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The term logovisual technology was introduced c. 2000 (Blake, Varney 1999) as a generic description for methods that structure texts to aid thinking. It arose in relation to a particular history of research and development with applications in education and management.
The structuring of texts considered in LVT is based on distinguishing three kinds of element; these are:
- Elementary units of meaning
- Their combinations
- Their framing
The particular history began in the 1960s with the invention of structural communication by John G. Bennett and his colleagues. Structural Communication was devised to simulate the process of a small group tutorial in higher education, it introduced the generation and use of 'semantic units' relevant to a topic: a given text was articulated into a set of discrete statements. Operations on this set then provided a means of two-way communication based on combinations of the discrete units; the combinations enabled communication of 'information about information' that lent itself to discourse on e.g. the structure of ideas. (Donald McKay defined 'structural information' as information about how to interpret messages (N. Katherine Hayles, 1999).)
Technological implementation of the method was primitive in the 60s. At that time, there were no personal computers, so there were only cumbersome means of performing operations on the discrete units of meaning.
In the 1980s a 'magnetic technology' was introduced; the 'semantic units' were written onto magnetic objects that could be attached and detached to any number of suitable surfaces. This enabled operations to be done physically, it also enabled them to be perfectly visible to a group of people, thus making it possible for members of a group to work together on the structuring of texts. This suited the needs of many kinds of management group and it was in this context that Centre for Management Creativity continued to develop the method.
In the 2000s a new step was made by recognising the significance of 'framing'; that is, the form of the spaces in which units of meaning were placed and transferred between. Framing lent itself to computer technology in the guise of screens of display; the explicit use of frames enabled the method to go more deeply into the operations of writing and even change what might be considered as writing.
The position taken is that 'thinking' cannot be directly addressed by any technology, only the tangible operations or productions that stem from it, writing in particular. LVT is an intellectual technology (Warfield, 1976) that aims to streamline mental operations by facilitating recurrent actions of writing. By isolating such recurrent actions, and making them simpler and easier to execute, it is supposed that the mind is freed to be more creative.
"It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them." Alfred North Whitehead, An Introduction to Mathematics
An intellectual technology makes certain operations explicit and therefore amenable to becoming more efficient; such operations occur without any such technology in the ordinary process of thinking but are only implicit and therefore often confused and liable to interfere with each other. As an intellectual technology, LVT follows the principle of performing only one action at any one time, it separates operations into distinct times and places. John N. Warfield has described this separation conjecture as follows (Societal Systems, p. 63):
"Modeling may often be done by groups of individuals, contributing their own special knowledge to the development of a model. But human behavior in groups often involves a random mixing and overlapping of idea actions; such random mixing does not lend itself to methodology that seeks to strengthen, sharpen, and facilitate each individual idea action. Instead the burden of attaining productivity tends to fall heavily on group leadership; this often creates an unmanageable situation which frustrates productivity. The separation conjecture speaks to this situation as follows: GREATER INTELLECTUAL PRODUCTIVITY CAN BE ACHIEVED BY BOTH GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS THROUGH CONSCIOUS SEPARATION OF MENTAL ACTIVITY INTO DISTINCT IDEA ACTIONS, EACH BEING CARRIED OUT WITH METHODOLOGY ESPECIALLY APPROPRIATE TO IT. Separation facilitates the development of associations and transformations needed for model development and application."
An intellectual technology can be seen as a special variant of the idea of artificial intelligence, but only in the sense of a facilitating mechanism for the thinking of humans rather than as an independent entity that 'thinks' in its own terms. LVT in particular bears some affinity to the Turing Machine and can be considered as analogous with it. In brief, a Turing machine is based on a linear tape that moves back and forth under a reading and writing head; while in LVT use is made of surfaces (or frames) in which material can be written in two dimensions. Data in the form of units of meaning can be written into spaces and moved or copied from them into other spaces but this requires human operators.
