The Scientific Method: The Mother of All Mental Models

08.03.2019 |

Episode #2 of the course Mental models: How to make better decisions by John Robin


Welcome back!

Have you decided that the best way to start your day is with a new Highbrow lesson? What a great mental model to work with!

There are many mental models and much has been written about them. Today, we are going to focus on a mental model that’s at the heart of each one: the Scientific Method.


What Is the Scientific Method and Why Is It True?

Do you believe in science? The importance of basing speculation on evidence? Testing results and sticking with the best?

You’re under the sway of the scientific method.

This mental model became the heartbeat of the Renaissance, then the Enlightenment, and pioneered the scientific revolution, then the technological revolution. It built our modern world. Without it, you wouldn’t be reading this course right now.

It’s simple: If something is true, then I should be able to design an experiment that tests it out, and repeatedly get the results that support it.

Take the example of gravity.

Do all objects fall to the ground at the same speed? Curious pioneers wondered this more than 500 years ago and conducted experiments. Every single time, objects fell with a constant acceleration. They speculated that maybe there is a force that acts on all objects, pulling them toward the earth. Using this speculation, they designed further experiments to test and better understand it.

Over time, a mental model developed: A force called gravity, created by the mass of the earth, pulls objects toward the center of the planet.

And this is just one of many mental models that came from using the scientific method as a mental model. You could think of the scientific method as the mother of all mental models because with it, we learned that how we think about reality might not be right, but if we accept that, then we can test out other possibilities and use the results to close in on the truth. With this mental model, we admit the one thing that gives us the power to change our lives: We don’t know what we don’t know.

Only from this place of admitted uncertainty can we actually start learning the truth.


Applying the Scientific Method

The Scientific Method is a model that might seem obvious, but that’s how mental models work. It’s obvious because it’s so commonly used and has led to specific results that make it stand out as far better by comparison.

Over time, we abandon old mental models for better ones. It’s exactly like what happens when you buy a new computer.

You might have a computer from the 1980s with a vacuum tube screen in storage in the basement (I still do). You might look at that and wonder how you ever got by on it.

But you didn’t just jump from that computer to what you’re using now. You kept getting new computers that worked a little better than the previous ones, until you now have one that works so well, the first ones seem ridiculous in comparison.

I mean, who has time to take a carriage to work? Who works by candlelight? Wouldn’t that hurt the eyes? Who spends all day in the garden growing food and tilling soil? Wouldn’t they get bored?

The scientific method has not just revolutionized our world, it has revolutionized what we think of our daily lives. I start with this because it’s the scientific method that we’re going to use as we learn to improve our decisions.

Take any mental model that’s creating results. Now, let’s put it through the scientific method.

If it’s worth keeping, you can test out the results. Based on those results, you can improve your mental models. You can innovate your decisions. There is no end to innovation.



The scientific method is one of many mental models, but it’s the mother of all of them because it’s the very thing we use to explore the mental models that define our thinking and our decisions and how we can improve by testing and refining.


Step 1: Take one of the morning routines you came up with yesterday, and try it out.

Step 2: Take notes on how you feel, what effects it has, and what you think its purpose is.

Step 3: Repeatedly use this morning routine over the next few days. If you make changes, follow Step 2 and record how you feel, the effects, and the purpose. Make it your goal to innovate, and continually improve this until you discover a morning startup that works.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about another mental model that’s almost as important: the Pareto Principle.


Recommended book

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari


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