The slow suicide of monetary self-deception

The major ways we deceive ourselves about money involve blindly substituting something that doesn’t work for something that does

The siren call of simplicity and succumbing to substandard substitutes

Beware shortcuts taken for the sake of simplicity… they’re the ones most likely to lead you astray

The three sources of monetary self-deception noted above, and their viral expressions that run riot throughout this book, have one thing in common. Each one caters to a craving for simplicity and certainty in an inherently complex and uncertain world.

The unrelenting uncertainty of the world is bit of a pain for brains that evolved as prediction machines in charge of a litany of life-or-death choices in changing environments. Dealing with the inherent impermanence of everything in our worlds – both inside and out –is impossible without taking shortcuts. Not even a chess computer works through every possible move. The more you presume, the less you have to predict. Our assumptions, generalisations, and narratives have not only kept us humans alive, but have catalysed our crowning civilisations.

However, the machinery that leads us also misleads us. At any moment, were we to attempt to logically calculate the consequences of the choice-combinations that define our possible future paths, our heads would explode. Logical decision-making is an impossibility. So we focus on what feels most relevant. Much like how our vision is not the perfect panorama we perceive with our eyes, but constructed from a focus on the middle bit with the brain guessing how to fill in the gaps.[1] More often than we’re comfortable admitting, both our constructed vision our constructed worldviews can fail to match up to reality.

We want to make things simple so we can act fast – or even act at all. It’s good to have a decent margin for error when deciding if the noise you hear while sauntering through the jungle is likely to kill you. But this innate desire for dumbing down can go too far. If you think everything is going to kill you, then you (and those around you) will soon start to wish something actually would.

Because of the way it’s interwoven into every aspect of our daily decision-making, the consequences of these shortcuts when it comes to money can be catastrophic. They may not kill us, but they will kill our potential.

Just about every way we stray with money can be characterised by succumbing to a substandard substitute – trying to meet a real need with something that makes sense only with a distorted view of reality. In each case, we grab at a simplistic ‘solution’ to an ill-defined ‘problem’. When this doesn’t work we question not the process that defined the problem or arrived at the solution, but something outside of our control – we blame other people, an unfavourable environment, or simply bad luck. Whatever maintains the favoured fiction of our short-term and short-sighted approach to the long-term complexity of living.

In the previous section we covered the three predominant shitty substitutes: trying to meet ‘becoming’ needs (which by definition involve change) with fixed ‘having’ answers; doing whatever dodges thinking something through (while ideally feeling like we’re being very thoughtful); and focusing on seemingly objective numbers as a proxy for decisions affecting the narratives of our lives.

The legion of subtler substitutes we’ll explore throughout this book all lead back to one or more of these three. For example, the lure of ‘luxury’ goods as a substitute for the sort of character that, if actually present, wouldn’t care for luxuries; deciding that a fund manager being based in Blackpool is a clever reason to invest with them; and how the call to ‘buy experiences’ so commonly backfires.

We can’t destroy the drive for simplification, and nor would we want to. But we can learn to calibrate it and control it. We can’t ‘remove’ substitutes, because on some level everything is a substitute: we do not directly ‘do’ meaning – we do other things and meaning happens as a side-effect. However, we can make assumptions without becoming attached to them. We can take shortcuts without doing so blindly. And we can act as if something were true, without being fixated on fixity – without assuming we’ve found a universal law that turns us from open-minded testers of such theories into closed-minded protectors of them.

Simple, complex, complicated

Understand the difference between simple, complex, and complicated; and then pursue profundity, and avoid triviality

If we’re to more accurately and reliably calibrate when we’re being simple and when simplistic, we could do with a clearer understanding of what we mean when we use terms like ‘simple’, ‘complex’, and ‘complicated’.

