Wise Words Podcast Now available on all major podcast channels.


Mindwise Book Summary – Nicholas Epley

What you will learn from reading Mindwise:

– Why we are strangers to ourselves and what this means for how we see others.

– How we are dehumanise others and believe they are less competent then we are.

– How to understand others better and gain a wider perspective.

Mindwise Book Summary:

Mindwise Book Summary explores why we see human motivations in inanimate objects, why we fight others and why we are strangers to ourselves. If you’re interested in human behaviour and why people separate others into groups, this is the book for you.


We are Strangers to Ourselves:

Introspection is blind to construction. This does not mean that our introspective guesses are never accurate, just as you might guess the correct answer to a multiple choice question. 

Carl Jung said, “In each of us there is another whom we do not know.”16 Jung didn’t know the half of it. We are in some ways, as psychologist Timothy Wilson puts it, “Strangers to ourselves.”

When you don’t know the actual facts about yourself, your consciousness pieces together a compelling story, much in the same way it does when you’re trying to read the minds of other people to make sense of why they act as they do. 

What’s surprising is how easily introspection makes us feel like we know what’s going on in our own heads, even when we don’t. We simply have little awareness that we’re spinning a story rather than reporting the facts. 


Naive Realism – The Human Curse:

This creates what psychologists refer to as naïve realism: the intuitive sense that we see the world out there as it actually is, rather than as it appears from our own perspective. 

George Carlin’s: “Have you ever noticed that everyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” 

When other people don’t share your views, the all-too-common sentiment that comes straight from naïve realism is “I’m right and you’re biased.” 

Disengagement can come anytime there is a distance between two minds that needs to be bridged. 

Remember – Minds are inferred rather than observed. They exist only as a theory each of us uses to explain both our own and other people’s behavior.

The less willing or able others are to give you a piece of their minds (see their perspective), the more their minds become a blank slate onto which you project your own.

When others’ minds are unknown, the mind you imagine is based heavily on your own. So, it is heavily distorted by your reality. 


We are wired for social pain:

Neural regions that are active when actually experiencing physical pain firsthand also being active when watching other people experiencing pain. It quite literally hurts to watch someone else being hurt. 


We Believe we Know People better than we actually do:

Getting to know someone, even over a lifetime of marriage, creates an illusion of insight that far surpasses actual insight.

The violent actors are overwhelmed by empathy for their own group, which all too often naturally leads to disdain for competing groups. 


Why we fight others:

Your sixth sense functions only when you engage it. When you do not, you may fail to recognize a fully human mind that is right before your eyes. Said differently, sometimes we are triggered to engage with the mind of another and other times we are not. 

When you can’t see a human infront of you, you fail to empathise.  

When we fail to empathise we believe others have lesser minds. This lesser minds effect has many manifestations, including what appears to be a universal tendency to assume that others’ minds are less sophisticated and more superficial than one’s own.

Would conflicts be solved more intelligently if our political leaders recognized members of the other side as fully human rather than as savage animals or mindless objects? 


Everyone is more complicated than you believe:

By thinking that their employees have simplistic motives, bosses overlook the actual depth of their employees’ minds and therefore fail to offer their workers what really motivates them. 


Social Disengagement a modern epidemic?:

Aristotle said that “man is by nature a social animal,” but Aristotle never rode the train with me to work each morning. 

By remaining disengaged from other minds in this way, we neglect a chief source of human happiness: engaging relationally with other people. 


We see minds where none exist to explain things we can’t understand:

The language of intentions and motives and other mental states avoids this complication altogether by using the same set of concepts to explain all actions. We use the idea of consciousness and intent and prescribe it to everything.

This mentalistic language is both imprecise and inaccurate matters nothing for providing a functional explanation for almost any behavior, one that uses a language that everyone can easily understand. 

Religious beliefs are intuitively compelling because minds—in this case, the mind of a god—are intuitive explanations for the behavior of almost anything.

Two very important things about when minds emerge in both humans and nonhumans.  

First, they tend to emerge when someone has explaining to do.

Second, minds emerge from our attempts to explain a phenomenon when no other obvious explanation exists.


How the Mindless Becomes Mindful:

We give things a mind when we can’t truly understand why something has happened.

