The Life-Changing Magic of Compounding Knowledge

The Building Blocks: Mental Models & Chunks

Now that we have our bedrock foundations of first principles in place, we can build up our expertise by leveraging a closely related concept.

Working memory in your prefrontal cortex is very limited — it can only hold about 4 concepts at any one time. You can think of each of these concepts as “chunks”.

Definition — A chunk is a network of neurons that are accustomed to firing together so you can think a thought or perform an action smoothly and effectively.

You can learn more about how this works in a previous post:

If you create mental models then each of these “subroutines” can become a concept in memory — so the more sophisticated these become the more complex mental tasks you can complete in any given time

Experts are defined by the range of mental models they have created and have stored in long term memory

An example is playing golf, learning a language or playing an instrument. You can break all of these skills down to first principles and then combine them together.

By breaking information into groups of 3–5, you make it easier for your brain to remember information.

All polymaths and expert learners know that knowledge is based on creating sophisticated neural chunks that can be accessed and built upon at will.

Polymath — Naval Ravikant. Net worth: $ 2.2 Billion. Credit:

So this is the bottom-up chunking process, where practice and repetition can help you both build and strengthen each chunk, so you can easily access it whenever you need to.

But there’s also top down big-picture process that allows you to see what you’re learning and where it fits in. Both processes are vital in gaining mastery over the material.

Context is where bottom up and top down learning meet.

To become a truly creative master of the material you’re learning you will need to leverage both the bottom-up chunking and the top-down approach all the while keeping the context in view.

Key #3 — Build ever more complex chunks to create expertise

Image Credit: Capable Men

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