At one of our meetings at the National Holocaust Centre with whom we’re working on the Pervasive Monuments project, Adam Moore, our resident information scientist and geo-spatial guy said something that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while. Here’s the summation to the best of my recollection: “In ‘hard’ sciences, like physics and maths, there are absolute truths — in biology there isn’t. Things are fuzzy. Things are probable or improbable.” History falls into the same grey cloud that biology does.
“In ‘hard’ sciences, like physics and maths, there are absolute truths — in biology there isn’t. Things are fuzzy. Things are probable or improbable.”
This is something that’s pretty fascinating to think about in terms of design. With interaction design its almost a given though, you design an experience or a sequence of events or actions and in the end of the day you don’t really know how things are going to turn out or what people will do. Systems are loose, there is give and take and there is some leg room for things to stretch out a bit. There is no absolutes, but parameters. You create the playing field, but can’t really control so much what’s going to happen on it.
With history though, things get a little murkier. For instance, most (hopefully) would say that killing a person because of their race, politics, or religion is wrong. This is an absolute then. So wouldn’t the experience then also have to be absolute? How can the experience be relative or dynamic when the context isn’t? The numbers and the morals are there, and seemingly indisputable, but if you want to get to the point of understanding how that person got to be the Cain who killed Abel, maybe you should walk a mile in their shoes as well.
The old notion of walking a mile in another man’s shoes, which in our case is trying to relay experiences of killing on a mass scale, could really go either way. One’s first thought is to empathise with the victim. This is one of the ideas we’re playing with in regards to Spomenik or the output end of the pervasive monument. The idea is to create a sense of empathy, of trying to make this person someone who you could have known, or even could have been you. The obvious effect would be sympathy. You would understand the what of the situation, but not necessarily the why.
Reflecting on Adam’s statement though, and thinking of experience and design in general got me thinking the other way. What if you were looking instead through a killer’s eyes? At the risk of sounding like some sort of psychic police profiler TV show, this would be how you could start to understand how things got to be the way they got to be. How do you prevent genocide? Maybe its not just empathising with the victim, maybe its understanding what the killer thought so next time around someone won’t turn into that person.