21.453 disentanglement

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 31 Dec 2007 08:05:06 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 453.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Mon, 31 Dec 2007 08:02:33 +0000
         From: Stephen Ramsay <sramsay_at_unlserve.unl.edu>
         Subject: Re: 21.445 what results?

On Dec 29, 2007, at 4:02 PM, Humanist Discussion Group (by way of
Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:

>Quite apart from the question of cognitive science and alchemy,
>pursued here before Christmas, Rorty's summary of the Wittgensteinian
>view of cognitive science raises for us a useful question. There can
>now be no question that in humanities computing "very bright people
>engage in spirited debates
>with one another" and that after many years of hard work other
>externals are in place (academic departments, professorships,
>journals, awards etc). But are we disentangling ourselves from
>history, computer science, English, musicology et al. "in the way
>that chemistry did [from philosophy] -- by exhibiting [our] ability
>to spin off new technologies" -- and other forms of knowledge?

I'm moved to respond in part because I was student of Rorty's and was,
even before that encounter, a hard-core Wittgensteinian (and
therefore, perhaps, a dogmatic behaviorist when it comes to language
as well). To the quoted passage, I say amen.

I regard the disentangling of digital humanities from English,
history, computer science, etc. as a great danger. Digital humanists
naturally bristle at the suggestion that we are the handmaidens of
these august disciplines, but I think that is perhaps more to do with
the pejorative connotations of that mildly offensive designation than
with the nature of the relationship expressed. On paper, I
undoubtedly seem to some of my colleagues to be a specialist in
something other than what they do (literary study), but I myself have
never wanted to do anything but traditional literary criticism and
theoretical work in English studies. Ideally, the computer gives us
knowledge that is difficult to come by without the tools we have
developed amidst our spirited debates, but to engage in this activity
is, I think, to request more knowledge not "other forms of knowledge."

I think Chomskian linguistics is facile nonsense, which obviously
colors my view of their attempt to bring the procedures of natural
science to bear on questions recently regarded as part of the
philosophy of mind. Were it successful in describing language
behavior on planet earth I might be more sympathetic. Perhaps it
would be possible to affect the hermeneutical shift toward scientific
reasoning with a different model, in which case I might welcome the
knowledge created. But in the case of Chomskian linguistics, "other
forms of knowledge" strikes me as a run around meant to hide the fact
that what is being proposed is a different set of ground truths. This
is a phenomenon also to be found in the New Age section of the local
bookstore, where so many ideas are proposed as "alternative science."

Surely we do not fancy ourselves as operating from a different set of
ground truths which in turn will yield "other forms of knowledge?" In
that case, we have no business calling ourselves humanities computing.



Stephen Ramsay
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Center for Digital Research in the Humanities
University of Nebraska at Lincoln
PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11
Received on Mon Dec 31 2007 - 03:18:03 EST

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