The Long Process Of Making Sense Of Things

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Sunday, 8.26am

Sheffield, U.K.

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. – Alan Watts

I haven’t posted much this year because I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of research I’m doing and how to do it. There’s a tension between the production of material in different forms that’s slowing me down and I don’t know yet whether this is going to make things better or worse.

There are different ways to make sense of the world. Two approaches we’re familiar with are revealed truth and scientific truth. In the first you look to gods and their representatives and in the second you look to scientists and their experiments.

But there are things that neither of those two approaches can deal with well. One can tell you how to act but doesn’t explain why the world works the way it does. The other explains why the world works but leaves it up to you to decide how to act. The research area I’m interested in tries to bridge this gap – helping us make sense of the world around us and decide how to act to make things better.

The challenge we have is that there is so much out there, so much information that we cannot hope to make sense of it all. So we have to start with where we are and what we are involved in.

So, for background to this post there are two parallel things that I’m wrestling with. The first is how to read, take notes, take apart ideas and recombine them into new and interesting forms. That’s been one focus of the last few months – how to engage with material better.

The other is presenting the results of that work, the output from the act of engaging with content. How does one turn inputs into outputs that are useful?

A study of history is always useful when it comes to these kinds of questions and a few books I’ve read, and am reading, recently have been valuable. Index, a history of the by Dennis Duncan is a particularly engaging one about the history of scholarship. The challenges I’ve outlined are not new ones – people have documented their approaches for a thousand years. What’s new in recent years is our ability to work with computers to take some of the tedium out of the work. Although it does seem like what we’ve done so far is transfer the tedium from one media to another, from notes on paper to masses of data on systems. So what are the ways in which we can do this better?

I have no answers, as yet, and only tentative emerging theories. I’ll share more when I have more.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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