The intention behind the modern trend for ‘explaining complex ideas in simple terms’ is wonderful, but the obsession with it impedes insight and shuts down the very engagement with a topic its obsessors believe it brings about. When you hear someone praised for being ‘good at explaining complex ideas in simple terms’ there’s a high chance that what you are hearing is a piece of crap. Grasping why is fundamental to financial advice.

People seek financial advice because they think – or rather believe – that finance is complex, that the complexity is numbers-based, and that therefore it’s worth paying someone who understands the numbers to make the complexity go away.

This is thrice-flawed. The numbers bits of finance that are relevant to you are simple, the complexity comes not from the numbers, but from the narrative of your life, and complexity by definition cannot be made to go away.

Complication, however, can be made to go away.

Underneath a complication is a simple algorithmic answer, waiting for the processing power fit to uncover it. Where simple is a clear path from input A to output B that anyone can follow (like a basic recipe), complicated is a knottier path. You’re still aiming for B, but you need more skill or information to get there. It’s a recipe, but with obscure ingredients and a fancy gadget you’ll never use again. Sometimes this is merited, but often the obscure ingredients add more to the ego of the eater than the depth of the flavour.

Complex is different. Inputs in a complex situation move. They dance with their environment in a way that changes them both. The ‘dance’ that emerges is a new entity, reliant upon, but independent of, its elements. Changes in its elements change it, and changes in it change the elements. Potential outputs span a range. Tracing a line from one side to the other with any confidence is a predictor only of the idiocy of the person doing it. You may begin at A, but you could end up at B, C, D, or Z, by one of an infinite number of paths. Complex therefore compels focusing on the journey, and the course correction, not the destination. It’s not a recipe, but a nutrition plan for a human.

While complications can be dissolved, to ‘simplify’ a complexity is to distort it, resulting not in simplified, but simplistic. It’s comforting, but crap. Simplistic versions can be stepping stones – children read Dahl before Dostoyevsky – but they’re not substitutes.

True complexity is irreducible. When people see scary numbers-based ‘complexity’ in finance, what they are seeing isn’t complexity, but complication. And it’s often wilfully exploitative. Because people are either being stupid or trying to sell you something, simple things are made complicated such that we praise those who cut through the crap, rather than blaming those who put the crap there in the first place. Much of finance involves institutions creating crap and then charging individuals for ‘managing’ it.

Unfortunately, complex and complicated (and simple and simplistic) are hard to distinguish. Yet the distinctions are important. Because scared minds – as ones thinking about money often are – are so desperate for simple answers that they beg to be sold them, blind to the fact that such answers not only don’t work, but can’t work.

In defence of simplicity

Most simple takes on things aren’t wrong. They’re just more domain-specific or context-dependent than their more vocal proponents would have you believe. It’s more instructive to see Einstein as more clearly defining the boundaries within which Newton was right, than as proof that he was wrong.

Pithy philosophical Tweets may be mostly pointless, drifting as they do in a contextless, nuance-less, understanding-less ocean of irrelevance, but they’re rarely wrong in all times and places. On a good day, they can be of service to the originator, for helping to both consolidate and act as a reminder of the work of understanding something, and may also be the cue that causes the penny to drop for someone else.

Outside of the context of how to live (i.e. of philosophy), what jumping to conclusions loses in wisdom, it makes up for in expediency. Even the sharpest minds have limited capacity; it makes no sense to use that capacity in contexts where the aim is to accumulate knowledge rather than to cultivate wisdom.

However, regardless of the perception attached to trillions of transactions by billions of people every day, our interactions with money are rarely so trivial.

The dangers of simplicity

The biggest danger of the simplistic consequences of our craving for certainty is beautifully encapsulated by Will Durant’s quip that: ‘The fertility of simplicity defeats the activity of intelligence.’[i] We fail to keep simplicity in its place. We do not preserve our capacity for conscious thought for when we need it, but train ourselves to avoid it as a default.

