Visualizing Ignorance

Volume 14, Issue 2

The Bank of England fan chart of inflation visualizes the uncertainty of the bank’s inflation projections. Visualization is a way to tame uncertainty, in the sense that uncertainty is brought under the measure of a probabilistic distribution, in this case a (two-piece) normal distribution. As such, taming is a process of homogenization, that is, a process of translating various heterogeneous items into a common medium. In this case, the common medium is a specific curve, the shape of which is determined by principles of ignorance: one starts with a simple symmetrical and smooth shape, and deviates from it if there is reason to. These principles of visualization work epistemologically in the same way that gestalt principles are used to perceptually structure visual information. This article shows that the principles of symmetry, proximity, and smoothness are the underlying heuristics that shapes the unknown future into a fan chart.

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