20.215 great promise, not great threat?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2006 07:55:18 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 215.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Lynda Williams <lynda_at_okalrel.org> (101)
         Subject: Re: 20.211 great promise, not great threat?

   [2] From: Andrew Brook <abrook_at_ccs.carleton.ca> (26)
         Subject: Re: 20.211 great promise, not great threat?

         Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2006 07:32:17 +0100
         From: Lynda Williams <lynda_at_okalrel.org>
         Subject: Re: 20.211 great promise, not great threat?

Speaking as one who has switched back and forth between humanities and
sciences all her life and is currently in a phase of disillusionment
with science ... what good are powerful tools if they are applied in
pursuit of the wrong ends?

That's the problem.

Science has high status because it has proved it can spin straw into
gold. The more social confusion in our world, the more important money
is because money requires no complex cultural context in which to
provide meaning. It just "works". But like science, it has no power to
make lives meaningful at the human level in all the ways we have so
completely taken for granted thus far that we are not consciously
aware of their intrinsic value.

I like to play a mental game that goes like this: assume the coolest
possible whatever it is that you think you want. Now locate possession
of it in a world in which there is nothing but it. Would it satisfy?
If not, what is missing that was being taken for granted in the first

e.g. All the money I desire. But it would be meaningless if I
possessed that in a world without anything but the money, itself. I am
presuming a backdrop of human activity (culture) that would value me
more highly because I possessed the money, award me special status
that would cause me pleasure because I am a social animal, and
therefore make me feel happiness. Which is intangible.

Regrettably, where one thing is measurable and another is not, the
measurable thing will always "look like" the valuable thing.

Lynda Williams, SF Author (http://www.okalrel.org)
2005 The Courtesan Prince - Edge SF and Fantasy
2006 "Harpy" in MYTHSPRING
2006 Guide to the Okal Rel Universe - Fandom Press

On Sun, 24 Sep 2006 08:50:12 +0100, willard_at_LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU
> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 211. Centre for Computing
> in the Humanities, King's College London
> www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/cch/research/publications/humanist.
> ml www.princeton.edu/humanist/
> Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu
> Date: Sun, 24 Sep 2006 08:35:30 +0100
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> > promise, not
great threat?
> Recently I found myself in conversation, in the kitchen of an
> academic residence in Leiden, with three other academics, one of
> them a distinguished older historian, one a younger sociologist,
> the third a much younger historian. In the course of talking about
> this and that, the older fellow asked me what I did. Weighing
> heavily on my mind was a public lecture I was writing on just that
> topic, so I summarized the contents of the lecture. In it, as is my
> habit these days, I argue that computing gives us powerful help in
> addressing the question of how we know what we know -- by allowing
> us to set aside what can be described computationally, leaving the
> uncomputable residue. This leads to some research that draws on
> ideas in the philosophy of experimental science, and to speculation
> (to me compelling) of how computing defines an intellectual space
> within which one can operate *as if* the objects of study were
> natural objects obeying algorithmic laws -- the point, again, being
> in the comparison with what we in the end plainly know. My appeal
> is, and was then, in the kitchen in Leiden, to curiosity. Who, I
> wonder, would not want to pry into how they know what they know --
> with any tool that comes to hand?
> Silly me. Curiosity kills cats. But I exaggerate. I wasn't killed.
> My senior colleague was soft-spoken and very polite. In his own
> way, however, he illuminated the problem -- he said he was
> "disappointed". What he wanted from me, he said, was a strong
> argument from the humanities rather than one from the sciences. I
> thought I was giving him exactly that -- no scientist qua scientist
> would argue as I do. Later on, the young historian told me, "we
> don't like being told that the sciences have all the answers!"
> Again, my point was precisely that the answers coming from the
> sciences are interesting to me precisely because they fall short --
> though I admit to, and am curious about, intriguingly closer
> answers coming from the neurosciences, as they up the ante a fair
> bit.
> I would be very interested to know where you think the problem is,
> especially if some part of it, as I suspect, is due to
> muddleheadedness on my part. Richard Rorty said some time ago (in
> an London Review of Books piece) that he thought we are seeing an
> end to the epistemic wars between the sciences and the humanities.
> Ian Hacking has done much to change hostilities into negotiations.
> I think we have a big role to play here -- and, if I am right, that
> it just could be the most important result of all.
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> 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/

Lynda Williams, SF Author (http://www.okalrel.org)
2005 The Courtesan Prince - Edge SF and Fantasy
2006 "Harpy" in MYTHSPRING
2006 Guide to the Okal Rel Universe - Fandom Press

         Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2006 07:33:04 +0100
         From: Andrew Brook <abrook_at_ccs.carleton.ca>
         Subject: Re: 20.211 great promise, not great threat?

Willard, two things:

1. By no means all historians would share the Luddite sentiments you
ran into. After all, many history depts are part of faculties of
social science now. Individual differences are enormous, here as
elsewhere in academia.

2. Some academics simply don't listen. At a talk recent, a very
senior named chairholder told a younger presenter that the case he
had made about a certain issue was absurd and that what he should
have said was X. He then laid out as X precisely the case that the
presenter had made! Hadn't heard a thing.

It is said that intellectual battles are won not with our colleagues
but with the generation that is currently our graduate students. I'd
be willing to bet that some of the graduate students of the
historians you mentioned would have reacted quite differently from
the way the historians reacted.


Andrew Brook
Chancellor's Professor of Philosophy
Director, Institute of Cognitive Science
Member, Canadian Psychoanalytic Society
2217 Dunton Tower, Carleton University
Ottawa ON, Canada   K1S 5B6
Ph:  613 520-3597
Fax: 613 520-3985
Web: www.carleton.ca/~abrook
Received on Mon Sep 25 2006 - 03:26:13 EDT

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