18.577 knowledge, wisdom, data, information

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2005 08:47:15 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 577.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com> (5)
         Subject: Re: 18.574 knowledge, wisdom, data, information

   [2] From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois (87)
         Subject: Re: 18.574 knowledge, wisdom, data, information

         Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2005 08:39:10 +0000
         From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com>
         Subject: Re: 18.574 knowledge, wisdom, data, information

Willard, for whatever it's worth -- in 1957 a student filed a lawsuit
against Columbia University saying that it had promised to impart wisdom to
its students and that he, graduating, had not become wise. The courts
threw the suit out on the grounds that one could expect universities to
impart knowledge, but not wisdom. (See the NYT archives for 1957-59)

         Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2005 08:39:49 +0000
         From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
         Subject: Re: 18.574 knowledge, wisdom, data, information


Reading Dreyfus reading Kierkegaard through the kindly shared notes of
Charles Ess has led be to consider some of the tropes that raise the
question of the place of pleasure in human enterprise.

Dreyfus begins his excursus with Kierdegaard's essay _The Present Age_
wherein the Revolutionary Age filled with passion and action is contrasted
with the Present Age of reflection flitting between indolence and brief
bouts of enthusiasm. When he goes on to invoke Habermas (_The Structural
Transformation of the Public Sphere_), a curious slippage occurs. He moves
from a focus on the Public Sphere to a concern with Public Opinion. It is
a rhetorical move akin to the fall from grace traced in the slide from the
action-filled and committed Revolutionary Age to the lackadaisical Present
Age. I want to underline that move operated by Dreyfus. It begins with the
Public Sphere which is a place of exchange. It ends with Public Opinion
which is the result of polling. The agents are made passive if not
pacified. Dreyfus envisages the visitor to the worlds of the Internet as a
consumer. Not as an author. Or as creator.

A closer reading of Kierkegaard nets a very different relation between the
public and the particular. In a key passage Kierkegaard explains what a
Public is. The translation cited by Dreyfus:

A public is neither a nation, nor a generation, nor a community, nor a
society, nor these particular ;men, for all thses are only what they are
through the concrete; <hi>no single person who <sic>belong</sic> to the
Public makes a real commitment</hi>
<cit><note>Emphasis by Dreyfus</note>

The passage from the translation by Alexander Dru (1962)

The public is not a people, it is not a generation, it is not a
simultaneity, it is not a community, it is not a society, it is not an
association, it is not those particular men over there, because all these
exist because they are concrete and real; however, no single individual
who belongs to the public has any real commitment; some times during the
day he belongs to the public, namely, in those times in which he is
nothing; in those times that he is a particular person, he does not belong
to the public.

English has lovely idioms to redescribe the situation: sometimes anybody
is a somebody and at anytime somebody can be taken as an anybody.

Seems far from the considerations of Humanities Computing? But observe the
moral freight laid upon the movement between the abstract public and the
concrete particular.

At stake in Dreyfus's reading of Kierkegaard is a celebration of pain and
mastery. He claims: "Studies of skill acquisition have shown that, unless
the outcome matters and unless the person developing the skill is willing
to accept the pain that comes from failure and the elation that comes with
success, the learner will be stuck at the level of competence and never
achieve mastery." A few sentences before this passage devoted to the
movement from competence to mastery, the description is not marked by a
rhetoric of pleasure or pain: "Learning a skill requires interpreting the
situation as being of a sort that requires a certain action, taking that
action, and learning from the results." Why is acquiring competence
pain-neutral and mastery not?

If we allow for a dialectical relation between the public and the
particular, then the image of the dog (the gossip purveyors of the tabloid
press) with which Kierkegaard ends his essay deserves to be carried to a
bloody conceit of pack behaviour: tabloids will feed upon tabloids. The
Public may be abstract but it is not uniform. The Press is but one of its
dogs. And even that Press can experience ticks and fleas. And find human
companions that groom, feed and exercise.

Where I really disagree with Dreyfus is over his reading of the ubiquity
of the Net making any local stand seem irrelevant. If anything the Net,
especially in the latest wifi incarnations of access nodes, has
demonstrated time and time again that otium and negotium, the activities
of the amateur and the professional, are ever so enfolded. The local is
very punctual. The particular may emerge in the public at any moment.

What this might mean for an ethics of humanities computing can be read in
the archive of the postings to Humanist: particular questions and results
brought to public scrutiny to enliven further research off list and more
questions to be distributed again. Count the times that some of the
inspiration came from the press and the internet at large. I am willing to
wager anybody a very big unconditioned commitment that somebody found the
whole cycle of continuous learning to be a pleasure and continues to
derive both ethical and aesthetic pleasure from the religious doggedness
of the moderator and the subscribers.

Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
2005 Year of Comparative Connections. DIA: Comparative connections? LOGZ:
Connection, first. Comparison, next. DIA: Check. Comparable ways of
connecting. LOGZ: Selection outcomes, first. Comparative Connections,
Received on Thu Feb 10 2005 - 03:52:55 EST

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