The Field of Play (VI)

Some thoughts on the field of play, where thinking happens and understanding grows:

MEDIA


VI

Ideas seem fresh in the beginning like warm bread. They smell great, and we’re ready to butter. But sometimes fresh ideas fail. They sit too long, idle even for decades, 20, 30 years, and longer. At a certain point you have to call them stale, and bake a new loaf with better ingredients.

This idea has been around since the 1980’s, with real energy behind it since the late ‘90s:

“The industry went from 2D CAD to BIM. Everyone is so entrenched in existing tools and processes that it looks like we’ll need to wait for people to retire so a younger generation can put modern solutions into practice and advance their field. New guys don’t want a job working in 2D…”

Vienna Design Week 2011
Stale Bread Tables

Ideas like that could be used for something if we could make tables out of them.

I’m reminded of the Charles Sanders Pierce essay, How to Make Our Ideas ClearPopular Science Monthly 12 (January 1878), 286-302.

The first few lines of the essay:

“Whoever has looked into a modern treatise on logic of the common sort, will doubtless remember the two distinctions between clear and obscure conceptions, and between distinct and confused conceptions. They have lain in the books now for nigh two centuries, unimproved and unmodified, and are generally reckoned by logicians as among the gems of their doctrine.

A clear idea is defined as one which is so apprehended that it will be recognized wherever it is met with, and so that no other will be mistaken for it. If it fails of this clearness, it is said to be obscure.

This is rather a neat bit of philosophical terminology; yet, since it is clearness that they were defining, I wish the logicians had made their definition a little more plain…”

Let’s return to “plain bull“, The Field of Play (IV):

  1. we can’t understand real things, whole things (model)
  2. we must narrow to simplified essence (drawing) to understand real things

And, (2) makes no sense without (1), and (1) makes no sense without (2).

This is why we’re still talking about drawing. But, more importantly, with this simple recognition we’ve hit on something essential about the nature of thinking itself. Thinking (and understanding), not only involves, but essentially is, a bouncing back and forth between (1) and (2), a ping-ponging between things as they are, and simplified essential representations, between wide environmental whole, and the act of narrowing focus.

Between these is where thinking happens and understanding grows.

The industry didn’t “go from 2D CAD to BIM“. An industry committed to the replacement of drawing by modeling is missing the point and standing on ground undermined by basic conceptual error:

You cannot improve thinking (or understanding) — which is ping-ponging, between “drawing” and model, narrow and wide, focus and environment — by eliminating the narrowing focus of “drawing” in favor of an ever more complicated model.

The premise is entirely non-sensical and that is why the bread has been sitting uneaten and stale for decades now. And in fact the industry is not committed to this and cannot be.

A new generation, yes, wants to advance the professions. What’s holding them back is a stagnant software development industry committed to stale ideas.

New ideas are coming though, fortunately! Media will evolve, to help better develop and express thought and deliver better understanding of  the highly complex information environments involved in imagining and making complex things.

New forms of media are going to evolve, first of all, from recognition of some of the most basic mechanics of human thinking: its dependency on interplay, between wide and narrow, whole and focus.

Return to part 1: The Field of Play (I)

Go to Part 7: The Field of Play (VII)