It should come as no surprise that what you see is not determined solely by the patterns of light that fall upon your retinae. Indeed, that visual perception is more than meets the eye has been understood for centuries, and there are several extraretinal factors known to interact with the incoming sensory data to yield perceptual experience. Perhaps foremost among these factors is information learned from our prior encounters with the visual world—our memories—which enables us to infer the cause, category, meaning, utility, and value of retinal images. By this process, the inherent ambiguity and incompleteness of information in the image—what is out there? Have I seen it before? What does it mean? How is it used?—is overcome, nearly instantaneously and generally without awareness, to yield unequivocal and behaviorally informative percepts.--Thomas D. Albright, On the Perception of Probable Things: Neural Substrates of Associative Memory, Imagery, and Perception
Simplifying concepts outlined beautifully in Reductionism in Art and Brain Science* by Eric Kandel, when presented with an object or graphic, prior knowledge or learned visual associations --described as top-down neuronal processing occur. These processes occur after the brain extracts “key elements” of what is known in the physical world and are necessary to help resolve whatever ambiguities remain. As an example, when you first view the image above it may appear ambiguous and undecipherable. With only bottom up processing and nothing to aid in recall we aren’t quite sure of the representation.
*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Think of the influences our neuronal associative learning has over our interpretation of graphical information. A few decades ago I was participating in a journal club for fellows in internal medicine. They were instructed to basically skip the abstract (can be quite subjective) and head over to the results section. The focus was examining the figures to gleen insights there. What evolved years later was a realization that this approach is also problematic.
In the same way that pre-attentive attributes can help direct the eye to important features--they can also mask other insights by drawing the eye disproportionately to where you want the focus. The "look over here and not over" there methodology often distracts from relevant outliers.
Salman Rushdie in his brilliant MasterClass describes the action happening in the center of works of art. That is where we are intended to look. But then he adds the importance of scanning the periphery as well. Often you will see added context provided by servants or others not deemed the singular objective of the image. When examining graphics for insights, context is everything.
Las Meninas by Velaquez is a painting I like to include in my data storytelling workshops. Thanks to Amy Herman and her Art of Perception, a friend and powerful resource for enhancing observation and perception skills for clients like Intelligence, Law Enforcement and Military (Interpol, FBI, Department of Defense) as well as Medicine and Law to name a few--I look at data differently.
Art can be a safe place to teach skills needed to clinically review the literature, scan a patient chart, or curate data for relevance and insight.
How would you describe the painting? Can you say anything about the perspective of the image? Did you notice the mirror? What does it say about art and reality? Where is the subject?
Consider the image below. Now look up at the original black and white patterns above. Now that the top-down processing has a “memory” or association--you can now distinguish the image.
The biggest challenge is often releasing our pre-conceived ideas and leaning into the realm of not knowing, what we don’t know. The opportunity is there.
Right outside of the frame.
Modern research is showing us that making even slight adjustments to the way we inhale and exhale can jump-start athletic performance; rejuvenate internal organs; halt snoring, asthma, and autoimmune disease; and even straighten scoliotic spines. None of this should be possible, and yet it is.
Reductionism might seem a little hoity toity at first glance but you might be surprised how elegantly it applies to not only the brain and art but to data visualization in general.
The Matisse on the right, “The Snail”, uses swirling color blocks to mimic the swirl or pattern of a snail shell.
This only works if we have seen a snail shell, and our brain knows to compare this image to images stored in our memory.
Reductionism is any of several related philosophical ideas regarding the associations between phenomena which can be described in terms of other simpler or more fundamental phenomena. It is also described as an intellectual and philosophical position that interprets a complex system as the sum of its parts.--Wikipedia
You may be surprised to learn that Neuroscience was not considered a distinct discipline until the early to mid-1960s.
Questions began to surface like these discussed by Eric R. Kandel, “What sort of changes does learning produce in the neural networks of the brain? How is memory stored? Once stored, how is memory maintained?"
