The Three Buckets of History

“Every statistician knows that a large, relevant sample size is their best friend. What are the three largest, most relevant sample sizes for identifying universal principles? Bucket number one is inorganic systems, which are 13.7 billion years in size. It’s all the laws of math and physics, the entire physical universe. Bucket number two is organic systems, 3.5 billion years of biology on Earth. And bucket number three is human history, you can pick your own number, I picked 20,000 years of recorded human behavior. Those are the three largest sample sizes we can access and the most relevant.” — Peter Kaufmann

The larger and more relevant the sample size, the more reliable the model based on it is. But the key to sample sizes is to look for them not just over space, but over time. You need to reach back into the past as far as you can to contribute to your sample. We have a tendency to think that how the world is, is how it always was. And so we get caught up validating our assumptions from what we find in the here and now. But the continents used to be pushed against each other, dinosaurs walked the planet for millions of years, and we are not the only hominid to evolve. Looking to the past can provide essential context for understanding where we are now.


*This is an excerpt from our book, The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts. Learn more about the book and how to get it here.