20.080 (critical) thinking and button-pushing

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 08:33:41 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 80.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 06:51:20 +0100
         From: lachance_at_chass.utoronto.ca
         Subject: Re: 19.531 (critical) thinking and button-pushing


A few (perhaps self-evident) observations about your posting to Humanist
from December 2005.

You regale subscribers to an excerpt from Ian Hacking's 1995 book. I have
a silly question. Are the observations that Hacking makes still valid a
decade or so later? Also it is not clear to me from the excerpt whether
Hacking is commenting about the asking of questions to oneself or to
others or to both. I find myself at times praising at times blaming
reporters for not asking the evident questions. I wonder if there has been
a shift in the quality of the media's handling of the reporting of
research results.

I know that Hacking and yourself tie assessment with access. I'm not
entirely sure that these two activities (assessing and accessing) are
strongly connected. There seems to be at least for me the mediating
instance of reporting.

I bring attention to this possible triangualtion between reporting,
assessing, and accessing, in order to suggest that ease of tool use is not
necessarily inversely proportional to the exercise of thought. Does the
artist while sketching think? Does the computer user's ease in reiterating
computations count as a type of sketching?

Are we not more likely to see evidence of thinking in the reporting of
results rather than in the play at work in repeated computations which are
not easily open to intersubjective review? At what point is play thinking?

The storyline of scarce resources leading to better thinking may be
compelling. It is also dangerously inaccurate to forget the wasted moments
of the past. The quality of thinking does not always calibrated in a
postive relationship to the time spent in the activity. The old days
weren't always good ...

> Date: Thu, 29 Dec 2005 08:05:43 +0000
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
> >
> In Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of
> Memory (Princeton, 1995), Ian Hacking takes a close look at the
> process by which often unquestioning practices of measurement have
> legitimated multiple personality and turned it into an object of
> knowledge. Speaking of our modern tools, he observes that,
> >We have long had a multitude of highly sophisticated statistical
> >procedures. We now have many statistical software packages. Their
> >power is incredible, but the pioneers of statistical inference would
> >have mixed feelings, for they always insisted that people think
> >before using a routine. In the old days routines took endless hours
> >to apply, so one had to spend a lot of time thinking in order to
> >justify using a routine. Now one enters data and presses a button.
> >One result is that people seem to be cowed into not asking silly
> >questions, such as: What hypothesis are you testing? What
> >distribution is it that you say is not normal? What population are
> >you talking about? Where did this base rate come from? Most
> >important of all: Whose judgments do you use to calibrate scores on
> >your questionnaires? Are those judgments generally agreed to by the
> >qualified experts in the entire community? (p. 111)
> In building our marvellous tools, do we not run a similar risk in
> proportion to their complexity? In cases where fundamental
> intellectual decisions have been made at root level, then in effect
> hidden away by higher-level processes, this would seem clearly the
> case. Thus I recall an historian once remarking that she never used
> databases constructed by other people because she had found too many
> critical decisions had been made below the level of manipulation. She
> may have been wrong in particular instances not to have trusted good
> work, but it seems to me that her point is well taken. What do we do
> to answer it?
> Hacking is, however, talking more about the power of distraction than
> the effects of concealment or the consequences of effective
> inaccessibility. It is perhaps for his reason that some of us, with
> tongue not entirely in cheek, have praised the user-hostile
> interface: at least a person must think before reaching for that
> mouse. Again, what can we do to answer his point, made at the
> interface of user and computational artifact?
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
Received on Thu Jun 29 2006 - 03:58:46 EDT

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