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20201227 – Mind in Motion



The main idea of this book is that human thinking is driven by spatial perception that defines our cognition of both our internal and external worlds. Author formulates 9 cognition laws that define this process, how it happens and eventually how it turns into actions that change the world to better fit our needs.


PROLOGUE Moving in Space: The Foundation of Thought
Here author defines her vision of the link between spatial perception of humans and their thinking. She also provides preview of the structure of this book as it was designed for different special interests:

“For the fundamentals, how perception and action mold thinking about the spaces we inhabit: Chapters One (space of the body), Two (space around the body), Three (space of navigation).

For varieties and transformations of spatial thinking and spatial ability, Chapter Four. For ways gesture reflects and affects thought, Chapter Five.

For talk and thought about space and just about everything else: Chapters Five, Six, and Seven.

For designing and using cognitive tools, maps, diagrams, notation, charts, graphs, visualizations, explanations, comics, sketches, design, and art, Chapters Eight, Nine, and Ten.”

CHAPTER ONE: The Space of the Body: Space Is for Action
The first chapter of this part is about representation of the body in the mind. It stresses that different parts of the body represented very unequally and author provides graph of such representation:

After that author discusses the method of represantation: names vs pictures and then present her conclusion: First General Fact Worth Remembering: Associations to names are more abstract than associations to pictures.” Then she discusses how brain develops links between body parts and their uses and tradeoff it requires. Author formulates it as: First Law of Cognition: There are no benefits without costs.”. Finally author looks at feedback loops that integrate sensation and action into one process and posits: Second Law of Cognition: Action molds perception.”

The remaining part of the chapter discusses mechanisms such as Mirror Newrons, Motor Resonance, Process of Coordinating Bodies and Mids.

CHAPTER TWO: The Bubble Around the Body: People, Places, and Things
Author states objectives of this chapter upfront:” learn how people recognize, categorize, and understand the people, places, and things around us. We note that many everyday categories such as chairs and dogs are bins of common features that differentiate them from the feature bins of even nearby categories, such as carpets and snakes. But not always, and then we need to think harder, about dimensions and the features shared across categories.” She then goes through multiple categories of objects and their organization looking at: Things, Hierarchical organization at basic level, and People. In process author formulates:” Third Law of Cognition: Feeling comes first.”

Next author goes into complexities of Categories and Dimensions referring to work of Hans Rosling on graphic representation of economic and other data that help overcome misconceptions. Finally, author discusses relation between reality and its mental representation, formulation:” Fourth Law of Cognition: The mind can override perception”and then, after discussing confirmation bias: “Fifth Law of Cognition: Cognition mirrors perception.”

CHAPTER THREE: Here and Now and There and Then: The Spaces Around Us
Author’s description of the chapter:” …we examine the ways that the space around the body and the space of navigation are represented in the mind and the brain, providing support for the premise of the entire book, that spatial thinking is the foundation for abstract thought.”

The main points are: “Corollary of Fifth Law of Cognition, Cognition mirrors perception: Spatial mental frameworks can organize ideas.”; “The mind can override perception”

Author then provides examples supporting main points and discusses in details how mind maps not only space around body, but also all kinds of representations including conceptual mapping. This bring us to: “Sixth Law of Cognition: Spatial thinking is the foundation of abstract thought.”

Author also discusses how mind processes these maps including rotation, alignment, setting up hierarchical organization, defining reference points and perspective. Importantly, author also presents “Seventh Law of Cognition: The mind fills in missing information.”

CHAPTER FOUR: Transforming Thought
In this chapter: “we distinguish representations of thought from transformations of thought, then analyze spatial transformations and what they are good for (plenty!) followed by spatial ability and how to get it.”

Author provides examples of mental representations of ideas and their types. Author then discusses actions that she calls transformations or operations. She also provides a shortcut for understanding these ideas:” Just as there are countless real-life actions on real objects, there are countless mental actions on ideas or transformations of representations. Recall the list, a partial one: pull together, raise, toss out, arrange, and so on. Some transformations are loosely tied to domains like arithmetic or cooking or music or language or gene splicing or chess, but many are generic. And so very many of them are based on actions by the body in space, whether actual or imagined. In fact, a useful way to think about mental transformations is as internalized actions. Just as representations can be regarded as internalized perceptions.”

