As my family and I were being rattled around in a four-wheel drive vehicle in the remote Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, it struck me that traveling to exotic locations is just like manually adjusting the scales on graphs! That’s probably not what you were expecting, but let me explain! Unlike most of my statistical blog posts, this one gets a bit philosophical!
We love to travel. My family and I particularly enjoy traveling abroad. For us, you just can’t beat experiencing new customs, cultures, sights and food. In fact, we joke that we have a case of chronic travel itch! The experiences and memories are priceless and last a lifetime.
One of our favorite places is Costa Rica. We have hiked through rainforests, cloud forests and up a volcano! In the process, we saw many tropical birds, monkeys, colorful frogs, snakes, and reptiles. On a night hike through the rainforest, we saw the most deadly snake in Costa Rica, the Bothrops asper. Our favorite place to stay is an ecolodge where we stay in a hut in the middle of the rainforest!
What I realized during that bouncy ride is that travel provides a new perspective on life just like adjusting the scales on graphs provides a new perspective on data.
Automatic versus Manual Graph Scales
I’ll explain this concept using the idea of a local view and a global view. When we were shopping for a new car, the salesman emphasized the smooth ride. Rough rides can be annoying. At that time, we were near home and just comparing the ride in the context of the smooth local roads.
Those bumps were on a vastly different scale than the bumps on the rough road in remote Costa Rica. This contrast still makes me smile because we loved that fun ride in Costa Rica. Perhaps it’s not so important to eliminate all of the bumps from your life? That’s an important realization right there!
Let’s graph the intensity of the bumps near home and the bumps in the jungle on time series plots. When you use automatic scaling in statistical software, the data fill the plot in a pleasant, visually appealing manner. I consider this the local view of your data. The data you measure fill your entire perspective. The graph is not taking some larger perspective from outside the data into account. That’s like when you’re near home and your daily life fills your entire view.
The two graphs below look fairly similar because they each use the automatically generated scale. The data fill the charts perfectly. Each one seems nice and normal. It’s that comfortable feeling of familiar surroundings.
However, the similarity in appearance disguises the vastly different experiences between the bumps near home versus those in the jungle! These graphs are analogous to how a local person in each place considers their bumps to be normal. Looking at the y-axes very carefully is the only way to notice the different scaling. Visually, the difference does not make an impact.
When You Should Change Graph Scales
Ideally, a chart should make differences in the data visually apparent. In the case of the roads, having traveled roads in both places, it was easy for me to compare them mentally. I used the larger perspective gained by going to the rainforest and applied it my experiences at home.
To do this with graphs, you need to adjust the scales manually. I’ll use the scale from the Jungle Bounces graph and apply it to my Home Bounces graph. The graph below uses the same home data but with the new y-axis scale.
This graph might look awkward or odd. All of the data are jammed down at the bottom with a large unused area above. However, it certainly brings the difference to life! It makes an impact.
That, my friends, is what traveling is all about. You might feel a bit awkward or uncomfortable in a very different setting, but the new perspective makes an impact on you!
Don’t Limit Yourself by Always Using Automatic Scaling
In our daily lives, our minds construct a world view using something like automatic scaling. Whatever we experience regularly becomes the picture that fills our perspective. It’s what we consider normal. Everything gets neatly resized to fit the mental box—just like those first two graphs.
The upside is that it produces that comfortable feeling. However, it’s also limiting because it doesn’t let you see the full picture.
Travel to put your life data into a broader context and learn by comparison.
Manually adjust your graph scales to place your numeric data into a larger context and make the graphs easier to compare.
Exploring new environments and cultures is a fantastic way to stop using your mind’s automatic scaling and obtain a new perspective! You’ll learn new things, feel energized, and possibly be more creative because you can draw upon a broader range of experiences.
With this larger context, you might find that things which look crucial at first glance are actually trivial. Or vice versa. Explore, experience new things, and manually adjust your graph scales to gain new insights!
Argh I love reading your blog! I have learned so much just from reading your blog. You, sir, are a life-saver! Waiting on your book!
Jim Frost says
Hi Jonathan, I’m so happy to hear that my blog has been helpful! Thanks!