21.183 theorizing as stealing

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 27 Jul 2007 08:37:32 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 183.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2007 15:43:18 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: theory as theft

In "Some Random Thoughts about Chaos and Some Chaotic Thoughts about
Randomness", Robert Rosen quotes Sir Arthur Eddington on the concept
of "free information" -- information that is well known and
dependable but not derivable from what you're looking at without
considerable uncertainty. "A pure observer cannot obtain free
information", Eddington writes in his book Fundamental Theory (1946).
But an actual researcher is a human being "and therefore an
inveterate theorist". He or she will likely proceed by stealing
whatever free information comes to hand and substituting it for his
or her uncertain observations. Nothing terribly surprising here, but
as Rosen remarks, the tacit identification of theory with the
stealing of free information, to which the pure (and quite unreal)
observer is not entitled, "is as good a way of characterizing theory
as I have ever found... it has to do not so much with data but with
the extrapolability of data; it pertains to similitude". It is the
Promethean act of stealing in order to build, of taking great risks
in order to progress, of thwarting old Nobodaddy to bring about a
permanent change in how things are done.

Eddington was, of course, speaking about physicists, but I think we
can steal this bit of intellectual stuff and be the better for it, don't you?


Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/. Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26).
Received on Fri Jul 27 2007 - 03:53:14 EDT

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