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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Volume 2011, Issue 186


Cognitive conditions of diagrammatic reasoning

Michael H. G. Hoffmann
Published Online: 2011-08-08 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/semi.2011.052


In the first part of this paper, I delineate Peirce's general concept of diagrammatic reasoning from other usages of the term that focus either on diagrammatic systems as developed in logic and AI or on reasoning with mental models. The main function of Peirce's form of diagrammatic reasoning is to facilitate individual or social thinking processes in situations that are too complex to be coped with exclusively by internal cognitive means. I provide a diagrammatic definition of diagrammatic reasoning that emphasizes the construction of, and experimentation with, external representations based on the rules and conventions of a chosen representation system. The second part starts with a summary of empirical research regarding cognitive effects of working with diagrams and a critique of approaches that use “mental models” to explain those effects. The main focus of this section is, however, to elaborate the idea that diagrammatic reasoning should be conceptualized as a case of “distributed cognition.” Using the mathematics lesson described by Plato in his Meno, I analyze those cognitive conditions of diagrammatic reasoning that are relevant in this case.

Keywords:: diagrammatic reasoning; distributed cognition; mental models; learning; scaffolding; creativity

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Published Online: 2011-08-08

Published in Print: 2011-08-01

Citation Information: Semiotica, Volume 2011, Issue 186, Pages 189–212, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/semi.2011.052.

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