[Humanist] 25.775 CS and the disciplines

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Mar 4 09:22:29 CET 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 775.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 02 Mar 2012 17:14:10 +0000
        From: Richard Lewis <richard.lewis at gold.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 25.768 CS and the disciplines?
        In-Reply-To: <20120229074919.72C842D928 at woodward.joyent.us>

At Wed, 29 Feb 2012 07:42:32 +0000,
Willard McCarty wrote:

> I find it interesting that in 2010 the organizing principles of
> computer science remain a topic for debate. Not a bad thing to be
> anxious about one's discipline, apparently.

Two things to mention:

1) Hal Abelson's first lecture in the Structure and Interpretation of
Computer Programs series begins with a good introduction
deconstructing the title of the discipline:

  I'd like to welcome you to this course on computer science. Actually
  it's a terrible way to start. "Computer Science" is a terrible name
  for this business, first of all, it's not a "science", it might be
  "engineering" or it might be "art", but I actually see that
  computer, so-called science, has a lot in common with magic. And you
  will see that in this course. So it's not a science, it's also not
  very much about computers. And it's not about computers in the same
  sense that physics is not really about particle accelerators. and
  biology is not really about microscope and petri dishes. and it's
  not about computer in the same sense that geometry is not really
  about using surveying instrument.  In fact, there is a lot of
  commonality between computer science and geometry. Geometry, first
  of all, is another subject with a lousy name. For the name comes
  from gaia, meaning the Earth, and metro- meaning 'to measure',
  Geometry originally meant measuring Earth, or surveying And the
  reason for that was that thousands of years ago, the Egyptian
  priesthood developed the rudiment of geometry in order to figure out
  how to restore the boundaries of fields that were destroyed by the
  annual flood of the Nile. And to the Egyptians who did that,
  Geometry really was the use of surveying instruments. Now the reason
  that we think computer science is about computers is pretty much the
  same reason the Egyptians thought Geometry was about surveying
  instruments and that is, when some field is just getting started and
  you don't really understand it very well its very easy to confuse
  the essence of what you're doing with the tools that you use and
  indeed, on some absolute scale of things we probably know less about
  the essence of Computer Science than the ancient Egyptians really
  knew about Geometry.


(transcript from http://dotsub.com/view/d337c688-0500-4b38-aba5-c3c67f17f7a7)

2) The Computing Department at Goldsmiths' was deliberately so called
when renamed from Mathematics because the intended emphasis was on
applied computing. It seems someone felt that computer science was not
the same thing as its applications.

Richard Lewis
ISMS, Computing
Goldsmiths, University of London
Tel: +44 (0)20 7078 5134
Skype: richardjlewis
JID: ironchicken at jabber.earth.li

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