Arts & Humanities: Don't Leave College Without Them

why do we need the humanities in the age of the algorithm?

of data per second but only sensemaking can go deep” (6)

Many executives today rely on data to lead the way. But the problem, he found, was that data masked stunning deficiencies, leading them to the inability to recognize some of the most exciting and essential patterns before them. The answer, in every case he has worked on, is centered on what he calls ““sensemaking.” Sensemaking is the need for practical wisdom as steeped in the hu- manities where you study the living and breathing expression of humans throughout time. And con- trary to popular belief--and I personally find this really enlightening--he situates the humanities in the concrete, in real life, while he states that algo- rithmic thinking is the exact opposite, and exists “in a no-man’s land of information stripped of its specificity.” He explains that “algorithmic think - ing can go wide—processing trillions of terabytes

So if you don’t want to become isolated in your worldviews and lose touch with the people around you, whether they live around the world or in an adjacent community in the United States, don’t make the mistake of thinking that numerical models = real life. Because, as Madsbjerg wisely states, when we quantify human behavior we erode our sensitivity to all forms of knowledge that are not reductionist.

by Christine Henseler

Are you also asking yourself any of these or other questions? If so, then read on.

Okay, so you might want to go into business, or economics. You are interested in creating your own start-up or app. You believe in the power of numbers and data, even big data, to help you along the way. Why would literature, philosophy or art be useful to you in fulfilling your dreams? Well, Christian Madsbjerg, the founder of a New York City consulting firm, has some answers for you. In the Introduction to his book on Sensemak- ing: The Power for the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm (2017) he asks questions like: Compared to the endless information accessible through big data, what value is there in human-led cultural inquiry? What value is there in actually reading a few great books when algorithms can “read” them all and give us an objective analysis of their content? What value is there in plays, painting, historical studies, dances, political treatises, and pottery, in cultural knowledge that cannot be stripped of its specificity and context and transformed into vast slices of information?

Madsbjerg’s consulting work has allowed him to work with a host of business leaders from around the world. Many of these managers, he found, “did everything ’right’: they hacked the system and aced all the tests; they went to the best schools and got all the good grades; they spent their en- tire education training their minds to reduce the problems and then to solve them. And today, as a result, they simply don’t have the intellectual sophistication required to move into the upper echelons of leadership. (xv) Because we live in a global world, lots has changed. For instance, he explains, the success of a car company like Ford was in large part due to management living and breathing in the same culture as their customers, but when a company sells its cars in a place like Brazil or China, the qualities and features enjoyed by Americans become meaningless and irrelevant. Why want “Lane Assist” when you don’t have lanes? Why a driverless car when you have a driver? When their traditional compasses are no longer leading them into the right direction, executives of companies that go global reach out to Madsbjerg with a feel- ing that they have lost their intuition, he says.

This is an important distinction:

"The difference between a holistic understanding of a world versus a more atomized understanding of rows of numbers in a spreadsheet. The humanities put us in touch with this more holistic perspective."

~ Christian Madsbjerg

Christian Madsbjerg is the founder of a strategy consulting company based in the human sciences and employ- ing anthropologists, sociologists, art historians, and philosophers. Madsb- jerg studied philosophy and political science in Copenhagen and London.

Arts & Humanities

Don’t Leave College Without Them



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