Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: April 19, 2022, 7:51 a.m. Humanist 35.658 - 'as if' to 'is'

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 658.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2022-04-19 05:06:09+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: 'as-if' to 'is'

Thanks to Dino Buzzetti for the downgrading of my dangerous cliff to a
gentler slope in Humanist 35.653. What I took Gerard to be complaining
about, however, stirs a different question than the reliability of
computational systems -- a very important matter to be sure. My interest
is in the often rather sudden and mostly unnoticed shift from
subjunctive to indicative, the change from treating an idea or construct
AS IF it were something to regarding it as being that thing. Modelling
provides many examples. We begin e.g. by noticing that a digital machine
serves as quite a good model for the brain -- storage as if it were
biological memory, for example. Then we just call it 'memory'.

One way of regarding this shift that I can think of is as a fatal cliff,
a sudden loss of a profound difference--in this case, the complexity of 
remembering. The other way is to 'stretch' the term 'memory' to cover the 
digital analogue, so 'memory' becomes a bigger idea. Still, I'd think, 
awareness of difference is absolutely key.

Forgetting difference seems to me a chronic condition with regards to
the digital machine.


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

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