Information Visualization: Using Vision to Think

I just finished paging through “Readings in Information Visualization: Using Vision to Think” and came across some interesting tidbits. I’ve shared these below in the form of short excerpts.

Information Visualization

“To understand something is called “seeing” it. We try to make our ideas ‘clear,’ to bring them into ‘focus,’ to ‘arrange’ our thoughts. The ubiquity of visual metaphors in describing cognitive processes hints at a nexus of relationships between what we see and what we think.”

“The purpose of visualization is insight, not pictures.”

“The power of the unaided mind is highly overrated. Without external aids, memory, thought, and reasoning are all constrained. But human intelligence is highly flexible and adaptive, superb at inventing procedures and objects that overcome its own limits. The real powers come from devising external aids that enhance cognitive abilities. How have we increased memory, thought and reasoning? By the invention of external aids: It is these things that make us smart. An important class of external aids that make us smart are graphical inventions of all sorts.”

The progress of civilization can be read in the invention of visual artifacts, from writing to mathematics, to maps, to printing, to diagrams, to visual computing. […] Information visualization is about […] exploiting the dynamic, interactive, inexpensive medium of graphical computerse to devise new external aids enhancing cognitive abilities.”

“A few years ago the power of this new medium was applied to science, resulting in scientific visualization. Now it is possible to apply the medium more generally to business, to scholarship and to education.”

“It is sometimes said, ‘A picture is worth ten thousand words.’ […] This quotation was simply made up [in 1921] by ad writer Frederick R. Barnard as an invented ‘Chinese proverb’ in a streetcar advertisement for Royal Baking Power. (The company assumed that consumers would be compelled to buy a product that had the weight of Chinese philosophy behind it). The ad writer wanted to make the point that pictures can attract attention faster than other media.”

“In 1985 […] satellites were sending back large quantities of data, so visualization was useful as a method to accelerate its analysis and to enhance the identification of interesting phenomena.”

“Information visualization is particularly useful for monitoring large amounts of data in real time and under time pressure to make decision.”

Patrick Philippe Meier

8 responses to “Information Visualization: Using Vision to Think

  1. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a map is worth a thousand pictures 🙂

  2. Patrick, another very interesting post, thank you. Do the authors of this book get into the caveat that information visualization can be used both constructively and manipulatively? Whereas numeracy is usually predicated on literacy, and knowledge, critical analysis and wisdom require both (& more), information visualization can be used to short-circuit the whole chain. While informati0n visualization can certainly promote objective & disinterested insight, it can also become the equivalent of charismatic rhetoric, attack ads and sound-bites whose only purpose is to communicate and reinforce powerful interests. When lots of otherwise relevant information is “distilled” into a compelling visual, it is easy to ignore questions of interests, methodology, assumptions and selective presentation. Once the image has been implanted in one’s mind, it can resist revision even if contradicting facts (“details”) are brought to light. Even in western democracies, we only have to think of the power of political party funded polling and the media coverage of same to see this effect.

  3. No, until now I hadn’t seen your post on “How to Lie with Maps” which brilliantly presents the issue. Well done!

  4. Thank you for your wonderful post! As a Spiritual Life Coach, I believe that teaching my clients to visualize an acre can give them more focus in reaching their goals. I also teach my students to use scripting as an energy road map to show themselves what is working for them and what is not.

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