Low-level processing occurs in the retina and detects images, intermediate-level processing distinguishes which surfaces and boundaries belong to specific objects, and high level processing integrates information--Reductionism in art and brain science, Eric R. Kandel
I have been thinking about Pulse Surveys examining household data (during COVID 19). The food security issue was part of a client project.
As the only non-monetary variable included in the original definition of poverty back in the 60s we should be familiar with food policy. Surprisingly the agriculture department has plenty of publicly available data.
As the state legitimizes the use of digital and algorithmic decision making, it also creates new data worlds (Gray 2018; Milan and van der Velden 2016) to which few sociologists have access. The inaccessibility of these data is part of their value to state and capital interests. Private data worlds where decision making can be veiled from democratic inquiry fuel economic and political commitment to more datafication. This brings about more secrecy.--Tressie McMillan Cottom, Where Platform Capitalism and Racial Capitalism Meet: The Sociology of Race and Racism in the Digital Society
I needed a minute. Distractions only take you so far and then you need to focus and make a plan. We all go through times of stress--the difference is how we manage these moments.
People overeat, play video games, take walks, smoke, and a wide variety of other positive and negative coping mechanisms. I try to lean in to behaviors that can better serve my goals.
I prefer to go out on long solo runs on the trails. I queue up a list of podcasts that reflect my curiosity in work-related topics, life in general, and creativity.
I have been studying spatial data science and cartography for a large project and I simply needed to clear my brain for the next round of analyses.
Nobody cares that you are looking for a job. What are your unique skills and interests?
Never stop learning. I am taking several MOOCs from ESRI.com. Geospatial analysis is more than just geocoding data onto a map. There is a rich dimensionality allowing data to better inform.
Use data for good. Capture metrics to find out what type of visualizations, topics, or stories resonate with the bulk of your subscribers.
In my case, the poverty data I was capturing from CENSUS data only used location for drop a pin in a spot on a map. I was leaving data on the table.
Exploring geospatial analytics allowed me to pursue suitability models--and learn new tools for spatial data science.
What are some of your new tools?
You are woefully underutilizing the latent potential of LinkedIn. I don’t take it too seriously. I have fun with it and use it as a portal for interested peers to reach me. Period.
Look at the area under my photo. If you aren’t using it to display your personality or special skills, change that today.
There is a saying out on the trails, especially if you are an ultra runner. When you fall, and you will fall, don’t blather about it--rub some dirt in it and keep going.
I am surprised to say this but I think I am in good company. Or a bad omen.
“The unexamined life is not worth living” quoted by Socrates before being sentenced to death does yield some truth.
I don’t know why my blogs trend so well in Metro Manila but there you go. Don’t write for likes but like what you write!
This could be putting a bullet in my own foot but in a world where everyone is an expert--err on the side of foundational learning.
The type of learning that doesn’t become obsolete after the next release. Truths that can stand the test of time. Andy’s book is that for me.
Your mileage may vary but the point is to embrace the tidal seasonality of learning.
We have the time right now and we can all benefit from careful thought and contemplation.
"If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes."
--Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
On the edge of what we know, in contact with the oceans of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world--Carlo Rovelli
A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy—Albert Einstein
More and more, journalism seems to have hopped out of Truth’s pocket and crept into another--Henry Rollins
Nature has it wired. Cancer, plague, viruses, parasites and other grotesque, microscopic killers are there to thin the herd. Of course we fight back. This being the case — along with other factors such as our inability to always play well with others — not everyone is going to have a long, healthy life.
