Modeling Tutorial
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Read an excerpt from Essay 1

"Introduction" to The Modeling Tutorial


Laying Down the Path

A memory snippet from one of the authors:

One of the many magical places you can visit in this world is Yosemite Valley. Yosemite was carved out of solid granite eons past by relentless glaciers. When the climate changed, the glaciers receded, leaving behind a gorge carpeted with trees and enclosed by towering rock walls. From many places along the upper edges of these walls, unseen streams spill their snow melt into the valley, creating coiling, lacey curtains of water endlessly dropping down the faces of the cliffs. My parents often took me to this valley as I was growing up. On one of those visits we were walking along a dirt path that wound its way through the trees, more or less following along the nearby stream. The path was taking us to the foot of one of those waterfalls. For reasons that I don't need to explain beyond saying that I was ten years old, I slipped away from my parents and ran to the stream. Without hesitating, I began hoping from rock to rock to log to rock, making my way upstream, up through the very middle of the stream. I heard my parents calling - yelling - to me to come back immediately, but I naturally decided that I had unfortunately already gone too far to hear them, and so kept going. I don't recall slipping or getting my feet wet. If I did, it did not matter. It was exhilarating to move up the center of a stream toward the growing roar of falling water. At last I came around a bend and to a stop on a rock with the cold water whooshing past. In front of me was a cloud of mist, boiling like smoke, and pouring into it and towering over my head was an eternal torrent of falling white water. Then my parents showed up. We had gotten to the same place. But we were not in the same place. They were seeing the falls from the bank, leaning against the wooden rails put there to keep them safe. I was seeing the falls from a rock out in the middle of the roiling water.

Some decades ago now, when we first began our explorations into the nature of human experience, the work of Francisco Varela introduced us to a fundamental idea, an idea captured in the phrase, "Laying down the path in walking." We don't know its true origins. Varela himself cites a 1936 poem by Antonio Machado reminding us:

...caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.

[...wanderer, there is no path,
you lay down a path in walking.]

As we understand it, this idea is also integral to Buddhist thought and teachings, pushing its origins even further into the past. Whatever the historic provenance of the concept being captured in words, the living of it undoubtedly stretches into the deepest history of human beings, and of all beings, for that matter. We have always been, and continue to be, laying down our paths in walking.

That is what you have been doing all along. Laying down a path in walking is how "you" got "here." That is how all of us have lived into who we are now. Indeed, every person you meet has walked themselves into a world, a world that is a unique enfolding and embodying of perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, ideas, predilections, skills, and behaviors.

We are bodies interacting within an environment, and in that ongoing interaction we create our ongoing, subjective worlds. Of course, there is much, much to say about how that all comes into being, how bodies and systems of neurons and environments weave with one another to create experience. However, the details of how experience comes into being is not the focus of these essays. (You can begin to explore this emerging of experience in the works of Maturana, Varela, Merleau-Ponty, Hofstadter, Lakoff, Bohm, and Bateson, to name a few.) Instead, our interest here is on what is going on when human experience is happening. How are we to understand, to get our arms around that? These essays grew out of our interest in doing just that, in trying to understand how experience works.

Our particular vehicle for this exploration was that of "modeling." Regardless of whether it takes its form in clay, plastic, paper, computer code, or thoughts, a model is a representation - or, perhaps better, an analogical capturing - of something else. A model is not the thing it models, but a form that preserves the significant elements and relationships of the thing being modeled. Modeling, then, is the process of identifying, codifying, and expressing in some form (in the clay, computer code, thoughts) those significant elements and their relationships.

Why bother to explore the world of human experience in this way?

Just as it is inherently pleasurable to discover a new variety of rose, with its unique array of thorns, petals, color, and scent...or a jazz riff that transforms a familiar tune into something wild...or an idea that brushes away cobwebs to let in new light, in the same way it is inherently pleasurable to have a window into the unique, and often startling, world of another person. These little discoveries, these revealings of who we are and can be, have often been enough for the authors to walk the modeling road.

But of course there is more. What else can you expect to discover from taking this trip? Here are a few of the possibilities:

Modeling ensures quicker and easier access to abilities.

