Correct Models Are Bad

by deluks9171 min read4th Mar 20186 comments



Quick Summary:

We may think that correct mental models are always good to have, but the reality is that some correct models are useless or even harmful.

All models are simplifications of the world. Whenever we knowingly use a wrong model, we are aware of what the model doesn’t cover. The danger of using correct models is that we are more likely to apply the model without thinking about what’s been left out.

Some ways a correct model can be harmful:

1) The model is ineffective - Some correct models don’t seem to serve much purpose, so even though they are correct, it’s not really worth keeping them around. (ex: Calories In Calories Out)

2) The model is an obstacle to exploration - Once our brains have decided that a mental model is correct, we are unlikely to question the model. This can stunt our learning and personal growth. (ex: Initial research on overconfidence)

3) The model is socially or politically dangerous - Some correct models may even be harmful. These are especially dangerous for people who value truth and correctness, but are not politically savvy. (ex: Genetics research both today and in Soviet Russia)

4) The model is easy to misuse. (ex: p-values)

5) Consequences of misuse are severe - More bad news: even if a correct model is hard to misuse, it can still lead to bad outcomes! This happens when using the model wrongly is catastrophic. (ex: Immigration)