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Flashcards in Mental Models Deck (13):


Otherwise known as thinking through a situation in reverse or thinking “backwards,” inversion is a problem-solving technique. Often by considering what we want to avoid rather than what we want to get, we come up with better solutions. Inversion works not just in mathematics but in nearly every area of life. As the saying goes, “Just tell me where I’m going to die so I can never go there.


Falsification/Confirmation Bias

What a man wishes, he also believes. Similarly, what we believe is what we choose to see. This is commonly referred to as the confirmation bias. It is a deeply ingrained mental habit, both energy-conserving and comfortable, to look for confirmations of long-held wisdom rather than violations. Yet the scientific process – including hypothesis generation, blind testing when needed, and objective statistical rigor – is designed to root out precisely the opposite, which is why it works so well when followed.

The modern scientific enterprise operates under the principle of falsification: A method is termed scientific if it can be stated in such a way that a certain defined result would cause it to be proved false. Pseudo-knowledge and pseudo-science operate and propagate by being unfalsifiable – as with astrology, we are unable to prove them either correct or incorrect because the conditions under which they would be shown false are never stated.


Circle of Competence

An idea introduced by Warren Buffett and Charles Munger in relation to investing: each individual tends to have an area or areas in which they really, truly know their stuff, their area of special competence. Areas not inside that circle are problematic because not only are we ignorant about them, but we may also be ignorant of our own ignorance. Thus, when we're making decisions, it becomes important to define and attend to our special circle, so as to act accordingly.


Occam's Razor

Named after the friar William of Ockham, Occam’s Razor is a heuristic by which we select among competing explanations. Ockham stated that we should prefer the simplest explanation with the least moving parts: it is easier to falsify (see: Falsification), easier to understand, and more likely, on average, to be correct. This principle is not an iron law but a tendency and a mindset: If all else is equal, it’s more likely that the simple solution suffices. Of course, we also keep in mind Einstein’s famous idea (even if apocryphal) that “an idea should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”


Hanlon's Razor

Hanlon’s Razor states that we should not attribute to malice that which is more easily explained by stupidity. In a complex world, this principle helps us avoid extreme paranoia and ideology, often very hard to escape from, by not generally assuming that bad results are the fault of a bad actor, although they can be. More likely, a mistake has been made.


Second-Order Thinking

In all human systems and most complex systems, the second layer of effects often dwarfs the first layer, yet often goes unconsidered. In other words, we must consider that effects have effects. Second-order thinking is best illustrated by the idea of standing on your tiptoes at a parade: Once one person does it, everyone will do it in order to see, thus negating the first tiptoer. Now, however, the whole parade audience suffers on their toes rather than standing firmly on their whole feet.


The Map Is Not The Territory

The map of reality is not reality itself. If any map were to represent its actual territory with perfect fidelity, it would be the size of the territory itself. Thus, no need for a map! This model tells us that there will always be an imperfect relationship between reality and the models we use to represent and understand it. This imperfection is a necessity in order to simplify. It is all we can do to accept this and act accordingly


Thought Experiments

A technique popularized by Einstein, the thought experiment is a way to logically carry out a test in one’s own head that would be very difficult or impossible to perform in real life. With the thought experiment as a tool, we can solve problems with intuition and logic that could not be demonstrated physically, as with Einstein imagining himself traveling on a beam of light in order to solve the problem of relativity.


Social Proof

Human beings are one of many social species, along with bees, ants, and chimps, among many more. We have a DNA-level instinct to seek safety in numbers and will look for social guidance of our behavior. This instinct creates a cohesive sense of cooperation and culture which would not otherwise be possible, but also leads us to do foolish things if our group is doing them as well


Comittment and Consistency Bias

As psychologists have frequently and famously demonstrated, humans are subject to a bias towards keeping their prior commitments and staying consistent with our prior selves when possible. This trait is necessary for social cohesion: people who often change their conclusions and habits are often distrusted. Yet our bias towards staying consistent can become, as one wag put it, a “hobgoblin of foolish minds” – when it is combined with the first-conclusion bias, we end up landing on poor answers and standing pat in the face of great evidence


Identity Persuasion

If you want someone to change their actions, appealing to their identity causes extreme cognitive dissonance.
Eg. “I didn’t have you down as that sort of person” “is that who you want to be?” “I always had you down as a determined person”


Principal x Agent Problem

There’s a notion in economics called the principal agent problem where the principal is the owner and the agent is the person who’s actually doing the work and getting a cut. The principal agent problem basically says anytime you have an agent the agent optimizes for themselves rather than for the principles and interest. You just end up with all kinds of perverse behaviors.
Classic example is government.
The reason why startups are so successful compared to big companies and they’re so much more productive is because you have a small group of people who consider themselves to be principles. They are very few agents. The more managers you add, the more agents you are adding into the startup and so I think the less efficient you’re going to be.



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