[Humanist] 31.471 the anomalous, the odd, the peculiar

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Dec 16 09:28:28 CET 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 471.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2017 10:03:08 -0500
        From: "William L. Benzon" <bbenzon at mindspring.com>
        Subject: Re:  31.459 the anomalous, the odd, the peculiar?
        In-Reply-To: <20171211062500.1ADFE8459 at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>

Comments below:

> On Dec 11, 2017, at 1:24 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
>   Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2017 06:14:49 +0000
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk <mailto:willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>>
>        Subject: the anomalous, the odd, the peculiar?


> Some, I suppose, would nominate cognitive science. What bothers me there 
> so often is the silent marriage of 'computational' and 'cognition' or 
> 'mind'. Curiously, as someone whose mind was formed by literary studies 
> and philological obsessions, the implications and connotations of words 
> matter a very great deal. 


Dear Willard:

On “cognitive science”, there’s a substantial body of literary criticism that is cognitive in nature, and much of it pledges allegiance to the co-called “cognitive revolution”, which is very much about computation. But this cognitive literary criticism (“cognitive poetics”, and “cognitive rhetoric” are two banners) owes almost nothing to computation, explicitly or implicitly.

I agree, we need to be vigilant when we talk of computation, whatever the context. Beyond that, however, to take a line from an old American commercial for Wendy’s hamburgers, “Where’s the beef?” What alternatives in the name of literary criticism and philology do you have to offer? I can’t for the life of me see that the humanities have any explicit models of the mind whatever. There’s the psychoanalytic account, and there’s such things as the imagination, and reason, and desire, and so forth. Those are all homunculi, mental faculties that do vaguely defined things in unspecified ways.

Do computational models have limitations? Yes, all models have limitations. And the people who construct and use those models, at least the smart ones, are aware of those limitations. In a way, to construct a model is to simultaneously construct a set of limitations. That’s how you construct these things. The purpose of a good model isn’t to do everything. It’s to do something in an understandable way.

At this point, I’m sorry to say, if anyone is looking for grand theories of everything, it’s the humanists (plus George Lakoff and Mark Turner with their magical maps and blends).


Bill Benzon
bbenzon at mindspring.com


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