The Four Reading Levels

  1. Elementary: What does the text say? Literacy.
  2. Inspectual: What is this article/book about? Superficial, skimming.
  3. Analytical: Is the information / argument good? Meaning, perspective and use.
  4. Synoptic: Comparative. Trying to incorporate multiple points of view into our own view.

Nothing I want to quote from the article by Bruno Boksic on this topic. But, I thought it was a useful mental model.

Metaphor as Mental Model

“In 2011, Stanford researchers Paul Thibodeau and Lera Boroditsky published research that showed how the way we talk about crime changes our ideas about what to do about it. They asked two groups of students to read reports about crime in their area – one using a metaphor of crime as a ‘beast’ that was rampaging through the neighbourhood, and one describing crime as a ‘virus’ that had to be stopped. Their research showed that students shown the ‘virus’ metaphor were more likely to favour policy that looked at the root causes of crime, such as social deprivation, whilst students who read the ‘beast’ metaphor story favoured enforcement policies.”

-Matt Locke, “Data isn’t oil, so what is it?” May 15, 2021

Be careful with choosing analogies and metaphors. It guides thought.

Nothing’s More Practical Theory

“If we want to learn to use a system, part of that is speeding up this process of operant conditioning – learning what’s safe, and what to avoid. Having an adequate mental model of the system seems to be a key part of that, because it lets you figure out this mapping of action to outcome.”

—David R. MacIver, “Learning to use the system.” DRMacIver’s Notebook. July 10, 2020.

Possibly my favorite blog. Reminded me of a saying of my cataloging professor, “Nothing is more practical than theory.” You can’t troubleshoot a problem if you don’t have a mental model for how the system it is part of works. Perhaps your problem is a “feature” when looked at from a different perspective.

Resolution of the Mirage

“As explained by Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, emotions take form as we interpret events and our physiological states. The richer the repertoire of emotional concepts we have to draw on, the more precisely we can name our feelings. This articulation shapes our experience of the world: The more precisely we can label a challenge, the more easily we can respond. Feeling ‘bad’ differs from articulating ‘righteous indignation,’ Feldman Barrett points out; the latter is more likely to propel one into action. ‘Emotional granularity’ creates more options for understanding and reacting to challenges. This ability to finely articulate emotions will likely also help us understand and relate to others.”

—Margaret E. Morris. “The New Tech of Relationships.” Nautilus. December 2018.

Interesting correlation to some of the teachings of Zen. As thoughts and emotions arise, labelling them creates distance, shifting us from the one experiencing the emotion or having a thought to an observer classifying them.

But, there seems to be a difference in goals. In creating a more sophisticated and nuanced language for emotional and intellectual experience, it gives us more control over the stories we tell about them and how we construct our identity. But, Zen is less about control and more about questioning the validity of any story.

For example, feeling “righteous indignation” is much more specific than feeling sad, but invariably, you have to identify as a good person who takes exception to a wrong observed in the world. Are there good people and bad people? Does what we think and feel, experiences we have no control over, indicate who we are? And are our ideas about what is right or wrong in the world a refection of Reality or a reflection of our thoughts and of our perception?

When you start looking closely, the difference between sad and “righteous indignation” is simply the level of detail in the mirage. Having higher resolution fictions makes for better stories, but do they make for better lives?

Computational Thinking

“Computational thinking assumes that perfect information about the past can and should be collected and synthesized to inform decisions about the future.”

—John Thomason, “Is It Easier to Imagine the End of the World Than the End of the Internet?The Intercept, November 24, 2018.

A review of the book, New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future by James Bridle. It is interesting throughout.

Bridle’s central point is about our mental models and that technology is not value neutral. John Thomason points out that technology isn’t just ideas but tangible capital from which the people investing in it are expecting a return.

Think about artificial intelligence. Once you introduce a technology that will fundamentally change the landscape, e.g., introducing autonomous vehicles on the roads, then the model that the autonomous vehicles use to make decisions will also have to change as they change the environment.

Easily said, but clearly some changes will happen that might be unknown factors influencing the model, not accounted for in its decision making, and so forth. One current example is how human biases get baked into training data and influences the decisions of the model. The problem can be very subtle and there may be no obvious solution to it, assuming people are aware of the problem at all and that it can be fixed.

Mental Models: How to Train Your Brain to Think in New Ways

“A mental model is an explanation of how something works. It is a concept, framework, or worldview that you carry around in your mind to help you interpret the world and understand the relationship between things. Mental models are deeply held beliefs about how the world works…

…To quote Charlie Munger again, ’80 or 90 important models will carry about 90 percent of the freight in making you a worldly-wise person. And, of those, only a mere handful really carry very heavy freight…’

…My hope is to create a list of the most important mental models from a wide range of disciplines and explain them in a way that is not only easy to understand, but also meaningful and practical to the daily life of the average person. With any luck, we can all learn how to think just a little bit better.”

—James Clear. “Mental Models: How to Train Your Brain to Think in New Ways.” February 15, 2018.

His list of the most useful mental models might warrant revisiting every now and again.