[Humanist] 30.774 hands on

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Feb 24 09:06:21 CET 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 774.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    lachance at chass.utoronto.ca                                (44)
        Subject: Re:  30.757 hands on

  [2]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (34)
        Subject: cognitive rippling

        Date: Thu, 23 Feb 2017 13:22:13 -0500 (EST)
        From: lachance at chass.utoronto.ca
        Subject: Re:  30.757 hands on
        In-Reply-To: <20170218070740.155ED88CA at digitalhumanities.org>


I want to add some remarks about the relation of craft to orchestration.

You characterize Tim Ingold's take on the implements of writing:

But he also comes down rather hard on modern interfaces for writing -- the
typewriter and its digital imitation -- which do rather badly in
comparison with pen and paper. He does not mention the mouse.

You wonder "what would be a persuasive answer to his objection".

I think it begins by noting how pen and hand like typewriter can display
in space a many-voiced text. Ingold cites Heidegger to the effect that
'modern man writes "with" the typewriter' and emphasizes that "with" is
placed under quotation marks by Heidegger. This invites also thinking
about writing "with" pen. A direction that Ingold does not take.

Pen and paper can involve many inks, many pieces of paper and many scripts
(cursive, blockprinting, etc). Typewriting can involve carriage returns,
spacing, backspacing, strikeouts of various sorts and on some models
different colours. A word processor provides a full symphony of
typographic effects.

I stress the similarities here to raise the question of telos. If the end
is to capture the many voices in one's head then the putative superiority
of one mode over another strikes a rather strange note.

Of course in an entirely oral situation we can imagine the assignment of
various parts to various groupings of people in a choral round. Thus in
certain ways the pen wielder is akin to a conductor.

Following Heidegger, Ingold asserts that the hand can hold and the
fingertip can merely touch. But what of counting with one's fingers or
committing to memory a list with places reserved for each item on each
finger? "With" indeed.

We _place_ an idea or a voice in a certain locale in the world and then

I would venture that placing is akin to craft and retrieval involves

In any event, I find it difficult to sustain the narrative of decay that
Ingold invokes ("The drift of technological enhancement has been to
substitute touch sensitivity at the fingertips for the sentient
correspondence of telling by hand.") as I key in the words that were
written by hand out of print in the library copy of the book. The line
breaks shift. Migration is the standard.

In the fingertips is the charm of voice.

Francois Lachance

        Date: Fri, 24 Feb 2017 07:53:57 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: cognitive rippling
        In-Reply-To: <20170218070740.155ED88CA at digitalhumanities.org>

In Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are (London: Granta, 
2016), Dutch-American ethologist Frans de Waal proposes his "cognitive 
ripple rule: Every cognitive capacity that we discover is going to be 
older and more widespread than initially thought." (p. 93) By 
"widespread" he means among living beings, from our closest relations 
outward to those who have developed similar capacities by different 
evolutionary means. The book is a brilliant read with many mind-dilating 
insights. It gives us far firmer ground on which to venture out from 
humans than, say, Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees: What They 
Feel, How They Communicate (Vancouver BC: Greystone, 2015) -- though I 
do not want to suggest that Wohlleben is to be dismissed without further 

But my point is to ask this question: where in the cognitive pond (de 
Waal's metaphor) do we locate our increasingly smart devices? Once one 
begins asking not "is X intelligent?" (the Turing Test question) but 
"what kind of intelligence does X have?" or, even better, "what do we 
mean by 'intelligence'?" it doesn't feel right to stop. Once we see how 
blurry, indeed artificial the Cartesian boundary between human and 
non-human animal is, we can follow Descartes and turn to machines, 
digital machines in particular. Is that in principle a step too far?

De Waal is more cautious than I may have suggested. After showing the 
degree to which the equation of intelligence with language has blinded 
us to the intelligence of the non-human, he recognizes how language does 
make a difference between us and them. But a refinement of his argument 
is this: "as with so many larger human phenomena, once we break it down 
into smaller pieces, some of these pieces can be found elsewhere". Does 
this help extend the cognitive rippling to artificial entities?

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, 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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