11.0138 discussion on Humanist

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Fri, 27 Jun 1997 21:18:51 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 138.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (17)
Subject: technical vs. philosophical

[2] From: Soraj Hongladarom <soraj@chulkn.car.chula.ac.th> (55)
Subject: Re: 11.0113 contributions to Humanist

Date: Wed, 25 Jun 1997 21:44:29 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: technical vs. philosophical

In a recent offline discussion involving Humanist, one person asserted
rather strongly that our field needs a new discussion group devoted to the
technical aspects of humanities computing. One suggestion was that
Humanist itself be used for the purpose, or sharpened in its
provision of technical information, by denoting it as such, e.g. in the
subject line. Presumably such a sorting would serve those who have little
patience with the philosophical, sociological, historical and other "soft"
parts of the field; they could then go straight for their gold and delete
the dross. Wisdom, to my mind, prevailed: one acute participant observed
that humanities computing lies precisely in the intersection of technical
and non-technical, that to separate these would be to violate the spirit
if not the body of what we do.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk

Date: Thu, 26 Jun 1997 11:07:56 +0700
From: Soraj Hongladarom <soraj@chulkn.car.chula.ac.th>
Subject: Re: 11.0113 contributions to Humanist

>In several exchanges I have had with members of Humanist -- or is it in
>exchanges I have wanted to have with them? -- I've been reminded that the
>point of such contributions is not to be right but to clarify the discussion
>as a whole, to advance the discussants' understanding in some way, even to
>provoke them into thinking a bit harder about something important. Once,
>that is, one moves from monologue to dialogue, what matters is the whole
>conversation rather than any of its individual parts. I would suppose that
>the same is true of the difference between a lecture and a seminar.
>Do we not have a particularly clear case of this in an electronic seminar,
>disembodied and shared among discussants who may never meet each other?

Factual information often provides a very good argument supporting a point,
and this makes it quite difficult to fully separate the two. However, what
can happen is that sometimes there are interpretations involved and many
view the same facts or events differently, resulting in arguments. In many
cases the facts themselves are not much interesting. What is more
interesting is the competing versions of explanations of those facts,
explanations which can strongly clash, but can well hopefully give rise to
increased awareness and understanding on both sides. People can attach
different meanings to the facts, to which all parties agree. But they
disagree, if they do, on the significance and on how best to describe those
facts. Terms used to describe or explain facts or events can be charged
with meanings which might transform one event dramatically from one thing
to another. Take as an example the coming handover of power in Hong Kong.
The Chinese in Beijing (as evidenced in Deng Xiao Ping's unfulfilled wish
to see its return before his death) view the event as a very important part
of their history. An event which vindicates the more than a century of
humiliation brought upon by the Opium War. But the Hong Kong residents view
this sometimes with apprehension, sometimes with indifference.

Thus when discussions come on line, what gets them going is often not just
the announcements of facts, unless there's a moderator who specifically
intends them to be that way. Of course people don't have to be always right
in order to join a discussion. But who is? And if we are focusing on
arguments and discussions, what we normally expect from contributions is
that the facts are just the starting points. What is expected is what the
contributors are going to do with them. (If it is agreed that those 'facts'
are actually true.) Now the correctness of the facts is not so relevant.
What is is that the points being offered are supported by reasons, and we
hope that all would benefit through participating in the discussions.

Lurkers benefit too. Often they just don't have the time or their ideas
have already been expressed by someone else. There's certainly nothing
wrong with that.


Soraj Hongladarom Department of Philosophy
Faculty of Arts
Chulalongkorn University
Bangkok 10330, THAILAND
Fax.(662)218-4636; 218-4755
email -- <hsoraj@pioneer.netserv.chula.ac.th>, or

Personal Web Page: http://pioneer.netserv.chula.ac.th/~hsoraj/web/soraj.html