19th January, 2021

To Study Humans Without Knowing Humans

By Jonathan Bluestein

Two years ago ago I met a very distant relative. He was writing a Phd thesis in Sociology on the Beduin tribes of the Negev Desert. I asked him when last he had met a Beduin person. He answered: "Never".

Some months ago I learned from a close friend, a person whom I deeply like and respect, that she was writing a Phd thesis in Computer Science. The subject had been the diagnosis of people with a certain mental illness based on their writing patterns (text contents). I asked her whether she had gone to meet with and study individuals with that type of mental illness. She answered: "Never".

Now with so many folks wearing masks and social-distancing, do you suppose people would know more or less about the subject matter of their inquiries?...

In the 1970s, Israeli rock band Kaveret had a verse about this type of approach, in one of their songs:

My cousin sought to learn to swim

So he could float forever

He learned the skill in correspondence

From a famous lifeguard

When he finally got to sea

Matter of seconds, he disappeared

A duo sought rescue when he was gone

Two sink better than the one