Another more abstract separation also plays a role in this mix

Another more abstract separation also plays a role in this mix, but it’s just as real as Temporal and Physical distance.

The term “Conceptual Distance” means different things to different people, depending whether they’re game designers, artificial intelligence researchers, psychologists, or linguists. For the purposes of this discussion, Conceptual Distance is a “comprehension gap” between when our conception (a coherent, interconnected group of ideas) of something isn’t well-defined… and when that same set of ideas has developed enough to make sense and have meaning.

A basic example is when you make sense of a collection of dots that at first look like a jumble. Your understanding of exactly what you’re looking at is “a ways off”.

At first, the dots may or may not make sense to you, but as you start to connect them, a shape begins to emerge. You’re filling in the blanks, in the drawing and in your mind. You’re closing the conceptual distance.

If you keep going and continue to connect the dots in a certain way, you can end up with a useful representation of what you’ve been looking at all along. In this case, a house:

Of course, you can always “fill in the blanks” in other ways, perhaps not bothering to use all the dots and coming up with a sort of bird or airplane:

But you’ve drawn your conclusions (in this case, literally) about what something means. Whether the end result is intelligible or attractive to others is beside the point. You’ve closed the conceptual distance and gotten from a “place of not-knowing” to a “place of knowing”.

Thinking about this figuring-out process in terms of distance is so common, we take it for granted. But our language shows how we really think about it. When you guess wrong about the weather, you say you’re “way off”. While weighing the pros and cons of accepting a job offer, you may be “a ways away” from deciding what to do.

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