16.101 non-verbal thought

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty\ w.mccarty@btinternet.com)
Date: Sat Jun 29 2002 - 02:35:12 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 101.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Sat, 29 Jun 2002 07:33:29 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <w.mccarty@btinternet.com>
             Subject: non-verbal thought

    In his important and fascinating study, "The Mind's Eye: Nonverbal Thought
    in Technology" (Science 197, no. 4306, 26 August 1977, pp. 827-36), Eugene
    S Ferguson notes that as soon as printed books superceded ms codices, large
    numbers of identical illustrations of mechanical devices began to be
    reproduced. As a result the circle of technologists whose minds could be
    engaged by the particular problems or stimulated by the particular ideas
    these reliable illustrations expressed was indefinitely enlarged. Francis
    Bacon, John Evelyn and others called for a "natural history of trades" to
    make public the information that had long been available only in workshops.
    Bacon in addition advocated a systematic study of the ingenious practices
    in the various trades; his programme was on the agenda of the French
    Academie almost as soon as it was founded. Ferguson argues that more
    important to Renaissance engineers than scientific knowledge were the
    inventions of the graphic arts that lent system and order to the materials
    of nonverbal thought. Mechanical models, through the agency of printing,
    could transmit such tacit knowledge widely.

    Creative thought of the designers of our technological world, Ferguson
    says, is largely nonverbal; its language is an object or picture or a
    visual image in the mind. This intellectual component of technology, which
    is nonliterary and nonscientific, has been generally unnoticed, he argues,
    because its origins lie in art and not in science. Art was the guiding
    discipline of Renaissance engineering. He traces this tradition into the 19C.

    The situation now is, of course, quite different. The verbally tacit
    knowledge of our technology isn't primarily of the sort that widespread
    distribution of graphical images would particularly affect -- though the
    Web has indefinitely expanded our ability to distribute accurate images.
    Would our equivalent to the mechanical subassembly be coherent chunks of
    code? Should we be looking to the digital library as the means for
    publishing and distributing this sort of tacit knowledge?



    Dr Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer,
    Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London,
    Strand, London WC2R 2LS, U.K.,
    +44 (0)20 7848-2784, ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/,
    willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk, w.mccarty@btinternet.com

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