SCIENTIFIC + HUMANISTIC

Integrated, or never separated?

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Hi, I am Junyi Tao.

As a digital humanist, I integrate humanistic inquiries and scientific methods to investigate a variety of questions, with a special focus on philosophy. I am currently completing a dual degree of B.S. in Data Science at Duke University and Duke Kunshan University.


Scholars have long employed a divisive lens to view science and humanities, with the former rapidly developing to replace human labor while the latter ultimately oriented around human interpretations. Such division in perspective also manifests itself in the division of scholarly communities that perceive themselves as having little to do with each other.
However, my experience researching at the intersection of the two revealed that this made us miss out on an enormous potential for the two domains to co-evolute and recursively augment each other. This motivates me to pursue an integrated approach to research that combines both.

Despite suspicion and criticism that such technical methods are not equipped with the context to understand philosophical arguments, my project demonstrated the great benefits that could be brought by the creative use of scientific tools—their agnostic nature could illuminate us with new perspectives, and the comprehensive visualization could expand our cognition and point out blind spots that were previously ignored. Using machine-learning-powered network and text analysis, I have conducted several projects to examine how philosophical terms, schools, and thinkers can be connected at scale and be situated within larger social and intellectual contexts. I am also expanding my research to other areas of philosophical, historical, and even sociological inquiries.

I believe that it is the questions we ask, not the technologies we apply, that can positively impact the world. A knowledge mapping system I created to help researchers across disciplines find those who share similar research interests led to me starting the Computational Humanities Lab, as an incubator for research that trespasses the traditional divide of “science” and “humanities”. By doing so, I hope to help foster an environment in which people are brave enough to question the established boundaries and open enough to cross them.

Visit my research page and blog for more details!


The big questions I have been exploring...

My research centers on the hermeneutic rethinking of digital humanities methodologies, and explores three principle ideas:
★ Redesign computational methods for humanities research

Large-scale computing is not a panacea, and current data science techniques are often not tailored to the reflective, contextualized nature of humanities research and so lack the interpretive power it requires.
How can we get small, smart data from texts and scale up to big, smart data? How can we tailor computational methods specifically to humanities subjects and methods?

★ Algorithm design as lens modeling to prompt reflections

Is distance reading really a black box? Is close reading completely a white box? Explicit computations might even be more decomposable and interpretable than human cognition. Can we develop and employ algorithms that can bring clarity to implicit biases and perspectives encoded in our understandings of the world?

★ Philosophy of scientific and humanistic

What are the philosophical grounds, especially the epistemology, of digital humanities? What are so-called "scientific" and "humanistic", and how have they co-evolved over history?
What makes humanities computing possible and promising? Is it possible to qualify and quantify the gaps between sciences and humanities scholarships?


Ultimately, my research goal is to develop the philosophical foundation of this integrated approach, through a series of research projects and reflections (we are all explorers, and failure can be even more valuable than success). What is the story behind?.


Personal

✧ My parents and friends have complained for years that I try to turn every conversation into a philosophical discussion.
✧ Necessities for me: good books, VSCode, and COFFEE. With these in mind, you can often catch me in the corner of a cafe or bookstore. My favorite place is the Library of Babel. Besides reading and writing, I enjoy designing, playing the Chinese zither, traveling, and trying all ice cream flavors.

I am always energized by inspiring conversations and meaningful connections. Feel free to email me and say hi!

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