Models of Bloggers

by Kieran Healy on February 8, 2007

“Henry”: remarks that “my mental model of Tyler [Cowen] often sit[s] on my shoulder while I blog, making polite and well reasoned libertarian criticisms of my arguments.” This follows on from Tyler’s “own advice”: to his grad students:

bq. You have a model of me, a pretty good one, and you know what I will object to and what will delight me. The Phantom Tyler Cowen objects, in your head, before the real Tyler Cowen has much of a chance. That is why the real Tyler Cowen is sometimes so silent.

_My_ mental model of Tyler Cowen says, “This sounds like a rationalization to me.” Meanwhile, “Brad DeLong asks”:,

bq. Is Henry Farrell especially sane or especially insane?

for having a model of Tyler sitting on his shoulder making comments. My mental model of Brad DeLong says to my mental model of Tyler Cowen, “Why oh why are we ruled by this idiot?” My mental model of Eugene Volokh says, “This is much worth reading.” But my mental model of Orin Kerr replies, “My sense is that this is much ado about nothing.” My mental model of Bitch, Ph.D begins to object that she is not a brain on a stick before realizing that, being a mental model, in fact she is. Uniquely, my mental model of Dan Drezner has his own mental model of himself, which he refers to as “Ed.” Finally, my model of Cosma Shalizi has the unusual property of being smarter than I am. This ought to be impossible, but of course _I_ can’t understand its explanation of how this could be the case.

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Chrononautic Log 改 » Blog Archive » Mental
02.08.07 at 9:16 am



marcel 02.08.07 at 3:29 am

Sorry, but WTF?


Matt 02.08.07 at 3:37 am

My mental model of Harry had a largish beard- not as large as Marx’s, or as long and Brandom’s, but a large one. Quite a disapointment to have ones mental model be so wrong.


Aaron Swartz 02.08.07 at 3:49 am

Genius; this has to be the first piece of worthwhile metabloggery I’ve read in a long time.


radek 02.08.07 at 3:57 am

I’ll see your meta and raise you another:
So I had all these mental models of Tylers, Brads, etc. in my head including one mental model of Kieran. This post of Kieran’s makes me update the mental model of him that I had. But that means updating all the mental models of all the other bloggers. But since these bloggers have mental models of each other that means another round of iterative updating.
Does this process converge? I.e. is there a consistent set of mental models I can have that doesn’t include contradictory mental models of each other held by the various mental models?



"Q" the Enchanter 02.08.07 at 4:19 am

Is a mental model something that is both mental and a model?


Christopher M 02.08.07 at 5:05 am



abb1 02.08.07 at 7:47 am

Great, but sometimes perhaps y’all could also use a model of someone who is not a professor – your grocer or plumber or somethin’.


Chris Bertram 02.08.07 at 8:50 am

Naomi Campbell is both mental and a model.


agm 02.08.07 at 9:36 am

radek, you’d be updating your model of Kieran. Would that require you to update your own models of the other bloggers (as opposed to the sub-models of these other bloggers that are components of your model of Kieran)?


french swede the rootless vegetable 02.08.07 at 11:49 am

Obviously, he has to shoot himself in the mouth.

Oh, sorry… thought you said Tyler Durden


ajay 02.08.07 at 12:02 pm

My mental model of Bitch, Ph.D begins to object that she is not a brain on a stick before realizing that, being a mental model, in fact she is.

That’s not a very good mental model, then. The point of a model is to predict how the real thing would react – and the real BPhD would never realise that she was a brain on a stick, because she isn’t a brain on a stick. (I assume.) I suspect that your mental models have become sufficiently complex to achieve self-awareness, like something out of a superior episode of Star Trek.


Barry 02.08.07 at 12:25 pm

Hey MM’s! If you all get together and shout, you can make Kieran take you out for icecream!


Russell Arben Fox 02.08.07 at 1:10 pm

My mental model of John Holbo sits on my shoulder while I blog, saying “Longer.” And “Funnier.” Fulfilling the first piece of advice is always easy; but the next, much less so.


Matt McIrvin 02.08.07 at 1:19 pm

A mental model of Bob McManus and a mental model of Hilzoy sit on my shoulders dressed as a miniature devil and angel. They occasionally poke me, and the mental model of Bob McManus becomes talkative around 3 AM.


Jacob T. Levy 02.08.07 at 1:22 pm

My mental model of Drezner tries to get me to stop writing, either successfully by talking about the Red Sox, of unsuccessfully by pointing out that a movie starring a hot young actress is undoubtedly on television at the moment. I fear that his mental model of me tries to get him to stop working by talking about comic books.

What’s particularly striking about the Crooked Timber chorus on my left shoulder is the cacophony of accents. Every so often they’ll erupt into an outrageous volume of noise all at once; that will be my cue that there’s probably an important soccer or cricket or rugby match on.


