21.461 cognitive science like alchemy

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard_at_mccarty.me.uk>
Date: Tue, 8 Jan 2008 14:54:45 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 461.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 08 Jan 2008 13:56:56 +0000
         From: "Hunsucker, R.L." <R.L.Hunsucker_at_uva.nl>
         Subject: RE: 21.433 cognitive science like alchemy

> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM

Since _Humanist_ was in a sort of hibernation over the holidays
( out of which it still has to come ? ), I'll go ahead now and
comment, on the posting below, that the points you are making
are to my mind excellent and very much on-track, and,
furthermore, ones we should also *pragmatically* take very
much to heart. ( But how do we, at least collectively, go about
that ? -- *that's* always been the hard part. )

What you are in fact advocating is a "histoire du pr=E9sent" as
conceived by Foucault (very much like what he also described
as a "g=E9n=E9alogie").

Indeed maybe Rorty's "conversation" is a help in getting such
a process started.

But in the meantime, perhaps thinking in terms of consciously and
fully exploiting what Star and Griesemer dubbed "boundary objects"
would already amount to a significant improvement.

Getting *that* act together is going to be hard enough, but still a
piece of cake, in my opinion, when compared to a really effective,
collectively legitimated "histoire du pr=E9sent" (which may ultimately be
a human impossibility -- but that *doesn't* mean we shouldn't be
constantly mindful that we don't yet have one, and act accordingly).

The above shouldn't be taken to apply specifically (or necessarily)
to cross-disciplinary affairs where one of those disciplines is
humanities computing -- since I'm, as I indicated in an earlier
contribution, not convinced just what a proper disciplinary place
for humanities computing ought to look like.

- Laval Hunsucker
    U. Amsterdam, Universiteitsbibliotheek

> -----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
> Van: Humanist Discussion Group [mailto:humanist_at_Princeton.EDU]Namens
> Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty
> <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>)
> Verzonden: vrijdag 21 december 2007 11:18
> Aan: humanist_at_Princeton.EDU
> Onderwerp: 21.433 cognitive science like alchemy
> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 433.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/cch/research/publications/hum
> anist.html
> www.princeton.edu/humanist/
> Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu
> Date: Fri, 21 Dec 2007 10:13:41 +0000
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
> >
> In Humanist 21.429, Andrew Brook wrote,
> >Willard, I entirely agree with you that how the history of an
> >activity looked to the participants is often, maybe always, very
> >different from how it looks to later folk who know how things turned
> >out. What I was unclear about it what you wanted to build on that
> >fact. Certainly if what we want is accurate, informative history,
> >reconstructing how things had to have looked to participants is
> >important, even essential. But what if our interest is in knowing
> >what our current activities are like, activity where we don't know
> >the outcome. There are definitely two (or more) schools of
> thought on
> >this and I have never known how to resolve the disagreement
> Let me take a run at a reply. I'd think that having an accurate,
> informative history would only be of interest if it helped us, as he
> says, to know what our current activities are like. An historian
> might answer differently to other historians, but I'd think that if
> he or she were talking to non-historians, then doing history would be
> justified in terms similar to Andrew's. So the question is, why
> should we go to so much trouble?
> One answer would be to understand as much of what is at work in the
> present as possible. If in any given historical moment there are many
> latent possibilities, outcomes of what has happened and interactions
> among those outcomes, then a history that shows the origins and
> nature of these possibilities would help us to read them. Another
> answer would be to show continuities obscured by misconceptions, e.g.
> the ongoing philosophical problem that runs through the work of
> Hilbert, Goedel and Turing to the present day, which overlooked
> contributes to the false belief that computing is a purely technical
> phenomenon of significance to us only instrumentally. I suppose one
> could understand the situation by imagining a traveller who quite
> suddenly suffers a case of total amnesia, and so has no idea why he
> is carrying what he is carrying, what the items in his luggage are
> for, where he was going, why &c. Borges has shown us that the
> traveller with perfect recall and total knowledge may be in an even
> worse fix, but since partial amnesia seems a condition of existence,
> and forgetting more the real danger, we don't have to worry much
> about overdoing it.
> This is such a fascinating problem I'd think one could find many
> schools of thought about it. But can we say, irrespective of school,
> that in order to know the present (so that one can make well informed
> decisions &c) one must know the past?
> Andrew continues:
> >Then there is my original question: How does the issue of doing
> >history well connect to the chemistry replacing alchemy issue? Part
> >of my reason for asking is that in the humanities computing game,
> >there has never been a similar 'paradigm shift', to use Kuhn's
> >maligned word, just incremental developments -- lots and lot of
> >incremental developments but no epochs in which one kind of theory
> >gets trashed in favour of another.
> What *exactly* happened when chemistry replaced alchemy? Is
> "replaced" the right word? I'd think that an historical response
> would construe this lengthy and complex event as a type of what we
> now call scientific progress, i.e. it would help us to understand the
> idea of scientific progress. With that improved idea, we'd then
> proceed to examine other instances, opening them up to see what was
> gained (from our current perspective), what was lost. Kuhn's primary
> source was the history of physics. What happens to his argument if we
> look instead at the history of chemistry, or the history of biology
> -- or the history of computing? Am I right in thinking that we have
> been so profoundly influenced by the history of physics -- by the
> notion that all sciences are reducible to physics, including (when we
> can get around to it) the human sciences -- that basing our idea of
> the fundamental science elsewhere constitutes a major meta-paradigm
> shift? An even more radical meta-paradigm shift would perhaps result
> if we ditched the notion of a fundamental science altogether for a
> thorough-going relativism and, as I think Rorty has suggested, start
> working seriously on our abilities to talk across disciplinary
> discourses, collegially, as humanities computing is trying to do.
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> Willard McCarty | Professor of 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 Tue Jan 08 2008 - 10:12:59 EST

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