Category Archives: Science

Art and Democracy

What’s still lacking is the interface. We have more information than we have skills to turn it into useful knowledge. It’s a human problem, not for lack of the technology. We are still using computers that require a ton of babysitting and human guidance to get much done with them. We need more background, policy-driven computing. The real goal of the vision is a deep extension of our senses—more knowledge and more control of our world. We want to know more about people, more about the places we’re in and where we are going, and more about the things we have and might acquire. — Mark Rolston Chief Creative Officer, frogdesign

I have in mind patterns I have created for years, forming a tissue framework that works in reverse: rather than information design content as a starting point, the idea is to begin with an abstract framework and see how the surface of it, the architectural tissue might better guide an effective interface.

Design for twenty tiles:

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The Fox and The Hedgehog

Why are so many experts so wrong, yet people keep listening to them? Who really is worth listening to about the future? Philip Tetlock, the author of Expert Political Judgement builds on Isaiah Berlin’s characterization of judgment modes into Hedgehogs (who know one big thing) and Foxes (who know many things). Hedgehogs don’t notice and don’t care when they’re wrong; that’s why they’re so compelling. Foxes learn.

Hedgehogs believe in Big Ideas – in governing principles about the world that behave as though they were physical laws and undergird virtually every interaction in society. Foxes, on the other hand, are scrappy creatures who believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches toward a problem. Hedgehogs are more easily seduced by clear narratives. Foxes are more data-driven, less willing to stake out strong positions.

Hedgehogs: “relate everything to a single central vision …in terms of which all that they say has significance.” They over simplify, don’t use diverse data sources.

Foxes: “pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory….entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal;…..without seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one all-embracing inner vision.”

One should be able to consider two sides of the argument, think in terms of probabilities rather than certainties, and be able to hold conflicting thoughts.

Foxes believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking multitude of approaches toward a problem. They tend to be more tolerant of nuance, uncertainty, complexity, and dissenting opinion. Most innovations and new ideas are found in tiny places where others fail to look. Ignoring the hedgehogs and generally accepted thinking will afford opportunities to see familiar problems in new ways. ~ Nate Silver

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Live in Mystery

WE NOW KNOW ENOUGH to know that we will never know everything. This is why we need art:
it teaches us how to live with mystery. Only the artist can explore the ineffable without offering us an answer, for sometimes there is no answer. John Keats called this romantic impulse ‘negative capability.’ He said that certain poets, like Shakespeare, had ‘the ability to remain in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ Keats realized that just because something can’t be solved, or reduced into the laws of physics, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. When we venture beyond the edge of our knowledge, all we have is art.

But before we can get a fourth culture, our two existing cultures must modify their habits. First of all, the humanities must sincerely engage with the sciences. Henry James defined the writer as someone on whom nothing is lost; artists must heed his call and not ignore science’s inspiring descriptions of reality. Every humanist should read Nature.

At the same time, the sciences must recognize that their truths are not the only truths. No knowledge has a monopoly on knowledge. That simple idea will be the starting premise of any fourth culture. As Karl Popper, an eminent defender of science, wrote, ‘It is imperative that we give up the idea of ultimate sources of knowledge, and admit that all knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it is beyond our reach. There is no authority beyond the reach of criticism.”Jonah Lehrer via Maria Popova

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