21.436 Happy & merry solstitial greetings!

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 21 Dec 2007 17:30:01 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 436.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 21 Dec 2007 17:20:10 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: Solsticial salutations by alternative means

Dear colleagues,

Today, the shortest of the year, Christmas came early for me. This
year the normal shutting down of my main machine in celebration of
the joyous time I celebrate came automatically, without bidding.
Sometime during the night or this morning, when I attempted to revive
the machine for a day of work, it packed up and went into total
hibernation. The power-supply appears to have fizzled. Repair is
promised for Monday, but Monday is Christmas Eve. So I turn to my
laptop in order not to miss the opportunity to send out my usual
message for the season. Otherwise all important files remain stranded
on the now totally inert box at my feet, so effectively I am being
forced to abandon scheduled work for the many other non-digital
things hereabouts, like books.

One of these is Michael Sappol's Dream Anatomy, catalogue of an
exhibition put on by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, with a
fine website, www.nlm.nih.gov/dreamanatomy/. Sappol writes "about a
set of longstanding issues in the history of anatomical
representation" and how our ideas about ourselves are affected, even
shaped by such representation. Phrenological diagrams are to be
expected and are relevant to our interests, but what lies closer are
the ones which fit the reigning technologies of the time to functions
of the brain, e.g. Fritz Kahn's Das Leben des Menschen (1926).
(Several of Kahn's engaging diagrams are also to be found in the
British Library's Gallery of Bodies as Machines,

There is more here than seems at first. For decades we have been
using the computing machine as our source of figurative language when
imagining ourselves, sometimes forgetting that the language is
figurative. Despite the trouble such forgetting causes as well as the
power computational metaphors have in helping us to understand our
21st-century selves, the situation isn't nearly as interesting seen
like that as when it is turned around. Ian Hacking has been working
for some time on doing so in one way, by working out the implications
of our becoming corporeally more and more artificial, as more and
more of our parts are replaced, repaired or supplemented for medical
or other reasons. John von Neumann did it another way when he turned
to neurological structures as a source of language to describe his
architecture for computing, in his famous "First Draft of a Report on
the EDVAC"
This suggests that the important thing isn't so much the
computational metaphor for mind but the usefulness of the medium for
exploratory modelling of the neurobiology we do know.

There's also a long walk in the nearby forest, misty, darkish
mid-afternoon, with very black crows, Canadian geese and ducks who
are light enough to walk on the thin sheet of ice coating the ponds
here and there. Quietly beautiful in the southern English mode of
wintry beauty as we enjoy it these days. Headlamps and taillights of
the automobiles glimmer through the brush and bare branches of the
trees. A few walkers with us, several with their dogs, who are
anything but melancholy. Finally, too dark to navigate the deeper
parts of the forest, we return home to warmth, a chiming clock, food
and, thanks to my deep-sleeping computer, a guiltless evening of
non-academic pleasures.

Humanist now numbers 1600 subscribers, down one from earlier this
afternoon. Somebody must have left while I was out in the forest.
Farewell! To everyone who remains, my hope that Hanukkah was good,
that Eid is proceeding with much celebration, that Christmas will be
joyous and all the other festivals likewise.

Yours in early darkness,

Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/. Et sic in infinitum (Fludd
1617, p. 26).
Received on Fri Dec 21 2007 - 12:41:14 EST

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