[Humanist] 27.393 what to call it?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Oct 2 08:40:02 CEST 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 393.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 02 Oct 2013 07:26:03 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: what to call it?

I am hoping for a definite answer to this question, but discussion is 
also very welcome. Let me explain (for entertainment value, if nothing 
else) how the question arose this morning.

It arose from reading around, in this case, Richard J. McNally's "Fear, 
anxiety, and their disorders", in Fear across the Disciplines, ed. Jan 
Plamper and Benjamin Lazier (2012). After his survey of approaches to 
the disorders he considers one by one, McNally concludes thus:

> One of the most persistent problems in psychiatric nosology...
> concerns comorbidity [i.e. suffering from several mental disorders
> simultaneously]. For the sake of expositional clarity, I discussed
> each discrete syndrome as a self-contained categorical entity.... Yet
> most people suffering from one anxiety disorder qualify for others as
> well. Such rampant comorbidity has raised questions about whether a
> person who meets criteria for social anxiety disorder and GAD
> [Generalized Anxiety Disorder], for example, "really" has two
> distinct disorders or whether he or she suffers from some more
> fundamental entity, such as heightened negative affectivity, that
> manifests itself in diverse ways.... (p. 34)

McNally then goes on to say that recently some scientists in the 
University of Amsterdam have "cut the Gordian knot by reconceptualizing 
disorders as networks of functionally interrelated symptoms rather 
than inferred latent entities".

My immediate reaction to this was, yes, of course, but then I quickly 
began to wonder, why am I embracing the network solution so eagerly? In 
other words, why in an age of networking has a "network perspective" 
come about and has such appeal? Ok, the easy response is, we're now all 
thinking like that. But why? The usual deterministic narrative would 
tell us, it's be-cause we now have all these networks to interconnect 
us, and be-cause with all these resources online we spend our time 
networking their contents rather than pondering any particular source 
deeply. But other examples of many similar things happening at the same 
time (such as those 4 papers on effective calculability all done in 
1936, including Turing's, and in the same year as Charlie Chaplin's 
Modern Times) suggest that another metaphor might serve us better, such 
as, say, confluence or infection (as in ideas "going viral"). I confess: 
I keep wanting to ask, why are these rivulets flowing together, why do 
particular people succumb to the virus and not others?

So my question: who has written best about this sort of thing, and what 
has he or she called it?

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Research Group in Digital
Humanities, University of Western Sydney

More information about the Humanist mailing list