Successful Practice Requires Science and Aesthetics: Trusting in Data and Beauty

In Praise of Data and Science

MIT’s Technology Review posted the article: Trusting Data, Not Intuition.  The primary idea is to use controlled experiments to test ideas and comes from Ronny Kohavi of Microsoft (and formerly of Amazon).  The article can be summarized as follows:

(W)hen ideas people thought would succeed are evaluated through controlled experiments, less than 50 percent actually work out. . . . use data to evaluate an idea rather than relying on . . . intuition.  . . .  but most businesses aren’t using these principles.  . . .What’s important, Kohavi says, is to test ideas quickly, allowing resources to go to the projects that are the most helpful.  . . . “The experimentation platform is responsible for telling you your baby is really ugly,” Kohavi jokes. While that can be a difficult truth to confront, he adds, the benefit to business—and also to employees responsible for coming up with and implementing ideas—is enormous.

This articles further supports my thesis that Evidence-based practice, analytics, measurement and practical experimental methodology are closely related, mutually supportive, and a natural synthesis.

In Praise of Aesthetics

I do believe that, while trusting science is an important idea, that trust should also be tempered because it is a tools for decision-making and acting, not a general method for living.  A successful life of practice is a balance between the empirical and the aesthetic.  You could say that aesthetics, looking at life emotionally and holistically is the real foundation of our experience and how we live life.  Within that frame, it is helpful to step back reflexively and consider the use of empirical tools to benefit our experience, but without denying our aesthetic roots.  Wittgenstein wrote on this (from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Wittgenstein’s Aesthetics).

“The existence of the experimental method makes us think we have the means of solving the problems which trouble us; though problem and method pass one another by” (Wittgenstein 1958, II, iv, 232).

For Wittgenstein complexity, and not reduction to unitary essence, is the route to conceptual clarification. Reduction to a simplified model, by contrast, yields only the illusion of clarification in the form of conceptual incarceration (“a picture held us captive”).

What I want is to have access to the tools of science and the wisdom to know when to choose their reflexivity.  What I’m against is;

the naturalizing of aesthetics—(which) falsifies the genuine complexities of aesthetic psychology through a methodologically enforced reduction to one narrow and unitary conception of aesthetic engagement.

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