17.613 where in the dichotomy

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Fri Feb 06 2004 - 03:03:33 EST

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 613.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 06 Feb 2004 07:53:30 +0000
         From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
         Subject: Re: 17.599 where in the dichotomy?

Has anyone compared Murray's humanist-engineer trope with the two cultures
of Snow? In Murray's case what is striking is perhaps not the dichotomy
but the apocalyptic undertone i.e. the world is in a mess. One wonders if
a similar vision of doom does not animated Snow's dualistic division.

I tend to favour the categories/syndromes put forth by Jane Jacobs in her
_Systems of Survival_. Her witty and thoughtful dialogue proposes two
classes of symbiotic actants: traders and guardians. And the careful
reader will find that the whole world of interaction is not merely
collapsed in these two syndromes. Jacobs points the transcending
[undersending?] place of art and love.

In terms of civil society and poltical processes, I am not suggesting a
remapping of humanist to trader and engineer to guardian or vice versa. I
think greater benefit is gained from examining how various actants

          1) inform
          2) focus
          3) delimit choices

At a certain level of abstraction this is what citizens do. It is what
participants in a discursive community do. It is what professionals
concerned with the governance of a discipline do.

Sometimes blurring helps refocus. Simple methods applied and reapplied can
often betray the bias of prefacing contents... Turing: engineer?
humanist? Papert: engineer? humanist? Stallman: engineer? humanist?

Question: just how did the second half of the twentieth century come to
have a single intellectual predicament? Some of us look to that time
period not as one where meaning slips away but where meaing becomes
overdetermined. Whether we lived through them or not, we remember the
social movements that focus attention on how the personal is political. We
are keenly aware that any interaction be it between humanist and engineer
can play to the gallery and are very wary about embracing dichotomies. We
can and do go "meta" as Jerome Bruner says. We are digital with a temporal
rigour [ Yes / No :: now / not now ] and hip to the narratives, grand and
otherwise, that such a squaring can generate.

Ironic that theme of forking paths is heighlighted in the very first
selection (from Borges) in the New Media Reader but its wisdom escapes the
preface: the digital is not alien to the non-electrical.

Murray's counters can conduct us in different fashion round the square --

          Mess : Not Mess :: humanist : engineer

          Mess : Not Mess :: engineer : humanist

Of course, as Fredric Jamesons reminds us, the telling of the tale is
sensitive to initial conditions.

It would be fun to re-create the Turing test: can you tell from a given
excerpt if a passage is from a humanist or an engineer? Turing's 1950
expression of the Imitation Game revolved around the identification of
gender. Does a passage as quoted below belong to the humnist disciplines
of rhetoric and grammar or to computer science? It is one of my favourite
passages in Anderw Hodges's biography of Turing:

       From the first point of view, it was natural to think of the
       configuration as the machine's _internal state_ something to be
       inferred from its different responses to different stimuli, rather
       as in behaviourist psychology. From the second point of view,
       however, it was natural to think of the configuration as a written
       instruction, and the table as a list of instructions, telling the
       machine what to do. The machine could be thought as obeying one
       _instruction_, and then moving to another instruction. The universal
       machine could then be pictured as reading and decoding the
       instructions placed upon the tape. Alan Turing himself did not
       stick to his original abstract term "configuration", but later
       described machines quite freely in terms of "states" and
       "instructions", according to the interpretation he had in mind.
       Hodges, Andrew. Alan Turing: The Enigima of Intelligence. 1983.
       London: Unwin, 1985. p. 107

I think I'll take the Murray preface as a state rather than an
instruction. Other thinking machines might process the preface

> Date: Sun, 01 Feb 2004 10:32:39 +0000
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
> >
> Summarizing the contents of The New Media Reader, ed. Wardrip-Fruin and
> Montfort (MIT Press, 2003; see http://www.newmediareader.com/), Janet H.
> Murray, in "Inventing the Medium", characterizes a "two-cultures" dichotomy
> separating humanists and engineers:


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