[Humanist] 27.404 what to call it

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Oct 5 08:29:06 CEST 2013


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 404.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org



        Date: Fri, 4 Oct 2013 06:41:58 -0600
        From: Michael Burden <mburden at ualberta.ca>
        Subject: Re:  27.399 what to call it
        In-Reply-To: <20131004082318.CB3C33A3A at digitalhumanities.org>


The focus on the "confluence of ideas" as virus-like opens the question of
why are some people in some times more susceptible to "infection". Were
Church, Turing, et al all exposed to the same infected individual, or were
their defences weakened (by all concentrating on a similar problem) so that
infections available to everyone happened to hit them particularly?

Looking at other examples, I think there may be a decent argument for the
latter, which suggests that although confluence of ideas may spread with a
rate similar to a virus, it is not a matter of studying network
transmission of ideas, but rather of seeing how susceptibility (to ideas)
is increased by, say, changes in the technological or social landscape.

For example, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace both simultaneously
published ideas concerning evolution. And although they were both in
contact before that publication, I'd argue that the real reason for this
confluence is the British Navy allowing scientists aboard its vessels, and
protecting a trade system that allowed other vessels to follow its example.

Newton and Leibniz both independently discovered calculus. For Newton, part
of this can be attributed to the fact that he was one of the first people
to have a way of measuring seconds accurately, and so his practical
measurements of movement yielded analyzable data that led him toward the
need for a calculus. But they were both living in a time when ancient
mathematical works had been disseminated, absorbed and were at last being
challenged. So there did not need to be any first-, second- or third-
degree network between them, since the whole field had shifted.

The development of the telephone, photograph and flight (among others)
appear in hindsight to have similarity to the confluence of ideas: in each
the official inventor can have their claim disputed by others who were at a
similar point of success. But common to these is the need in many
technological discoveries for a combination of vital elements. Someone with
four of the five element might make a telephone that almost works, or a
plane that almost flies. Again there need be no direct link between the
disputing parties, but by focusing on an long-established problem and using
tools available in recent times to "all",  they find the right combination.

And in a different field that has impacted academia more that it ought: was
it a sudden infection that caused large numbers of people to sell stocks on
September 29th 2008? Rather it was a gradual change in the financial
landscape, and the repeated signalling of problems with increased frequency
over the past six months, that lead to a sudden herd movement.

Michael Burden

On Fri, Oct 4, 2013 at 2:23 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 399.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>
>   [1]   From:    Peta Mitchell <peta.mitchell at uq.edu.au>
>   (27)
>         Subject: Re:  27.394 what to call it
>
>   [2]   From:    Arianna Ciula <ariannaciula at gmail.com>
>   (8)
>         Subject: Re:  27.394 what to call it
>
>   [3]   From:    "Dr. Hartmut Krech" <kr538 at zfn.uni-bremen.de>
>   (23)
>         Subject: Re: [Humanist] 27.394 what to call it
>
>   [4]   From:    orlandi at rmcisadu.let.uniroma1.it
>  (13)
>         Subject: Re: [Humanist] 27.398 confluence of ideas in 1936
>
>
>
> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>         Date: Thu, 3 Oct 2013 06:57:45 +0000
>         From: Peta Mitchell <peta.mitchell at uq.edu.au>
>         Subject: Re:  27.394 what to call it
>         In-Reply-To: <20131003055137.6DA40309A at digitalhumanities.org>
>
>
> Dear Willard
>
> So my question: who has written best about this sort of thing, and what
> has he or she called it?
>
> At the risk of being seen to blow my own horn, I have written about this
> sort of thing—though I can't say I have written best about it—in my recent
> book Contagious Metaphor. Network theory has explicitly been framed in
> terms of (social) contagion going back to Gabriel Tarde in the late
> nineteenth century, so the two metaphors/concepts have been linked for a
> substantial period of time. This has become particularly evident in the
> "viral" network theory espoused by Jussi Parikka, Eugene Thacker, and Tony
> Sampson, among others, but it's also apparent in Dawkins's meme theory,
> which posits a networked form of thought contagion. None of this is
> particularly new, though, because notions of the contagion of example, or
> contagious influence, go back at least as far as classical theories of
> mimesis, which are themselves implicitly tied to the figure of Dionysus,
> the god of mimetic contagion. Other relevant texts might be Bruno Latour's
> Reassembling the Social, in which he discusses the ambiguity surrounding
> the notion of the network (and his debt to Tarde's social contagion and
> network theories) and Derrida's "Rhetoric of Drugs" essay, in which he
> talks about the "parasitology" and "virology" that is at the heart of his
> "matrix" of work.
>
> I hope this is relevant and useful.
>
> Regards,
> Peta.
>
>





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