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“Data Science and the Art of Philognosia” 

By Zack Voulgaris, Data Scientist at Elovan Inc.

Last Saturday I was in the park for my weekly solo hike. It was a beautiful day that allowed me to focus on my surroundings more and notice things that I hadn’t noticed before. Soon after that my mind started wondering immersing itself in deeper thoughts as I was immersing myself in the woods. I thought about the various masculine and feminine elements around me,manifesting the bipolar nature of the cosmos and how the ecosystem around me embraced them both in a harmonious and seamless way.

Why couldn’t man do the same with his manifestations of masculine and feminine? Why can’t science and art be organically combined, just like the days of old where all aspects of civilization were part of a single whole?

Then I thought that perhaps they are combined but it’s not visible to us, or we are not so aware of it, so we tend to let our focus dwell on one or the other aspect of this whole. Perhaps data science is not just a science but a part of science-art amalgamation that brings about life and enthusiasm among its practitioners.

Data science has not been formally defined yet but to those who are quite familiar with it it is often referred to as “making data into insightful and actionable information, especially big data”. The latter is a term that has received a lot of hype from the media, especially after some insightful entrepreneurs began to see its impact on their companies’ bottom line.

There is definitely a lot of cash tied to this relatively new field of science which tries to marry the scientific method with applications the average Joe cares about. A good example of this being LinkedIn which is basically a bundle of data products marketed to young (and not so young) professionals.

But I don’t want to talk about the business merits of data science in this post. You can learn about them through a 30 second web search at a search engine of your choice. What I do want to talk about is the philosophical aspects of data science and its usefulness to the world, after the hype of big data inevitably wanes. Hence the term Philognosia, which I define as the love of knowledge, particularly applicable knowledge, as a human value and an attitude towards the digital world. 

It’s not a field of philosophy, though it could be. Right now it’s more like a deeper understanding of how information works and how it can be useful to us, as citizens and as data scientists. Perhaps that’s why it’s more of an art, than a science, even if it is closely tied to science, through the field of data science.

Philognosia is a way of life having to do with wanting to make data into something we can use and fetch value to us. In its more philosophical foundations, it can be viewed as the inner dimension of an alchemical process, aiming to turn crude matter (in this case data) into gold (insight). Why would anyone care about this process?

Obviously the financial reward of such a process is a popular motivation factor of this. But this is not so sustainable. How long will it be before it is not so profitable any more or not so profitable anytime soon? There must be a better motivator if this process is to last for a while and that helps you feel better right here right now. That doesn’t mean that it appeals to the less disciplined individuals necessarily. Instead, it’s the feeling of doing something because you see value in it, regardless of the fruits it may yield later on, particularly the monetary ones.

Data science is hard, especially today when the technologies behind it are still quite immature and require considerable technical skill and lots of patience. If you are to survive as a data scientist, you’ll need to have a sustainable attitude that will alleviate all the pains of this work. For some people in this field it’s the ambition to become someone established, to gain lots of power in the job market and be able to have a say about the terms when it comes to working. That’s great but what happens when you’ve reached the peak of your career? You’ll definitely need a more sustainable motivation to drive you then. Perhaps Philognosia could be the answer.

As I’m still new to the field I cannot pretend to know all the answers. Besides, the non-technical open questions of data science usually don’t have clear-cut answers anyway. So, if you have any constructive thoughts you’d like to share on this matter, feel free to contact me or type a reply on this post. After all, Philognosia drives us to seek the knowledge that lies beyond the labyrinths of data that the Web is brimming with. Do you want to participate in this process?  

Read More of Zach’s Blog Posts (that are less philosophical)


Zack Voulgaris, Ph.D
Data Scientist at Elavon Inc.

Data scientist, independent researcher, data consultant, and author of several technical books (including a hands-on guide for aspiring data scientists), I am a US citizen who is committed to excellence and life-long learning. Armed with international experience ranging from the US to the eastmost part of Europe, and in both the industry and academia, I am a proactive and passionate professional engineer / scientist eager to tackle any data-related problem. I currently reside in the East Coast of USA, working full-time as a data scientist.

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Founder & Head of Data Science Search at Starbridge Partners, LLC.