IAT106-Lecture1: Spatial Thinking.docx

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Spatial thinking- a constructive amalgam of three elements: concepts of space, tools of
representation, and processes of reasoning
Spatial thinking entails knowing about
Space: for example, the relationships among units of measurement (e.g., kilometers versus
miles), different ways of calculating distance (e.g., miles, travel time, travel cost), the basis of
coordinate systems (e.g., Cartesian versus polar coordinates), the nature of spaces (e.g.,
number of dimensions [two- versus three-dimensional]); representationfor example, the
relationships among views (e.g., plans versus elevations of buildings, or orthogonal versus
perspective maps), the effect of projections (e.g., Mercator versus equal-area map projections),
the principles of graphic design (e.g., the roles of legibility, visual contrast, and figure-ground
organization in the readability of graphs and maps); reasoningfor example, the different ways
of thinking about shortest distances (e.g., as the crow flies versus route distance in a
rectangular street grid), the ability to extrapolate and interpolate (e.g., projecting a functional
relationship on a graph into the future or estimating the slope of a hillside from a map of
contour lines), and making decisions (e.g., given traffic reports on a radio, selecting an
alternative detour).
Spatial thinking serves three purposes. It has (1) a descriptive function, capturing, preserving,
and conveying the appearances of and relations among objects; (2) an analytic function,
enabling an understanding of the structure of objects; and (3) an inferential function,
generating answers to questions about the evolution and function of objects.
The set of primitives is a way of capturing our encounters with a world full of objects
(occurrences of phenomena): objects are the things that we are trying to understand (Golledge,
1995, 2002). For each domain of scientific knowledge, there are different sets of objects: in
biology they might include genes, cells, proteins, biota, and so forth, and in sociology they
might include neighborhoods, stereotypes, organizations, etc. In any domain, we can specify at
least four fundamental properties of objects that allow us to reason and think about features of
objects such as their
(a) identity or name, (b) location in space, (c) magnitude, and (d) temporal specificity and
These properties allow for the identification of an object.
In the case of geographic location, for example, identification requires a coordinate system that
can be globally applied and understood, as in the latitude-longitude system, or can be locally
contingent, as in terms of street names and numbers. Georeferencing ensures that each object
has an unambiguous location specification, and thus the entire set of objects can be located in a
space (e.g., the set of georeferenced place names in an atlas gazetteer, the set of nine-digit zip
codes for addresses in the United States).
The languages of space allow us to capture the fundamental properties of objects. One
language is based on dimensionality and uses a geometric (and graphic) dimensional series: by
limiting ourselves to objects in three-space for the moment, we can think about objects as
instances of a point, a line, an area, or a volume.
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