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Five somewhat esoteric mental models I have found useful

In anticipation of the new edition of Poor Charlie’s Almanack arriving by mail — alas, the new delivery date is February 15 — I have been mulling over the more unusual mental models I’ve adopted since first reading about the latticework. The latticework is a mental model of its own — a meta-mental model, if you will — and you would do well to adopt some all of Mungers. The five I list here aren’t the models you will find in the Almanack, but I would not have identified them as such and remembered them were it not for Munger’s wisdom. The links are to Wikipedia and journal articles, for now, but I hope to write a detailed account of my own for each, you know, once I get around to it.

  1. C.H. Waddington’s probability landscape, which has applications far beyond developmental biology, where it was first introduced;
  2. Activation energy, especially as it relates to motivation and administrative inertia;
  3. Epiphenomena as real and tangible things and not nuisances to be brushed aside, which I realized via both Hofstadter and Girard;
  4. Phenotypic plasticity, which we take for granted at the level of an organism (in an environment of caloric abundance mammals will get fat) but not so much at higher and lower scales, i.e., cells and societies;
  5. Carcinization, the nature’s attempt to evolve every crustacean into a crab five separate times, or, as I like to see it, nature’s way of telling us that hyper-optimization is seductive but ultimately a dead end — and again, mind the scale.

These five are interconnected in interesting ways, and if you arrange the arrows just right they do for a mini-lattice. Kudos to Munger for finding the right term. Munger discussed his own mental models in detail in the Almanack and they form a larger, but still loose, network.

The web of mental models is, of course, Nassim Taleb’s Incerto, built so densely and interconnected so profusely that Branko Milanović was right to laud is as a new type of writing. And in fact of the five models I listed, the first one — Waddington’s probability landscape — is a neat bridge between Taleb’s investigations and the other four. But that is a discussion for a future time.

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