As Nietzsche wrote: ‘Anyone can be so fatigued and weakened by agitation, fears, overloading with work and thinking that he will no longer resist anything that appears complicated but yield to it.’[ii] Yet it is precisely in those moments of heightened emotion that we most need wisdom. And in both frequency and intensity, no decisions are quite as emotional as financial ones.

The blind belief that simple always equals best suffers from these six problems:

  • The Having Control Problem – ‘Having mode’ solutions are centred on controlling something, be that owning a material possession or reducing the understanding of a concept to a soundbite. Yet most needs are not met by exercising control, but by enhancing meaning.[iii] ‘Becoming mode’ solutions, by contrast, are met by developing your relationship with yourself and the world – changing on the inside and inhabiting a different outside.

  • The Richard Feynman Problem – Astrophysics is, on average, complex. Those that work in it are more used to talking to each other than to people that don’t speak astrophysicist. A shared language and grammar within a complex discipline is necessary for precision delivered at a non-patronising and non-pointlessly placid pace. Some parts of astrophysics are not complex. For example, a simple experimentally obvious expression of a complexly derived law. These simple expressions can be delivered without the precise language required for the understanding of the underlying laws. Richard Feynman was the absolute master of sharing such examples – of sharing simple versions of complex ideas in a fittingly simple, uncomplicated, way. However, to conflate understanding of the simple expression with understanding of the underlying complexity is to err. In the same way, there appears to be zero correlation between those that share Stoic quotes on Twitter and who display any evidence of a stoically calm mind. Simple versions can serve as stepping stones, but they are not shortcuts.

  • The Michael Pollan Problem – Michael Pollan’s written three excellent books on food. The first is an inch thick and contains the sort of structured, layered, argument that compels not only behaviour change, but worldview change. It can’t do specific context for you, but offers a silent encouragement to examine your life for potential applicability. The second is a centimetre thick and will make those who’ve read the first remember it, and those who haven’t think a bit, though fundamental shifts in behaviour – let alone wiring – are less likely. The third, Food Rules, can be read in an hour. It’s a great summary of the first two, but if your relationship to food has already changed, it’s unnecessary, and if it hasn’t, this on its own won’t do it. Yet it fills a popular hole that believes the ‘just tell me what to do’ version is all that’s ever needed.

  • The Immanuel Kant Problem – Sometimes, if you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it. But sometimes it’s because your audience is in no position to understand it, and effort expended on trivialising something complex (assuming it is also something meaningful) is effort that would be better directed towards tackling ever-more complex problems. ‘I venture to hope,’ Kant wrote, ‘that the difficulty of unravelling a problem so involved in its nature may serve as an excuse for a certain amount of hardly avoidable obscurity in its solution. […] Had I longer delayed and sought to give it a more popular form, the work would probably never have been completed at all.’[iv] Kant said, in effect, that other people could bridge the gap between his understanding and everybody else’s; his time was better spent pressing on into the areas that only he could understand from scratch.

  • The Alexander the Great and the Gordian Knot Problem – The Gordian Knot, legend has it, was so hard to untie that whoever managed it would be fit to rule the world. For centuries, many tried in vain. Then Alexander turned up and sliced through it with a sword. There is no universal moral of this story. Sometimes such knots should be destroyed – wasting time tidying up what should be discarded is one of the most prevalent and pernicious human errors, from investment analytics to fancy home-storage solutions. Sometimes, however, knotty problems imprison valuable insights whose chance of freedom is lost forever when we favour unthinking rather than untying. Retweeting a conclusion hasn’t saved you the time taken to understand something, it’s wasted the time you could’ve understood it in.

