The Art of Scientific Observation

Saturday, 4 July 10-18h
Prof Raghavendra Gadagkar

Observation is a natural human activity. All of us, young and old, trained and untrained, can observe. Hence it might appear that no specialized training is necessary for observation. This is far from the truth: we have to first unlearn how to observe like untrained people before we can be trained to observe ‘scientifically’. We then have to learn how to combine our natural instincts for observing with the rules learnt in the training. It is this combination that is most difficult and that is why observation is as much an art as science.


It is precisely because observation comes to us naturally that observing differently requires training”

The methods of observation of artists and scientists are not really different but they are used for different purposes. This workshop will attempt to show the common thread running through all kinds of observations and reveal where the differences between artists and scientists lie. Prof. Gadagkar is a practioner of ethology, the science of animal and human behaviour. Using four progressively complex steps, he will take the participants of the workshop through a learning process that will helps them become ‘trained’ observers. With the help of videos of ants, bees and wasps, under natural and laboratory conditions, the participants will get a hands-on experinece in mastering the rules of observation.

20150704-TheArtofObservation-001Whether the observer is a scientist or an artist, observation consists of three sequential steps namely Input, Process and Output. In casual obseration we perform these three steps rapidly and instinctively, without demarcating them. The exercises in this workshop will help the participants to delieneate these three steps and concentrate on each one of them separately. Such a procedure will make obvious that the rules of observation depend entirely on the question being asked, or more generally speaking, on the purpose of the observation. Thus it is the purpose of observation that is often different between artists and scientists.


GadagkarRaghavendra Gadagkar is a full professor and practioner of ethology -the science of animal and human behaviour- at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. As founder of the Centre for Contemporary Studies, Gadagkar has initiated a new experiment that endeavours to engage practitioners of different disciplines in the human sciences, such as philosophy, sociology, economics, law, literature, poetry, art, music, cinema etc. to forge meaningful interactions between the natural and human sciences, with special focus on understanding the diverse research methodologies of different disciplines and create opportunities to rethink the foundations of our own disciplines.


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