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Three Filters Needed to Think Through Problems

Three Filters Needed to Think Through Problems
The ecologist Garrett Hardin explores the three filters (Literacy, Numeracy, and Ecolacy) that help us interpret reality, avoid folly, and exploit unrecognized simplicity. Let's take a look.


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Andy Benoit

"Most geniuses—especially those who lead others—prosper not by deconstructing intricate complexities but by exploiting unrecognized simplicities."

Andy Benoit


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The core to the mental models approach

The core to the mental models approach

When we're don't have any expertise in a domain, most of the time the chosen approach the one that helps you avoid stupidity.

We don't have to be geniuses in every domain, but we have to be able to understand the big ideas of most disciplines and try to avoid fooling ourselves.



The goal of mental filters

It is to understand reality and human nature as it really is, without premature, impulsive judgment.

Mental filters help you understand reality by improving your capacity to analyze the statements of experts, promoters, and persuaders of all kinds.



The literate filter

This is the first filter through which we should interpret reality.

Consider this question: "What do the words really mean?" Keep in mind the fact that Language is not just a way to communicate or interpret; language is a call to action or an inhibitor to action.



The numerate filter

It is translated into numerical fluency: our capacity to count, calculate, and balance values is important to understanding the statements of experts or evaluate any problem rationally.



The ecolacy filter

This filter assists us in understand the layers of unexpected consequences. The question to keep in mind here is: “And then what?”

We may really understand a statement, we may quantify the effects of a proposed solution, but it is very important to also consider the second layer of effects or beyond.





An externality affects someone without them agreeing to it. It can be positive or negative. Most externalities are small but can make a significant impact over time. Understanding the types of exte...

The First Law of Ecology

We can never do one thing. We should consider what the second-order consequences will be. When we interact with a system, we need to find out what the broader repercussions of our actions will be.

Negative Externalities

They can occur during the production or consumption of a service or goods. Calling something a negative externality can be a way of avoiding responsibility.

If a factory pollutes nearby water supplies, it causes harm without added costs to the factory. The costs to society are high and are not reflected in the price of whatever the factory produces. Even if pollution is taxed, the harmful effects still remain.

5 more ideas

Questions about the meaning of life contain assumptions:

  • “What’s the meaning of life?” Assumes that there’s a single meaning.
  • “Does my life have meaning?” Assumes (or at least hints) at a “...

Problems of meaning=problems of insufficient value

Those who think life is meaningless feel that there is a gap between their expectations and reality: between the degree of value that life should have and the degree of value that it actually has. - Iddo Landau

To find meaning in life, we can either:

  1. Add more value: identify activities that are valuable to us  or we can remove activities that reduce value.
  2. Change our thinking: Perhaps our life already has sources of value, but we just aren’t looking at things in the right way. 

Lack of Willpower

It takes discipline and strength of character to effect a fundamental change in any of our ingrained habits, but once the momentum has been created, and the sense of satisfaction and well-be...

Poor Support Structure

Behind every successful person is a positive and reinforcing social structure.

Surround yourself with positive, reinforcing characters who want you to succeed and buy into your long-term happiness and fulfillment.

Unrealistic Expectations

If you are 50lbs overweight and give yourself five weeks to get ripped abs or tight buns, you are quite simply setting yourself up for failure.

This body is achievable, it isn't going to happen overnight, but if you set yourself a goal and motivate yourself it is achievable.