After that author discusses multiple ways that human mind applies to manipulate representation such as mental rotation, switch of perspectives: insider/outsider, animation, and such. Author also looks at spatial abilities and at the end of chapter presents what she believes is meaning of all this:” Those mental gymnastics transform what we see in the world and what we imagine in our minds into countless ideas, from the elementary and mundane needed to catch a ball, cross the street, or pack a suitcase to the spectacular and arcane used to create magnificent buildings or fantastic football plays or theories of particle physics. Marvelous as they are—and they are marvelous—buildings and football plays and zooming particles have a physical presence of one sort or another. But spatial thinking has even more wonders to reveal. Spatial thinking underlies how we talk and how we think, about space to be sure but also about time, emotions, social relations, and much more.”

CHAPTER FIVE: The Body Speaks a Different Language
Author’s description of this chapter:” In which we consider how actions of the body, especially the hands, turn into gestures that act on thought, our own and others, and provide the social glue underlying cooperation.”

Author reviews here how gestures are drawn by hands, different kinds of gestures, how gestures reveal thoughts, and even help us think and communicate. Author also makes an interesting point that:” Second General Fact Worth Remembering: Representations created by hands and by words are wildly different.”

CHAPTER SIX Points, Lines, and Perspective: Space in Talk and Thought
Author’s description of this chapter:” In which we consider how linear language describes space, using a perspective, either an inside, body-centered perspective or an outside, world-centered perspective. For insider perspectives, we show that surprisingly taking another’s perspective is sometimes easier and more natural than taking your own.” Author makes an important note that different languages provide for different perspectives.

CHAPTER SEVEN Boxes, Lines, and Trees: Talk and Thought About Almost Everything Else

“In which we reflect on the ways simple geometric forms, dots, boxes, lines, and networks, capture thought about space, time, number, perspective, causality, and just about everything else.”

Author discusses here “geometry of minds” use of various forms:

  • Boxes as containers of staff and ideas
  • Trees and Networks: big ideas divided into parts
  • Lines and cycles: ordering ideas and/or time in sequence
  • Orders: who’s on top and who’s at bottom
  • Boundaries: separation by identifying differences
  • Arrows: directionality and causality

Overall, it is all about interconnection between spaces and language.

CHAPTER EIGHT Spaces We Create: Maps, Diagrams, Sketches, Explanations, Comics
“In which we show how thought has been put in the world by arranging marks in space to create meanings that transcend the here and now. We zig and zag between the historical and the contemporary to draw lessons for designing and using thinking tools for thought about space, time, number, events, causality, and stories, highlighting comics, an explosively creative zany mix of storytelling”.

Here author expands into cases when mind is too small:” The Eighth Law of Cognition: When thought overflows the mind, the mind puts it into the world”.

This means creation of maps, writing, math, diagrams, notations: either scientific or musical, dancing, instructions, and all kind of similar staff. Author reviews all these in great detail.

CHAPTER NINE Conversations with a Page: Design, Science, and Art
“In which we join art and science through drawing. We watch people put thought on a page to hold a wordless conversation involving eye and hand and marks to see, to think, to clarify, and to create. We leave the page and return to the mind to reveal the key to creativity.”

Here author expands the same ideas into area of art and design.

CHAPTER TEN The World Is a Diagram

“In which we see that our actions in space design the world, that the designs create abstract patterns that attract the eye and inform the mind, that the actions get abstracted to gestures that act on thought, and the patterns to diagrams that convey thought. Actions in space create abstractions. A spiral we call spraction.” Here author discusses impact of humans on world outside their bodies: buildings, roads, book and other artifacts. This basically means to adjust world to what we want it to be, so author formulates:” Ninth Law of Cognition: We organize the stuff in the world the way we organize the stuff in the mind.”


I find this way of thinking interesting and maybe even useful in understanding how people think and in designing of communications that would effectively impact their own and others thinking. The only small issue I would have with all this is that author seems to be missing category of non-spatial, whether it is idea or some linguistic or even material construction, which kind of imposes limitation on understanding of cognition process, which in all cases involves multiple inputs/outputs both spatial and non-spatial. As example one could use something like color, which is generally non-spatial characteristic as it is normally represented in a mind. It definitely could be converted to spatial representation as the specific part of electromagnetic specter on the graph, but normal use is non-spatial.

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