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Humanist Archives: Oct. 15, 2019, 7:59 a.m. Humanist 33.317 - being heuristical

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 317.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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        Date: 2019-10-14 07:47:59+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: being heuristical

Forgive me for yielding to the overpowering temptation to jump in with a
suggestion following my own question.

In "Fast and frugal heuristics: The tools of bounded rationality" (in
Blackwell Handbook of Judgment and Decision Making, ed. Koehler and
Harvey), psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer cites Einstein's use of the
originally Greek term 'heuristic' to mean an idea that is incomplete,
due to the limits of our knowledge, but useful. Gigerenzer goes on to
comment that,

> The advent of computer programming gave heuristics a new prominence.
> It became clear that most problems of any importance are
> computationally intractable, that is, we do not know the optimal
> solution, nor a method for how to find it. This holds even for
> well-defined problems such as chess, the classic computer game
> Tetris, and the traveling salesman problem.... The same uncertainty
> holds for less well-structured problems, such as which job offer to
> accept, what stocks to invest in, and whom to marry. When optimal
> solutions are out of reach, we are not paralyzed to inaction or
> doomed to failure. We can use heuristics to discover good solutions.
> (pp. 62-3)

The phrase "incomplete... but useful" is what struck a chord, for
modelling (which is what we do) is by definition exactly that, at least
when done well. This is too broad a scope to demarcate a field, of
course, but add to this a limitation as one of the "sciences of the
artificial" (Herbert Simon's phrase, like "bounded rationality"), might
we have something to go on?


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

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