[Humanist] 29.363 poetry and problem-solving

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Oct 8 09:35:47 CEST 2015

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 363.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 8 Oct 2015 08:22:28 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: Adrienne Rich and Herbert Simon

My thanks to Francois Lachance for pointing us to Adrienne Rich's poem, 
"Artificial Intelligence" (1961), in Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law. 
What drew my attention especially is the fact that (as Francois pointed 
out) she bothers in her notes on the poems to quote from Herbert Simon's 
chapter on "Heuristic Problem Solving" in his book The New Science of 
Management Decisions (1st edn, 1960), as follows:

> Computer programs have been written that enable computers to discover
> proofs for theorems in logic and geometry, to play chess, to design
> motors... to compose music.... From almost all of them, whether intended
> as simulations or not, we learn something about human problem solving,
> thinking, and learning.
> The first thing we learn... is that we can explain these human processes
> without postulating mechanisms at subconscious levels that are different
> from those that are partly conscious and partly verbalized.... The
> secret of problem solving is that there is no secret.

She, "sulking, clearly, in the great tradition / of human waste", in the 
residue that Simon's heuristic method would discard, asks of his General 
Problem Solver, "Why not / dump the whole reeking snarl / and let you 
solve me once for all?"

Now here is an historiographical challenge: first, can we recover 
(Collingwood would say, re-enact) her response to computing in 1961? and 
then, crucially, can we extrapolate from it commentary on the situation we 
are in? Unless we can do that, someone more rash than I might say, we're 
a bit young for the job.


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney

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