[Humanist] 31.192 'computational'; all-or-nothing logic

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Jul 21 07:11:19 CEST 2017


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 192.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    "William L. Benzon" <bbenzon at mindspring.com>              (33)
        Subject: Re:  31.187 'computational'?

  [2]   From:    "William L. Benzon" <bbenzon at mindspring.com>              (54)
        Subject: Re:  31.175 the all-or-nothing logic of socio-political
                life?


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2017 07:09:51 -0400
        From: "William L. Benzon" <bbenzon at mindspring.com>
        Subject: Re:  31.187 'computational'?
        In-Reply-To: <20170719101714.F2BCE1C89 at digitalhumanities.org>


Dear Willard,

What’s at stake here? I find the idea of computation generally useful, but the question of whether or not the mind is a computer strikes me as sterile and all-but meaningless. I realize that the question has been subject to vigorous debate for several decades, and I do look at those debates every now and then. But I don’t find them particularly compelling. They don’t seem to advance my understanding of the problems that particularly interest me.

[snip]

> .... I wish to be 
> confrontational about this assumption -- without for one moment spurning 
> the fascinating work going on in cognitive science. I want 'as if' to be 
> inscribed in large, bold letters above that house so that everyone knows 
> it's seriously playful toys that are being made there, not, at long 
> last, reality being glimpsed just around the next corner (or perhaps the 
> one after that, or the one after that…).

Is it that you think that, in general, all human knowledge is ‘as if’ or do you think that in some arenas reality is actually "being glimpsed just around the next corner”, but no, not this one. NOT this one!

> And here's a test. Read John Tooby's and Leda Cosmides' Foreword to 
> Simon Baron-Cohen's Mindblind: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind 
> (1995), then do a self-assessment of your cognitive equilibrium. For the 
> convenience of those here who are curious, I reproduce as an attachment 
> (below) a paragraph from this Foreword.
> 
> What struck me about this paragraph when I first read it, and what 
> strikes me still, is how close it comes to something I might write if I 
> had their command of their field. How vividly it thus brings out, at least 
> for me, the differences -- what I would not write. The crucial word is 
> 'computational'.

Here’s the last sentence in the paragraph, the only one with “computational” in it: “These and a host of other factors alerted psychologists to the necessity for- and to the actuality of-a vast nonconscious realm of evolved, specialized, computational problem solvers that construct and interpret the world.” When I read that I don’t give any particular attention to “computational”. For better or worse, it’s a way of speaking. Moreover, as I remember the book – it’s been years since I read it – it’s arguments are not computational in any interesting sense. There’s a lot of interesting empirical evidence, about behavior, about the brain, and there’s talk about modules – which is, I suppose, authorized by the idea of computation. That’s pretty much it as I recall. But I also felt that Baron-Cohen had presented enough interesting evidence that a reader could use it in different arguments (I rather dislike the idea of Theory of Mind).

If you’re inclined to strike “computational” from that sentence, what would you put in its place?

Let me offer you another passage. This is from Ulric Neisser, Cognition and Reality (W H Freeman, 1976): "... the activities of the computer itself seemed in some ways akin to cognitive processes. Computers accept information, manipulate symbols, store items in “memory” and retrieve them again, classify inputs, recognize patterns, and so on. Whether they do these things just like people was less important than that they do them at all. The coming of the computer provided a much-needed reassurance that cognitive processes were real; that they could be studied and perhaps understood” (pp. 5-6). That seemed about right to me back then, 40 years ago, and it still does.

Bill Benzon
bbenzon at mindspring.com

646-599-3232

http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/  http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/
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--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2017 09:53:17 -0400
        From: "William L. Benzon" <bbenzon at mindspring.com>
        Subject: Re:  31.175 the all-or-nothing logic of socio-political life?
        In-Reply-To: <20170713052530.9D605698E at digitalhumanities.org>


If you’re wondering whether or not the digital foundations of modern media technology is somehow responsible, that seems doubtful to me, Willard. All-or-nothing threshold effects are wide-spread in the world and predate modern digital technology.

BB

> On Jul 13, 2017, at 1:25 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
> 
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 175.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
> 
> 
> 
>        Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2017 14:23:16 +0100
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: differences the digital has made
> 
> 
> You'd never know it from the title, "Reasons for Corbyn" (referring to 
> the leader of the U.K. Labour Party) but the article by William Davies 
> in the latest London Review of Books, 39.14 for 13 July, has much of 
> interest to say about the effects of the "new media ecology" on our 
> public and private lives. See https://www.lrb.co.uk/ for the entire 
> article.
> 
> What caught my eye in particular was the following, in reference to the 
> conditions established by this ecology, under which
> 
>> public credibility depends on boundless sincerity and obsessive 
>> consistency, as well as a disregard for the way one is seen by 
>> others.
> 
> It caused me to wonder whether the two qualities named distantly 
> reflect the conditions of digital representation, as I see them: 
> absolutely consistency and complete explictness, or as von Neumann said, 
> the "all-or-nothing logic" of the digital machine.
> 
> Comments?
> 
> Yours,
> WM
> 
> -- 
> Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
> Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney
> University and North Carolina State University; Editor,
> Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20)


Bill Benzon
bbenzon at mindspring.com

646-599-3232

http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/  http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/
http://www.facebook.com/bill.benzon  http://www.facebook.com/bill.benzon
http://www.flickr.com/photos/stc4blues/  http://www.flickr.com/photos/stc4blues/
https://independent.academia.edu/BillBenzon <https://independent.academia.edu/BillBenzon>
http://www.bergenarches.com/#image1  http://www.bergenarches.com/#image1





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