Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Your mental models tell you what to think and how to act

Before I will go through the text that focuses on the subject in the title, I have to inform you that this text will be the last text before I will have a summer break from publishings texts. I will continue publishing in the end of August. This doesn´t mean I will have a break in learning more about these models. During these two months I will start writing a book about the general latticework of mental models. I have written about almost all of the models that will be in the book. My deadline for publishing the book is December 2020. I will have almost 18 months for writing. Ideally this book will be ready sooner, but I won´t make any promises.

All of your thoughts and actions are the results of your mental models

You can´t function without mental models. When you start growing as a child, you do not have many models. The amount of them starts to grow. And finally you have hundreds or even thousands of mental models as an adult. Your thinking becomes more complex and you see the world differently compared to your childhood. Your models are always updated. Most of your mental models have an effect in your unconscious mind. This is why most people cannot figure out that all of their physical actions are based on their mental models too. If you want to throw a ball, your brain needs to have a chain of mental models to move all the necessary parts of your body to achieve your goal of throwing the ball.

Your view of the world is based on your mental models

You have your own view about the world. This view is your latticework of mental models of the world. It is consisted of your mental models that are the results of your learned facts, previous stimuli, experiences and current situation. Your response for different stimuli produces different actions or thoughts. They are both context dependent. It means that your responses vary depending on the current stimuli and previous choices and experiences. For example, if you have made a decision month ago, it could be different today in the same stimuli and in the same location because you have had different experience between these two decisions. There is a possibility that your mental models today are different than month ago. There might be only a slight change or a big one.

Your view of the world is never complete

Your view of the world is imperfect. You cannot have a complete picture of the world, because it is too complicated. You can have a close to perfect view of your surroundings if you are isolated, but the world out there is always incomplete. You have at least hundreds of different mental models in your head. You might not describe them as models but they are models in their imperfect sense. Some models are closer the truth than others. Different people have different models that are closer to reality than other people. For example, my mental model about the latticework of mental models is closer to reality than yours and your mental model about how well I can write is probably closer to truth than mine because I suffer more from overblown ego than you do.

Your life is a result of your mental models and randomness

You can have close to perfect mental models and the result of your life can be an absolute tragedy. Your outcomes always have an element of randomness. Your life can end by standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, you can do everything right and meet a stranger accidently that is a terrorist or another kind of nutcase and he will shoot you to death. Some randomness can always change your life completely. I am not saying that it is the most likely outcome, but it can happen. You can only raise your odds to get the outcomes you want. Nothing is ever certain. You have to always think about the odds that your mental models are the best possible ones in the context you are using them. And you have to remember that your odds are never a hundred percent. The best odds of being right you get from the best principles of the most important intellectual disciplines like physics, biology, mathematics, etc. These models are universal and withstood the test of time even though they have been proven right only in the last centuries. If you need to improve your models and you probably do, these models should be first in your list. Most of them you can find from here.

This is all for a while. I wish you a great summer. I will back at some point in time.

-TT

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Are emotions simulations?

Title has a question mark because scientists are not unanimous about what emotions really are. This text is based on the assumption that a theory of constructed emotion is right. A classical view says that emotions are constant biological components that have grown in millennia and they have been developed by the survival instincts needed long time ago. A theory of constructed emotion sees things differently. It sees emotions as learned and created social agreements based on your experiences, immediate stimuli and culture. This theory makes you more responsible for your own behavior.

Neurons and emotions

A classical view talks about emotion fingerprints. According to it, you have the same facial and bodily expressions about emotions. This means that your muscle movement tells others everything they need to know about your emotions. A theory of constructed emotion disagrees with a classical view about this. According to it, emotions doesn´t have any physical fingerprints. For example, anger doesn´t look the same in the facial muscles all the time. Classical view believes that same neurons and their synapses in the brain create same facial expressions that express anger or other emotions. According to a new theory, different neurons and their synapses can create same emotions and varying facial movements can express same emotions like anger in different context after different experiences and social agreements. Different neurons have different purposes according to this new theory.

Context, experiences and social agreements

According to this new theory, your immediate surroundings, previous agreements and social agreements construct emotions together. Your emotions depend on your environment. You can show your anger or feel it differently depending on where you are. You can express your anger differently at home and at work. Emotional expressions are tied to specific environments. You can express your anger to someone else differently depending on your immediate surroundings. Another person can show their anger to you differently at home than at your office. You give different meanings to different occurrenced based on your previous experiences. When you have experienced anger in the bus, you can expect that you will experience it again in the same bus, even though your other surroundings are different. Different cultures can have different expressions for different emotions. For example, Asians have different facial expressions of anger than people who live in Western countries. They have learned to express their emotions differently. One of the most important things to understand is that people construct their emotions differently and it is very hard to know what others are feeling all the time.

