Peter Bevelin’s “Seeking Wisdom”: Book Review, Notes + Analysis

Poor Ash’s Almanack > Book Reviews > Effective Thinking

Overall Rating: ★★★★★★★ (7/7) (life-changing)

Per-Hour Learning Potential / Utility: ★★★★★★★ (7/7)

Readability: ★★★★★★★ (7/7)

Challenge Level: 2/5 (Easy) | ~300 pages ex-notes (328 official)

Blurb/Description: In a broad and thoughtful yet concise and engaging book, Peter Bevelin – learning heavily on Charlie Munger – provides a compelling overview and launching point for the mental modelsapproach.

Summary: This book covers a lot of mental models in rapid-fire format; it doesn’t go that deep into many of them, but it’s possibly the most learning-dense 300 pages you’ll encounter anywhere.

Highlights: The book makes good use of storytelling and salience, providing memorable examples – or quotes from Buffett/Munger – to complement the theory.

Lowlights: The book repeats itself in some places; it also doesn’t really do a good job of tying together interactions between models in the latticework.

Mental Model / ART Thinking Points: culture / status quo biastrait adaptivitycognition / intuition /habit / stressmulticausalityprobabilistic thinkingmindfulnessagencyincentivesloss aversion,memorylocal vs. global optimizationcontrast biashyperbolic discountingsocial connectionn-order impactsluck vs. skill, marginal utilitystructural problem solvingproduct vs. packaging,overconfidencerationalitysunk costsbayesian reasoningsalienceinversionmargin of safety,nonlinearitybottlenecksfeedback

You should buy a copy of Seeking Wisdom if: you’re new to mental models – or if you want a compact review of a lot of the important concepts to refer back to from time to time.

Reading Tips: See the notes below, which index concepts to mental models in the PAA latticework, as well as other books that go deeper on concepts.

Reread Value: 4/5 (High)


First Read: 2014?

Last Read: 2017

Number of Times Read: 3

Planning to Read Again?: probably

Review Date: 2018

Notes Date: late 2015 or early 2016

NOTE: these notes are formatted differently from all other notes on the site.  Treat these as an “index” – if you want to dive deeper into interesting topics covered in Seeking Wisdom, this will direct you to the best resource for further understanding any covered topic.

Page i: I would push back here on Twain’s quote about the character of the human race being permanent.  See The Landscape of History by John Lewis Gaddis – LandH review + notes – as well as the culture / status quo bias and trait adaptivity mental models.

Pages 3 – 5: On dopamine and the amygdala, see the cognition / intuition / habit / stress model.  Also Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales – DpSv review + notes – and also The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor – THA review + notes.

Pages 7 – 8: On the multicausality as well as adaptive nature of genes and the human body.  See The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean – TVT review + notes – and Polio: An American Story by Oshinsky – PaaS review + notes – on the latter point.

Pages 8 – 9: See probabilistic thinking as well as the aforementioned TVT.  Also see culturemindfulness, and agency.

Pages 12 – 13: On trait adaptivity.  Here see Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds – OthM review + notes, or the section on sparrows in Jennifer Ackerman’s The Genius of Birds – Bird review + notes.

Pages 16 – 17: Incentives and loss aversion.  See Richard Thaler’s Misbehaving – M review + notes.  On habit, see the aforementioned Deep Survival – DpSv review + notes – by Gonzales, or see The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – PoH review + notes.

Pages 18 – 19: The brain does not work like a computer, and memory especially does not – see Mistakes were Made (but not by me) by Tavris/Aronson – MwM review + notes.  Buffett on inversionhere.

On trait adaptivity and the evolutionary-bio argument for traits, do see also Megan McArdle on hunter-gatherer vs. farmer morality in The Up Side of Down – UpD review + notes.

Page 21: Altruism doesn’t exist.  See also Ayn Rand and Dale Carnegie. (Surprised by that last one?)   How To Win Friends and Influence People – HWFIP review + notes. See also incentives.

Page 23: Fairness is referenced here, as well as (sort of) local vs. global optimization.  See Misbehaving by Richard Thaler – M review + notes.

Pages 24 – 25: On the adaptivity of amygdala hijacks.  Again see Achor’s The Happiness Advantage– THA review + notes – as well as loss aversion and mindfulness.

Page 26: See causality and storytelling.  Best read here is probably The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig – Halo review + notes.

Page 27: contrast bias here – see Misbehaving by Thaler – M review + notes.

Pages 28 – 29: I don’t have a review on Fisher, but see Helen Fisher’s Anatomy of Love.  Also see the marriage section in the hyperbolic discounting model.

Page 29: Social connection.  See here The Lonely America – TLA review + notes – or Daring Greatly– DG review + notes.

Page 30: On fairnessn-order impactslocal vs. global optimizationsocial proof, and reciprocity bias.  See Thaler (always see Thaler) as well as Nudge by Sunstein/Thaler – Ndge review + notes.

