Edward O. Wilson, famed Harvard professor and sociobiologist articulated the conundrum mentioned in the title of this article, "The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology.”
I like to begin all discussions of data by analyzing our Paleolithic emotional brains. There should be more questions in this era of technology and big data. We lack the capacity to comprehend the trade-offs and create governance around what this will mean for society. We engage with systems that create algorithms to market our attention as currency--and we behave like it will all work out in the end.
So the big question of human history, and the first question of human history, is how do you get hundreds and then thousands and finally hundreds of millions of humans to cooperate? Which is our secret of success as a species. This is how we overcame the Neanderthals. They were bigger us. They were stronger than us. They had bigger brains than us. But we ruled the world and not the Neanderthals because they couldn't cooperate in larger numbers then, again, 50 or 100. We could. And what made it possible is not intelligence, it's imagination, and in particular, the ability to invent and believe fictional stories.--Yuval Noah Harari, Your Undivided Attention podcast
Those of us working with technology, beyond our own amusement for our reptilian brains, have a responsibility. We need to be curious and expand our critical thinking. Remember the famous quote from Wayne Gretzky when asked why he was such a great hockey player? He replied something like, “I skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”
We are all evolving into becoming data storytellers. But the part they don’t tell you about the stories we tell--they don’t have to be true. We have seen this play out in our own lives as "medieval institutions” become fodder for isolation, otherness, and quite frankly--become hackable.
One of the main reasons I favor Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping is how we are able to bring location data to the narrative. The actual physical entity is able to be explored and interrogated. Information at the location is called attribute data and it tells about the features unique to that area vs. another location. What is the landcover like? Density of highways or roads? Building footprints? Waterways?
A mountain or a river is an objective physical entity . Y ou can see it. Y ou can bathe in the river. You can listen to the murmur of the waves in the Mississippi. United States is not a physical reality . Y ou cannot see the United States. Y ou can see the Mississippi River, but that's not the United States. The Mississippi River was there two million years ago, the United States wasn't. The United States might disappear in 200 years or 500 years, the Mississippi River will probably still be there. So it's not a physical entity. It's a story.--Yuval Noah Harari, Your Undivided Attention podcast
Follow along for more conversations about location and geospatial data. I mainly use open source resources so you can easily download and follow along.
There will be an O’Reilly media book eventually. Currently it is in early release so you can certainly check that out as well, Python for Geospatial Thinking.
I actually took a request. A reviewer was curious about Open Street Map and Python so--voila--we now have a chapter about OSMnx.
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In a world of "evidence-based" medicine I am a bigger fan of practice-based evidence.
Remember the quote by Upton Sinclair...
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”