Writing it Up and Writing it Down: notation for interdisciplinary research

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The diversity of notation systems including writing and drawing, and the existence of specialised mono-disciplinary systems including music and dance notation, etc., invites inquiry into the relationships between what can be said and what can be thought – known as linguistic relativism. This paper discusses some problems of ideation and notation in interdisciplinary research, where there can be difficulties using existing notation to capture its concepts and outcomes, owing to their novelty.

We approached this problem via an analysis of two axes of notation: iconicity and extrinsicality. We took 18 varieties of notation and scored them on a scale (-5:+5) according to the variables of symbolic-iconic and intrinsic-extrinsic. From the iconic perspective, we noted that sign systems which are heavily symbolic benefit from depth of communication but suffer from lack of breadth of application. From the perspective of extrinsicality, we noted there was a range of transferability of sign systems, from very extrinsic systems such as drawing, to the very narrowly constrained and intrinsic systems of symbolic logic and maths.

There are three provisional outcomes. 1) iconic scripts tend to be propositional: they are therefore limited to applications in which they make assertions about the real world which are either true or false. 2) symbolic scripts tend to operate normatively: the more complete and mature is the symbolic sign system, the more it determines what can be said about the real world. 3: the cluster of iconic-extrinsic notations tend to facilitate original thinking “outside the box.”
Original languageEnglish
Media of outputOnline
Size15 min.
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2024
EventLearning-Life-Work, AMPS conference San Francisco - California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, United States
Duration: 10 Jun 202412 Jun 2024


  • notations
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • linguistic relativity
  • Visual communication
  • originality


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