Springingtiger's Blog


New Models, Rewriting Maps

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That which I believe today is not that which yesterday I was sure was true. There was a time when I believed in Father Christmas, but now he is no more than a myth, perhaps an archetypal benevolent divine figure, but I don’t expect him to bring me toys at Christmas. With the passage of time and the accumulation of experience and information our beliefs change, and when our beliefs change so does our world or, more accurately, our model of the world changes.

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The best model any one has is a logical accommodation of existing evidence from which one can predict the behaviour of their world. A good model is utilitarian, functional, if it doesn’t work it’s not a good model. If it is not supported by, and doesn’t explain the evidence, it is not a good model.

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Most of us have unconsciously adopted models of the world and, as the years have passed, changed these models equally unconsciously. Many of our models are not even good models, some are not only not supported by evidence, but actively deny it. However even a bad model is utilitarian if it helps us get through our day.

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What we do know is that our models change, and if we can change them unconsciously, we can change them deliberately. The steps of designing a model are firstly to observe and gather information, secondly to design a model that explains the information, thirdly to test the model. Unlike scientists who can run their calculations through a computer we have to test our models in real time by living them.

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Living in a model deliberately is different from doing it unconsciously, when we live deliberately we actively engage with the model, experimenting and tweaking it, deliberately changing and improving it. When we are aware of our model, we are aware that it is temporary, it will last as long as it is useful and then we can dispose of it.

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When we live in a model unconsciously, we believe it to be immutable truth. We can neither change it nor let it go. People will struggle to live in a model that does not work for them and deny all the evidence that contradicts it because they cannot see it is a model, but rather believe it to be integral to their identity.

Alfred Korzybski famously summed up our relationship to our models as, “The map is not the territory”  A model of the world is like a map, no more than a navigational tool. We no longer use old maps with blank spaces with the legend, “Here be dragons”; if we insist on clinging to our outdated models we may find we still have dragons of which to be afraid.

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