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Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 408. Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London <http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/> <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/> Date: Tue, 24 Oct 2000 07:08:33 +0100 From: "Osher Doctorow" <osher@ix.netcom.com> Subject: Methodological Primitives I have been looking over the past contributions to this thread, and it will still take me some time to understand them if ever, but I have a few tentative ideas. Leonardo Da Vinci put a smile on Mona Lisa by deleting detail - the first to do so. But why? Now, here is a "paradox". A smile is itself a little detail. It seems to have intrigued the mathematician Lewis Carroll in the time of Queen Victoria. Could it have interested Leonardo? Why would a detail interest Leonardo, this grand master of the global rather than the local? Could his genius have had something to do with detail? Could it extend all the way into the origins of the High Renaissance and beyond, both by its omission and its addition? Now let me change the scene rapidly and point out something closely related. String theorists in physics and logic-based probability (LBP) theory are converging on the conclusion that the universe itself contains the structure of life. In LBP we seem to have the result that the universe in particular contains the structure of bacteria. The greatest problem of our time, like that of the Renaissance and its preceding Dark Ages, is life versus death - mostly through viruses which may or may not be gene linked. A virus is neither dead nor alive. It has some characteristics of life but not all. It misses a detail or two. Leonardo came soon after a Europe whose population was cut into a third or less by disease. It must have occupied his mind. Yet he had an interest in the Ancient Classics, where Democritus tells us about atoms - little units of details. Does the Mona Lisa tell us that creative genius and life versus death lies in little details like a slight change in one axiom or the addition of one atom or the deletion of slight details in a painting? Is the methodological primitive before our very noses? Life and humanism and computers have much in common indeed - growth, sensitivity, mobility, etc. What do we know about growth? Can we or a computer recognize image patterns of growth? Text grows by adding one letter or symbol at a time in theory (and probably in practice). We do not even have a mathematics to express this. We do have a mathematics and physics that predict how much certain things (relatively few of them, actually) will grow, but we do not even know a set operation for adding one detail or one element at a time to a set and still referring to it as the same growing set (for those who do not know set theory, substitute "collection of things" for "set"). LBP is fairly near such a set theory, and it looks like it will tie in with virus and bacteria growth. Yet I think that there is a faster way. You members of humanist discussion group and I must be the Leonardo Da Vincis of our time. Forget the apparatus of mathematics and computers of the last few hundred years, which Leonardo did not have anyway, and think about methodological primitives in humanist computing that relate to growth, sensitivity to the environment and to the internal state, mobility, perception at its most primitive level rather than for arbitrary image patterns, search at the most primitive level of focused/localized perception, sorting at the most primitive level of ordering elements of sets/collections, adding external databases one element at a time instead of massively, consciousness as a global sensitivity rather than a strictly localized sensitivity. Ask what would happen if you drop or add one of these features at a time, or the sub-features of which each is composed. Create scenarios, non-Euclidean geometry analogues in humanism consisting of Shakespeare plus or minus some assumptions, write science fiction and mysteries and spy thrillers with more fiction than science but with a little assumption carefully changed here and there, and keep track of what you come up with. I think that if you do those things and I do mine, we will meet at the intersection of life and death and not only conquer one discipline but many. Let us try. Osher

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