[Humanist] 23.242 yet another BBQ

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Aug 21 07:46:56 CEST 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 242.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 21 Aug 2009 06:45:04 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: boredom comes with maturity?

Dear colleagues,

Here's a question for you. It came to me while I was gazing at the 
announcement of the Panjab Digital Library and another announcement, of 
a printed publication containing nothing directly, or even indirectly as 
far as I could tell, about computing. I found myself questioning the 
decision to circulate the former but not the latter.

Have we reached the point, I wonder, at which the once new is now so 
commonplace that it's no longer interesting? Of course someone who is 
already interested in Panjab literature and culture will want to know 
about this digital library, but failing that interest, and immediate 
evidence that the makers have done something technically and/or formally 
new, is it something you'd like to see?

Please note: I am not asking for personal likes and dislikes, which are 
not the business of this group. I'm asking, rather, about a possible 
stage of development that we may have reached, a kind of maturity, in 
which to be noticed formally a digital object has to possess certain 
properties reflecting a degree of technical progress. Some time ago 
there was a comment about conference papers in the digital humanities 
being less than riveting, being (I think it was) rather more reports 
from the factory floor than intellectual wake-up calls. Since I think 
that staying awake is important, I am paying rather alot of attention to 
this latest jolt.

In his paper for the Hixon Symposium (1948), "Why the Mind is in the 
Head", Warren McCulloch expressed it this way:

> When we run to catch a baseball we run not toward it but toward the
> place where it will be when we get there to grab it. This requires
> prediction.... The earmark of every predictive circuit is that if it
> has operated long uniformly it will persist in activity, or
> overshoot; otherwise it could not project regularities from the known
> past onto the unknown future. That is what, as a scientist, I dread
> most, for as our memories become stored, we become creatures of our
> yesterdays – mere has-beens in a changing world. This leaves no room
> for learning.

We're not running to catch baseballs, but we are developing, quite 
successfully, habitual behaviours and standard products. While I do take 
the argument about standards etc., I worry about research in this 
utilitarian age sunk to its bottom line. I worry about what happens when 
one reaches a promised land, buys a house in suburbia and settles in.



Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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