13.0132 economics, sociology, history of science

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 12 Aug 1999 20:13:01 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 132.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: "Norman D. Hinton" <hinton@springnet1.com> (18)
Subject: Re: 13.0130 economics, sociology & the history of our

[2] From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca> (53)
Subject: Heteroglossia vs Common Language

Date: Thu, 12 Aug 1999 19:47:44 +0100
From: "Norman D. Hinton" <hinton@springnet1.com>
Subject: Re: 13.0130 economics, sociology & the history of our science

Willard, I recall that years ago a distinguished Miltonist told me (I
won't give out his name -- let him rest in peace) "We control the field
now, and we have the say in what's published. It's really helped
channel research in good directions." By "we" he meant himself and
maybe 10-12 other Miltonists, who were in a position to say which books
and articles got printed and which did not. I hope that in the
intervening years things have changed in Milton scholarship....
I recently approved an article for publication in a journal for which
I'm a referee and said something like "I do not agree with the
conclusions of this piece. But what it is suggesting is powerful and
important for us to take into consideration, and the field would be the
poorer without this speculation."

I've never forgotten (though I have forgotten her name) a woman who got
the Nobel a few years ago for her work on grasses. Botanists tell me
that for years she was tolerated in the field as a kind of benign
eccentric, and her articles were published but not attended to. Now
they are regarded as indispensible....at least the situation on Botany
was better than it was in Milton. and as I know you are thinking right
now, we Humanists are supposed to be the ones with open minds.....

Date: Thu, 12 Aug 1999 19:48:13 +0100
From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Heteroglossia vs Common Language


On the surface Gleick's story seems smooth and seamless, especially if
it is read as a variation on the blind persons and the elephant motif.
I think it is worth retracing Gleick's rhetorical moves and then
applying the very mechanism he celebrates in _Chaos_ i.e. "feeback".
He begins with a simple, apparently common-sensical statement that
economists model free market conditions with free information
availibility. Gleick then measures the assumption against actuality
and it is found wanting. By analogy, intellectual history develops on
a ground of uneven development and lo! individualism becomes the
hallmark of progress.

Allow me to consider, in my uneven fashion, that built into Gleick's
story is a set of bifurcating points that allow a more collectivist
story to emerge. If information is a commodity then there is nothing
in free market models to preclude the possible uneven distribution of
the said commodity between haves and have-nots. Gleick seems to gloss
over the legitimation factor because embedded in his scenario is the
lone consumer. This is rather odd. Since his book deals in large part
with an explication of dynamical systems far from equilibrium you
would expect Gleick to not only understand but also incorporate the
particular insight that the sum is greater than its parts. Regardless,
the isometric mapping that Gleick produces between his own version of
the "free information in free markets" topos and the discipline of the
history of science leads to a rather remarkable constriction. In order
to legitimate his position, Gleick casts himself as the true prophet
against those nameless scholars that he says assume uniform distribution of
information. Still, even if one accepts Gleick's story up to this
point there is still the possibility "uneven distribution" means that
certain knowledge exchange occurs in groups of various size ranging
from online seminars of thousands to critical individual scholars
(reflecting upon their own work) and there is no telling where novelty
will emerge.

Inquisitive children, hearing the blind persons and the elephant
story in a second language learning context struggled to ask a very
pertinent questions about the focalization of the narrative: who put
the elephant in the story? what language do the blind people speak?
The questions continue to pour: if blind persons possess a common
language do they still need translators? does a common language assume
uniform competence among its speakers/readers? does this mean that the
link between articulateness and knowledge production operates along a
seduction/disillusionment/reseduction narrative? how isomorphic is
this amatory relation to the task of translation?

fidelity : seductions :: infidelity : disillusionment

Note that in the above formulation, the seductions are multiple and
the disillusionment is single. But it need not be so. In any case,
lack of insight can be ascribed to either.

Bet you those blind persons could know alot about where to take the
elephant's pulse were the beast living and throbbing?


for more on Gleick and the fabrication of a journalistic entity called
"Chaos Theory" through the neglect of the mathematical domain of
catastrophe theory see
Cognitive Styles: Chaos and Its Stories

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