[Humanist] 27.126 computationalists and humanists

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jun 17 23:05:23 CEST 2013


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 126.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    James Smithies <james.smithies at canterbury.ac.nz>         (134)
        Subject: Re:  27.125 computationalists and humanists

  [2]   From:    Amlan Dasgupta <amlan04 at gmail.com>                       (118)
        Subject: Re:  27.125 computationalists and humanists

  [3]   From:    lachance at chass.utoronto.ca                                (12)
        Subject: town and gown


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2013 00:26:25 +0000
        From: James Smithies <james.smithies at canterbury.ac.nz>
        Subject: Re:  27.125 computationalists and humanists

Wonderfully said, Chris. Your comment that "[t]he lamented conflict
between "computationalists" and "humanists" arises
as soon as we become afraid of our own courage and shy away from jumping
across these two fault lines" reminds me of turning up for work with a
technical Systems Analysis team, doctorate in History in hand, to find one
of my new colleagues spoke 5 languages and was teaching himself ancient
Greek, and another was a classical musician.  I don't want to offer a
misleading account, because prejudices against the humanities remain
strong in some areas of the business / IT world I'm drawing my examples
from, but generalisations often break down in the face of reality too.

Too often, as well, we assume that it's only the humanists who want to
jump the divide, which is not true. Some of my most intellectually
satisfying conversations have been undertaken over lunch, in a large open
IT office, lazily discussing the interface between computer science and
the humanities. Talk to people who know their predicate logic, classical
music, ancient Greek, .xml, and Java, and you soon realise that the
distinctions we're discussing here obfuscate more than they illuminate.
I'm supportive of disciplinary specialisation, but there's something to be
said for spaces - like the digital humanities - where cross-fertilisation
is encouraged.

