19.315 contemplation and computing

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 4 Oct 2005 07:41:46 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 315.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Lynda Williams <lynda_at_okalrel.org> (40)
         Subject: Re: 19.312 contemplation and computing

   [2] From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois (75)
         Subject: Cellphones & Syllogisms

         Date: Tue, 04 Oct 2005 07:37:10 +0100
         From: Lynda Williams <lynda_at_okalrel.org>
         Subject: Re: 19.312 contemplation and computing

Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty
<willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:

>for thinking, engaging the brain in idle chatter. There was a great
>line in the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" concerning why humans
>seemed to always say aloud the obvious. It ran something like this,
>the conclusion was that they were afraid their mouths would seize up

Cell phones for sure. Action movies. Video game twitch-speed
everything. An increaing intolerance for complexity in a more and
more complex world. That's got to be scary.

>Probably my next culprit would be blogs. Why ponder the answer to a
>question--instead just post it to your favorite blog and allow the
>community to debate its points. No need to form your own opinion
>based on days, weeks or months of independent thinking--you can just
>dump the question into the blog and watch others arrive at a
>conclusion for you.

I disagree about blogs. I see them as attempts to make an impossible
overload situation of input and analysis linear and personal. A
complete change to the rules of engagement for thinking and
publishing that allows people to get in a thought "in progress". Of
course, the blog is no better than the blogger.

>The computer information system and the growth of the Internet as a
>search enviornment has curtailed the time it takes to look up facts,
>but that merely means one CAN find out whether Iceland or Finland has
>colder winters a lot faster and perhaps contributes MORE to reasoning
>than the book resources available to previous generations would have
>allowed. Finding information faster doesn't decrease reasoning. It is
>the lack of quiet time that empties minds.

That's the irony isn't it? The more access to information we have the
more ignorant we become. Maybe it is too intimidating or maybe the
"twitch speed" phenomenon erodes patience.

>But, what do I know, I'm a member of the "older generation" now.
>Those for whom using a phone to contact someone was itself the
>product of a reasoned though process, debating whether it was a
>sufficiently significant matter to justify disturbing their privacy.

Oh, yes, the disruption of privacy! I have come to loath phones while
I am at home. :-) I don't always answer mine anymore.

Lynda Williams, http://www.okalrel.org
"The Courtesan Prince" (SciFi)
Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy
         Date: Tue, 04 Oct 2005 07:39:14 +0100
         From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
         Subject: Cellphones & Syllogisms
It is tempting to counter recent comments about cell phone usage and youth
with some syllogistic reasoning and indcated that that not all users
exhibit the pattern associated with all youth. But to do so would be to
implicitly condone the view that there is something wrong with social
behaviour or with thinking processes that are anchored in social
Allow me to remind readers of the Myers Briggs classification, among
others, of psychological types  to reflect for a moment that the talkative
outward focussed style of thinking aloud with others that characteristic
trait of some cell phone users and some blog writers could be interpreted
as either extraverted or introverted.
And a further indulgence:
Heidegger's What is Called Thinking? in J. Glenn Gray's translation asks
"Can we see something that is told? We can, provided what is told is more
than just the sound of words, provided the seeing is more than just the
seeing with the eyes of the body."
Working with computers one can perhaps find the blind spots in Heidegger's
formulations.  Work with computers, electronic or otherwise, brings one to
a way of seeing so that which is seen is not that which is told but the
telling. Indeed it is Heidegger's text itself which provides the antidote
to universalist claims to panopticity: "You cannot talk of colors to the
blind. But a still greater ill than blindness is delusion. Delusion
believes that it sees, and that it sees in the only possible manner, even
while this its belief robs it of sight."
Let us look anew at the cell phone user or the blog writer. Figures of
fungibility. They are like poets. Entwined with language. Soaring on the
delivery: correct message to the correct person at the correct time. They
flit, flirt and flame.
Sight may be too coarse a sense to capture an image of the play of reading
and composing and transmitting. "Poets can even smell words" writes George
Steiner in After Babel. He goes on on the same page to provide a most
evocative description of humans as language users and inhabitants. Please
not the passing reference to digital machines:
   Yet all these are only naive pictures, made up of impressions,
   half-realized metaphors, and analogies with counters as obvious as
   electronics. It is very likely that the internalization of language and of
   languages in the human mind involves phenomena of ordered and ordering
   space, that temporal and spatially-distributive hierarchies are involved.
   But no topologies of n-dimensional spaces, no mathematical theories of
   knots, rings, lattices, or closed and open curvatures, no algebra of
   matrices can until now authorize even the most preliminary model of
   "language-spaces" in the central nervous system. These allow the
   autonomous existence of single languages while, at the same time, making
   possible the acquisition of other languages and the most intense degree of
   mutual penetration. They permit languages to recede from either the
   "surface" or the "centre" of immediate fluency, and then allow their
   return. The membranes of differentiation and of contact, the dynamics of
   interlingual osmosis, the constraints which preserve equilibrium between
   the blandnes of mere lexcial, public usage and he potentially chaotic
   prodigality of private invention and association, the speed and delicacy
   of retrieval and of discard involved in even the barest act of paraphrase
   or translation -- all these are of a class of intricacy and evolutionary
   uniqueness of which we can, at present, offer no adequate image let alone
   systemic analysis.
Steiner then offers a footnote referencing the work of mathematician Rene
Thom as the "most sophisticated attempt made so far".
Can you smell in the chatter of networks an analogue of the dialogic
intensity of internal babbling? The cooking smells of culture? The whisps
of eros?
When incensed by what you see, do you have at hand the equivalent of a
nosegay, a sandalwood fan? Do remember the memories of when you last
assembled with friends to listen to the incense?
I thank Kiyoko Morita for having given me a concluding txt msg
          hito no on-kokochi ito en nari
"One's mind has become elegant" is the phrase used by Lady Murasaki in The
Tale of Genji to describe the outcome of listening to incense. Elegance is
a virtue to mathematicians too. Poets just might favour the shabby for
Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
~~~ to be surprised by machines: wistly and sometimes wistfully
Received on Tue Oct 04 2005 - 02:49:22 EDT

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