The sun never saw any shadow. Optical media in scientific research practice.

Caria, Federico
DiXiT - Marie Curie ITN, Italy

The relation between visualization and cognition is relevant in deepening the role of cultural interfaces in the remediation process. One of the strategies that I am using is to interview scholars and scientists, asking them to introduce a typical software and show the system at work in a talk-aloud mode. This is a methodology that I simply borrowed from user research methods and adapted to my needs: learning how different designs internalize scholarly principles in various areas of research.

How do the sciences capitalize on the technological enhancement in computer processing and visualization techniques to “see more” of the phenomena they study? Is there a qualitative difference between representing on paper and being able to directly manipulate the data visualization from the interface? What is the relationship between display and the way data are captured, encoded, explained?

My goal is to collect a consistent number of use cases to draw on, in order to enrich my study with a cross-disciplinary perspective on knowledge design and to see if there are any interesting solutions to be reused in our field. One of the reasons why I started this initiative is because of what Sahle (2013) defines ‘the page paradigm’, which he describes as follows:

“one will have to state of traditional editors, even in case they will become aware of the fundamental methodological issues of concern to them, they hardly ever had a chance to think of their editions without constantly having a printed page layout before their eyes. They will always have been conscious of the only possible end point (the printed book) - maybe even more than of the starting point (the documents of the transmission)”.

A quick look into the online catalogues of digital scholarly editions currently available (Patrick Sahle; Greta Franzini is enough to show how strong the bond between digital representations and the culture of the book is. This sense is even stronger if compared to the exponential increase in the use of computers for both analysis and simulation of complex system in all branches of scientific activity registered in the last decades. Literally, all scientific disciplines dove into experimenting with computer-augmented visualizations, in the attempt to “see” more of the phenomena they study. In light of this, the timid engagement of scholarly editions with the new order of visual access that computers offer is quite curious.

It seems even more curious (as I observed in two years of DiXiT job) that a considerable number of scholarly editors tend to downplay the role of the presentation (representation, visualization – these terms are linked to observation, perception and rich of philosophical implications), given the huge role that optical media have always played in scientific thinking. It is as if some fields of the humanities were mounting a great resistance to the introduction of any possible method in increasing one’s reading ability, interpretation, inspiration or aesthetics. In contrast, the fact that production, use and dissemination of visual artifacts in science and technology have been central to logical reasoning and mathematical reckoning is as undeniable as the influence of the artistic imaginary on the scientific representation.

In the field of scholarly editing, the most natural consequence of downplaying the representation (or “the what we see” (Drucker 2014)) is the page paradigm. However, approaching design through a mental model borrowed from the print culture cannot be the only solution, especially if one considers that it constrains navigation in “hypertexts that focuses solely on the link” (Wardrip-Fruin 2004). Pierazzo (2015) suggests that “overcoming the page paradigm is a desirable outcome and that experimentation and daring new solutions represent the most promising way to achieve this”. To this purpose, a cross-disciplinary investigation is the most promising way to foster creativity.

Appendix A

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