[Humanist] 31.491 the anomalous; methodology

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Dec 29 12:19:35 CET 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 491.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Alexander Hay <alexander.hay at gmail.com>                   (66)
        Subject: Re:  31.489 methodology as a sign of trouble?

  [2]   From:    "William L. Benzon" <bbenzon at mindspring.com>              (17)
        Subject: Re:  31.471 the anomalous, the odd, the peculiar

        Date: Thu, 28 Dec 2017 11:36:37 +0000
        From: Alexander Hay <alexander.hay at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  31.489 methodology as a sign of trouble?
        In-Reply-To: <20171228112947.1C1FF871C at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>

Dear Willard,

The greater the challenge, the greater the glory, as someone once said.
I'd go further and say that without adversoty, change of any sort is
minimal at best. Perhaps this is the danger posed by streamlined UIs or
English being the lingua franca - after a while, we stop trying!


- Alexander

On 28 Dec 2017 11:30, "Humanist Discussion Group" <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 489.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Thu, 28 Dec 2017 11:04:54 +0000
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>         Subject: methodology as sign of trouble?
> Near the end of his life John von Neumann wrote a number of short essays
> as a 'public person', on mathematics, physics, technology, atomic energy
> and warfare, handily gathered together in The Neumann Compendium, ed.
> Bródy and Vámos (1995). In an interdisciplinary course for students in
> the humanities, they would be at the top of my reading list. At the
> beginning of one of these, "The Mathematician", he writes that "A
> discussion of the nature of any intellectual effort is difficult per
> se -- at any rate, more difficult than the mere exercise of that particular
> intellectual effort." Perhaps this explains, at least in part, why so
> few experts in any discipline have put their hands to the writing of
> such essays.
> But I would draw your attention to the beginning of another essay in the
> collection, "Method in the physical sciences", where he writes,
> > Emphasis on methodology seems most often to arise when there are
> > symptoms of trouble, when a realization of difficulties makes
> > necessary a re-examination of some position inherited from the past.
> (p. 627)
> Usually we notice that in its application to the humanities our beloved
> machine is methodological in nature, hence 'digital methods' of doing
> this or that, rather than earlier, non-digital ways of acting. We have
> talked about a "methodological commons" for all disciplines defined by
> these methods. But what if we follow von Neumann's diagnostic and so
> ask, what was (and is?) the trouble in the disciplines to which the
> methodological machine was a response -- which made and continues to
> make the machine so appealing? This is not the same as asking what it
> can do that we couldn't do before. It is rather a question of the
> 'paradigm' or way of conceiving these ways of enquiry that have run into
> difficulties. We have talked with approbation about some fields as
> 'early adopters', sometimes pointed to the low-hanging fruit (e.g. words
> easily concorded) that made their early adoption of computing possible.
> Might early adoption also be a matter of the heaviest difficulties?
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> 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)

        Date: Thu, 28 Dec 2017 14:01:55 -0500
        From: "William L. Benzon" <bbenzon at mindspring.com>
        Subject: Re:  31.471 the anomalous, the odd, the peculiar
        In-Reply-To: <84fabeb2-8a42-6f55-a4f8-9fd0e38cfb0b at mccarty.org.uk>

I read John Searle’s well-known Chinese room argument when he published it in Brain and Behavioral Science and thought it both wonderfully ingenious and rather beside the point. Why beside the point? Because he didn’t address any of the ideas and techniques used in AI and allied disciplines. His was not the sort of argument such that, if you took it seriously, you could improve for efforts to understand the mind through any kind of computational technique. I find the entire discussion of whether or not computers and think to be pretty much empty for that reason.

This discussion seems pretty much like that. It takes place entirely outside the field of intellectual play. As for the computational vision having lost its luster, I’m not sure there IS anything such thing as THE computational vision. And in any event things have changed a bit since 1995, when Van Gelder made the remark.

Moreover, I find the opposition between  “(digital) computer” and “human mind” utterly inadequate to my own views on this general subject. In the late 1990s, when I was researching my book on music, I had a great deal of correspondence with the late Walter Freeman, a neuroscientist who pioneer the use of complex dynamics to understand the nervous system. I put such dynamics at the center of my account of music. And, as I do not believe music to be utterly different from language, complex dynamics plays a role in my understanding of language as well. But, alas, there’s no room in this computer/mind discussion for that. 

> On Dec 17, 2017, at 3:25 AM, Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
> 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.

But isn’t paradigm change, in Kuhn’s sense, what starts happening when one native disciplinary orientation fails to grapple with problems that have arisen within it? A new orientation has to be cobbled together. It may take awhile, and the road is likely to be rocky and crooked, but eventually a new orientation emerges that can accommodate the new phenomena. Maybe you need to step outside your native orientation in order to use computation as “a telescope for the mind”, in Margaret Masterman’s metaphor, rather than as a tool for clerks.

Bill Benzon (note: with a “z”, not an “s”).

Bill Benzon
bbenzon at mindspring.com


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