Feb. 14, 2022

Julia Galef | The Benefits of Seeing the World as It Is

Julia Galef | The Benefits of Seeing the World as It Is

Julia Galef wants to help you develop a vital yet underappreciated skill: seeing things as they are and not as you wish they were. Discover how to build the Scout Mindset and learn what you are wrong about, find your blind spots and see the world for how it really is.

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Julia Galef: The last resort, no, it literally, it.

Srini: I was in awe. I'm glad it was such a surprising discovery. Because I had looked at it and it had just been sitting there, and I grabbed it.

Srini: But to that point, I couldn't put it down. And I'm pretty sure I emailed you right after I finished reading it immediately. I emailed your publicist and CC'd you and said, yes, we absolutely would love to have you. So you know, we'll get into the book. But I think given the nature of the book and your work, I want to start by asking you what social group were you a part of in high school and what impact is it having on the choices that you've ended up making throughout your life?

Julia Galef: What a fun first question. No one asks me that, I mean, I was a nerd. I feel like that will shock probably 0% of your audience. I, yeah, I guess I bounced around between different types of nerdy social groups, like the drama nerds and the art nerds, and the math nerds. And I'm sure there are other kinds of nerds I'm forgetting right now, but I mean, high school was, there were more nerds to choose from because I went to, you know, a school for nerds.

Julia Galef: But even at that high school, I was still in the nerd social group. So that probably tells you something about what I was like.

Srini: Okay, wait a minute. High school for nerds. What is the sort of social hierarchy like in a high school for nerds?

Julia Galef: Well, some people might be familiar with the International Baccalaureate Program, the IB Program.

Julia Galef: Oh, really cool. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there, yeah, there it was like embedded in a regular high school, but all of my classes were with other IB students. And yeah, it's, it's interesting. I had some conversations with people from my middle school or my high school, you know, years after the fact just kind of reminiscing.

Julia Galef: And I remember bringing up the social hierarchy and [they were] like, "Someone I'm now more friendly with, who was one of the more popular kids." And she looked at me confused and said, "What are you talking about? There was no social hierarchy. Everyone just liked each other and we were all friends."

Julia Galef: And I was like, that is that must be what it's like being someone who's at the top of the social hierarchy; the hierarchy is invisible to you. So yeah, I, I think I may have perceived the distinctions more acutely because I felt like I was towards the bottom of the heap, but who knows, maybe it had some positive silver linings for my future development as a person, what I

Srini: I can relate, as a Banker.

Srini: So when do you have time to get together?

Julia Galef: So nerd subsection, but that's just because I had no social skills.

Srini: Well, when you have this sort of bizarre social hierarchy, that's so different from what sounds like a typical high school. How does it change the relationships you have with people? Cause obviously, I think there's something fascinating about the fact that somebody who is at the top of the hierarchy doesn't even recognize that it's there, which I think will really have a lot to do with the content of your book.

Srini: But you, what are social dynamics and relationships like? Do you have the sort of cool kids and hot girls and, you know, jocks and all that kind of stuff, or is it just a bunch of nerds all trying to, you know, be less nerdy than each other?

Julia Galef: There, I mean, there were definitely, so this was like the late nineties to early 2000s.

Julia Galef: So, I remember the cool kids were the ones wearing Abercrombie and Fitch. Even called them the Abercrombie crowd which was like our name for the cool kids which is not, I don't think that's true anymore. It was kind of interesting to watch the fall of the brand Abercrombie over the last decade or so.

Julia Galef: But yeah, I think one way in which I was fortunate in high school is that maybe because it was an IB program, there wasn't a sense that you had to be bad at school in order to be cool, which I don't know from teen movies, I get the sentiment somewhere. So yeah, this is, this is a common theme that I've noticed that I wrote about a little in my book, actually, that your values and the kind of implicit expectations about how people should behave and you know, what you should aspire to.

Julia Galef: That's just kind of in the water and your social groups are there, they're just such a huge part of how you, what shapes your behavior and your thinking, like what kinds of thoughts you even feel like you're allowed to have? And at my high school, it was just in the water that, yeah, you should try really hard at school and people respect those who have smart things to say in class and so on.

Julia Galef: And so that influenced my behavior. And you know, I see this in lots of other ways too. Maybe at some point in the conversation, we'll mull, we'll talk about intellectual honesty and objectivity and all these things that I like to go on about. And those traits as well, I've noticed are strongly influenced by the implicit values of the people that you hang out with whether that's in person or just online, like the circles you run in online and the people you follow and just, yeah, the culture that you kind of embed yourself in will shape the way that you think.

Julia Galef: That's like a thing

Srini: It's funny. I'm so glad I asked this question and that you were an IB student. 'Cause my entire group of friends was pretty much IB students and diploma students. Like we always joke that the "dumb" people in my group of friends went to Berkeley. We were the "dumb" ones. It was kind of like, well, we're not the smartest ones in the group.

Srini: And we went to the best public school in the country. You mentioned that it, you know, impacts what you aspire to. So that to me is actually really fascinating. Based on sort of the experience I had, you know, between Indian parents and growing up in the Indian culture and then being around pretty much, you know, high-achieving students as my close friends and then ending up in a place like Berkeley, there was almost a sort of predetermined life path that was put in front of us.

Srini: It was like, "Hey, here are the options that have been put in front of you. Choose one, or else you're screwed. It was like a doctor, lawyer, and engineer. And what's always been ironic to me about a place like Berkeley is that you put the smartest people in this environment that's ripe with opportunities to explore and discover who you are.

Srini: And what I realized was that it was a breeding ground for conformity. It was like basically a breeding ground for future doctors, lawyers, and bankers. So I wonder how your own high school group influenced the way people thought about the future and what was possible and what they were told they should do.