Regards,
James


On 17/06/13 8:03 AM, "Humanist Discussion Group"
<willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 125.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>
>
>
>        Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2013 16:19:07 +0200
>        From: Jan Christoph Meister <jan-c-meister at uni-hamburg.de>
>        Subject: Re:  27.124 computationalists and humanists
>        In-Reply-To: <20130615214741.503502CF6 at digitalhumanities.org>
>
>
>Let me add just two quotes to Willard's collection. Both are by the same
>(German) author, and both date some 130 years before C.P. Snow, around
>1820/1830. This is the first:
>
>"Ich kann ein Differentiale finden, und einen Vers machen; sind das
>nicht die beiden Enden der menschlichen Fähigkeit?" ("I can identify a
>differential, and I can make a verse; are these not the two peaks of
>human competence?")
>
>Against the backdrop of the new, evolving natural sciences and referring
>back to Leibniz' differential calculus as one of the most abstract
>mathematical break throughs, the German Romantic poet Heinrich von
>Kleist tries to uphold -- or rather, re-vitalize -- the Humanist idea of
>a 
>unified culture of scientific knowledge and Arts, of a dialect of formal
>mathematical abstraction and subjective "verse" that merges
>representation and emotion.
>
>Moreover, Kleist already has the idea of declaring this holistic
>philosophical and epistemological stance as a potential methodology --
>for him it is not just a personal vision. In another letter, he writes:
>"One could distinguish two classes of men: those who are capable of
>metaphors, and those who are capable of formulae. Those who are capable
>of both are too few; they do not form a class."
>
>The problems and hickups that we encounter in our interdisciplinary
>discourse among "computationalists" and "humanists" were thus reflected
>upon long before computers as we know them emerged (OK, the idea of a
>computer did of course already exist -- Leibniz again). So let's face it:
>technology really only plays a marginal role in this epistemological and
>methodological exchange and meeting/clashing of minds.
>
>What is more important, I believe, is the conceptual and functional
>distinction which we need to reflect over and over again.To me this
>distinction is demarcated by two fault lines.
>
>One, the methodological centre of gravity in the humanities is
>hermeneutics: trying to understand and interpret phenomena in terms of
>their relevance and impact on humanity, and analysing and modelling
>these phenomena as experiences that are historically contingent. And
>because of that, whatever we do and whatever knowledge (or nonsense) we
>produce in the Humanities is 'indexical' -- it points back at the
>interpreting subject and at the society that grapples with the phenomena
>at hand. To make matters even more complicated, that (perceived or real
>'€knowledge') influences the interpreting observer in a dynamic fashion.
>Now of course Heisenberg and Einstein formulated insights about the
>principle constraints of scientific observation that one can read as
>similar, at least in a somewhat metaphorical sense. But the natural
>sciences are not pulled towards a hermeneutic centre (what indeed are
>they being pulled towards? Logic per se? A Platonian worm hole?) I'm
>pretty certain that my (highly uninformed) musings about the nature of
>Higgs' particles will in my lifetime not produce any response in
>nature. Atoms don't really give a damn about whose observing them and
>for what purpose -- humans and human societies however do. In other
>words, though the late 19th century programmatic definition of
>"Geisteswissenschaften" by Dilthey and others and the forcefully
>declared dichotomy between the natural and the'moral'/human sciences
>may be outdated, but it's not irrelevant -- and so are other attempts
>(John Stuart Mill, Hegel, etc. etc..) at categorizing two ideal types
>(because that's what they really are; neither type has ever manifested
>itself in any science in its pure form) of methodology.
>
>The second fault line, as I perceive it, separates the terrain in terms
>of the concepts of discreteness and continuity. The former is the
>natural domain of the digital and binary logic -- segment phenomena,
>count them, find a useful metric, calculate them, model them
>numerically, etc. The latter is the prerogative of our human sensual and
>intellectual apparatus -- we can handle the fuzzy, the ambiguous, the
>contradictory, the speculative and under defined, and the more robust or
>consciously reflected our mind's 'home base', i.e. our sense of identity
>as a functional construct is, the better we can perform this task. We
>can decide to hear the melody, not the individual notes -- and we can
>decide to do the opposite as well. And those who do that often enough
>realize that it is this power of being able to switch our conceptual
>outlook at the world that, paradoxically as it may seem, stabilizes the
>core. Call it sublimation, call it dialectics -- if nothing else it's
>more 
>fun!
>
>The lamented conflict between "computationalists" and "humanists" arises
>as soon as we become afraid of our own courage and shy away from jumping
>across these two fault lines. Let's cut through that fear. The task
>remains, as Kleist so aptly put it, to "become capable of both -- the
>metaphor and the formula, the verse and the calculus, the musical score
>as well as the melody and the tear." That's a borderline experience, no
>doubt, and those who prefer to pitch their tent in the comfortable
>centre of either laager don't run the risk of questioning their own
>philosophical, epistemological and ethical identity as easily as the
>'Stalkers' (in the Tarkowskian sense). But thankfully, that's not the
>intellectual terrain where the evolving DH 'tribe' hunts and gathers.
>
>Chris



--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2013 12:29:17 +0530
        From: Amlan Dasgupta <amlan04 at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  27.125 computationalists and humanists


A rather hesitant offering to the debate from the point of view of the
digital archivist here:

http://humanitiesunderground.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/the-digital-object-of-desire/

criticism. etc most welcome.

Amlan Das Gupta


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Amlan Dasgupta
Professor, Department of English
Director, School of Cultural Texts and Records
Jadavpur University
Kolkata 700032, India
+91-33-24146681



--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2013 10:08:21 -0400 (EDT)
        From: lachance at chass.utoronto.ca
        Subject: town and gown

Willard,

I have been imagining the mapping of the computationist/humanist
distinction onto a town/gown distribution....

Subscribers to Humanist might be interested in efforts to foster public
appreciation for the work of Social Science and Humanities scholars.

See this brief article in the Globe and Mail.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/academic-conference-brings-community-to-campus/article12437742/

Academic conference brings community to campus
by James Bradshwo
The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Jun. 07 2013.

Enjoy.





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