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Humanist Archives: March 6, 2020, 8:24 a.m. Humanist 33.655 - mathematics --> ?

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 655.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
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        Date: 2020-03-06 08:10:57+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: mathematics --> ?

As you may know, some computer scientists (such as John McCarthy) have
construed their field as belonging to mathematics essentially if not
institutionally. Others (such as Richard Hamming) have insisted on the
physical machinery and identified computer science strongly with
engineering. The historian Michael Mahoney called CS "an amalgam of
mathematical theory, engineering practice, and craft skill" (1997). In
the humanities we seem to have little problem with computing as
engineering or craftwork. Although few of us are engineers, we seem
comfortable with the idea of designing and building things. Similarly, I
suspect few of us would claim physical craftsmanship in any area -- I do
hope I am wrong about this -- but again we don't have much of a problem
with it. In both cases physical work gives us the connection. In the
case of mathematics, however, we tend to have a problem.

As Ian Hacking has said on numerous occasions, this is curious: we're
all born with the basic equipment to do mathematics, but only in a very
few does it develop, often quickly, manifested at a young age or not at
all. (I first met a real mathematician when I was 16; he was 15. The
professors in the mathematics summer school I was attending lectured to
us all in the morning, then took this kid aside and spent the rest of
the day with him alone -- because, one of them told me, they wanted to
learn from him. He was, to put the matter simply, something else.)

My question is this: if computing is in part or in some essential aspect
mathematical, what can we do with this aspect of it? How can we take
account of it, use it theoretically, as well as practically (e.g. in
statistical applications)?


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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