And men should know that from nothing else but from the brain come joys, laughter and jests, and sorrows, griefs, despondency and lamentations. And by this… we acquire wisdom and knowledge, and we see and hear and know what are foul and what are fair, what sweet and what unsavory… and by the same organ we become mad and delirious and fears and terrors assail us.
Seeking Wisdom is about how our thoughts are influenced, why we make misjudgments and tools to improve our thinking. In this way, Peter Bevelin explains that if we understand what influences us, we might avoid certain traps and understand why others act like they do.
Can we achieve wisdom by looking only at our mistakes? The author of Seeking Wisdom uses a quote from Charles Munger to answer that the best way to learn what, how, and why things work is to learn from others.
I believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don’t believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself. Nobody’s that smart.
What influences our thinking?
First and foremost, our anatomy sets the limits for our behavior. Peter Bevelin says that what we feel and think depends on neural connections.
So far we know that the brain is a chemical system, and that neurons communicate with each other through the release of neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry messages between neurons). What we think and feel depends on chemical reactions. And these chemical reactions are a function of how our neurons connect.
What determines how these neurons connect and their patterns? Our genes and life experiences, situational or environtamental conditions, and a degree of randomness.
It’s remarkable how our brain changes as a result of our experiences. After all, experiences are what make us different.
Experiences produce physical changes in the brain either through new neural connections or through the generation of new neurons. Studies suggest that the brain can change even during the course of a day. This means that the anatomy of the brain varies from individual to individual.
Experiences are the reason that all individuals are unique. There are no individuals with exactly the same upbringing, nutrition, education, social stamping, physical, social and cultural setting. This creates different convictions, habits, values and character. People behave differently because differences in their environment cause different life experiences. This is why it is sometimes hard to understand other people’s behavior. To do that, we must adapt to their environment and share their experiences. This is often impossible.
Marcus Aurelius said that our life is what our thoughts make it. So our mental state and physical well-being are connected. The author of Seeking Wisdom puts the following example.
Our state of mind is a function of our life experiences and the specific situation. Assume (1) we are eating tasty chocolate, listening to wonderful music and feeling relaxed or (2) we suffer from a cold, feel stressed and just ate a bad meal. If we have to make a judgment, will it be the same in both cases? Probably not, since our state of mind is different in case 1 and 2.
Reasons for misjudgments
Why oh why are human beings so hard to teach, but so easy to deceive.
The author of Seeking Wisdom lists 28 reasons for misjudgments and mistakes. The more emotional, confused, uncertain, insecure, excited, distracted, tired of stressed we are, the easier we make mistakes. Geniuses aren’t excluded. Two of them I found particularly interesting.
1. Bias from deprival syndrome–strongly reacting (including desiring and valuing more) when something we like and have (or almost have) is (or threatens to be) taken away or ‘lost’. Includes desiring and valuing more what we can’t have or what is (or threatens to be) less available.
When something we like is (or threatens to be) taken away, we often value it higher. Take away people’s freedom, status, reputation, money or anything they value, and they get upset. We don’t like to lose the freedom to choose how to act or believe or what we have.
2. Sensemaking–Constructing explanations that fit an outcome. Includes being too quick in drawing conclusions. Also thinking events that have happened were more predictable than they were.
We don’t like uncertainty. We have a need to understand and make sense of events. We refuse to accept the unknown. We don’t like unpredictability and meaningless. We therefore seek explanations for why things happen. Especially if they are novel, puzzling, or frightening. By finding patterns and causal relationships we get comfort and learn for the future.
Tools for better thinking
The brain can be developed just the same way as the muscles can be developed, if one will only take the pains to train the mind to think.
~THOMAS ALVA EDISON
Seeking Wisdom provides tools, explaining ‘why’, preventing and reducing mistakes, solving problems, and evaluating statements.
Meaning: Words, definitions, propositions, statements, or goals don’t tell us anything. We need to understand what they mean. Knowledge is only valuable if it’s useful and something is only useful if we understand what it means.
Attitudes: Life is long if we know how to use it. Seneca tells in his Moral Essays: ‘You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or things is perhaps your last. You have all the fears of mortals and all the desires of immortals. You will hear many men saying: <<After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties.>> And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? Who will suffer your course to be just as you plan it? Are you not ashame to reserve for yourself only the remmant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!’