Wednesday, November 5, 2008

System Visualization.

by -Daniel Montano

There is an Indian fable about a group of blind men trying to understand an elephant by using their senses.

As you might imagine the task of understanding an elephant with the limitation of our senses will always be a challenge. The resulting interpretation was a bit different than the way others understand an elephant.

Tools that help us gather, interpret, process, data and information are like “Senses” to the human being. They aid our comprehension, our understanding. They help us “see” and understand the big picture that spans beyond the current current capacities of our biological senses (both entities that are ‘too big’ and entities that are too small for our current sensesory capacities. e.g. satellites and microscopes).


Somewhere between phenomenology limited to what we can experience with our own senses and metaphysics we have something that for now I have been thinking of as “Diffused Entities“. These diffused entities are “invisible” to the naked eye in their entirety. We often can’t hear them in their entirety. We often can’t touch them in their entirety. But we are sure that these entities are present in our systems and we are sure they are affecting our systems.

Diffused entities are hard to visualize because of their complex diffusion and distribution across space, time, and systems, levels etc. (e.g. think of pollution in the complex veins of a river across the expanse of a continent)

I think that our understanding of systems and our collective intelligence evolution will not be fully successful unless we can provide wide access to these types of visual aids. I believe they are essential to help us imagine and understand patterns and relationships in diffused entities.

Information visualization tools are giving “form”, color, size, motion, to information. Simply, these tools are helping to make relationships and patterns comprehensible – they are making complex information usable, digestable, and in a way they are simplifying its interface. (this are a types of information architecture in action).

I would like to propose that we begin to demand and support the production of these tools across all media chanels of information.

Take a look at the following three relational and interpretative images from Andrea Gagglioni’s “Positive Technology Journal” (a blog about emergence):

Figure: Relational visualization tool

Figure: Relational visualization tool.

Figure: An interpretative mood visualization tool

Figure: The Lorenz strange attractor. (one visualization of chaos)

This last image is from the book: Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World by Margaret J. Wheatley.

-Daniel Montano