[Humanist] 26.63 when does the subject enter in?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jun 4 22:19:31 CEST 2012

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 63.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 04 Jun 2012 20:53:11 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: computational models

Paul Humphreys, in "Computational models", Philosophy of Science 69.S3 
(September 2002): S1-S11, proposes that we look at the organization of 
the sciences not by the usual mereological (parts and wholes) structure, 
proceeding from the smallest physical units to the largest ones, but by 
the models they use. He points out the often noticed fact that certain 
models apply seemingly across the board to many quite different 
phenomena, e.g. from enzyme reactions to predatory behaviour. He 
describes a structure for models beginning with a "computational 
template", then its construction assumptions, correction set, 
interpretation, initial justification and last, output representation. 
The template is the basis of the portability of the model, its syntax, 
the other elements constraints on it that make it application specific. 
He argues that although the template is often very portable, it is never 
interpretation-free -- hence the construction assumptions. But it is 
often remarkably portable.

You can follow his argument at leisure, but here I want to highlight the 
interesting question he raises at the end:

> at what points in the process of the construction and evaluation of
> computational models does subject-specific knowledge enter?  (S10)

We have all doubtless noticed the same kind of thing happening in the 
digital humanities; we tend to identify the portable, 
non-subject-specific aspect of what we do as method, or if we're feeling 
the need for being scientific, formal methods. But more specifically in 
terms of what we do, it is the orientation to modelling that makes the 
digital humanities interdisciplinary in a way that other fields, I would 
suppose, cannot be. So let me raise Humphreys' question in our context: 
at what point does the subject-specific knowledge enter in?

Take, for example, the simplest sort of text-analysis, a.k.a. 
interactive concording. This applies across the board to all subjects in 
which a focus on how something is said matters: literary studies, 
linguistics, history, sociology and others. Is there anything systematic 
that can be said about when and how it matters what discipline is asking 
the questions? Or, to put the question the other way around, is there 
anything systematic we can say (other than remarks about a rigorous 
focus on the verbal data etc) about how the computational template at 
work here affects the discipline asking the questions?



Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
(www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

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