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Humanist Archives: Dec. 19, 2018, 5:17 a.m. Humanist 32.275 - in your genes/DNA

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 275.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
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        Date: 2018-12-18 15:10:06+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.274: in your genes/DNA

> From: Tim Smithers 

Dear Willard, Henry, and Darby,

First, Willard, I strongly share your concern for the
passiveness of many people's response to programed computers,
and what we can do with these.  Computation is such a
wonderfully maleable, flexible, convenient, clean (in the sense
of not getting your hands dirty), and inexpensive kind of
stuff to make things from that I don't understand why people
don't do more computational building.  Much more.  And it's
not just Humanities people (Digital or Analogue) who display
this passiveness, many engineers and scientists I know do too.

Hence I strongly agree with your push for teaching
programming.  (And programming, not coding, as has been
recently discussed here.)

A place to go for this teaching of programming, which I very much like,
could be

   Thinking as Computation: A First Course
   By Hector J Levesque, MIT Press (2012)

Levesque's set of slides for this course is available here:


Today, this would be described as Old Fashioned AI, but it
still provides, I think, an accessible way into computation as
symbol processing, and computation as a way of recreating --
thus modelling and understanding -- kinds of thinking.  And
you get to learn to program in Prolog, which is not trendy,
but does engender clear and useful kinds of thinking in the

Second, The Motto, "Computers do what you tell them to do, not
what you want them to do."

A plain reading of this suggests that you cannot have a
computer do what you want it to do, only what you tell it to
do, and you can't tell a computer what you want it to do.
This is rubbish, evidently.  Of course you can tell computers
to do what you want them to do.  But, as often happens with
tools, if you don't make the tool you want, you won't
necessarily get the tool you need from someone else.  Good
crafts people build (and modify, and enhance, and extend, as
needed) their own tools, and always have done.  Good research
do too, I think.  The convenience and availability of
computation offers an eminently viable way of building tools
for ourselves.  All you need is to know how to program.  That,
and an understanding of the value of designing and building
the tools you need: designing and building the tools you need
helps a lot to understand what you really want the tool to do.

Best regards,


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Editor: Willard McCarty (King's College London, U.K.; Western Sydney University, Australia)
Software designer: Malgosia Askanas (Mind-Crafts)

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