The Great Mental Models, Volume 2 | Shane Parrish

Summary of: The Great Mental Models, Volume 2: Physics, Chemistry and Biology
By: Shane Parrish


Embark on a fascinating journey through the realms of physics, chemistry, and biology and discover the powerful concepts that shape our lives and thinking. ‘The Great Mental Models, Volume 2’ by Shane Parrish reveals key insights, such as the influence of societal mass on change, the survival and adaptability of useful things, the concept of reciprocity, and the formation of human hierarchies. Dive into this summary to unravel the mysteries behind societal responses to absinthe and lead, the power of catalysts, and the evolution of languages. Learn through engaging examples and inspire the way you think about the world around you.

The Power of Societal Mass

In the early 1900s, absinthe was campaigned against and banned for its supposed harmful effects, while lead, a toxic metal present in various products, was ignored and still used despite clear evidence of its dangers. This can be explained by the concept of inertia, where substances with high societal mass require more force to change. Lead had been used for a long time and getting rid of it meant changing everything, while absinthe was a lightweight that hadn’t been around long and could easily be replaced by other liquors. The lesson is that when it comes to social change, mass matters.

Natural Selection and the Evolution of Languages

The principles of natural selection apply not only to the animal world but also to cultural “organisms” like language. Latin, for instance, became the lingua franca of the Roman empire due to its usefulness in trade and governance. However, as the empire fell, Latin retreated to a few niches and was replaced by simpler offshoots like Portuguese and Spanish. The evolution of language mirrors the evolution of species, as useful traits get passed on from generation to generation and less useful ones die out.

In the animal world, natural selection favors traits that enable survival, such as speed in the case of zebras. Fast zebras live longer and are more likely to reproduce, passing on their advantageous trait. This tendency towards nonrandom elimination is also visible in the evolution of language. Latin, which was once the dominant language of Europe due to its usefulness in trade and governance, has retreated to a few niches since the fall of the Roman empire. Its simpler offshoots like Portuguese and Spanish have taken its place and become more widespread due to their ease of learning and usefulness in everyday life.

The evolution of language is a reflection of the process of natural selection, as useful traits get passed on from generation to generation while less useful ones die out. This principle applies not only to the animal world but also to cultural “organisms” like language. It teaches us that in order to survive and thrive, we must adapt to changing circumstances and embrace traits that are useful in our environment.

Adaptability in Evolution and War

The story of the peppered moth is a perfect example of how environmental adaptability is key to evolution. This concept also applies to human history, specifically to the fall of France in World War II. The country’s failure to adapt to a changing military landscape and the German’s adoption of a new strategic approach led to their defeat. The lesson here is clear: the ability to adapt to changing circumstances is crucial in both biological and societal evolution.

Catalysts in Historical Change

A rat carrying fleas infected with a deadly bacteria led to the spread of the Black Death in 14th century Europe, resulting in a significant drop in population. The resulting impact was lower rent, higher wages, and a spike in demand for consumer goods. This led to an economic and cultural rebirth, or the Renaissance. The Black Death acted as a catalyst for these changes. Catalysts, whether chemical or social, accelerate change. The printing press, for example, played a critical role in the spread of information during the Renaissance.

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