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Collection: Charlie Munger - #233 'I Read Psychology Books To Find One Answer...'



I got another idea that was very useful.

I always liked Occam's razor. Now that is a wonderful way to think. You can argue that Einstein's whole career was just a marvelous demonstration of Occam's razor, E = mc^2 was a pretty damn simple idea, but think of the power of it.

And then, Einstein developed – some people say a corollary, a counter corollary to Occam's razor. This may be apocryphal because I've never seen it in any original source I trusted, but I've seen Einstein quoted with this observation over and over again.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no more simple. Well, if Einstein didn't say it, he should have said it because this is a very sound idea.

I later developed a supplement to that corollary and my supplement to Einstein's corollary was that – about Occam's razor – was in messy social science. If the result you're observing is a Lollapalooza, look for a confluence of multiple causes – multi forces operating in the same direction.

I got to that idea when I was trying to explain to myself how the Moonies were able to get some student to come out for a weekend in the country, and at the end of the weekend, the guy was a brainwashed zombie who was the slave of some megalomaniac nut case for the rest of his paltry life. (Laughter) And this is obviously a Lollapalooza result.

And so I looked in academia for an easy correct answer to this and of course, I didn't find it. I finally stumbled across a popular book done by some psychiatrists founded by the Rockefellers who had studied the last work of Pavlov.

And Pavlov had these dogs in these cages and when the Leningrad flood came in 1920s, it went right up to the dogs noses, they damn near drowned and died but didn't, and the stress was perfectly horrible. And they'd all been conditioned to have these dog personalities and when the waters receded, the personalities had reversed.

Well, Pavlov being a great science, spent the rest of his life giving nervous breakdowns to dogs and trying to reverse those breakdowns. And this is not pretty reading but it was very instructive. And I realized that the Moonies' methods and the involvement of stress was clearly part of it. I also realized that the psychiatrist did not have an adequate explanation.

Finally, I stumbled into psychology in which I never taken a course. And so I just bought the three main textbooks and psych 101 in the country and I riffle through them quickly. And you know, I could pick up the 20 main ideas in social psychology very easily and when I use them as a routine system, I could see that the Moonies were using about six of these things in combination with the Pavlovian stress.

And just as the dogs' brains snapped in the Leningrad flood, the Moonies have a term in their conversion method causing the target to snap. Same damn idea.

And I found that very interesting and because I reached a conclusion – a very unpopular unpolitically correct conclusion that I've just given you. You know because it gets into religions, conversion is a tough subject. And, but anyway that satisfied me.

So I expanded it into this corollary of looking for a confluence of causes when you see a Lollapalooza result in social science. And that has been enormously helpful to me because I find that a lot of social scientists have a weird mania where they twist everything into whatever little concept they started with. Again, it's that old saying, "To a man with a hammer, every problem looks pretty much like a nail." (Laughter)

And I have worked hard to avoid that problem. And of course, if you grab the big ideas and all the disciplines, by definition, you're a man with multiple tools. So you're less likely to commit the inanity of the people who twist every problem into being a nail.

Well, anyways, there were a series of tricks like that, that I used as I went through life. And it was amazing how many times I find something like it, I could easily solved with my little bag of mental tricks that had missed other people who were eminent in their field. I could go right into their territory sometimes and see more clearly than the professional denizen, how his conclusions fit into the bigger picture.

Again, this is a very dangerous attitude to have an ordinary social discourse – (Laughter) – but it's a very good way to invest money. (Laughter) And anyway, that's the kind of a peculiar man you have here tonight.

And of course, I idolized Ben Franklin because I identify with him. Of course, he was so much more talented than I am, it's just a joke to make the comparison, but at least he was a totally self-educated man that wandered over a vast amount of territory and was pretty competent over the full range. And a lot of Franklin's knowledge was psychological too. He was a great observer of human nature.



[YAPSS Takeaway]

  • Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no more simple.

  • Look for a confluence of causes when you see a Lollapalooza result in social science.

  • Don't be a man with a hammer that look at every problems like a nail.

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