19.684 an idle fantasy

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 31 Mar 2006 11:02:06 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 684.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 31 Mar 2006 10:51:31 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: an idle fantasy

Imagine the following allegorical map.

1. Running from the bottom of the map
approximately to the middle of it is a major
thoroughfare. Its original name was The Road of
Concordance-Based Text-Analysis, or simply
Text-Analysis Road. It was originally laid out,
paved and settled by an adventurous band of
Literary Scholars, who gave it that name.
Nowadays, however, all of the houses and shops
along this street are owned by Corpus Linguists
and their families -- a prosperous, interesting
lot, most of whom have no knowledge whatever of
the history of this road. Few reminders are left,
as most of the old street signs are gone,
replaced by those that read, Corpus Linguistics
Street. The Scholars run tour buses up the
street, or road, to show their youths what has
been done, and mutter about how they, as future
Literary Scholars, could settle in alongside the
Corpus Linguists, but the youths' minds are
elsewhere, and besides, it's quite evident that
the promise once felt by the Scholars has not
materialized for literary studies. Cane-thumping
is even less persuasive than the old promise.

2. At the top, the road forks. One branch, Markup
Avenue, is where the action really starts, though
one quickly leaves the quiet, sedate territory of
Academia for the polyglot vigour of a mixed
neighbourhood where academics and commercial
blokes mingle. At the top of the map, one sees
The Commercial World looming. Although insults
are occasionally exchanged, it's clear that good
things are happening as a result of this
mingling. Nevertheless, some of the Scholars
assert, this Avenue leads in the Wrong Drection.,
straight into the boring industrial park known as Implementation Estates.

3. Also from the fork in the road proceeds a very
steep, at times unpaved path veering off at a
sharp angle. Not many are able to climb it, but
those who do, report back that the few who
populate the mostly isolated cabins along it are
doing very interesting work. Some say that this
work fulfills the old Scholars' dream of a
Northwest Passage. Others point to the small
white crosses along the path where the unfit have
perished. Some of the stories in circulation are
clearly incredible, but these are mostly if not
wholly told by those who only pretend to have
made the climb. This is the Statistical Analysis Trail.

4. Also back where the road diverges, there's
evidently another way to go, obviously from the
traffic and bustle a very prosperous way, but the
gate blocking easy entrance is heavily guarded,
and only those with the right credentials are
allowed in. This is the Computational Linguistics
Boulevard. There's widespread doubt among the
Literary Scholars that anything which happens
there has any meaning whatever for them, though
envy for the obvious level of funding is
universal. But then these Scholars have not been
very good at learning other ways. The Wise say,
"look to what the computational linguists are
doing, and learn; you don't have to share their
faith to benefit from their accomplishments."
They quote the Brahma-siddhi of Mandanamisra,
"Knowledge requires that there is a means, not
that the means is a final truth…. for there is
knowledge of the truth even through a belief which is false."

4. The Wise also say that other directions than
are marked out on the map are possible. "The map
is not the territory!" they proclaim. But then,
weary from wisdom, they doze off. It's left to
those lone explorers in the field to say where these unmarked ways are.


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 Fri Mar 31 2006 - 05:17:53 EST

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