Simulations

All your senses provide you stimuli all the time. Your brain uses your past and present stimuli and compare them to construct simulations. Then your brain chooses stimuli that are relevant to your current situation and throws other stimuli away. Your senses do not provide reactions, they provide simulations based on current stimuli through your senses and some previous simulations that have created different neural patterns in your brain. Then it chooses the most probable simulation that is the sensory input you react to. It adjusts you into the current situation. The primary tools for your brain to understand current situations are your previous experiences. Cultural differences are based on different previous experiences. And these culture-dependent experiences have created different social agreements based on different cultures.

Your simulations are your neural patterns. They guide your actions and produce meaning for the stimuli you experience through your senses. When your neural patterns describe emotion simulations, your brain constructs emotions. Your brain actively constructs emotions based on your sensory inputs. It doesn´t just react to inputs. Without previous experiences and simulations based on them, you couldn´t make any sense from your current sensory inputs. They would just be meaningless noise. Sometimes your sensory inputs help you to have a meaning for your current stimuli and your brain constructs an emotion. Sometimes it does something else like produce an action.

This is an interesting theory. It makes sense, but I have no idea if it is a fact or not. If you interested in learning more, you can read Lisa Feldmann Barrett´s book: How Emotions Are Made or watch her TED talk about the theory.

Until next time,

TT

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

4 hours of work per day and recovery, a recipe for creativity?

You might expect that most creative geniouses are workaholics and they work relentlessly from day to another. The surprising truth about them is that many of them spend their days working for approximately four hours. Rest of the day is for the ”recovery”. In this text, I will tell you about the working hours of some of the greatest creative minds, about the four factors that contribute to recovery and the concept of deep play which relates to how you can get your mind off work efficiently.

Working hours of the creative minds

The most creative scientists, artists, authors, and many other creative types have or have had surprisingly similar working patterns. Their days are not focused only on working. Their days have long breaks and their work doesn´t take all day. Most of them keep their working hours in predetermined times of day. And they keep on ”showing up” for work day after day in the same time. Here are some working hours of the greatest intellectual minds, world class authors and other famous creative types:

  • Charles Darwin: 8.00 AM – 9.30 AM, 10.30 AM - 12.00 PM, and 16.00 PM. - 17.30 PM
  • Henri Poincare 10.00 AM – 12.00 PM, and 17.00 PM – 19.00 PM
  • Charles Dickens 9.00 AM – 02.00 PM
  • Ernest Hemingway 6.00 AM – before noon
  • Norman Maclean 9.00 AM – 12.00 PM
  • Ingmar Bergman 9.00 A; - 12.00 PM
  • W. Somerset Maugham 9.00 AM – 13.00 PM
  • Thomas Jefferson 4 hours in the morning

As you can see, most of these examples worked from three to six hours a day. Most of them worked maximum of four hours. Hemingway´s and Dickens´ breaks during the work are not known. At least they are not mentioned in my source of information. As you can see, none of the examples worked through the whole day. At least they consciously. Truth is that when you think you stop working, your brain is using almost as much energy than during your conscious working hours. Some researchers estimate that this figure is close to 90 percent.

Four factors of recovery

Recovery is an important part of efficient work. Without proper recovery results from work are worse. There are four important factors of recovery: relaxation, control, mastery experiences, and mental detachment from work. Relaxation is the simplest form or recovery. Getting a release from tension at work helps you to recover from work. For our purposes control means an ability to decide how you spend your time, efforts, and energy. Free time is not optimal for recovery if somebody else like your significant other decides your schedule off the work and tells you what to do and when. Mastery experiences can be seen as being in a flow state. Flow state is rewarding, it is accomplished by doing challenging actions and doing them well. Mental detachment is the ability to forget your work in this case. Your evenings, weekends and vacations are for mental detachment.

Deep play

All of those four factors mentioned in the last paragraph are useful for recovery. The concept of deep play is a way to combine those factors in your free time. Deep play has four characteristics: you don´t need any effort to feel engaged on it, you can use your work-related skills in a new context, its rewards are not the same as at work, and it has a connection to your past.
Effortlessness in a deep play comes from challenges you encounter, no matter whether you have to compete with others or solve problems. You will probably learn new things about yourself or other players. Your work-related skills are put to use in a completely new environment. There are no reminders of your work. Deep play activities have clear rules like predefined durations. These clear rules give you different rewards than you get from work. Deep play can remind you from your past experiences with people you love or keep your remind you from your past successes like winning a competition when you were young. The combination of these characteristics make you happier and better at your work.

