[Humanist] 26.873 clay storage and human memory

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Mar 12 08:02:04 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 873.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    David Zeitlyn <david.zeitlyn at anthro.ox.ac.uk>             (26)
        Subject: Re:  26.868 clay storage

  [2]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (33)
        Subject: storage, clay storage and memory

        Date: Mon, 11 Mar 2013 15:35:31 +0000
        From: David Zeitlyn <david.zeitlyn at anthro.ox.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re:  26.868 clay storage

Dear all,

Neven Jovanovic asks a good question. The answer of course is many, many 
tablets (and I've not tried to do the sums) for anything nontextual. But 
in principle sound/visual material could be reproduced via strings of 
0,1 codes...

and nb in a related post Dan Rutter

extols the virtue of a way of printing QRcodes which include encode 
relatively large amounts of data on paper,
supported by an open source software project
PaperBack http://ollydbg.de/Paperbak/


David Zeitlyn,

Professor of Social Anthropology (research)

Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology,
School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography,
51 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 6PF, UK
http://www.mambila.info/ The Virtual Institute of Mambila Studies
Google Scholar profile including h-index:

Oxford's open online anthropology journal: JASO online.

        Date: Tue, 12 Mar 2013 06:50:25 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: storage, clay storage and memory

At first David Zeitlyn's backward gesture with neo-Sumerian materials 
seems like not much, but then one gets to thinking about the less 
obvious differences between clay and electronic-digital storage. Plato, 
picking up hints from the Presocratics, is credited with the first and 
astonishingly, powerfully persistent metaphor for human memory, the wax 
tablet, in the Theaetetus. Clay would not have worked so well for the 
purpose. But both clay and wax tablets imply the storehouse and 
retrieval of fixed items from it. And there, with the inscription and 
storehouse metaphors, one has the theme from which most variations on 
the nature of memory have come, up to this day. But computers aren't 
like that, really, although much effort is spent (as in the machines 
near and far that I am using now) to make them behave as if the very 
item once stored away in memory is back on screen -- not (as more 
accurately) a new item constructed anew for the purpose, but according 
to the fiction being played out, exactly the same thing.

Practical, day-to-day human memory we also want to work like that, and 
when it doesn't we get upset, or worse. But other rememberings clearly 
don't work that way, and we'd be considerably poorer, indeed not human 
any more if they did -- if we didn't forget at all (as with Borges' 
Funes the Memorious), if we always remembered with the exactitude of our 
computers when they're working, as we think, properly.

So, my question: can we imagine a computing that would work with us to 
retrieve as we remember? How close are we to this with the Web as a kind 
of memory?

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

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