Learning From Darwin

Every time I read Seeking Wisdom I learn something new. This time I came across the paragraph given below which refers to the autobiography of Charles Darwin. From this paragraph we can learn a lot about Darwin’s thinking habits. There are five things that I learned which I marked it as [1]…[5].

I think that I am superior to the common run of men in noticing things which easily escape attention, and in observing them carefully [1]. My industry has been nearly as great as it could have been in the observation and collection of facts. What is far more important, my love of natural science has been steady and ardent… From my early youth I have had the strongest desire to understand or explain what I observed, that is, to group all facts under some general laws [2]. These causes combined have given me the patience to reflect or ponder for any number of years over any unexplained problem [3]. As far as I can judge, I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men [4]. I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject), as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it [5].

[1] Human brain jumps to conclusions based on vividness and recency of events. It ignores things that cannot be easily recalled however important that fact may be. Darwin understood this and avoided availability bias.

[2] You can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ’em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form. Darwin understood this and organized his body of knowledge so that it was available to him when needed.

[3] Darwin is assiduous and he does not give up on things very easily.

[4] You can’t come up with theory of evolution by following the wisdom of crowds. Darwin avoided social proof and instead relied on his own thinking faculties.

[5] He does not fall in love with his own ideas. He pays special attention to evidence that disconfirms his belief. This is one of the greatest qualities to have. I have not seen many people (including myself) with this quality. It is really hard.

The takeaway lesson is that even people who aren’t geniuses can outthink the rest of mankind if they develop Darwin’s thinking habits.

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