Thursday, October 3, 2019

Mental Flow: An invisible benefit of model building?

I seem to be reading more and more about reducing, or even eliminating, screen time for both children and adults. Maybe getting into the great outdoors more, walking around, or engaging in some free play to help reduce problems caused by over-consumption of the internet. And as a counterpoint, Vince and I have had long discussions about the vast good, non-tabloid-trash content on youtube, and how a project like the E. L. Moore investigation you see here would have been next to impossible to carry out in the pre-internet era. I have to agree with him on both, but it does seem our behaviour with screens consumes an ever increasing chunk of our existence. Similar concerns were heard in the tv era, but now that tv-on-steroids called the internet has upped things to even higher levels.

That must sound rich coming from a guy whose writings appear only on-screen via a new fangled thing called a blog - which in the internet's short time horizons has actually been around for a quite awhile, but in terms of civilizational time, the blog is just a blip in the continuum. All I can ask is for you to consider resisting the urge to reduce your screen time right this instance, and indulging my rant for a few more paragraphs :-)

The only thing I can add to the reducing screen time discussion is that for me model building, and model railroading, is a screen-free, mental flow producing pursuit. Maybe this happens because I started the hobby when I was young, and the activity helps to make a connection with an earlier state of mind when things were new to me. But, maybe not, this is just speculation*. Regardless, I consider inducing mental flow as important to my hobby** activities as the models that result.***

Flow happens most of the time while I'm model building, although it can stop during a session, and sometimes it doesn't happen at all. I can't claim to always enter and stay in the flow state. I find it easiest to enter flow in the morning and late afternoon, and I like to have quiet conditions while I work. I don't watch videos or multi-task with screens while I'm building, but sometimes I'll listen to music. 

I can't tell you that flow will improve your model building, or model building will induce mental flow in you, or lead to increased productivity at your day-job, or improve your love-life, or cure rickets - those kind of assertions are what the self-help gang are for :-) I can't make any general claims at all. All I can say is that for me, having mental flow is an important part of the hobby, and I'll give up model making if I can no longer create an associated flow state.

*At one time I was able to enter the flow state when putting together and solving mathematical problems, but that was decades ago. Maybe it's easier to enter the flow state when young - again, this is all wild speculation.

**Sometimes the word hobby grates on me. It seems to have a pop-cultural connotation of something trivial that's undertaken in between bouts of more serious activities for the purpose of refreshment so one can re-engage with those more serious things with renewed vigour. 

***I often wonder if E. L. Moore entered the flow state while model building. His descriptions of his practice seem to suggest it, but it's another one of those things that are lost to time.


  1. Again, I know very little about model building, but I can easily imagine that it lends itself to the experience of flow. Csíkszentmihályi’s book is a lot of fun, especially, if I’m remembering it right, for its real-life examples of people and their interests. Getting lost in something you like doing and are good at — nothing better.

    1. Csíkszentmihályi’s book is fascinating. I don't know if it has any traction in psychology, but I seem to remember it had many interesting cases. I think I got rid of my copy years ago in a move, but I should look around the basement to see if it's stashed in a box somewhere.

  2. Your ** caused me to do a quick synonym search for hobby. Pleasurable pastime is nice, but I like avocation or diversion. For me the term vocation means, as it is most closely translated, calling, but also it is work. My calling is my life's work. An avocation is not a calling, but echoes that idea - the time spent building models is something important but not in the serious, responsible way I would approach work. It is not work, but no less important - avocation. Diversion is also apt as I find when I do reach that flow state in the course of operating the trains or bending grab irons, or painting figures, etc. I'm not thinking about current events that tend to depress or anger me.

    1. I'm watching Jack Burgress' videos on youtube. They're amazing. His approach to the 'hobby' is more like how a professional engineer would approach a problem. Given the long term approach he's taken, it appears his work building the YV is his calling. Anyway, this is speculation on my part; those videos are an interesting side to this discussion.