All of us have personal dreams of being able to do certain things that we cannot do now. These dreams may reflect deficiencies we believe we have. (For example, the manager who is responsible for regular reports but cannot seem to organize himself to get them done; or the person who cannot seem to stick to an exercise regimen.) These dreams may also flow from our being inspired about what is possible to do. (For instance, fluently speak a foreign language, play a commanding game of chess, enjoy solitude, or capture the imagination of struggling students.) Modeling allows us to efficiently and effectively draw from others those abilities we either need or would like to have, and then manifest them in ourselves. When modeling is discussed, this ability to transfer abilities from one person to another is always offered as its primary goal and utility.

But there are additional reasons that, to our minds, are equally compelling and make the pursuit of modeling worthwhile:

Modeling honors - and helps us learn from - the unique contributions that each of us brings to the world.

A second reason to model grows out of the recognition that there is more to the uniqueness of every person on the planet than just his or her thumbprint. Each of us also represents a unique web of life experiences, the threads of which have been braided into a singular personality, an individual with characteristic, amazing and peculiar perceptions, talents and abilities. There are many wonderful violinists, many people are good at telling jokes, many can relax easily, can write a good letter, can power through a complex task, and so on. And yet, no two of those wonderful violinists will approach their music or play in exactly the same way. And when one of these wonderful violinists is gone, her particular approach to music is gone as well. Similarly, no two humorists will tell their tales the same way. And there are many ways of relaxing, of writing a good letter, and of powering through tasks. Modeling, then, can make it possible to not only capture the workings of a certain kind of ability, but some of the unique attributes of a particular individual's way of manifesting that ability as well. The idiosyncratic and fortuitous attributes of that person may end up being a revelation to us all, bringing into our experience of that ability a subtlety and effectiveness previously unknown.

And there is more:

Modeling can play a significant role in the evolution of culture and society.

If indeed it becomes possible to readily model the desirable abilities of others AND make those models usefully available to anyone, then personal and societal notions about what is possible and how to bring about change will necessarily transform in some fundamental ways. For example, few people would be asking, "Can I do this?" Instead they would be asking, "How can I do this?" This is a very different question, one that presupposes capability, and shifts attention to the structure of one's experience and behavior. Instead of unnecessarily accepting limitations, the question, "How can I do this?" makes an individual's pursuit of self-fulfillment and expression in his or her professional and personal life much more a matter of choice.

The widespread availability of abilities through modeling would not rob us of our personal identities, reducing a world of individuals to a herd of equally capable performers. On the contrary, because of the infinite variety of personal histories and life experiences, different people will make different choices as to which abilities they want to acquire. Furthermore, the manifestation of the same ability by any two individuals will be expressed through each person's unique personality, rather than in spite of it. In fact, it is our belief that the widespread availability of models for developing the vast array of human abilities would create many more opportunities to tap and bring forth into the world the unique potentials latent inside each of us.

And one last reason to pursue modeling:

Modeling makes accessible what are often considered "life's little pleasures."

The promise of modeling often stirs people to conquer the big things in life, the things that are societally mandated, applauded and valued. At last, we think, we can learn how to make a killing in the stock market, negotiate to win, be an inspiring leader, or write a best seller. In all the hustle and bustle of conquering, however, it is easy to overlook the fact that it is the small things that contribute the most to the fabric and quality of our lives. Making a killing on the stock market is fine. But so is being able to dance and enjoy it, to tell a joke, accept criticism, find joy in gardening, make someone feel welcome in your home, appreciate a work of art, capture your thoughts in a letter, let go of worries while on vacation, delight in helping your children with their school work, adore your lover, and feel adored by your lover. These are the "small" modeling projects that can be tackled on a small scale, on a daily basis...and can make all the difference in the world. Yourworld.

Now...There is a companion eBook to this one: Expanding Your World: Modeling the Structure of Experience, and it is primarily intended to be a how-to book. It is designed to give you a sufficient understanding of the concepts, distinctions, and processes of modeling to allow you to actually do it. And, toward that practical and useful end, it includes video of a complete modeling elicitation and acquisition. Writing a book that was geared toward coming quickly to grips with the process of modeling, as that book was, meant that we were frequently sacrificing depth and richness of understanding in order to produce something that was immediately applicable. Okay, we succeeded in doing that.

But there is still that depth and richness to explore. And that is what you will be doing in this book. In these seventeen Essays we will go beyond the information in Expanding Your World, and take you "behind the scenes." If you are someone who is interested in understanding how human experience works, as well as gaining a deep understanding of the process of modeling, then you are the person for whom we have written this book. To model is to hit the road of human experience, a journey into the heart of human experience, how it works, how it can be shared. Put on your walking shoes.

Table of Contents
Read an excerpt from Essay 1