Finding a model, abandoning the model

An important step in the intellectual life is finding a model (or set of models) through which to consider ideas.

Another important step is reaching the point where you can let go of the model and focus on ideas without it.

At first we will certainly find our chosen model to be exciting, even exhilarating, when we look at the world through it. Letting go of (some portion of) the way we previously saw the world and replacing it with something we’ve judged to be superior is exhilarating. Beginning to practice seeing things in this new light is initially hard, but it is strangely, intensely enjoyable, somehow. Eventually everything fits together and we can respond to questions quickly, seemingly intelligently, and we feel like we’ve already at our young age solved problems that still perplex our elders.

We feel like we should be able to persuade the world. We might convince or influence a few people who are more ignorant and malleable, but mostly others will refuse to take us as seriously as we think we deserve, for a variety of reasons (but not necessarily for the reasons we think).

At some point, without even meaning to, if we’re lucky, we may find another model that seems to fit even better, possibly something extremely different from the first one. We might abandon, or half-abandon, the former, to focus entirely on mastering the latter, and that will, for a time, provide the same intense pleasure of clarity that we got before.

Maybe everything is economics. Maybe everything is mythology. Maybe everything is persuasion. Maybe everything is herd instinct. Maybe everything is science. Maybe everything is cognitive bias. Maybe everything is lust for power. There are lots of great and wondrous ways of making sense of the world. This list doesn’t begin to scratch the surface.

I don’t think we can really skip that step. It’s important, and valuable, and maybe just unavoidable. But I do think there’s a way past it. There’s something different on the other side, which many of us may never get to see. But it’s there.

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