Creating unexpected connections is the focus of The Great Mental Models Volume 2 (2019), which is available now. It is firmly rooted in the “hard” sciences and deconstructs fundamental ideas from physics, chemistry, and biology. But it's not just about electrons, atoms, and evolution. It's about a whole lot more. The concepts discussed in this interesting intellectual history may be applied to daily life as well as to academic research.
Who is the target audience for the book The Great Mental Models Volume 2?
- Individuals with lateral thinking abilities
- Scientists who are looking for a fresh perspective on well-known topics
- Anyone seeking for a decent brain exercise may benefit from this.
Rhiannon Beaubien, do you know who Shane Parrish is?
In his previous career, Shane Parish worked as a cybersecurity specialist for Canada's top intelligence agency before establishing Farnam Street, an organization devoted to assisting individuals to think more critically in a constantly changing environment. A variety of publications have published his work, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and Forbes, among others. In addition, he is the host of the Knowledge Project, a podcast that has been downloaded more than 10 million times to date.
In addition to being a writer, Rhiannon Beaubien is the author of Alone Among Spies, a book about spycraft that relies on her previous experience working in intelligence. In addition to contributing to Farnam Street's blog and managing the creation of the Great Mental Models book series, Beaubien is a major part of the company's leadership team.
What exactly is in it for me? Learn about the science that underpins social interactions.
When humans first started exploring the Arctic, they ran across a problem: their boats were prone to being entrapped in the thick ice. Ramming your way through didn't work - in fact, it had a bad reputation for causing ships to drown. There was, however, an option. Squeeze a curved bowl from below and it will rise to the surface. That is fundamental physics. The Fram, the first boat to traverse the Arctic Ocean, featured a bowl-shaped shallow hull, a streamlined keel, and a rudder that could be raised directly out of the water to negotiate the ice. It sprang up and perched on top of the ship as it was crushed by the iceberg. In other words, using science allows you to collaborate with nature. Although this is useful when planning a voyage to the North Pole, it may also be used to better comprehend human civilization and history as a whole.
In these notes, we'll dissect seven basic concepts from physics, biology, and chemistry in order to construct a set of mental models that may be used for a variety of topics, ranging from the French Revolution to contemporary warfare and the demise of the Latin language. You'll discover why zebras are quick and why Portuguese people don't speak Latin in these notes; how fleas aided in the revival of European civilization; and what the manufacture of bronze and driving a vehicle have in common in this collection of notes.
When it comes to social transformation, the number of people counts.
The year is 1905, and Paris is the setting. The cafés are completely packed. Waiters rush from table to table, bringing tiny glasses of green liquor to each patron's table. Aromatic notes of anise permeate the air. The liquid being given is absinthe, a popular aperitif that has gained a reputation for being very potent. Beginning in the early twentieth century, publications started publishing extravagant tales regarding absinthe's effects on the human body. It has the same addictive properties as opium! Drinkers go crazy as a result of this! The tales referred to the tragedy of Jean Lanfray, a man who killed his family after being enraged by absinthe use. People started to organize campaigns against absinthe, arguing that it should be made illegal.
Meanwhile, nothing was written about lead, a hazardous metal that was utilized in the manufacture of the pipes that carried drinking water from source to tap. Lead was also found in hundreds of other goods, including paint, glassware, and cosmetics, among others. However, despite the hazards of lead, there was no movement to have it banned. The overarching theme of this letter is that when it comes to social change, numbers are important. The claims made regarding absinthe were completely false. It wasn't any more dangerous than other high-percentage alcoholic beverages, and it definitely didn't make you go insane like some others. Nevertheless, following Lanfray's "absinthe killings," the writing was on the wall. It was outlawed in Switzerland in 1908, and France followed suit in 1914.
The lead, on the other hand, was different. The evidence against it wasn't exaggerated; rather, it was simply dismissed as irrelevant. Around 15 BCE, the Roman architect Vitruvius issued a warning to his contemporaries about the dangers of putting water in lead pipes. Alice Hamilton, an American industrial toxicologist who worked in the 1910s, was the first to give conclusive evidence of the hazards of lead exposure. It didn't matter: lead was still used in paint and gasoline well into the 1980s.So, what is it that causes the differences in responses to absinthe and to lead?
