Confluence news: ways of seeing
June, 2016
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A grid starts out as an innocent space where each intersection is equal to all the others. But as soon as the grid faces us, there is up and down, right and left; spaces begin to acquire values and the whole space quivers with potential. Quantities, like temperature or population, on a vertical axis, combine with other units (often of time) on a horizontal axis, creating graphics of diverse meanings. (Note, for example the kinds of curves in Johan Rockstrom's presentation on Planetary Limits) Science communities, as much as manufacturing, rely on stable and accurate descriptions - one reason care with the methods and tools of measurement is so crucial.
Last January in Dave Herbst's lab, I photographed these glass vials holding invertebrate samples from Sierra streams (see the Diamesa head in my February newsletter). Besides invertebrates, Dave and his team identify and compare dozens of indicators of stream ecology, building a thickly interrelated picture of changes, over time and across twenty-four sites for their Sentinel Streams project.
Graphite on waterproof paper, 2015. Data collected at Nelson Creek by the Herbst team (and myself) during last summer's field work. One of two forms filled in for each stream section, the numbers already showing tendencies - as humps and curves - when plotted out back at the lab. There are so many connections to make, but which are consequential? By what signs shall we recognize them?
Play can mean 'sunlight playing on water' or 'a key plays in the lock': a loose fit between things where multiple possibilities persist within a given relationship. Revisiting the idea of organizing your samples, I set out with water-soluble crayon to ponder the nature of order.
Speech, transposed to writing, is also set in a matrix of vertical and horizontal cells. Each letter its own dominion, clumps with others to express words and sentences. In learning to write we approach from this side of slow assembly.

I've written a series of brief statements about stream processes, meant to recall the fumbling and magic of forming meanings by connecting shapes. Checking my statements with biologist Bruce Medhurst engendered some refinements in accuracy, not yet incorporated here. Recommended reading: Geoffrey Sampson's Writing Systems, which describes some of the ways speech has been expressed through shape and grid by cultures over the last four millennia.
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