Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 590.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Wed, 17 Apr 2002 08:16:25 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <email@example.com>
Subject: Winograd and Flores, Understanding Computers and Cognition
This is to recommend to your attention one of the more important books in
our common field:
Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores, Understanding Computers and Cognition:
A New Foundation for Design. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1987.
In brief the authors bring together the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and
the neurobiology of Humberto Maturana in a sustained critical analysis of
the rationalist approach to the design of computing systems. However
improbable such a book might seem, Winograd (Computer Science, Stanford
<http://hci.stanford.edu/~winograd/>) and Flores (Business Design
Associates <http://www.bda.com/associates/bio_fflores.html>) have done
essential work in bridging to our own subject two fields that, it seems, we
afford to ignore. The result is quite powerful tools in aid of a computing
that (as I like to say) is OF as well as IN the humanities. The book is
particularly useful because it faces the future, i.e. what we do in the
present to build something more like what we desire than we have now.
From the last paragraph:
>In ontological designing, we are doing more than asking what can be built.
>We are engaged in a philosophical discourse about the self-- about what we
>can do and what we can be. Tools are fundamental to action, and through
>our actions we generate the world. The transformation we are concerned
>with is not a technical one, but a continuing evolution of how we
>understand our surroundings and ourselves-- of how we continue becoming
>the beings that we are.
Thus the soaring gesture of last words in a good book. It is not that I
lack bones to pick with the authors or that you won't find these or other
bones. Rather, the book provides powerful stimulation indeed to gnaw on the
fundamentals of what we're about in humanities computing. (Vegetarians
will, I hope, forgive the imagery; I am thinking of Paul Evan Peters'
cheery declaration that "we are on the threshold of what can be
productively thought of as human-kind's meso-electronic period".)
Near the end of the book the authors refer to developments in programming
languages that bear on the question raised here before, about what
computational scholarly "primitives" might be like and how we might get
them. They cite the article by Winograd, "Beyond Programming Languages", in
Communications of the ACM, 22.7 (July 1979): 391-401, which discusses what
I think is called "functional programming" but in language I can actually
follow. I would be very grateful for pointers to other work in this area
that a layman has a chance of understanding.
Dr Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer,
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London,
Strand, London WC2R 2LS, U.K.,
+44 (0)20 7848-2784, ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/,
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