How do you know you’re right? Do you ever question your thinking on an issue? How often do you stick to thoughts that were formed in a different context, with the information you had at the time? Understanding our mental models is a way of clearing the cobwebs in our mental storeroom and also a way of improving our reasoning.
Frameworks and mental models
We’re all biased. Our ability to conceptualize, analyze, and evaluate information is influenced by our culture, background, and education, among other factors.
Implicitly, we have assumptions that shape how we see implications and consequences and how we build our conclusions.
And yet, we usually don’t examine the process by which we think what we think. Examining our mental framework can help us improve our reasoning and make better decisions.
A framework is a structure that we can build on. It gives us a foundation instead of having to think from scratch. By structure, I mean a certain set of rules, ideas, and assumptions that we use to deal with problems or make decisions. On top of this structure, we have our mental models.
A mental model is a lens, a representation of how something works It shapes what we think and how we understand. It also shapes the connections and possibilities we see.
For example, the scientific method is a mental model. It involves observing, asking questions, formulating hypotheses, testing those hypotheses by conducting experiments, and refining or discarding hypotheses based on the results. Although the process of inquiry may change, the underlying process is the same from one field to another.
We use mental models to simplify complexity, to consider some things more relevant than others, or to determine how to approach a challenge. Being able to switch between different mental models is key to developing our critical thinking. It’s like having multiple lenses and perspectives when approaching problems.
Develop other lenses
Expanding our set of mental models is something everyone needs to work on. We all have some favorite mental models that we use by default and that dominate our thinking.
The more you master a mental model, the more likely you are to get stuck. As the saying goes, to a hammer, everything is a nail.
All perspectives contain some truth, but none contains the whole truth.
In school, we’re taught to compartmentalize knowledge into silos. But to develop better thinking, we must become silo-free thinkers. In reality, information is not divided into defined categories. So, we don’t just need to develop new mental models; we also need to understand the connections between them.
Improving our critical thinking means being able to expand our perspectives on the world by accepting the fact that no matter how certain we are about something, we’re only half right at best.