
Self-awareness should naturally flow into self-mastery. If we understand how our minds work for and against our goals, we should find ways to build off our strengths and improve or avoid our weaknesses.
If we can’t apply what we learn about probability and decision theory, rationality, and psychology to our lives, then the knowledge is mostly useless. Rationalists should win!
Self-awareness and self-mastery are ultimately motivated by something other than themselves, such as the desire to make the world a better place, to get that promotion, or to be a good partner.
Over the last month I finally upped my posting to three times a week. I plan to keep this schedule throughout 2012.
I am far from being an expert on any of the above (yet). My hope is that the time and effort I put in to learning, summarizing, and distilling this knowledge will save you time and be useful.
You, dear reader, are the ultimate judge of my work. If you find it confusing or useless, then I’ve done something wrong.
Here’s to all of us getting the most out of the next year.
Image by Hamed Saber.