[Humanist] 26.139 something as big as the Higgs

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jul 9 22:36:24 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 139.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 08 Jul 2012 10:26:36 -0500
        From: amsler at cs.utexas.edu
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.129 as head-turning as the Higgs boson? digitalbits in a dissertation?
        In-Reply-To: <20120705210218.1A84C284948 at woodward.joyent.us>

The simple answer is "the scientific method", which is the big divide  
sparating the digital humanities from the sciences--but that wouldn't  
close the gap between academic excellence and Nobel Prize level work  
(Level 1).

The secondary answer would thus be along the lines of "permanently  
changing the way something was thought about"; a paradigm shift (Level  

There is probably a third component, something well beyond Nobel Prize  
level thinking, and that's "affect the future of human survival",  
i.e., actually change whether people live or die (Level 3). It comes  
from the applications of a paradigm shift. The discovery that  
microscopic organisms were the basis for some diseases; the discovery  
of antibiotics; the discovery of the roles of vitamins in human  
health; the invention of dynamite (Nobel's own idea); splitting of the  
atom leading to the creation of nuclear weapons and nuclear medicine,  

For the digital humanities to achieve similar results (Level 2) there  
would first have to be a means of testing and refuting beliefs even to  
the use of 'control groups', 'double blind experiments', etc. It would  
have to mean that eloquent argument took a backseat to experimental  
and statistical proof. Measurement of physical phenomena would have to  
replace aesthetics. What an individual 'feels' would have to be proven  
to correlate with what some machine records or some mathematical  
formula provides as an result.

It is very odd to see a discipline within the humanities trying to  
fight its way out of the humanities rather than science nibbling away  
at the exterior of the humanities trying to 'scientifically' explain  
more of the universe that doesn't yet yield to such explanations. Is  
this the 'digital' influence?

It reminds me of the debate over "What is artificial intelligence?"  
where the understanding of new computational techniques that enable  
emulating new aspects of human intelligence is seen as 'not really  
being intelligent behavior' once understood. True artificial  
intelligence is thus akin to a magician's trick which the audience  
doesn't understand how it is done. Does 'true humanities' have to  
involve the creation of works whose experience transcends  
understanding of how they were or could be created? Will results from  
'digital humanities' suffer the same dilemma of the creations of  
artificial intelligence. If you build them, they will disown them.

More information about the Humanist mailing list