Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: March 6, 2021, 8:34 a.m. Humanist 34.259 - psychology of quantification

				                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 259.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                   		Hosted by DH-Cologne
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    [1]    From: Willard McCarty 
           Subject: Material and embodied practices of people doing mathematics, symbolic logic, and calculation (66)

    [2]    From: Inna Kizhner 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.258: psychology of quantification (87)


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: 2021-03-06 07:17:49+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: Material and embodied practices of people doing mathematics, symbolic logic, and calculation

[The following I've plucked from SIGCIS, with thanks. It points to a recent book 
on the subject. After a day devoted to searching around, I've unearthed a rather 
large list of items, from Woolf, Quantification: A history of the meaning of 
measurement (1961), containing a brilliant paper by Kuhn, to Kiss and 
Zétényi, Linguistic and cognitive aspects of quantification (2018). There's 
likely other possible, more discipline-specific lists, such as for history in its 
cliometric phase. What strikes me from an all-too-quick scan of this 
material, is that much the same tendencies in quantification emerge over 
and over again. From those who see the threat: reductive determinism; 
dismissal of the human; and imitation of natural science, whose abstract 
general laws remove individual experience in the process of making 
knowledge 'scientific'.  

“We are bamboozled by numbers,” Tim Ingold has 
written, “many of a magnitude that defy comprehension. But to add things 
up, they have first to be broken off from the processes that gave rise to 
them, from the ebbs and flows of life.” (2019: 667) Things have to be 
individuated, or returned to their individuality. Without that, however 
valuable quantitative methods may be, only an abstraction remains.

Historian Jacques Barzun, in Clio and the Doctors (1974), makes the valuable 
observation about the difference between narrative and quantitative 
history, between which at that time swords were drawn:

> In verbal history the critical sense acts upon the pattern
> displayed—is it too neat? And on the motives alleged—are they
> improbable? Whereas in quantitative history, despite the preliminary
> account of how things were classified and computed and adjustments
> made, the skeptical eye scans the method more than the results. (26)

The key point, it seems to me, comes from modelling: not only (again 
to quote Barzun) to maintain "a sharp sense of the gap between the 
concrete world and the abstraction of quantity" but also between that 
world and story-telling that conforms to our current purposes.

Comments?

Yours,
WM]


-------- Forwarded Message --------
Date:   Fri, 5 Mar 2021 16:21:01 -0600
From:   Julie Cohn 

For reasons unrelated to the inquiry at the start of this email chain, I
listened to a podcast called “Drinks with the Deal” that featured Will
Deringer and a discussion of his book, /Calculated Values/,
which “traces how numbers first gained widespread authority” in 17th
century Great Britain (from MIT Press website). I have not read any of
Will Deringer’s work, but it may be of interest.

-Julie

Julie Cohn, Ph.D.

Non-Resident Scholar, Center for Energy Studies
Baker Institute for Public Policy, Rice University, and
Research Historian, Center for Public History
University of Houston
email: cohnconnor@gmail.com 
cell: 713.516.0849
Author: The Grid: Biography of an American Technology (MIT Press,
2017)
https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/grid 


--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: 2021-03-05 15:37:30+00:00
        From: Inna Kizhner 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.258: psychology of quantification

Dear Willard,

Abraham Fet's *Pythagoras and a monkey: how mathematics caused a cultural
decline* was written in the 1980s, this book is very much in line with the
quotes and it is about the motivation of quantification. It is in Russian,
written by a mathematician for the general public, and posted here
http://www.aifet.ru/books/fet_v2.pdf

Best wishes

Inna Kizhner



пт, 5 мар. 2021 г. в 17:10, Humanist :

>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 258.
>         Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                                 Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                        www.dhhumanist.org
>                 Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
>
>
>
>
>         Date: 2021-03-04 09:45:32+00:00
>         From: Hartmut Krech 
>         Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.257: the psychology of quantification?
>
> Willard,
>
> While not in direct reply to your question, I found the following short
> piece by The New Yorker staff-writer Alec Wilkinson inspiring, detailing
> what may 'count' as 'mathematics' when viewed from different angles:
> https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/what-is-mathematics
>
> Best regards,
> Hartmut
> Dr. Hartmut Krech
> https://de.linkedin.com/in/hartmut-krech-88a72637
>
> Am 04.03.2021 um 09:44 schrieb Humanist:
> >                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 257.
> >          Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
> >                               Hosted by DH-Cologne
> >                         www.dhhumanist.org
> >                  Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >          Date: 2021-03-04 08:35:25+00:00
> >          From: Willard McCarty 
> >          Subject: quantification
> >
> > I'd be grateful for recommendations of studies on the psychology of
> > quantification, especially the motivations and the consequences for
> > research.
> >
> > Statements such as the following intrigue me:
> >
> >> Economist-historian David Landes: “Modern man is reassured by
> >> numbers, which possess a quality of precision and certainty that mere
> >> words cannot give. Their mathematical character discourages
> >> criticism.” (150: 195f)
> >>
> >> Experimental psychologist Frederic Bartlett: “When a statement is
> >> ‘quantified’, it seems to carry, to the majority of persons, a
> >> superior certainty, and it passes without question.” (1940: 94)
> >>
> >> Sociologist John William Albig: “[T]here is a widespread faith that
> >> figures do not lie. Such simplifications are frequently fatal to
> >> impartial consideration but are usually useful in the dissemination
> >> of conclusions.” (1956: 330)
> > More recent studies?
> >
> > Many thanks.
> >
> > Yours,
> > WM
> >
> > --
> > Willard McCarty,
> > Professor emeritus, King's College London;
> > Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist
> > www.mccarty.org.uk



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