Visual Analytics and Conceptual Blending Theory

Visual Analytics and Conceptual Blending Theory

Mia Kalish (Diné College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-352-4.ch017


One visualization in Diné philosophy is four small dots arranged in a circular sequence at 90°, 0°, 270°, and 180°. Each position is associated with a time of day, a season, a color, a type of stone, a time in the lifecycle, and a process of living and learning. I use Conceptual Blending Theory to explore this complex information space of small spatial stories that combine to form an “information system of information systems.” This approach to visual analytics uses reduction to human scale, which easily adapts itself to automated analysis and data configuration. This process reveals a previously unseen world and contributes new ideas to understanding both the creation of new visualizations and the decomposition of existing visualizations. This verifiable methodology can validate the steps in the decomposition process itself and also be used to predict the content of missing data.
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Contemporary approaches to information visualization focus on finding ways to present new information using contemporary information technology. These representations range from text-based visualizations that present thematic information in an easy-to-access format, such as management dashboards, to visualizations of more complex systems of data, such as weather patterns. Comparatively, orthographies are visual representations of language. Hebrew is considered to have a deep orthography because it is written without vowels while Spanish is a shallow orthography because everything one needs to know is visible on the surface. Using this metric, text based visualizations may be considered “shallow orthographies” while “deep orthographic visualizations” are graphical visualizations where a great deal of knowledge is necessary to grasp the full import of the information. Examples of these include scientific mappings for wind, weather, hurricane isobars, and the implications of environmental measurements on marine and animal life. In general, the contemporary approach to visualization has been focused on the development of these visualizations, both shallow and deep, to represent information in a forward direction, that is, to develop representations of complex and developing knowledge that is important today, and upon which new knowledge and new understandings will be developed tomorrow. Concomitant to the process of visualization development has been the emergence of what is known as “visual analytics” that:

focuses on human interaction with visualization systems as part of a larger process of data analysis. Visual analytics has been defined as “the science of analytical reasoning supported by the interactive visual interface” (IEEE Visualization, 2006). Its focus is on human information discourse (interaction) within massive, dynamically changing information spaces. Visual analytics research concentrates on support for perceptual and cognitive operations that enable users to detect the expected and discover the unexpected in complex information spaces. (Wikipedia, 2007)

In this chapter, I explore the complex information space of an ancient visualization, one that is easily represented mathematically as both a fractal and as a set of sets (Kalish, 2007). However, these representations, despite their mathematical elegance, do not seek to examine how the Diné (Navajo) philosophical and cultural knowledge emerged as a complex information space. Answering this compelling question, which clearly involves creating a visualization of the complex of “perceptual and cognitive operations” employed not to “detect the expected and discover the unexpected” but to create the information space itself, is a reach back into the unknown, using modern analysis techniques and technology to reveal structure and process. Unraveling creation of an existing and heretofore little unexplored information space can lend new understanding to the processes through which data becomes information, and information becomes condensed into small, easily referenced and equally easily comprehended visualizations. In its simplest form, the visualization of the complex Diné philosophy is four small dots, arranged in a circular sequence at 90°, 0°, 270°, and 180°. Each of these positions is associated with a time of day, a season, a color, a type of stone, a time in the lifecycle, and a process of living and learning. The question is not so much How did they get this way? but What tools can we use to explain the development of this complex, mathematical information space?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Information Space: A collection of information that is not limited by source, form, process, semantics, or application.

Diné & Diné Philosophy: “Diné” literally means “The People” and is typical of the names early American-continent inhabitants gave themselves in their own language. The term “Navajo” is also used, but the choice to self-identify as Navajo or Diné is a personal one. Little is written of Diné Philosophy, both because the knowledge is restricted, and because the transmission follows the oral tradition. The information provided in this chapter is public in that the visualization itself and different pieces of the embedded information have been published in other documents. My choice to use this visualization as an illustration was guided both by its inherent sophistication and by my own sense of justice that calls for the recognition and understanding of all peoples’ knowledges.

Compression: Incorporating details such that they become invisible in the final blend or visualization. Compression is frequently accomplished using one or more of the 15 vital relations.

Organizing Story: The information system that contains the elements from which the storyteller may choose. The organizing story is amorphous in that while it includes the events and important concepts, it does not restrict the sequence of events, the choice of possible events, or the particular way in which each storyteller may choose to present his or her version.

Emergent Meaning: Semantic information not present in any of the blend inputs; often recognized implicitly rather than explicitly.

Conceptual Blending Theory: The name given to the processes described by Giles Fauconnier and Mark Turner that offer a scientific explanation for the ways in which humans cognitively create metaphors. In the CBT process, pieces of different concepts are transformed to produce the final metaphor. A key component of the Theory is the importance of both the recursive nature of the blend process and the ability to run blends backwards and forwards, forwards to produce the metaphor, backwards to allow the inputs to remerge as integral objects. The omni-directionalality emerges from the understanding that blend form and blend semantics are integral and may not be separated from each other. Blends also do not need to start from a specific starting point, but can run from any point. Further, blends may move from one blend process to another, simply by choosing a different blend path; this feature makes chasing information back to its ultimate source a corollary of blend analytics.

Blend: (n), A new representation of knowledge in which form and meaning are inseparable created from the inputs and reduction processes; (v.t.), the creation of a small spatial story from the blending of conceptual inputs and a transformation using one of the 15 vital relations (Change; Identity; Time; Space; Cause-Effect; Part-Whole; Representation; Role; Analogy; Disanalogy; Property; Similarity; Category; Intentionality; and, Uniqueness).

Information System: An organized collection of information that combines as an integral object to form “information systems of information systems” In the context of this chapter, these systems contain much more information than is visible on the surface in that they are observably comprised of the components that were recruited into the blend, but are also comprised of the invisible blends and transformations used in the construction processes themselves, and also of the information necessary to run the blend in reverse.

Reduction to Human Scale: Creation of understandable representations of ideas that are too large or too complex are difficult for humans to grasp, by integrating actors and events. Such blends are already evident in the Diné organizing story, where the Sun-god (human) carries the sun (object) across the sky.

Small Spatial Stories: Stories where actors with human characteristics move themselves through time and space, thinking, acting, and manipulating with hand and tool.

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