  • The Dan Brown Problem – Many proponents of fortune-cookie ‘wisdom’ – that proclaim that an epigram that summarises an argument it takes a book to structure is more valuable than the book – make an argument for defining ‘value’ in crude terms of how well it meets the needs of a large group of people. The bigger the group, the bigger the value. It’s democratic and decentralised. To the best storyteller the spoils. There is manifestly something in this. Outside of manipulation, monetary value has always accumulated in the hands of those with the most popular appeal. One large part of popular appeal is instant simplicity. However, this often gets replaced with simplistic. The line here is subjective. The same person that would defend their online course as the ‘best’ because it was the most popular (perhaps because it wasn’t challenging), could vehemently disagree that Dan Brown wrote the ‘best’ books, or MacDonald’s served the ‘best’ food. We’ll see later in the book that teachers that obtain the highest in-the-moment ratings from their pupils have pupils that obtain the worst results over an actually meaningful timeframe. And when it comes to your financial decision-making, ‘instant’ is never the timeframe over which you want to be judging something.

How do you know if you’re substituting an illusory understanding for a real one? Here are three quick tests:

  • The Reverse Engineering Test – Have you learnt the example or the principle? Anyone can parrot back a simple example of a complex principle. But parrots can’t work backwards. Can you build back the complex from the simple? Can you see the same problem from different angles? Can you provide an example of the same expression under different conditions? Or an example of how a change in conditions produces a contradictory expression? What are some implications of what your example is illustrating?

  • The Five-Year-Old Test – Can you explain this to a five-year-old? Often a slight wilful obscurity is used to mask the limits of our understanding. An infantile interrogation soon shows where this is the case.

  • The Richard Feynman Test – Want to know if you understand something beyond merely learning an example of it? The true test is not remembering an example, but arriving at one yourself after you’ve remembered the gist. Read the textbook, cover it up, and write your own version.

Profound or trivial?

As the amount of nonsense spouted about the distinction suggests, simplicity v complexity is a poor way of looking at anything. Terms that have become so loaded as to trigger reaction rather than reflection have ceased to be useful.

So while it’s important to try to catch and resist such reactions in ourselves, we could do with a better way of spotting where we’re at threat of being blinded by the shiny lights of simplicity.

That better way is to understand the difference between profundity and triviality.[v]

Trivial ideas or levels of understanding – as in A on the diagram (and fortune-cookie Tweets) – are well-supported, but leave you thinking ‘so what?’ They don’t lead anywhere interesting. Far-fetched ideas – as in B (and conspiracy theories) – can lead to very interesting places. If they were true, they’d explain a lot. But the maps they’re relying on to get there are pretty sketchy and have ‘here be dragons’ scribbled in the corner.

The best understanding – as in C – sees depth both backwards and forwards. It is supported by evidence from multiple independent but converging sources and can be elegantly applied to multiple domains. Profundity doesn’t mean something is correct. It means that it’s a plausible stab at reality. It means that there’s less chance you’re being self-deceived.

The more desperate we are for certainties, the more likely we will mistake triviality or far-fetchedness for wisdom, thereby strengthening the chains of our self-deceptions, rather than freeing ourselves from them.

The added advantage of this approach over arguing about simplicity and complexity is that it places our knowledge more helpfully in a process that is both open to and encouraging of constant challenge and refinement, and that is inextricably linked to the perspectival and participatory nature of our real-life experience.

When we get excited by a ‘simple’ explanation, often we’re merely momentarily happy that we don’t need to change anything. When we have an ‘Aha!’ moment, it is the ‘Aha!’ of ‘Aha! I knew that all along.’ Chalk up one more bit of the world you don’t need to worry about not understanding! One more bit that fits within existing frameworks.

When we encounter profundity, we break our existing frames. At the highest level, for example after an intense bout of meditation, or psychedelic therapy, people report a fundamental change in their sense of self, and a connection to the world, unattached to one’s own ego that is so profound it’s ineffable – it’s incapable of being adequately described. We see this on a smaller scale when in the midst of mind wandering, we suddenly get a moment of insight.

