After'math' of... The Difference that Makes a Difference: an interdisciplinary workshop on information and technology
Here's my take on this workshop 7-9th September in Milton Keynes at the Open University. It was a really challenging and stimulating event. How so? Well...
Challenging: The first day's theme - What is information? and Thursday a.m. included presentations on quantum information. Trying to keep up with such ideas, to keep up with the progress of science and its philosophical implications demands effort, as does putting the ideas, concepts and applications in a form the public can understand. Given the academic calibre of the keynote speakers and organisers several books were held aloft and referred to:
Edited by Magnus Ramage, David Chapman
Stimulating: Revisiting information theories with one slide c/o Paolo Rocchi, LUISS Univ. / IBM, The Concepts of Signifier and Signified Revisited listing 25 examples. The vast majority were new to me and of course as was also pointed out the list was not comprehensive.
Challenging: The maths on display here were way beyond me. With the talk about hard and soft sciences though I recalled a previous post Bell Jars and Bell Curves and how many mathematical techniques remain off limits to would-be users in the humanities. The maths didn't help my note taking - do I assume that lack of notes is shorthand for befuddled?
Stimulating and Challenging: Exposing Hodges' model and my vision of the model as a conceptual space (whether one ... four, or five) helps me focus on how best to lift a foot, and envisage the next steps. In the workshop I've found a few puzzle pieces for the draft text I have on h2cm as a conceptual space. It's a mix of nursing, informatics, Gärdenfors' definitions, ICT and aspects of education. Next month I'll post a draft content listing - adding to it as it takes shape.
Stimulating: On Wednesday evening there was a screening of a documentary film narrated by Nora Bateson An Ecology of Mind a portrait of her father Gregory. The film was quite a delight - in content and style - covering the central themes of Bateson's life and work with insights from his daughter and recognised commentators and colleagues:
"Gregory Bateson’s theories, such as “the double bind” and “the pattern which connects”, continue to impact the fields of anthropology, psychiatry, information science, cybernetics, urban planning, biology, and ecology, challenging people to think in new ways."I remember double bind from mental health and reference to Bateson in family therapy circles. The title of the workshop - the difference - stems from Bateson as quoted on the DTMD2011 website:
Kant, in the Critique of Judgment – if I understand him correctly – asserts that the most elementary aesthetic act is the selection of a fact. He argues that in a piece of chalk there are an infinite number of potential facts. ... I suggest that Kant’s statement can be modified to say that there is an infinite number of differences around and within the piece of chalk. There are differences between the chalk and the rest of the universe, between the chalk and the sun or the moon. And within the piece of chalk, there is for every molecule an infinite number of differences between its location and the locations in which it might have been. Of this infinitude, we select a very limited number, which become information. In fact, what we mean by information – the elementary unit of information – is a difference which makes a difference Gregory Bateson (1972).Not unexpectedly some speakers did challenge the views of Kant and Bateson. I found the recurring discussion on objects, subjects and relationships very enlightening. After the first day and the film I took Shannon's communications model SENDER, RECEIVER, CHANNEL, MESSAGE and NOISE and extended reference to this in my slides. Being situated and encompassing four care - knowledge domains h2cm can represent several contexts. From a systems perspective we can consider the nurse, patient and carer as sender and receiver. Disease becomes 'noise', or according to Canguilhem life as the background noise with disease as (an inevitable) manifestation? The philosophical talk prompted me to cast health care practitioners as 'existential informaticians' (although the majority see themselves as assistants to a higher power).
Unless speakers have indicated otherwise slides and audio will eventually appear on the DTMD website. I've uploaded my DTMD presentation comprising 13 slides:
Must check the slides from Colombia.
The workshop was a great experience, the organisers and participants were very friendly, a very inclusive community; essential for all events clearly, but critical for one with interdisciplinary aspirations. I was not the only NHS employee there and now have a new NHS contact on Linkedin from finance / information governance. After Drupalcon this is great - as networking is of course a key objective. At Druplcon I was told about another nurse and Drupaller in Manchester and now we plan to meet up next month. You can learn to play the guitar on your own, but it helps to learn with others.
The organisers have applied for funding to support research and three further events tentatively proposed for 2013, 2014 and 2015. Speakers and attendees are also encouraged to submit to a special issue of tripleC - Cognition, Communication, Co-operation The Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society.
I will add more in another post (on sessions) as time permits.
Thanks to: the Committee for being able to present and the Open University Department of Communication and Systems (http://cands.open.ac.uk/) and the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (http://www.cresc.ac.uk/) who supported the workshop.