14.0648 black-box vs glass-box methods

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Wed Feb 07 2001 - 02:43:00 EST

  • Next message: by way of Willard McCarty: "14.0649 CFP to Comparative Literature and Culture"

                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 648.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: Joel Goldfield <joel@funrsc.fairfield.edu> (32)
             Subject: Re: 14.0638 black-box vs glass-box methods?

       [2] From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance) (39)
             Subject: Re: 14.0642 black-box vs glass-box methods

       [3] From: "Osher Doctorow" <osher@ix.netcom.com> (32)
             Subject: Re: black box vs glass box - Doctorow

             Date: Wed, 07 Feb 2001 07:37:27 +0000
             From: Joel Goldfield <joel@funrsc.fairfield.edu>
             Subject: Re: 14.0638 black-box vs glass-box methods?

    Thanks, Willard, for that inspiring questions about black-box
    vs. glass-box methods.

    In yesterday's New York Times (Mon., 2/5/01), there was an
    article entitled, "Stalking New Hot Trends Along the Lycos Trail,"
    by Pamela Licalzi O'Connell (p. C10). It convincingly described
    how profitable what I'd call partially a "black-box" system is
    for earning Lycos a heck of a lot of money organizing and
    selling consumer-originated research trends using Lycos's
    search engine, beating out most or all of the competition like Yahoo
    and Alta Vista with their apparently computer-dedicated
    analysis packages. But no computer with what I'll call
    an IQ of zero massages this data: luckily for Lycos there's
    a man who "remembers
    everything," Aaron Schatz, with his "wide interests" and
    "encyclopedic knowledge." It's interesting to note that he
    holds a degree in Economics from one of our American
    hotbeds of humanities-computing fermentation, Brown University.

    Even the commercial venues are heating up for those with
    a good humanities and social science education and where
    knowledge and imagination in combination with black-box heuristics
    can go a long way. I'd say this mimics what several authors
    including the present writer advocated in Potter's _Literary
    Computing and Literary Criticism_ back in '89, and what
    literary critics including Riffaterre in his first book
    were pointing out about the importance of "le va-et-vient"
    in literary analysis and literary criticism, that vital
    to-and-fro movement between observed statistical results
    based on preconceived themes or tests and what one sees
    close up in the text and, we should add, other literary criticism.

    Joel Goldfield
    Fairfield University

             Date: Wed, 07 Feb 2001 07:38:17 +0000
             From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
             Subject: Re: 14.0642 black-box vs glass-box methods


    This must be the month of metaphors....

    Someone I know wrote back in the last century:

    In _ L'invention intellectuelle _ Judith Schlanger suggests that noise,
    the sheer mass of popularisation which the French call "vulgarisation"
    contributes to significant breakthroughs. Each rearticulation of current
    knowledge is a displacing repetition and affects however slightly the
    paths open and opening to thinkers.


    Where there is food there is a need for roughage. The only difference
    between your example A and your example B is the social dimension of
    reflection upon tool usage. What if the person in example A was also a
    pedagoge who taught several students the use of the tool. Out of the
    interactions between and beyond those students, I let your mind trace a
    network. It is possible that the person in example B collaborating with a
    colleague does no teaching.

    This is getting close to the question of craft which you have raised
    before. I do think the the question of what counts as a contribution to
    the discipline and what counts as a contribution furthering the aims
    of an institution and what counts as the greater good need to be
    disentangled. One way to begin, I would respectfully submit, is to try not
    to set up cases for adjudication that depend upon deciding between only
    two alternatives, let alone two unconnected alternatives. The person in
    example A may be in contact with the person in example B. Even without
    direct interaction there is still the phenomenon of six degrees of

    So my question, being for the moment located outside of an academic
    institution and relatively free of the pressures that shape my colleagues
    working lives, is why not begin with asking what is good for the person
    doing the research or the teaching or applying the tools? How quickly the
    imagination focused on the individual can shift its attention to the
    general context may be a matter of habit.

    I myself can be found fasting or indulging in the most calorific of
    confections (marrons glaces) and in either situation relishing the
    cleansing power of a glass of limpid water.

    Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
    Member of the Evelyn Letters Project

    --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Wed, 07 Feb 2001 07:39:12 +0000 From: "Osher Doctorow" <osher@ix.netcom.com> Subject: Re: black box vs glass box - Doctorow

    Willard, Francois, and Mary in their recent posts have raised and answered some fascinating questions. I only have time to briefly comment on a few aspects. I like Mary's great ability to discriminate the art/science of computing from the history of computing and I like Willard's idea of the humanist and the computer expert getting together to discuss why the results were obtained. To discriminate and to integrate ("generalize" in a positive sense), to find what is different and what is similar in things (using thing as as substitute for "any subject/object") - if we could master these abilities, what great things we could discover! My own view at present is that we should carry these both through as far as we can. If that sounds contradictory, then I must tell you that my present view is that we need to adopt multiple alternative theories (even somewhat contradictory ones in certain respects) instead of one theory and the more the better, and follow them wherever they may lead even if evidence at some time seems piled up against one of them, for the competition and the motivation but also the discrimination and integration which this allows. By all means change one's pet or favorite theory if you have contributed substantially to it, or move on to different favorite theories, but do not entirely desert the old ones except as a last resort (the usual qualifications as to relative non-violence and so on pertain). Imitate rugby where the opposition survives to compete another day, not war or the law of the jungle where the opposition dies when it loses a battle. More to the point with black and glass boxes, sit down as often as you can with the other (computer, humanist, scientist, historian, philosopher, etc.) specialist(s) and communicate. The Name of the Game should be Interdisciplinary Nonviolent Competition/Cooperation (INC for short by analogy with "incorporated") using integration and discrimination to the (relative) maximum. Glass Box is shorter, but Glass Box Inc (or Ltd for the legal experts) seems to convey the idea quite well. I would like to see departments change their name to ______ (blank) Glass Box Inc, or Glass Box Inc Music Department (Beethoven would have liked that, I think).

    Osher Doctorow Doctorow Consultants, Ventura College, West Los Angeles, etc.

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