This question can be answered with the assistance of physics. Think of the notion of inertia, which explains the resistance of things to changes in their state of motion when their position is changed. Unless they come into contact with an opposing force such as propulsion or friction, stationary things will stay still and moving objects will continue to move. The number of people matters in this case. The greater the size of the item, the greater the amount of force required to move or stop it.
It is the same law that applies to substances such as lead and absinthe, which have a sort of "societal mass." Stopping it — that is, getting rid of it – required altering everything from the way walls were painted to the way vehicles were fuelled over thousands of years. Absinthe, on the other hand, was a non-entity: it hadn't been around for very long and all it did was get people drunk – something that other alcoholic beverages did just as well without seeming to inspire men to kill their wives and children. In other words, lead had a significant amount of social mass, while absinthe had relatively little.
Things that are useful survive and are handed down from one generation to the next.
Zebras graze on grass in the plains of southern Africa.In the distance, a lion crouches in the tall grass. It creeps forward, oblivious to the fact that it is on the verge of catching its next prey. When it gets near enough, it emerges from hiding and starts running. The zebra noticed it right away. The start of the race has been signaled. The stakes are very high. A zebra that has been brought to the ground will not be given a second opportunity to flee. The rule in this game is straightforward: zebras that move slowly are devoured. The speed that this striped equine requires is thus essential.
A great deal is dependent on this rule. Fast zebras have longer lives than their slower counterparts, and they are more likely to breed as a result of their faster speeds. As this beneficial characteristic is passed on from generation to generation, the zebra population as a whole becomes quicker over time. Nonrandom elimination is a term that refers to the propensity for characteristics that allow survival to proliferate and less beneficial qualities to die out at the same time. Natural selection is another term for this phenomenon. The main point of this letter is that useful things do survive and are handed down from generation to generation, which is a good thing. Natural selection not only explains the speed of zebras, but it may also be used to describe the evolution of cultural "organisms" such as languages, according to some researchers.
Consider the language of Latin. The first known specimen of written Latin goes back to the seventh century BCE, according to archaeological evidence. There were many other languages spoken on the Italian peninsula at the time, but Latin ended up being the de facto language of the Roman empire because of its universality. And as the empire expanded, Latin's utility increased as well. The ability to communicate effectively in a language was critical to survival.Soldiers couldn't understand orders unless they had them, and merchants rely on them to communicate with their customers.Even tribes on the outskirts of civilization found it helpful. You were able to trade with and make peace treaties with the Romans because of the Latins.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century CE, the linguistic landscape underwent a transformation. Communities all across Europe were no longer subject to the authority of Rome, which meant they no longer needed to communicate in Latin. In the lack of a centralized authority, Latin shrunk in on itself, relegating itself to a few environmental niches where it was still spoken by religious authorities and academics. Plant and animal species may go extinct in the natural world, yet their descendant species can survive and thrive in their place. In fact, this is exactly what happened to the Latins. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, civilizations resorted to Latin's offshoots — Romance languages such as Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian – for communication. This group of languages included a large amount of Latin vocabulary but possessed a considerably simpler grammar, making them much easier to learn and, as a consequence, significantly more valuable.
Early adopters are the ones who succeed.
The British peppered moth's wings and body are beige and gray, with tiny black dots on them — precisely the same color and pattern as the mottled, lichen-covered tree trunks in the British countryside. That comes in handy. When the moth is perched on a tree trunk, it is almost undetectable to predators. It came in handy, to put it another way. During the Industrial Revolution, industries started to spew clouds of sooty smoke into the atmosphere. Slowly but steadily, a thick coating of black dirt began to accumulate on the branches of the trees. The moth's patterns no longer served to help it blend in with its surroundings; instead, they made it an accessible target for predators.
