I spent several days last week reading drafts of PhD theses from two of my students. I have three PhD students who are scheduled to finish their studies before Easter when they plan to start jobs that they have already been offered. So, there is some urgency to their writing besides the usual desire to finish after three years or more of work on the same topic and the end of their funding. Their relatively undiluted study of their topic can make it difficult for PhD students to see the big picture and write accessible descriptions of their research. I have also encountered this challenge in describing our recent work on integrating digital twins to form an engineering metaverse. There are dozens of published definitions of digital twins whereas the reverse holds for metaverses – no one really knows what they are. Mary Midgley wrote, in her book ‘Beast and Man’, that descriptions should not be an account of everything about an entity or event but just enough to bring to our minds the appropriate conceptual scheme or construct that will tell us everything we need to know. Our challenge as communicators is identifying the conceptual scheme that is needed, in other words selecting what matters and nothing else. I like her example of an inappropriate description: “a section of protoplasm, measuring 1.76 meters vertically, emerged at 2:06 P.M. from hole in building at point x on plan and moved northward, its extremities landing alternately on concrete substratum, finally entering hole in further building, at point y on plan, at 2:09 P.M.” If you need a conceptual scheme to understand this sentence, then try ‘a person walked across the road’.
Source: Mary Midgley, Beast and Man – the roots of human nature. Abingdon, Oxon. Routledge Classics, 2002.
Image: Cluster #1: simulation along product life cycle from Semeraro C, Lezoche M, Panetto H & Dassisti M, Digital twin paradigm: a systematic literature review, Computers in Industry, 130: 103469, 2021 who found thirty definitions of digital twins and created five such clusters of definitions.