Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 515. Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London Hosted by King's Digital Lab www.dhhumanist.org Submit to: email@example.com Date: 2019-12-21 20:54:45+00:00 From: Willard McCarty
Subject: Solstice greetings Dear colleagues, Humanist will as always at this time of year shut down for a few days over the Christmas holidays, this year perhaps for longer than in the last few years. The cause is a visiting parent for whom 'the computer' is a strange and formidable object made less ordinary than might be by all the apocalyptic clamour over artificial intelligence. Devotion to the machine, even with the best intentions, would require ingoring an important guest and so will not happen. AI is on my mind these days (as well as frequently in the news). I struggle to make from such well-informed discussion as I can find the kind of sense on which a scholarly discussion might be based. The task of filtering out the noise is rather more challenging than usual. I'm reminded of Ovid's description of the dwelling place of Rumour (Fama) in Book 12 of the Metamorphoses (39-63), from which I extract these few lines: ... veniunt, leve vulgus, euntque mixtaque cum veris passim commenta vagantur milia rumorum confusaque verba volutant ; e quibus hi vacuas inplent sermonibus aures, hi narrata ferunt alio, mensuraque ficti crescit, et auditis aliquid novus adicit auctor. illic Credulitas, illic temerarius Error vanaque Laetitia est consternatique Timores Seditioque recens dubioque auctore Susurri... everywhere wander thousands of rumours, falsehoods mingled with the truth, and confused reports flit about. Some of these fill their idle ears with talk, and others go and tell elsewhere what they have heard; while the story grows in size, and each new teller makes contribution to what he has heard. Here is Credulity, here is heedless Error, unfounded Joy and panic Fear; here sudden Sedition and unauthentic Whisperings... Pray that none of us turns out to be one of those 'new tellers'! But, on this winter solstice eve I turn away from the clamour to the othermindedness of the occasion, in this part of the world, in this particular household: to the habit I have formed of reflecting each year on something or other as reminder and celebration of Humanist's original communal thoughtful purpose. Yesterday one of us, Francois Lachance, offered a helping hand by sending me the result of his "mulling over what could be the differences between utility and instrumentality". He came up with the suggestion that "In the mode of utility an object carries a story; in the mode of instrumentality, objects are stripped of stories." Undoubtedly philosophers have worked on these differences extensively. I am embarrassed to say I cannot put my finger on any learned discussion at the moment. But Francois in his musing points to what could be the defining (or better, illumining) feature of a digital humanities worth celebrating: always tirelessly asking of each new bit of computational research or engineering 'what's the story?', in putting this or that gizmo to work, in devising it in the first place, in looking to the consequences of its use -- or, to borrow sociologist Erving Goffman's persistent question, "What is it that's going on here?" In the case of the digital machine, taking up this question requires not only all the disciplines of the human sciences to do justice to it but also the tricky matter of making a chorus out of that highly diverse mob (in the Australian Aboriginal sense, a loosely extended family or group, but with a tincture of the OED's first definition, "a disorderly or riotous crowd"). You likely know Isaiah Berlin's The Hedgehog and the Fox: An essay on Tolstoy’s view of history (1963), in which he begins with a quotation from the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”. I've come to the conclusion that the digital humanist needs to be both creatures simultaneously so as properly to take advantage of all that mob has to offer without blurring the crucial differences. As I write the sun has hours ago crept tentatively along the horizon to leave us here in the dark, the windows spattered with rain. Downunder "the heat of Christmas" (Kate Grenville) and raging fires are how it is. Wherever you are, and however inclined to celebrate whatever, allow me to wish you the best Solstice-tide ever! Yours, WM -- 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) _______________________________________________ Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted List posts to: firstname.lastname@example.org List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/ Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php
Editor: Willard McCarty (King's College London, U.K.; Western Sydney University, Australia)
Software designer: Malgosia Askanas (Mind-Crafts)
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