Simulated Humanist Mind


Zipf’s Law, Style, and the Literary – Conclusions

(This is Part 6, the final part of my series on Zipf’s Law. For Part 5 see here.  I had not planned this conclusion to be so heavily delayed — exams intervened). My previous posts have argued for the usefulness of a certain parameter — a — gleaned from power-law fitting a text in determining the stylistic concerns of a text.  The question I want to address here is simple: where does this leave the phenomenal experience of reading?  To what degree do certain stylistic experiences (for example, recognizing something as a sample of Puritan plain style, or as “Stein-esque”) supervene on a word distribution deviant from a norm? Though my answer to this question is ambivalent, I believe this exercise has been useful in diagnosing the normal way critics approach texts. Generally, critics are taught to work backwards from the phenomenal experience of reading a text, tracing the effects the texts produce back to their sources in internal contradictions or the historical grounds of their production.  In a sense, this acts as a recapitulation of the Freudian dream form (perhaps delivered through the vector of Frederic Jameson’s use of Lacan to bolster his historical-symptomatic). By treating the ‘straightforward’ experience of a text as an epiphenomenon of some “lower level” causal factor, for example, the smoothing over of an ideological contradiction, we commit ourselves to a particular conception of the reading mind.  On this account, the phenomenological aspect of reading is not only produced from below — crucially we also tend to believe that given the right method (again, think of Marx) we can trace the provenance of this phenomenological experience back to its source. This idea of mind has come into question in recent practice. Surface reading, for example, argues that critics should focus mostly on the latent properties of […]

Posted by Craig on May 15th, 2015


Humanities Simulation: Claude Chappe’s Telegraph

Thanks to the specter of professional obligation, a brief post detailing my work on simulation made it on to the UCLA Digital Humanities website.  I was very gratified for the opportunity to share what is (more or less) my personal work, and am very thankful to Miriam Posner for her signal-boosting retweet.   I thought I’d just take a second to dump some screenshots and explain the project in a bit more detail.  The thumbnail description is that I’m working on a simulation platform, used for the Chappe example, for discrete, agent-based modelling. More plainly, time advances in discrete steps, and each object modeled has a set of desires, goals etc. controlled at an individual level of granularity.   This is the base simulation.  On the left is the map of Chappe’s French network, circa about 1848 (it is geographically flattened). Each grey box is an originating station (the five in the Center make Paris. And aren’t they just as gran) and each black box is an interstitial station.  This is by Chappe’s own design — to keep codes secret, only higher-level functionaries at certain stations could commence transmissions.  Currently, all input is done from the console on the right.  The text displayed is the transition probability between spaces — since historical data concerning the transition probability from station to station exists, this can be used to simulate weather conditions.     Clicking on one of the initial stations allows you to enter the destination station on that line, as well as your message (all a bit crude right now, but emphasizing the discrete nature of writing, I suppose).   After you enter your message, press ‘S’ to step the simulation one time unit. Each station checks the station before it to see if it holds a new message. If […]

Posted by Craig on March 17th, 2015