[Humanist] 28.96 building plants and nurturing curiosity

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jun 9 03:19:33 CEST 2014

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 96.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 09 Jun 2014 10:28:11 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: building plants and nurturing curiosity

In the wake of the Queen's Birthday Honours List, a plant biologist, 
presumably someone on that list, was interviewed this morning on a 
Sydney news programme. She said two things that stuck in my mind: first 
that her research consisted of "building plants" for various beneficial 
purposes, second that she was strongly motivated to get children to be 
ever more curious about the natural world, to want to be scientists so 
that they could follow where that curiosity would lead them.

For the phrase "building plants" to become so common among biologists 
that it would be so casually used, without explanation in a public 
forum, is a cognitive sign of the times. It's a marker of a cultural 
change that, I would suppose, we technologically orientated sorts should 
pay a great deal of attention to. If plants can be built using the 
biological materials some (significantly) call "gene chips", then what 
about human cultural artefacts?

The second remark causes me to wonder why we seem to have considerably 
more trouble stirring up the curiosity of others by showing them what 
can be done with computing. Does the problem lie with a deep difference 
between natural and cultural artefacts? Why should an image in a 
microscope, say, be more interesting than a KWIC concordance? Is it 
because the latter, involving a text to which one has to be attuned, 
presents a much steeper learning curve?


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

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