[Humanist] 29.50 scholars and zealots

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri May 22 07:17:57 CEST 2015

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 50.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 21 May 2015 18:55:58 +0900
        From: Robert B Allen <rba at boballen.info>
        Subject: Re:  29.45 scholars and zealots  (Community modeling)
        In-Reply-To: <20150521054428.87FBAC29 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

You  may be interested in some of my work on "Community Models".  

Allen, R.B. and Chu, YM., Towards a Full-Text Historical Digital
Library, ICADL, LNCS 8839, 2014, 218-226, 

Chu, Y.M., and Allen. R.B., Structured Descriptions of Roles,
Activities, and Procedures in the Roman Constitution, IRCDL, 2015,

Allen, R.B., and Chu, Y.M., Architectures for Complex Semantic Models,
IEEE Conference on Big Data and Smart Computing, Feb. 2015,

Allen, R.B., Toward an Interactive Directory for Norfolk, Nebraska:
1899-1900, IFLA Newspaper and Genealogy Section Meeting, Singapore, Aug
2013. arXiv:1308.5395, IFLA,

Bob Allen

On Thu, May 21, 2015, at 02:44 PM, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 45.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Wed, 20 May 2015 07:10:01 +0100
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>         Subject: scholars and zealots
> I take John Bonnett's point about some fine and interesting work in
> agent-based modelling for the historical disciplines -- and his
> well-chosen
> biblical analogy. Generative social science (Joshua Epstein's term) and
> simulation done in the agent-based style show great promise for many
> areas
> of research that concern us. Considering a regular pattern of behaviour,
> the
> generativist's question (in Epstein's words, "How could the decentralized
> local interactions of heterogeneous autonomous agents generate the given
> regularity?") is a powerful one. This has been clear for the social
> sciences
> from the time of Thomas Schelling's "Models of Segregation" in 1969, and
> indeed for literary studies from the initial efforts to simulate the
> writing
> of poetry, which began very early -- and spooked F. R. Leavis among
> others,
> thus showing that an important nerve had been touched. The work that 
> Epstein, Robert Axtell and others have done on the Anasazi (published 
> e.g. in PNAS 99.3) shows how successfully the Sadducees have been
> outwitted, agent-based work by Bogdanovych and others at Western Sydney
> likewise, indeed Bonnett's own work at Brock. In fact I am arguing now,
> in a
> forthcoming book chapter, that agent-based modelling is where our
> attention
> should be directed. 
> But in my effort to be brief and provocative I'm afraid I turned a blind
> eye
> to all that, meaning to pick out the techno-triumphalist chorus that does
> not adequately appreciate the difference between promise and fulfilment
> --
> and does not seem to know about the marvellously subversive
> counterfactual
> power of simulation. I'm concerned for the slippage between "as if" and
> "is". Treatment of literature or history *as if* it were a complex system
> (in the specific and technical sense) can very easily become the
> assumption
> that it *is* one. This slippage is, of course, nothing new. One of my
> favourite remarks on this slippage was tossed out casually in passing by
> the
> American neurophysiologist Ralph W. Gerard in 1951, at the Seventh Macy
> Conference on cybernetics:
> >  It seems to me, in looking back over the history of the group, that
> > we started our discussion in the "œas if" spirit. Everyone was
> > delighted to express any idea that came in his mind, whether it
> > seemed silly or certain or merely a stimulating guess that would
> > affect someone else. We explored possibilities for all sorts of
> > "˜ifs."™ Then, rather sharply, it seemed to me, we began to talk in an
> > "is"™ idiom. We were saying much the same things, but now saying them
> > as if they were so....
> For an assessment of what's been done in history, I'd point to Marten
> Düring, 
> "The Potential of Agent-Based Modelling for Historical Research", in Paul 
> A. Youngman and Mirsad Hadzikadic, eds., Complexity and
 the Human 
> Experience: Modeling Complexity in the Humanities and Social Sciences 
> (2014). He quotes archaeologist Jim Doran's telling comment:
> > As regards the future, there is a deep further difficulty that is all
> > too often overlooked. Distinctive human social structures and social
> > processes emerge from distinctive human cognition. But we do not yet
> > know how to model human cognition on a computer in other than
> > relatively superficial and oversimplified ways. Thus we cannot yet
> > experiment with the models that really matter: those that capture
> > more than simple routine cognitive behavior. Archaeology faces this
> > challenge as do all the social sciences. For help we need to look to
> > developments in artificial intelligence engineering and in cognitive
> > science modeling.
> I'd have us press on with as-if explorations but not lose the plot -- and
> so become zealots!
> 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

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