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March 30, 2004

Mental Models

Bill Whittle wrote another fantastic essay.

Another one knocked out of the park! I'd point out that when academics have a good description of reality, ie. physicists or engineering professors, they love interacting in the real world. It's when they have a very bad description that their ventures into the real-world leave a bad taste in their mouths.

Col. John Boyd gave an excellent treatment of the concept of mental models of reality in his essay "Destruction and Creation" (GO READ IT, THEN READ IT AGAIN, AND READ IT ANOTHER TIME), to focus on how intelligent beings keep in touch with reality, and how they get fooled on the battlefield, among other things.

The key idea is that you have a mental map of something which may or may not conform to reality. If your map is wrong new sets of observations tend to just make it more and more complicated, with more and more exceptions and alterations piling up (entropy builds). The map overall makes poor predictions about the real world, and becomes a collection of ad-hoc fixes.

A smart person, when confronted with evidence that their mental model (or worldview) is inadequate, tears it apart and tries to assemble the pieces in a structure that can better explain reality. Emperor Misha and I were discussing this over some beers, and the question becomes "How can we get other liberals to undergo this "destruction" process so they can move on to "creation" and rebuild a worldview that bears a resemblence to actual reality?

The socialist worldview was literally created by a guy who didn't do any form of work, and didn't even like workers. Marx was the prototypical wackc-job who holes up in a cabin somewhere and writes a manifesto, without a single reality-check anywhere. Engles had to translate Marx into something half-way understandable, which just made it stupid instead of both stupid and unreadable.

With this concocted fantasy as the scaffolding, the liberals have build a bizarre and complicated model that leads them to make predictions like Chomsky's, usually off by several orders of magnitude. Yet whenever one of them rejects the model and adopts a mental model corresponding to conservatives, which has good predictive value, they are dismissed by those remaining on the left as a capitalist hack, sell-out, and anti-revolutionary traitor, the only characterization available in the Marxist model, since it doesn't include the possiblity that it might be wrong.

It reminds me a bit of those on the left who keep insisting that people should finally try socialism, as if it hasn't been tried over and over in countless countries, always producing abysmal failure. Part of Marx's message was that his system was "new, perfect, yet untried". That was back in the 1800's. They should get an update for goodness sake.

Apologies for the long comment. I just got on a roll.

I should also point out some of the features of the modern liberal worldview, which resurface all too often on the internet.

One is that they are right and their opponents are evil. To those who receive their wisdom handed down from Marx, the people who didn't agree with him either hadn't been explosed to the "truth" or were part of the existing and evil class and power structure that worked at oppressing the poor. There really are no other options to Marxists and their intellectual progeny. On the one hand, this keeps them from having to wrestle with the fact that many, even workers, look at their "sophisticated" theory and laugh at it as childish scribblings.

Another thing I think bears repeating is that none of the liberals assume their worldview could be examined and then rightfullly rejected as moronic. It simply must be true. Others can only oppose it out of some sort of sinister motive. Free-market capitalism is hard to grasp, often confusing, if not downright perplexing, yet it works. It works even if NONE of the participants understands it, just as we don't have to understand how we think or eat to accomplish the task. It's not like capitalists aren't used to being buried under a deluge of academic refutations of capitalism, and yet it still works. A system that continues to work despite being buffetted around, when people don't know enough to pull together and keep it going, is a system that I'd describe as "robust".

Communism doesn't work even if all the non-believers are shot in the back of the head. It simply doesn't work at so many levels that the idea that people in the 21st century still advocate it is amazing.

March 30, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink


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