Art and science, sitting in a tree…

for today’s conversation, I present two tiny projects

see Hong Kong Bay Water Quality Data wherein I take HK Bay water quality data and make a “real-time” chart with it. In reality, I am not getting the data in real-time from HK water authority (because real life is too complicated) but I did get the data from them and stored it on my server. Then, instead of updating the chart every 10 mins (as would, in real life) I update it every minute. But, all that is detail. What is interesting is that my web application (the chart you are seeing in the browser) is receiving the data from a server (which, in this case, just happens to be my own server, but really, could be any) and is doing something with it every “n” seconds (or mins or hours or days). So, you can, in theory, do anything with it, like move a robot, or power a screensaver, or convert it into sound.

I did that (last one) as well wherein I converted incoming data to noise and simulated LED patterns. (make sure to click on the [start] button).

Instead of drawing a point on a chart (like in the first example), I could draw a point on a 2d canvas element (in a browser). But, I could have different signals for different sources (certain color and size and shape for air quality, another color and size and shape for water quality, and so on). Over time, it would make some kind of abstract art. Similarly, instead of a computer-generated robotic beep beep, I could convert air signals to drums, and water signals to flute, and seismic signals to piano, and overlay hydrophone recordings on it and make an entire orchestra.

Now for the thought of the day — I have a theory that science is really mostly about converting one data form to another data form (in an effort to understand the underlying phenomenon). Similarly, I think art is converting one “data” form to another “data” form to express the underlying phenomenon. In this case, the “data” is what the phenomenon makes us feel. Art and science, thus, are complementary.

I welcome your thoughts on this…


I broadly agree with your view. I would also like to explore art in the process of data creation, at the transduction layer. There are at least two ways of artistic expression, one in the context of interpreting the data that is already available, and the other in the context of creating alternate ways of data generation.

isn’t that just input-output, IO being a normal part of the learning-doing process?

┌─────────────┐          └──────┘         ┌───────────┐
│   already   │           .─.─.           │   newly   │
│  available  │◀───see───( ( ) )─create──▶│  created  │
│    data     │           `─'─'           │   data    │
└─────────────┘         ┌─────────┐       └───────────┘

one important thing to keep in mind – the word “data” is not that antiseptic thing that scientists collect. Data is anything that has the potential to tell us about the state of the world. It is a “that” statement, for example, “the thermometer is telling us that it is 22º outside”. From my dictionary, data describes

Philosophy things known or assumed as facts, making the basis of reasoning or calculation.
ORIGIN mid 17th century: from Latin, literally ‘something given’, neuter past participle of dare ‘give’.

In other words, I could use the word “data” for existing art, music, literature, just about anything that could be interpreted by us


I have no issue with the RHS. Also I don’t have an issue with ``already available data’’. The seeing process is my problem. I tend to agree with the view that one cannot see data directly. All seeing is seeing with a perspective. Even an instrument is created by artists/scientists to create data mediated by the model used in inventing the instrument.

I know this is not the objective of your post, and apologies for an orthogonal discussion.

It would be a wonderful project for the makers who are reading this post to take off from @punkish’s suggestion below:

Or why not generate a micro-weather station that some of you have already built here. A very interesting installation that I want to see at the foyer of HBCSE or at your college/school. Anyone wants to build this?

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