Until next time,

-TT

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Managing your nontalent weaknesses

A weakness is not a complete opposite of edge. It is close to the opposite. Your nontalent weaknesses are closely related to your genes. There is no practice component in these weaknesses. You have weaknesses without doing anything. You can´t have any edge without practice. You have inner qualities that create your weaknesses. There are three simple and constant signs for weaknesses. All of them are not always related to your particular weakness. Weaknesses leave track records. When you poorly execute whatever you are doing, you have found a weakness. Negative emotions during and after the activity also tell you that you are dealing with a weakness. You can even be good at it, but negative emotions don´t leave. Third sign is that you don´t even want to start doing it. You prefer someone else do it for you. After identifying your weaknesses you can start managing them.

Managing weaknesses

Weaknesses that are related to your nontalents can create most of your problems. There are five ways to manage them:

  1. Improve in it a bit
  2. Design a support system
  3. Find a partner
  4. Use your edge to overcome it
  5. Stop doing it or do less of it

Some people think they can improve their weaknesses so much that they become their edges. When you have no talent in something, you have to put too much effort in improving it. You have limited time for getting great at something. And this time is away from your actions that are related to your talents. The opportunity costs are too high for developing an edge in your nontalents. This doesn´t mean that you can´t put any effort in diminishing the bad effects of your weaknesses. You can have better returns for used time by getting a little bit better in your weaknesses. You can probably improve your performance from poor to mediocre with not too much effort or time.

You can design a support system for managing your weaknesses. Modern societies are full of support systems like Excel spread sheets. Your imagination is a limit to create these systems. For example, if you have a poor memory, you can use your phone calendar to remind you when you have to do something or be somewhere. If managing your weaknesses requires these systems ask your friends or colleagues about them. You must know someone who has already created something you need. You can also try using Google to find out how to get one.

You have to remember that you can´t be good in everything. Having a partner to overcome your weakness is a good idea. In a corporate world, this is possible. I am sure you have a colleague that have an edge in one of your weaknesses. If you have an edge in something your colleague is bad at, you can suggest a mutual agreement to help each other. Finding a spouse who balances your weaknesses with his/her edges can be a good way of getting a better relationship and a happier life.

Using your edge to overcome your weakness is hard. My imagination is limited, but I have found at least one way of using your edge to overcome your weakness. If you are a comedian, you can probably create a character that has a special handicap. This handicap is your weakness. As a comedian you can become a funny character with a special handicap that makes people laugh if you have an edge in being funny.

The last but not least, is stop using your weakness. Find ways to avoid it. For example, I don´t like to be in contact with people I vaguely know. I try to avoid them as well as I can. I even time my grocery shopping in a way that the probability of having contact with these people is small. You can´t always avoid using all of your weaknesses, but you can use them less in your life. Design your environment in a way that using them is least probable in your life.

Edges and weaknesses, which are more important? Should you focus on managing your weaknesses or creating edges and upkeeping them? The answers for these questions are not either/or type answers. You can do both, but creating edges is more important, unless your weaknesses destroy your life. You have to do mental cost-benefit calculations about these two things and find the most useful approach to deal with edges and weaknesses. Nobody can do these calculations for you.

Until next time,

-TT

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Finding your potential for an edge

This text is about finding your potential to get an edge in a competitive world. To have an edge you need many things. You need most or all the components of an edge: understanding, skills, talent, motivation and the right environment to have one. These components are interwoven. Anyone can have understanding, skills, and the right environment. When it comes to talent and motivation, you can argue whether talent and motivation are separate entities or not. I would argue that you haven´t enough motivation, unless you are blessed with talent. Talent is an essential part of getting an edge in a competitive environment. It is not always needed when the competition isn´t hard. This text focuses on talent which cuts down the hours you need to get an edge. It can also help you stay motivated to get one.

Everybody´s got talent

You have talent, even though don´t know it. Everybody can do some things better than most of other people. You don´t have to be the best in the world to have an edge. You only have to be better than the people you compete with. The best clue for edge is to perform better than most people for a long time. One hit wonders don´t have edge. They can just be lucky. Your talents are recurring ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. Your recurring patterns can be divided into three groups: striving, thinking and relating patterns. They tell you what motivates you, how you do or think something, and how you relate with other people. My weakness in life is dealing with people so I will leave this topic into your hands to learn. I will focus only on striving and thinking talents.

