What do drawings of memory bikes have to do with know-it-alls?

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/09/08/what-do-drawings-of-memory-bik.html


Frank Keil argues that this minimal, superficial understanding is actually beneficial. It lets us efficiently interpret the world and make accurate, causal predictions without overburdening the limited processing and storage resources of our brain.

I think it also allows us to classify things in a general way. Few bikes look exactly alike yet we know they are bikes. If our minds got too specific with a certain bike we might not be able to know what is and isn’t a bike.

It’s remarkable that we’re able to so easily classify all dogs as dogs, given how different they are in size and shape.


I love stuff like this, which is why I wish the subject matter was something else. Although bicycles are a great example I’ve owned and repaired my own bikes for many years and know all of the parts and their relation to one another intimately, and combined with being decent at drawing, life has sucked all the fun out of this for me. Give me something else to draw that will embarrass me, please!


A mousetrap


Heh, you and me both! I tried the exercise, started by sketching the wheels and crankset, then the hubs and freewheel, then the front fork and seat tube, then top tube, down tube, chain stays, seat stays, then the chain, seat, and bar, and for an extra flourish added a rear rack. No challenge at all.

Likewise, with the ‘draw a clock’, I did an old-fashioned alarm clock; pretty simple, since it’s basically a cylinder with some feet, a couple of hemispheres for the gongs. and a bail connecting the gongs at the top and holding the reset. I started to do a rear view with the case off, starting with the motion works (the 10:1 and 6:1 reduction gearing that drive the hands), then the middle wheel, great wheel, balance wheel and escapement, and decided that I was being one of @frauenfelder’s know-it-alls, who otherwise appear to be unmentioned in his writeup or the article. (I might have struggled a little bit with striking works, since I’ve never built a proper clock, only a timepiece.)

In another similar problem, I was asked to draw a sailing ship. “What sail plan?” I mentally thought, and since the problem didn’t specify, I decided that instead of a ship proper, I’d draw a three-masted barque, since that’s what most people probably have in mind. I had a little bit of trouble keeping staysails and studding-sails in proportion. :slight_smile:

Mousetrap? Piece of cake. Although I danced in a performance of Nutcracker once that had a gigantic mousetrap in the battle scene. Some stagehand didn’t know how a mousetrap worked and didn’t place the stage cheese (a plushie, if memory serves) on the trigger, with the result that at the critical moment the cheese was catapulted across the pit into the front rows of the audience. Oops. :smiley:

Sometimes being an engineer takes all the fun out of things.


I looked at this website and the bicycle drawings are really good, hard to believe any of them were done from memory!

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Really excellent point. I believe this is a leading theory about pereidolia as well.


Well, I got (at least the nascent idea of) the hubs, rims, brakes, and pedals—but I totally forgot the gears and chain! :laughing:

I got that far and got kinda tired of it, decided that the paper was getting too crowded up with marks for it to be legible anymore, and that that was enough drawing for today.


Yeah. I love the Big Daddy Roth parody one!

And the Dali pastiche:

Far too many of the submitters were professional illustrators, who might be expected to have a bettter understanding of the parts.



Turns out bikes don’t have pedals growing out of the saddle after all.


Yes! And this is the core of Borges’ “Funes the Memorious”, who sees only individual things and moments.

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What I lack in drawing skills, I make up for in knowledge of how bikes are put together, I guess.


OK, how does the trigger work? (Hint - the pivot for the hold-down bar is on the other side of the hammer.) :smiley:

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yeah - I knew that, but I didn’t leave myself enough room for the staple and loop on the far side of the snapper.

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I think I got most parts, but not really the right proportions. That packet holder is way over-sized, for example! And I left off stuff I just have no idea how to draw. Like fenders? They are like a bow, but over and covering part of the wheel. How does one draw that? The chain protector thingi? It should cover the chain, but by then I had already drawn sprockets and the chain, so I couldn’t add the cover. The gears and rear break are there, btw. Internal hub gears, like on all bikes I have ever owned! (I couldn’t figure out the front break either…)

So, for me, I know what the parts are, a bit how they should go together, but I have no real idea of what it all should look like put together. I I know functionally which parts will hide other parts, but I can’t get that to work out on a drawing. Should probably mention I have aphantasia. Fun game!


You just have to be able to recognize the character, which is a lot easier than recreating it.

This is exactly how I am with kanji (Chinese characters) in Japanese. I can speak the language fine, and I can read it fine. I can write it perfectly fine on a computer with a Japanese IME or word processor. But if you hand me a pen and ask me to actually write down the characters, I can only do it with the most basic and simple ones despite being able to read them just fine.


Here are the two I sent him. I am a bit of a cheat, as I build frames as a hobby. (in my case, recumbents, the one illustrated is named “Frankenbike”). But I included a conventional bike just because.

And yes, the recumbent has rear raked forks. Goes with the 92 degree head angle. Think casters on a shopping cart. Yes it works very well. There is 19th century precedent, it was often used on “Derny’s” multi rider bikes that were used to pace solo riders in some velodrome events (modern survivor the “Kerin”, but they use mopeds) Derny’s were often particularly strange, with “camelback” seating, the last rider sat literally over the back wheel, and had cranks concentric with the rear axle. The reverse raked fork despite adding stability isn’t used on current uprights, as it makes toe clearance with the front wheel much worse. Used as I do on the recumbent, it actually helps with heel clearance.

Celebrate Susan 1956-2020


I’ll take a photo of my bike when I get home to check the accuracy.

(next day)

ETA: yup looks like my bike. Wow, still a little off though.