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Humanist Archives: Nov. 3, 2022, 6:55 a.m. Humanist 36.231 - the general-purpose machine and unlimited growth

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 231.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2022-11-02 09:09:52+00:00
        From: maurizio lana <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.228: the general-purpose machine and unlimited growth

hi Willard,

good point that of the ever-increasing number of footnotes and size of
bibliography in our publications.

i have three thoughts.

1) the risk of an all-you-can-eat syndrome in the scientific
publication: "let's put some more footnotes", "let's give also this
source", as if quantity would become quality. in general i prefer
another type of cuisine even if i recognize that sometimes an
all-you-can-eat has its raison d'être. so out of metaphor my idea is
that a scientific publication is also a place where the number and type
of sources and footnotes is carefully chosen; crafted, i would say.

2) the digital world of sources and the reference management tools
probably have a role in this growth: they make easy to find and to reuse
the sources (i am an addicted to zotero so i don't say this to imply a
critique, rather a constatazione

3) (2) above puts everyone in a state of mind which sees as a goal the
completeness of the sources which are cited on a given subject: all is
searchable and findable in the digital universe, no? so the completeness
is a duty. while we didn't leave, really, that situation which Vannevar
Bush described with the words "publication has been extended far beyond
our present ability to make real use of the record".


Il 02/11/22 07:38, Humanist ha scritto:
>                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 228.
>          Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                        Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                  Submit
>          Date: 2022-11-02 06:32:55+00:00
>          From: Willard McCarty<>
>          Subject: general purpose and unlimited growth
> In "Computer science and education" (1969), pioneer computer scientist
> George Forsythe observed that "computing is rapidly invading almost
> every aspect of our intellectual and technological life." He then went
> on to proclaim that, "Indeed, the question 'What can be automated?' is
> one of the most inspiring philosophical and practical questions of
> contemporary civilization." (Information Processing 68, Amsterdam, p.
> 1025) Newspaper evidence suggests that people were still being surprised
> by the idea for some time afterwards. Two aspects of Forsythe's
> statement interest me. First is the irony that as this machine was
> opening up seemingly endless possibilities, it was at the same time
> closing down others as more and more people accepted the notion that
> what couldn't be computed wasn't terribly important and would after a
> time be accommodated by what Herbert Simon called 'satisficing'. The
> second is the delusion of unlimited possibilities itself, of the
> unlimited 'growth' that is now causing us to reach "the limit situation"
> (Lagerkvist 2022).
> Some days or weeks ago, Jerome McGann pointed to a limitation of
> Lagerkvist's fine book, that it doesn't say much at all in answer to
> Lenin's useful question, "What is to be done?" John Lanchester's novel
> The Wall (2018) gives us a version of a common reaction to that
> question.  But I want to pose a different version of the problem of
> unlimited growth, namely of data--and let me limit this to useful
> scholarly data--and furthermore to the kind one uses by reading it
> rather than applying statistical tests.
> With many years as a scholar, a good reputation and respect, one can
> make statements without footnotes, at least in some circumstances, but
> in general what does one do to remain helpful while doing new things? I
> find the number of footnotes growing (e.g. over 100 in a 22-page
> single-spaced paper). These serve two purposes: to reassure my readers
> that there are other respected scholars who would back me up if asked,
> and that here is where you go if you want to find out more. An
> interdisciplinary scholar has an obligation to point the way, no?
> Thoughts on this? Responding to the problem by narrowing down ever more
> seems to me a BIG mistake. But what is a junior scholar to do and survive?
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty,
> Professor emeritus, King's College London;
> Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist


apriti cielo
sulla frontiera
sulla rotta nera
una vita intera
mannarino, apriti cielo

Maurizio Lana
Università del Piemonte Orientale
Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici
Piazza Roma 36 - 13100 Vercelli

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