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Humanist Archives: Dec. 16, 2018, 6:01 a.m. Humanist 32.270 - in your genes/DNA

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 270.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

    [1]    From: Liz Walter 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.269: in your genes/DNA? (60)

    [2]    From: Dr. Herbert Wender 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.269: in your genes/DNA? (33)

        Date: 2018-12-15 10:21:30+00:00
        From: Liz Walter 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.269: in your genes/DNA?

A good analogy might be that of grocery shopping at "big box stores" vs
foraging in the local community garden.

Liz's Android


                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 269.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                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

        Date: 2018-12-15 14:50:46+00:00
        From: Dr. Herbert Wender 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.269: in your genes/DNA?


looking at the actual biodiversity one could wonder about how many species were
(hidden?) in the DNA of the just first living cell. Perhaps Francois Lachance
can say more going on from the speel/paly/game reflections of Umberto Eco in a
Huizinga context. I remember a further reflection on the german word 'Spiel' -
probably by the swedish poet and philosophical essayist Lars Gustafsson, but I
don't rememberr the locus - pointing to the technical sense:

"If there is too much clearance between the brake linings of the brake disk,

"Sollte die Bremsscheibe zwischen den Bremsbe-l├Ągen zuviel Spiel haben, ..."
(example taken from www.linguee.de)

And with respect to your reasoning about analogies to programming (and possibly
to 'clearance' in adapting algorithms?) there may be a link to the discussion
about interpreting (instead of parsing) mark-up in digital (textual) humanities
contexts. In times when one of the hippest humanists let appears a fashion
super-model in the title of an article on data-modeling and a DH guru who has
muscled up with genetic TEI/XML-markup in one of the greatest fitness rooms of
german literature - Goethe's 'Faust' - expresses in the new book on shaping the
bodies of humanist's data his preference for data modeling (neglecting
alternatives like process modeling or system modeling), in such times it may be
worth to look back and see that the sharp distinction between code and data
isn't the only possible computational approach to attack the problems we seek to

Yours, Herbert

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