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How Description Results in Understanding

Describing one thing with accuracy forces you to be taught extra about it. On this manner, description generally is a instrument for studying.

Correct description requires the next:

  1. Remark
  2. Curiosity about what you might be witnessing
  3. Suspending assumptions about trigger and impact

It may be tough to stay with describing one thing fully and precisely. It’s arduous to beat the tendency to attract conclusions primarily based on partial info or to go away assumptions unexplored.


Some programs, just like the ecosystem that’s the ocean, are advanced. They’ve many shifting components which have a number of dependencies and work together in difficult methods. Making an attempt to determine them out is daunting, and it may possibly appear extra sane to not trouble making an attempt—besides that advanced programs are in every single place. We reside our lives as a part of lots of them, and addressing any world challenges includes understanding their many dimensions.

One approach to start understanding advanced programs is by describing them intimately: mapping out their components, their a number of interactions, and the way they alter via time. Advanced programs are sometimes difficult—that’s, they’ve many shifting components that may be arduous to determine and outline. However the overriding function of advanced programs is that they can’t be managed from the highest down. Advanced programs show emergent properties and unpredictable variations that we can’t determine prematurely. However removed from being inaccessible, we are able to be taught quite a bit about such programs by describing what we observe.

For instance, Jane Jacobs’s complete description of the interactions alongside metropolis sidewalks in The Dying and Lifetime of Nice American Cities led to perception about how cities truly work. Her work additionally emphasised the multidimensionality of metropolis programs by demonstrating through description that trying to handle a metropolis from the highest down would stifle its adaptive capabilities and negatively impression the town itself.

One other guide that makes use of description to light up difficult and complicated relationships is The Sea Round Us by Rachel Carson. In it she chronicles occasions within the oceans, from the cycles of plankton development to the motion of waves, in accessible, evocative descriptions. It’s no hassle to conjure up vivid photos primarily based on her phrases. However because the guide progresses, her descriptions of the components coalesce into an appreciation for the way multidimensional the ocean system is.

Carson’s descriptions come via a number of lenses. She describes the ocean via the habits of animals and volcanoes. She explores the ocean by describing its vertical integration from the floor to the depths and the underside. She appears on the oceans via the lenses of their currents and relationships to wind. In complete the guide describes the identical entity, the seas that cowl the vast majority of the earth’s floor, via 13 totally different descriptive lenses. Though the components are damaged down into their fundamentals, the great view that Carson employs permits the reader to simply grasp how difficult the ocean system is.

Not one of the lenses she makes use of impart full info. Making an attempt to understand how interconnected the components of the system are by simply her description of tides or minerals is inconceivable. It’s solely when the lenses are mixed {that a} full image of the ecosystem emerges.

The guide demonstrates the worth in description, even if you happen to can’t conclude causation within the specifics you’re describing.

One noticeable omission from the guide is the position of plate tectonics within the motion of the ocean flooring and related phenomena like volcanoes. Plate tectonic concept is a scientific child and was not but extensively accepted when Carson up to date her unique textual content in 1961. However not understanding plate tectonic concept doesn’t undermine her descriptions of life on the backside of the oceans, or the impression of volcanoes, or the altering form of the undersea cabinets that connect to the continents. Though the reader is invited to ponder the why behind what she is describing, we’re additionally inspired to be within the second, observing the ocean via Carson’s phrases.


The guide just isn’t an argument for a selected manner of interacting with the ocean. It doesn’t have to make one. Carson’s descriptions supply their very own proof of how making an attempt to vary or handle the ocean system could be extraordinarily tough as a result of they reveal the multitude of connections between numerous sea phenomena.

Describing the entire from so many alternative angles illuminates the advanced. By chronicling microinteractions, akin to these between areas of cold and hot water or excessive and low stress, we are able to see how modifications in a single facet produce cascading change. We additionally get a way of the adaptability of the residing organisms that reside within the oceans, like with the ability to reside in depths that haven’t any mild (and subsequently no vegetation that depend on photosynthesis) and adjusting biochemistry to benefit from differences due to the season in temperature that have an effect on water weight and salt contents.

The reader walks away from the guide appreciating the problem in describing intimately one thing as difficult because the ocean ecosystem. The guide is stuffed with observations and brief on judgments, an strategy that encourages us to develop our personal curiosity concerning the sea round us.

The Sea Round Us is the Farnam Road guide membership’s summer season choice. Members get further useful resource supplies to assist get probably the most out of this fascinating guide. Be taught extra or take part.



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