14.0408 primitives

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: 10/24/00

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 408.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
             Date: Tue, 24 Oct 2000 07:08:33 +0100
             From: "Osher Doctorow" <osher@ix.netcom.com>
             Subject: Methodological Primitives
    I have been looking over the past contributions to this thread, and it will
    still take me some time to understand them if ever, but I have a few
    tentative ideas.  Leonardo Da Vinci put a smile on Mona Lisa by deleting
    detail - the first to do so.  But why?   Now, here is a "paradox".  A smile
    is itself a little detail.  It seems to have intrigued the mathematician
    Lewis Carroll in the time of Queen Victoria.  Could it have interested
    Leonardo?  Why would a detail interest Leonardo, this grand master of the
    global rather than the local?  Could his genius have had something to do
    with detail?  Could it extend all the way into the origins of the High
    Renaissance and beyond, both by its omission and its addition?   Now let me
    change the scene rapidly and point out something closely related.  String
    theorists in physics and logic-based probability (LBP) theory are converging
    on the conclusion that the universe itself contains the structure of life.
    In LBP we seem to have the result that the universe in particular contains
    the structure of bacteria.  The greatest problem of our time, like that of
    the Renaissance and its preceding Dark Ages, is life versus death - mostly
    through viruses which may or may not be gene linked.  A virus is neither
    dead nor alive.  It has some characteristics of life but not all.  It misses
    a detail or two.  Leonardo came soon after a Europe whose population was cut
    into a third or less by disease.  It must have occupied his mind.  Yet he
    had an interest in the Ancient Classics, where Democritus tells us about
    atoms - little units of details.  Does the Mona Lisa tell us that creative
    genius and life versus death lies in little details like a slight change in
    one axiom or the addition of one atom or the deletion of slight details in a
    painting?   Is the methodological primitive before our very noses?  Life and
    humanism and computers have much in common indeed - growth, sensitivity,
    mobility, etc.  What do we know about growth?  Can we or a computer
    recognize image patterns of growth?  Text grows by adding one letter or
    symbol at a time in theory (and probably in practice).  We do not even have
    a mathematics to express this.  We do have a mathematics and physics that
    predict how much certain things (relatively few of them, actually) will
    grow, but we do not even know a set operation for adding one detail or one
    element at a time to a set and still referring to it as the same growing set
    (for those who do not know set theory, substitute "collection of things" for
    "set").  LBP is fairly near such a set theory, and it looks like it will tie
    in with virus and bacteria growth.  Yet I think that there is a faster way.
    You members of humanist discussion group and I must be the Leonardo Da
    Vincis of our time.  Forget the apparatus of mathematics and computers of
    the last few hundred years, which Leonardo did not have anyway, and think
    about methodological primitives in humanist computing that relate to growth,
    sensitivity to the environment and to the internal state, mobility,
    perception at its most primitive level rather than for arbitrary image
    patterns, search at the most primitive level of focused/localized
    perception, sorting at the most primitive level of ordering elements of
    sets/collections, adding external databases one element at a time instead of
    massively, consciousness as a global sensitivity rather than a strictly
    localized sensitivity.  Ask what would happen if you drop or add one of
    these features at a time, or the sub-features of which each is composed.
    Create scenarios, non-Euclidean geometry analogues in humanism consisting of
    Shakespeare plus or minus some assumptions, write science fiction and
    mysteries and spy thrillers with more fiction than science but with a little
    assumption carefully changed here and there, and keep track of what you come
    up with.  I think that if you do those things and I do mine, we will meet at
    the intersection of life and death and not only conquer one discipline but
    many.  Let us try.

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