This is why profound experiences – such as the way psychedelic therapy doesn’t ‘treat’ an affliction, but transforms an unhelpful story you were telling yourself about yourself – are so much better at changing behaviours than instructions reliant on simple statements of fact, however well delivered, and in however well-controlled an environment. As we’ll see in Part One, the sort of behaviour change we want always leads back to the frameworks written in our brains about who we are. You need to break the old, unhelpful, deceptive ones, before you can build better ones to take their place.

Money has a special role to play in this because it plays such a special role in how we see everything and how we decide to live in each moment.

Wire yourself to want not simplicity, but complexity… when it’s worth it

Returning to the more immediately practical implications of this for a second, being able to identify when and how you are in danger of succumbing to simplicity’s siren calls is fundamental to getting a better grip on your finances. Because we see money as scary and complicated, we’re prone to blindly grabbing at the first ‘solution’ that promises to make the fear and the complication go away. Unsurprisingly, the industry that profits from this is more than happy to help us.

Acknowledging this is so important, because in finance the ‘simple’ you are sold is a deception. The goal is to use your money wisely. To grow not only itself, but yourself.

This is not to say you shouldn’t get professional help… you quite possibly should, and we’ll dive into the detail of this in Part Three. But before you do, it’s vital to be able to catch your craving for certainty, so you avoid the existentially painful and monetarily pricey consequences of being blindly led by this craving. Is the help you are getting playing to and feeding your fears, or helping you face them? Is it growing the complications, and selling itself as a guardian against them, or is it helping to grow the understanding within you that can confidently deal with anything, however complex?

After all, becoming comfortable with increasing levels of complexity is precisely what being human is about. As noted in the previous section, a baby doesn’t take its first steps, think it’s nailed it and put its feet up. It learns to run. Evolution is a process of complexifying (note: not complicating). And while we want to avoid complicating things, we don’t want to make everything simple. We want to make ourselves wiser, increasingly capable of mastering complex things.

Our resources, however, are limited. We can’t master everything. Which is exactly why, as we’ll look into later, blindly chasing ‘more’ is so silly.

Often a simple version of a complex thing, or a conclusion with a cursory understanding (so-called chaffeur knowledge[2]) is all you need. But when it comes to how you interact with money, be it by its direct input into decisions, or just thinking about it, nothing so obviously or so frequently shapes and expresses who you are: it’s not the time to be taken for a ride.

Regardless of the simplicity or complexity of a thing, we want to understand what’s worth understanding. What’s most relevant to and resonate with the goodness of our lives. We want to know what’s good for us. But we want to know it in a more complex and comprehensive way than we’re used to. We’ll look at the four ways of knowing in Part One and how we talk about the two that don’t really matter, and ignore the two that do. When we talk of ‘knowing’ about money or investments, it’s crucial to understand what we really mean.

Simple and complicated can be reduced to propositions and procedures: statements of fact and technical know-how. Complex requires a knowing that is perspectival and participatory. That understands ideas in the context of the life they are symbiotically serving. Seeing the world this way is how we can master the participatory process of caring for what we care about. Seeing this more clearly is what Money Blind is about.

What you do with money is irrelevant unless it’s making your life better. You can get rich and stay deceived, and those riches won’t mean shit. Think about money more clearly, and not only will you use money more meaningfully, but you’ll get richer as a side-effect.


When someone claims a complex idea is being explained in a simple way, what they mean is a simple idea has been stripped of its traditional covering of unnecessary complication. Complex processes may end up with simple conclusions, but to jump to them is to trivialise them. And trivial is not transformative. It’s a self-deceiving trick to make you feel you’ve solved something despite knowing in your soul that you’ve done no such thing, and wasted time in pretending otherwise.

Believing simplicity automatically equals sophisticated is dangerous. It deceives us into perceiving profundity when presented with triviality, and teaches people to ‘optimise for solving easy problems in ways that make it harder for them to think about the hard ones’.[vi] A byzantine recipe could be because of Heston Blumenthal, but it’s usually because of some idiot inflating their own intelligence and importance. In financial advice, it allows con-men to create unnecessary complications and charge for removing them.

