Getting Started

Mental Models


The assignment for Writing 101, Day 4, is to use a picture (I chose the map above from the four options given) as a starting point.  I’m clearly a little behind as it is now Day 10 and I am just getting to the assignment for Day 4.  The map helps to explain my tardiness–embodies my excuse?

I spent Day 4 through Day 7 traveling to the region where I began my journey on earth.  You would think I wouldn’t need a map, but the area has grown, as I suppose most areas have, in the past 50 years since I spent significant time there.  And by grown, I mean there are a lot more roads, buildings, and developed space than I remember.  But paradoxically, it has also shrunk.  The distances seem to be much shorter than I remember.  Where I went to high school was about five miles from my home; yet one of the first times I returned there after grad school when I was running regularly, I ran a route to the school and back.  I could never had dreamed of doing that when I was in school; it was just too far.  My best friend growing up who lived across the street is now the pastor at a church in a small town near our home town.  On occasion we would go through that town to another neighbor’s summer home on the river.  It always seemed like such a long trip.  This weekend, I got there in about 20 minutes, and it wasn’t because the town is now on an Interstate highway; I took the back roads of yesteryear.  I’ve often wondered what causes that phenomenon; even the buildings–the school, church, homes–seem smaller.

I like to think I could have made my way around without a map–I am male, after all, and genetically predisposed to not ask for directions–but at times the map proved very useful.  Being to able to identify the starting location and destination allowed me to consider alternative routes.  Yes, I know Google maps will do that for me, but the paper map displayed the big picture in a way that I often find difficult to do with Google maps.  On the other hand, I did find myself on occasion pulling out my iPad and doing a real time look up en route to get back on track.  Back in the day when I lived there getting lost was often part of the fun.

The map of course is not the reality.  But it can be helpful in grasping and negotiating the reality.  And that is true for the mental maps or models we construct of a lot of things.  Models by definition are not reality, since we abstract away all but the most relevant information.  All are in some sense wrong; some are nonetheless useful.

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