American capitalism is a blade. It’s going to disembowel someone. On a good day, it’s not you.--Henry Rollins March 23, 2017
Whether with respect to race, ethnicity, gender, class, or other markers of human difference, the prevailing American narrative often draws a sharp line between the United States' “past” and its “present,” with the 1960s and 1970s marking a crucial before-and-after moment in that narrative. This narrative asserts that until the 1950s, U.S. history was shaped by the impacts of past slavery, Indian removal, lack of rights for women, Jim Crow segregation, periods of nativist restrictions on immigration and waves of mass deportation of Hispanic immigrants, eugenics, the internment of Japanese Americans, the Chinese exclusion policies, the criminalization of “homosexual acts,” and more (Gee and Ford, 2011; Gee et al., 2009). White women and people of color were effectively barred from many occupations and could not vote, serve on juries, or run for office. People with disabilities suffered widespread discrimination, institutionalization, and social exclusion.--Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity
The Interregnum comprises 79 days, carefully bounded by law. Among them are “the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December,” this year December 14, when the electors meet in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to cast their ballots for president; “the 3d day of January,” when the newly elected Congress is seated; and “the sixth day of January,” when the House and Senate meet jointly for a formal count of the electoral vote. In most modern elections these have been pro forma milestones, irrelevant to the outcome. This year, they may not be.--The Election That Could Break America
Attendees spoke freely in the chat window where miraculously Atlantic staff were able to pluck out the questions among many of us simply connecting, sharing, and learning from each other.
Topics included Election 2020, Equity, Inclusion, and a New World of Work, Visions for the Future of America, Bridging the Racial Divide, Bill of Health, Covid-19, State of Higher Ed, Reimagining the American Dream, and variations of these themes.
I am lucky to be a journalist albeit a bit unconventional and a member of the National Press Club. Emily and team reached out to thank me. During a busy festival!
This was a productive and amazing week. Its always a challenge to fit everything in a day but often when we pause and listen--we hear some pretty amazing things.
Thank you to The Atlantic.
I like the quote but don’t recall much about Athenian tragedies. Apparently Sophocles was a bit of a naysayer or to use BCE lingo (before the common era)--a tragedian. I have a mist of recall around his magnum opus, Oedipus. The main point being if you defy the gods, prepare to suffer the consequences. Oh. And the king of Thebes (Oedipus) accidentally kills his father and marries his mother so there is that.
...The collective lack of understanding about how these platforms actually operate has led to hidden and often harmful consequences to society—consequences that are becoming more and more evident over time, and consequences that, the subjects in The Social Dilemma suggest, are an existential threat to humanity.--Netflix
Instead of Zoom, teachers in the Middle Ages had a feather off a bird and a sheet of parchment, and when the lesson came, it plopped down in front of you as a hundred-and-twenty-page Latin manuscript. And just what was a medieval mother’s education curriculum for her son?
Here is a simplicity we can embrace. Unplug and take a walk.
How you manage to pluck the feather off the bird is up to you but this is likely the only way to get off the grid.
That is what the duchess, Dhuoda of Uzés, decided to gift her son. The Liber Manualis is a handbook of her wisdom, one that he should read, internalize, and apply to his own young life to navigate the complicated feudal politics of the age...He eschewed all her good advice on being a good vassal to his lord and got himself killed during a rebellion against Charles seven years after receiving her book. So Dhuoda’s curriculum didn’t help William much, in the end. But maybe it helped me understand, here in 2020, with schools shuttered for the fall semester, that advice given at a great distance can only ever go so far.
It is you, whose fate is grievous, who have chosen this; this fortune has not come to you from one more powerful; for when it was possible to show good sense, you chose to approve the worse, rather than the better fate.
When you look at art, make subject matter the first thing you see--and then stop seeing it. Start seeing into the art; find what needs are being expressed or hidden there, what else is behind the narrative. A work of art is a rich estuary of material, personal, public, and aesthetic ideas. Let its water pass through the banks to reach you.--Jerry Saltz--How to Be An Artist
Friends, there aren’t any short cuts. It is all hard. I must have traveled to hundreds of conferences to speak or attend, taught dozens of workshops, and have several educational degrees. None of us know what the future will look like but trust me--it won’t be easy.
Or if it was easy for you--well done.
But the rest of us have a few lessons to learn.
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.--Brian O'Driscoll