Refraction Thinking

Written by 
Nick Milo


Nick Milo

Nick Milo has spent the last 15 years harnessing the power of digital notes to achieve remarkable feats. He's used digital notes as a tool to calm his thoughts and gain a clearer understanding of the world around him.

Refraction is "the turning or bending of any wave, such as a light or sound wave, when it passes from one medium into another of different optical density."

It turns out that, as we think, we can apply to principles of refraction. Refraction thinking is "thinking about ONE thing, through the lens of ANOTHER thing."

Applying "refraction" to our thinking is why "mental models" are so effective: they allow us to see the world in a different way.

The term "mental model" grew to prominence as the great thinker Charlie Munger mentioned it in speeches—as he implored others to see patterns, think holistically, and essentially...connect the dots.

Munger and Warren Buffett were a formidable one-two punch in the financial industry. Hence, that term "mental models" is used excessively by the Wall Street financial types, which can make the word feel dirty to those outside of that hyper-aggressive world. It's no one's fault. But this is why severing the conflation between mental models and Wall Street is so important: using mental models is something we all do—and have done—long before the term was coined.

With this realization, I want you to see that mental models are nothing more than lenses through which we view stuff. That means anything—any thought, or person, or time, or place, or idea—can be a lens for you. That's why I prefer a truer and simpler word for these "concepts that enhance or compel our thinking".

Concepts. They are all just concepts.

Continue the essay: Concepts are prisms that bend the light around any thought.

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