Mental Model: The Supplementary Layer of Friction

Imagine that you live in a world where roads are frictionless.

You sit in your car, the wind blew and gave it a little push. Even though this force is negligibly small, you will start moving at a very slow speed.

After this, your car can travel beyond the expanse of the observable universe at the same speed. Though you might die of old age before you even make it out of your country. 🙃

car in space, tesla car in space, mental model of friction

You don’t have to worry about gas prices now. It’s all free energy. Congratulations, your car has infinite mileage.

As soon as the wind stops blowing, the force applied to your car is zero, and yet it will continue to move at a constant velocity until it crashes into a wall or something.

So it is fair to conclude that an object can move at a uniform speed without the application of a force on a frictionless surface.

When an object is moving at a uniform speed on a frictionless surface there are no forces acting on it in any direction.

Technically, in ideal conditions, the uniform speed of an object is self-explanatory of the fact that the force applied on that object is zero. Since Force = Mass x Acceleration and acceleration is nothing but change in speed per unit time. So we can say that:

F = M x (change in speed)/t

Since the vehicle is moving at a uniform speed, the change in speed is zero the wind stopped pushing your car.

F = M x (0)/tF = 0 Newton

In this experiment, the energy applied by wind is around 50J. To give you some perspective on how small that number is, imagine that it takes around 82000 Joules of energy to make a cup of coffee. Now imagine that for just 50 Joules, you’re getting infinite energy.

Okay, let’s get out of our bubble for a second. Unfortunately, in the real world, we have friction. And a force of 1N wouldn’t even move your car from an inch; in the real world, where we have friction, it’d take about 7000X more force just to overcome the frictional force.

Ideal, Physical, Real

Ideal, Physical, Real. Difference between an ideal world, the physical world and the real world with all the people in it.

You need zero force to maintain a uniform velocity in an ideal world. A moving object will keep moving at the same velocity unless a force is applied to stop it. Now remember this, an object moving at uniform velocity is still making progress, it is changing position with time.

In the physical world, you need to apply a force all the time to move at a uniform velocity. And to accelerate, i.e., to increase your speed with time, you need to increase the force as well.

However, here’s something that I’ve discovered recently. Reality has an additional dimension of friction. The friction of reality is so intense that it takes a constant force even to keep things the way they are. Things rot when left unattended.

Let’s understand the application of this mental model on various aspects of human life on a micro and macro scale.

The Eternal Loop of Struggle

Sisyphus. Albert Camus, french philosopher, perpetual struggle

If you are fit and healthy right now, it will take you consistent effort to stay that way. You cannot just work out one day and stay healthy forever.

You will need to hit the gym again the next day and the next day and the next day; else, your body will start to degenerate. It will begin to gain fat, your endurance level will start to fall, and you will become prone to a heart attack.

In the ideal world, inaction can cause progress.

In the real world, inaction keeps the object where it is.

However, in the matrix of reality, inactivity leads to degeneration. Things fall apart if they stop moving.

This is why it is so hard to get along with new habits — because you are new to the friction of that habit. Your mind/body takes time to get used to it.

That’s why it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.

Don’t let the friction of initial days hold you back. It’ll get easier. Nobody comes trained out of their mother’s womb, except, of course, if you are Abhimanyu.

This mental model is applicable to all facets of life, whether it’s personal finance, your mental health, or your relationship with others.

Now let’s see how it makes sense in the context of the growth of nations.

Why Some Countries Progress Faster Than Others

Before we discuss the macroeconomics of nations, let’s understand a few things about the force of friction.

The frictional force that a body experiences while moving over another object is directly proportional to:

  • the relative roughness between the two surfaces.
  • the weight of the moving body or, in more technical terms, the normal reaction5.

When these two things are clear, it’s no rocket science to understand that the force of friction a vehicle experiences increases as the number of passengers increases.

Now let’s keep this insight with you while I share snippets from this article on World Economic Forum’s website. From these excerpts, we will understand why some countries develop faster than others.

A hundred years ago, Argentina was amongst the seven wealthiest nations in the world but now ranks 43rd in terms of real per capita income. In 1950, Ghana’s per capita income was higher than that of South Korea; now, South Korean people are more than 11 times wealthier than the citizens of Ghana.

After reading a few articles and research papers by credible scholars, I have observed the same argument repeatedly. Countries that progress faster are able to pull that off because of generalized divergence i.e. they have a rich diversity of actively pursued professions.

Countries that have a greater variety of capabilities can make more diverse and complex goods, just as a Scrabble player who has more letters can generate more and longer words.

Think of different professions as different vehicles; the more people sit in a car, the slower it gets. And if all the people or a vast majority of them decide to sit in a very few cars, at one point they will stop moving. Some cars will move while others won’t. This creates a traffic jam — now nobody moves.

To make sure that all the vehicles are moving at their optimum speed and capacity, we need a balanced distribution of our citizens in those vehicles.

What Causes This Friction?

Humans are not creatures of rationale; we are emotional beings driven by our primate desires. We behave in complex and illogical ways. So when it comes to your individual lives, the additional layer of friction is created by your emotions and archetypes.

Some habits are hard to pursue because others are more leisurely, and humans are of rest and comfort in their natural state. Then there is the distraction of status and FOMO as well, everyone’s watching Witcher S2, and here you are missing out on it while reading this blog.

There are many aspects of human behavior that create this additional layer of friction. The list is truly endless.

When it comes to societies and networks of individuals, the friction is created merely by the existence of that network. In a year-old article, I shared how interconnected systems are more complex and unpredictable than others.

In an interconnected system, things that happen in your life matter a lot on the decisions of those around you. The control of your life is not entirely in your hand. But the only thing you can do to reduce this friction is to act as if you are.

Appreciate your patience and dedication to reading this long essay. I am glad that you made it to the end. Hope you learned something new that will equip you to be more persistent when the friction of reality is unbearable.

I have been running this newsletter for the last seventeen months, sharing the bits and pieces of my intellect with thousands of readers every week. If you want to support this newsletter, buy me a coffee.




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