The Culture of Diagram

The Culture of Diagram

The Culture of Diagram

The Culture of Diagram

Synopsis

The Culture of Diagram is about visual thinking. Exploring a terrain where words meet pictures and formulas meet figures, the book foregrounds diagrams as tools for blurring those boundaries to focus on the production of knowledge as process. It outlines a history of convergence among diverse streams of data in real-time: from eighteenth-century print media and the diagrammatic procedures in the pages of Diderot's Encyclopedia to the paintings of Jacques-Louis David and mathematical devices that reveal the unseen worlds of quantum physics. Central to the story is the process of correlation, which invites observers to participate by eliciting leaps of imagination to fill gaps in data, equations, or sensations. This book traces practices that ran against the grain of both Locke's clear and distinct ideas and Newton's causality- practices greatly expanded by the calculus, probabilities, and protocols of data sampling.

Today's digital technologies are rooted in the ability of high-speed computers to correct errors when returning binary data to the human sensorium. High-tech diagrams echo the visual structures of the Encyclopedia, arraying packets of dissimilar data across digital spaces instead of white paper. The culture of diagram broke with the certainties of eighteenth-century science to expand the range of human experience. Speaking across disciplines and discourses, Bender and Marrinan situate our modernity in a new and revealing light.

Excerpt

A surgeon enters the bright, even light of an operating room where the patient, prepared for surgery, occupies a table surrounded by the expected array of monitors, respirators, and sterilized tools. But rather than taking his usual place near the patient, the surgeon seats himself at a nearby console where an assistant places over his head a helmet that completely covers his eyes and most of his face. the helmet is plugged into a computer and the doctor grasps two wands shaped to resemble microsurgical scalpels. He signals to a technician at a computer terminal that he is ready: a delicate surgical procedure on one of the patient's eyes is about to begin.

What is happening here? Without ever physically touching the patient, nor even seeing him directly, the doctor is directing a delicate procedure inside the eye itself. the “helmet” he wears is a head-mounted display (HMD) that positions before his own eyes two small color television monitors connected to a stereo imaging device. What the doctor “sees” is a real-time, stereoscopic image of the movement and position of his microsurgical tools (FIGURE 1 / plate 1 and figure 2 / plate 2). Moving his head changes the position of the miniature camera so that the doctor . . .

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