[Humanist] 28.243 silent response to digital hubris

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Aug 5 19:12:51 CEST 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 243.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 4 Aug 2014 14:20:16 -0400
        From: Francois Lachance <lachance at chass.utoronto.ca>
        Subject: Righteousness as Guide Re: [Humanist] 28.232 silent response to digital hubris
        In-Reply-To: <20140725152907.0D7D06255 at digitalhumanities.org>


In Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 232, you muse about digital 
hubris and ask "Is there with respect to academic work a righteousness we 
can respect?" I think the answer is yes. I look to not sources of 
righteousness but its function. In this I am guided by the analogy of the 
blind person orienting herself in space. I invite you and the readers of 
Humanist to make the leap to humanites computing via this excerpt from 
Alexandra Horowitz _On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes_.


So here I committed a cardinal walking-with-the-blind sin: I tried to 
guide her. I reached out, about to grab Gordon's arm to prevent this 
inevitable progress into the wall. Barely restraining myself, I managed to 
plainly offer, "Um, you're swerving to your left quite a bit. You've about 
a quarter of the sidewalk left before..."

Gordon was unfazed. "If I go too far, I'll hit the building. But I know 
where I am."

I couldn't be convinced. "... And now you're pretty close to hitting the 
side of the building..."

She stopped and seemed to look at me steadily, then resumed walking. True 
to her word, she went ahead and banged right into the building with her 
cane. Gordon's cane tapped a quick pattern on the wall and sidewalk, a 
perfunctory petting of an unbeloved animal. Then she smoothly righted 
herself, turning just enough to take a path parallel to the building's 

Gordon had deliberately veered, I realized, in order to get a reference 
point. Out of the sea of the middle of the sidewalk, she headed for 
something tangible that could give her her bearings.

I was at least in good company in my overweening desire to help her avoid 
bodily injury. People grab her all the time as she approaches buildings, 
Gordon said. But they, and I, were simply not seeing how _she_ was seeing 
the space. She was aiming to run into the building, not trying to avoid 

"It's not an obstacle at all, is it?" I asked. "It's something you're using 
to navigate the space."

"Exactly." Gordon smiled, continuing on a perfectly parallel course.

After proposing this analogy, I would answer your question about respect 
for righteousness with a reminder that as a collective enterprise research 
needs its blind and its naive guides: it's how the group can orient and 
reorient itself.

Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large

to think is often to sort, to store and to shuffle: humble, embodied tasks

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