B. Graphics as a Form of Visual Cognition

     There was a time, after the 18th century golden age of graphic satire was forgotten, when it seemed impossible to visually depict complex ideas. Instead, writers confined themselves to the linear constraints of verbal discourse and written text. In the context of espousing the critical method of multiple working hypotheses, Chamberlin (1890, reprinted 1965) points out that one of the chief merits of this thinking method of multiple working hypotheses is that it encourages the development of complex explanations with multiple causalities. The method also promotes thoroughness and a habit of parallel or complex thought wherein the practitioner appears capable of simultaneous vision from different standpoints. Phenomena appear to be viewed analytically and synthetically at once. He further notes that this type of complex thought cannot be expressed verbally in words, and that words and thoughts lose the close association that they usually maintain with those whose silent thoughts, as well as spoken thoughts, run in linear verbal courses. He confesses that one drawback of the method of multiple working hypotheses is that it introduces difficulty in expression, and concludes that therefore there is a certain predisposition on the part of the practitioner to taciturnity. We should note that in the late 1800s, when Chamberlin wrote, graphical models had not yet been developed to the point where they could be used to express the kind of complex scientific thought that he knew so well from his own personal experience.      One hundred years after Chamberlin wrote we have a well developed tradition of Late Modern attempts to communicate more complex ideas with the help of graphics (e.g., see the often cited, but rather dull work, of the eight illustrators in Charles Hampden-Turner’s 1981 Maps of the Mind). But it is only with the publication of treatises such as those of David Kunzle, Scott McCloud and Edward R.Tufte at the end of the 2nd Millenium CE that a more enlightened appreciation of the intellectual potential of graphics as a form of visual cognition becomes available.      By cognition we mean the action or faculty of knowing by calm observation, including awareness, understanding, and judgment. The rich meaning of this concept is most clearly sensed in the chiefly Scotish usage cognizance from the late 1400s (based on Late Middle English). Devolution of meaning to ‘mental activities involved in acquiring and processing information’ occurred in the last century of the 2nd Millennium CE under the influences of academic psychology and computer robotics. In spite of these technical accommodations to the Machine Age (Ellul 1964), an intellectual understanding of cognition is still possible.

Table 1. Some Principles of Conception and Representation in Graphics

     Some cognitive principles of conception and representation in post-modern graphics, adopted by the Kuchka, are presented in Table 1. They are grouped into the categories of principles pertaining to memory, externalized problem solving, semiotic structure, and graphic literacy skills. These are some of the principles of abstract visualization. They are foundational for the facility of creativity. To emphasize examples, memory is unburdened and enhanced in the shift from rote to processing and gist. High-speed visual capabilities from our deep primate tree-leaping and insect predatory ancestry, combined with their associated split-second manual capabilities, foster imaginative manipulations of externalized cognition. The twin monkey gods the Maya saw as patrons of this ancestry bear two different names for the same day of the ritual year, translated by Tedlock (1996:27) as One Monkey and One Artisan. In their honor, we recognize that semiotic structures are simultaneously multi-layered in orbit jumping (non-linear) multi-bidirectional (flexible) spatial relations only partially anticipated by their creators. This is one source for our sense of humor.

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