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Humanist Archives: Jan. 24, 2022, 7:57 a.m. Humanist 35.485 - oracles and intelligence (part 2)

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 485.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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    [1]    From: David Zeitlyn <>
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.483: oracles and intelligence (34)

    [2]    From: <>
           Subject: Transcultural Approaches to AI History (68)

        Date: 2022-01-23 09:36:07+00:00
        From: David Zeitlyn <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.483: oracles and intelligence

I cannot resist Willard's provocation about oracles

In part this connects to arguments that "belief" is not a helpful analytic
concept but that probably takes us off topic. (See Needham and Cassin's
Dictionary of Untranslatables)

I want to concentrate on the way that divination and oracles have long (+/-
always) functioned in regional/ cross-cultural systems. This means that it is
unsafe to assume there is much in the way of 'a meeting of minds' (or a sharing
of ontologies) between those operating the oracle (the diviners) and those
asking the question (the divinatory clients).

I think that  divinatory consultation (divinatory practice as opposed to its
theory) occurs in what Peter Galison would call a 'trading zone' where agreement
is reached on a shared modus vivendi (which may not extend as far as agreement
in the theoretical background).

I wrote about this (without using Galison) in a recent paper about divination
and how ontology-talk wasn't helpful. There I used the idea of divination
procedures acting as a boundary object to allow diviners and their clients to
have productive interactions without sharing a common ontology!

David Zeitlyn  ‘Divination and ontologies: a reflection’ 2021 Social Analysis
65(2), 139-160. 139–160 doi:10.3167/sa.2021.650208n Online ISSN: 1558-5727 Print
ISSN: 0155-977X

Actually the whole special issue may be of interest to Humanist readers

best wishes


        Date: 2022-01-23 17:49:07+00:00
        From: <>
        Subject: Transcultural Approaches to AI History


Very grateful to Alan Liu and the planners of the upcoming event to pre-
circulate Alexandre Gefen’s paper.  I was struck by the scope of the project:

Our project is to make a long and deliberately transcultural history of AI that
will confront artistic gestures to the speeches of scientists creating AI, so as
to propose points of comparison, convergence or difference between the different
discourses specific to the respective territories of art and science.


And I immediately thought of Japan’s game culture. And mused a space on the role
traditions other than Anglo-Euro play in the imaginative reception to the the
possibilities of AI  In the domain of fictional treatments of AI, William Gibson
in his Neuromancer trilogy draws on orishas; in the Bridge trilogy he draws on
Shintoism (esp. Idoru) — What is at work in these relays is the work of
transculturation as opposed to acculturation …  And so I discover and offer a

In prehistoric archaeology, two main models have been proposed to explain
processes underlying the transition between different techno-cultural
assemblages in prehistoric archaeology. These ‘transitions’ represent either
phenomena of ‘gradualism’ connected to in situ evolution or ‘diffusionism’ by
various ‘acculturation’ processes prone to external influences (direct loans)
and necessarily implicating long-distance migrations of populations. Following a
review of the original formulation of these two processes, an alternative
paradigm is proposed – ‘transculturation’. Borrowed from ethnologists and
introduced by F. Ortiz in 1940
(, this
process is characterised by the integration (through indigenous
reinterpretation) of external influences via indirect loans derived from
intimate interpersonal contacts. In the sense of the term employed here,
transculturation can take several different forms (imitation, assimilation,
hybridisation, reinterpretation) that are better suited to accounting for the
diverse transformations evident in the archaeological record. Contrary to
acculturation which imposes new (foreign) manners of doing things,
transculturation reinvests the people hidden behind each techno-culture as the
primary agents of their own transformation in that they may or may not be open
to the diffusion of certain external ideas and have the possibility of
reinterpreting them rather than suffering them.


Le Brun-Ricalens F. (2019) Transculturation Versus Acculturation: A
Clarification. In: Nishiaki Y., Jöris O. (eds) Learning Among Neanderthals and
Palaeolithic Modern Humans. Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans Series.
Springer, Singapore.

Thank you for your patience with these wandering thoughts,

All the best


François Lachance, Ph.d.

living in the beginning of the long 22nd century; sequencing the  "future


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