Something I've remembered for a long time, is the description, Chris Langan, who supposedly had the highest IQ in the world, of the kind of thinking he does for pleasure (as told in a First Person
) episode). He talks about imagining the universe, and all the forces at play within it. I recognized the pleasure of some of that. One of my main pleasures from design/programming is holding a system in my head, and imagining how different adjustments would ripple out through the system. Often it is problem solving: 'how can I better balance this system', but not always.
I have been thinking about that pleasure, and what is at the core of it in relation to mental models. It seems connected to so many other descriptions but I still feel like I have a fuzzy picture of it. It seems connected to the pleasure of physicists, coming up with an elegant explanation for the physical world (and I have read some discussion of what elegant actually means: to explain the most with the least, although there are tons of judgements within that). It also seems connected to the pleasures of worldbuiling, of telling a believable (recognizable) fictional story. Because, I think, being able to do that implies you have the model of the real world in your head, or of a system of relationships between people.
Yesterday I was reading _Color and Light_, about how painters learned to paint the effects of light. From that, I got a picture of painting physical scenes as your ability to hold a model of the affects of light in your head, and then to apply those to the fictional characters and objects you put in the scene. Interesting to compare that to present-day videogame rendering, where people need to build a model of the world into the game. In both cases I wonder how big of a piece the understanding of the systems in the world is, and how much of it is emulating those systems in your chosen medium (paint or computer graphics rendering), that's something I want to write more about.
How about flow state? Is holding things in your mind pretty much flow state? I don't think so, and they seem close enough that the effort to distinguish between them could be useful in understanding both. Flow state I think also implies that you have a model in your head (although it is implied it is more inutitive, less explicit?), that's how you're able to maintain flow state, I think. You can operate in a flow state because you have enough of a model that you can move confidently, without getting stuck in errors and having to look stuff up. A flow state is full engagement with the system. I don't think it means you have a complete understanding. Even now, just thinking about it I can conjure up this feeling of full engagement, of attention, almost like I'm balancing a system of physical objects.
The idea of a model you're trying to approach seems easy to relate to programming. What about art? What about just trying to create something beautiful? What is it there? In _Color and Light_, Gurney talks about painters trying to ocnvey human emotion through a landscape. Why use a landscape? Why not communicate more directly? Why use attention to the physical world as an intermediary? After that he showed some symbolist paintings, and looking at those I thought, well, maybe that is one reason, if you try to convey them directly (anger as a demon) it looks trite. That explains some of it I think. But it still doesn't explain to me why the landscape is a successful way of conveying emoltion.
I had another answer, which I think I can write well but still doesn't seem enough. hHat painting a landscape with the real attention to detail is an act of attention. Is it that attention is everything? Real engagement is everything? And that because we know something of how a painting is made, the labor involved, the successful painting is just a message 'this is worth paying attention to'. And then it could be anything? It seems to follow that it could be anything. And beautiful paintings have been made of anything. But that still seems like a dissatisfying answer in terms of how to make art, how to live. Maybe it is 'pay attention to things that resonate for you'. Then the question is, is the success because it also resonates for another person? Or because you successfully communcated your experience of the resonating?
Was this what I wanted to write about? Mostly. I wanted to think about holding a system in your head in relation to using tools. Because do I want to make tools you can hold in your head? What am I making tools for? How does ego come into all of this?