John Holbo 02.08.07 at 1:27 pm

Nietzsche writes:

“Let the youthful soul look back on life with the question: what have you truly loved up to now, what has elevated your soul, what has mastered it and at the same time delighted it? Place these venerated objects blogs before you in a row, and perhaps they will yield for you, through their nature and their sequence, a law, the fundamental law of your true self. Compare these objects blogs, see how one complements, expands, surpasses, transfigures another, how they form a stepladder upon which you have climbed up to yourself as you are now; for your true nature lies, not hidden deep within you, but immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you normally take to be yourself. Your true educators bloggers and formative teachers bloggers reveal to you what the real raw material of your being blog is, something quite ineducable, yet in any case accessible only with difficulty, bound, paralyzed: your educators bloggers can be only your liberators.”

On the other hand, I’m not sure Tyler Cowen qualifies, although I did have a lovely lunch with him one afternoon.

I’d post this passage but I think I’ve blogged about it before, so I don’t want to presume.


John Holbo 02.08.07 at 1:28 pm

I’m glad I have infected your shoulder, Russell.


theCoach 02.08.07 at 1:55 pm

You all need more mental models of dsquared*. Although I suspect the models would have especially poor fidelity.

*Amusing to me: my mental picture of dsquared from way back was of a heavey set Michael Ledeen-looking guy.


Dan Simon 02.08.07 at 2:46 pm

I used to have mental models of people sitting on my shoulder, but the psychiatrist assured my parents that I’d eventually grow out of them, and sure enough, I did.


duncan 02.08.07 at 3:26 pm

To further Chris’s point, I believe Naomi Campbell is a mental model with especially poor fidelity.

I must confess, I knew that statistics and the social sciences involved a lot of modelling, but I clearly misunderstood what this consists of.


Russell Arben Fox 02.08.07 at 3:37 pm

I’m glad I have infected your shoulder, Russell.

Just please don’t spread.


radek 02.08.07 at 6:07 pm

abb1, I even have a mental model of the mental model that your mental model of your plumber has of myself. It ain’t good.


abb1 02.08.07 at 6:23 pm

Yeah, the plumber thing was stupid, I know.

But the Naomi Campbell joke in this thread was very good, I doubt you’ll top it, so give it up, man.


sidereal 02.08.07 at 7:19 pm

My mental model of myself has mental models, but I do not.


pedro 02.08.07 at 7:32 pm

My mental model of dsquared strikes is as intelligent as my mental model of Cosma Shalizi, but significantly more assertive.


bi 02.08.07 at 8:05 pm

I’ve found that whenever I need a mental model of someone — say, Fred Foobar — I can just ask myself the tried and proven question: “What Will Fred Foobar Do?” This allowed me to quickly build on-the-fly mental models of such celebrities as Jesus, Elron, and Hitler.


alkali 02.08.07 at 8:34 pm

I wish my mental model of Ted Barlow were still around to comment on this.


radek 02.08.07 at 8:57 pm

so give it up, man

Curses! Out joked once again! But I will be back!


Stuart 02.09.07 at 1:00 am

I suspect that your mental models have become sufficiently complex to achieve self-awareness, like something out of a superior episode of Star Trek.

Dont those only qualify as superior episodes if you can suspend your disbelief. Its hard to imagine the scenario where the designer of a starship asks, ‘Okay we need some entertainment facilities, what should we do – a pool table, darts?’. Project manager replies, ‘No, what we really need is something that runs the risk of bringing down the Federation, or at least the entire ship, every time someone steps into it.’


Neel Krishnaswami 02.09.07 at 1:29 am

30: the US government has tried to run warships using Microsoft Windows, with the predictable results.


Orin Kerr 02.09.07 at 2:39 am

The end of the universe is here! Abandon hope!

(No, not really, I just figured I would play against type.)


bitchphd 02.10.07 at 5:03 am

I suppose, literally speaking, Bitch PhD is as close to a brain on a stick as it’s possible to be, what with being a persona and all….


Rodney Dill 02.10.07 at 2:59 pm

“All models are wrong, but some models are useful”
–George P. E. Box


Dan Drezner 02.11.07 at 2:20 am

It would almost be worth having all of Kieran’s model bloggers acquire avatars at Second Life to see how we construct own mental models.



Timothy 02.12.07 at 12:20 am

I’ve also got a mental voice that is smarter than me. You are right, it shouldn’t be possible, it’s my brain that this mental foil is using but somehow it manages to point out mistakes that I didn’t notice, gaps in my thought processes. It’s also much more psychologically preceptive than me and often points out the various masks I use to hide me from myself. It’s a cynical bastard but it’s fond of me in a kind of patronising way.

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