Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 380.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2002 07:13:03 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: thinking with the technology
Surely there is considerable wisdom in Patrick Durusau's remark in Humanist
>At least in the early stages, I think projects should be formulated without
>regard to available technology (either locally or read about) so that
>researchers can state fully what they would like to do, without regard to
>whether that is actually possible with current technology. A very precise
>formulation of the research problem and goals of the project would provide
>a basis for evaluating available technologies for the one that most closely
>meets the needs of the project.
I think, however, that the problem we face is much harder than that would
suggest. Are not these technologies (text-encoding, relational database
&al.) imaginative forms that give you a way of thinking not available
otherwise? Do they not tend to lead the mind in directions it would not
otherwise go? How, in fact, can one formulate a research problem completely
independently of the tool? Winograd and Flores, in Computers and Cognition,
observe that the commonplace assumption of so-called expert systems -- that
one can extract knowledge from experts then code it into computing systems
-- makes no sense at all because the experts themselves do not work (or at
least not entirely) in a way that can be extracted from them (pp. 98f).
Knowledge, they note, isn't captured in building an expert system, rather
what happens is that people work together to create a systematic domain
(pp. 175f). They *imagine* their research problems and strategies anew.
So how do we not get trapped within the scope defined by any particular
tool? I think this must be *very* difficult. A kind of controlled two-(or
more-)mindedness, a detached engagement, seems the only answer.
Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
7848-2784 fax: -2980 || email@example.com
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