20.136 which scissors & how to cut with them

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 3 Aug 2006 06:40:09 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 136.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 02 Aug 2006 09:15:32 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: which scissors & how to cut with them

The French philosopher of aesthetics Etienne Souriau, in "A General
Methodology for the Scientific Study of Aesthetic Appreciation"
(Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 14.1 (1955), begins his
essay with an overall comment on method. "Scissors are always
scissors", he comments. "But the tailor, the embroiderer, the
gardener, and the surgeon must have different kinds. There is no
scientific method good in itself. A good scientific method is one
well adapted to the kind of facts to be studied. The experimental and
quantitative procedures perfected by contemporary psychology and
sociology may be ever so valuable, efficacious, and indispensable,
but the worth of the results obtained with them depends upon the
nicety of their application to the study of behavior or aptitude, to
personality patterns, or to the structures of emotion or opinion. It
may be said that certain supposedly scientific investigations of the
aesthetic fact give at times somewhat the impression of a surgeon
trying to operate on the heart with a gardener's clippers." (p. 1).

There are two points here to be disentangled: first, that a good
method must closely match that to which it is applied; second, and
less obviously, that its manner of application must hug its object
even more so.

The first point has to do with selection of the right tool. Souriau's
surgeon is a butcher because he or she does not have the right sort
of cutting instrument to hand. The second point has to do with the
skill of the surgeon, which is not at all guaranteed by having the
right sort of scissors. Between these two points lies the designing
of this right sort, in which the experience and knowledge of many
surgeons directs the shaping and articulation of the surgical steel.

As tool-providers, we strive of course to satisfy the first point --
the right tool for the right job. Much fuss over design
specifications and their translation into code is involved here. But
computing would hardly be special if that were the whole story. The
special quality of our tool-building, it seems to me, lies in the
potential for putting into the hands of working scholars the means of
designing, interactively, on the spot -- the scissors bend and twist
so that the surgeon may reach around an obstruction to that which
must be snipped, then bend and twist differently for the next task.

Is there an asymptotic relationship between such flexibility of the
tool and the skillful intentionality to which it gives reach?



Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Thu Aug 03 2006 - 02:04:53 EDT

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