On Frames, AKA Lenses AKA Models

This guy I found recently on twitter loves to talk about frames. In essence, frames are how we perceive the world around us – we can modify our own perception of the world and others’ perception as well to effect various outcomes, such as increase visibility on an issue, increase sales, etc. I bring this up because I’ve also been thinking about the world in this frame – except my preferred nomenclature is the model (like a scientific model), or a lens with which we perceive the world (rose colored glasses).

There’s a well known saying regarding models: “All models are wrong, but some are useful”. What does this mean? Well, let’s go back to the purpose of a model when used in our science classes: a model is a simplified break down of certain interactions. By certain interactions, I mean the frame of reference for what is being modeled. This is kind of vague, but it’s hard to be more concrete because the frame of reference for what is being modeled can vary greatly. Here’s the prototypical example: Classical mechanics. Classical mechanics is a model taught in physics to describe the general principle of motion of physical objects. It’s not an overarching explanation for how the world works – it’s more of a simplified description of what is happening when things are moving. When looking at the world only from the perspective of objects in motion, we can apply the model of classical mechanics to predict the outcomes of movement. In the same way that we use this model to understand and predict how objects are moving, we can pick up and apply other models to other aspects of life to effect various outcomes.

How does generalize to the rest of our lives? We can look at models as tools with which to understand aspects of the world, or even manipulate it in limited ways – if we apply the calculations of physical mechanics, we can possibly predict the movement of large physical objects – say, if you wanted to build something the scale of the pyramids. Doing the upfront work of understanding how to move these objects efficiently could save you a lot of manpower. However, these models of the world are meant to be interchangeable – after all, “all models are wrong”. It doesn’t seem to make sense to take one model and try to rigidly apply that to all aspects of the world around you. For example, here are some common mental models for perceiving the world:

Survival of the fittest – similar to the law of the jungle. It’s a world where ultimately might makes right – if you hold more power (physically, fiscally, socially), ultimately you are in the right.

The rule of law – stolen directly from Better Call Saul: “The rule of law – the idea that no matter who you are, your actions have consequences.”

The red pill – this one is popular in the “manosphere”. The idea that the modern world itself is a poison that has destroyed the social fabric – Women have been given inequitable amounts of power in modern society and men have been toppled from their natural place in the food chain, ultimately leading to the destruction of society.

Let’s look at the limitations of each model:

Survival of the fittest – does that apply in a family setting? Is this how you should treat your siblings, your cousins, and your aunts and uncles? In the case of familial relations, it might not make sense to apply this model. Having said that, maybe the power dynamics of your family is the exception, Everyone’s different.

Rule of law – is the rule of law always equitably applied? The assumption behind upholding the rule of law is that the laws themselves are justified. In the case laws against homosexuality, is it really just to apply those laws? They may apply to everyone, but they target a specific group of individuals.

Red pill – I leave this as an exercise for the reader. Come to your own conclusions as to why this worldview is limiting! Even better, try to come up with perspectives in which this model might be useful!

Ultimately, models are only as useful as the contexts in which they are applied. They may end up limiting you socially – see the example of the red pill. Is it sustainable to live a life thinking all relationships are transactional in nature? Ultimately, you need to decide for yourself. But limiting yourself to one model in which to view the world is can bind you like a chain. Having said that, sometimes the limitations also give way to greater freedom of expression – having restrictions can sometimes do wonder for your creativity, after all. Think of how much work you can get done 5 minutes before a paper is due, compared to having unlimited time to work on your creative endeavors freely. The effect depends entirely on how the individual uses it and how suitable the model works for them.

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