Visual Thinking Blog

Overcoming Entropy: Why Data Viz and the Meaning of Life

Overcoming Entropy: Why Data Viz and the Meaning of Life

I’m going to go big-picture and maybe over-simplify: living things crave to create order and meaning out of chaos, and perhaps that is the “meaning of life.” I’ve heard about this theory of the Statistical physics of self-replication: all living things are responding to external energy sources by organizing into structures that dissipate energy. Because the 2nd law of thermodynamics says that entropy (or the dissipation of energy) is always increasing, mathematics can describe the process whereby life is inevitable because, ironically, in order to be consistent with that law, it must self-organize.

Humans WANT to create order and meaning out of chaos. And data visualization, in some respects, is exactly that: finding patterns in complexity. Millions of transactions, each a data point, organized into shapes that provide understanding and guidance for decisions that increase the reliability and consistent workings of our lives and work.

Businesses are asking: how can I make sense of waves upon waves of data? Geospatial data in 2D lacks the ability to see magnitudes with precision, but my company, Flow Immersive, enables operators of supply chains to visually see magnitudes on maps using 3D, and better operate their supply chains to increase efficiency, identify bottlenecks, etc.

As another example using IOT data, how can we build meaningful mental models to understand what devices are humming smoothly and which are about to fail due to unnecessary vibration? Is this outlier important, or is it just the vibration of the nearby train tracks? Does this data predict stability or instability for our business or world? Our visual cortex is able to respond instinctively to these visualizations because 3D is the natural language of the brain.

The Flow 3D Data Platform can display 3D data visualizations within browsers, on mobile phones, in augmented reality, and in extended reality (XR) headsets. It contains collaborative tools to have a good conversation about the data as it floats above the conference room table. It is highly interactive to categorize and drill into categories, to highlight and isolate data of interest. It is flexible to work across hardware devices and with attendees in-person or remotely. And it is built with enterprise workflows in mind, where data security is paramount, implementation times are tight, and the big executive meeting is tomorrow. All this and more, such as emerging AI assistance, is necessary for a system to deliver on the big-picture changes coming to the future of work.
Maybe the “meaning of life” is to build things, to solve problems, to increase the stability of our lives and the human system. I would argue that it’s time we got on with it: the world has no shortage of problems.