Right Research Book Launch
Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene
The book is current and interdisciplinary, engaging with recent developments around this topic and including perspectives from sciences, arts, and humanities. It will be a welcome contribution to studies of the Anthropocene as well as studies of research methods and practices. -Sam Mickey, University of S.
Right Research May 2021 Launch
Right Research May 2021 Launch Key Details for presenters Date: May 25, 9-10:30 a.m. MST Please join Zoom 15 minutes early (8:45AM) Link to Join Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84731693322?pwd=UTgrbmVZSGt2RFhhN2JYSjF6ejBSdz09 Event page for promotions: https://bit.ly/3oa2MUd Contacts: Alison M...
- Can you describe what is meant by 'tender empiricism'? First, empiricism is rooted in data. Empirical people collect data, observations of our world. Data are plural. If given a structure, data have the potential for meaning. Typically, this meaning-making process departs from the original things being recorded, in a situated context. The process moves toward abstract reasoning, far removed from the original context. For example, consider the charts that represent covid-19 confirmed cases. These lines and bars are aggregates of real people who have biographies and contexts that get left behind. To remain objective, we separate the subject, the person working with data, from the object of their inquiry. We call this the separation of mind and matter.
- Tender empiricism, as described by Goethe, offers a complementary way of observing today. It removes the subject/object separation from the process of collecting these observations. Instead of separation, to remain objective, the person doing the observing is aware of their relationship with the object in time and place. They participate in the things being observed. The key thing is to stay with the particulars of the things being observed over a committed time and to not leave them behind. We can't get to the truth by turning real things into abstract things. Goethe developed a structured process that leaves room for picturing and intuition, not just analysis, to help us to see the parts, the whole, and our relationship to the world around us. Unlike inductive processes, the particular descriptions are not meant to culminate in an abstract idea. Rather, they are meant to give us a deeper insight into the thing itself. Tender empiricism begins with the observer being focused on particulars. It's about 'going out’ into the world and going' into yourself, like breathing. It proceeds with being active, open, and receptive, and then returns to the person doing the observing through the mind's eye to 'become one with the things being observed.'
- Goethe asked questions like...
- "Can I learn to look at things with clear, fresh eyes?"
- "How much can I take in at a single glance?"
- "Can the grooves of old mental habits be effaced? This is what I'm trying to discover."
- Systems thinking: Do you think the pandemic will move more people toward something like ‘tender empiricism’? Yes, because despite the difficulty in understanding the concept (which I think is due to how we're educated for 'object thinking'), tender empiricism is accessible and intuitive. It also relates to visualization, which in its original meaning meant our 'mind's eye.' We all practice the techniques Goethe describes because we're drawn to the world around us, by vibrant flowers, for example. We look, see, imagine, and show every day, in any new environment.
- Yet tender empiricism asks us to slow down. While Goethe applied it to science, it's a process that poets and artists already know well. I think many people, for example, have gotten to know their neighborhoods better because there have been fewer places to go to during the pandemic. We've finally been able to slow down and notice the world around us with fresh eyes and with our senses.
- Our typical mode: Anytime we go to a new environment, we look around us. From this looking, we see, usually based on what we want to do in that environment. We then imagine what we want to do, and then show others what we know and the action we take. The pandemic has helped many of us slow down this process.
- For Goethe, looking is about going out and going inward: this takes time. Tender is also often translated as delicate, which means the process of looking is fragile and should not be rushed.
- The seeing is not about control but about going deeper into that environment.
- The imagining is not about what we want to do as much as becoming one with the thing being seen.
- Showing is knowledge and wisdom, but not for application as much as for insight. Through writing, sketching, and visualizing.
- Tender empiricism is about reading the world. It's about inner visualization. Data visualization is about reading the world too, but in a zoomed-out, abstract way. During the pandemic, we've become accustomed to reading data visualizations. Historically, pandemics have also promoted data literacy in the public. The first-ever chart published on the front page of a newspaper, to my knowledge, was about cholera in New York City. The chart looks simple to us today, but there's a lot of written description around it to help us read the scaffolding of the chart. At the same time, I think people are also better connected to the idea that the covid-19 charts are about real people, and that a lot of contexts are left out of them. They are portals to other activities, like reading an article that provides the context. Why did this happen? Even if a chart is read at a glance, people are realizing they need to slow down what it means to read it well and not leave the context behind. Social media—which many people have relied on now more than ever, being isolated—plays a role in this data literacy. Despite all the misinformation it provides, Social media can help us read charts by putting many eyes on the same set of charts and promoting dialogue.
- Integrate our knowledge and ability to control nature, in a reductionist way, with a more holistic approach. We understand how much power and control we have over the rest of nature. The pandemic has also shown us how entangled we are with each other and the rest of nature. Tender empiricism suggests a way toward more sustainable ways of being with nature. I think more schools will shift to not just teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also focusing on relationships: with each other, the rest of nature, and ourselves.
Goethe & tender empiricism, and working with data
Data visualization broadens our perspectives by showing us what isn’t visible in daily experience: comparisons, patterns, trends, flows, rhythms and relationships. As we read a chart or map, we’re zooming far out to see the big picture. Yet we’re also abstracting and generalizing from the original phenomena. Goethe’s tender empiricism, meanwhile, allows us to zoom the camera back into the particulars.
This way of working with data and visualization benefits the individual and society.
Lucretius → Goethe: the legacy of poet scientists
We could follow a similar path, from thinking of not only data viz as a tool or for insight, but as a way to participate in the process of describing and understanding the whole without losing sight of the particulars.
- Development of self (original meaning of visualization, the inner-eye of the observer)
In placing the comprehender in the same spectrum as utilizers and fact-finders, (Goethe) may have been inspired by the ancient Roman writer Lucretius, who wrote the epic poem On the Nature of Things. Romantic poets such as Goethe were influenced by Lucretius and his sensuous ideas. Lucretius believed in an Epicurean philosophy that advises us not to fear death. Indivisible atoms rain down on the world. A subtle swerve could happen between atoms, creating matter and life; when these bonds coalesce, they can become an organism; when they dissipate, they die. In this way, ‘Each living thing is not singular, but rather a plurality; even so far as it appears to us as an individual, nevertheless it remains an assembly’.
Mindset: Personal development
Sketching & life drawing to practice perceptiveness and acuity
- Exact Sense Perception: Focus: Categories (Shari Tishman)
- Exact Sensorial Fantasy: Receptivity: Thoreau's sauntering idea. Open inventory (Shari Tishman)
- Encountering the Whole: Diversify perspectives to describe one thing.
- Become one with the phenomenon
Methods: For Data Viz education (for self & others)
- Work from complex to simple (reality is complex & situated)
- The software makes this easier
- Biography, not summary
- Create a picture from many iterations and subtle modifications
- Writing for the how & why
- Big Idea, Details, Story
- Big Idea: Context: Data biography, everything you want to say, with audience and situation in mind. Big picture sketching & storyboarding post-up.
- Details: Focus & receptivity; declutter and draw the eye to what's most important)
- Story: Storyboarding (by portraying an idea from many perspectives)
Methods: For Data Viz process, from Goethe's journals:
- Essay: keep a journal to stay in touch with the phenomenon
- Organize multiple views
- Biography: of all the people involved, data collection, analyzer, visualizer
- Deductions and inductions: big picture to details & vice versa
- Poetry: make difficult ideas sweeter
- Accessible examples: use metaphor when possible to remind people that the chart is about something real (like Nina's honeycomb map)
- Share in conversation
- Make projects remixable