Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: May 31, 2022, 7:34 a.m. Humanist 36.43 - in the dark

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 43.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2022-05-30 15:17:59+00:00
        From: Fishwick, Paul <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.41: in the dark

Thank you to Herbert Wender and James Rovira for valid and useful critiques of
my essay.

Herbert: I agree that the idea of a tree may have been present well before
computers. Consider natural trees and how our ancestors may have thought 
about their structure. However, the graph formalism is credited to Euler. 
Computer Science was created from discrete mathematics (still a first required
 course for majors). CS, then, inherits the mathematical abstractions.

This is why I suggest that we are learning computer science in the process of
thinking about how to manage our TVs or operate our microwave ovens. We are 
really learning mathematics, and hence CS.

James: I agree with your points. It is highly likely that some sort of mental
state must have been present long before the computer age. Graph theory, 
though, formalizes these states.

Here is an interesting experiment if you have not already seen it: Tom Wujec's
"how to make toast".

I have spent time looking closely at what students created (the "systems
thinking guide"). These are all models of how toast is made and of how the toaster
works. Most conform to the mathematical/CS abstractions of data and control flow.

The drawings are mental models, precursors to more formalized structures. It
would take an extra step to say to the student "you have just created graphs that 
capture the flow of control and data". But this is where my mind lurks and thus I am 
interested in non-formalized mental models.

Paul Fishwick, PhD
Distinguished University Chair of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication
Professor of Computer Science
Director, Creative Automata Laboratory
The University of Texas at Dallas
Arts & Technology
800 West Campbell Road, AT10
Richardson, TX 75080-3021
Twitter: @PaulFishwick
ONLINE: Webex,Collaborate, TEAMS, Zoom, Skype, Hangout

On 5/30/22, 12:32 AM, "Humanist" <> wrote:

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 41.
Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
Hosted by DH-Cologne

[1]    From: Dr. Herbert Wender <>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.38: in the dark (7)

[2]    From: James Rovira <>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.38: in the dark (127)


Date: 2022-05-29 20:47:26+00:00
From: Dr. Herbert Wender <>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.38: in the dark

you wrote: "by learning how to use a menu based system, the user’s mental model
of ‘tree’ is developed."
The 'menu' part in the expression 'menu based system' points to a tradition much
older than electronic technologies. I remember f.e. the conten list in Hegel's
Phenomenology as a flattened tree - isn't it? Your example seems to be not
really helpful.Regards, Herbert

Date: 2022-05-29 17:55:20+00:00
From: James Rovira <>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.38: in the dark

I completely agree with you, Paul, and thank you for the response. I think
we should always remember that humans create and program the machines that
potentially change our cognition, and that your "tree" example works both
ways: terms like tree, file, folder, net(work), etc., all refer to material
objects or relationships among material objects that existed prior to
computing. Sequential logic, mathematics, and grouping systems all existed
prior to computing, and those in turn exist as human languages used to
describe naturally occurring phenomena.

So I think we have to be careful about claiming that computing produces
"changes" in human cognition -- we'd have to carefully look to see if no
true analog existed prior to computing. I believe those changes exist, but
I don't believe that everything claimed to be an example of such a change
actually is so. I think the biggest changes in human cognition due to
computing might occur from the time we spend staring into a light emitting
screen to do work.

Jim R


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