Collecting psychology experiments as a boy collects butterflies

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

Charlie Munger was always interested in psychology, but he didn’t turn to psychology textbooks for a long, long time:

Motivated as I was, by midlife I should probably have turned to psychology textbooks, but I didn’t, displaying my share of the outcome predicted by the German folk saving: “We are too soon old and too late smart.” However, as I later found out, I may have been lucky to avoid for so long the academic psychology that was then laid out in most textbooks. These would not then have guided me well with respect to cults and were often written as if the authors were collecting psychology experiments as a boy collects butterflies — with a passion for more butterflies and more contact with fellow collectors and little craving for synthesis in what is already possessed. When I finally got to the psychology texts, I was reminded of the observation of Jacob Viner, the great economist; that many an academic is like the truffle hound, an animal so trained and bred for one narrow purpose that it is no good at anything else. I was also appalled by hundreds of pages of extremely not scientific musing about comparative weights of nature and nurture in human outcomes. And I found that introductory psychology texts, by and large, didn’t deal appropriately with a fundamental issue: Psychological tendencies tend to be both numerous and inseparably intertwined, now and forever, as they interplay in life. Yet the complex parsing out of effects from intertwined tendencies was usually avoided by the writers of the elementary texts. Possibly the authors did not wish, through complexity, to repel entry of new devotees to their discipline. And, possibly, the cause of their inadequacy was the one given by Samuel Johnson in response to a woman who inquired as to what accounted for his dictionary’s mis-definition of the word “pastern.” “Pure ignorance,” Johnson replied. And, finally, the text writers showed little interest in describing standard antidotes to standard, psychology-driven folly, and they thus avoided most discussion of exactly what most interested me.


  1. Alrenous says:

    Psychologists are middle class, and must be ‘respectable’ and pretend everyone except out and out racists are also ‘respectable.’

    The problem being that human nature is not respectable. It’s a shitshow of folly and malice, for the most part. Psychology lectures and textbooks are at best filled with roundabout euphemisms. At worst, they confine themselves to pitying the officially ill.

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