4.0257 Humanist Tasks; Transience of Knowledge (2/74)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 9 Jul 90 16:05:06 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0257. Monday, 9 Jul 1990.

(1) Date: Sun, 08 Jul 90 11:38:48 PDT (40 lines)
Subject: Arcane Humanists & Info Society

(2) Date: Thu, 05 Jul 90 21:21:06 EDT (34 lines)
From: Frank Dane <FDANE@UGA>
Subject: Knowledge

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Sun, 08 Jul 90 11:38:48 PDT
Subject: Arcane Humanists & Info Society

Elli Mylonas makes the good point, with evidence, that questions arising
among us humanists, such as text retrieval, are questions that also
arise in the business community and the world at large. He notes that
"the problems many of us are trying to solve are becoming more prominent
for the general computing world. They are not just strange requirements
of a restricted group engaged on arcane work, as humanists are sometimes
viewed by the industry."

The convergence of shared problems is no surprise in the age of
information. McLuhan remarked in one of his letters (to John Culkin):
"In the age of information the University becomes itself environmental,
whereas in the mechanical age it had been merely the content of a
machine technology." When our nations's primary product becomes
information, then we as a society relate to the University as an
environment. An environment is the subconscious backdrop or ground
against which all cultural activity occurs. Whatever the difference in
content may be, the same background guides the shared approach to
content. If information becomes the backdrop of business and commerce,
then the University as the clearing house for information becomes the
invisible paradigm for intelligent work. Have you noticed how in recent
years businesses have co-opted educational situations like "workshops"
and "seminars"?

But what is the relationship between information and humanism? Is
information the same as humanistic endeavors? Which leads to the
related question, what is the relationship of academic humanists to the
University as information-provider?

If we distinguish information from significance, perhaps the work of
humanists is to assess the significance of cultural information? If so,
how does humanistic work relate to the business community and the

Mike Heim
Cal State Long Beach

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------42----
Date: Thu, 05 Jul 90 21:21:06 EDT
From: Frank Dane <FDANE@UGA>
Subject: Knowledge

As a social psychologist, I am intrigued by the current discussion re:
knowledge transience. As is Knox, I am astonished that anyone would
entertain the notion that one's brain could get full. Certainly, the
structure of memory could get sufficiently complicated as to make it
difficult to retrieve long-unused information, and there does exist
evidence for the physical decay of memory (even though we don't know
what "physical" processes are responsible for memory).

I am equally intrigued with the notion that knowledge could get old.
The dynamics of memory make that impossible. Every time information is
used (remembered), it is "freshened." More important, every time
knowledge is used it is altered, however slightly, by what is going on
in the current environment. In Knox's words, the knowledge does,
indeed, become new again upon rereading a text, or merely reflecting
upon what was once read in a text (or any other source). Kessler made
the same point when referring to reexamination of Sufi anecdotes,
although any reconsideration is sufficient to alter stored memory.

Similarly, existing (stored in memory) knowledge affects one's
interpretation of new knowledge--psychologists refer to this a proactive
interference. Again in Knox's terms, existing knowledge is
determinant knowledge. Thus, there is a dynamic cycle of new
information being affected by and simultaneously altering existing
information. It's this dynamic process of human memory that has the
Artificial Intelligence folks pulling out their hair--computer models of
human memory usually fail because computers do not forget, nor does new
information "unintentionally" alter information stored in memory or on

Frank Dane