Table of Contents

 

Introduction

Why Read This?

The goal of this book is for you, the reader, to better understand what’s going on around you. If after reading this you look at developing situations around you in your home life, business, politics, wherever, and say, “Ah-hah! I understand better what’s happening here. And because I do, I can respond better,” then I as a writer have succeeded.

Teasers

Writers, grandmothers, and others have developed some pithy and profound descrip¬tions of our human condition. Can science, in particular evolutionary science, explain these?

I’ve listed some of them below, showing where I’ve attempted to explain or illuminate them in this book.

• In Book One, see “Introduction: Why We See Beauty” and the short section on “The Evolutionary Arc: Bride Thinking” under “Blind Spots, Mostly in American Thinking”.

• See “The Prisoner’s Dilemma”, about betrayal and cooperation.

• See “Why We See Beauty” again.

• See “Panic Thinking”.

• See “Hypocrisy and Delusion”.

• See “Quirky Effects on Evolution” under “The Human Process” in Book Three.

• See “Enfranchisement in Action”.

• See “Corrosion of the American Character”.

• See “A Fictional Example” in the “More Theory and Examples” section under “Panic, Blunder, and Ruthless Leaders”.

• See “The Curse of Being Important”

• See “Guilt Thinking” under “Blind Spots, Mostly in American Thinking”.

• See “The Evolutionary Information Boom”, about the Living Library of Life.

• See “Feminism and the Rise of Matriarchy” under “Surprises” at the end of Book Three.

Book Structure

Not all this book’s topics are closely related to each other. So I’ve divided what follows this Introduction into three smaller books.

• Book One—Observations about How We Think

This section begins by talking directly about the thinking processes: The Thinking Stack, Instinctive and Analytical thinking, and Panic and Blunder thinking. Then it establishes the foundation for analyses based on the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and views the mechanisms for changing the human design employed by Mother Nature, Design Engineer.

• Book Two—How These Insights Apply to Modern Social Problems

This section applies Book One’s insights. We see how the wacky-seeming solutions to many current issues are the product of poorly applied Stone Age thinking.

• Book Three—Thoughts on Our Future

This section gets almost mystical. I talk about our place in the universe—about the Living Library of Life and how we’re contributing to it, why being a boom species is great but requires us to take precautions, and what some of the still unsolved mysteries of the human condition are.

For those who just can’t wait, or who like a well-rounded structure, there’s also a Conclusion that summarizes what I think are my most important points from all three Books.

Where This Book Comes From

I’ve been watching the world go round for sixty-some years now. And I admit that for most of those years I’ve been as mystified as the next person as to why things happen and people act the way they do. But eventually I started seeing patterns that tie together some of the mysterious actions and choices of the people around me, how they make sense … and how they can be predicted.

I hope that these insights are the well-known wisdom of age. Whatever they are, I leave it to you, the reader, to see if you too can benefit from them.

I believe that two skill sets have let me see these interesting patterns: Good listening and good science.

Good Listening

When I listen to people with whom I disagree, I presume they believe what they’re saying, even though I don’t believe it. Once I believe that they believe, I try to figure out how they can do that. What is their basis for thinking this way of thinking is right? This technique lets me get inside another person’s head and identify what he or she thinks is important.

This is important because what this other person thinks is important is rarely the opposite of what I think is important … it’s on a whole different line of thought. This is what I call “skew thinking”. In geometry, skew lines are lines that are neither parallel nor intersecting, they just miss each other entirely! Once I understand that a person’s thinking isn’t parallel to mine, and doesn’t even intersect with mine, then I can work at figuring out what their skew line is, and I can start better predicting how they will react in various situations.

Good listening helps in understanding the world.

Good Science

Good science is very important, and surprisingly hard to get. Because it’s hard to get, I recommend you work diligently on your science foundation.

Beware Cable-TV Science!

When I talk about good science, I mean science based on careful and wide observation of the world around us, and not science based on the agenda of a particular storyteller, what I call “cable-TV science”—where a show has such a strong agenda that it considers only the science that proves what it wants proved, or else is interested in getting good ratings by presenting only the science that people want to hear, not science based on what the real world is about. To be fair, video documentarians, book writers, movie makers, and other kinds of teachers can be just as guilty as TV producers of presenting science with an agenda.

You can also call this “pseudoscience” or “fake science”, although that terminology is more usually applied to whole organized fields of non-science, such as astrology and creationism.

An example of a pseudoscientific belief that has been strong for decades is the idea that people only use about 10% of their brain at any one time. More on this later.

Be aware of cable-TV science, and beware of it.

Evolution Theory

The particular area of science from which I get most of the insights in this book is evolution theory.

My basic postulate is that humans are highly adapted to living on Earth, and our thinking is part of our high performance adaptation. Human thinking is not a tabula rasa, a blank slate on which anything at all can be written. Rather, it is a collection of processes designed to solve problems very quickly and efficiently.

But the problems it evolved to solve are those of day-to-day living in the Stone Age—humans’ lifestyle for the many thousands of generations before we invented the Agricultural, Industrial, and Information Age lifestyles. Many oddities of human action, the kind that make us look at a person’s or community’s behavior and scratch our heads in wonderment, happen when the wrong kind of thinking is applied to a situation. Most often it’s Neolithic thinking being applied incorrectly to a more civilized situation.

Other Sciences

Other sciences also contribute to this book.

Economics, for instance, helps by teaching how to frame choices in terms of benefits and costs, including the costs of lost opportunities.

From mathematics, specifically game theory, comes the Prisoner’s Dilemma concept explained at length in Book One.

And other branches of learning contribute by providing more solid science context. Evolution, for instance, is supported by findings not only in biology, but also in geology (the age of the earth) and astronomy (the age of the universe). If a person denies evolution because they don’t feel the biological support is valid, they also need to explain how the geological and astronomical support is not valid. A wide science background helps a lot in determining when an idea being presented as fact, or a choice being recommended, is sensible or silly.

Broader Thought Contexts

When a situation has gone badly, someone may blame it on another participant, saying “She was greedy,” a motivational judgment, or “He was evil,” a moral judgment. Or when one has gone well, “He was generous” or “She was good” or perhaps “decent”.

But while such judgments can seem to explain a situation comfortably after the fact, and they can explain characters in fiction, they don’t predict well in real life. In the words of a fellow discusser of such issues, Martin Prier, “‘Evil’ is good at explaining something that has gone wrong and that’s poorly understood.”

Or as I like to put it, “Few people wake up in the morning … stretch … and say, ‘What a great day to do evil!’” (Admittedly, more may say “I’m feeling generous” or “What a great day to do good!” and a few “I’m feeling greedy”. But then they all go out and act largely on self-interest as variously defined by their actual thought contexts, based on the thinking patterns that have helped mankind survive through thousands of generations of living on earth.)

The heart of this book is helping you understand thought contexts beyond motivation and morality, so you can get into other people’s heads and anticipate their choices in new situations. Then you can take advantage of those choices and motivations, especially those that seem strange, in the best way you can. For instance, if you understand another person’s thinking context, then you can offer them persuasive thoughts.

While people around you are letting their heart be their guide, you can be using your head to go through life more placidly and win bigger.

Now let’s get on with the main show. In Book One, we learn how high-performance human thinking really is, and why we nevertheless make big mistakes.