Calvino on Models

“The construction of a model […] was for him a miracle of equilibrium between principles (left in shadow) and experience (elusive), but the result should be more substantial than either.  In a well-made model, in fact, every detail must be conditioned by the others, so that everything holds together in absolute coherence, as in a mechanism where if one gear jams, everything jams.  A model […] is that in which nothing has to be changed, that which works perfectly; whereas reality, as we see clearly, does not work and constantly falls to pieces; so we must force it, more or less roughly, to assume the form of the model.”

“A delicate job of adjustment was then required, making gradual corrections in the model so it would approach a possible reality, and in reality to make it approach the model.  In fact, the degree of pliability is not unlimited […]; even the most rigid models can show some unexpected elasticity.  In other words, if the model does not succeed in transforming reality, reality must succeed in transforming the model.”

“Mr. Palomar’s rule had gradually been changing: now he needed a great variety of models, whose elements could be transformed in order to arrive at one that would best fit reality, a reality that, for its own part, was always made up of many different realities, in time and in space.”

– Italo Calvino, Mr. Palomar, (translated from Italian by William Weaver), Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) pgs. 109 -110

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