Linguistics/Cognitive Semiotics Seminar: "A history of diagrams – Long trends and turning points in the spatial representation of abstract thought" (Janne Holmén, Uppsala University)
In this joint Linguistics and Cognitive Semiotics guest lecture/seminar, Janne Holmén from Uppsala University, will focus on the and role of diagrams for human thinking and communication - from historical, semiotic and linguistic perspectives. This will be a hybrid event, so welcome to the room or to the zoom link, between 15:00 and 15:15 - when the talk will begin and last about an hour, followed by general discussion. (For joining the dinner with the guest from 6pm, please let Jordan know by Feb 13).
Throughout history, humans have used their cognition of space in order to grasp difficult thoughts and concept and communicate them to other people. Recent evidence from a variety of fields, ranging from neurology to linguistics, suggest that brain mechanisms originally developed for spatial cognition have been co-opted during evolution for the perception of time and for abstract thinking Illustrations from antiquity until today provide examples of how spatial representations have been used to systematize abstract knowledge and make it understandable. Well-known examples are lists and tables, the periodic chart of the elements, evolutionary “trees of life,” timelines, statistical graphics, flow charts, and the political right–left spectrum. Such spatial models have been of central importance not only in the history of science, ideas and education, but also in economic and political history. In the semiotics of Charles Sanders Pierce, such signs can be classified as diagrams, a particular form of icons.
I will present some ides from my forthcoming book on this topic, which surveys the history of humanity’s use of diagrams, from its earliest Paleolithic roots until the present. It describes under which circumstances new forms of diagrams have evolved, and how this development is linked to changes in the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge, paradigmatic shifts in worldviews, as well as to technologies of image production. Thereby, the book outlines how humans have tried to systematize abstract knowledge and make it understandable by subjecting it to efficient spatial cognition with the help of diagrams.