On building Chunks & Mental Models

What you are getting into: 626 words, 4mins read

 

Imagine someone have unlimited and unprecedented access to all the information in the world ever, like every single piece of information. Can you imagine the opportunities?

Of course that is not possible. It is simply impossible to do that. But we can empower ourselves with a base of frequently used mental models and chunks which can be draw upon and applied in a wide variety of situations. Imagine a master key which can unlock locks of the same brand but not every lock under the sun. So in order to unlock access to as many doors as possible, we obtain as many master keys as possible. Hence mental models and chunks.

Understanding what is a mental model

A mental model is a lens which we perceive things.

Imagine walking into a shop to purchase spectacles, each spectacle has a specific set of lens. Like blue lens, red lens, funny lens, dark lens, etc. (in very simple terms.) You the wearer/observer and the object remains the same, but each lens gives you a different effect.

Think mental model as lens, it allows you to see things as such, depending on the lens you are wearing. A chunk is a group of related information1 and a mental model is made up of chunks. A mental model is lego figurine, each lego block is a chunk, a figurine is made up of many chunks.

Examples of of mental models

Some common examples of mental models you may know:

  • Confirmation bias2
  • Occam’s razor3
  • Thought experiment4
  • Cost benefits analysis5
  • Pareto 80/206
  • Porter’s 5 forces7

Why use mental models?

When we tell ourselves to use a mental model, it brings our conscious into the foreground. It does not matter if the right mental model is used, sometimes the point is to alternate between a few mental models and see it from a few perspectives. If, we have always been looking at object A with lens A (status quo bias8), then perhaps looking at object A with lens B might bring a different perspective to it (experimenting change.)

There are a gazillion mental models to pick up, one can never finish learning all of them. Some mental models are built on top of other mental models, i.e. Mental model X consists of mental model E+F+G. The possibilities are endless when we create a latticework9 of mental models.

Conclusion

I believe ultimately we want to live a good life. When we develop a wide arsenal of mental models then we will start to perceive life differently and aid us in decision making. If a good life is how we perceive life based on our lens, and lenses are mental models, then it makes sense to start learning as much mental models as we can.

Farnam Street: Mental Models from Shane Parrish on Vimeo.

Useful resources

  1. Wikipedia, mental model (link)
  2. Princeton, mental model (link)
  3. Farnam Street (link)
  4. James Clear (link)
  5. Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo (link)
  6. List of cognitive bias (link)

Footnotes

  1. Dr Barbara Oakley; What is a Chunk? (link)
  2. Confirmation bias is where you form a subjective frame in your mind based on your previous experiences rather than forming an objective frame based on evidence at hand (link)
  3. Occam’s razor forces us to use the simplest theory or concept whenever possible (link)
  4. Thought experiment is a process where we think through hypothetical scenarios and play around with variables in order to visualise what may happen (link)
  5. Analyse the cost vs benefits before coming to a conclusion (link)
  6. 20% bring the 80%, and vice versa. Often used in economics and output in energy (link)
  7. Porter’s five forces, one of the most studied framework in business schools (link)
  8. Any change from the baseline is perceived as a loss (link)
  9. Introduction to mental models by Farnam Street (link)

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