Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: March 13, 2021, 7:50 a.m. Humanist 34.276 - psychology of quantification

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 276.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2021-03-12 08:59:04+00:00
        From: Tim Smithers <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.273: psychology of quantification

Dear Willard,

It's great to have The Humanist back!  My many thanks to all
those many who brought about this resurrection.

What follows may suffer from too much lockdown and covid
restricted living, on top of missing The Humanist.

Is Kuhn's book great?

My suspicion is that it has curtailed and distorted further
work on the nature and workings of the (so called) Natural

Kuhn, like others, adopted the classical stance: Natural
Scientists look upon their subject of interest from the
outside, thus disinterestedly and objectively, they say.  The
Natural Scientist does not think they are a part of their
subject of interest and investigations.  In the case of Kuhn's
"great" book, we have paradigms with no humans insight, yet
you can't have a [Kuhnian] paradigm without people.  (Doesn't
that seem odd to you?)

What we get from this, I would say, is a de-humanised kind of
knowledge and understanding of the Natural World, and, from
Kuhn's work, and others, the idea that there are no real
people in the doing of the Natural Sciences and Engineerings.
This leaves the Sciences looking and feeling foreign and
unfamiliar to most people, and our understanding of them
distorted in a way most Natural Scientists, and Engineers,
seldom appreciate or acknowledge, in my experience.

Fear is something people feel.  Being afraid of Science
happens, I suspect, because we don't see ourselves in the
science being done, yet it seems to have a life of it's own.
It's often presented as if it has a life of it's own, because
our classical ways of understanding Science leaves the people
who actually do it out of our understanding.  It thus becomes,
to some, a dangerous beast.  People don't seem to be so easily
afraid of big globally operating (digital world) companies,
for example, because, I submit, we know these companies in
terms of the people who run them.  Ironically, we perhaps
should be more afraid of these companies that operate beyond
the reach of our Governments.

If you want

   "...  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,"

I would suggest you don't follow a Kuhnian approach.  Rather,
I would humbly propose, you would do better trying to
understand digital machines in terms of the many people
involved in the making and using of them, and the human
conditions in this this using has and is occuring.  Digital
machines are tools, intended to support human purposes, many
different purposes, and should be understood as such, I think.
The digital machine is not a humans-free subject matter.

We should humanise our understanding of Science by humanising
our ways of studying and investigating how it is done.

Best regards,


> On 12 Mar 2021, at 08:33, Humanist <> wrote:
>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 273.
>        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                               Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                Submit to:
>        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.
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty,
> Professor emeritus, King's College London;
> Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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