Challenges Posed by Big Data on the Foundations of Scientific Thinking

September 28, 2021

4am Virtual

Read the activity report here.

Science is rooted in the human pursuit of certainty. Its practitioners seek to render worldly phenomena understandable, explicable, and manipulable. This pursuit of certainty manifests mainly as an inquiry into causal relationships underpinning the occurrence and development of phenomena. Scientific thinking is originally built upon the notion of determinism.

However, the advent of big data has created huge challenges for determinism. Interconnectivity and mutual influence have created an open and borderless Internet of Things. As such, the essential relationship between things is no longer causal, but correlative. Causality is merely a scientific illusion of the “small data era”. Big data’s rise will necessitate a shift toward “iteration” of knowledge rather than “a complete certainty of the truth”— an old-fashioned idea from the classical science era.

19:00 – 19:05|Opening Remarks
19:05 – 19:50|Keynote Speech
19:50 – 20:30|Q & A

Key Discussion Topics:
• How can we seek a balance between openness and completeness in the realm of scientific inquiry?
• Can methods of experience and experiment yield outcomes that reliably determine cause and effect?
• How should we define “small data?” What distinguishes it from “big data?”

WU Jiarui
• Researcher, Center for Excellence in Molecular Cell Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences

After receiving his Ph.D. from ETH Zürich in 1994, Dr. Wu Jiarui served as a postdoctoral researcher at the State University of New York Health Science Center until 1997. Currently, he is the executive dean of the School of Life and Health Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) Hangzhou; director of the UCAS Hangzhou Advanced Research Institute; director of the Zhejiang Province System Health Science Primary Laboratory; editor-in-chief of the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology; associate editor of BMC Systems Biology; associate editor of Chemistry of Life; and associate editor of Medicine & Philosophy. Dr. Wu chairs the professional committee at the Chinese Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He is also a member of the Eighth Expert Advisory Committee in the chemical sciences division of the National Natural Science Foundation of China. In 1998, he received a grant from the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars and was selected for the Hundred Talents Program at CAS. In 2009, he was named as one of Shanghai’s leading talents.

Dr. Wu’s laboratory uses systems biology methods to study the molecular mechanisms behind the appearance and evolution of chronic diseases such as diabetes and tumors. He has published over 100 research papers in international academic journals.

BAI Shunong
• Professor, School of Life Sciences at Peking University
• 2020-2021 Berggruen Fellow

Bai Shunong is a professor at the School of Life Sciences, Peking University. Since his postgraduate training in 1983, Professor Bai’s experimental research on plant development has led him to form original perspectives on plant cultivation. He believes that it is necessary to revive the views held by founders of modern botany — such that plants are not individual organisms like animals; instead, they are an “aggregate” of many “individuals”. The “Plant Morphology 123” theory he proposed regarding plant development integrates recent novel concepts such as “plant development unit”, “sexual reproduction cycle”, and “plant development program” into a fixed system. While trying to understand the internal dynamics of plant development, Bai Shunong has also developed a keen interest in exploring the nature of life. He believes that the question: “what does ‘living’ mean?” is fundamental to understanding life. In cooperation with two mathematicians, he proposed that the essence of “living” is, in fact the “structure for energy cycle”.

composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.