Mental Models LO29520

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 11/15/02

Replying to LO29483 --

Dear Organlearners,

Steve Randall < > writes

>I use the phrase 'mental model' to indicate a particular, somewhat
>persistent way of structuring experience, and not just a particular
>conceptual understanding. For example, linear time, where time is
>experienced/felt as flowing among separate past, present, and future
>'rooms'. Although I have been aware of this linear time model for
>twenty years, and though it appears less frequently, and with less
>rigidity, in my experience, I still consider it a mental model.

Greetings dear Steve,

Thank you very much Steve for pointing out what may probably be the most profound
Mental Model which most humans have -- time exists objectively while pervading every
place in the universe instantaneously.

Einstein found this to be a Mental Model with his Theory of Relativity, first the
special theory (1905) and then the general theory (1915. It boils down to this.

Two observers A and B moving with a constant velocity with respect to each other,
look at the same changing phenomenon. They use exactly the same clocks to measure
time. Both measure the time elapsed from event X to event Y in the phenomenon,
waiting upon light signals from event X and then event Y to reach them. They then
compare their results. To their amazement they find that the duration of time
between event X and event Y differs. The observer who moves the fastest towards or
away from the phenomenon find that the duration of time is the slowest. It is called
the dilation of time. This conclusion has been confirmed for the half-life time of
fast moving, unstable elementary particles.

There is very interesting, although lengthy article, on the Internet
Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Time at:
< >
I can recommend it because it touch upon almost every topic of
time through more than two millenia. It gives a fair representation
how each person thought about time. It even mentions Leibniz'
opinion that events and the order which gives birth to them are
more important to time than time to determine the duration
between events. We will soon see how entropy allows us to
articulate what Leibniz found so difficult to do self.

>I have thought it over, been conscious of it, questioned it,
>seen it in operation, and yet his habitual tendency still has
>some structuring power. It is accompanied by time pressure
>and anxiety, time poverty, and the sense that time is out of
>control. As a fundamental cultural pattern (that is not part of
>every culture), it is basic to most Western experience, and
>short-term inquiry and examination will only change it a bit.

I have become intensely aware of this during my desert explorations. After a couple
of days in a desert the habit of thinking in terms of time dwindles away until i
think only in terms of changes ("becomings") around me. During one such a visit,
some twenty years ago, i became so convinced that time does not even exist, except
as a creation of humans, that i threw my watch away, never to wear one again.

All time measuring devices are based on some phenomena in which it is possible to
keep the entropy production constant. In fact, no time measuring device can work
without entropy production. Any device in which the entropy remains constant cannot
be used as a clock. A rock has constant entropy so that it cannot be used as a
clock. Anyway, once the entropy production in the device can be kept constant, it is
cut up (marked) into regular pieces which is then called time intervals. This is
then standardised into seconds (or minutes, hours, etc.) to have a clock. This
constant entropy production of the clock is nothing else than a linear increase in

Some of our linear thinking is caused by this linear increase in time. This linear
increase in time is real, but it is a result of our creativity. It is not real in a
desert because there are few, if any, constant entropy production phenomena. Every
entropy producing system has a dance in its change of entropy and thus all its
changes driven by it. Different entropy production systems always harmonise their
dances so that one of them never causes an entropy deficit in some others. The same
happens in my mind. When all its faculaties dance in harmony with each other, i
become so absorbed that i fail to notice changes in the world outside me. We usually
say that external, human created time ceases to exist. This can be dangerous in an
unfamiliar desert when i do something based on linear thinking.

When a person learns an both the digestive and bifurcative parts of learning work in
unison as a push-pull pair, the same happens to that learner -- external, human
created time also ceases to exist.

Consider a system A of which a property A-a changes as a result of its internal
entropy production. What we usually do, is to measure regularly, using linear time,
the value of A-a as it changes. We then plot the values of A-a against time on a
grid to get a graph of how A-a changes. Usually the graph of A-a will have some
non-linear pattern of which we then try to conceptualise its significance. Now
consider a system B of which we do the same for its changing property B-b. We seldom
try to relate A-a directly with B-b, even should system A interact with system B. In
other words, what we also should have done, or ought to have done in the first
place, is to plot the values of B-b against that of A-a on a grid. In most cases the
graph of B-b against A-a is completely different to the graphs of B-b against time
and A-a against time. This graph usually also has a non-linear pattern. However, in
order to conceptualise its significance at all, we have to avoid the mental model of
linear thinking. As soon as we try to do it with linear thinking, the significance
will remain obscure to us.

Steve, I had a look at your interesting site
< >
Since you link so much to time itself, i have decided to link time to
its arrow, namely entropy production, and explore where these
arrows can take one's thoughts. Hopefully it made some fellow
learners aware that we may have a mental model concerning time.

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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