Better Visualization through Better Vision

Better Visualization through Better Vision

Michael Eisenberg (University of Colorado – Boulder, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0480-1.ch003
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Traditionally, the subject of “scientific visualization” focuses on the creation of novel or innovative graphical representations: essentially, new types of images to perceive. A truly complete approach to scientific visualization should include not only the perceived object, but also the abilities of the perceiver. Human “visual common sense” is a product of evolution, suited to the survival of the species; but it has severe and recurring limitations for the purposes of scientific understanding and education. People cannot readily understand phenomena that are too fast, slow, or complex for their visual systems to take in; they cannot see wavelengths outside visual spectrum; they have difficulty understanding three-dimensional (or, even worse, four-dimensional) objects. This chapter explores a variety of ideas and design themes for approaching scientific visualization by enhancing the powers of human vision.
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Introduction: Changing How We See

When the subject of “scientific visualization” comes up in the context of educational research, the usual assumption is that we are talking about creating better or more informative graphics. Perhaps the way to improve scientific visualization is through developing animated simulations; or interactive interfaces to large information spaces; or embedding aural cues within diagrams.

All of these approaches are promising, and thoroughly deserve to be pursued; but at the same time, a truly complete view of visualization research needs to look beyond an exclusive focus on the perceived object. Visualization, after all, requires both an object and a perceiver. We might thus seek to explore new types of visualization both by creating novel objects-to-perceive and by creating new tools and agents of perception. That is, by remaking the nature and equipment of vision itself, it might well be possible to achieve an expanded understanding of scientific ideas and the world in which we are embedded.

The purpose of this (frankly speculative) chapter is to suggest and enumerate a variety of potential avenues for creating visual technologies to enhance scientific education and understanding. The central theme of these examples is to think about the human visual system as the biological core of what could be an expandable visual apparatus, combining both biological and non-biological elements. The process of evolution has provided us with visual powers tuned to the survival challenges that have historically faced our species; but at the same time, those powers constitute a sort of “visual common sense” that is not always, and not necessarily, suited to understanding ideas that challenge our inherited intuitions.

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