I began this series struck by the proposition made by the book The Knowledge Illusion. In this book, the authors, Sloman and Fernbach, claim that thought (as in thinking) is not exclusively an internal process. Our minds are hardwired to mine for information outside of our own heads, and they do so with such efficiency that we are weak to understand (or attribute) the extent to which our thoughts and ideas are actually communal.
And I thought, in what sense are our ideas about trains and modeling communal?
In each blog, I have set out to investigate various ends of this question, and regardless of my musings, there is one incontrovertible conclusion: If the scientists Sloman and Fernbach are right, then there is correspondence between the quality of our ideas and the quality of our community.
Think about the implications of that statement. "There is correspondence between the quality of our ideas and the quality of our community." This is a significant observation. How does one unpack a statement like that?
How does one break from the academics of this statement and understand it in practical terms? Or in other words, in what ways is your thinking about trains better because of your modeling community? According to Sloman and Fernbach, it can be outside of our ability to know because of how our minds are wired.
The notion that the quality of our ideas are better when we are citizens of better modeling communities invites an questions about how to have better communities. And, it feels appropriate to end the blog series by saying something to this end. That said, the more time I spend on that thought, the more I feel disinclined to write anything because I feel overwhelmed by my inability to say anything meaningful. Either, what I write is a tautology--which means that a statement is true by form (like 'we need better communities!), or it is pedantic, or it is a platitude. And, it almost always reveals that I am wholly unqualified to be writing about what makes communities better. (Social scientists everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief!)
The truth is, communities are complex, and if Sloman and Fernbach are right, we may be physiologically unable to see all the paths by which we are interdependent. But for what it is worth, I believe that the social enterprises that undergird our interactions in this hobby are contributors to the state of the hobby itself.
So, how is your thinking about trains different because of your modeling community?
If approached from this side, it may be difficult to say--and that is Sloman and Fernbach's point. However, we can work the question from the other direction, as in what is your community? If our communities promote an awareness of and respect for the prototype, if they encourage the development of new skills, and they reveal new points of view, then we may presume that our thoughts are influenced in these directions. These are the seas into which our minds cast its net. The correlation is such that there is an implication. We grow in the direction of our communities. So really, if we want to know how our thinking about trains is better is influenced by our communities, all we really need to ask is 'what is our community?'
So, I am doing something.
Up until last year, there is no railroad prototype modeling meet in the Intermountain area--despite being an area with a lot of people and strong modeling contingent. Odd, right? So, I have taken the lead in organizing a meet for the Intermountain west. The event is called Mountain States RPM. In case you are in the area, it is this Saturday (September 9th) at the Roundhouse & Machine Shop in Evanston, WY. [Insert comments about shameless plug here, see Facebook page, etc.]
My hope is to create a space where there are numerous touch points to connect people vis-a'-vis relevant, content-driven interactions. Model railroading is a sophisticated hobby. Our interests as participants are diverse. Thus far, the response has me optimistic.