The moths with light peppering were easily picked off. That left only the far more uncommon black peppered moths, which were well adapted to this new environment. They fared better in terms of survival and reproduction, and they generated more progeny. Because of a chance genetic mutation, these moths gained an evolutionary advantage: they were better adapted to their new habitat as a result of their mutation. The capacity to adapt to new environments is essential for evolution. It also provides an insight into the history of humanity. The most important lesson in this letter is that early adopters will come out on top. After the First World War, France was in complete control of the situation. Germany had not only been beaten, but it had also been compelled to accept the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, which reduced the German military to its bare bones and imposed severe expenditure restrictions on military spending.
The Maginot Line, a system of interlocking fortifications built around France's borders to stave off an invasion in the future, was completed in 1815. Its military spends a lot of money on cutting-edge technology.On paper, the nation seemed to be more than capable of dealing with the German menace. Of course, we all know what occurred after that. Germany bypassed the Maginot Line in 1940 and began a catastrophic assault that resulted in the death of millions. The city of Paris was destroyed less than a month later. So, what exactly went wrong? France, on the other hand, was like a lighter peppered moth. It had not acclimated to its new habitat, as was expected. French strategists anticipated that the upcoming battle would be similar to the last one and prepared accordingly.... Because they anticipated static trench warfare, they constructed the Maginot Line and spent their resources on infantry rather than purchasing aircraft or increasing the size of their armored divisions.
A German strategist named General Guderian is represented by the black peppered moth in this tale. Guderian recognized that mobility and speed would be key factors in the upcoming battle. The commander decided not to rely on a slow-moving division that required lengthy and complex supply lines, but instead to create separate tank divisions capable of deep and rapid strategic penetration. Guderian's tanks were able to reach the heart of France only because of an adaptive shift in strategy. It took the Allies four years to stem the flow of German aggression.
Catalysts are substances that help to accelerate chemical and social transformation.
In the year 1340, a crowded port in Italy. A ship is being unloaded by dockers. Despite the abundance of goods, it is nevertheless a representation of the riches produced by the newly established trade routes between Europe and Asia. A rat takes a whiff of the air in the hold. It scrapes itself, climbs up on a rope, and scurries over the sand to reach the dry ground. It is transporting its own cargo - hundreds of fleas infested with a particularly lethal strain of bacterium. Wherever people are bitten, death is almost always the result. The world will be facing an unparalleled pandemic by the end of the century, which will take the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
Following the Black Death, Europe was a very different place. Because there were fewer people, there was more land than could be productively used. As a consequence, the rent was reduced. It was also more difficult to replace employees, which resulted in higher pay. Both improvements result in more money being placed in the wallets of ordinary people. As a result, there was a surge in demand for new consumer products, which entrepreneurs were eager to provide. They, in turn, were able to keep their prices down by developing new labor-saving technologies. Instantaneously, Europe was on the verge of a cultural and economic renaissance known as the Renaissance. The main point of this essay is that catalysts help to expedite chemical and social transformation. Is it possible that the Black Death was the cause of the Renaissance? Although few historians believe that the pandemic was directly responsible for these vast developments, there is little doubt that it had a significant influence.
Such positions are referred to as "roles" by chemists. They are referred to as catalysts. A catalyst is a material that accelerates the process of change in chemistry. The fact that it occurs does not cause anything to happen that would not have occurred otherwise, but it does shorten the length of time it takes for responses or changes to occur. Catalysts may be found almost everywhere. You'll need one of these accelerating compounds if you wish to produce paper, yogurt, or detergent, for example. Yeast, a microscopic fungus, was one of the earliest catalysts to be intentionally used by humans. Our forefathers realized that adding yeast to sugary liquids resulted in the production of alcohol about 10,000 years ago. They were also able to give more air and texture to the thick, unleavened loaves that they cooked over the flames by doing so.
As we've seen, catalysts aren't usually found in chemical form in the natural world. Take, for example, the printing press, which expedited a societal "reaction" - the dissemination of information, which was a cornerstone of the Renaissance – by orders of magnitude. Prior to the development of the printing press, it was difficult to get information about anything. A tiny collection of untrustworthy, handwritten documents was all that most libraries had to offer, and those that did exist were frequently not much more than that. Because of the invention of the printing press, a dependable and repeatable means of distributing information – the book – was created. Gaining and transmitting information has never been cheaper, simpler, or quicker than it has been because of this invention.
