[Humanist] 25.782 CS and the disciplines

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Mar 6 08:51:14 CET 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 782.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 05 Mar 2012 17:55:00 +0100
        From: Hartmut Krech <kr538 at uni-bremen.de>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 25.775 CS and the disciplines
        In-Reply-To: <20120304082230.08AFE2740C0 at woodward.joyent.us>

Hal Abelson's commentary, as passed along by Richard Lewis, expands the
difficult question of CS's relation to the other disciplines, not the least
by asking if it is a science by itself. Or is it magic? My heart keeps being
flooded with feelings of gratitude and joy, every time my PC is starting up
in the morning, although its OS was installed almost four years ago and has
been running ever since with few complications.

Things become more complicated, as soon as you try to translate the names in
question. Computer science would amount to Computerwissenschaft in German,
but the French have kept their language free from too many Anglicisms. I
wonder what name they may have found for the same study and practice. Not
only that, it is well understood that, in the English language, "science" is
only short for "natural science," while most other subjects of academic
study are lumped together under the general heading of the humanities or
"the arts". The German equivalent would be "Geisteswissenschaften" (notably
"Wissenschaften" or "sciences") that have variously been translated as
"sciences of the mind," mental or even moral sciences. And how does
computing relate to Poliziano's calculatoria of 1491?

Things become less complicated if they are observed and described in detail.
Then one may agree with Aristotle's definition of science as the knowledge
of the first principles and the means and ends in human practice (Met. 981 b
5). A clear definition of the subject and practices of any field of study
becomes important when the boundaries of that field are expanding or need to
be expanded, because in those cases a well defined discipline may offer
status and protection to practices as a social institution. Of course, a
minimum definition for a certain science would be anything that certain
scientists do, but that is unsatisfactory. As there are regional or cultural
differences worthy of note, I have found it necessary to speak of an
"ethnology of science" in 2000. Any rational undertaking should be

Sometimes a beginning is made by simply noting and stating a problem. How
much more if you could harvest the results of thirty years of research .


Am 04/03/2012 09:22, schrieb Humanist Discussion Group:
>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 775.
>              Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                         www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                  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.
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQLUPjefuWA
> (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

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