[Humanist] 24.637 paradigm shifting?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Jan 7 07:57:02 CET 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 637.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 07 Jan 2011 06:54:49 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: paradigm shifting?

One of the frequent expressions we use to denote the sort of radical 
change we think computing has made, a "paradigm shift", comes from 
Thomas Kuhn's enormously influential book, The Structure of Scientific 
Revolutions (1962). This is without doubt the most influential book ever 
published in the history and philosophy of science. Riding on the 
prestige of physics at the time, it was hugely influential throughout 
all the disciplines and beyond. I'd suppose the phrase still commonly to 
be found in the popular media. But does it tie us users of it covertly, 
to a far greater extent than we realise, to the idea that "science" -- 
i.e. the reductive notion that we have of the sciences -- is made in the 
image of physics, hence that truly reliable knowledge is obtained by 
adopting the epistemology and the epistemological rhythm of physics as 
Kuhn described them?

One of the benefits of reading Ernst Mayr's accounts of how biology 
works is the realisation of the extent to which one's ideas of "science" 
shift if one takes biology as the model. Mayr argues (in This is Biology 
and in "Do Thomas Kuhn's Scientific Revolutions Take Place", What Makes 
Biology Unique?, pp. 159-69) that the Kuhnian epistemological rhythm, of 
normal science radically changed by revolutionary shift from old to new 
paradigm, simply doesn't work for biology. There are no such revolutions 
in biology in Kuhn's sense, he says: from one way of thinking suddenly 
to another that is incommensurable with that which it replaces.

The more I look at the early history of computing in the humanities, the 
more it seems to me that computing, as it forms within the humanities, 
answers to something else and resonates with other developments, e.g. in 
critical theorizing. In other words, that we're not witnessing a 
sudden-break revolution in the humanities but something far more gradual 
and far more indebted to other developments.

Change, yes, but what kind, related to what other changes?



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

More information about the Humanist mailing list