Sunday, December 18, 2016

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] What does STEM to STEAM mean: New Ideas or Hot Moist Air ?

Dear Roger and Yasminers,

This is just a quick reply to Roger's opening and an introduction. As Roger notes, I have been part of Fluxus since the 1960s. As a laboratory for art, design, and music, many of the issues in STEAM interested us long ago. I'm no longer a dean, though — I'm back to research and making things.

Roger's question had me laughing: "What does STEM to STEAM mean: New Ideas or Hot Moist Air?" The reality is that many of the challenges in STEAM require STEM as well as art — without an understanding of the issues involved in science and technology, much of what goes under the label of "art-and-science" is hot moist air.

Back in the early 1970s, I had some questions about why Fluxus experiments did not work. That's why I went back to university to get a PhD. At that time, there were no PhD degrees in art. My undergraduate degrees were in education and social science, so I did my PhD in human behavior — a situation for which I was later to be deeply grateful, as I studied ideas, projects, processes, and thinkers that do not normally seem to show up in the art PhD programs on offer.

Roger also asks, "What is new in the STEM to STEAM concept? What can be done easily now, that was difficult to do 20 years ago?" This is a good question, but I'd answer it in two different ways. Each of these two answers also requires me to note a double time frame — not simply a time frame of the past two decades, but a time frame of the past five decades.

The first answer involves what remains the same. I don't see any major advances in philosophy of science, or the philosophy and history of ideas that one cannot see twenty years ago, or even fifty. Michael Polanyi still makes good sense. So do John Dewey and George Herbert Mead. To the degree that we are prepared to argue for a significant contribution to human knowledge in any field, we've got to argue for a real world that is in some respect knowable, and a world of advances on which we can build.

We do know more about the sociology of knowledge than we once did, along with behavioral science, and behavioral economics. The great breakthroughs in these fields of the past half century are stunning in their significance — the past 20 years has involved filling in gaps in our understanding. Michael Lewis's new book — The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds — tells one part of the story of how Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky created the field of behavioral economics, with implications across a wide range of issues. Kahneman won the Nobel prize for this work, and Tversky would have if he had not died before their work was honored. I haven't read the book yet. I'm waiting for it to arrive. Daniel Kahneman tells the story for himself in his own book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. You can learn more about this work and related work, such as Elinor Ostrom's work on community action, at the Nobel web site:

In every field, we see the difficult, incremental advances that build what we know. That's the same as it has always been, and anyone who wants to get to the edge of any field has a lot of work to do. Jeremy Bernstein wrote a marvelous essay titled "How Do We Know that Albert Einstein Was Not a Crank?" in his book, Cranks, Quarks, and the Cosmos. It contains this sentence:

"All of us who have tried to work in a deep science know just how hard it is to get to the frontier — just how much devoted training is involved."

Much of what Bernstein writes about cranks applies to a great deal of the claims I have been seeing in STEAM talks and presentations.

For those who are interested, I have posted Bernstein's article to the "Teaching Documents" section of my Academia page at URL:

My second answer to Roger's question follows from the first.

For those willing to do the work required to reach any kind of frontier, we've arrived at a moment in art when many things are possible. Is it possible for art to make interesting and useful contributions to human knowledge that enrich science and thinking with new ideas? I believe that it is. But then we've got to allow for the sad truth of science: dedicated researchers spend years, sometimes a lifetime, simply to add a small contribution to what we know as a species.

I'll return to the conversation to offer my thoughts on some of these issues. For now, I'll say, "Thanks, Roger," and bid you all welcome to a conversation that I hope will offer more in the way of useful ideas.



Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji University in Cooperation with Elsevier | URL:

Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| University Distinguished Professor | Centre for Design Innovation | Swinburne University of Technology | Melbourne, Australia

Email | Academia | D&I

> On Dec 18, 2016, at 10:44 PM, roger malina <> wrote:
> Yasminers
> We are pleased to start our discussion : What does STEM to STEAM mean:
> New Ideas or Hot Moist Air ?
> Moderator: Roger Malina
> Discussants: Dimitris Charitos ( Prof at University of Athens ,
> Greece), Guillermo Munoz ( Spain, currently a nanoscience postdoc in
> Japan),Gemma Anderson ( Artist and Lecturer in Drawing at Falmouth
> University). Ken Friedman ( original fluxus member and design dean).
> *Julia Buntaine (Neuroscience-based art)


> As you know there is an international discussion on "stem to
> steam"concepts and approaches for new art/sci/tech teaching and
> research methods. There is much debate and discussion on whether the
> ideas behind STEM to STEAM are new in anyway, or whether the phrase is
> a repackaging of current work in a way to attract new funding ( for an
> understanding the social and cultural processes at work in 'selling'
> programs like stem to steam - on a larger scale- see for instance
> Patrick McCray's detailed book called The Visioneers: How a Group of
> Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a
> Limitless Future )


> ""STARTS encourages synergies between the Arts and innovation for
> technology and society by promoting the inclusion of artists in
> Horizon 2020 projects.An increasing number of high-tech companies
> assert that scientific and technological skills alone are not
> sufficient anymore. In this context, the Arts are gaining prominence
> as catalysts for an efficient conversion of science and technology
> knowledge into novel products, services, and processes.""
> We will start the discussion with posts from our invited respondents
> What is new in the STEM to STEAM concept ? What can be done easily now
> that was difficult to do 20 years ago?


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