Update Your Model

InfinityI laughed when I read this phrase on Skip’s Power Point presentation:

“All models are false. However, some are useful.” Alan Kay

I spent years of my life reading books built upon the thought models of thinkers, consultants, physicists, mathematicians, artists, business people and spiritual thinkers. None of the models was true. Many contradicted other models. Models are only useful if they help us make sense of our days on this planet.

Culture is a thought model. Travel to another culture and you’ll spend some time being disoriented because you will have entered a different model for sense making. For instance, some cultures/models place the accent on the individual and others place it on the group. I come from a culture that celebrates the individual and my world was rocked in a culture that celebrates the group; the model was so different that I could not sense make anything and fell head long into “not knowing.” While stumbling about unable to make sense of the world, I saw my own cultural model for what it is: a useful model – not truth.

Art, in most of Western culture, is considered important if it breaks or disturbs the model. In most Eastern cultures art is considered important if it supports the model.  Neither is truth. Neither is right. Both are useful for sense making if you understand the model.

Language is a model. It is very useful model, wouldn’t you agree? Wade Davis is sounding an important alarm that is going mostly unnoticed: we are losing languages faster than species are going extinct. Each language lost is more than a lost collection of words; a language lost is an entire world lost. It is a mythology lost. A language lost is a way of seeing and engaging with the mystery that is lost. What is useful and unknowable (un-see-able) to other languages/models is lost forever.

Religion is a model. Science creates and constantly revises its models. Religion could learn a thing or two from science (and vice versa). Maps are models. For a terrific book on mind models, get Charles Hampden-Turner’s, Maps Of The Mind.

A study of history is a study of models that served as sense makers for a time but collapsed under the weight of updates. For instance, no explorer ever sailed off the edge of the world despite the unassailable model of the day. It turns out that the sun does not rotate around the earth though many people were hushed and crushed for going against the model of their day. Newton showed us that space and time were fixed and Einstein showed us that space and time are not only fluid but connected.

We get into trouble when we confuse our models with truth. No model is true. No model is right. This applies especially to the models that we carry within us: the mind models that lead us to believe that, “I can’t do it…” are false. My favorite model that is mistaken for truth shows up like this: “I’m not creative.” That is a model that is both false and not very useful. What might you need to do to reconsider your model and accept an update?

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

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3 Responses

  1. Wow, David, what a vast store of knowledge and wisdom from which you pull. Each day something new to tap my imagination and question my assumptions. ‘Model’ is another word for ‘story’, isn’t it. Love it! So glad you’re sharing.

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