CIRCA:Arya, Agustin A. "The Hidden Side of Visualization."


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Arya, Agustin A. The Hidden Side of Visualization. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology. Winter 2003

What is a Visualization? How do we know we're looking at one? What happens when we do? What goes into making one?

In his article, Arya goes to great length to describe not only what a visualization is, but a number of factors that go into and come out of a visualization. The real meat of the article seems to center around proving to the reader that a visualization is really only as good as the sum of its parts. The user of a any visualization is provided with an opportunity to be shown information in a new and different way and, with any luck and if done correctly, the visualization, Arya argues, has the potential to literally change the way the user thinks.

An interesting section of the article is where Arya develops the idea of the user, or even the creator, of a visualization experiencing what he describes as a Galilean Moment. This moment, in layman's terms, is the moment when a person can make sense of the environment in such a way that geometric shapes can be used as models or visual aids for explanation and understanding. This is where a visualization becomes powerful. Expanding further on this topic, Arya suggests that a more advanced Cartesian Moment can also occur, where the user not only realizes the potential of geometric shapes as representations of the environment, but also that these can be measured, and therefore provide even further opportunity for understanding of the information they represent.

Arya also makes note of the moment in which a visualization becomes useful to the user, like a tool, relating it to Heideggerian philosophy. Heideggerian philosophy talks about a tool being "present at hand" vs being "ready at hand." A tool is considered present-at-hand when it is not obvious what it can be used for, by the user. A tool being ready-at-hand, conversely, is a tool where it is not only obvious to the user what it is used for, but it actually becomes an extension of the user. The tool exists as a thing, and the thing things when it is ready-at-hand. This is the ideal, Arya argues, of any visualization: to be ready-at-hand for the user in such a way that the user is not held back by the visualization, but is cognitively extended by it, so that their thinking can be enhanced, or even changed by the information it represents.

The article requires a certain amount of concentration to read, as it is packed with information about visualization. Given the opportunity, however, the article also has the potential to change the way the reader views visualizations in general.

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