17.333 theory

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Fri Oct 24 2003 - 01:47:48 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 333.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Fri, 24 Oct 2003 06:26:05 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: theory, phenomenology and model

    Geoffrey Rockwell, in Humanist 17.328, said that

    >Humanities computing brings a new set of practices to the mix. Developing a
    >computer model of a subject of inquiry is a form of applied theorizing. It
    >is a method or practice that humanities computing is introducing into the
    >humanities whereby we try to formally describe in code a subject so that
    >the computer can perform the theory as a way of testing it. Again, this is
    >a stepping-back-to-view akin to stepping back from writing theory.

    What I think Geoffrey is talking about is the practice of modelling, i.e.
    constructing and interatively perfecting a partial and manipulable
    representation of something for the purpose of studying it. From this it
    follows that a model is what results from applying a theory to a specific
    set of circumstances in order to see if the theory works under those
    circumstances and what it can tell us about them. This definition of
    "theory" accords with some current philosophy of science, esp the so-called
    "semantic view", for which see Ronald N. Giere among others.

    Let us say that I have a model of a phenomenon -- my current one is of
    personification (for which see "Depth, Markup and Modelling", CHWP A.25,
    http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/epc/chwp/CHC2003/McCarty_b2.htm), comprising
    an Access relational database and an Excel front-end. Since constructing
    that model I have changed the saturation function and made a few changes in
    the relational database, so it isn't the same model as before, but I would
    assert that the new or at least significantly altered model is based on the
    same *theory* of personification. If pressed to say what I meant by
    "theory", I'd start by distinguishing whatever it is that I mean from a
    "phenomenology", i.e. the description of personification on which the model
    was immediately based, detailing the linguistic factors I say are
    responsible and how they combine. But I wouldn't want to call that a
    theory, because I'd want the theory to survive disagreements over the
    precise nature of these factors.

    Is there then room for a useful and non-trivial statement or set of
    statements more abstract than a phenomenology but more focused than a
    notion? Let me make an attempt (in the hopes of some criticism):

    IDEA: "Personification is caused by discernable operations of language."
    THEORY: "Personification takes place when the ontology of a non-human
    entity is perceived to be shifted to or toward the human state by
    predication of one or more abnormal qualities or behaviours. Two kinds may
    be defined: the "personification figure", a momentary anthropocentric but
    seldom anthropomorphic phenomenon that plays no direct role in the
    narrative, and the "personification character", usually a clearly
    anthropomorphic phenomenon that lasts long enough to have such a role.
    Ontological disturbance is caused by discernable linguistic factors in the
    immediate context aided by larger narrative phenomena including the nature
    of the entity in the text, in the body of literature to which the text
    belongs, in the culture that includes this literature or in a larger
    cultural tradition. These factors may be specific to the text in question
    in ways that are not yet understood."
    PHENOMENOLOGY: "For Ovid's Metamorphoses personification is caused by two
    kinds of factors, strong (can be found alone) and weak (always found in
    combination with others). The strong factors are: [here follows an
    enumerated list]. The weak factors are: [another list]. The effect of these
    factors is modified by these specific kinds of context: [a list]."
    MODEL: [see the software construct to which I refer above].

    Actually I would call the above "theory" a proto-theoretical statement, but
    labelling something this unfinished a theory isn't unusual. Note that the
    phenomenology, if properly spelled out, would be far longer and more
    specific than the theory. Indeed, the above describes approximately a
    progression from general to specific, though the "idea" is vague and the
    "theory" is not.



    Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
    Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
    7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

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