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Humanist Archives: April 26, 2022, 6:25 a.m. Humanist 35.667 - building tools and the terms in which we think

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 667.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2022-04-25 05:48:52+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: doing better

Bravo for Jerry McGann's call,

> to design and build digital tools for investigating and sustaining
> human exchange in both natural and artificial worlds, including
> language exchange.

The first problem we face, even before facing down “the constitutively
militarized practice of technoscience” (Haraway, "Cat's Cradle"), is
thinking our way around the changed terms in which we think about the
project he has briefly sketched.

An example. John von Neumann, in his "First draft of a report" (1945),
co-opted the term 'memory' to describe the 'organ' (his word too) of the
machine he was sketching.  We already had a problem thanks to the
ancient Greeks and many thereafter considering memory as a storehouse
of stuff to be recalled, like old files in an archive.* I think it wasn't
until Frederic Bartlett suggested that 'remembering' was a far better
way to frame what we do (1932). Somewhere the ethnographic
historian Greg Dening talks about family stories getting truer the more
they are remembered--as, we might say, we add new bits or embellish 
ones. Thinking in terms of 'information', with the great shadow of Claude 
Shannon hovering over (or beneath) us, is a related problem.**

Back to our books--the literary and historical ones--to re-mind.



*See Kurt Danziger, Marking the Mind: A History of Memory (Cambridge, 2008); 
Drouwe Draaisma, Metaphors of Memory: A history of ideas about the mind
(Cambridge, 2000).
**Warren Weaver, "The Mathematics of Communication", Scientific American 
181.1 (July 1949).

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

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