[Humanist] 26.63 when does the subject enter in?
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jun 4 22:19:31 CEST 2012
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 63.
Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
Date: Mon, 04 Jun 2012 20:53:11 +1000
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
Subject: computational models
Paul Humphreys, in "Computational models", Philosophy of Science 69.S3
(September 2002): S1-S11, proposes that we look at the organization of
the sciences not by the usual mereological (parts and wholes) structure,
proceeding from the smallest physical units to the largest ones, but by
the models they use. He points out the often noticed fact that certain
models apply seemingly across the board to many quite different
phenomena, e.g. from enzyme reactions to predatory behaviour. He
describes a structure for models beginning with a "computational
template", then its construction assumptions, correction set,
interpretation, initial justification and last, output representation.
The template is the basis of the portability of the model, its syntax,
the other elements constraints on it that make it application specific.
He argues that although the template is often very portable, it is never
interpretation-free -- hence the construction assumptions. But it is
often remarkably portable.
You can follow his argument at leisure, but here I want to highlight the
interesting question he raises at the end:
> at what points in the process of the construction and evaluation of
> computational models does subject-specific knowledge enter? (S10)
We have all doubtless noticed the same kind of thing happening in the
digital humanities; we tend to identify the portable,
non-subject-specific aspect of what we do as method, or if we're feeling
the need for being scientific, formal methods. But more specifically in
terms of what we do, it is the orientation to modelling that makes the
digital humanities interdisciplinary in a way that other fields, I would
suppose, cannot be. So let me raise Humphreys' question in our context:
at what point does the subject-specific knowledge enter in?
Take, for example, the simplest sort of text-analysis, a.k.a.
interactive concording. This applies across the board to all subjects in
which a focus on how something is said matters: literary studies,
linguistics, history, sociology and others. Is there anything systematic
that can be said about when and how it matters what discipline is asking
the questions? Or, to put the question the other way around, is there
anything systematic we can say (other than remarks about a rigorous
focus on the verbal data etc) about how the computational template at
work here affects the discipline asking the questions?
Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
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