Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: March 30, 2021, 6:56 a.m. Humanist 34.306 - the problem of abundance

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 306.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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    [1]    From: Willard McCarty <>
           Subject: tackling the problems of abundance & of radical thinking (57)

    [2]    From: Unmil P Karadkar <>
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.304: finding by concordancing (19)

        Date: 2021-03-29 16:25:04+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: tackling the problems of abundance & of radical thinking

A while back I raised Roy Rosenzweig's "problem of abundance" that came
out of his musing about what it would be like as an historian to have a
complete historical record. As I noted, one doesn't even need to go that
far: the Web as is confronts us with the same question.

I know of two proposals. One, which I've referred to many times, is
Richard Rorty's: that we stop thinking as highly focused
specialists and become (critical, I trust) gatherers of multiple
witnesses, as many as mortal strength and time allow. (This occurs, you
may recall, in his commentary on Gadamer, "Being that can be understood
is language", in Krajewski's Gadamer's Repercussions). The other, more
like what we already do, is described by Leah Dickerman in her
introduction to the MOMA exhibition catalogue for Inventing Abstraction

> In its emergence within a rich social network, abstraction resembles
> many other intellectual developments studied by sociologists. In his
> book The Sociology of Philosophies, Randall Collins looks at the
> social dimenstion of innovation, countering the Romantic ideal of the
> genius as an inspired loner. Instead, he argues, innovation is found
> in groups: it arises out of social interaction -- conversation,
> sharing ideas, validation and competition. Moreover, the right sort
> of group, Collins suggests, can radicalize intennectual innovation,
> prompting individuals to take positions far more extreme, far more
> convention defying, than they would alone.  This sort of productive
> sociability may also lead to multiple, almost simultaneous inventions
> of the same or related things: many investigators converging on the
> same finding is a common pattern of scientific discovery, as the
> sociologist of science Robert K. Merton has suggested. Abstraction,
> with almost simultaneous "first" pictures appearing in a scattering
> of places. would seem to follow this model. The answer to the
> question "How do you think a truly radical thought?" seems to be: you
> think it through a network.

Of course people use networks in many other, less admirable ways, e.g.
to gossip, spread fake news and so on.  I land on Dickerman's final clause,
in particular the preposition: "you think it /through/ a network", and I
note that her tentative answer is in the context of an extraordinarily 
brilliant group of individuals.

Perhaps -- permit the leap, if you will -- we need to think again about
'individual'. And here comes a book I have just encountered, too
recently to have actually read, but invite better informed comments on:
Michaela Ott, Dividuations: Theories of Participation (2018).

But, of course, in the end, however formed, it's the insight which counts.



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

        Date: 2021-03-29 10:36:27+00:00
        From: Unmil P Karadkar <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.304: finding by concordancing

Ian Milligan's book "History in the Age of Abundance" comes to mind.

I had also co-authored an article a few years ago, which focuses on the
ability of historians to ask different questions using the increasingly
digitized collections of historical newspapers and touches on adapting
methods or questions for the issue of abundance

A Perspective on the Larger World: Newspaper Coverage of National and
International Events in Three Small US Cities, 1870-1920
M. Ocepek, U. Karadkar, W. Aspray
Information & Culture: A Journal of History 50(3), Aug 2015, pp. 417-440



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