Knowledge is an alloy, much like bronze or steel, and should be treated as such.
Leonardo da Vinci's insatiable desire for knowledge was unquenchable. He was interested in learning everything. In addition, there was a great deal to study – so much, in fact, that to keep track of it all, he made notes in his notebook to serve as reminders. What is the proper way to square a triangle? He'd enlist the help of a math master to demonstrate it.How do the inhabitants of Flanders navigate their way through the ice? Benedetto, a friend of his, should be aware. What about restoring locks, mills, and canals, which are a speciality of the people of Lombardy? What do you think? He'd have to consult with a hydraulics expert to figure out what he was talking about. The list went on indefinitely. Why did Leonardo need such a vast amount of knowledge? His understanding of how various sources of information may be combined to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts was clear.
The most important message in this letter is as follows: Knowledge is an alloy, much like bronze or steel, and should be treated as such. When two metallic elements combine to form a material that can perform more functions than each element alone, scientists refer to the resulting entity as an alloy. Consider the metal bronze, which is a mixture of copper and tin. Bronze was first produced by the ancient Sumerians about 5,000 years ago. Copper was helpful, but it had several disadvantages, including the fact that the metal was soft and rusted. Bronze, on the other hand, was a considerably more long-lasting material. Because it is a very strong substance, you could use it to make weapons and tools that will not break when used.Another option is steel, an alloy of iron and carbon that is both tougher and more flexible than iron alone. You may make rust-free stainless steel by combining elements such as magnesium, nickel, and chromium.
Knowledge, on the other hand, may be thought of as an alloy. As the Greek philosopher Aristotle observed, it also consists of a number of components that, when united, produce something that is more powerful than the sum of its parts. This is something we see and feel on a daily basis. Consider the act of driving. In order to drive a vehicle, you must be familiar with the laws of the road. This is what Aristotle refers to as episteme, or theoretical knowledge. Understanding the functions of the different pedals and buttons is also critical. That is referred to as technology, which means "craft knowledge." Because you are not alone on the road, you must also anticipate what other drivers will do, which necessitates the use of nous - intuitive perception. In this case, you are exemplifying phronesis, which is caution born of experience, since you know that your trip always takes 20 minutes, regardless of whether you rush across an intersection while the light is green.
Together, these components create an alloy that enables us to do things that would be impossible with a single element alone.
In physics, like in life, you receive back what you put out.
Norman Bethune wanted to be of service to others. For a talented surgeon like Bethune, there were plenty of chances to accomplish exactly that throughout the early twentieth century. The cost of medical treatments in Bethune's home country of Canada was still too costly for working-class people, prompting him to establish a free clinic and push for national universal health coverage. Throughout these decades, war was an unavoidable reality. During World War I, Bethune was a member of the Canadian medical corps, which fought on the battlefields of Europe. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, he volunteered to serve as a trauma surgeon for the Republican side. He worked there for a number of years, where he invented the world's first mobile blood transfusion device. Two years later, he was in China, where he established a hospital, educated physicians, and significantly increased the survival rate of Chinese troops in the field.
Bethune's devotion and courage, on the other hand, earned him neither fame nor riches. His death came about as a result of septicemia, which he contracted in 1939. He was just 49 years old when he died. So much for karma, don't you think? That's not entirely true.... The most important lesson in this letter is: You receive what you give — in physics as well as in life, of course. What is the best way to understand Bethune's life? Physics may well be the key to unlocking the mystery. Consider the concept of reciprocity, which is included in Isaac Newton's third rule of motion. It says that when an object A exerts force on an object B, the object B will return or "reciprocate" by exerting an equal amount of force on the object A. This is known as the reciprocity principle.
