Book Suggestion: "Diaminds" is worth reading (CFAR-esque)

post by MarkL · 2013-05-03T00:19:01.587Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 5 comments

The reason for this submission is that I don't think anyone who visits this website will ever read the book described below, otherwise. And that's a shame.

Simply stated, I think CFAR curriculum designers and people who like CFAR's approach should check out this book:

Diaminds: Decoding the Mental Habits of Successful Thinkers by Mihnea Moldoveanu

I claim that you will find illustrations of high-utility thinking styles and potentially useful exercises within. Yes, I am attempting to promote some random, highly questionable book to your attention.

You contemptuously object:

Stay with me.

Moldeveanu has a "secret identity" as a successful serial entrepreneur (first company sold for $21 million). And, he explicitly discusses the disadvantages of his book, his lack of experimental design, selection bias, explanation versus prediction, etc. The only grounds for his claim of having decoded the mental habits of successful thinkers is that he's done a lot of reading, thinking, and doing, and he has a bunch of interview transcripts of successful people. ("Interview transcripts?!")

You might have more objections:
  • If you dig around a little bit online you'll see that the second author writes highly rated popular business books.
  • If you read a little bit of the book, you'll hear a lot about Nicholas Nassim Taleb, black swans, poorly justified claims about how the mind uses branching tree searches, and other assorted suspicious physical, mathematical, and computational analogies for how the mind works.
  • He even asserts that "death is inevitable" (or something like that) in the introduction. *Gasp!*
Finally, you're thinking:
  • "There are 65 million titles out there. What are the chances that this particular crackpot book will be useful to me or CFAR?"
Stay with me.

Ok, still here? I think if you read this book you will continuously oscillate between swiftly-rising-annoyed-skepticism and hey-that's-uncommonly-smart-and-concisely-useful-and-I-could-try-that.

The exercises are not the sole value of the book, but here are some quickly assembled examples:

"Pick a past event that has been precisely recorded (for good example, a significant rise or fall in the price of the stock you know something about). Write down what you believe to be the best explanation for the event. How much would you bet on the explanation being valid, and why? Next, make a prediction based on your explanation (another movement in the stock's value within a certain time window). How much would you bet on the prediction being true, and why? Are the two sums equal? Why or why not?"

"Pick a difficult personal situation[....] In written sentences, describe the situation the way you typically would when talking about it with a friend or family member. Next, figure out -- and write down -- the basic causal structure of the narrative you've written up. [...E]xpand the range of causal chains you believe were at work. [...]"

"[... G]etting an associate to give you feedback, especially cutting, negative feedback, is not easy [...]. So arm her with a deck of file cards, on each of which is written one of the following in capital letters: WHY?, FOR WHAT PURPOSE?, BY WHAT MECHANISM?, SO WHAT?, I DISAGREE! I AGREE! [...]"

"Keep a record of your thinking process as you go through the steps of trying to solve [these problems]. [...] When you've finished, go through the transcript you've produced and 'encode it' using the coding language (mentalese) we have developed in this chapter. Your coding system should include the following simplified typology: The problem complexity class (easy/hard); The solution search process you used (deterministic/probabilistic); The type of solution your mind is searching for (global/local/adaptive); Your perceived distance from the answer to the problem at several different points in the problem-solving process. [...]"

Those were just some snippets that were easy to type up. Most of the exercises are meatier, and he doesn't just say "write down causal structure" without any context. There is buildup if not hand-holding. There's plenty of cognitive bias-flavored stuff, debiasing stuff, mental-model-switching stuff, OODA loop-type stuff, and much more.

Anyway, Moldoveanu tries to describe tools to change how people think. I think he succeeds, in concreteness and concision, at least, more than anything I've ever read on the subject, so far. I'm not saying this is a masterpiece; it's turgid and a little poisonous, like some PUA stuff. And it's uneven. And, I personally am not making any of the exercises a priority in my life, nor am I saying you should. But you might find helpful ideas in here for your personal experiments, and I think CFAR curriculum designers would probably benefit from reading this book.

You can burn through a first pass of the book in a long evening. It's short enough to do so. Chapter 1 (as opposed to the Preface, Praeludium, and Chapter 6) is probably the best thing to read for deciding whether to keep reading. But go back and read the Preface and Praeludium.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by gjm · 2013-05-03T11:39:29.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

MarkL, I think your tone here is rather too defensive. (I understand why it's somewhat defensive.)

Replies from: MarkL
comment by MarkL · 2013-05-03T15:10:17.935Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had a specific reason for giving the book a shot, while simultaneously I had strong evidence that I was wasting my time. I wanted to nudge people who didn't have a specific reason to read it to consider reading it, anyway. Overkill? Doth protest too much? Maybe!

Replies from: falenas108
comment by falenas108 · 2013-05-03T16:23:20.431Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A bit too much, yeah. Over half the post is defensiveness and reasons why you might object, without refuting those objections.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-03T01:40:16.996Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Belongs in the media thread.

Replies from: David_Gerard
comment by David_Gerard · 2013-05-03T06:56:11.174Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nah, it's on-topic.