When people make sense of situations, illustrations, instructions and problems they do more than just think with their heads. They gesture, talk, point, annotate, make notes and so on. What extra do they get from interacting with their environment in this way? To study this fundamental problem, I looked at how people project structure onto geometric drawings, visual proofs, and games like tic tac toe. Two experiments were run to learn more about projection. Projection is a special capacity, similar to perception, but less tied to what is in the environment. Projection, unlike pure imagery, requires external structure to anchor it, but it adds ‘mental’ structure to the external scene much like an augmented reality system adds structure to an outside scene. A person projects when they look at a chessboard and can see where a knight may be moved. Because of the cognitive costs of sustaining and extending projection, humans make some of their projections real. They create structure externally. They move the piece, they talk, point, notate, represent. Much of our interactivity during sense making and problem solving involves a cycle of projecting then creating structure.
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