File /Humanist.vol22.txt, message 600


From: Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk>
To: humanist-AT-lists.digitalhumanities.org
Date: Fri, 13 Mar 2009 06:22:37 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: [Humanist] 22.615 looking back



                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 615.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist-AT-lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira-AT-gmail.com>                      (23)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.614 looking back

  [2]   From:    Neven Jovanovic <neven.jovanovic-AT-ffzg.hr>                 (11)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.614 looking back

  [3]   From:    renata lemos <renata.lemoz-AT-eletrocooperativa.org>        (174)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.614 looking back


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 09:25:20 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira-AT-gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.614 looking back
        In-Reply-To: <20090312092425.527C22E078-AT-woodward.joyent.us>

I honestly cannot believe an educated person would make a statement
like the one below. If the future is determined (in part) by our
actions in the present, then the present has been determined (at least
in part) by the actions of others in the past.  This means the past is
not discontinuous with either the present or the future.  For that
reason, thinking about the past enables us to think intelligently
about the present and the future.  Otherwise we're just naive children
staring googly-eyed at all the neat little toys and terms contemporary
science throws at us without considering the implications of these
technologies, their social costs, and to what use they are being put
-- or the fact that most of it really isn't necessary for us to lead
good or meaningful or productive lives.  It really is possible to say
no to the next new thing.

Except the next iPod.  You need to draw the line somewhere.

Forgive me for succumbing to the hegemony of upper case in this post.

Jim R

>> why is it that you are looking to the past when you search for answers
>> concerning the future. do you really believe that such answers could be
>> found there? it seems to me that it would be a much more interesting and
>> fruitful endeavor to look for answers in what is happening in the
>> present, namely the very interesting developments in nanotechnologies,
>> namely nanocommunication and quantum information processing... things
>> that you insist on calling "hype".



--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 14:52:47 +0100 (CET)
        From: Neven Jovanovic <neven.jovanovic-AT-ffzg.hr>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.614 looking back
        In-Reply-To: <20090312092425.527C22E078-AT-woodward.joyent.us>


Hi,

to the question of "why history of literary computing" I would add that
the past is a lot more complex than our memories -- even collective
memories -- present it; a lot of things get filtered out. So there is a
lot of ways which have not been taken, a lot of wheels that we are just in
the process of reinventing. Maybe. We would not know, unless somebody from
the present looks back, and reports it.

Yours,

Neven

Neven Jovanovic
Zagreb, Hrvatska / Croatia



--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 07:19:40 -0300
        From: renata lemos <renata.lemoz-AT-eletrocooperativa.org>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.614 looking back
        In-Reply-To: <20090312092425.527C22E078-AT-woodward.joyent.us>


my reverences, noble willard.

this is truly a beautiful reply, one that has fully answered my taxi driver
/ hairdresser humble questions.
with all due respect for the past, full attention to the present and looking
forward for the future,
 --
renata lemos
http://www.eletrocooperativa.org
http://liquidoespaco.wordpress.com/

