[Humanist] 23.435 being critical of critical thinking

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Nov 14 08:28:02 CET 2009

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 435.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

Date: Fri, 13 Nov 2009 14:04:08 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
Subject: critical thinking

Anyone here who has been attracted by the idea and techniques of "critical
thinking" would do well to read Douglas D. Noble, "Mental materiel: The
militarization of learning and intelligence in US education", in Cyborg
Worlds: the military information society, ed. Les Levidow and Kevin Robins
(London: Free Association Books, 1989), pp. 13-42. "Mental materiel" offers
another form of the poisoned-chalice argument that ties computing together
with the militarisation of American society during the Cold War. It traces
the "critical thinking" movement back to the mechanisation of mind and
person for which militarised computing is held responsible.

While not wanting to give an unqualified yes or no to this argument, I can
see the connections for which Noble argues. I guess what I question is the
quality of those connections. More and more as I think about how things,
ideas and people are connected historically I wonder about this quality --
about the difference, if you will, between outright paranoia and a world
that appears to me not at all chaotic nor deterministic but probabilistic.

What I think all this has to do with computing is in our understanding
better what computing has to do with the culture in which it has surfaced.
The utilitarian argument ("the computer is useful") is so trite, so dull, so
incapable of supporting for long the professional activity we would like to
see given a better place in the sun. The principle of reprocity that governs
human relations says we need to be useful for sure, but to attract the sort
of students we want as well as keep ourselves alive intellectually I'd think
we need to offer something with a real bite to it. What has that bite? Not a
totally paranoid vision, though the thrill of the threat of it is a start.



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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