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Week Five (Wed, 2/16): Head Games


I. (Liz) Coursekeeping
signing in

taking notes: ekthorp, Hillary G

naming one another: are we ready for a test??

posting some "information" by midnight Fri about ... information.

reading for Mon:
the second of two chapters by Katherine Hayles, "How We Think:Transforming Power and Digital Humanities" (an essay from a book forthcoming; available in our password-protected file)

Looking further forward: our shared "text" for next WED is a film about Ada Lovelace,  Lynn Leeson's 85-minute-long Conceiving Ada, which is on reserve on Canaday: you might well make plans to watch it (w/ friends?) over the weekend (so everyone can get to it in time...)

Synopsis: Emmy Coer is a computer scientist obsessed with Countess Ada Lovelace, author of the first computer algorithm, written for Charles Babbage's "difference engine". She finds a way of communicating with people in the past by way of "undying information waves". In the film, Ada's ideas are portrayed as limited by discrimination against women in technology, science and mathematics in her time. Much of the story revolves around Coer's attempts to use genetic engineering to bring Countess Lovelace into the present.

another nudge re:
signing up for writing conferences with us NOW

in response to popular demand,

also now available on our homepage:
Help for Authors on Serendip
(full of details re: uploading images, etc.)

II. We've now entered the second section of the course,

We have started to build a bridge to this new idea, in talking about all the different ways that we convey the "information" that is gender.

Reviewing two articles from Monday:

Katherine Rowe (English) on comparing our conceptual maps and investments, and Paul Grobstein (Biology), on searching for a "third law."

Think about how their arguments compare with what we learned in listening to (and describing our observations) about the noise band, Beethoven, and UVA/uva:

Katherine spoke about the linguistic concept of the "basic economy
of response" needed for a conversation to be socially functional 

* Information involves distinguishing a pattern,
vs. noise, which has no innate structure;

*however, there has to be some unpredictability, some
surprise, something learned, in the communication

(per Walter Benjamin: some un-intelligibility is necessary to produce meaning--> the ground of conversation: room for the other to respond)

*is "meaning" the fulcrum identifying the
shift from "noise" to "information"?

*filtering can involve either deliberately
discarding noise or pigeonholing what is familiar

*is noise observant-dependent?
does information depend on context?

*what meaning does information have for non-humans?


Paul started in a very different place (we're modeling interdisciplinary conversation here!) with a property common to developing embryos and nerve cells: when a part is removed, the remaining part self-organizes to do its job

* claiming that the definition of information as "faithful communication across transmission channels" is not useful for working on this problem,

* he redefined it as "the organization of matter and energy" 
(the more organized, the higher the information content)

* since information can only exist in the presence of a decoder, it might actually be re-defined as "that which is transformed" (by the decoder)
from one form of organized matter and energy to another (from potential to actual information)


* so: information is not "essential," but transactional

what motivates the coder and the decoder?

what do we trust as information?

Consider kgould's report that researchers hope to build sympathetic "listening" robots that ... may provide a less-judging ear than that of a human....My question for you, the students and audience of GIST, is whether or not what [we] have to say needs to be heard by someone who understands what [we]'re saying?

In this conception: does any information exist, if no ear hears/no mind receives it?

How do Katherine and Paul's claims diverge from and
link to what we were discovering together on Monday?


To recap from Monday--we began with our human-habit! of categorizing in binaries:

noise vs. information

patterned vs. random

purposeful vs. un-intelligible

contextualized vs. disconnected


Disruptions of the binary--

Instead of oppositional, we asked what other relationship might exist between noise and information?


*is one subsumed by the other?

*is one the source of the other?

*are they different states of the same thing?

i.e., the notion of noise as "potential" information


What links and connections to the readings do you see?

How does all of this connect to gender and technology?

III. (Anne): turning now to an exploration of a very particular contemporary shift in how "information" (?) is conveyed, the
first of two chapters by Katherine Hayles, on "How We Read"

I have been reading and quoting Katherine Hayles for years; she is one of the humanists who has long been in the forefront of thinking with science. It was she who introduced me (for instance) to the 'three-body problem,' and with it to the deep notions of complexity and the difficulty of prediction:

It all started w/ the moon. If only the earth could have gone round the sun by itself, unperturbed by the complications in its orbit which the moon's gravitational field introduced, Newton's equations of motion would have worked fine. But when the moon entered the picture, the situation became too complex for simple dynamics to handle. The moon attracted the earth, causing perturbations in the earth's orbit which changed the earth's distance from the sun, which in turn altered the moon's orbit around the earth, which meant that the original basis for the calculation had changed and one had to start over from the beginning. The problem was sufficiently complex and interesting to merit a name and a prize of its own. It became known as the three-body problem (from Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science, 1990).

Hayles has long been studying the evolution of literature on all sorts of expansive (temporal and geographic) scales, and helping me think, in particular, about the difference that the internet is making in the evolution of forms, both literary and critical. I was delighted to meet her, finally, @ a the SLSA conference in Indianapolis in November, and to get two advance book chapters from her, which I'm now pushing on colleagues in the English Department--and you!