The flawed model of straight-line success

Life isn’t a race, it’s a dance

The process of understanding our wants is often depicted as a never-ending journey down a yellow-brick road that reaches out into eternity. This is a misleading metaphor. Beyond a certain level of lived experience, while the journey is never-ending, it is less a lurching towards down an ever-more assured path, and more a spiralling around on an ever-more refined one.

We are too prone to think in ladders (e.g. property ladders, career ladders). Yet any idiot can climb a ladder. Non-idiots check it’s against the right wall. Wiser folk still, right wall or not, wonder if perhaps climbing the same simple steps for all eternity is really the best metaphor for living in the first place.

Our financial fears reflect a flawed model of ‘success’; one where ‘success’ is viewed as a straight line, and the most successful person is the one who’s shot along it the fastest. In this traditional view, money – seen as a universal store of value of which one can never have too much – is believed to be an antidote to these fears.

Yet in a career-building, let alone life-cultivating, context this is crazy. Because fast and ‘flawless’ is flimsy. It’s a thin tower blowing in the wind rather than a solid pyramid.

Building a firm foundation of short-term ‘failure’ along the way generates long-term resilience through increased confidence in the personal fit of the chosen direction, and lessons learned from taking the scenic route that the tunnel-vision of the dash along the straight line can’t teach.

As philosopher martial-artist Bruce Lee wrote: ‘What is defeat? Nothing but education; nothing but the first step to something better.’ And: ‘Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.’[vii]

This is echoed by legendary investor Charlie Munger: ‘There’s no way that you can live an adequate life without many mistakes. In fact, one trick in life is to get so you can handle mistakes. Failure to handle psychological denial is a common way for people to go broke.’[viii]

As with most valuable lessons, this applies far beyond business building and investing. As another example, from gymnastics coach Christopher Sommer, shows: ‘Dealing with the temporary frustration of not making progress is an integral part of the path towards excellence. In fact, it is essential.’[ix]

In trial and error, ‘error’ is just part of the process. As Nietzsche wrote: ‘The thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions, as seeking explanations of something: to him success and failure are primarily answers.’[x] This is echoed by table tennis player turned student of expert performance, Matthew Syed: ‘Progress is built, in effect, upon the foundations of necessary failure. That is the essential paradox of expert performance.’[xi]

Moreover, anybody who’s ever ‘arrived’ at the destination they believed would trigger the happy-ever-after dream has found out, sometimes at the sacrifice of the very opportunities they were really seeking, that fairytales aren’t quite the storytelling peak they’d been led to expect.


Beware focusing on specific directional tactics, as opposed to principles of discovery. Even if a map works for who you are now, it may well not work for who you’ll be in a bit, and blindly following does nothing for training your compass-reading abilities.

Racing to specific minor milestones is often wise, but treating life as race is not. This isn’t an argument to live at a certain pace. It’s just a reminder to pay attention to both where you’re going, and – more importantly – how you’re travelling.

Flying too fast down a narrow path also runs the risk of attaching your position to your identity, and then you’re really screwed. This creates the environment where you start to fear falling from your perch more than you start to fear if being sat on that perch is the best use of your resources in any given moment.

Importantly, this crushes the perpetual hunger for insight that makes the best lives flow and flourish. We become caught by our circumstances, rather than being taught by them. A fixation on ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ as if the accumulated tallies of ephemeral short-term outcomes of isolated activities were the measure of a life is a fixation not on living well, but on standing still. It’s also to overlook, as Bertrand Russell wrote, that: ‘Our doings are not so important as we naturally suppose; our successes and failures do not after all matter very much.’[xii]

I can see clearly now

Philosophy is a commitment to see more clearly; money is a means of making philosophy practical (and offers inescapably honest feedback)

