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Thinking in maps: from the Lascaux caves to modern knowledge graphs

by
Anne-Laure Le Cunff
Ness Labs
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Background

  • Since the beginnings of the Roman Empire, maps have been used to devise strategic attacks or agree on treatises in times of war.
  • Purely geographical maps have played a significant role in history; most ancient maps, however, are symbolic – they use allegorical devices, geometrical shapes, and pictograms that originate in a physical and mental world.

Lascaux – One of the Oldest Maps in the World

  • The Lascaux cave (14,500 BCE) is mostly known for its paintings of horses, aurochs, and deer.
  • It is also a prehistoric sky-map – the dots on the walls represent Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades.
  • It is unlikely that this map was purely geographical – it probably represented a sacred belief, as historically stars were often associated with gods.

Types of Maps

The amalgamation of both of these creates a visual representation of our knowledge and beliefs: - Word-maps - Pictogram – a symbol that conveys its meaning through resemblance to a physical object. - Ideogram – a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept. - Logogram – a written character that represents a word. - World-maps - Physical or mental space maps.

Creators of Mind Maps

  • Leonardo Da Vinci – although we have no evidence of any mind maps drawn by Da Vinci, his ability to think in maps is visible in the many cross-disciplinary connections he made across art and science.
  • Cassiodorus – the creator of one of the earliest mind maps found in Codex Amiatinus. He created a visual representation of the outline of the Bible; it represents “flow of thought,” with the central idea found at the top and branching out into sub-concepts.
  • Ramon Llull – a mathematician from the 13th century, a polymath, and a pioneer of computation theory. Llull considered visual maps as a tool for thought, while his “Tree of Science” represents various scientific areas with roots, leaves, and fruits symbolizing different structures and principles.
  • Isaac Newton – used maps to explore scientific concepts and research ideas.

Modern Knowledge Graphs

As the need to visually represent complex ideas evolved, new ways of thinking in maps were devised. These differ by the types of nodes, the interlinking rules, the directionality of the links, and the presence/absence of a root node. Modern maps include: - Radial maps - Nested maps - Topic maps - Process maps - Concept maps

Limitations of Thinking in Maps

  • The complexity and messiness of our thought processes.
  • The dynamism of our ideas and intricate bi-directional relationships needed to formulate them.

Conclusions

  • Ontology, the philosophical study of being, addresses these limitations – the study concerns itself with a formal representation of categories and relationships between the concepts that make up an area of knowledge.
  • These representations have a crucial impact on the way we view and interact with the world.
  • In information science, ontological principles are used to build the modern web to make the Internet data machine-readable.
  • With almost no human intervention, Google’s Knowledge Graph has connected billions of real and abstract concepts.
  • Some foreshadow that metamodeling of thinking in maps will be the next step in the knowledge management quest– namely, creating algorithms of thought.
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