LVT is thus a technology that refines and amplifies what humans do, taking the place of a facilitator; this possibility has been explored in other directions such as in research into 'dialogue games' (Ravenscroft & Pilkington, 2000):
"Levin & Moore (1997) used the term dialogue-game to characterise observable patterns in human dialogue, which they called "Metacommunication Structures for Natural Language Interaction". Examples of their games include Helping, Information-seeking, Information-probing and Instructing. A more prescriptive approach to dialogue games has been proposed by Mackenzie (1979), Carlson (1983) and Hintikka (1984), that have been reviewed by Walton (1984); this category of game assigns participant roles, specify goals of the interaction, and include rules that govern permissible dialogue moves for participants. Rules also specify the influence of moves on commitment stores, turn-taking and who has the initiative."
Dialogue games are one type of meaning game, games based on the meaning of elements that are constructed into new meanings by their conjunctions. One example of this corpus is known, after Herman Hesse, as the Glass Bead Game. Another striking example is 1000 blank white cards which can be viewed as an unconstrained form of LVT. Studies of the general principles of meaning games have been incorporated into LVT (A. G. E. Blake, 2008).
Formal operations of writing in LVT
The formal operations of LVT derive from those discernible in any instance of 'writing from thinking'.
In ordinary writing, text is produced linearly on the horizontal and lines are contingently arranged in stacks, vertically. In poetry, lines have their own intrinsic length and are clearly separated vertically. In technical fields, it is a common practice to write ideas or statements vertically as in bullet points.
There are arbitrary constraints of size of page.
Chunks of text are divided up as in the conventions of the paragraph. There are useful devices such as headings that can title a chunk of text or a set of chunks.
These familiar structures are refined to enable the systemic approach of LVT.
The writing of text is subject to various types of order.
- Text is articulated into discrete units called 'molecules of meaning' (MMs) that can be treated as distinct objects.
- MMs are arrayed according to different types of order such as:
- In series
- In stacks
- In sets
- MMs and/or their combinations (in orders) are placed in different frames. A frame is a bounded two-dimensional surface that can contain a number of MMs and has its own meaning.
'Writing' is not only the production of words but includes the movement of MMs from one frame to another. The meaning of any MM is dependent not only on what it states but also on what other MMs it is combined with and what kind of frame it is situated in. A frame is analogous to a frame of reference as used in physics.
The arbitrary character of the written page is replaced by a set of operations within a system that follows the intrinsic meaning of what is being said to produce an intentionally structured text, it is therefore akin to poetry and mathematics.
Comprehension of text
Reading and writing have some correlation with intelligence, it appears, for example, that reading classical texts can at least temporarily increase intelligence because they are highly coherent in their composition. LVT focuses on the operations that create structure, it is a compositional technique that also aids intelligent reading.
The comprehension of text or reading involves many levels from visual acuity to intellectual grasp of complex arguments. LVT takes into account that in any one 'moment' of an act of comprehension a reader can grasp only four or five items, but also makes use of the fact that the items can range from single characters to whole sections of text. What an 'item' – in LVT terminology, an MM – consists of can change from frame to frame.
The forming and handling of small groups of MMs on one level as one new kind of MM on another level is a critical operation; such 'chunks' can be further chunked. The steps involved can be handled by the use of different frames.
In reading, there is both an immediate sense of a chunk on a certain level and also a 'background' sense of chunking on many levels; the background sense extends to what is sometimes called the synoptic sense of the whole text. There is both a movement from the most immediate and detailed parts of the text to build towards the whole, and also from the most all-embracing view towards the detail or specifics, it is the synoptic view that provides for a frame of reference within which 'smaller' MMs can be located. The structure of the synoptic view is not identical with the sequential order of exposition, it might even be called 'unconscious'.
As reading proceeds, what has been read ceases to be immediate and becomes 'latent'. By rendering MMs visible and capable of being stored in various frames they are made more accessible than relying on memory for re-viewing in the various contexts of other MMs.
