This is a bit incongruous viz the direction of the most recent blog posts/assignments but Prof. Manovich’s visit yesterday helped me articulate a certain point. The question I raised at the end of class dealt with Exploratory Data Analysis – more specifically, with the ethics of how one might extrapolate from the data one is exploratorily analyzes. I could very well just not get it: my question feels basic enough that it could easily hinge on a misunderstanding. But if the model is one in which each given set of data are analyzed ‘organically’ – that is, according to a set of constraints arising from that set of data (rather than from some a priori set of rules, axioms, etc.) – to what end can one say that the patterns/conclusions/results of that analysis say anything beyond the constraints themselves? This is a kind of founding question of structuralism: how do the arguments made by a closed set not become circular?
An available example is experimental psychology: how, given the artificiality of any psychological experiment, can one say that one has attained results applicable outside of that environment? (In a sort of snake-eating-its-own-tail kind of way, one could even imagine a psychological experiment that comes to this very conclusion…and it being rendered in black ink as an Escher-like trompe l’oeil).
The misunderstanding I could see myself having made is that, no, Exploratory Data Analysis doesn’t claim to produce results that are applicable beyond their native data environment. Given e.g. a gigantic set of syllabi, the results of any such analysis will describe features of that specific set of syllabi; there is no sense in which it would explain what a syllabus is (as, say, an Ideal form).
Then again, if the goal of Exploratory Data Analysis is something like axiomatic set theory, then I have also misunderstood it. The interest in that case would not be on the results of the data per se but on the refinement of the axioms dictating how one is supposed to approach it…which would then make it a branch of logic.