Excerpt: Folding 0.7: Read-Off Versus Inference

(Go back to the main product page.) Read-Off Versus Inference

Mental models are effortlessly part of your ongoing thinking, all the time. Though, isolating and experiencing mental models directly takes some practice. It can feel unnatural and counterintuitive at first.

If someone asks you “what you think,” there is a tendency to start thinking about what you think. “Well, my opinion is sort of this, but I always try to remember to take these things into account, and there was this one time…” You might call that inference.

In contrast, to “look” directly at a mental model, you perform an action that I am calling read-off. I’m calling it read-off because, while it’s not a perfect analogy, read-off is more like looking at the time on your watch or looking at the speedometer on your car. It’s fast and direct, and, in some sense, the information you want is right there, on the surface, for the taking.

Now, getting a read, looking at your models, isn’t quite as simple as “read-off” sounds. It can be “right there,” but there is a bit of a “pinning it down” sense, getting it to stick and reveal itself. But, it’s worth emphasizing that this “struggle” has a very non-adversarial feel:

With felt meaning, it can sometimes feel like you’re “hurting” the felt meaning if you push it too hard. Like, it wants to go away or it’s upset with you. Felt models feel more robust, like they can take more abuse and more prodding without getting hurt or going away. They just unapologetically are, though, as we’ll see, you might be embarrassed by their simplicity when you look at them. In fact, there are three challenges to working with mental models, and embarrassment is the first one we’ll cover.

Before we get into these challenges, I want to talk a little bit more about the action of read-off, itself.

First, let’s talk about felt meaning, again, to compare and contrast. In your experience of felt meaning, you may have noticed that felt meaning is a bit more “pressure-y,” a bit more towards the front of your face and maybe a bit more in your chest, or, at least, it’s sometimes accompanied by that. Experiencing it may have a sense of precision, but it also may alternate with a softer feel. And, it’s slower, or, at least, even if you take quick glances, it can evolve more slowly in between glances.

Felt modeling feels like you’re casting your attention more like a bit up and back in your head, a bit like look at the back of your eyeballs or the back of your skull. It’s often accompanied by faint quasi-imagery, indistinct, colorless, almost visual experience. This isn’t the same thing as the felt modeling itself, but they can arise together—you’re probably familiar with this quasi-imagery experience. And, if you can experience that, you’re on the right track.

To get your attention to go in the right way, you might (with words, then wordlessly) ask, “What do I really think with this?” Or, “What’s really going on with this?” But, be careful to not let your attention get caught by the experience of the question, and instead let the question direct your attention away from the question and to the right place.

In the next section, we’ll cover the challenges of experiencing felt modeling, and this will give more clues about what it’s like and how to experience it directly.

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