[Humanist] 25.360 simultaneous but divergent

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Oct 11 08:07:43 CEST 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 360.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (44)
        Subject: mathematics?

  [2]   From:    Desmond Schmidt <desmond.schmidt at qut.edu.au>              (24)
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 25.353 simultaneous but divergent

        Date: Mon, 10 Oct 2011 07:20:57 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: mathematics?

Bob Amsler has said,

> If one wants the computer to produce a new type of humanities, one
> shouldn't look to computing, but mathematics, for that answer. That
> is, a new humanities would require a mathematical theory of the
> humanities which then the computer could implement.

One problem surely is, what kind of mathematics would this be? I rely 
here on two of my favourite sources, Mike Mahoney (who in "Computer 
Science: The Search for a Mathematical Theory", argued that we don't 
know what this mathematics might look like) and Ian Hacking (who has 
been puzzling over how it is that we can call all those things by the 
singular noun "mathematics"). And (isn't it so?) computing has 
introduced a new kind, experimental mathematics, which Wikipedia informs 
me is, "that branch of mathematics that concerns itself ultimately with 
the codification and transmission of insights within the mathematical 
community through the use of experimental (in either the Galilean, 
Baconian, Aristotelian or Kantian sense) exploration of conjectures and 
more informal beliefs and a careful analysis of the data acquired in 
this pursuit." This quotation comes from "Experimental mathematics: A 
This, by the way, is a fascinating article. Take a look.

Another problem is (as someone else pointed out) that computing 
machinery, an open set of objects, can do many things, including complex 
simulations and, indeed, communications such as Humanist. Note the 
note on communication in the article on experimental mathematics, 
for example.

Apparently "the new humanities" can mean many things, and isn't so new. 
Google it and see, or not. YouTube's offering by Richard E. Miller 
(Rutgers), co-editor of The New Humanities Reader, begins with, "What 
we're trying to do ... is to imagine a humanities that all students 
would be interested in." The idea of education in that statement is 
worth unpicking, don't you think? But I suspect what Bob Amsler had in 
mind is the notion that in our hands digital tools and methods will 
change the humanities in some fundamental way. What about the humanities 
simultaneously changing computing in some other fundamental way? Isn't 
that half the story of what we're doing?


Professor Willard McCarty, Department of Digital Humanities, King's
College London; Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western
Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.isr-journal.org);
Editor, Humanist (www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

        Date: Mon, 10 Oct 2011 20:29:40 +1000
        From: Desmond Schmidt <desmond.schmidt at qut.edu.au>
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 25.353 simultaneous but divergent
        In-Reply-To: <20111008074756.56B141C6025 at woodward.joyent.us>

"the digital humanities has become disconnected (through its
preoccupation with the theology of the pointy bracket, and other marginal
issues) with wider humanities scholarship"

But has it? I can recall from my time as a classicist that there was a
yawning gap between the old school textual editing types and the new
school interpretative literary types. One sought to practise a
scientific method for editing a text, and the other saw the text as a
playing field for interpretation. So this divide between techies and
non-techies seems to me the same divide, just shifted in subject-matter.
Science vs hermeneutics.

I wonder if there are still any pure "humanists" out there who do not
consider themselves in any way to be "digital". Should we perhaps seek
to end this artifical divide between techie and non-techie humanists,
especially when the former continue to insist that applying pointy
brackets to a text is a form of interpretation? I think the fusion is
just incomplete and incoherent. One generation from now we may look back
on this era as one of confusion. I like the idea of a maths of the
humanities, establishing the basis through which interpretation can take
place. That seems to me a stable position towards which we are
unconsciously working.

Desmond Schmidt
Information Security Institute
Queensland University of Technology

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