Outline of the different types of representations discussed in this chapter and the distinctions among them.


A representation is any notation or sign or set of symbols that "re-presents" something to us. That is, it stands for some thing in the absence of that thing; typically, that thing is an aspect of the external world or an object of our imagination (i.e., our own internal world). External representations come in many different forms: maps, menus, oil paintings, blueprints, written language, and so on. However, broadly speaking, external representa tions are either written notations (typically words) or graphical notations (pictures and diagrams). Consider a practical example how these two types of external representation can be used to achieve the same end.

External representations: Written versus graphical representations

Imagine you have to work out office allocations for several people. You might draw a diagram of the floor of the building with its corridor, the rooms along it, and the occupants of each room (see Figure 9.2a for one possibility). Essentially the same information can be captured in the description shown in Figure 9.2b. Both of these representations have a critical characteristic that is common to all representations; they only represent some aspects of the world. Neither representation shows us the colour of the carpet in the corridor, or the thickness of the walls or the position of fire exits because these things are not relevant to our purpose.

However, the words and diagrams also differ in one important respect; the diagram has a "closef' relationship to the world than the linguistic description. The diagram tells us about the relative spatial position of the rooms. For example, we know that Hank's room faces Kerry's room and that Illona's room is at the opposite end of the corridor to Marc's room. Were the linguistic description to include this information, we would have to include several further sentences.

Pictures and diagrams are "closer" to the world because their structure resembles the structure of the world. In this case, the spatial configuration of the rooms in the diagram is the same as that of the actual





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