[Humanist] 22.580 logical thought and the historical record
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Mar 2 07:47:21 CET 2009
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 580.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
Date: Sun, 01 Mar 2009 22:05:37 +0100
From: Edward Vanhoutte <edward.vanhoutte at kantl.be>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.579 logical thought and the historical record
In-Reply-To: <20090301071730.D5EC72E9A0 at woodward.joyent.us>
Not wanting to overload Humanist with a lengthy reaction to Willard's
post about Vannevar Bush's visionary ideas on technology, I published
some results from my current research on my blog The Mind Tool:
A full study is part of my forthcoming PhD dissertation which is awaited
Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 579.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
> Date: Sat, 28 Feb 2009 09:54:41 +0000
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
> Two things for you to consider. First, from a revered article, is a
> quotation to which insufficient attention has been paid; second is an
> observation on how the text of that article has been contextualized.
>> Whenever logical processes of thought are employedâ-that is, whenever
>> thought for a time runs along an accepted grooveâ-there is an
>> opportunity for the machine. Formal logic used to be a keen
>> instrument in the hands of the teacher in his trying of students'
>> souls. It is readily possible to construct a machine which will
>> manipulate premises in accordance with formal logic, simply by the
>> clever use of relay circuits. Put a set of premises into such a
>> device and turn the crank, and it will readily pass out conclusion
>> after conclusion, all in accordance with logical law, and with no
>> more slips than would be expected of a keyboard adding machine.
> Here Vannevar Bush, in "As We May Think", amidst much that now seems
> quaint (e.g. his reference to "relay circuits"), brilliantly gets to the
> heart of Mr Turing's design. A fine statement to put alongside others
> that envision computers like us.
> When I attempted to record where this statement occurs, I discovered
> something I had not noticed before. Bush's article is easy to get one's
> digital hands on; even the original publisher now features it, at
> www.theatlantic.com/doc/194507/bush. But, with all the book-learning to
> which I have been subjected, I reached for a solid codex, namely James
> M. Nyce and Paul Kahn, eds., From Memex to Hypertext: Vannevar Bush and
> the Mind's Machine (Boston: Academic Press, 1991). I found the quotation
> on page 98. Nyce and Kahn did an interesting thing, however. They
> reprinted not simply the Atlantic Monthly original but a composite form
> of the text indicating, by means of italics and bold, words that,
> respectively, were deleted from and added to the original text when it
> was republished in Life Magazine later the same year (1945). Nyce and
> Kahn also give the editors' notes from both, Life's prefatory list of
> "What Dr. Bush Foresees", and include the subheadings added by Life's
> editor (though they do not indicate the original numbered sections from
> the Atlantic Monthly version, which occur at different places. What
> Life's editor has done is what caught my attention.
> This editor in effect translated Bush's article for the benefit of a
> public evidently more interested in predictions of the future than possibilities
> rooted in the historical moment. (Bush was, of course, looking to how
> clever people might use then present devices to build a better future,
> but the distinction is, I think, important.) Comparison of the two
> versions gives something like a snapshot in the development of a
> triumphalist chronicle.
> This is the Life's editor's list of what Dr Bush foresees:
> -- A "Cyclops Camera", worn on the forehead, so that you can record whatever you see for future reference, with photographs developed at once by dry photography.
> -- Microfilm so that the Encyclopaedia Britannica can be reduced to the size of a matchbox costing 5 cents. "Thus a whole library could be kept in a desk."
> -- A machine that would type out whatever you spoke into it. "But you might have to talk a special phonetic language to this mechanical supersecretary."
> -- A "thinking machine" or mathmatical calculator. "Give it premises and it would pass out conclusions, all in accordance with logic."
> -- The Memex, an aid to memory. "Like the brain, Memex would file material by association. Press a key and it would run through a 'trail' of facts."
> It would be an interesting exercise, I think, to make a list, compare it to the above, and account for the differences -- what we discard, what we keep, what we change.
Centrum voor Teksteditie en Bronnenstudie - CTB (KANTL)
Centre for Scholarly Editing and Document Studies
Associate Editor LLC. The Journal of Digital Scholarship in the Humanities
Koninklijke Academie voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde
Royal Academy of Dutch Language and Literature
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tel: +32 9 265 93 51 / fax: +32 9 265 93 49
edward dot vanhoutte at kantl dot be
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