14.0661 black-box vs glass-box methods

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Mon Feb 12 2001 - 13:39:23 EST

  • Next message: by way of Willard McCarty: "14.0662 Corpus Linguistics 2001 workshops"

                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 661.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: "David L. Hoover" <david.hoover@nyu.edu> (51)
             Subject: Re: 14.0658 black-box vs glass-box methods

       [2] From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance) (53)
             Subject: Boundaries and Guardians

       [3] From: "Osher Doctorow" <osher@ix.netcom.com> (26)
             Subject: Re: glass box vs black box methods

             Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2001 18:32:04 +0000
             From: "David L. Hoover" <david.hoover@nyu.edu>
             Subject: Re: 14.0658 black-box vs glass-box methods

    "Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty )" wrote:

    >David Hoover, in Humanist 14.0653, has I think moved us toward the
    >core (or at least a core) of the matter I was blundering toward in my
    >question about black- and glass-box methods. His two additional
    >scenarios do this by setting out extremes at the crossover-point of which,
    >it seems to me, humanities computing is most itself -- and most interesting
    >to me.

    I'd agree with Willard that someone who mounts a medieval manuscript with a
    text-searchable interface and a listserve is doing important work, even if
    it is
    only marginally humanities computing (or not at all), and I'd agree that
    looking at
    how and why A's work makes a difference IS, centrally, humanities
    computing. I'd
    only add that 15 years ago, such an enterprise might have been, centrally,
    humanities computing.

    >We need many, many researchers like A, of course. A's method may not
    >be interesting from a technical point of view, but it does exemplify the
    >large intellectual difference simple tools can make. It seems to me that a
    >study of that difference is among those activities that we wish to include
    >under the rubric of humanities computing, in a subdivision of our
    >interdiscipline corresponding to the history & sociology of science. The
    >fact of that difference is prime, exportable news for the other disciplines
    >with which we interrelate. Even if we ungenerously say that A is not
    >doing humanities computing him- or herself, someone else can by looking
    >at what A has done.

    I'd agree further that the question of why mathematics differs from humanities
    computing in respect of its relation to other fields is indeed an interesting
    question. To rephrase it: Why isn't there such a field as Sciences
    Computing, or
    Social Sciences Computing? What does it mean that there isn't?

    His other example, involving a hypothetical application of cladistics to
    relationships that "proved" the false proposition that a ms known to be
    late is in
    fact the authorial version, is also interesting. My own reaction would be
    to take
    the scenario as strong evidence that cladistics is not appropriately
    applied to mss
    relationships. I'm not sure how valuable this might be in the long run,
    though it
    seems to me that it is easy to underestimate the value of studies that show
    how to
    avoid erroneous applications.

    I'll leave the question of inclusionary vs exclusionary disciplinarity to a

    David L. Hoover, Associate Chair & Webmaster, NYU Eng. Dept. 212-998-8832
                david.hoover@nyu.edu      http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/english/

    "Adolph slid back into the thicket and lay down behind a fallen log to see what would happen. Not much ever happened to him but weather." Willa Cather

    --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2001 18:32:40 +0000 From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance) Subject: Boundaries and Guardians


    I am so very glad that you and David Hoover have elaborated further examples involving the hypothetical musicologist whose work borders on the field of humanities computing and whose working processes participate in the methods of humanities computing as a discipline.

    I think the elaboration helps me articulate some of the unease which marked my reaction to earlier formulations. It has become clearer to me that participation in a field does not mean subjection to the dictates of disciplinary control. Let me restate this in a less libertarian idiom. The concern with the adjudication of the value of intellectual labour is not intrinsically a gate keeping function that keeps people away from engagin in said labour. In short, the question has shifted from "what is humanities computing" to "what is good humanities computing".

    There is of course the danger of purge whereby what is deemd not good is deemed not to be. It is a danger mitigated by the fact there are people active in the field who do not consider thems selves as bound to a discipline (i.e. intellectuals who do not find their primary home base in academic institutions). And it the existence of this significant cohort of peers that leads me to cite part of a previous posting to Humanist:

    <cite> Humanities Computing is not only a critical or intellectual discipline that comments on computing from the privileged tower. We need to invite the creative and performative arts back into Humanities Computing by posing questions that are not answered but acted on. The creative artist does not always deal with a problem when they create a work, so we must leave room in the discipline for performances and original creations made possible by the computer. (Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 44. 26 May 1999) </cite>

    I doubt that a musicologist is obliged to build instruments, either period instruments or new instruments, in order to be considered a musicologist. How much does an urban planner have to know about internal combustion engines?

    I want a place in the field of humanities computing for those who are willing and able to report their naive flitrations with technology, report their expectations, surprises and frustrations. I do not want us (yes I include myself in the category of naive user in as much as I return to my impressions through a self-reflection upon acquired expectations) to be relegated to the positon of objects of study in some sociological branch of the history of the discipline or as objects of study in some specialized sector of human-computer interface studies.

    The value I attach to different types of experience -- Erlebnis & Erfahrung -- arises out of a focus on raw resources which meets at some point the concern with the consturciton of an adjudicated legacy. It is no doubt a concern conditiond by biography and the repetion of circumstance wherby I have found myself unpacking a library, activating an account, transfereing files and ever thankful for the mundane support offered by staff and colleagues in and around the field.

    Geoffrey's question raises another: how to reward a good audience member?

    -- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance Member of the Evelyn Letters Project http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~dchamber/evelyn/evtoc.htm

    --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2001 18:33:26 +0000 From: "Osher Doctorow" <osher@ix.netcom.com> Subject: Re: glass box vs black box methods

    WM on Saturday (London time) raised some interesting questions regarding the difference between mathematics and humanities and also concerning the difference between trying and succeeding. The word "difference" is a clue to something similar here, which in psychology is known as discrimination but which is actually very closely related to an (opposite) process of integration or (positive) generalization. The Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg has used two alternative methods of resolving paradoxes or anomalies and differences in physics (which is a combination of mathematics and reality), 1. redefining the word theory as provisional or dependent on our current state of knowledge rather than permanent or independent (this gave rise to Weinberg's effective gauge quantum field theory, which is the current version of quantum field theory), 2. abandoning paradoxical theories altogether and starting with something new (he abandoned field theory altogether in physics and left it for string theory, simultaneously moving from Harvard/MIT to University of Texas Austin where string theory is prominent). If it seems strange that Weinberg used both methods 1 and 2 (he and Paul Dirac have been the two most creative quantum/elementary particle/gravitational physicists of the last 40 years or so), then we may have a clue as to how creative geniuses try to incorporate novelty and alternatives as a way of life. They define, they create new words and new focal points for disciplines, they change some old axioms and retain others, they retain several theories as alternatives rather than one (and keep adding rather than destroying even when a theory temporarily looks bad), and they are interested not only in theory but metatheory - the theories about theories. They thus transcend one science and are simultaneously scientists and humanists. They do not succeed, but they are very good at trying.

    Osher Doctorow

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Feb 12 2001 - 13:45:02 EST