Mechanics of Thinking

What separates the brightest minds from the rest of us, and how can we become better thinkers, problem-solvers, and decision-makers?

In this thread, we take the human mind apart into its most fundamental principles to see how it works. 

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“Mind” is a system for thinking. 

It’s the machine that takes input from your senses and produces thinking (thoughts, ideas, and concepts).

Those ideas help you to survive in the (modern) jungle. Besides basic survival, they help you get what you want out of life, whether financial freedom, fulfillment, or something else. 

Usually, between you and that thing you want, there is some kind of an obstacle, a problem that needs to be solved. To come up with solutions, we think, i.e., thinking is a problem-solving tool. It’s what separates us from other species and makes humans master problem-solvers.

How to solve problems? 

Problem-solving consists of making decisions and backing them up with action.

There are only two things that determine how your life turns out: luck and the quality of your decisions. In other words – you are your decisions.

How to make good decisions?

Humans have two decision-making systems. To make good decisions, you need to use the right decision-making system in the right situation.

System 1: Instinct

Useful for quick short-term decisions. It’s fast, emotional, and reactive. Most everyday activities (like driving, talking, eating, etc.) make heavy use of this system. It originates from older parts of the brain and consumes less energy, which is why our brains prefer it.

System 2: Reason

Useful for critical long-term decisions. It’s slow, conscious, and responding. We use it when calculating a complex math problem, exercising self-control, or performing any demanding task. It origins from the newer parts of the brain and consumes more energy.

We’re interested in System 2 and how to make the most out of it.

Optimizing the software in our heads

Our brains are not capable of processing all the information that they get through the senses. To handle all the incoming data, it creates (mental) models.

Mental models are simplified versions of how something works. They are the lenses we see things through. Everybody thinks in mental models even when they are not aware of it.

How to think like a genius?

The average mind has a small variety of mental models from few domains. That means the average mind has few different perspectives to see things from. Therefore it can make fewer connections between information and comes up with less insights.

People who we call geniuses use a lot of different mental models from various fields. That ables them to see things from different perspectives, make more connections between information and come up with more insights.

The more quality mental models you have, the better you will understand how things (the world) works. They will help you to make high-quality decisions, solve problems, and live a more thoughtful life.

Better models → Better thinking → Better decisions → Better outcomes → Better life

Where to find good mental models?

The most valuable mental models are the foundational parts of the biggest fields – biology, chemistry, physics, economics, mathematics, psychology, and philosophy. 

Besides that, there are thousands of smaller frameworks and mental models for niche situations.

The famous thinker and investor Naval Ravikant also has some recommendations of where to find useful mental models: “The best mental models I have found came through evolution, game theory, and Charlie Munger. Charlie Munger is Warren Buffett’s partner. Very good investor. He has tons and tons of great mental models. Author and trader Nassim Taleb has great mental models. Benjamin Franklin had great mental models. I basically load my head full of mental models.”

reInsight makes thinking with mental models easy.

Learn more on how it works or see our collection of interactive mental models.

tl;dr

  1. Mind is a system for thinking
  2. Thinking is a problem-solving tool
  3. Problem is an unanswered question
  4. Humans have two decisions making systems
  5. System one is instinct (fast, emotional)
  6. System two is reason (slow, logical)
  7. We create mental models to simplify complex things
  8. Average mind has few mental models thus fewer perspectives
  9. Geniuses have a lot of mental models thus many perspectives
  10. Better models = Better thinking = Better decisions = Better life

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