So: what did Hayles say to you? What "information" have you received/patterns seen/meaning made from her essay on "How We Read"?

how DO "we" read? (does she say/do you think?)

is this a "national crisis"?? (what evidence do we have?)

can we build bridges from one skill to another???

do/might literary studies professionals make a difference????

how do/might you write differently, to reflect different reading skills?

how is the concept of "information" relevant or useful here?

in "Re-thinking what reading is":

1) begin to think along these lines,
about a literary/digital text you want to add to syllabus

2) begin to think about ways to vary
your next web project/"event"

due in just over two weeks, just before Spring Break, on Fri, Mar. 4

Ex: from "House of Wits": Calamity's Mind the Gap[s]
"In the 1,009 days Alice James kept her diary, she wrote a total of 157 days; she was unable to write 85% of the time!" (How to interpret this? Busy elsewhere? or too much in pain? Whichever: Calamity's project supplies a very "different image of Alice than her caustic, well-informed political and personal commentaries provide.") Check out the visuals!

3) check out too the variety of web "events"
already beginning to emerge in this class:

riki's image
missarcher's youtubes and varied fonts
aybala's chat site
prezis (animated power points) by cara and kelliott
rubikcube used the Netlogo programming environment to create a model that allowed her to get beyond the limits of a "tree" diagram, and use color to represent the spectrums of sex, gender, and sexuality

"essence" of disciplinary identity/most valuable thing English ever offered/widely applicable skill/cultural asset: "close reading"

seen in historical dicotomy with digital technology
(fast reading and sporadic sampling);
cf. also this epilogue with "prologue," television)

dominant technique is "symptomatic reading"
(in which the critic heroically reveals, unveils, resists
ideology of the text) no longer seen as a productive practice,
but formulaic and predictable

alternatives include "surface reading"
(for overt messages), aesthetic appreciation

following Vygotsky's concept of the "zone of proximal development" (mentioned a while ago in merlin's post about scaffolding): the distance between actual and potential levels of development (teaching only effective if the distance isn't too great)

Hayles argues for a disciplinary shift to a broader sense of reading, to include hyperreading: reader-directed, screen-based, computer-assisted reading: searching, filtering, skimming, hyperlinking, "pecking," fragmenting, juxtaposing, scanning, strategy of reading in an "F" pattern

dealing with the "intractable empirical" of quantity with different reading strategies, like scanning and skimming, changes brain architecture/makes close reading more difficult

constant state of distraction; sustained concentration more difficult
(cf. 1961 Vonnegut short story; Walter Benjamin's contrast of distracted viewing of film, vs. contemplative viewing of art)

claims re brain re-wiring:
as hyperlinking increases, comprehension degrades
increased decision-making and visual processing
impairs reading performance
small distractions of Web reading
increase cognitive load on working memory
transfer to long term memory more efficient in linear reading

circular methodology: "nonindependence"-->
hypothesis affects how data is seen
most valuable yardstick our own experience:
anecdotal evidence of shift in cognitive modes
from deep to hyper attention,
more pronounced in younger age cohorts

distinctive advantages of deep and hyper attention:
deep attention essential for coping with complex phenomena
hyper attention useful for its flexibility
in switching between different information streams,
quick grasp of GIST of material, ability to
move rapidly among/between different texts
problem not hyper attention per se,
but need to ensure that deep attention continues vibrant

cf. the famous line coined by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: "the fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing"--picked up by lots of folks, among them the great paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote a book called The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox: Mending the Gap Between Science and the Humanities, in which he uses the habits of these two different animals to evoke a classic dichotomy between persistence and agility of thought

third component of contemporary reading practices:
human-assisted computer reading
(analyzing patterns in large textual corpora)
merely species chauvinism to say that computers cannot read!

cf. work of Franco Moretti on "distant (large scale) reading":
generating ingenious explanations for intriguing patterns
skimming and scanning alternate with
in-depth reading and interpretation
seeking patterns and meaning--what are they?
pattern: regularities that appear through
a series of related differences and similarities
meaning: sensitively dependent on context
(monolocal for close reading, multilocal for hyper)

a way to think about interrelation of
close/hyper/machine reading:
different distributions of pattern, meaning, context

(for ex: increased emphasis on pattern,
makes need for outside context increasingly likely;
increased emphasis on meaning,
makes the role of pattern more likely subordinate)
each form of reading with distinctive advantages, limitations,
but can interact synergistically

teach our children to be "bittextual/"multitextual,"
able to read/analyze flexibly, in different ways
How? treat lit texts w/ various research paradigms:
visualization, storyboarding, simulation, game design
use tool kits for text analysis, visualization,
mapping, social-network diagramming
close reading one of many methodologies

exs: Romeo and Juliet: A Facebook Tragedy
computer-intensive algorithmic analysis of
large data sets, applied to cultural objects
reading electronic hyptertext fiction -->
many new kinds of discoveries enabled by machine analysis
literary studies should teach literacies
across a range of media forms, re-thinking what reading is

course notes by ekthorp & Hillary G