“Knowing” in art, design and science

by johnmccreery

From a thread on Savage Minds in which the voles might be interested

From Jon Kolko (http://www.jonkolko.com/writingDesignInnovation.php )
Design typically utilizes a form of applied anthropology – I’ll take “bastardized”, if you’ll give me the time of day as a result of the compromise – to understand a problem with sufficient depth to move forward. It’s part of a larger process of abductive reasoning, where an intuitive leap based on “just enough data” allows for forward motion.
Design is not Science, and it’s not Art.

From McCreery

Jon, would it make sense to you to suggest that “knowing” varies from subjective conviction, sufficient for the Artist, to public verification, demanded by science and courts of law at whatever level is taken to count as beyond reasonable doubt, with design falling between these extremes. Practically speaking the issue is when certainty reaches a level sufficient to drive action.
The artist is free to be inspired and proceed however he or she wants; the feedback that will determine the ultimate status of the work, as masterpiece or forgotten in history’s dustbin will be relatively slow. Indeed, in some cases, the artist may be long dead before the value of the work is recognized.
The designer works to order and combines inspiration with immediate feedback from clients whose wishes must be respected if not always obeyed. And when designs go into production the public response is fairly rapid.
The scientist’s inspiration leads to methodical research whose methods and results must then be exposed to the scientist’s peers for verification. The results may then be further confirmed by application in development of new and, sometimes, radically world-changing technology.

This latter point marks the difference between science and the bulk of sound humanistic scholarship. The humanist also writes for peers who will question his or her methods and results. In the humanities, however, truly world-changing ideas are rare. The humanist’s ideas are only effective in changing the world in so far as they lead to the mobilization, energizing and organization of political movements. Most of what now counts as anthropological research is not in this category.


6 Comments to ““Knowing” in art, design and science”

  1. John, this is good stuff – thanks for the pointer. As an etiquette question, when you do these cross-posts do you think it better to split the conversation between there and here, or should we follow the link back to the original source to keep the convo moving there?

  2. Let the conversation flow where it will. When I cross-post I assume that there are some people on each site who don’t visit the others. If they, too, want to talk about what I have written, who am I to say no.

  3. In a moment of self-reflection, it occurs to me that the triad Art-Design-Science omits a fourth—Engineering. A series laid out along a single dimension reshapes it self in my mind as a classic four-cell table, governed by the analogy Art is to Design what Science is to Engineering. Art has shifted from representation to self-expression but remains, like Science, valued as a thing in itself. Design like Engineering moves from understanding/expression to application. Like Design, Engineering shares a short time horizon, defined by deadlines by which a project must be completed. In this respect, both contrast with Art and Science whose ideal temporal horizon is infinitely distant. (Though not, of course, for those with careers to build and only lifetimes in which to build them. The judgments of patrons and tenure committee committees precede the judgments of history.)

    The next step is to return to the original puzzle, how the social and material conditions of “knowing” vary from field to field. Can anyone lend me a hand here?

  4. Engineering is the midpoint between Design and Science. Science is the midpoint between Art and Engineering. Art is the midpoint between Science and Design. And Design is the midpoint between Art and Engineering.

    Perhaps. Symmetry is usual is deeply appealing, but it frequently only works at this scale if one is not too particular about the details, or is fairly selective about the facts considered. But one cannot argue that there are various overlaps. Computer science is half a field of engineering and half a science. But in many domains there is definitely an emphasis on making systems that work. While studying certain systems I see analogies with say, social systems, but the crucial difference is the roles of design objectives in the former and in the latter. For example, a distributed ad-hoc network maintains a distributed knowledge of its network structure in order to facilitate the passing of messages. Humans also maintain a distributed knowledge of the social network, but not for the purpose of facilitating the traversal of messages across the entire network.

  5. Jacob, you are, of course, right to warn about the deceptive appeal of symmetry. Still, whether it is more deceptive than a simple 1-2-3 linear structure is surely debatable. Continuing in my self-critical mode, I would also observe that the basic analogy, art is to design what science is to engineering, rests on familiar and dubious distinctions, i.e., mental vs. manual labor, and its cognate, aristocracy vs. trade. That said, it is hard to deny that conventional distinctions between these fields are rooted in these sorts of structures. The important thing to keep in mind may be that they are, indeed, only semiautonomous fields, not distinct categories. They overlap in many ways, and the overlaps are where some of the most exciting advances are taking place. One might ask, for example, if the construction of the Hadron Collider is science or engineering; plainly it is both, engineering in support of science. One might also ask in a similar vein if art installations that incorporate new technologies are art or engineering. Again, they are plainly both. Ditto for architecture. As I have noted elsewhere, the important shift in habits of mind in considering these issues is to get beyond taxonomies (a very crude instrument, indeed) to consider, instead, topographies, in which intersecting strata and clines produce all sorts of interesting phenomena.

  6. I am reminded of the recent conversation on the anthrodesign list regarding Don Norman’s piece (http://www.core77.com/blog/columns/why_design_education_must_change_17993.asp)about the need for more science education among designers, but also Sam Ladner’s piece http://copernicusconsulting.net/essence-interaction-design-research/

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