17.489 best wishes for 2004!

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Mon Dec 29 2003 - 06:02:10 EST

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 489.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

         Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2003 10:43:13 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: best wishes for 2004

Dear colleagues,

Permit me a bit of a story.

This morning, in pursuit of animated diagramming software called "The
Brain" (www.thebrain.com), I ran into two remarkable sites: a neuroimaging
primer, The Whole Brain Atlas, done in collaboration between Harvard and
MIT (www.med.harvard.edu/AANLIB/home.html); and a popular animated
exposition, The Secret Life of the Brain, done by the U.S. Public
Broadcasting System (www.pbs.org/wnet/brain). One does not need to have
had, respectively, brain surgery and children to appreciate these sites,
but it does help to be aware of what we knew and could do a generation ago.
It might also help to have a child on your lap while viewing them; I don't,
but then I have no trouble and much pleasure both in reverting to childhood
and summoning warm memories of parenthood at a moment's notice :-)....

I have been thinking recently of what figures such as Jacob Bronowski and
Simon Schama have done via television for science and history,
respectively. These two came to mind some time ago, when I was finishing
off a chapter of my book and needed an example or two of how a modern-day,
digitally savvy scholar might respond in what seems to me a very
interesting situation recorded by the mid 20C classicist E. R. Dodds in his
commentary on Euripides' play, The Bacchae (Clarendon Press 1944; 2nd edn
1960). In the commentary to lines 661-2 ("Where the white snow's glistening
falls never lose their grip"), Dodds begins by discussing the
meteorological problem created by a literal interpretation: "If this means,
as some suppose, that it never stops snowing on Cithaeron, the exaggeration
is monstrous", he writes. But -- here's the significant moment -- he then
offers this parenthetical comment: "(I found none when I climbed the
mountain in April)." The fact of this distinguished Oxford don climbing the
sacred mountain himself, to be at the site where the Dionysiac ritual took
place, where in the story Pentheus was dismembered by the maenads
(including his mother and auntie), tells such a story as to be mightily
arresting. What could a Schama or Bronowski do now with that moment in a
digital commentary?

So I return to the wonder of it all (which was the point of mentioning my
encounters with the brain), i.e. to those moments when a life of highly
specialized research is fulfilled, energized and made powerfully
communicable by intersection with common humanity. Allow me to offer a New
Year's resolution: not to give up anything, such as chocolate or the quest
for true love, but to embrace and elaborate the applications of computing
machinery to bridge, as Dodds did in his way, the private and the public.

Happy New Year!


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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