Nagin’s sixth sense and led him to see an intention behind a completely mindless weather event. Once engaged, Nagin spotted a mind where no mind actually existed.

Studies reveal that people report that unpredictable gadgets seemed more mindful than the predictable gadgets.

When, geometrical figures assume personal characteristics, a unified structure emerges.” Unpredictable objects get a mind because a mind makes sense of action. When something needs to be explained, mind reading is engaged. We give things a mind to give them meaning. Otherwise we can’t understand. 

The way you recognize a mind in these nonhumans is the same as the way you recognize a mind in another human: through your senses and by your more deliberate and thoughtful inferences. 


Note on Fakery:

Nature is filled with fakes. Lithops are deliciously succulent plants that look like completely inedible rocks. The praying mantis is a perfectly deadly predator that can look like a completely harmless plant. You don’t need a PhD in evolutionary biology to understand fakery. 


We are hypersensitive to eye movements:

As a member of one of the planet’s most social species, you are hypersensitive to eyes because they offer a window into another person’s mind. 

Given the obvious benefits of attending to others’ eyes, it makes good sense that we would be hypersensitive to anything that even vaguely resembles them. 


Our understanding is based on similarity and inference on small reliable signals:

The basic principles of perception described here are simple, based almost entirely on similarity: “if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then it must be a duck.” 

Funny Quote I liked — “It was run by hard-core physicists, who have as much patience for hearing about feelings in their machines as you have for fingernails on a chalkboard.” 


Understanding others minds:

When we’re seeking to understand another’s mind, we rely on at least three strategies.  

1. We project from our own mind. 

2. Use stereotypes.  

3. Infer a mind from a person’s actions. 


How to Gain more Perspective:

As Galileo knew, to see the world accurately, you need to look in the right place and then view it through the right lens. These are two pieces of wisdom that you and I can easily forget. 

Here’s a joke. A man on one side of a river shouts to a man standing on the other side, “Hey, how do I get to the other side of the river?” The other man responds, “You are on the other side of the river.” 


We think about ourselves more than others do – The Social Spotlight:

Childhood instincts are not outgrown so much as they are overcome by more careful and reflective thinking.

The adults were better able to get over their egocentric reflex with more careful thinking—Oh, he meant THAT truck—than the children were. As we grow up we learn nuances of a situation.  

“I am very sensitive to my mistakes, wishing I could get a second chance at every flubbed joke or poorly answered question. If my students aren’t as sensitive to those mistakes as I am, then I wind up thinking I’ll be judged more harshly than I actually am because I’m more focused on my flaws than my students” 

“You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”   —DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

Even in small groups, the social spotlight does not shine on us nearly as brightly as we think. 

Early on in Casablanca, Peter Lorre learns this lesson the hard way when he looks to Humphrey Bogart for some recognition, saying, “You despise me, don’t you?” Bogart replies, “If I gave you any thought, I probably would.” 

Becoming aware of the power of your own perspective is the very thing that enables a broader perspective. Relax. Others likely won’t notice, and if they do, they likely won’t mind. 


Beware of your own Biases:

Distortions like this are easy to find. Ever notice that “the media” are consistently accused of being biased but never found to favor those making the accusations? When your own views are one-sided, a balanced account will necessarily differ from your own perspective, and the errors in reporting will therefore seem to exist in them rather than in you. 

The problem of expertise is one of many examples of mistakes that come from projecting our own minds onto others: assuming that others know, think, believe, or feel as we do ourselves. 

But the less willing or able others are to give you a piece of their minds, the more their minds become a blank slate onto which you project your own. 

When others’ minds are unknown, the mind you imagine is based heavily on your own. 


The Two EgoCentric Biases:

  1. What you pay attention to
  2. Your interpretation of what you are paying attention to

The two different versions of egocentric biases, are produced by differences in attention (the neck problem) and the differences in interpretation (the lens problem).  

Of these two, Epley believes the existing evidence suggests that the neck problem is easier to overcome than the lens problem. 


