FOCUS: ‘a fireplace of the solar system’ – and – the foundation of thought

I often write about:

  • focus (or attention)
  • techniques of focus (or attention)
  • the interplay between the act of focus and the world in which the focus takes place, and
  • comparing world and focus (and their interplay) to model and technical drawing (and their interplay).

Models are like worlds, as was clear long ago. But now, with the advent of digital twins and metaverses, it’s more apparent than ever. And more commonly understood.

But what is a world, without concentrated attention (focus)?

That question is poorly addressed in today’s modeling applications. But good answers ARE known. The history of technical drawing reminds us of the essential nature of well articulated concentrated focus within the context of modeled environments, whether those environments are modeled physically, digitally, and/or mentally.

This legacy of drawing has a future, an evolution in form, now to be expressed in-situ within digital modeled environments, and making full use there of today’s graphics capabilities.

Tangerine can help software companies envision, design, and implement TGN: next generation user interactions within modeled worlds that give users the power to create, clarify, and share, their own expressions of articulated focused attention, within models.

TGN is the triple fusion of:

— modeling

— drawing, and

— techniques of cinematic camera rigging that have evolved over the hundred or so years of the history of film. Randy, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Attention is the behavioral and cognitive process of selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, whether considered subjective or objective, while ignoring other perceivable information. William James (1890) wrote that “Attention is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence.”[1] Attention has also been described as the allocation of limited cognitive processing resources.[2]Attention is manifested by an attentional bottleneck, in term of the amount of data the brain can process each second; for example, in human vision, only less than 1% of the visual input data (at around one megabyte per second) can enter the bottleneck,[3][4] leading to inattentional blindness.[5]

Attention remains a crucial area of investigation within educationpsychologyneurosciencecognitive neuroscience, and neuropsychology. Areas of active investigation involve determining the source of the sensory cues and signals that generate attention, the effects of these sensory cues and signals on the tuning properties of sensory neurons, and the relationship between attention and other behavioral and cognitive processes, which may include working memory and psychological vigilance. A relatively new body of research, which expands upon earlier research within psychopathology, is investigating the diagnostic symptoms associated with traumatic brain injury and its effects on attention. Attention also varies across cultures.[6]

The relationships between attention and consciousness are complex enough that they have warranted perennial philosophical exploration. Such exploration is both ancient and continually relevant, as it can have effects in fields ranging from mental health and the study of disorders of consciousness to artificial intelligence and its domains of research.

This is certainly relevant to the software industry, and emphatically so with respect to software involved in model creation and interpretation. Less obvious, and often forgotten or dismissed, is the relevance to technical drawing.

Drawing represents the interpretive focusing pole of the world<>focus interplay dynamic that’s at or near the root foundation of thought and understanding itself. Dismissal of drawing is counterproductive. Overlooking drawing fundamentally undermines the process necessary for interpreting, understanding, and making use of models.

I have more to say about this. But quickly, just another bit of background about focus. While wandering the world of YouTube hoping to stumble on something worth attention, I watched some Richard Feynam videos.

Lucky me:

04:55 …”so the defining property of this curve is that when you draw lines from any point on the curve to these two special thumbtack locations, the sum of the lengths of those lines is a constant, namely the length of the string. Each of these points is called a “focus” of your ellipse, collectively called “foci”. Fun fact, the word focus comes from the latin for “fireplace”, since one of the first places ellipses were studied was for orbits around the sun, a sort of fireplace of the solar system, sitting at one of the foci of a planet’s orbit.

Here’s the video. Enjoy 21 fascinating minutes. And as you get lost pondering the geometry and the transformations, don’t forget that if you dispense with the focus, then none of the interplay between the fireplace and the heavenly bodies happens. There is no solar system.

Of course in our industry, there are those who take things to the extreme, or say they do, into a kind of ideology of kicking drawings down the back stair into the dust bin of history. But the more typical conception is that drawings do continue along. We do continue their use, reluctantly. We wait for some magical moment when it will become clear how we can leave them behind and continue without them. But for now they come along as second class citizens, sort of tolerated.

This weak approach, undervaluing drawings, grossly under-powers the cognitive interpretive process. It kicks the legs out from the table of productive engagement with, and understanding of, complex digital worlds.

Technical drawing is a technique of narrowing down and articulating the necessary clarifying focus on things that matter within modeled environments, whether those models are digital, physical, or mental.

But keep in mind, it is not just that. The clarifying focus is one thing, but it is the cognitive interplay between the technique of focus and the modeled environment, …see, it’s in the interplay where thinking happens and understanding grows.

If technical drawing is kicked down the back stair. or stagnates in its current form, interplay is stunted, cognition is underpowered, interpretive effectiveness is slow and quality is low, engagement with and use of the model, fails. Utilization is suppressed.