Page 31: On social connection as pain when removed – see Daring Greatly – DG review + notes.

Page 33: On culture.  See Jennifer Ackerman’s The Genius of Birds – Bird review + notes – or Sunstein/Thaler’s Nudge – Ndge review + notes – or Gaddis’s The Landscape of History – LandH review + notes.

Page 35: On trait adaptivity and cognitive “biases” being adaptive more often than not.

Page 36!: On rationality – see Poor Charlie’s Almanack – PCA review + notes – or The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – 7H review + notes.

Page 43: Association bias.  See The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig – Halo review + notes.

Page 44: On habit / conditioning – again, see Deep Survival by Gonzales – DpSv review + notes – orThe Power of Habit by Duhigg – PoH review + notes.

Page 46: Luck vs. skill and process vs. outcome – see Halo or Michael Mauboussin’s The Success Equation – TSE review + notes.

Pages 47 – 48 marginal utility – see Thaler’s Misbehaving – M review + notes.  Also see hedonic adaptation here and Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage – THA review + notes.  See also incentives.

Page 49: On structural problem solving, see of course Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things –DOET review + notes.

A little pushback here – Bevelin briefly says to reward performance and not effort – I would caveat with the aforementioned discussion of luck vs skill, also invoking hindsight bias as Thaler does in Misbehaving – M review + notes.

Page 50: On incentives – see Groopman’s How Doctors Think – HDT review + notes.

Page 51: “Charlie, I don’t sell to fish.”   Product vs. packaging – see that model or any number of books, including The Goal – Goal review + notes – or Cal Newport’s Deep Work – DpWk review + notes.

And on the psychologists wanting you to come back over and over again – see either Achor’s The Happiness Advantage – THA review + notes – or Dr. Judith Beck’s Cognitive Behavior Therapy – CBT review + notes.   Cognitive behavioral therapy is intended to not make you come back over and over and over again.

Pages 53 – 54: loss aversion and incentives – also ideology here.  See Tavris/Aronson’s Mistakes were Made (but not by me) – MwM review + notes.

Pages 55 – 57: Fundamental attribution errorman with a hammer, and commitment bias.

Page 58: Again on multidisciplinary rationality.

Page 59: On self-justification – see the aforementioned Mistakes were Made (but not by me) –MwM review + notes.

Pages 61 – 63: See sunk costs and commitment bias – parts (not all) of The Making of the Atomic Bomb – TMAB review + notes – and The Pleasure of Finding Things Out – PFTO review + notes – drive this home.

Page 64: Ideology as well as quasi Bayesian reasoning.

Pages 65 – 66: The First Rule of Holes.  See also fairness and loss aversion.

Pages 67 – 69: In addition to the above, salience and scarcity bias.

Page 71: Love the sauerkraut story.  See also status quo bias on default options and, of course,Nudge by Sunstein/Thaler – Ndge review + notes.

Page 72: Hyperbolic discounting.

Pages 73 – 75: Envy’s the only sin you can’t have any fun at.  See also contrast bias (which includes anchoring).   Misbehaving – M review + notes – is obviously the best read here.

Page 77: Salience.  Cue the joker quote.  See also Polio: An American Story by Oshinsky – PaaS review + notes – and Deadly Choices by Dr. Paul Offit – VAX review + notes.

And of course Thaler again, about identified lives.

Pages 78 – 79: Survivorship bias.  See How Not To Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg – HNW review + notes – or The Halo Effect by Rosenzweig – Halo review + notes – or the story of poor Sanford Dvorin in The Frackers – Frk review + notes.

Page 80: Reciprocity bias.

Page 82: On attractiveness as a dumb metric, see hyperbolic discounting.  Attractiveness has limited utility in the context of a long-term relationship.

Pages 83 – 84: More liking bias.  And social proof – see Nudge – Ndge review + notes.

Page 86: On bad decisions in groups, see Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock – SF review + notes.  Tetlock cites the Bay of Pigs as well.

Pages 89 – 90: Authority bias.  See Dr. Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto – TCM review + notes.

Pages 91 – 92: Counterfactuals.  Also nostalgia ( hindsight bias.)  See The Halo Effect by Rosenzweig – Halo review + notes.

Pages 94 – 95: Reason-respecting tendency and the associative nature of memory.  See The Seven Sins of Memory by Schacter – 7SOM review + notes – or The Design of Everyday Things by Norman – DOET review + notes.

Page 97: More on memory.

Page 99: Novelty-seeking and action bias.  And ego.

Pages 103 – 104: See stress and agency.  This shows up everywhere.   Deep Survival by Gonzales –DpSv review + notes – and The Happiness Advantage by Achor – THA review + notes – probably the two best reads on stress.  As far as agency, throw in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey – 7H review + notes.

