[Humanist] 24.827 refiguring the human & literature

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Mar 30 07:20:04 CEST 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 827.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>                       (128)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.825 refiguring the human & literature?

  [2]   From:    Richard Lewis <richard.lewis at gold.ac.uk>                  (40)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.825 refiguring the human & literature?

        Date: Tue, 29 Mar 2011 12:45:57 -0700
        From: Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.825 refiguring the human & literature?
        In-Reply-To: <20110329072108.0BDB3121369 at woodward.joyent.us>

I wonder whatever can be meant by a material universe "being" "fundamentally
statistical"?  I have always assemed statistics means playing with numbers,
and numbers are, I suppose, an epiphenomenon of language or thought.
My son calls the other day to talk about his 3rd child, Felix, now 22 months
old.  Felix, sitting on his lap an hour earlier, points to his little water
bottle on the table and says,  *My bottle.  *Points to another standing
beside it, and says, *My bottle.   *Then, cheerfully adds,  *1 bottle
and  *2 bottle.   *... I have 2 bottles.
My son, a computer engineer, is flabbergasted.  That is his universe, and
that statement is a statistic of a sort — his two bottles.  But...the
universe a statistic?

When astronomers measure and describe, distances from our standpoint and
objects, they are not measuring statistics.  I will grant, in this matter,
that we, for instance hare composed of quanta which themselves subsist based
upon bosons and such particles that flash through quarks inside our atoms,
and have but momentary "existence."  That might be measured in terms of
statistics, but they themselves as observed are not statistics.  Or so this
writer or poems assumes.  Better, let me add a letter no newspaper, being
run by maniac egoists, would publish, even for the humor of it.  As follows,
in once instance:

September 2, 2010
Letters to the Editor
Clear-headed and temperate John Kay believes “The essence of a right is that
it overrides consideration of pros and cons … of benefits or … costs.” [“Not
all rights should be defended to the death,” 1 September]  Temperate, yes;
clear-headed?  That requires further thought.  Yes, that right is inherent
to the strong is an ancient adage: “Vae victis,” a phrase in Livy — Woe to
the vanquished! — earlier expressed by Thucydides, who knew it from Homer or
from Hesiod’s parable of the Hawk and the Nightingale.   Nevertheless the
problem is profoundly deeper when viewed through a scientific perspective.
This year a startling DNA discovery was published.  It seems the bugs that
inhabit the globe — they also constitute 90% of our corporeal constitution —
are not only “creatures,” but have the “ability to sense when they have
sufficient numbers to attack.”  According to microbial geneticist Bonnie
Bassler, they are “stripped down versions of us.”  In short, we are au fond
complexly-swollen, aggregated versions of many kinds of bacteria who devour
whatever when concentrated strongly, but also our t00-familiar, implacable
enemy, E.coli.  A mortally-infected person has no Right to Life.  All
"Rights" derive from Law, but Power makes Law.  Not only is all fair in Love
and War. In short, anything goes.
Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA
Santa Monica, CA 310.393.4648

Jascha Kessler
Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA
Telephone/Facsimile: 310.393.4648

        Date: Tue, 29 Mar 2011 21:56:10 +0100
        From: Richard Lewis <richard.lewis at gold.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.825 refiguring the human & literature?
        In-Reply-To: <20110329072108.0BDB3121369 at woodward.joyent.us>

At Tue, 29 Mar 2011 08:18:24 +0100 (GMT),
Willard McCarty wrote:
> As far as I can tell Sigmund Freud was the first in recent history to 
> make a list of those great ideas that have forced our kind to refigure 
> who and what we are. In his "Eighteenth Lecture", published in A General 
> Introduction to Psychoanalysis (trans G. Stanley Hall, pub 1920), he 
> refers to his own work in the context of Copernican cosmology and 
> Darwinian evolution as the "most irritating insult... flung at the human 
> mania of greatness” (246f). Today that list seems rather more crowded. 
> We should certainly put Turing-machine computation on it -- which 
> includes, or should include, everything we digital humanists do 
> professionally, I should think.

Not exactly an answer to your question, but you may be interested to
know that Luciano Floridi uses Freud's revolutions to introduce his
own "fourth revolution", that of information. He categorises both
minds and machines as "information organisms" or "inforgs" and in
doing so, he argues, removes yet another apparently exclusively human
property. Much of Floridi's work deals with the ethics of information,
asking what is right action for an inforg, a being which is in
possession of information.

(I heard Floridi speak on this topic at a lecture at Goldsmiths' in
2009, so I'm not sure what is the best citation to give. Google
returns numerous references to a netcast lecture including some
feedback and comments. It also seems that a book, The Fourth
Revolution - The Impact of Information and Communication Technologies
on Our Lives (Oxford University Press, under contract), is

Richard Lewis
ISMS, Computing
Goldsmiths, University of London
Tel: +44 (0)20 7078 5134
Skype: richardjlewis
JID: ironchicken at jabber.earth.li

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