Fuzzy Logic of Mental Models LO29420

From: Heidi and Dan Chay (chay@alaska.com)
Date: 10/31/02

Responding to Mental models and the 7Es LO29398

Hi Terje and friends,

Terje wrote:

>- - using the phrase "mental model" is reinforced by attention,
>publishability, social acceptance, grants etc.
>Does anybody have a mental model explanation for the use of the word
>"mental model" that would be more useful than this functional

Recently I have been working my way through John Sterman's book on systems
dynamics, "Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex
World." It is a wonderful mother lode of information on modeling, and it
is part of my context in which your question caught my attention.

My thinking takes off on a wild tangent from Terje's comments -- which had
stimulated in my mind again the question about whether or not "mental
models" exist.

So, I'm thinking...If a man plucks a hair from his full head of hair, does
that make him bald? At what point...? How many hairs would he have to
pluck before we could agree he is bald?

You may recognize where I'm going. Fuzzy logic.

I think few people on this list would dispute the usefulness of a
well-organized dynamic systems model of the sort one might build on Vensim
or Stella or iThink. These dynamic models (population models, business
production models, etc.) have potential even to present well in terms of
the 7Es, I'd say.

Clarifying my mental models, or another person's, seems to me akin to
detecting and representing what are often implicit "decision rules," "the
guiding policy" that yields a stream of decisions. I suppose the
discernable patterns of a "mental model" may be more fuzzy/gray than a
dynamic model I could build on Vensim. It may go no further than a causal
loop diagram or a collection of assumptions, either of which I suppose
could be useful...

Hmm... I may point to a map referring to "China," but is that China? Yes
and no. Is this hypothetical causal loop diagram a mental model? Yes and
no. It's the paradox of the whole in the part.

There is another aspect in Terje's question that tickles my fancy. That
has to do with the self-reference in the phrase "a mental model
explanation for the use of the word 'mental model'".

It reminds me of paradoxes of self reference like Russell's: the set of
all sets that are not members of themselves. One response to paradoxes of
self-reference is to try to define them out of existence. I make an
assumption and show that the assumption leads to contradiction or
absurdity, then go back and deny the assumption, "reductio ad absurdum".

Pretty soon I might be asking myself about the mental model of the mental
model of the mental model...and concluding, reductio ad absurdum, that
there are no sets, nor mental models.

Maybe, though, an important difficulty lies in the bivalent question "are
there mental models -- or not?" Instead of "A or not A," how about
"partly A and partly not A"?

This way I would avoid the embarrassing difficulty of my having plucked
most of the remaining hairs from my head, but feeling still I must
conclude (by law of the excluded middle) that I am not bald. That wouldn't
do. <G>

Does a fuzzy logic model of thinking about mental models make any sense to
any of you or add to the dialogue at all?


Dan Chay


"Heidi and Dan Chay" <chay@alaska.com>

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