Page 105: obligatory addition here: being sleep deprived is the same as being legally drunk.  Please see Why We Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker – Sleep review + notes – and Internal Time by Till Roenneberg – IntTm review + notes.

Page 111: On fungibility.  See Thaler.

Pages 112 – 113: Cognition vs. intuition and structural problem solving.  Be careful with checklists.  See The Checklist Manifesto by Gawande – TCM review + notes – and read carefully.  Supplement with How Doctors Think by Groopman – HDT review + notes.

Pages 120 – 123: See n-order impacts.

Page 127: Complexity applies here.  See also precision vs. accuracy and overconfidence.

Page 129: Scaling and nonlinearity.  See Scale by Geoffrey West – Scale review + notes.  He covers power laws (discussed on 133) well.

Pages 131 – 132: See critical thresholds.

Page 134: Bottlenecks.  See The Goal – Goal review + notes.

Page 135: Causation.  Also disaggregation.

Page 136: See Megan McArdle’s The Up Side of Down – UpD review + notes – on why handwashing is hard to do.  See also Bellevue by David Oshinsky – BV review + notes – on the origin of Germ Theory.

Pages 137 – 138: Multicausality and correlation vs. causation.  See How Doctors Think by Groopman – HDT review + notes – and The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver – SigN review + notes.

Page 140: On the null hypothesis, see How Not To Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg – HNW review + notes.  Also here see conditional probabilities.

Page 141: contextualization.  Ioannidis study cited here; see notes to HNW above for discussion.

Page 142: See compounding.  Best example I’ve found is the Hayflick WI-38 cells in The Vaccine Race – TVR review + notes.

Pages 144 – 145: On base rates and “50/50.”  See Superforecasting by Tetlock – SF review + notes– on predictions under uncertainty.

Page 147: “Someone who’s gotten away with doing the wrong thing longer than you have.”  See process vs. outcomeprobabilistic thinking, and Deep Survival by Gonzales – DpSv review + notes.  Also see schema bottlenecks and feedback; think about McArdle’s earlier-referenced commentary – doctors don’t see the patients they kill by not washing their hands (or sleeping).  They never even notice.

Pages 148 – 152: On expected value and basic probability.  See also The Success Equation – TSE review + notes – by Mauboussin.

Page 157: Marginal utility.

Page 158: Planning fallacy.

Page 161: On system failure, bottleneckspath-dependency, and so on – see To Engineer is Humanby Henry Petroski – TEiH review + notes.

Pages 163 – 164: On errors.  And margin of safety – see above.  See also of course structural problem solvingThe Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman – DOET review + notes – is the best read here.   The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande – TCM review + notes – is also good

Pages 169 – 172: Priors and Bayesian reasoning.  See Nate Silver on wayward panties in The Signal and the Noise – SigN review + notes – or Ellenberg on Stonehenge in How Not To Be Wrong –HNW review + notes.  For a critique of Bayesian reasoning, see How Doctors Think by Dr. Jerome Groopman – it’s good, but displays dose-dependency.

Page 174: See above.

Page 176: Nonlinearity and out-of-sample stuff – see Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise – SigN review + notes – your previous (sober) driving record is irrelevant after twelve vodka tonics.

Pages 178 – 179: Survivorship bias. See Ellenberg, Rosenzweig.

Page 182: On averages.  See Ellenberg as well here.

Pages 184 – 185: On decision journaling.  See Megan McArdle’s The Up Side of Down – UpD review + notes – or Philip Tetlock’s Superforecasting – SF review + notes.

Page 189: Multidisciplinary rationality.

Pages 190 – 191: All models are wrong; some models are useful.  See above. See also The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey – 7H review + notes – and The Landscape of History by John Lewis Gaddis – LandH review + notes.

I would also point to emergence here – see Gaddis or Gonzales in Deep Survival – DpSv review + notes – on emergence, the sand pile effect, etc.

Page 192: See Feynman on internal consistency and misfits in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out –PFTO review + notes.

Page 194: On memory and habit.

Page 199: On utility.

Pages 203 – 206: On precision vs. accuracy.

Page 208: Nice example of inversion, among other things.

Page 209: Integrity matters.

Pages 212 – 213: Simplification and goal orientation.

Pages 214 – 215: On inversion.  All I want to know is where I’m gonna die…

Page 216: More on inversion; also disaggregation.

Page 217: On nonlinearity, among other things.

Page 219: See also Bayesian reasoning and Planner-doer.

Page 222: See Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto – TCM review + notes.

Page 223: On the specificity of goals.

Page 225: Opportunity costs.  See… guess who?  Thaler!

Page 228: Back to n-order impacts.

Pages 238 – 239: scientific thinking

Page 241: inversion

Pages 244 – 245: more inversion

Pages 249 – 251: margin of safetypath-dependency, and geometric series that multiply to zero…

Pages 253 – 255: also on luck vs skill (sort of) and integrity

Pages 256 – 257: on defensive pessimism (see margin of safety)