The pragmatics of dealing in effect with only four or five MMs at a time is followed through in all the operations of LVT.
The relations between MMs on the different levels are multiple in kind and can never be reduced to any precise set of defined operations; the movement of these relations through various mental operations can be identified with thinking. LVT, like any technology, can only deal with relations that can be made visible and operations that are made tangible, but by improving on what can be dealt with in such a way, there can be an enablement of higher order thinking skills. In this guise, LVT has begun to attract the attention of educationists.
LVT also incorporates visual and kinesthetic elements that can assist children who are not at ease with verbal intelligence alone; the intellectual chunking of MMs is paralleled with a physical separation and placement. An important component of the information processed through LVT is topological.
The critical constraint in the system is to operate within a given set of elements (MMs) such that the same elements are structured in a series of ways, or are transformed; the central thesis of LVT is that new meaning can be generated out of sets of discrete elements (MMs) through combination and framing. This constitutes a form of rewriting; the structure of LVT is analogous to some mathematical structures, but is less rigorous. Analogy and analogical thinking in general plays a major role in LVT by providing exemplars of ways of interpretation such as of text, images or diagrams.
At its core is the property of the mind to take a set of many items as one item, sometimes called chunking; such an operation is analogous to a mapping or conceptual metaphor or a transform (mathematics) and contains the kind of identity that can be expressed as N = 1, where N is the number of distinct MMs contained in the set and the 1 is the singular MM that expresses the reason for the grouping. Hence the singular new MM can be used to signify the whole group it names in further operations.
The three main types of transformation utilised in LVT are:
- Originate. A given 'text' written in the ordinary continuous and linear manner is broken down and expressed clearly in a set of MMs. MMs are statements that are e.g. statements of fact, assertions, or propositions, etc. This distinguishes LVT from such practices as brainstorming and mindmapping. Often there is no apparent text but simply reference to 'memory' and 'imagination' or just 'thinking about something'; the idea of a text is used in a very generalised way.
- Combinate. The MMs are combined into sub-sets each of which can be identified with a distinct new meaning; the operation is called 'combinate' to emphasise its active character in organising ideas. It is distantly related to the mathematical structure of combinatorial hierarchy and more particularly to the study of multi-term systems introduced by John G. Bennett's systematics.
- Integrate. These sub-sets are integrated together into a single composition (language); the verb 'to integrate' is used analogously with mathematical or computer usage as in producing the area under a linear curve, or as in system integration. The sub-sets are formed into serial order to produce a 'curve' that contains their order and content.
These three correspond to structures used in ordinary writing though not identical:
- MMs correspond to sentences
- Combined MMs correspond to paragraphs
- Complete structures of MMs correspond to sections or chapters.
The arc of the total process begins in the relatively unstructured text and ends in a new version of the text; the final text can be written in standard form but will have underlying it a structure that renders it better formed.
Thinking in writing produces a series of ideas but also concerns connections of ideas transcendental to the series; the latter need to be recognised and articulated in their own right. It is often the relation of ideas that is more important than the ideas themselves.
This was addressed in the ancient method of ring composition; as explained by the anthropologist Mary Douglas, the method involved narrative or expository writing as if arranged in a circle. The symmetry of the conceptual arrangement naturally divided the discourse into two halves that mirrored each other; the axis of division ran 'internally to the circle' from what Douglas and other scholars call the latch, which unites beginning and end to the turn, which is the pivot or central meaning of the whole. (An example is Homer's Iliad that 'turns' at the third night of the story). A reader capable of looking into the text as in such a circle was able to reflect on the cross-connections across the circle; such connections could be made to contain the most significant ideas, though they would necessarily involve the active participation of the reader to make them appear.
In LVT, it is possible for people to rewrite their texts in such a form; this form enables them to reflect on 'inner connections' and generate new meanings; but also to experiment with and improve the coherence of the text in doing so. It is, therefore, a method of composition of structured texts.
