The following interview and links to resources are by Spencer Greenberg, a mathematician, quant hedge fund manager, and overall man on a mission to spread practical rationality into the world. His GiveGetWin Deal, “Decision Making Mistakes, Avoiding Bias, Challenging Beliefs, Evidence — How Do We Know It’s True, and What To Do About It?” will be 60 minutes including a class and Q&A designed to make you better at key decisionmaking in life. Use it to earn better, spend better, and live better. Here’s Spencer —
Clearer Thinking by Spencer Greenberg as told to Sebastian Marshall
I’m a mathematician by background. I focus on the mathematics of machine learning, trying to get computers to learn from data to make accurate predictions. I founded a quantitative hedge fund that uses machine learning to invest in the stock market: it learns as it goes, and updates itself as it learns from the data.
I also founded the Clearer Thinking Project with the goal of getting people to challenge their own beliefs, improve their decision making, and avoid bias. The original inspiration for this work comes from cognitive science, where over the last few decades scientists have discovered numerous ways our brains mislead us when we’re making decisions.
The work in cognitive science and biases has been quite valuable and influential in academia, but hasn’t trickled down much to the general population.
Part of this is that it takes time to come out, but another part is that just hearing these ideas isn’t enough to start using them to improve your life.
You could learn that your brain misleads you in certain situations, but then you’ll need specific training to apply that knowledge and avoid bias in regular life.
With the Clearer Thinking Project, we provide totally free training programs to learn how your brain is likely to fail you and help train you in methods to apply them. We use realistic scenarios, so you can use them in your own life to make better decisions.
One thing that people don’t realize is that thinking better isn’t just this abstract concept of becoming a better philosopher — it actually has a bearing in the way we live our lives. We’re constantly making decisions where bias might strike us.
For instance, the way we think about our time tends to be very inconsistent. We often don’t have a value for our time, so we make bad tradeoffs. We might say that we’ll only accept a part-time job unless it pays over $30 per hour, but won’t buy a time-saving device…let’s say a washing machine costing $300 and saves you 20 hours per year. That’s $15 per hour to get that time back to save those 20 hours. And that’s just over the first year — it keeps being useful afterwards.
It’s inconsistent, and these kinds of inconsistencies make people worse off than they could be. And if the washing machine seems like a stretch, the issue of “a value on your time” comes up all over the place — do we leave our job to take another job? Do we take a cab or the bus, when it saves 20 minutes? Do we get a layover when we get plane tickets or not, where we’d be sitting around at the airport?
In practice, people are inconsistent with these decisions, and in a lot of cases being more consistent leads to better outcomes.
One of the most popular free training modules we’ve had on Clearer Thinking is our assessment that tells you how much your time is worth to you. It gives you thought experiments on how you use your time and money, and we produce an estimate on how much an additional marginal hour of time is worth to you, and inconsistencies on how you go about getting that hour, and gives you a report on how you might be being inconsistent.
Editor’s note: The assessment is free and really actually very cool and useful… even if you’ve already thought about this concept — I had already done so extensively — I still found a tremendous value in it. It’s entirely free here, Clearer Thinking Project doesn’t sell anything; it’s just because Spencer and his team are awesome people and think that society badly needs more rationality —
Here are some very important things that I think are true —
1. It’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that humans have all sorts of biases in our thinking.
2. These biases affect our day-to-day decisions and have a huge negative affect on our life, including things as important as who we decide to marry, what job we decide to take, how we spend and invest our money, and many more.
3. Society-at-large is just barely coming aware of this. Scientists have known this for awhile, but the public is only learning about it now through books like Thinking Fast and Slow and Predictably Irrational.
4. Learning about biases abstractly doesn’t just reduce them. You need to put yourself into situations and reflect and train to remove biases, and when you do, things get better individually and for society as a whole.
When I started Clearer Thinking, I wanted to address that. When politicians, scientists, economists, CEOs… and really, just everyone going about their lives… when they fall prey to biases, society suffers greatly.
There’s massive negative consequences for all of us when it happens, and correcting for bias and making better decisions is really important on a societal level.
Unfortunately being subject to biases is the normal state of affairs. It takes special training to avoid bias — most of the time we’re not even aware they’re occurring. That’s what I’m looking to change in the world, and I invite you to play with our modules, get in touch if you want to contribute, and meet through GiveGetWin or elsewhere if we get the chance.
Today’s interview with Spencer was a short note — the real meat is trying out the free modules, reaching out to him if you want to contribute or get involved in the Clearer Thinking Project, and/or grabbing his GiveGetWin deal.
Here are some of the popular free modules, mini-courses, and tools… all 100% free:
Learning From Mistakes — http://programs.clearerthinking.org/mistakes.html
What is time worth to you? — http://programs.clearerthinking.org/what_is_your_time_really_worth_to_you.html
Bayesian Thinking (Note: the hardest free course by far; don’t start with it unless you want a challenge) — http://programs.clearerthinking.org/question_of_evidence.html
You can find out about Spencer’s quant investment strategy at http://rebellionresearch.com/main.html , you can find his blog at spencergreenberg.com , and his best public email is spencer —at— gimbeltech.com
The GiveGetWin Class on Decision Making Mistakes, Avoiding Bias, Challenging Beliefs, Evidence — How Do We Know It’s True, and What To Do About It? will be held on Sunday the 18th at 1PM Eastern Time. There are 8 spots available, so it will be intimate — get yours now if you’d like to connect and learn from Spencer.
An imo fun exercise to kill biases is to have lunch with people you disagree with, and to not turn the meal into a debate. If the topic of the disagreeance comes up, that's great. It should be approached from the angle of exploring the concept and coming to an understanding of all of the parts that make up the issue, not from a position of arguing. Don't try to convince them you're right, instead, try to understand their stance and the factors that led them to their position.
We can understand ourselves by understanding others.
Jason Shen has achieved tremendous success in athletics, technology entrepreneurship, writing, and living an outstanding life. To promote his recent GiveGetWin deal on The Science of Willpower, he sat down to tell us how he started learning about willpower, the state of what's known scientifically about how willpower and the brain work, and how you can start improving your life right away by implementing a tiny habit, thinking and systems, and using some powerful thinking tools. Enjoy:
Developing Willpower by Jason Shen, as told to Sebastian Marshall
Willpower has been an undercurrent in my entire life. In gymnastics, you have to use your willpower to overcome your fear of an activity and go for the skill you want, to get over the fear, to push yourself to finish your conditioning and strength training a part of you doesn't want to…
It didn't come automatically to me. When I was a student, I wasn't automatically self-disciplined. There were actions I knew were useful, like doing my homework in one session without getting distracted, or not throwing clothing on my apartment floor. But I wouldn't always do them, and I didn't know why.
I started to learn those answers during a student initiative course at Stanford called The Psychology of Personal Change. That's when I first started reading academic papers on the topic. In academia, willpower and self-discipline is often called "self-regulation," and in 2009 I started to get really serious about it from an academic perspective -- and saw gains from it in my personal life.
The best thing I've ever done is learned how to think. It allows me to catch myself at times when my brain automatically goes to a conclusion. In argument, I always have a backdrop of reasons for when I decide on a stance.
I have more control over myself and the rest of the world, just by using my brain. It's basically the ultimate superpower.
Thinking can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. So, what are we talking about when we talk about thinking?
We're talking about thinking:
This will be used against yourself in decision-making, and if you wish, against others in argument or even simple communication. It will give you complete dominion over yourself and, if you wish, others.