19.633 life in a conjectural world

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 28 Feb 2006 07:00:46 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 633.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 28 Feb 2006 06:53:56 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: life in a conjectural world

Let us posit a world W* such that any act of naming N is immediately
taken to denote the existence of a corresponding object O. (Those who
like symbolic notation might write, W*: N --> O.) Unlike the
prelapsarian Adamic world, however, O does not actually exist outside
of language, however many times N is executed. Unlike a poetic act of
naming, which in our wilder moments we may take to denote something
that exists in another world, everyone in W* talks and acts not only
as if O existed but also as if the attributes of O could actually be
defined. (Hence W*: N --> O(a1, a2, a3,...,an), where each a is such
an attribute.) Yet when queried, no one is able to produce any
persuasive evidence of these attributes. Much handwaving follows.
Pressing the point will only get one into trouble.

W* has been intersecting with our world for a very long time, of
course. Hans Christen Andersen's version of the story everyone will
know (http://hca.gilead.org.il/emperor.html will help to refresh the
memory of anyone who has not had children around in a while). I
wonder, however, if the constructivism that computing gives such a
wind to, in combination with the hype surrounding our beloved machine
and the need of many in academia to distract funders if not the
general public from the fact that scholarship means a long, hard and
uncertain slog, does not make W* a particularly attractive escape
route from reality for us?



Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Tue Feb 28 2006 - 02:15:00 EST

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