The readiness with which people map abstract information onto spatial information is part of the reason for the widespread use of diagrams to represent and convey abstract information from the sublime - the harmonies of the spheres rampant in religions spanning the globe - to the mundane corporate charts and statistical graphs.
Graphics, such as these, consist of elements and spatial relations among the elements. In contrast to written (alphabetic) languages, both elements and use of space in graphics can convey meaning rather directly (e.g., Bertin, 1967/1983; Pinker, 1994; Tversky, 1995, 2001; Winn, 1989). Elements may consist of likenesses, such as road signs depicting picnic tables, falling rocks, or deer. Elements may also be figures of depiction, similar to figures of speech: synecdoche, where a part represents a whole, common in ideographic writing, for example, using a ram's horns to represent a ram; or metonomy, where an association represents an entity or action, which is common in computer menus, such as scissors to denote cut text or a trashcan to allow deletion of files.
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