There are parallels between LVT ring composition and ideas of dramatic structure such as the sequence of Gustav Freytag's pyramid: exposition—rising action—climax (or turning point)—falling action—dénouement.
Integrative texts are also figured in systems diagrams but the literary form of ring composition is preferred because it highlights the inner connections and it does this in a simple way.
An integrative text can be used to generate new meanings, it becomes a thinking apparatus that is more than a summation of previous thoughts.
Thinking in groups
The LVT method can be used by an individual but also has utility for 'thinking in groups'; the reasons for this can be summarised:
- All members of the group work with the same 'common' language.
- Their thinking operations are rendered visible to each other.
- Texts are produced that can encode and store information about their dialogue.
It contains free-floating conversation and association by enabling members of a group to verify that they are talking about the same thing; that is, to ground the conversation in shared, concrete and visible objects, it can be related to free association (psychology) but only in such contexts as social dreaming where the primary task is to generate new thinking.
Another link with psychology and the humanities is through the idea of the matrix as first described by S. H. Foulkes as:
"The hypothetical web of communication and relationship in a given group. It is the common shared ground that ultimately determines the meaning and significance of all events and upon which all communications and interpretations verbal and non-verbal rest."
The 'structured text' that can be produced by a group using LVT must be a representation of the matrix of the group, it is allied to reflective consciousness and self-knowledge, or metacognition.
LVT is a form of sensemaking, it enables the rewriting of the 'story of the situation' to better articulate meaningful connections between 'molecules of meaning' such as events and people in conditions of ambiguity that challenge current representations. Sensemaking is a two-way process between 'data' (as MMs) and frames of reference to articulate intelligent trajectories into the future.
Language, vision and touch (LVT)
The LVT framing of text forms a bridge between different modes of information-processing, such as first suggested by Roger Wolcott Sperry in terms of a contrast between left and right hemispheres of the brain; the left brain is dominantly linear, abstract, and verbal while the right is dominantly holistic, sensory, and pictorial. There may be conjectured to be three or more 'brains' to include a third, for example, devoted to handling physical objects in concrete space; the principle of three brains is encoded in the acronym LVT as 'language, vision and touch'.
The precise, distinct steps of LVT which can be given exact algorithms are in practice interleaved with aspects of right brain performance. In terms of left brain thinking, these aspects are 'random' and have no logic, they concern seeing patterns and their meanings and they cannot be reduced to set rules. 'Combinate' makes no sense to the left brain besides being an efficient means of reducing complexity. Its positive content is only understood in the right brain.
The framing of text involves an elementary kind of drawing in that the arrangement of MMs and their combinations is both aesthetic and expressive, it is not putting ideas into pictures but seeing their relations through making shapes combining them.
The 'third brain' of physical sensory-movement gives us access to the organised dynamism of physical and animate objects and such objects – also their environments – can provide templates of understanding or forms of Integration. In this mode, they take the role of amplifications such as arise in psychotherapy which provide structure to contain and augment what has emerged by free association.
In LVT, it is the 'third brain' that enables a constructive relation between left and right or linguistic and visual brains. In its strict sense, LVT does not allow for extension of the visual into a 'drawing one's thought' (Betty Edwards, 1986) and such a process would have to be introduced independently: learning how to draw one's thoughts could contribute to fostering ability in combinating.
Aspects of LVT are to be found in megalithic constructions, with their stones, alignments and circles which relate to patterns of number in the cosmos (Heath, 2005); this relates to LVT through the later textual device of ring composition. Ramon Llull's wheels and Gottfried Leibniz's characteristica universalis, often considered to be forerunners of computer science, were also prime examples of technologies of combinating.
Frances Yates's study of the 'theatre of memory' from classical to Renaissance times describes the organisation of knowledge through spatial visualisations; the Bektashi practice of making pictures out of calligraphy illustrates the principle of putting text into shapes. In a different mode, the Bauhaus school included exercises in sensory and spatial language.
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