Brian Robinson

Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Category: Interdisciplinarity

Toolbox in Amsterdam

De Waag at NightIn December, I ran a Toolbox Dialogue Initiative workshop in Amsterdam for the Workshop + Master Class: Digital Humanities, Social Epistemology, & Virtue Theory in a Post-Truth Society, hosted by Mark Alfano and Digital Humanities & Experimental Philosophy Collaborative (DHEPCAT) at Delft University of Technology and Eindhoven University of Technology.

Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

Before getting to the details of the TDI workshop, it’s worth mentioning that this was quite possibly the coolest and oldest venue for a TDI workshop. The event was held at The Waag (Weigh House) in Amsterdam’s Nieuwmarkt square, a 15th-century building originally a gate in the city walls and later used to weigh house and meeting place for various guilds. Inside the Waag, the event was held in Theatrum Anaticum, which was built in 1690, held public dissections, and was the setting for Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. The event–with its emphasis on fake news and a post-truth society–was billed as a modern dissection of the body politic.

The Toolbox workshop served as a bridge between the two days of the event. The first focused on talks about social epistemology and fake news. On the second, participants engaged in a Toolbox dialogue on digital humanities in order transition them to the master class on how to conduct various forms of digital humanities research. Robinson constructed a new TDI instrument for this purpose that focused on various forms of misunderstanding about of debates regarding the nature and methods of digital humanities. There were many philosophers present, but several other disciplines as well, including many computer scientists. Though the TDI session was short, the dialogue was fertile and generally regarded as useful for framing the rest of the event.

Cleese, Confusion, and the Toolbox Project

As Daily Nous and Open Culture both reported, the great John Cleese (of Monty Python and Faulty Towers fame, and so much more) recently recorded a series of public service announcements proclaiming the value of philosophy. Daily Nous also included this video of Cleese acting as a philosopher in terrific bit of comedy. While funny in its own right, the clip brought to mind one other way that philosophy can be of value. And it’s something we do at the Toolbox Project. But first, watch the video:

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Research Institute for Humanity and Nature

RIHN-posterMichael O’Rourke and I just returned from Kyoto, Japan, where we spoke and conducted Toolbox workshops with the environmental researchers at the national Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN). On the first day, we spoke on problems of communication and collaboration in cross-disciplinary research. As a way of introducing the problem, I compared inter- and transdisciplinary research (collectively cross-disciplinary research, CDR) to the game Double Cranko, which comes from an old episode of M*A*S*H. The game is a cross between chess, checker, poker, and gin (both the drink and the rummy).RIHN2There are no rules; players make them up as they go along. The problem for CDR is much worse. Imagine 2 scientists from different disciplines working on a research project and 2 non-research stakeholders in that project (say one from government and another from business). Each knows one game only, and all the rules, terms, and objectives of that game. In collaborating on this project, they have to develop a way to integrate 4 different games (chess, checker, poker, and gin) into one game. But they don’t even speak the same game language. A point we emphasized over the two days with the RIHN researchers is the need for a co-creation of meaning of ambiguous terms or concepts for effective collaboration. In the morning workshop of the first day, we facilitated dialogues among the researchers to begin that process of co-creation of meaning. They had to negotiate various ambiguous terms that we gave them in a set of prompts. In the afternoon session, the researchers broke into their research teams to produce a concept map of their projects from which to find project-specific ambiguous terms or concepts that will have to be negotiated with their projects’ non-research stakeholders. [cross-posted at]

Back from the NIH

I just returned from SciTS 2015 at the National Institutes of Health, where I represented the Toolbox Project (along with Stephen Crowley). I presented some of my ongoing research on philosophical distinctions between various branches of science. In our role working with a wide variety of scientists on interdisciplinary research teams, we have found that differences in worldviews often differ by disciplines. And many of these differences are philosophical in nature. This research in philosophy of science is continuing to progress. I am lead author on two papers in the works right now on this topic, so I expect I will have more to say about it soon (I hope) after additional presentations and publications.

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