13.0570 where meaning is

From: Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Mon May 01 2000 - 17:17:39 CUT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 570.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Mon, 01 May 2000 18:12:36 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: where meaning is

    Simon Goldhill, in his recent article "Wipe your glosses" (in Glenn Most's
    Commentary / Kommentare), notes that the form of a commentary implies a
    theory of language, in particular addressing the question of where meaning
    lies. I would suppose from his excellent book, Artificial Experts: Social
    Knowledge and Intelligent Machines (MIT 1990) that Harry Collins would
    argue for the "social embeddedness" of meaning, as he does for knowledge. I
    recall, when I was a (thoroughly) pre-pubescent lad, being scolded by an
    exceedingly repressed and repressive aunt for sitting with my female
    cousin, a year older than myself, in the same chair. We had been buddies
    since babyhood. The aunt said only, "you shouldn't do that!", and I felt
    that I had been burnt with acid -- an immediate, vividly physical reaction.
    The question of how I got her meaning, or at least its emotional vitriol,
    has puzzled me ever since. I keep swatting away pat answers, and when I do
    text-analysis essentially the same question returns to haunt me. What
    theory of language would help us?

    Social embeddedness would seem to lead outward from "knowledge bases" and
    other constructed "frames" (to use the AI term) to computer-mediated
    communication -- the tutorial/seminar writ large and widely distributed.
    Among the interesting experiments in online publishing these days are those
    which exploit the mutability of an e-publication to introduce degrees of
    interactiveness. The channel from expert to colleagues (and to the wider
    public) becomes two-way. Shaping the result so that the effect is
    constructive is, of course, a major problem, but we do seem to have the
    beginnings of a means to tap into socially-embedded meaning as never before.

    Making coffee sometimes will lead to things other than coffee, such as the
    above train of thought, and now I go downstairs to get the second cup.
    Comments would be most welcome, even those that point to the wreckage of
    said train on rocks below, but I'd be most glad for ideas on the
    implications CMC might have in the design of our analytic tools.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
    voice: +44 (0)20 7848 2784 fax: +44 (0)20 7848 5081
    <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> <http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/>
    maui gratias agere

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