The Squishy Mud of Warm Data — Where Senses Find Senses

Nora Bateson
5 min readDec 5, 2020

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…

Nora Bateson

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