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The Flaw of Averages

Reading today in Rudolf Arnheim’s Visual Thinking, I came across this delightful extract from Francis Galton (half-cousin to Charles Darwin). It appears in the middle of a discussion about the difference between static and dynamic concepts.

“It is difficult to understand why statisticians commonly limit their inquiries to Averages, and do not revel in more comprehensive views. Their souls seem as dull to the charm of variety as that of the native of one of our flat English counties, whose retrospect of Switzerland was that, if its mountains could be thrown into its lakes, two nuisances would be got rid of at once.”

As Arnheim points out in the same chapter, there is an “attractive simplicity” in static concepts which can create tension with our human desire to comprehend more deeply and completely. I feel that tension and want both the simple, distilled understanding and the deep comprehension that comes from nuanced individual experience. I want both the forest *and* the trees.

Is that too much to ask?

This blog is focused on information design, the creation of infographics for visual understanding of complex processes, data and ideas.

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