Tag Archives: Models

What’s Your Model Of Reality?

A long time ago, in some basement laboratory, a bunch of physicists and mathematicians were trying to solve a particularly difficult problem. They were looking at some subatomic particles, and how they interacted with one other.

They had already figured out the math and the physics behind the interactions, and could accurately predict the behavior of two or three particles. In a closed system with five or ten particles bouncing around, it was pretty straightforward. The could use any number of statistical algorithms to figure out the motions of particles, say, x, y, and z, based on the motions of particles a, b, and c.

From that they could effectively extrapolate to the whole system. The only problem is that in nature, there is never a system with only ten or fifteen particles. There are systems with billions and billions of particles. When you go up to that same level, the same principles apply, but the sheer number of particles makes the calculations impossible. Even with a computer that is a billion times more powerful than any computer that can ever be invented, trying to calculate the motions of system with so many natural particles is impossible. (If you’ve ever wondered why they can never really predict the weather with any amount of scientific accuracy, this is the reason. There are just too many variables.)

Now this group of scientists was studying something called solid-state physics. This is where you have material that is really packed with particles. The particles don’t have very much room to move, so they are always getting in each other’s way, kind of like twenty people on an elevator. If the elevator stops on the fifth floor, and the person in the back needs to get off, then pretty much everybody has to move a little bit to accommodate them.

Same thing in solid-state particle physics. When one particle moves, just a little bit, it pretty much affects every other particle. These poor scientists were wracking their brains trying to figure out how to accurately predict the behavior of the system as a whole.

Then one guy had a brilliant idea. Why don’t they look at holes, instead of particles? In the elevator example, there are twenty people, and may enough space for one more person. So thinking of that empty space as a separate entity, you can reduce the math significantly if you only try and predict the movements of that empty space, rather than everybody else on the elevator.

So the scientists started looking at holes, instead of particles. And they gave holes the same properties that they normally give particles. Like weight, size, mass, density, spin, charge, etc. One of the cool things about scientists is that a value of zero is a perfectly acceptable value to give something. It is a number just like any other number. So they looked at a system with only few particles (holes) with zero mass, zero charge, zero spin and zero everything else they normally give to particles.

And lo behold, the math was much simpler, and it accurately predicted the behavior of the system. And solid-state physics was born. Solid-state physics is the underlying science behind all kinds of fascinating inventions that will help mankind for hundreds of years. To say solid-state physics is a significant development in human history would be a huge understatement.

And it was all based on a “model” of reality. They looked at a system, and figured out the easiest way to “frame” reality so they could predict it and utilize it the most. They ignored the traditional way of “looking at things the way they really are,” and came up with their own model. It didn’t matter one bit that they were looking at imaginary “holes” moving around in a space.

It’s been said that a musical equivalent would be to write a piece of music by ignoring the notes, and focusing only on the spaces between them.

The moral of the story? Reality is a finicky thing. You don’t necessarily have to buy into everybody else’s’ interpretation, or model of reality. You are allowed to observe things, give them whatever meaning you want, and see how that works out for you.

You ask a girl out, and she rejects you. Have you been rejected, or did you only meet a girl that has bad taste? You try a business venture and it consistently loses money. Did you fail in business, or did you find a way to practice and improve your skills so you’ll be better in the next venture? Did that person cut you off in traffic because they are an evil person with no manners, or are they suffering significant emotional pressures and are at their wits end?

Labels you give to reality can be helpful, or beneficial. They can make it easier for you to get what you want, identifying learning opportunities and resources, or they can make it difficult, only identifying obstacles and problems.

When you realize that you have complete control over how you label things, you’ll be surprised how many opportunities open up for you.

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