[Humanist] 29.580 reality in bits?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Dec 24 11:36:19 CET 2015

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 580.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 23 Dec 2015 08:59:10 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: reality in bits

Philosopher and physicist Mario Bunge (1919--) writes at the beginning 
of Chasing Reality: Strife over Realism (Toronto 2006),

> Nowadays billions of us spend long hours watching screens of various
> kinds. But of course we all know that the most interesting and
> important facts and ideas are behind screens. This is why we look for
> objective fact behind appearance, for cause or chance below event,
> for mechanism behind behaviour, and for system and pattern underneath
> particulars. All these tasks require rigorous imagination --“ in
> particular, disciplined fiction rather than myth making. Although we
> are immersed in reality, our knowledge of it is not immediate.

As our screens are able in ever higher resolution to present the effects 
of ever faster and more clever digital processes, we are ever more 
compellingly lured away from enquiring "behind appearance", as Bunge 
says, even to the point of arguing that what happens in that behind and 
beneath is irrelevant -- that how the engineering is done, and what that 
engineering does in presenting these appearances to us, do not matter. 
We drift away to ask other questions, to ask what people do with the 
appearances they are given, without questioning how they were fashioned, 
what sort of choices were made, what bits of reality were left out 
because they could not be re-presented. We fall prey once again to the 
"post-" malady, to yet another "turn", by which that which came before 
is chopped off and forgotten.

To what extent, then, is digital humanities becoming the victim of the 
anti-historical force of technological progress? The rhetoric of 
revolution casts the past as that which must be overcome. There is some 
sense in that, I think. But does "overcome" have to mean "discarded, 


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

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