When you leap to the ground, for example, you are exerting force on the earth, which in turn exerts force on your body in the same manner. Gravity is the name given to this force. Reciprocity also helps to understand how guns function. The combustion of fuel in a confined cylinder pushes matter – gas – in a single direction. A similar movement pushes the bullet in the opposite direction of its original trajectory. Unfortunately, this physical rule does not have a moral counterpart: excellent actions do not always result in equally beneficial consequences, as shown by the example of Noah. However, the concept of reciprocity may still aid us in understanding Bethune's life narrative.
In the journal BMC Health, researchers released the findings of an intriguing study that they conducted in 2017. It has been shown that volunteering is highly predictive of improved mental and physical health, as well as life satisfaction, self-esteem, and overall pleasure and well-being. Selflessness, in other words, may very well be its own reward for individuals like Norman Bethune, providing them with energy, drive, and a sense of purpose in their lives and the lives of others. While a life of service does not always result in longevity or fame, it is rewarded by an equally powerful force: a positive sense of well-being.
Despite the fact that humans are unable to function without a hierarchy, they may select better leaders.
Rural France in the year 1788. We're on a farm, and we're taking a look at a chicken coop. It's not difficult to figure out who is in charge. Some hens have first dibs on food and peck at the rest of the flock in order to get their attention. When it comes to pecking their inferiors, the other hens submit to this avian aristocracy. The underclass is at the bottom of the social hierarchy. These chickens are never aggressive toward other hens. When you take a step back, you can see that French society looks a lot like this cooperative housing project. It, too, has a hierarchy of importance. The king is at the very top of the hierarchy, and his word is the law. The clergy and aristocracy are ranked behind him. They owe the king allegiance, but they owe the monarch nothing else. At the bottom of the pyramid is the so-called Third Estate, which is comprised of millions of peasants and laborers who are deprived of their rights and subjected to excessive taxes.
It seems that hierarchy is a fundamental element of existence, both in humans and in animals. To be sure, this is the message that France's monarch, priests, and aristocracy are trying to get through to the peasants. However, although hens may be willing to accept these arrangements, why should humans? While humans may not be able to exist without a hierarchy, they may select better leaders, which is the main lesson of this letter. Almost all animals live in hierarchical structures that are rigorously enforced. These help to maintain peace and stability. They do, however, come at a hefty cost. Top-down regimes are detrimental to people who are at the bottom of the hierarchy. They are also inefficient at work.The discovery of a significantly better food-gathering technique by a low-ranking chimpanzee will result in the refusal of other higher-ranking chimps to adopt it.
Overtaxed peasants with insufficient land, in contrast to oppressed chimpanzees, will rise up in rebellion. The Third Estate rose up in revolt in 1789. The monarch and many of his aristocratic allies were executed, while those who survived were stripped of their rights in the process. The French Revolution declared that every man and woman in France was an equal member of society. It wasn't simple, though, to put this concept into action. New overlords arose from the ashes of the previous regime. Napoleon eventually declared himself emperor of France and established his own hierarchical system inside the country. Napoleon's rule was an improvement over the previous system, but it demonstrated how difficult it is to completely eliminate hierarchical structures. New political leaders seem to arise on a regular basis to fill political voids. But even though we are unable to alter this seeming rule of human existence, we do have some control over it: we can always choose better leaders.
The issue of ineffective leaders is very straightforward. Like Napoleon, the individuals who put themselves up for leadership roles are strong competitors in their own right. They are excellent at gaining power, but they are less skilled at exerting it. Why? Consider what we stated before about the need for efficiency. The ability to listen when someone has a brilliant idea is all that is required of good leaders - they do not need to have all of the solutions. Those are the kind of individuals we should be looking for.
The most important point in these notes is: why are zebras so quick, and why doesn't anybody have Latin as a first language? Why did the government outlaw absinthe while remaining silent on the risks of lead poisoning? In addition, what do these flea-ridden rats have to do with the Italian Renaissance? The "hard" sciences – such as physics, biology, and chemistry – can actually assist us in answering these issues, which is a pleasant surprise! This is due to the fact that these disciplines are constructed around a set of fundamental ideas that can be used to explain more than just nature; they can also be used to better comprehend our own world and its history.
Written by BrookPad Team based on The Great Mental Models Volume 2 by Shane Parrish, Rhiannon Beaubien