A classic Mark Twain quote that I love, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so” contains in it a transcendent kind of truth.
The world we live in is a place of chaos and uncertainty regulated by our mental models of it. Our mental models are the real space we occupy. Two people can live in the exact same geographical location but are separated apart by endless oceans when it comes to how they perceive the world.
To be able to function properly, we need to update our mental models regularly, accommodating the changes around us. It’s this flexibility that allows us to be useful human beings to our societies.
However, while it’s easy enough to make small changes to our mental model when it comes to adjusting minute details in work or in our personal life, it’s infinitely more difficult to do so when it comes to our grand models.
Our grand models tell us about how the world is, and more importantly, how we ought to behave in the world. When something disrupts our grand model, all the other pieces seem to fall apart. Naturally, we’ll try our best to keep our grand models intact., even if it comes at the expense of our most valuable asset, time.
For this reason, it’s unwise to engage in argumentation with people about their grand models. I used to be oblivious to the implications of my arguments with people in the past, I used to see them as no more than opportunities to engage in an intellectual exercise, a game of wits, and nothing more. Afterall, how could anyone of us be so sure that our grand models are true?
But the story is deeper than that.
When we commit to a plan that will guide our behaviour for any length of time, such as a job or a relationship, we must do everything we can to maintain a certain level of coherence. Otherwise, life will stop moving forward, and we become perpetually stuck in a state of analysis paralysis.
However, it’s all too important to make sure to be aware of exactly what we’re getting ourselves into. The details, such as short-term pleasure and reward can only keep us going for so long before we start questioning the very roots of our commitment.
Why are we doing this job? Why are we in this relationship? What are the things that we need to believe to keep us involved and engaged and attentive?
And so, as a rule, the longer people are engaged in a certain way of life, the more difficult it is for them to track back, to rethink the very foundations they are resting upon.
It’s not just people who are old and set in their ways that are susceptible to find it difficult to rethink their foundations, it can start happening at a very young age. What it comes down really, is responsibility.
The more people depend on you, the less you’re inclined to update your grand model, and the more likely it is that you’ll justify your thinking with sunk costs. The thought process might go like this “I can’t just decide to re-evaluate how I think the world is, or how I should be acting towards others, that’ll just paralyze me, I’m in way too deep. Too many people depend on me, everything is on the line, my happiness, my future, my self-respect. Besides, I’ve already spent so much time doing this, how can I just get up and quit? What the hell am I going to do?”
The trouble, of course, with that kind of thinking is that it fails to achieve the exact objective it tries so desperately to protect, practicality. The longer you continue to live in discordance with how you truly are, or how you truly see the world. The longer you try to deceive yourself, the more difficult it will be to achieve any practical benefit at all
Your life turns into a hellish game where you become your own malevolent, crude dictator, forcing yourself to ignore everything you’ve learned, in service of a fake ideal that you no longer want.
Life becomes absurd, and in the words of Orwell in 1984, the grand mental models of your life mutate into something similar to the haunting slogans “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength;”