17.337 theory

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Sat Oct 25 2003 - 04:33:25 EDT

  • Next message: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty

                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 337.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

    [Due to a silly error of mine, Geoffrey Rockwell's earlier note on theory
    went unwittingly into the ether. I have retrieved it from a copy I kept and
    here include it as [2]. His reply to my reply to [2] follows as [3]. Sorry
    for the discursive labyrinth. --WM]

       [1] From: Andrew Brook <abrook@ccs.carleton.ca> (22)
             Subject: Re: 17.333 theory

       [2] From: Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel@mcmaster.ca> (51)
             Subject: Theory

       [3] From: Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel@mcmaster.ca> (51)
             Subject: Theory

             Date: Sat, 25 Oct 2003 08:55:18 +0100
             From: Andrew Brook <abrook@ccs.carleton.ca>
             Subject: Re: 17.333 theory

    I very much like what Willard said this morning about personification. I
    think his example theory suggests two things:

    1. Theories are about something underlying, something not clearly
    visible in the 'phenomenology' (a freighted word). Often this is
    something that causes or or is a contribing cause of what we observe but
    not always. It can also be something distinctive to that phenomenology
    in other ways.

    2. The crucial practical role, certainly a crucial practical role, of a
    theory is to allow us to make predictions, i.e., to know in advance
    under what circumstances we will and will not encounter the target

    My two cents' worth.



    Andrew Brook, Professor of Philosophy Past-president, Canadian Philosophical Association Member, Canadian Psychoanalytic Society 2217 Dunton Tower, Carleton University Ottawa ON, Canada K1S 5B6 Ph: 613 520-3597 Fax: 613 520-3985 Web: www.carleton.ca/~abrook

    --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Thu, 23 Oct 2003 06:22:48 +0100 From: Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel@mcmaster.ca> Subject: Theory

    Bear with me, a script about theory.

    I went to see a performance last night of "Judy or What it Like To Be A Robot" by Tom Sgouros. This is a performance around questions of artificial intelligence, consciousness and scripting machines or performances. (http://www.sgouros.com/)

    Today I asked one of my philosophy colleagues if that performance was itself a work of philosophy to which he replied that it was not. He said it was "philosophically informed" the way a movie like the Matrix is.

    When pushed on this he asserted that the performance did not make assertions that could be assessed the way philosophical assertions can. In other words it did not present a theory, where a theory would be a coherent set of general assertions about some subject. Instead the actors (Tom and Judy) performed characters who made assertions (among other things.)

    I then pointed out that the word "theory" comes from the Greek to "view" and shares a common root with "theatre" which suggests that theories are works that stand-back in some fashion in order to present a particular type of view on the subject theorized.

    To this he replied that etymology isn't definition - it doesn't mean that is how we use the word today. This raised the question of whether a philosophical dialogue is a "work of philosophy" capable of presenting theory or whether philosophers like Wittgenstein can be said to present theories when they appear to be resisting theorizing (or trying to cure us of the temptation).

    The relevance of this story is that we need to expand the question to look not only at theory but the practices associated with theory. What does it mean to theorize? How do we do it? How do we exchange theories? Is all theory performed, even if the performance is a reading?

    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.

    The question I ask myself is whether there are inherent constraints to theories modeled as code for automata that limit what can be theorized through computing? We should ask Judy.


    Geoffrey Rockwell

    --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Sat, 25 Oct 2003 08:56:09 +0100 From: Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel@mcmaster.ca> Subject: Theory

    Willard McCarty in Humanist 17.333 wrote:

    >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.

    Willard is to kind to ascribe a coherent position to me when I was reacting to a performance. One of the directions I was headed was to assert that a computer model could be a theory the way we could say that a work of philosophy is a theory.

    This raises the question of what is the incarnation of a theory. Is a theory in the mind while a written work is a "statement in writing" of the theory? Where is Plato's theory of forms now? Is it in a "text", the _Republic_, which is different from a particular instance of that abstract text - namely the object on my shelf? Is it in the minds of those philosophers who have read Plato? Or is it a form to which the physical artefacts (and states of mind) are approximations? (This should remind us of the debate at the UVA ACH/ALLC about "what is a text".

    If we decide that certain objects called texts are theories, then I will assert that other objects like programs are also capable of being a theory. So, if I point to the _Republic_ as a theory of forms, I should be able to point to Willard's system as a theory of personification.

    Which brings me back to theorizing or the practice of developing theories. The second point I want to make is that we don't always build programs (code theories) based on ideas (mental theories). Sometimes we develop the theory by iteratively playing with what is at hand, be it a lump of wax, words on paper, code on a machine, or diagrams on napkins. The theory emerges in the artefact and in our minds simultaneously - or in dialogue. The artefact is interpreted during theorizing as a theory. For someone else the artefact could be a database - to Willard it is an encoded theory. This would answer respondents who point out that the artefact is just a machine not a theory. It is only a theory when treated that way, which is the most we can say about anything, including our mental states.

    Regarding performance and philosophy, I put the question to Tom Sgouros, the performer. His response was,

    "That is, in a general sense, I agree with you and don't find an important distinction between performance and philosophy, but "Judy" (as opposed to Judy) doesn't really present a consistent viewpoint on the important subjects."

    He continues to say that a performance could be a work of philosophy, but his show was not intended to present a consistent view and therefore he would not claim it is such a work. Likewise we might say that certain humanities computing works are philosophy (or theory) because they are intended to present a consistent view, while others are not. In playing with a model on a computer it would become a theory when the model was consistent and not just an aggregation.


    Geoffrey R.

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat Oct 25 2003 - 04:57:36 EDT