I said at the beginning of this section that ‘just about every way we stray with money can be characterised by succumbing to a substandard substitute – trying to meet a real need with something that makes sense only with a distorted view of reality.’ If we are to stop it with the shoddy substitutes therefore, we need to see the world, and our interactions with it, more clearly. Seeing and thinking more clearly as a means to living better has been the aim of philosophy, Eastern and Western, for thousands of years. William James even defined philosophy as ‘nothing but an unusually obstinate effort to think clearly.’[xiii]

The trouble with philosophy for a lot of people is that despite its highly practical aims, there exists a chasm between abstract thought and its real-life expression. Some people’s minds are fluid enough to think themselves into better living with an obsessive openness to experience and a few rounds of reflecting on the helpfulness or otherwise of an action. Others… can’t. Money is the best bridge across the chasm.

Western philosophy speaks of the importance of living an examined life. What better way to do this than with the unequivocal accounting record of your life choices that your credit-card statements provide? Eastern philosophy centres on a meditative process of overcoming self-deception. As we’ll see on just about every page of this book, nothing keeps the fires of our self-deceptions burning like money. The better we get at meditating upon our relationships with money, the better we are able to see through the smoke that stops us from using our money more wisely.

Money is a wonderful thing. Not least because it amplifies our ability to analyse decisions in a domain-specific context. However, while it is often useful to break a life down for analysis, if the aim is the living, not the analysing, don’t forget to put it back together again.

I’ve known people excitedly dive into the details of slightly dodgy but entirely legal tax-mitigation strategies for hours, only for them to abandon them in a second when asked if such action were a fair reflection of who they wanted to be. I’ve known people on the brink of trading in months of hard-earned opportunity, and stressful weeks of research for a purchase, only for it to be kiboshed when asked if it were likely to ‘work’, i.e. make their life sustainably better.

We constantly grab at poor substitutes because they make the analysis simpler, yet more often than not we forget to zoom out to check that any analysis was even necessary.

‘Perhaps it is not without reason,’ wrote Montaigne, ‘that we attribute facility in belief and conviction to simplicity and ignorance.’ Belief, mused Montaigne, was ‘a sort of impression made on our mind, and that the softer and less resistant the mind, the easier it was to imprint something on it. The more a mind is empty and without counterpoise, the more easily it gives beneath the weight of the first persuasive argument.’[xiv] There are, of course, good and bad ways of strengthening a mind – the good characterised by open-minded curiosity, and the bad by closed-minded bigotry. Philosophy – James’s ‘obstinate effort to think clearly’ – is the good kind. And with the training I hope to inspire in this book, is a great means of accessing it, and ultimately bringing what you care for and what you care about into greater alignment.

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[1] This is an oversimplification, of course. See Donald Hoffman’s Visual Intelligence for the full picture.

[2] Named after a possibly apocryphal story, in which the great physicist Max Planck one day got his chaffeur to deliver the lecture Max had given all over the world. Having heard it so often, his chaffeur could repeat it verbatim, but when it came to the Q&A, he had to hand back to Max.


[i] Will Durant, The Story of Civilization vol. 9

[ii] Friedrich Nietzsche, Human All Too Human

[iii] Explained in John Vervaeke, Awakening from the Meaning Crisis, ep. 15

[iv] Immanuel Kant, quoted in Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, vol. 10

[v] I am, once again, indebted to John Vervaeke for this section; see Awakening from the Meaning Crisis, ep. 12

[vi] Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex blog

[vii] Bruce Lee, Striking Thoughts

[viii] Charlie Munger, quoted in David Clark, The Tao of Charlie Munger: A Compilation of Quotes from Berkshire Hathaway’s Vice Chairman on Life, Business, and the Pursuit of Wealth

[ix] Christopher Sommer, quoted in Tim Ferriss, Tools of Titans

[x] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

[xi] Matthew Syed, Bounce

[xii] Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

[xiii] William James, The Principles of Psychology, vol. 1

[xiv] Michel de Montaigne, Essays