[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 
this year.


Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 579.
>          Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 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.
> (1)
>> Whenever logical processes of thought are employed—-that is, whenever
>> thought for a time runs along an accepted groove—-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.
> (2)
> 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.
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM


Edward Vanhoutte
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
Koningstraat 18 / b-9000 Gent / Belgium
tel: +32 9 265 93 51 / fax: +32 9 265 93 49

edward dot vanhoutte at kantl dot be


More information about the Humanist mailing list