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

Willard McCarty willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Dec 17 09:25:06 CET 2017

Thanks to Bill Benson in Humanist 31.471 for his hamburgerish American 
response, "where is the beef?", to my complaint about cognitivism, i.e. 
about the implication in certain uses of language that thinking simply 
is computing. I hold to my beef, that words matter, hence their 
implications, connotations, associations and so on. Handwaving this away 
simply won't do. (Note, if you will, that one's native disciplinary 
orientation matters; mine, being deeply literary, comes out here.) But I 
can be more sophisticated about this, so let me try.

The problem I am pointing to occurs at the point John Haugeland 
identified in 1978 in "The nature and plausibility of Cognitivism": the 
point at which one asks, "What else could it be?" Tim Van Gelder, in 
"What might cognition be, if not computation?" (1995), quotes Alan Newell:

> ...although a small chance exists that we will see a new paradigm
> emerge for mind, it seems unlikely to me. Basically, there do not
> seem to be any viable alternatives. This position is not surprising.
> In lots of sciences we end up where there are no major alternatives
> around to the particular theories we have. Then, all the interesting
> kinds of scientific action occur inside the major view. It seems to me
> that we are getting rather close to that situation with respect to
> the computational theory of mind.(p. 346)

I would insist on maintaining Newell's "seems", or to put it another 
way, to the as-if status of this theory of mind, or still another way, 
to the question to which we have no firm answer. Goosing the guess 
(pushing the paradigm?) leads to progress in research, then to a 
breakdown, and new ideas. Over 20 years ago Van Gelder noted that "the 
computational vision has lost much of its lustre". For my point it 
matters less where we are now than that we are going somewhere else.

And why does one have to have a model of mind? Modelling is a wonderful 
and productive activity, but it ain't everything.



>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 471.
>              Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                         www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                  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?
> [snip]
>> 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.
> [snip]
> 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).
> BB
> Bill Benzon
> bbenzon at mindspring.com
> 917-717-9841
> http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/  http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/
> http://www.facebook.com/bill.benzon  http://www.facebook.com/bill.benzon
> http://www.flickr.com/photos/stc4blues/  http://www.flickr.com/photos/stc4blues/
> https://independent.academia.edu/BillBenzon <https://independent.academia.edu/BillBenzon>
> http://www.bergenarches.com/#image1  http://www.bergenarches.com/#image1

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor emeritus, Department of
Digital Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western
Sydney University and North Carolina State University; Editor,
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20)

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