Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: March 12, 2021, 7:33 a.m. Humanist 34.273 - psychology of quantification

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 273.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2021-03-11 09:49:44+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: psychology of quantification

I seem to have written confusedly in asking about how the conditions
of living during the Cold War affected academics' attitudes to digital
computing. I meant no necessary relation between digital machines and a
perceived threat from the military products of technoscience and their
deployment, hence by association a threat from technoscience itself. 
Rather, as many books on the Cold War, the RAND and so on, the 
abundant popular literature at that time and living memory (e.g. of 
'duck and cover') attest, it was very easy to pin the blame for the 
unthinkable on technoscience. Who, after all, had built the Bomb?

Why poke around in such disturbing stuff? I want to find out all the
reasons for the evident fear of computing, sometimes explicitly stated,
sometimes possibly implied. I think we can learn from this about how we
frame our thinking about computing now, i.e. include some aspects,
exclude others. To put this another way with the help of Thomas Kuhn, I
want to throw some light on "the image of science by which we are now
possessed" (Structure, p. 1).

Why do that? Kuhn began his great book by arguing for the liberating
force of a real history of science. My historical probing is on a far
smaller scale, but I think it would be liberating indeed if we could
shed the all-too-common uneasiness with science (in the Anglophone
sense), esp the natural sciences, so as to broaden our and future
generations' understanding of the digital machine, in turn better to 
understand how it affects and is affected by the humanities.


Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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