Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 101.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Sat, 29 Jun 2002 07:33:29 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: non-verbal thought
In his important and fascinating study, "The Mind's Eye: Nonverbal Thought
in Technology" (Science 197, no. 4306, 26 August 1977, pp. 827-36), Eugene
S Ferguson notes that as soon as printed books superceded ms codices, large
numbers of identical illustrations of mechanical devices began to be
reproduced. As a result the circle of technologists whose minds could be
engaged by the particular problems or stimulated by the particular ideas
these reliable illustrations expressed was indefinitely enlarged. Francis
Bacon, John Evelyn and others called for a "natural history of trades" to
make public the information that had long been available only in workshops.
Bacon in addition advocated a systematic study of the ingenious practices
in the various trades; his programme was on the agenda of the French
Academie almost as soon as it was founded. Ferguson argues that more
important to Renaissance engineers than scientific knowledge were the
inventions of the graphic arts that lent system and order to the materials
of nonverbal thought. Mechanical models, through the agency of printing,
could transmit such tacit knowledge widely.
Creative thought of the designers of our technological world, Ferguson
says, is largely nonverbal; its language is an object or picture or a
visual image in the mind. This intellectual component of technology, which
is nonliterary and nonscientific, has been generally unnoticed, he argues,
because its origins lie in art and not in science. Art was the guiding
discipline of Renaissance engineering. He traces this tradition into the 19C.
The situation now is, of course, quite different. The verbally tacit
knowledge of our technology isn't primarily of the sort that widespread
distribution of graphical images would particularly affect -- though the
Web has indefinitely expanded our ability to distribute accurate images.
Would our equivalent to the mechanical subassembly be coherent chunks of
code? Should we be looking to the digital library as the means for
publishing and distributing this sort of tacit knowledge?
Dr Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer,
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London,
Strand, London WC2R 2LS, U.K.,
+44 (0)20 7848-2784, ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/,
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