Recent literature on the role of pictorial representation in the life sciences has focused on the relationship between detailed representations of empirical data and more abstract, formal representations of theory. The standard argument is that in both a historical and epistemic sense, this relationship is a directional one: beginning with raw, unmediated images and moving towards diagrams that are more interpreted and more theoretically rich. Using the neural network diagrams of Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts as a case study, I argue that while in the empirical sciences, pictorial representation tends to move from data to theory, in areas of the life sciences that are predominantly theoretical, when abstraction occurs at the outset, the relationship between detail and abstraction in pictorial representations can be of a different character.
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Abraham, T.H. From theory to data: Representing neurons in the 1940s. Biology & Philosophy 18, 415–426 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1024147708370