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The Munger Series – Learning From Charles Darwin

By Investment Master Class. Originally published at ValueWalk.

Article by Investment Master Class

“The life of Darwin demonstrates how a turtle may outrun the hares, aided by extreme objectivity, which helps the objective person end up like the only player without a blindfold in a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey” Charlie Munger

[Munger]

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Charlie Munger, one of the most successful Investment Masters, has referred to the brilliance of Charles Darwin on numerous occasions. This prompted my interest in the ‘Autobiography of Charles Darwin’. I found it insightful, and as fresh and relevant today despite almost 150 years passing since its writing. At just 120 pages, it’s an easy read.

The Munger Series - Learning From Charles Darwin
Image source: Investment Master Class

“[Darwin] is precisely the type of example you should learn nothing from if bent on minimizing your results from your own endowment” Charlie Munger

“One of the most successful users of an antidote to first conclusion basis was Charles Darwin. He trained himself, early, to intensively consider any evidence tending to disconfirm any hypothesis of his, more so if he thought his hypothesis was a particularly good one. The opposite of what Darwin did is now called confirmation bias, a term of opprobrium.  Darwin’s practice came from his acute recognition of man’s natural cognitive faults arising from Inconsistency-Avoidance Tendency. He provides a great example of psychological insight used correctly to advance some of the finest mental work ever done” Charlie Munger

I’ve included some of the more interesting observations below. You’ll notice nearly all of the headings I’ve chosen are tutorial topics from the Investment Masters Class and have as much relevance to investing as they do to Darwin’s grand discovery. Whether you are looking to make the next scientific breakthrough or seeking investment wisdom, like Charlie Munger, you can learn a lot from Charles Darwin.

Education and Smarts

“I have been told that I was slower in learning than my younger sister Catherine, and I believe that I was in many ways a naughty boy”

“When I left school I was for my age neither high nor low in it; and I believe that I was considered by all my masters and by my Father as a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect

“During the three years which I spent at Cambridge my time was wasted, as far as academical studies were concerned”

“I have deeply regretted that I did not proceed far enough at least to understand something of the great leading principles of mathematics

Learning

“I had strong and diversified tastes, much zeal for whatever interested me, and a keen pleasure in understanding any complex subject or thing

Reading

“I was fond of reading various books, and I used to sit for hours reading the historical plays of Shakespeare, generally sitting in an old window in the thick wall of the school”

“During my last year at Cambridge I read with care and profound interest Humboldt’s Personal Narrative. This work and Sir J. Herschel’s Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy stirred up in me a burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science. No one or a dozen other books influenced me nearly so much as these two”

“When I see the list of books of all kinds which I read and abstracted, including whole series of Journal and Transactions, I am surprised at my industry”

Love

“Looking backwards, I can now perceive how my love for science gradually preponderated over every other taste”

My love of natural science has been steady and ardent”

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Consensus

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Warren Buffett

“On this [first geology] tour I had a striking instance how easy it is to overlook phenomena, however conspicuous, before they have been observed by anyone

“As far as I can judge, I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men.

Understanding and Patience

“From my early youth, I have had the strongest desire to understand or explain whatever I observed – that is, to group all facts under some general laws. These causes combined have given me the patience to reflect or ponder for any number of years over any unexplained problem”

Commitment/Confirmation Bias

“I have steadily endeavoured to keep my mind free, so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject) as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it. Indeed I have had no choice but to act in this manner”

“I cannot remember [with the exception of the Coral Reefs] a single formed hypothesis which had not after a time to be given up or greatly modified

Collect the Facts

“On first examining a new [geological] district nothing can appear more hopeless than the chaos of rocks, but by recording the stratification and nature of the rocks and fossils at many points, always reasoning and predicting what will be found elsewhere, light soon begins to dawn on the district, and the structure of the whole becomes more or less intelligible”

“I think I am superior to the common run of man in noticing things which easily escape attention, and in observing them carefully”

“I was very glad to learn from him [H. Spencer] his system of collecting facts. He told me that he bought all the books which he read, and made a full index to each, of the facts which he thought might prove serviceable to him, and that he could always remember in what book he had read anything, for his memory was wonderful. I then asked how at first he could judge what facts would be serviceable and he answered that he did not know, but that sort of instinct guided him. From this habit of making indices, he was enabled to give the astonishing number of references on all sorts of subjects, which may be found in his History of Civilization”

“In several of my books facts observed by others have been extensively used”

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Seth Klarman

“I keep thirty to forty large portfolios, in cabinets with labelled shelves, into which I can at once put a detached reference or memorandum. I have bought many books and at their ends I make an index of all the facts that concern my work; or, if the book is not my own, write out a separate extract, and of such abstracts I have a large drawer full. Before beginning on any subject I look to all the short indexes and make a general and classified index, and by taking the

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