Ethan Fast

More on Coderacy and Mental Models

10 March, 2012 -- Menlo Park, CA

Francis Fukuyama speaks of mental models.

His latest book, The Origins of Political Order1, delves into prehuman history and attempts to explain the increasing growth and complexity of human social structure and organization. In its earliest chapters, I was excited to see the book engage in a brief discussion of human cognitive architecture — including cognitive biases — which Fukuyama leverages against his understanding of human social practice. But Fukuyama also suggests something that, while obvious, I hadn’t fully considered.

He says that language is the machinery by which mental models are constructed. As human language evolved, our species developed more complex and predictive models, which we then applied successfully to our environment. It’s a rather obvious point, but also a powerful one when you acknowledge it explicitly.

Once you accept that humans use language to model their environment, it becomes very hard to disagree with the point I make in Programming, Education, and Rationality. Coderacy2 encourages rational thought because a programming language, like mathematical formalism, is just a different kind of language. Codearcy augments the mental language we use to build models of the world, and does so quite powerfully.

Human languages are ambiguous. This is a great strength when it comes to artistic expression, but not one without tradeoffs. Ambiguous models are bad models3 — in fact, they aren’t really models at all, in the scientific sense. So the rationalist is well-served by a mental framework which allows them to construct unambiguous and consistent mental models. Coderacy helps provide this framework.

One you’re coderate, you begin to think in terms of code, algorithms and processes. Code doesn’t allow for ambiguity, or sanction those wonderful cracks which render the English language open to interpretation and modern literary criticism. Coderacy enables the sort of unambiguous language that a truly predictive model requires. So here’s the three step plan:

Become coderate, build a better mental model, and rule the world4.

  1. A wonderful book so far, here’s an amazon link. I’m actually listening to it on audible. The narrator is excellent, the same guy who does Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun

  2. The ability to program computers. See this post

  3. True at least for the colloquial meaning of “ambiguity”. Someone may well have constructed a formalism which they choose to call an “ambiguous model.” This isn’t what I mean. 

  4. The less wrong community has discussed this, I think, with varying degrees of seriousness.