The Squishy Mud of Warm Data — Where Senses Find Senses

Warm Data is not an artifact.

The processes of Warm Data do not produce artifacts.

Information: the gathering of senses through differences that make differences in the Warm Data processes are alive. By that I mean that the way in which the senses are sensing, and the information is forming is not grabbable. Nor should they be. This is a source of frustration for some, and a relief to others. Either way it is just how it is.

When I think of a hot cup of tea I am comforted. I do not “sense” the digits of how much water, sugar, or milk proteins I have ingested. I am more likely to be transported to a soft chair, a writing tablet, or the company of a good friend. Likewise, nothing is only as it appears. My education was not actually about getting an education, it was learning how to be in the classroom as preparation for the workplace. It was developing an identity in the culture and society. It was discovering a sense of humor, or shame, or charisma. The artifacts of education are diplomas, but the sensemaking is much, much, much deeper. Even the smell of a milk carton can bring the loneliness of third grade.

The way that sense is made is not explicit. The way that sensemaking is often communicated is. This may very well prove to be the most significant obstacle in the current explosion of sensemaking attempts.

I try to remember the devil of second order cybernetics. Observe the observer. When I do, I am of course observing myself observing someone observing. It strikes me that just that tip into watching for cultural traps of observation is already a big step. One of the first noticings for me is that the appetite for artifacts and explicit descriptions of sensemaking is wildly out of touch with the senses that are making the sense. How can you make explicit the way that senses are being made? Isn’t that like catching a butterfly and pinning it to a board to study how it flies? How will anyone ever understand the meadow if the study of the butterfly is only done once it is dead? Observing the observer I see a culture of communication and patterns of authorized expression of "information" that reflect one another. Making sense of the way the sensemaking is taking place in Western cultures is a reckoning with the gap between the map and the territory.

Go ahead, kill the butterfly and study it. There is much to learn in that form of study. But what cannot be learned from the pinned wings is the way in which the butterfly is in relationship — no, let me rephrase: the way in which the butterfly is relationshipping. The contexts matter, the incomplete movements matter, the comings and goings of communications around and through the contexts matter.

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Sensemaking is not explicit.

Sensemaking is not producing post-its.

Sensemaking is not going to be sayable.

Just because nothing is said, does not mean that no sense has been made.

The culture of seeing things rather than relationships is one that wants artifacts, one that wants easy mechanics and engineering maps. But — remember the first time you were afraid to say something out loud? There was nothing explicit about why, and when you did not say it, there was again a lack of paper-trail to the reasons. The sensemaking does not hold up in court, there is no transcript. The limits that we all live within are unedited, unpronounceable. So too will be the refinding of those limits. Undrawable. Happening without documentation. The documentation is the translation back into flatness.

Warm Data is not a complete process. Alive information and alive sense making should not be complete. What happens after the warm data session is changed by the warm data. The perceiver is continuing to perceive in multi-contextual ways days later. So how do I know what happened as a result of the Warm Data lab? I don’t. It is not for me to know. I can only create the conditions in which sense makers and their world are re-re-linking, finding new circuits of impressions, memories are re-wiring. But let me be clear, they are given the meta-conditions to do so without declaration.

If the sensemaking is made into prose, it is flattened and tells us more about how that flatness is preferable to the murky, messy, kinky, unhinged sense that is actually being made.

Prose and explicit synopsis — these are the edited versions. Pushed through the filters of culture, language and 2000 years of logic. Where the senses live there is neither logic nor language. For some reason, you know what it would feel like to put your tongue on the rug — you almost know what it would taste like. You have been gathering the contrasts, comparisons, and differences that give you that sensing since you were born, maybe even through the sense making of prior generations. You have no files for those data.

To sense-make our way into understanding the world differently, so that it might be possible to behave differently, is to go into the difficult task of non-prose, non-explicit exploration and let the body, memory, and mind re-find their reflections in the surrounding world. It just is. No amount of logic will help someone to quit smoking, no amount of education will convince someone to change their beliefs.

What do you stand upon? The cool wet soil? A shiny polished tile? The grit of unswept floorboards? What do you tend to? Who are you thinking of today?

What is the most delicate and careful movement of your hands that you can recall? How does nutmeg taste in heavy cream? What does sand sound like?

Warm Data does not offer artifacts. Rather, it is a reminder of what kind of world it is that values artifacts. What has been overlooked to maintain that world of thingifying. Warm Data does not offer measurements, but rather a look in the rearview mirror at the hunger to control.

Warm Data processes offer participants a parallel place to go swimming in the deep end of the pool where the whole of how we make sense is given room to reconfigure. Perception is changed by recontextualizing in the mud, not by management.

The man bent over his guitar,

A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, “You have a blue guitar,

You do not play things as they are.”

The man replied, “Things as they are

Are changed upon the blue guitar.”

And they said then, “But play, you must,

A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar

Of things exactly as they are.” — Wallace Stevens

Written by

Filmmaker, writer, educator, lecturer, President of the International Bateson Institute. Books: Small Arcs of Larger Circles 2016, Warm Data *upcoming 2019

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