On Thu, Mar 12, 2009 at 6:24 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 614.
>         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist-AT-lists.digitalhumanities.org
>
>
>
>        Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 09:16:21 +0000
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk>
>        >
> In Humanist 22.609, Renata Lemos asked me directly about the purpose
> behind several recent postings of mine, specifically
>
> > why is it that you are looking to the past when you search for answers
> > concerning the future. do you really believe that such answers could be
> > found there? it seems to me that it would be a much more interesting and
> > fruitful endeavor to look for answers in what is happening in the
> > present, namely the very interesting developments in nanotechnologies,
> > namely nanocommunication and quantum information processing... things
> > that you insist on calling "hype".
> >
> > I truly do not understand what is so important about the past, when our
> > present is so much more exciting and so much more relevant.
>
> I can think of two kinds of responses to this, one having to do with us
> all, the other specific to practice in the digital humanities. The
> first  is a question not just for historians, though I suppose they do
> what  they do based on a very old understanding of why the past is
> always relevant to us humans. I imagine that it's the sort of question
> an historian might expect to get in a taxi on the way to the airport,
> say, or at the hairdresser's.
>
> I guess if I were an historian I'd ask the questioner to imagine the
> circumstances under which knowledge of the past would be totally,
> completely, utterly unnecessary. I'd guess that if you kept at it
> relentlessly (that's the key to this reductio ad absurdum) you'd end up
> imagining an edenic state of total bliss and complete enlightenment --
> not only for yourself but for everyone else (since Eden cannot be a
> gated community). No need to understand what happened  yesterday, or
> indeed 5 minutes ago, because the present is only good -- indeed the
> present is eternal. No  need to remember how to string a bow, plant a
> crop etc etc. Anything  less than Eden, such as the state we're in, and
> there have to be questions from perplexity, questions of the
> where-from-here kind, since here is for most of us most of the  time, if
> not all of us all the time, not exactly where we want to be if we have
> any imagination at all.  Such questions would lead the clever person to
> look to the past for  better knowledge of the present and so guidance
> for what we have at hand  to build a better future. And assuming that
> not everything is under  one's own control, as it isn't in the
> sub-edenic state, these questions  would include the where-are-we-going
> kind too, i.e. what trajectory all  of us are on whatever the individual
> may decide to do, which requires knowledge of where we've been, at what
> speed and rate of change, and so by something analogous to intertia,
> where we're likely to end. It's against that inertia that we steer our
> course.
>
> One can imagine situations (for example, the situation many people found
> themselves in after the Second World War, or others later who managed
> to  survive whatever killing fields) in which the past is so horrible
> that  learning from it seems impossible even if it were psychologically
> supportable to make the attempt. Or, to take another example,
> revolutionaries right after a great revolution, such as the Russian one,
> for whom the past is meaningless, a nightmare from which one is
> awakening. Or, to modulate into the techno-scientific, one can cite a
> Kuhnian scientific revolution, such as the Einsteinian one. But what do
> we think now, e.g. about  proposals to destroy all musical instruments?
> Once the pain or fervour  abates, don't we turn to the past for
> understanding of the past? Even in the case of the profound changes in
> physics because of Einstein, we now understand not just that Newtonian
> physics is of the good-enough kind but also the principle of emergent
> order that marks the boundaries of its relevance. Where would we be if
> we had tossed out Newton entirely?
>
> Is this the sort of argument that an historian would give to the taxi
> driver or hairdresser -- if that historian had a long enough ride?
>
> I suppose for an academic or technician in the digital humanities, one
> takes that broad situation and applies it. Take text-analysis, for
> example. As a whole text-analysis isn't terribly successful or
> satisfying, as many others in the field keep saying, and have said year
> after year since the early 1960s. Indeed, the postgraduate course in
> text-analysis that I  teach is based on the question of why it is we
> (firmly in  the present, with eyes fixed on the then present moment) run
> unto a  metaphorical brick wall so soon after getting started; or less
> metaphorically, how we can get beyond the level of the individual word
> and individual words nearby, lemmatized or otherwise, to whatever it is
> that could be considered "context"; or, more philosophically, how we
> can  possibly justify what we consider "context" to mean in any given
> textual  situation. Most other activities in the digital humanities seem
> to be cooking with gas -- though I would  argue that they're cooking the
> low-hanging fruit-- but digital literary studies not -- because, I would
> argue, we cooked all the  low-hanging stuff quite a long time ago and
> are now trying to figure out  how to build a ladder to reach the
> higher-hanging stuff. We also speak at length  these days about "digital
> editions" but, according to those in the midst  of the editing trade,
> don't really know what one of these creatures  should be like.
>
> So the literary critic or textual editor, focused on interpretation of
> texts, doesn't find  him- or herself in a particularly good situation
> with respect to  computing. Yet at the same time, let us say, he or she
> has this nagging  feeling that the computer really could be useful,
> somehow. And, let us  say, this critic, firmly in the present moment,
> has ideas about what went wrong and might be done about it. Isn't it
> important at such a moment to know what's been  tried already? Isn't it
> equally or more important to be able to  extrapolate from the trajectory
> that text-analysis, say, has taken all  these years to where now it
> makes sense to go? If we're going to blame Chomskyan linguistics or
> Theory or whatever for the ineffectuality of text-analytic approaches to
> literature, we may be able to make a plausible case, but based
> essentially on a causal argument, it is a naive one, as awareness of the
> last 60+ years of text-analysis clearly demonstrates. As Anthony Kenny
> suggested rather obliquely in his 1991 British Library lecture, we
> should be thinking in terms of coeval developments rather than causal
> chains.
>
> Nanotechnology or any other technology isn't itself hype, but there is
> much hype surrounding it that takes possibilities as inevitabilities if
> not present reality and asks us to suspend judgement. As awareness of
> those last 60+ years will show again and again, this sort of promotional
> blather has come in waves repeatedly, always casting up on the shore
> much more modest achievements than have been predicted. I say, let's
> think now about what we have now (in the light of the past, of course).
>
> Comments?
>
> renata lemos wrote:
> > cher willard,
> > from your recent posts on humanist, I have been wondering why is it that
> you
> > are looking to the past when you search for answers concerning the
> future.
> > do you really believe that such answers could be found there? it seems to
> me
> > that it would be a much more interesting and fruitful endeavor to look
> for
> > answers in what is happening in the present, namely the very interesting
> > developments in nanotechnologies, namely nanocommunication and quantum
> > information processing... things that you insist on calling "hype".
> >
> > I truly do not understand what is so important about the past, when our
> > present is so much more exciting and so much more relevant.
> >
> > comments?
> >
> > yours,
>
> --
> Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
> King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
> Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
> Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.
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