[Humanist] 27.463 models of computation

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Oct 24 09:30:57 CEST 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 463.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 23 Oct 2013 23:12:43 +0100
        From: Arianna Ciula <ariannaciula at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  27.458 models of computation
        In-Reply-To: <20131023075757.BF75B7680 at digitalhumanities.org>

On Wed, Oct 23, 2013 at 8:57 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 458.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Tue, 22 Oct 2013 09:52:32 -0500
>         From: Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>
>         Subject: Re:  27.453 models of computation
>         In-Reply-To: <20131022080236.244F176B3 at digitalhumanities.org>
> Arianna has an excellent question, and I'd like to propose some answers
> to the question:
> So, I guess, the real question is, is what way would the lens of
> computing be different from other lenses if at all?

I think my question is - provocatively but also genuinely - unsettling (but
thanks for the 'excellent'!). While being focused on defining and
demonstrating the unicity of the lens of computing (in digital humanities
this is part of the discourse for the raison d'être and survival of the
discipline), it seems to me that we tend to overlook (or deliberately
ignore?) the similarities with other imaginative practices of assembling
'toolkits' to find patterns in human production and the world at large.

> First, forgive me for answering a slightly different question which is a
> bit broader. My justification for this is that what underlies computing is
> mathematical reasoning, which provides for an approach to see and 
> use "patterns". Patterns and models occupy similar space.
> Revised Question: In what way would the lens of "modelling"  be different
> from others lenses if at all?
> ..............
> Modelling provides for an abstract way of looking at the world. Through
> modelling, we therefore see patterns of similarity.  In my work, I tend to
> focus on scale models, as well as models of information/data/knowledge,
> dynamics/behavior, and shape. Being able to model gives one a
> strong toolkit for finding patterns of relation, behavior, and shape among
> other characteristics. Computing as a discipline covers all of these
> models in different forms. Behind "code" one finds the system model of
> behavior (input, output, function, state, event). I find this way of
> thinking, this lens, to be more fundamental and relevant to non-CS than 
> learning how to code in Python or Java.

Of course I was thinking of modelling too, the process rather than the
results, the formalisation rather than the processing per se.
I find interesting how your definition of modelling narrows down, but I
find even more interesting how it anchors to 'broad' terms (abstract,
mathematical reasoning, way of thinking).

What isn't modelling? In the continuum from chaos to self-identity where is
the lens of modelling in computing terms?

Is digital humanities unique in its practice and research strategy? Other
scholarship in the humanities and sciences has passed/passes via the
experimental and the formal: in what way is the experimental and the formal
done with computing different and similar?

I don't really have an answer to all this, otherwise I wouldn't have asked
the question, but I suspect that in digital humanities our challenge is to
shift the lens up the scale, to embrace the experimental nature of
modelling at the lower level of the scale (e.g. in computing coding) and
see indeed how it scales up (how do we do critical scholarship with/via

I realise this might seem all very lofty and abstract, but it is not by
chance that in my previous message I quoted some juicy references grounded
on (but flying beyond)  cartography and history of art: while text (t e x
t) might elude the complexity of its own form, visual artefacts (works of
art, maps) tend to be more opaque to abstraction. But they have been
deconstructed. The techniques revealed with other techniques (sometimes
specular; e.g. Hockney replicates Brunelleschi's panel, experiments with
optical projections to test and falsify hypothesis about how paintings were
constructed, finds the breaches that enrich his thesis and learns/teaches
us new things, or rather to see old things in different ways).

Can we do in digital humanities what scholars do/have done with other
techniques? Is modelling in computing going to lift our way of seeing and
therefore thinking to another level? I think your answer implies that it
does. But what level of analysis can we reach?

Is formal modelling 'only' didactically useful or does it provide us -
first hand - with generative structures to make sense of ourselves? We know
in the techno-sciences formalism (in mathematical formulas as well as
embedded in telescopes hardware and software) is indeed a sine qua non to
interpret the world out there.

I confess the Busa lecture by Willard (on YouTube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTHa1rDR680 but better read than heard) 
must have affected my directions of thinking here quite a bit.
I guess to be experimental in the way described above (e.g. doing a
critique of digital art passing by the building of digital models) we would
need to know more about how digital technologies are used by artists,
writers, cultural industries and the like.

And I guess to be consistent, we would have to study how modelling
(intended here in strongly formalised terms - lower end of the scale, but
also in yet less formalised terms - upper level of the scale) affects the
whole spectrum of human production and thinking, including the

Of course many are doing scholarship via more or less formalised modelling.
I miss the connections, the patterns.


More information about the Humanist mailing list