[Humanist] 31.131 unrecognised

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Jun 25 10:15:06 CEST 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 131.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Henry Schaffer <hes at ncsu.edu>                             (83)
        Subject: Re:  31.127 unrecognised

  [2]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (68)
        Subject: mathematics, history, philosophy, the humanities

        Date: Sat, 24 Jun 2017 16:26:10 -0400
        From: Henry Schaffer <hes at ncsu.edu>
        Subject: Re:  31.127 unrecognised
        In-Reply-To: <20170624061928.346DA19E4 at digitalhumanities.org>

Paul Fishwick brings up a fascinating question which is not restricted to
the humanities. First I'll claim that "mathematics" is not one area!
Perhaps it comprises one approach, but has a multitude of divisions and
specializations. I'm working on a research problem which could be
considered to be part of the humanities and I needed to better understand
one small area of graph theory - and I'm truly innocent of graph theory.

After some reading I went to a math prof colleague and started to ask my
first question and was immediately interrupted, "Thank goodness that I've
never had to deal with graph theory!"

So I dug back into journal articles and books - and found myself trying to
straddle the differences between "graph theory" and "graph algorithms". I
thought I solved my computational problem and went to a computer science
prof colleague who teaches a data structures course - and got a quick
helpful answer regarding my algorithmic approach. (Is computer science
math? :-)

The motive for this long story is to give a case of when "digital xyz"
isn't so much "a creative investigation on how mathematics can be included
in" xyz, as how in working on xyz one can (and should) use any area of math
(and computer science) which is appropriate. So my opinion is that while
Moretti's work is inspiring, he's overselling the digital approach - for
certainly we need *both* "close" and "distant" reading, not only one of

Therefore an education in the humanities should include some amount of math
and computer science. Hmm, our engineers and math curricula include
humanities courses.

--henry schaffer

On Sat, Jun 24, 2017 at 2:19 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 127.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Fri, 23 Jun 2017 10:52:02 -0500
>         From: Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>
>         Subject: Re:  31.126 unrecognised
>         In-Reply-To: <20170623055642.ADA661A9B at digitalhumanities.org>
> Dear Willard
>  To what extent is the digital humanities a creative investigation on how
> mathematics can
> be included in the humanities? Moretti’s book takes this issue and puts it
> on the front cover:
> Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. Moretti is
> essentially
> creating an interpretation of the humanities which is guided partially by
> inclusion of
> mathematical thought. The tools employed by digital humanists can be
> viewed as applied
> mathematics underneath the layers of software and user interfaces. To see
> this, we need to
> move beyond the “tool fallacy” (that digital humanities is only about
> enhancing the
> humanities through digital tools). Behind the tool, we find mathematics
> and it seeps out.
>  Jumping to your last paragraph, I completely agree - there is far too
> little acknowledgment
> of a true interaction. For example, consider Moretti’s thesis. Maybe we
> can embark on
> a new education on abstract mathematical structures (e.g., trees) within
> the humanities?
> The humanities becomes a natural gateway for such exposition. Isn’t that
> what is really
> going on in the digital humanities, and not just a tool fetish.
> -paul
> Paul Fishwick, PhD
> Distinguished University Chair of Arts, Technology, and Emerging
> Communication
> Professor of Computer Science
> Director, Creative Automata Laboratory
> The University of Texas at Dallas
> Arts & Technology
> 800 West Campbell Road, AT10
> Richardson, TX 75080-3021
> Home: utdallas.edu/atec/fishwick
> Blog 1: medium.com/@metaphorz

        Date: Sun, 25 Jun 2017 08:46:56 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: mathematics, history, philosophy, the humanities
        In-Reply-To: <20170624061928.346DA19E4 at digitalhumanities.org>

Paul's comments on mathematics in our context(s) are welcome indeed. Doors
are opened. Graphs, maps and trees as mathematical structures, behind which
"we find mathematics and it seeps out". There's some unpicking of the
metaphors to be done here, but the directions of travel are promising.

True, many of us, for reasons difficult to figure, are so frightened of or
put off by or indifferent to mathematics (take your pick) that walking
through those doors to see what is on the other side is unappealing or
worse. One fears (as Medieval and Early Modern practitioners sometimes did)
charges of evil mathesis. But we must be brave. And there is help nearby. I
don't mean elementary geometry or algebra, nor even such approachable
sources as Timothy Gowers' Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction (OUP
2002), rather the anthropological and historical writings. On the
anthropological side are the many cross-cultural studies of
ethnomathematics, such as Marcia Ascher's Mathematics Elsewhere: An
Exploration of Ideas Across Cultures (Princeton 2002). Then there's G. E. R.
Lloyd's many studies of Greek and Chinese science, Raviel Netz's The Shaping
of Deduction in Greek Mathematics (CUP 1999), his Ludic Proof: Greek
Mathematics and the Alexandrian Aesthetic (CUP 2009) and especially -- read
it tonight! -- Ian Hacking's Why is There a Philosophy of Mathematics At
All? (CUP 2014). Game changers.

Let me try to get beyond the bibliographic pile-up. In brief and gross terms
what these and several others do is to turn an imagined wall into what the
Welsh and Scots (and Marilyn Strathern) call 'borderlands', for mathematics
rendering it visible in all its historical-cultural-philosophical
contingency. Among other good questions Hacking asks why it is that we call
so many different practices and ways of thinking, over so many centuries and
across so many cultures, 'mathematics'?  Take, for example, the connection
made by Leibniz and the French Jesuit mathématicien du roi Joachim Bouvet
between the former's binary calculus and the ancient Chinese Yijing (see
e.g. http://leibniz-bouvet.org/).

All this is important for us, I think, because we have a problem
understanding in our own terms what computing is that it can be so
successful in so many unexpected places. Historian of computing Michael
Mahoney, esp in "Computer Science: The Search for a Mathematical Theory" (in
Histories of Computing, 2011) notes that some very bright people, such as
John McCarthy, have been convinced that computing is fundamentally
mathematical, but then asks Hacking's question in a somewhat different way:
what kind of mathematics is it? Ask this question in those
historical-cultural-philosophical borderlands and we find many people, with
much help to offer, to talk to.

I'm not pretending that the conversations are easy to start or maintain. The
mathematico-engineering side of computing many people find so difficult to
face that they end up arguing it doesn't matter or, more revealingly, that
it doesn't matter as long as the 'engineering works' (a British English term
for e.g. repairs to the train tracks) are done without inconvenience. In his own, 
rather different context Netz uses the handy term 'banausic' ("Merely mechanical, 
proper to a mechanic", OED) to characterise the class-based distinction 
anxiously made by the mathematicians of ancient Athens to distance themselves 
from the merely practical, demotic users of mathematics and so to defend their 
status among the elite:

>  what is clear is the estrangement between the theoretical and the
> practical, and undoubtedly this estrangement is on the whole due to
> what may be called the banausic anxiety of the ancient upper classes --
> to whom... the mathematicians belonged.

Mutatis mutandis the same today in our academy.

Digital humanists (as Paul said) need to outgrow the tool fetish -- and the
twittering/facebooking effects-on-society fetish. Let us hope (as Donna 
Haraway writes in a letter to the latest London Review of Books), for more 
"real conversation... in which no one has the answers, but everyone joins 
in love and rage to work together.... in Angela Davis's idiom, in generative 
conflict and collaboration in overlapping but non-identical idioms and histories."

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)

More information about the Humanist mailing list