[Humanist] 22.427 innards

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Jan 7 07:34:48 CET 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 427.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 6 Jan 2009 15:07:57 -0600
        From: Stephen Ramsay <sramsay at unlserve.unl.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.425 printing, medicine and self-knowledge
        In-Reply-To: <20090106070146.87D782A5F0 at woodward.joyent.us>

On Jan 6, 2009, at 1:01 AM, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

> Sappol begins his catalogue with the observation that all of us,  
> however
> medically educated, if at all, carry around with us a mental map of  
> the
> inside of our bodies. Most of us know the names of our organs and at
> least approximately where they are. The difference this makes to how  
> we
> relate to the world is well brought out by the ecologist Paul  
> Shepard in
> his remarkable book The Others: How Animals Made Us Human (1996).  
> But, I
> suppose further, the degree to which our physiological self-knowledge
> was enhanced and intensified by the printing-press-enabled ideas of
> Vesalius must be very great indeed.

Consider, too, how an understanding of the innards of a computer  
changes one's relationship to it.

My students are usually astonished to discover how a register machine  
works, and their reaction is something like, "Is that all?"  Of  
course, it isn't all.  Computers, like bodies, are very complex  
things.  But when I work with computers, I am forever demystifying  
their innards in my mind -- re-schematizing them into abstract (and  
sometimes, quite concrete) models.  Always, I am saying to myself (as  
I say to my students): "It's a simple thing, really."

Joseph Campbell once remarked that he would have no trouble  
mythologizing the personal computer.  I don't think the wider culture  
does either, and I daily see examples of the mythopoetic computer  
being treated as the body once was: the site of strange energies and  
inscrutable movements.  We even refer to it using language mostly  
reserved for the strange and marvelous: web, cloud, ether, space . . .


Stephen Ramsay
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Center for Digital Research in the Humanities
University of Nebraska at Lincoln
PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11

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