[Humanist] 23.140 are we going somewhere?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Jul 8 07:32:22 CEST 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 140.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 07 Jul 2009 09:50:43 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: going somewhere?

I recommend to anyone who is feeling bad about the condition of his or her
discipline, especially the one we share, reading an article by the
psychologist and cyberneticist Heinrich Klüver, "Psychology at the
beginning of World War II: Meditations on the impending dismemberment of
psychology written in 1942", Journal of Psychology 28 (1949): 383-410 (in
JSTOR). In particular his declaration "that psychology has travelled many
roads which led nowhere and that it is unique among the sciences in its
treasures of *negative* information" (400). Considering Clifford Geertz's
passionate description of the struggle to articulate theory in anthropology
as well, I wonder if we cannot lay at the door of the positivist conception
of science the sense that as one moves from the physical sciences to the
humanities negative replaces positive information as one's greatest
treasure? Or is the situation more complex, recalculated discipline by
discipline? So let me ask, in what disciplines of the humanities is positive
knowledge the point of the exercise?

Klüver quotes "the greatest of English physicists" (whom he does not name
-- Rutherford, perhaps?) "who, when asked what he thought of the respective
contributions of speculation and experiment to his science, replied: 'The
dogs bark, and the caravan moves on'" (385). That's a very old saying, it
turns out. But I wonder further whether we're on that caravan or not?


Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

More information about the Humanist mailing list