Sketches as Mental Reifications of Theoretical Scientific Treatment

  • Daniela M. Bailer-Jones


Sketches are used abundantly in the practice of science. The purposes for which they are used are diverse, such as illustration, exemplification or data display. Moreover, sketches in science can be of very different things — from concrete objects to abstract conceptions. The graph of a mathematical function is very different in what it shows from a drawing of an experimental set-up or from an X-ray picture. My focus, in this paper, is on a quite specific use of sketches: sketches that stand for the theoretical treatment of empirical phenomena;’ they function as substitutes for the physical processes (and their theoretical description) that are thought to produce these phenomena. Examples for such sketches will be given below. Relying on conventions old and new, the point is that theoretical information — abstract theories from physics as they are applied to an empirical phenomenon — is put into pictures. This means that, in effect, abstract and theoretical conceptions about the empirical world, mostly expressed in mathematical formulae, are reified, i.e. “made into a thing”.2 By being put into a picture, scientific treatment dominated by theoretical conceptions is effectively made into two-dimensional objects.


Radio Source Theoretical Treatment Match Task Curve Path Kind Permission 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Bailer, D.M. (1993). The dynamics of extragalactic radio sources. M.Phil. Dissertation, University of Cambridge.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bailer-Jones, D.M. (1997). Scientific models: A cognitive approach with an application in astrophysics. Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bailer-Jones, D.M. (1999). Creative strategies employed in modelling: A case study. Foundations of Science 4:375–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bailer-Jones, D.M. (2000). Modelling extended extragalactic radio sources. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 31B:49–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Best, P.N., Bailer, D.M., Longair, M.S. and Riley, J.M. (1995). Radio source asymmetries and unified schemes. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 275:1171–1184.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Giere, R. (1996). Visual models and scientific judgment. In: B.S. Baigrie (Ed.), Scientific illustration: Historical and philosophical problems concerning the interaction between art and science. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 269–302.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Glenberg, A.M. and Langston, W.E. (1992). Comprehension of illustrated text: Pictures help to build mental models. Journal of Memory and Language 31:129–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Hey, J.S., Parson, S.J. and Phillips, J.W. (1946). Fluctuations in cosmic radiation at radio frequencies. Nature 158:234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Katona, G. (1940). Organizing and memorizing: Studies in the psychology of learning and teaching. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Larkin, J.H. and Simon, H.A. (1987). Why a diagram is (sometimes) worth ten thousand words. Cognitive Science 11:65–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Leahy, J.P. and Perley, R.A. (1991). VLA images of 23 extragalactic radio sources. Astronomical Journal 102:537–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Miller, A. (1986). Imagery in scientific thought. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Nersessian, N.J. (1992). How do scientists think? Capturing the dynamics of conceptual change in science. In R. Giere (Ed.), Cognitive models of science. Minnesota studies in the philosophy of science. Vol. XV. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 3–44.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ruse, M. (1991). Are pictures really necessary? The case of Sewell Wright’s “adaptive landscapes”. In A. Fine, M. Forbes and L. Wessels (Eds), PSA 1990, Vol.  2. East Lansing, MI: Philosophy of Science Association, pp. 63–77.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Wimsatt, W.C. (1991). Taming the dimensions: Visualizations in science. In A. Fine, M. Forbes and L. Wessels (Eds), PSA 1990. East Lansing, MI: Philosophy of Science Association, pp. 111–135.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniela M. Bailer-Jones

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations