Mental Models

the only way we can navigate the complexity of reality is through some sort of abstraction

  • I think of how a map of the London underground helps us navigate. it does a terrific job of what it's supposed to, but if we were to try and use it to exit a station, or to walk from one station to another, it would be almost useless to us. we have to make abstractions to better understand a specific aspect of the complex world. there exists no one-size-fits-all solution
  • ex. watching the news is itself an abstraction. we are listening to people who have consumed large amounts of information, reflected on it, and I've come to the conclusion which they are now presenting to us. the problem the South when we consume this abstraction as if it were reality. however, what we're not understanding is that it is not reality, but an abstraction of reality. in other words, a simplification of reality

Mental models are what allow us to overcome the limitations of short term memory.

  • ex. When we see a poodle and a pit bull side by side, we don't need to consciously think about the fact that they are both dogs. We just know it intuitively because of the mental framework we have made that is churning under the surface. We know what a dog is, and as a result are able to instantly recognize the pattern and make a judgement.
  • ex. When reading a book, we don't need to spend time decoding what a string of letters means. To become an expert at reading (which most of us are), you had to first learn the correspondence between letters and sounds. At this point, reading was a matter of laboriously sounding out each word. With practice, we came able to recognize strings of characters as a word, with C-A-T no longer being just a string of characters, but a word that encompassed a plethora of knowledge surrounding what we know about cats.
    • some people are better at others than reading. That is, some are better able to understand and assimilate the information found in books, due to their superior mental representations that allow them to overcome the limitations of short-term memory.
      • those who are better at reading are those that already understand the subject matter. Consider that to someone who's never seen a dog before, explaining what it is will result in a bunch of facts about an abstract concept that they can't really attach information to. This is much the same with someone who knows nothing about football reading a summary of the game: they would be reading facts that can't properly be assembed in the mind, due to the absense of a proper mental framework that can make sense of them.

Mental models also allow us to make inferences on facts that we hold. In effect, the mental framework allows our brains a way to organize and arrange the information in ways that can be used to recognize and solve the problems in front of us.

  • ex. anyone can read medical books and learn facts about something, but it takes the backdrop of a framework that those facts can be attached to in order to make inferences on them.
  • these mental structures can be thought of as "if..then structures".
    • ex. imagine a grandmaster playing chess. They can take one look at the board and get a pretty accurate view of the moves that can be made. They are thinking in terms of "if..then", effectively giving them a narrative about hypotheticals.

First Principles

First Principles are those facts that we know with 100% certainty. They are the facts that if you apply the 5 why's to, your final answer will be an irrefutable law that can be relied on to build logic on top of.