16.380 thinking with the technologies

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Thu Dec 12 2002 - 02:27:24 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 380.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2002 07:13:03 +0000
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: thinking with the technology

    Surely there is considerable wisdom in Patrick Durusau's remark in Humanist
    16.377 that

    >At least in the early stages, I think projects should be formulated without
    >regard to available technology (either locally or read about) so that
    >researchers can state fully what they would like to do, without regard to
    >whether that is actually possible with current technology. A very precise
    >formulation of the research problem and goals of the project would provide
    >a basis for evaluating available technologies for the one that most closely
    >meets the needs of the project.

    I think, however, that the problem we face is much harder than that would
    suggest. Are not these technologies (text-encoding, relational database
    &al.) imaginative forms that give you a way of thinking not available
    otherwise? Do they not tend to lead the mind in directions it would not
    otherwise go? How, in fact, can one formulate a research problem completely
    independently of the tool? Winograd and Flores, in Computers and Cognition,
    observe that the commonplace assumption of so-called expert systems -- that
    one can extract knowledge from experts then code it into computing systems
    -- makes no sense at all because the experts themselves do not work (or at
    least not entirely) in a way that can be extracted from them (pp. 98f).
    Knowledge, they note, isn't captured in building an expert system, rather
    what happens is that people work together to create a systematic domain
    (pp. 175f). They *imagine* their research problems and strategies anew.

    So how do we not get trapped within the scope defined by any particular
    tool? I think this must be *very* difficult. A kind of controlled two-(or
    more-)mindedness, a detached engagement, seems the only answer.



    Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
    Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
    7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

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