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Humanist Archives: Dec. 15, 2018, 7:43 a.m. Humanist 32.269 - in your genes/DNA?

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 269.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

        Date: 2018-12-15 07:28:15+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: in your genes/DNA?

A current habit of thought I find curious is the attribution of
biological determinism in a language not that far from programming. This
is the notion that we are determined by a core program in our
genetic material, or alternatively that a society or social entity is 
similarly predetermined. There is, the thought goes, nothing to be done 
about a behaviour or characteristic because it is already unalterably 
programmed. One curiosity is that the whole point of a programmable device 
is that what it does (within the constraints imposed by its architecture) 
isn't hardwired but can be programmed and reprogrammed indefinitely. It's 
like a complex board-game, such as chess or go, within whose limits is 

What gets to me is the passiveness this expresses -- the passiveness with 
which many (including our students) take to computing, that is, as users 
rather than makers. Here, it seems to me, is a very strong argument for
teaching programming as a humanistic project. Students flood in nowadays
to university programmes in 'digital humanities', and in some cases at
least are taught only what I would consider the epiphenomena of computing,
the effects predetermined by apps and applications. Meanwhile they are
being unwittingly shaped, as we all are to some degree, by the cognitive
structure of the stored-program computer. How can they understand this, 
and so be properly equipped, if they have not played the game rather than 
merely be played by it?

The tools are here, as one very wise computational linguist used to say.
Should we not be developing in our students and colleagues a critical
awareness of how these tools shape how we think and reason?


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/),
Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London;
Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University; Editor, Interdisciplinary
Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist

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Editor: Willard McCarty (King's College London, U.K.; Western Sydney University, Australia)
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