17.569 strict and loose

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Jan 27 2004 - 03:43:32 EST

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 569.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

   [1] From: "Jim Marchand" <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu> (25)
         Subject: strict and loose

   [2] From: "Michel Lemaire" <mlemaire@uottawa.ca> (14)
         Subject: Re: 17.559 the strict and the loose

         Date: Tue, 27 Jan 2004 08:27:57 +0000
         From: "Jim Marchand" <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
         Subject: strict and loose

Speaking of strict and loose thinking, computer thinking and
humanities thinking, it will of course depend on what one means by
strict, but I do not think that computer thinking is stricter in
any sense than humanities thinking (I speak loosely here). For the
most part, computers depend upon a bi-valued system and on
algorithms, whereas the humanities tend towards multi-valued logic
and epieikeia. Most programs which deal with humanities stuff are
required to be `loose', in that they have to deal with complicated
concepts as if they could be reduced to yes-no statements. Most
concepts in the humanities are at best `ideal types', to use
Weber's term, and can at best be treated by multi-valued systems.
Positivism, symbolic logic, Boolean logic, set theory, and the
like, require a naive look at the world, so we have had to develop
naive set theory, fuzzy set theory, even Bayesian probabilities to
handle the real world. Back to the humanities, even our
terminology (chiasm, metaphor, ode, battle, war, victory) is hard
to be certain about, and studies of things like style are
notoriously difficult by computer. I remember an article I once
read entitled "How to talk to your programmer." As my own
programmer, I have always found it hard to talk to myself about
programmable problems, even things like concordances (lemmatize?,
if so, how?, what is a homograph?, even what and when is a word?
etc.). If we want to do humanities computing, we have to loosen
up, be less strict, take what we can. Applying an algorithm to
epieikeia (St. Thomas) is hard.

         Date: Tue, 27 Jan 2004 08:28:41 +0000
         From: "Michel Lemaire" <mlemaire@uottawa.ca>
         Subject: Re: 17.559 the strict and the loose


Working in a literature department, I am surprised to see how few professors
or post-graduate students use computer as a research tool. For most,
computer is still a new kind of typewriter or a new way to send circulars.
And this opposition between loose and strict thinking may be the answer.
Researchers in literature seem to me to be afraid of the strictness that
computer requires, and afraid of losing what they would call their
independence of thought and could be the looseness of their thinking. I
wonder if people in other literature departments have the same feeling.

Michel Lemaire
Département des lettres françaises
Université d'Ottawa

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