12.0001 one more than ten

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 7 May 1998 23:38:05 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 1.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Thu, 07 May 1998 23:35:17 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: one more than ten

Karl Meninger, in Number Words and Number Symbols, confirms that eleven,
like 12, is a strange number in many languages, formed differently from
those that come before and those that follow. In childhood I recall
thinking, up to the time of my 12th birthday and into the year it began,
that 12 was the perfect age. The teens I associated with acute discomfort,
embarrassment and profound physiological change -- nothing to look forward
to, though certain of the rewards did seem tantalizing indeed. They still
do... and are. No such special status, though perhaps born of fear, I ever
accorded to being 11. It was apparently not memorable. A time out of time, a
dull-featured passage from childhood to the celebrated verge, with the
dreaded but exciting turbulence beyond.

The way we count birthdays is, of course, ambiguous. Humanist's eleventh
birthday, today in fact, is the beginning of its 12th year and completion of
its 11th, so from that point of view we are entering the perfect age. (Note
the volume and issue number of this message.) This is, of course, what I
hope for on behalf of us all. I was not so given to seeing the ambiguities
and ironies as a child, however, so all those associations really belong to
the Humanist-year beginning May 1999, the last of the 20th century and the
second millenium. Generosity here (or is it muddled sloppiness?) allows me
roughly to mark the beginning of Humanist's second decade with my own move
to a new land and so a profound psycho-social reconstruction, which of
course is still in progress. My no-man's eleventh, between the North
American first ten and who knows how many following these here in England,
has been anything but featureless, rather a time of more profound change
than ever I could have imagined.

Looking over the last year of Humanist I don't see an analogous change,
rather more or less of a steady-state. Our seminar some years ago lost its
early prominence amidst the crowd of its children (if I may presume), just
as my generation of pioneering computing humanists found themselves no
longer so special. It's commonplace now for the likes of us to feel, as one
of my friends put it vividly last year, like we're sitting in the middle of
the road with tire-tracks going up our back. As a researcher and scholar I
don't feel that way at all, but professionally one does get the sense that
the Action has gone elsewhere. We do not tend to be the ones whom government
ministers consult and newspaper reporters interview. Text-analysis does not
make the headlines. Being in the backwater is not entirely a bad thing, of
course; traditionally it has been where humanists have preferred to be. But
I have been inspired recently to ponder on the question of how we make the
connection between what we do and what the society at large (which supports
us) wants or needs. Difficult one, that. People at the level of the British
Academy and its equivalents elsewhere are, I know, worrying about such
things, because unless this connection is made, they argue, our kind may

This evening I was listening, as I usually do, to Radio 4 while preparing
dinner, to a programme about the successful applications of connectionist AI
to decision-making in government. The man narrating the programme concluded
rather uncomfortably by saying that we really should be discussing such
potential for profound social change and social control now, openly,
frequently, loudly. "Where are the public debates about these issues?" he

On Humanist, of course, though perhaps not as often as they need to be.
Looking over the messages of the last year -- as we all can easily, thanks
to the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH, Virginia)
-- I am struck repeatedly by how rich and interesting our chatter is. Who
knows what the juices of adolescence in the turn of the millenium will do to
us. We've had a robust childhood, however, so needn't be worried -- as long
as we can keep on talking, and like serious youths everywhere, develop a
strain of idealism strong enough to outlast all the world's adult

Happy Birthday to you all!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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

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