[Humanist] Programming for us

Willard McCarty willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Sep 23 01:41:26 CEST 2010

The following questions may seem rather naive. I left programming so long ago that the languages I wrote in are likely to be barely recognizable by name. And the programming practices (those we were taught as canonical) are even less likely to be familiar.

First, what is it like to work in an environment such as is provided by the iPad or similar device? How does one think about the task in hand as the task-performer conceives it? What does one take for granted? What are the limitations imposed by the system, and how does one get around them or use them to reshape the task?

Second, how in general does one go about programming these days? Are there more or less standard ways of working? How much of what one can say on this topic would be of benefit if communicated to those who use our tools and do not write programs? Are there good books on "algorithmic thinking" (as a colleague of mine calls it)? How would you like to see the world educated as to what you do?

Morgan Tamplin, a colleague at Trent University (Canada), once wisely formulated the key to understanding what our machines are for as learning to see one's object of study "as data" -- or, I like to say, "as if it were only data". The American anthropologist Pascal Boyer speaks of different modes of reasoning, one of them "scientific", the other "erudite" (as in the humanities), best if they cohabit in the same mind. Tamplin's "as data" and the humanist scholar's native mode likewise.



Professor Willard McCarty

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