Maria Augusta half-model

Designers make “plans.” Boat designers make models. I’ve always loved models. There is something so appealing about being able to hold the large, the complex, even the impossible, in your hands and imagining, “What if?”

It’s no wonder they appeal. Along with plans of all sorts they provide comfort. They promise to eliminate uncertainty. They set us on courses so we don’t have to keep thinking, we can just “execute.”

Too bad life isn’t like that, no matter how much we conspire to believe it can be.

When we deal with models we are pretending. We are playing. We often forget that. We prefer to forget it. So many factors push us to conspire in the fiction that it isn’t true.

But it is.

Models are for pretending, for playing.

We need to grow up some time.

That’s not to say we stop playing. We can’t create without play. It does mean we stop pretending that our toys let us do whatever our childish imaginations want us to believe is possible.

There’s tremendous violence unleashed on the world when we do. On the world, on each other, and on us.

We need models, but let’s understand how dangerous they are. Let’s be clear where imagination and play end and where dealing with reality begins. It’s at a point where we are not clutching at models and wishing to be able to stop thinking, choosing, deciding; before we act – or as we act.


4 Replies to “Models”

  1. I too love models, and yet I am impressed with how pervasive models, and perhaps more significantly virtual models, have become in our society, and the seeming importance they have taken on in both the major and minor decisions of our lives.

    There was a time, when a model was only a miniaturized three dimensional object. In my life whether I was designing a boat or a building I would model it in my head and then in 3D before committing to a final drawing process.

    Today, with three dimensional drafting programs, in non-dimensional fields like economics, we have come to refer to the virtual version of a design as its “model” and in designing objects, fact we can take this “model” and rotate it on screen so we seemingly see it from all directions and get a ‘virtual’ sense of what our ideas will look like.

    But of course, as you point out, it is easy to mistake this virtual sense for reality. Or perhaps more dangerously fall in love with the beautifully rendered image that you created and fail to see the pitfalls that would show all to well in the real life, full scale version.

    There was a time when I was designing a small MORC boat and had two different ideas about the shape that boat should take. I had produced a profile and deck plan that I liked, but debated where the center of buoyancy should be and how moving the center of buoyancy aft would affect the topsides of the boat. I built two very small half models that I could carry in my pocket and throughout my day, I would pull them out of my pocket and contemplate them.

    Finally a friend who had watched me do this several times reminded me of a scene in Woody Allen’s “Love and Death”, where the protagonist’s father pulled a small piece of sod out his jacket that the narrative referred to as a valuable piece of land that his father hoped to build a home on one day. Of course, it is the absurdity of that concept that made this humorous.

    And yet at its best, modeling serves as that valuable foundation upon which we build that “something valuable”. But even at its best, the model should of course not be mistaken for that “valuable something” that we hope to build; a mistake that is easily made as designer in a time when we are surrounded by so-called virtual realities.


    1. Jeff,

      Good to hear from you!

      That’s a good point, a humorous way of putting it, the bit about the sod….

      They become talismans for the myth of control. If we can keep our minds focused on the model, we can ignore the way our realities diverge from our wishes. We can also use them to mesmerize a public, in a bait & switch. – Still waiting for the Jetsons?

      The question of virtual reality is involved with the question of models, but it’s also another topic deserving its own discussion. To begin, there’s the dream-like ease of “inhabiting a virtual 3-d world. It is a simulacra of lucid dreaming. It has great powers of seduction and creates an illusory sense of mastery beyond what we get from physical models, as you point out. The biggest problem I see in it is that if we enter into virtual worlds, to play and model, without having any experience in the world and with physical tools; we have no way of protecting ourselves from being controlled by our virtual tools and accepting their “results” without question. It becomes such a driver for a close facsimile of wish-fulfillment, that – unlike in imaginative play, or physical modeling, with its mess and struggle, and opportunity to master tools – it makes it so much harder to remain skeptical. Not only of our “models,” but of the entire creep into accepting virtuality as a substitute for life.

      A good opportunity to point at this reminder.

  2. It’s nice to read another mention of the distinction between map and terrain. It’s one that I’ve found useful. The danger – as you recognize – is in mistaking the map for the terrain, the model for the reality. Most people seem to live in worlds of their own construction, and utterly unaware. Variations in degree of construction and awareness, of course, but generally speaking… (Here’s where the terminology gets sticky – to some extent, we all live in worlds that we’ve constructed. We’re constantly creating fictions to fill in the blanks; how tightly we hold to those fictions when contradictory data arises, and how tightly we hold to our “established truths” when they seem to be challenged, is another matter…)

    Pleased to be acquainted with your writing, by the way. It began when a friend pointed me to a piece that you wrote on the dearness of boats. I quite enjoyed it.

    1. Julie,

      Thanks for your interest.

      Art, as a practice, does hold us in creative tension with our constructions. Paradoxically, it’s an insistence on remaining “practical” that blinds us most to the limits of our constructed fictions and keeps us trapped in destructive patterns of action.

      I hope you find the time to check out some of my other writing.


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