Diagrammatic reasoning: Abstraction, interaction, and insight

Pragmatics and Cognition 22 (2):264-283 (2014)

Abstract

Many types of everyday and specialized reasoning depend on diagrams: we use maps to find our way, we draw graphs and sketches to communicate concepts and prove geometrical theorems, and we manipulate diagrams to explore new creative solutions to problems. The active involvement and manipulation of representational artifacts for purposes of thinking and communicating is discussed in relation to C.S. Peirce’s notion of diagrammatical reasoning. We propose to extend Peirce’s original ideas and sketch a conceptual framework that delineates different kinds of diagram manipulation: Sometimes diagrams are manipulated in order to profile known information in an optimal fashion. At other times diagrams are explored in order to gain new insights, solve problems or discover hidden meaning potentials. The latter cases often entail manipulations that either generate additional information or extract information by means of abstraction. Ideas are substantiated by reference to ethnographic, experimental and historical examples.

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