There are many clues to find your talents. As I mentioned, long-term success is the easiest clue to find. There are many other clues. Childhood is one of the best clues you can find. When you were young, you didn´t have to so many inhibitions. You did what came easily to your mind. You felt great after doing it. And wanted to do it again and again. Most adults can´t do it. If you don´t know now what feels great, you can try a bookstore test. Go to a nearest bookstore and let yourself flow through it. When you find yourself from some section without having a conscious thought about it, you have probably found your striving talent. Without a striving talent, you won´t probably practice enough, because you have no inner motivation to be good in what you do.

You also learn faster if you are talented. This is one of the most important reasons why being talented helps you to gain edge over others. You can get an edge by practicing much more than your competitors, but it may not be worth it. I suggest you try something else, especially when you are trying to get an edge in a highly competitive field of expertise, such as professional sports or other popular endeavors like music. When you think these things, you should always compare yourself for people who have done the same practice with equal or larger amount of hours in the same kind of environment. Otherwise, you just have to guess whether you are talented or not. Faster learning is really about having a potential to perform something in a higher level as your competitors. It doesn´t mean you have an edge or whether you can keep it.

Living with edge

Talent doesn´t mean you can stop learning. Vice versa, many of your competitors are willing to work hard to even up the gap between you and them. If you aren´t willing to improve yourself or widening the edge, you will lose it. Most of this is about motivation. So many people and companies lose an edge because they have no motivation to cultivate or live it. Sometimes they don´t understand what is their edge. And sometimes people just change. Your recurring patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving can change after an illness, some other dramatic life event, new government or through another person. These things aren´t always tragedies. They can be positive life events, in which other things become more important.

Some last thoughts: I have changed my view about whether motivation is a talent or not. When I introduced an edge, I didn´t mention anything about the right environment. It is important for gaining an edge.

Until next text,

-TT

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

3 popular delusions about compounding effect

Most people don´t understand the power of compound effect. Those who claim to understand it have some common delusions about it. I belong two a group somewhere in between these groups of people. No matter who you are, understanding compounding effect is important. Avoiding common delusions is important, too. Three most common delusions that I have confronted are:

  1. Average speed of compounding delusion
  2. Exponential growth can last forever delusion
  3. 1 percent each day delusion

Average speed of compounding delusion

When people talk about compounding, they usually think that parameters like growth of investment returns, growth rates of economies, growth of infected diseases and other social contagions compound with an average speed. Nature is more consistent with the averages. Social parameters don´t change according to average growth rate of compounding effect in the short run. In the long run, differences between the average growth rate and annual differences between the annual growth rate and annual growth rate in the shorter run stabilize. In the long run, we are all dead. Personal parameters and their shorter annual speeds of growth are more important for most people. Lets think about shorter time frames.

Even many professional investors or so-called ”experts” claim that annual real investment returns in stock indices will be about seven percent. What they often forget to say is that this annual compounding rate depends on the prices you pay. Assuming this seven percent without understanding how expensive stocks are right now, you are most often about to get worse annual returns. The reason for this is that most often stocks are a little bit more expensive they should be. Economic models usually expect that economies grow with more or less the same speed all the time. Economies have their own cycles in which the speed of growth varies all the time. In some years growth is fast and sometimes it is even negative. Most models the direction right in most years, but the problem is that the usefulness of being right is destroyed when these models are wrong.

Social contagions have the most variation in compounding speed. What happens is that most social contagions first have a slow speed of compounding. When these contagions reach their critical mass of ”infected” people, compounding rate starts climbing fast. It accelerates for a while, until compounding rate starts to decline. At some point rate can become negative. Many one hit wonders in business, music, and writing become forgotten after their short success periods. The biggest perils usually come after experiencing these accelerating compounding rates. Egos can grow too much without understanding these things.

Compounding lasts forever delusion

I have to quote Kenneth Boulding about this delusion: ”Anyone who believes exponential growth can go forever in a finite world is either a madman or economist.” The biggest reason for this is that humans can´t overcome the fact that everything in this planet depends on the energy. The processing of energy has inescapable and destructive effects on this planet. What this means is that the more energy we process the bigger the disastrous consequences like extreme natural phenomenons like storms this processing will create. Economists don´t understand these physical limits of growth. They expect everything to last forever. Humans have been great in creating new, desruptive technologies, but world is in the point where compounding rates have to accelerate a bit all the time for a long period of time, unless this happens, and it won´t be possible. Some or most societies will eventually collapse. I have no idea when this will happen. I am not sure if anyone has an answer for this question.

