Updated: May 29, 2020
As of tomorrow, my cohort of fellow data scientists finish our six-month slog through an academic immersion into Data Analytics. The Berkeley Bootcamp in the Financial District of San Francisco has come to its conclusion, and the various project teams burn the midnight FiDi oil to finalize our presentations due tomorrow. In our classroom on Spear Street last night, our laptops were humming or freezing up, as we willed our output into data visualizations and predictive models. Amongst all the conversation, brainstorming and ubiquitous fatigue, there was not a scrap of paper other than food wrappers decorating our desks, on their way to the tri-colored recycling bins by the exit door. Everything is digital, virtual and “minimal-ized’.
This minimalist approach lends itself perfectly to information science and computer code. It is the only modern choice for smaller living spaces which require less clutter and obstructive, unstreamlined furnishings. One cannot, however, minimize the diminishing returns minimalism, as a cognitive practice, yields for the facilitation of one’s space to calmly reflect and create. Creation in the realm of data analytics occurs within the necessary constraints of system structure and mutually defined efficiency goals and parameters. Human creativity is not limited by collaborative constraints, if allowed to nurture itself during periods of intentional, solitary reflection and quiet. Most of us are hard-pressed to find any intentional, unstructured time for reverie.
Merriam Webster lists “woolgathering” as one of the synonyms for reverie. The word is traced to its first known use in England in 1553, when it described the seemingly aimless activity amongst those working to gather tufts of wool from fences or bushes where sheep had passed. The woolgatherer’s efforts were not actually aimless, but they could appear to produce little gain. In point of fact, little is always made greater by little, and for those who collected sufficient wool to spool into cloth or a garment, it was time productively spent. The same should be said of reverie, and a conscious choice to take the time to let one’s mind wander past mundane immediacies.
Computers and digital media drive us to immediately process and respond to constant stimuli. Our individual space to exist as individuals, unfettered by the “noise” of information bombarding us in our homes, public spaces and offices is shrinking. Science is only beginning to comprehend the effect this has upon our brains, and our pathos as humans. For writers, the need for pathos is obsessive. Our urgency to connect emotionally with others, through words, is compulsory. You will never find pathos in computer code.
Specialists in the field of machine learning in San Francisco chuckle at the increasing level of discussion of the impending reality of computers replacing the human brain. Sincere research into the current state of artificial intelligence demonstrates that computers do not process information in the nuanced manner in which a human brain exercises judgement, compassion or patience. Computers exist to yield output, or at least error messages to allow us to debug their faulty code. These electronic devices designed by human engineers have no capacity to daydream or contemplate; such human pursuits cannot yet be programmed.
It remains to be seen whether we human beings will proactively and intentionally nurture our unique capacity to engage in the ancient art of woolgathering. The best computer scientists I know, truly hope that we do.