File /Humanist.vol22.txt, message 191

Date:         Wed, 3 Sep 2008 22:28:30 +0100
From: Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty-AT-MCCARTY.ORG.UK>
Subject: 22.190 low-hanging and beyond reach?
To: humanist-AT-Princeton.EDU

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 190.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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         Date: Wed, 03 Sep 2008 22:25:10 +0100
         From: Humanist Discussion Group <>
         Subject: low-hanging and beyond reach?

Recently I was asked by a group of curious academics what was easy to do
with computing in the humanities and what was not. It occurred to me to
describe the situation with the metaphor of low-hanging fruit and that
which is out of reach, requiring that the hungry person construct a
ladder to reach. But I also realised that the tree is a rather strange
one, i.e. that the metaphor breaks down when one considers the situation
in time. Text once seemed the low-hanging fruit, conveniently already
encoded to a significant degree, whereas images were too high to justify
the effort. Now the situation seems almost reversed. Perhaps one needs
to imagine several trees -- a text-tree, an image-tree etc. Perhaps
Tantalus' situation is, in the end, our own. It seems clear to me that
our hunger is boundless and that the trees are infinitely high.

A shift of metaphor. In his beautiful book, A Different Universe:
Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down (2005), Robert Laughlin quotes
Richard Feynman (p. 127), who asks of physics, "What is the future of
this adventure?" Feynman thinks that there must be an end to the search
for and discovery of new laws. The situation, he points out, simply
cannot continue; "it will become boring that there are so many levels
one underneath the other". Thomas Kuhn's answer, which seems the right
one to me, involves talking about a paradigm-shift. We've done that term
to death in the popular press and, scandalously, in the academic one as
well, but again it seems to me that the vision of exhaustion must be
wrong. So my question: what's our paradigm- (or perhaps better,
metaphor-) shift?



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