11.0137 rationality, computing and desire

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 25 Jun 1997 19:52:55 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 137.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: BRUNI <jbrun@eagle.cc.ukans.edu> (21)
Subject: Re: 11.0123 present & future of computing

[2] From: "David L. Gants" <dgants@parallel.park.uga.edu> (27)
Subject: Digital and rational

[3] From: Charles Ess <DRU001D@VMA.SMSU.EDU> (17)
Subject: Re: 11.0124 lurkers, battle cries, and poetry

Date: Tue, 24 Jun 1997 13:27:39 -0500 (CDT)
From: BRUNI <jbrun@eagle.cc.ukans.edu>
Subject: Re: 11.0123 present & future of computing

On Sun, 22 Jun 1997, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

> If the development of human mentality in essence involves, as some have
> argued, the externalization of mind through our creations and inventions,
> then is the computer a materialization of our desire to be rational? Are we
> in effect giving ourselves the means to be rational? Is this a good thing?

One could certainly argue that computers are rational systems. But, then
again, what does rationality, divested from imagination lead to? As
Martin E. Rosenberg states, to be rational (in the abstract sense) can
lead to a world view where only facts and figures count: "a...construct
that disguises the nature of human awareness in order for it better to
plot industrial schedules, the trajectories of cannonballs, the
circumnavigation of the globe."

I would hope that we use computers in more imaginative ways, for example,
to create imaginative texts that can articulate how we perceive the
increasing complexity of the world. Of course, rationality fits here as
well. But let us not make it the entire picture.

John Bruni
English Dept
University of Kansas

Date: Wed, 25 Jun 1997 11:17:46 -0400 (EDT)
From: "David L. Gants" <dgants@parallel.park.uga.edu>
Subject: Digital and rational

>> Date: Tue, 24 Jun 1997 14:09:10 -0500 (EST)
>> From: FOITJA@miavx1.acs.muohio.edu
Dear Humansits,

The recent posting concerning the weakness of the human mind in matters of
"rationality" has somewhat disturbed me. When Philip Gerrans says, "Humans
are very bad at employing the norms of rationality, such as logical inference,
probabilistic reasoning and planning beyond the immediate future..." to what
is he comparing us? We are irrational compared to computers? We are the most
rational being on this planet, in this solar system. Would we even be aware
such things as probability and logic had not some human mind discovered /
created them?

Was it Plato that said that writing a sort of corruption of the mind because
we used it to perform a function (memory) that we were capable of but chose
not to exercise? I think we would agree that writing is a compliment to the
mind, not a corruption of it. Although it might have started as a system for
keeping track of finacial transactions, it evolved into essays, poetry, and
fiction that allows to express and learn things about our selves and our
world. Computers are the same. Compiling raw data about many texts using
computers is no more rational, in principle, than using an abacus to help us
add and subtract long lists of numbers. It is still the human mind that makes
the tool, figures out how to use it to obtain results, and draws conclusions.
Some of us might interpret the data differently than others, or make false
conclusions. This is simply evidence of falibility, not irrationality. Alas,
all humans are guilty of imperfection, even the most rational, even Philip

Adam Foit

Date: Wed, 25 Jun 97 13:03:31 CDT
From: Charles Ess <DRU001D@VMA.SMSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: 11.0124 lurkers, battle cries, and poetry

Patrick Allen asked about the possible relation between pleasure and
In these postmodern days we seem even more intent on forgetting our own
past than might have been the case in "modernity" - so it is with fear
and trembling that I recommend Plato's _Symposium_, specifically
Diotima's speeches on _eros_ as the psychic drive that, ultimately
unsatisfied by the beauties available among bodies and souls, aims for
knowledge of beauty as such. Much follows, of course, in subsequent
traditions, regarding the conjunction of knowledge, insight, wisdom,
etc. with the intense pleasure our time seems to imprison within the
simply bodily/sexual domains. So the religious mystics who speak of
the Divine as their lover, etc.
Curmudgeonly yours,
Charles Ess
Philosophy and Religion
Drury College
Springfield, MO 65802 USA
homepage: http://www.drury.edu/phil-relg/ess.html