13.0364 research in the humanities & a view from the sciences

From: Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Wed Jan 26 2000 - 13:09:53 CUT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 364.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance) (42)
             Subject: Re: 13.0354 research in the humanities

       [2] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (70)
             Subject: a view from the sciences

             Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2000 12:57:31 +0000
             From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
             Subject: Re: 13.0354 research in the humanities


    I would invite you to answer your own question. But before I would do
    that I invite you to consider speaking from the first person and
    translating the abstract "we" into a differently abstract "I"...

    Your question:

    What do we gain, if anything, from ignoring the technological vehicle, be
    it codex or hypertext, as if the artefact were simply words without
    specific material embodiment?

    My limited response:
    I gain a certain intellectual space that allows me to compare different
    cultural manifestations, different semiotic artefacts, different texts.
    >From this space, I am able to account for the specificity of the
    manifestation, artefact or text by relating it both to an instantiation
    (or to use your term "material embodiment" which doesn't quite cover the
    event nature of theatre and ritual) and to a social formation.

    Let me retrace, this rather cumbersome attempt to capture the essence of
    humanities work as a movement of comparisons, from a perspective alluding
    to Snow's two cultures. If a concern for material embodiment brings the
    researchers using a certain technology closer to science, then is it
    possible that a more pronounced concern for abstraction might lead the
    same or other researchers using that certain technology to occupy a
    position closer to art? I am here reasoning by analogy with inter-arts
    translation and have in mind the type of work covered by Karin von Maur
    surveying modern painters and their relation to music. I am also thinking
    of the position of design history at the intersection of cultural and
    social history. See, for example, Joy Parr's Domestic Goods: The Material,
    The Moral, and the Economic in the Postwar Years.

    I know for me there is a certain joy in taking a tabulation of the
    discursive elements I might find in a text and rendering them in a visual
    form. I find it beautiful to be able to compare both the methods of
    tabulation and the methods of rendering. As John Cage asked in one of the
    pieces collected in Silences, "Would I have to know how to count in order
    to ask questions?" and as I have come to understand it in the light of a
    cybernetic model of feedback: questions preceed counting and follow
    counting. Are you asking us which questions or methods change the way we,
    you or I, might count? Or are you asking which ways of counting modify the
    questions we might ask? Is it important to label as art or science which
    of these two questions begins the your or our inquiry?

    What if Snow was wrong in tallying up the number of cultures?

    Francois Lachance

    --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2000 12:58:24 +0000 From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> Subject: a view from the sciences

    Dear Colleagues:

    Consider the following long quotation from Ian Hacking, Representing and intervening: Introductory topics in the philosophy of natural science (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 248-9:

    >What's so great about science? > >The alliance between the experimental and rational faculties had hardly >begun when Bacon wrote so prophetically. In our day Paul Feyerabend >asks, first, 'What is science?' and then, 'What's so great about >science?' I do not find the second question all that pressing, but since >we can sometimes see something rather grand in natural science, we can >use Bacon to put our finger on it. Science is a league between those two >faculties, the rational and the experimental. In Chapter 12 I divided >Bacon's rational faculty into speculation and calculation, claiming that >these are different abilities. What is so great about science is that it >is a collaboration between different kinds of people: the speculators, >the calculators, and the experimenters. > >Bacon used to castigate the dogmatics and the empirics. The dogmatics >were the men of pure theory. Many dogmatics of his day may have had the >speculative cast of mind; some empirics must have been experimentalists >of real talent. Each side alone produced little knowledge. What is >characteristic of the scientific method? It brings these two abilities >into contact by the use of a third human gift, the one I have called >articulation and calculation. Even pure mathematics benefits from this >collaboration. Mathematics was sterile after the Greek era, until it >became 'applied' again. Even now, despite the power of much pure >mathematics, many of the greatest contributors of deep 'pure' ideas - >Lagrange, Hilbert, or whomever - were precisely those workers closest to >the fundamental problems of the physical sciences of their time. > >The remarkable fact about recent physical science is that it creates a >new, collective, human artifact, by giving full range to three >fundamental human interests, speculation, calculation, and experiment. >By engaging in collaboration between the three, it enriches each in a >way that would be impossible otherwise. > >Hence we can diagnose doubts some of us share about the social sciences. >Those fields are still in a world of dogmatics and empirics. There is no >end of 'experimentation' but it as yet elicits almost no stable >phenomena. There is plenty of speculation. There is even plenty of >mathematical psychology or mathematical economics, pure sciences which >have nothing much to do with either speculation or experimentation. Far >be it from me to offer any evaluation of this state of affairs. Maybe >all these people are creating a new kind of human activity. But many of >us experience a sort of nostalgia, a feeling of sadness, when we survey >social science. Perhaps this is because it lacks what is so great about >fairly recent physical science. Social scientists don't lack experiment; >they don't lack calculation; they don't lack speculation; they lack the >collaboration of the three. Nor, I suspect, will they collaborate until >they have real theoretical entities about which to speculate - not just >postulated 'constructs' and 'concepts', but entities we can use, >entities which are part of the deliberate creation of stable new >phenomena.

    By speculation Hacking means, "the intellectual representation of something of interest, a playing with and restructuring of ideas to give at least a qualitative understanding of some general feature of the world" (pp. 212f). By calculation he means Th. Kuhn's "articulation" applied only to the theoretical side of scientific work, thus "the mathematical alteration of a given speculation, so that one brings it into closer resonance with the world" (p. 214).

    My question is this. In the light of what he says about the social sciences, what do we see when we look at scholarship in the humanities as this is transformed by computing?

    Yours, WM - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London voice: +44 (0)171 848 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 848 5081 <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> <http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/> maui gratia

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