Drawings Support Thought and Understanding

I was asked to comment on this.

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I know that for many years nowwe’ve lost count, right?  — has it been about 15 years now since this idea of ‘getting rid of drawings‘ started circulating?

It’s worthwhile to revisit this idea and ask, are we missing something here that matters? Have we made some assumptions that don’t hold up? Have we thought seriously about what drawings are, what they do, how they function, and how this is different from models? Have we asked in a serious way:

  • What is functionally unique about “drawing”?
  • What is functionally unique about “modeling”?

For 15 years, we’ve kind of assumed the desirability of replacing one with the other. But how can we have this goal (to replace drawings with models), if we skip over the part where we study what each of these things is, functionally?

I’ve thought about this, during and after many years of building elaborate digital building models and using them to (partially) automate sets of drawings.

I found that after a certain point in model development, which comes pretty early, the model reaches a level of complexity beyond which it becomes difficult to understand, even for those most familiar with the model, those creating it. Pretty early in model building, complexity starts to overwhelm our ability to grasp it, understand it.

As I build a model I’m always asking myself very basic questions, like:

  • Is it done yet?
  • What does that mean, ‘done’?
  • Is it ‘good enough’?
  • It’s ‘good enough’ in some places, not others…
  • OK, where is it good enough?
  • Can I make any sense of this model? Can I understand it in any meaningful way (beyond surface impressions)?

Given some time, and given some willingness to reflect on these questions, it becomes obvious that the articulation, or really actually, the assertion, that:

“the model is good enough, here, in this area, at this location“,

…that this assertion, in fact, is one of the essential functions of drawing. This is simply fundamental, among a small number of other fundamentals describing the medium of drawing, which together describe and define its essential purpose. Note that this fundamental assertion applies both today, since the advent of digital modeling computers and software, but that the assertion also, without doubt, predates silicon equipment. Spatial models always are held in the mind. Always have been, and still are. Drawing narrows down, focuses, to articulate something, somewhere, within a model (mental or digital). A drawing says:

“Here I’ve looked, and here I communicate something that matters in a way that can be understood.” And, “Here, I affirm or assert, that what should be shown here, is shown here, and that nothing that matters, here, is missing.”

But, we can state the functional meaning of “drawing” in an even simpler way:

To draw is simply to take a closer look. Drawing is the act, of taking a closer look.

Models are expansive, whole things, environments. They’re “wide”. Drawings on the other hand are “narrow”. They’re for taking a closer look, somewhere, for articulating something that matters, there.

This is an important point because it gets us to the last question above, that we need answered as we model:

  • Can I make any sense of this model? Can I understand it in any meaningful way (beyond superficially)?

If you’ve built models, you recognize what I’m talking about. This process of understanding complex things is something we all do, and we all recognize the difficulty of it, particularly as the difficulty increases as the scope and complexity of a model increases.

So how do we solve that? How do we understand things that are elaborate, large, complex?

The answer is we think. We think, to build up an understanding. But, what does that mean, to think? What is that? How does that happen, or, what’s happening when we think? Here then is the essential point:

When we think, we engage in a kind of back and forth, between wide and narrow, between the expansive whole, and the various acts of taking a closer look through narrowed focus, at various places within the whole.

These two distinct things (whole and focus) are THE constituent parts of thinking. From this, thinking happens, and understanding grows.

Understanding arises out of an interplay between:

  • the wide, expansive environment of a model, and
  • the various acts of narrowing down to take a closer look.

Ping ponging between those can be said to be the dynamic of thought, the process from which understanding develops.

Will anyone suggest that understanding can be developed without this back and forth dynamic? If anyone does suggest that, in a serious way, they’re going to recognize right away that they are in new territory; they’re proposing cognitive theories not related to human cognition. Cognition that arises out of something other than some kind of back and forth between wide and narrow, whole and part, environment and focus, is, I’ll assert, some kind of ‘never-before-conceived-of’ theoretical kind of thinking, unrelated to any currently proposed theories of mind and cognition, human or machine.

The answer is no; no one will suggest that, so perhaps it’s time after 15 years to step away from these assumptions about drawing and models and instead refresh our understanding of the functional essence of each. In so doing, we might unlock some useful new possibilities:

We can re-envision the function of drawing, and we can re-envision it within digital models, to enable the functional expression of “drawing” in very powerful new ways that take full advantage of all that today’s digital visualization has to offer. The result, if we do this, will be the amplification of this back and forth dynamic of thinking.

We can drive innovation in media, in very useful new ways, using this idea as motivation:

Amplify the back and forth dynamic between environment and focus, to better support the innate nature of thinking itself, and therefore better support the growth of understanding, of complex modeled, real, and hybrid reality environments.

I talk about that more here https://tangerinefocus.com/2017/09/02/the-drawing-vs-model-debate-is-wasting-this-industrys-energy/

Does this interest you?

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