Shapes and Patterns in Visualizing Human Knowledge: Part 1: Origin From a Historical and Cognitive Perspective

Shapes and Patterns in Visualizing Human Knowledge: Part 1: Origin From a Historical and Cognitive Perspective

Grzegorz Osinski (College of Social and Media Culture, Poland) and Veslava Osinska (Nicolas Copernicus University, Poland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4990-1.ch001


The concepts of knowledge presentation have their origin in the early Middle Ages and establish contemporary trends in visualization activity. Using the latest scientific observations, it is possible to conclude that circles and spheres are the most common natural shapes in both micro- and macrospace. The next most often used metaphor in medieval literature is a tree: an instance of fractals that today determines the geometry of nature. The fractals are the strong attractors of human mind space. The problem is how these two forms interact with each other and how they coexist in the context of effective visualization of information. The chapter presents an intercultural historical outline of appropriate graphical forms for knowledge representation. The authors strive to prove the main hypothesis: fractals and spheres contribute to modern complex visualization. The reasons may be sought in human perception and cognition. This chapter discusses visualization problems in the form of tree-like fractal structures embedded in spherical shapes over time, different cultures, and inter-personal relationships.
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Imagination is more important than knowledge. -Albert Einstein


Historical Draft

The visual metaphors meant for the expression of the structures of the world that surrounds us have been humanity companions for thousands of years. Manuel Lima in the Book of Circles (2017) attempts to apply the methodology of historical sciences to explain why people are so much accustomed to the graphical representations in the form of circles. He proves that the first round inscriptions are dated at around 40,000 years ago, when the ancient people carved round characters called Petroglyphs in the rocks. These are important pre-literary forms of symbols used in the Neolith. The Petroglyphs from the African Twyfelfontein preserved 212 of stone plates covered with different shapes, where the circle or spiral were the predominant elements. If we want to treat the contemporary methods of visualization as visual patterns, then we should investigate the historical role of curvilinear shapes used in the visualization processes. Lima states in his book that he tries to prove that “the data visualization is much older discipline than it appears to us today”. Although today we perceive it as a new and cutting-edge thing, trying to even assign this discipline the status of a new fourth scientific paradigm (Gray, 2007). However, a more detailed analysis will allow us to discover that the visualization of the structures of knowledge is closely linked with the form of language. Despite this, in the 21st century it must stand up to the new technological requirements, but it is rooted in the very distant past.

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