Up close and personal with the world

by dominicq1 min read25th Sep 20202 comments


RationalityWorld ModelingPractical

Explicitly building models of the world is often done through understanding the mechanics of how things work, the relations between them, causal effects and more. But I don't put enough emphasis on quantifying. I'm not talking about doing Fermi estimates because I do them and my rationalist(-adjacent) friends do them. There is a difference between Fermi-estimating quantities and knowing them from heart. I think there is value in the latter.

It is good to know, on an intuitive level, how a force of 100 newtons feels like. To have an intuitive grasp of how much a volt is, and how some number of amperes feels like. Take acceleration and velocity, for example. You have a very intuitive grasp of them because of the experience of driving and looking at the speedometer. The idea is to expand the same intuition to other units of measurement. You want to feel what the numbers mean. When you do this, you get very up close and personal to your model of the world. Things are not abstract, black boxes anymore.

Tech-savvy dads were right all along when they were impressed by some specific number related to fuel consumption, or torque, or clamping pressure, or whatever, and I failed for not being interested in what seemed like random numbers and units. I understood the mechanism and the underlying idea, wasn't that enough? But it wasn't, because I was not fluent, I did not own the model in my head. It didn't yet get that quality of ordinariness that I now seek.