1 percent each day delusion

”Get 1 percent better each day and you will end up with results that are nearly 37 times better after one year” This quote is from James Clear´s book Atomic Habits. I like the book, but getting one percent better each day delusion is becoming more popular all the time. It is complete bullshit. Just think about it independently for few seconds and you realize this growth rate is not even close to reality. Can you run 37 times faster or write 37 times better after a year of improving 1 percent each day? No you won´t. Do you get better after trying to improve one percent each day? Yes you will. If you start practicing from zero, you can probably become 1 percent better after one day. After you have practiced for a month, your compounding rate is not even close to 1 percent a day. In the first days, the improvements are probably the biggest. After a while, your compounding rate diminishes, until you reach a point where you won´t get better at all. When this happens, you have to practice for a while before getting better. After this practice, your improvement accelerates for a moment until it starts diminishing again. This cycle ends at some point and your decline will start. This happens to everyone, no matter what they do.

I have decided to start publishing texts only once in two weeks for a while. I have a diminished motivation to write. This will probably last until my summer break.

-TT

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Cities and power laws

Cities are perhaps the greatest human-made constructs. They have their good and bad characteristics. The bigger the cities, the more their good and bad characteristics strengthen their effects on people. Cities have their physical lifelines. Physical flows of people, resources, and energy combined compose the metabolism of the cities. Cities look and feel different, but power laws have an effect on them. These scaling relationships have hidden regularities. Ideas, such as patents and businesses in cities follow power laws too. If you are not familiar with power laws, you can learn about them here.

Power laws in cities are similar around the world

Power laws have the same scales around the world. For example, the amount of people living in the second biggest city in a country has about half the amount of people of the biggest city. And the third biggest city has about one third of the people of the biggest city. Cities have national characteristics. The scale of different metrics depend on the culture, economy, and individuality of each national system. Scaling laws within the countries are similar, but the physical and mental flows differ between countries. If the biggest city in one country has 10 million people and the second biggest city has 5 million, then the biggest city in another country has 4 million people and the second biggest city has 2 million people.

15 percent rule

Cities have different power law scales, but the most common and important exponent is 0.85 or 1.15 depending on which parameter is scaled. What 0.85 exponent means is that when the size of the city doubles you need 15 percent less of something else per capita to achieve a certain goal. 1.15 means that you will get 15 percent more of something per capita when the city size doubles. These exponents are common in the flow of resources and energy in cities. They are also common in social networks. When the city size quadruples, it needs only about 72 percent of something per capita and gets about 32 percent more of something per capita. Thus, the bigger the city the more efficient it becomes. Getting something more or less per capita isn´t always a bad or a good thing.

Bigger cities need less infrastructure per capita than smaller cities. Physical flows like roads, water and gas lines, and electrical networks all scale to 0.85. A city with 2 million people needs only 185 percent of the infrastructure compared to a city with million people. The reason for this is that the end users don´t have to build everything only to themselves. For example, gasoline stations need less space because the economy of scale have an effect on it. Gasoline stations can have bigger gas supplies in a city because they have more potential customers living in the same area. Therefore, you need smaller amount of them. Most of the physical infrastructure follow this double the size and need 15 percent less resources per capita rule around the world. At least in places from where you can find official statistics about these parameters.

When the city size doubles, it produces 15 percent higher wages, more patents, more crimes, and more sexually transmitted diseases per capita. Most socioeconomic parameters follow this rule, including the speed of walking. These scaling laws make cities more efficient and people more productive in them. They also bring unwanted consequences, but most people in cities have better lives because of them. The best way to create greater nations is to enable the growth of their cities. Of course, nations should also focus on limiting the bad consequences of growing cities before they grow too big. The glorious past of the cities won´t guarantee glorious future for them. The latter is just more probable consequence.

Some parameters don´t follow the 15 percent rule

There are some parameters that have a scaling exponent of close to one like the number of houses, and jobs per capita. Doubling the city size also doubles the amount of businesses, too. The diversity of the businesses stay pretty much the same. New kinds of businesses increases only in 5 percent when the city size doubles. What happens is that when some businesses become successes in a city, people living in it establishes new businesses that support the success stories. There are many other power law exponents concerning on cities. Lets forget them, at least for now.

There are limits to growth for cities. They don´t grow forever. When the maintenance costs in cities become too large, the growth stops. Maybe the biggest bottlenecks for growth of the cities come from energy supplies. Growing cities need more energy. If the supply of energy can´t move as fast as the need for energy grows, growth will eventually stop. It also stops when the amount of people wanting to move to a city diminishes.

Understanding power laws is important if you you want to understand the world. Power laws are more common than most people think. You can learn more about them from the book Scale, by Geoffrey West. I recommend you to read it.

-TT