Public Opinion – Is forged by imagination and what’s reported:

“Inevitably, our opinions cover bigger space, a longer reach of time, a greater number of things, than we can directly observe. They have, therefore, to be pieced together out of what others have reported and what we can imagine.”  —WALTER LIPPMANN (1922), 


Group Stereotypes:

Anyone who’s ever spoken in front of a large audience or walked down a crowded city sidewalk can confirm this. Individuals within large groups are almost invisible. 

What your brain extracts automatically from a group is an overall assessment, not its distinct individuals. 

Our stereotypes go wrong, three wicked ways matter most: getting too little information, defining groups by their differences, and being unable to observe the true causes of group differences directly. 


We Define by Differences not by Similarities:

Very Interesting Insight – You define yourself not by the attributes that make you the same as everyone else—has two arms, two legs, breathes air—but, rather, by the attributes that make you different from everyone else—spent 

A group defined by its similarity to others is, by definition, no group at all. Your social senses, just like your eyes, are difference detectors. 

When groups are defined by their differences, people think they have less in common with people of other races or faiths or genders than they actually do and, as a result, avoid even talking with them. 

Stereotypes routinely stray beyond observation and into explanation. When groups differ, the easy answer is that the differences are due to something essential, internal, or stable about the group members, rather than to something external and therefore unstable, such as social norms and hair dye. 

We inhabit a world of human differences and predilections, but the extrapolation of these facts to theories of rigid limits is ideology.

When you know very little about someone, the gaps in your knowledge are filled in by information about who a person is. But when you know more, that stereotypical knowledge seems to be quickly supplanted by what a person does. 


The Context Always Matters:

When a man looks into the camera and renounces his citizenship, you have every reason to assume that he means what he says. When that camera zooms out to show a jihadist holding a gun to the man’s head in one hand and a script in the other, you know his words are misleading. 

The problem is that life is viewed routinely through the zoom lens, narrowly focused on persons rather than on the broader contexts that influence a person’s actions. 

Much more effective for changing behavior is targeting the broader context rather than individual minds, making it easier for people to do the things they already want to do. 

Statistics (the numbers) doesn’t reveal the context. Therefore the fundamental problem that plagues all statistics is explanation. When a statistician moves beyond the data, problems ensue. 


To understand human behaviour you need to under social influences:

Human beings, like any animal, are more likely to do things that are easy rather than hard. They don’t have some deep desire to litter; they’re just more likely to do whatever is going on around them. 

And so you do what social animals do when they’re unsure: you look to other people for information about how to behave, to see if others seem as concerned as you feel. 

Failing to recognize an emergency makes someone human, not necessarily a callous jerk. 


Best way to understand someone’s perspective – Get the perspective:

This is why William Ickes, an expert on empathic accuracy, finds that “the best predictor [so far] of empathic accuracy appears to be verbal intelligence. 

This rampant overconfidence in our sixth sense helps to explain why people may avoid asking others for their perspective in the first place. 

The relatively slow work of getting a person’s perspective is the way you understand them accurately, and the way you solve their problems most effectively. 

The main barrier to getting perspective is that others won’t tell you what you’d like to know. They lie, mislead, misdirect, avoid, or simply refuse to divulge the truth. 

The main reason people lie is to avoid being punished, and so enabling people to give you their perspective requires putting them in a context that diminishes the fear of punishment. 

Interrogators often learn that they, as the interrogator, are the main barrier to truth telling.

We then developed a household policy of complete immunity as long as you tell the truth. This combination of delay and immunity has worked wonders for us. 

When the employee fears retribution and the boss isn’t open to hearing the truth, nobody speaks their mind and the event becomes pointless. 

The second problem with getting perspective is that others don’t really know themselves honestly.

Fact, one common laboratory technique for creating fast friends is to have two strangers disclose private thoughts or memories to each other. This is why shyness is one of social life’s biggest curses. 

Companies truly understand their customers better when they get their perspective directly through conversation, surveys, or face-to-face interaction, not when executives guess about them in the boardroom.  

Rule Of Thumb – If you’re guessing about someone else’s perspective you’re probably wrong. 


Final Thoughts:

“The stellar universe is not so difficult of comprehension as the real actions of other people.”  —MARCEL PROUST 

Remember – What could trigger two countries to start a nuclear war, one of the Soviet intermediaries in the negotiation knew precisely: “mutual fear, misinformation, and mistrust can do it.”