Credible visualizations

Never before I have seen such a vivid visualization of the concept of “facts” as in this Flickr set “Free the Facts”:

Attribution: (c) 2009 Dave Gray (

(watch it from the beginning, to see the tower develop). But S. Downes points out that there is outdated understanding involved, and later elaborates on scientific thinking about facts.

So how could we visualize this more complicated, more accurate thinking, to leverage the power of the visual imagination? I think we cannot, and we need not, either. A certain amount of simplification is unavoidable when visualizing complex concepts. I hesitated a lot before I accepted this, because I am easily put off when it is unduly overdone. But now I do think that it can be legitimate.

The depicted concept of facts may not be accurately correct in the philosophical sense of the word, but it matches the typical idea that we have almost all the times when we speak about facts in our ordinary language. (Disclaimer: I don’t mean the ordinary language as defined in the philosophical theory I am not familiar with, but the ordinary ordinary language.)

And for the up-to-dateness: Many valuable visuals depict a rather outdated specimen but an easily recognisable prototype. Just think of the pictograms of telephones, or the ladies’ restroom, or railways, or countless others. So it is perfectly legitimate to resort to older prototypes for great explanations.

The great visualizations work because we have no problems generalizing the shown border-case items onto the more general but abstract true items. And in my experience, the simplified visualizations work particularly well when we watch them developping. Then the simplification appears less undue and more credible.

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