The software industry should not be doing things that guarantee model underutilization. Or in other words, software development should not fail to do things that increase model utilization.

Enough background. But this is why I’ve long proposed renewed attention on the nature and purpose of technical drawing, and recognition of it’s fundamental value and the opportunity, and in fact, the imperative that its form evolve. Now.

With regard to the evolution of drawing’s form:

  1. digital modeled environments must instantiate drawing in-situ at true orientation within models. In-situ fusion of drawings at true orientation within models is an ancient, and current, activity that every architect, engineer, and builder is constantly engaged with. It is a mental activity unassisted by digital media.

    Because the fusion, the interplay drives understanding, today’s software failing to support it reduces model value. Model utilization is suppressed.

    I’ve had the good fortune to work on this problem in the past, starting 12 years ago in 2010. The results built automatic drawing-model fusion into commercial software first in 2012. Since then, 7 software platforms from different companies support in-situ automatic drawing fusion within models. I keep a little archive of some early examples here:

  2. But getting the drawings at true orientation within models is the first step. The next steps are about imagining, predicting, guessing what changes can occur now in the form of drawing. Evolutionary changes in form should be expected, anticipated, encouraged, because of drawing’s catalytic new residence WITHIN digital worlds. The industry should be guessing changes in form and then testing those changes. The changes that are effective, that increase cognitive interplay and interpretive clarity and effectiveness, should advance.

A collection of good guesses

I’ve collected my best guesses about the future form of technical drawing — in-situ within digital modeled worlds of ALL kinds — in a document that can be taken as a functional software development specification.

A pioneering software company or two, to begin with, should read the spec, build and test the functions, and collaborate so that this renaissance of drawing built to drive greater uptake/utilization of models of all kinds does not end of up siloed in any single app, format, or platform. It should instead be portable, expressible with reliable fidelity across all modeling apps, formats, and platforms, maximizing the engagable interplay, interpretive clarity, effective value, and utilization of all of them.

Download links to the specification are below.


TGN, the triple fusion of:
— modeling
— drawing, and 
— the myriad techniques of cinematic camera rigging that have evolved over the hundred or so years of the history of film.

Modeled environments are extremely complex oceans of information, and the methods/techniques for interpreting them have evolved, to date, inadequately. There are various things like ML and AR/MR and so on, but a generalized approach to sense-making in complex digital environments remains underdeveloped.

This document is a software development specification that addresses the problem. The purpose of the proposed development is to make things clear through interpretive interaction rigs, TGN rigs, within modeled digital environments.

Improved mechanisms of interactive close study of digital models (including digital twins), through TGN rigs, make user engagement with complex data more effective, more interactive, more clarifying, more communicative and expressive, and more revealing of insight. TGN might even bring the fun back into serious technical work by elevating the level of interpretive engagement in digital media. 

TGN also provides a framework for further interpretation by machine cognition and human interaction with cognitive systems, applied against spatial digital models, via deepQA apps.


TGN: a digital model INTERACTIONS format standard (Apple Book)

TGN: a digital model INTERACTIONS format standard (ePub)

TGN: a digital model INTERACTIONS format standard (iCloud)


0 1 TGN: rigging for insight  (2:16)

02 TGN: what is TGN exactly?  (5:35)

03 TGN: demonstration  (3:40)

04 TGN: portability  (5:17)

05 TGN: industry value  (9:27)

(the dev platform I mention in the videos is iTwins.js, but TGN can be developed on every platform where TGN is useful and desired)

Further discussion: – self-critique of the TGN demo video – a short summary of TGN rig features (including the built-in viewing arc plus the rest of what comprises a TGN rig)  – a look at what can happen AFTER TGN rigs are in use clarifying models – TGN article in upFront.eZine

This is my hope for the industry.

Rudolpho Llinás

I’ll finish with another YouTube glimpse at background. If you enjoyed the Feynman video, you’ll probably like this one too:

Consider what Llinás says about thinking, what it is and the nature of thought’s interpretive engagement with the world through attention/focus.

The sea squirt is a sessile marine creature, permanently attached to a substrate, not free to move about, except during a tadpole stage of its lifecycle during which it swims, searching for where to settle. In its tadpole stage it has a brain, which it uses, as brains are used, for environmental evaluation and decision support (where to move). Once settled, and developed into its adult sessile form, anchored, it has no further use for a brain and digests it.

Multicellular organisms that move have brains (for environmental analysis and motricity decision support).

This has something to do with digitally modeled environments and techniques of interpretive focus within them, during design, engineering, construction and operation of complex constructed assets!

Haha! Let’s leave it there!

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