[Humanist] 29.190 novelty and kinships

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Jul 25 23:56:19 CEST 2015


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 190.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org



        Date: Fri, 24 Jul 2015 09:54:59 -0400
        From: Matthew Battles <matthew at metalab.harvard.edu>
        Subject: Re:  29.188 novelty and kinships?
        In-Reply-To: <20150723205508.D81166756 at digitalhumanities.org>


The Lopez quotes are evocative! They bring to mind my currently-favorite
William James quote, "Nature is but a name we give to excess"—a line I
picked up from the STS scholar John Law, who writes compellingly about the
dark abundance of natural and technical systems that is always overspilling
both the gubernatorial affordances of those systems and the epistemic
constraints of our classificatory acts. Excess, abundance, ineluctable
mystery—these long have been qualities to conjure with in the practices we
call the humanities, and we do well to rekindle our attention to them in
the context of the digital.

On Thu, Jul 23, 2015 at 4:55 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 188.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>
>
>
>         Date: Fri, 24 Jul 2015 06:44:39 +1000
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>         Subject: how new?
>
> Two passages from Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams (2014/1986) lead me to
> wonder just how new our basic insights are and to open our eyes a bit
> more to our intellectual kinships.
>
> (1)
> > The most remarkable thing... is that [polar bears and brown bears]
> > have become so different in such a short time. We call them both
> > "bears", but when you see a polar bear surface quietly in a lead,
> > focus its small brown eyes on a sleeping bearded seal, draw breath
> > soundlessly, and submerge without a ripple, you wonder at the
> > insouciance with which we name things. (p. 86)
>
> (2)
> > The desire to verify conjecture, to witness spontaneous, unstructured
> > events in the wild, is of course very sharp among field biologists.
> > Nothing -- no laboratory result or field-camp speculation -- can
> > replace the rich, complex texture, the credibility, of something that
> > takes place "out there". And scientists working in the field know
> > that what they see in the field always has the potential to
> > contradict what they have read or been told.... [Some events they
> > witness] may be of no *statistical* importance. It may not be
> > possible, in other words, to generalize about all bears from these
> > incidents. But such events emphasize the resourcefulness of the
> > individual bear and the range of capability in the species; or they
> > may reveal and unusual technique widespread only in a certain
> > population. These events underscore something critical in the biology
> > of large predators: the range of capability in the species. No matter
> > how long you watch, you will not see all it can do. (p. 96)
>
> The first provokes me to reflect on the insouciance, as he says, of our
> classificatory activities, such as markup, and how easily awareness of
> that insouciance is lost in the pride of engineering, the second on the
> ever-present peril of being lead by the genuine successes of big-data
> analysis away from the "range of capability", which is to say, the
> exceptions to statistical rule in the populations we study.
>
> Field biologists and digital humanists have a fair bit in common, I
> conclude.
>
> Comments?
>
> Yours,
> WM
>
> --
> Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
> Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
> Group, University of Western Sydney

-- 
matthew battles
associate director, metaLAB (at) harvard  http://metalab.harvard.edu/
fellow, berkman center for internet and society
 http://cyber.law.harvard.edu
twitter = @matthewbattles  http://twitter.com/matthewbattles





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