Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Deep and the Personal: The Future?

A Jonathan Hsy eye view of the interview segment
by J J Cohen

(Read Karl mansplaining to you BABEL 2014 as well as what mansplaining is. Then read this.)

First, thanks to everyone who attended for the response Lindy and I received to our joint plenary at BABEL Boston, "The Deep and the Personal: The Earth, Time and Thought." We were a little nervous about the talk because -- despite having plotted its rough shape (two disciplinary specific presentations followed by an interview), despite knowing that we share some obsessions about stone, time and catastrophe, and despite having shared our slides beforehand to be startled by how much they possessed in common -- we did not prepare anything else for the talk that night. The interview segment was wholly off the cuff.

We are thinking of co-authoring a small book derived from the plenary. The problem is, the interview wasn't recorded and was the swiftest 30 minutes either of us has experienced. We know that the exchanges eliciting the most interest involved the framing of Big Questions and the rumination over beauty and science. We'd of course like to think about those more (and I believe they intersect in a rather profound way). It isn't our intention simply to recreate the plenary -- for that reason I'm kind of happy it wasn't recorded, because it was a performance of and for the conference moment -- but, if you have any to offer, we would love to gather some feedback on what questions explored that evening intrigued, as well as what additional queries a humanist and a scientist should be provoking each other with. Even if you were unable to attend, we would be very happy to hear from you, since the book would be intended for as wide an audience as possible. Because wasn't the conference conclusion that we need to collaborate as widely as possibly?


Linda Elkins-Tanton said...

From Lindy -- Yes, please, send us feedback or ideas if anything has occurred to you. We're also considering a reenactment, or really, a reprise and continuation, at a place and time yet to be determined (and this time to be recorded). The Babel conference was energizing and fascinating to me. Thank you all again so much for helping me feel so welcome!

Eileen Joy said...

I would like to reprise the question of beauty, actually, which I think is fraught with all sorts of problems even just within the humanities, where, believe it or not, Lindy, we're a little bit embarrassed to talk about it (with some notable exceptions, such as Harvard professor Elaine Scarry's book on the subject). We worry that conversations about beauty will lapse into universalist values abd beliegs that might occlude important cultural and other types of difference. But maybe we could put the concept of beauty into a temporary holding pattern and ask a slightly different question about aesthetics: Lindy and Jeffrey, how do the forms of things, whether a literary genre or what we might think of as the shapes of planetary formations, or shapes in general, either constrain or enliven our modes of thought and ability to conceptualize new ideas? Also, what firms serve as your strange attractors?

Eileen Joy said...

Okay, typo police:

beliegs = beliefs

firms = forms

Eileen Joy said...

A flip side to this question might also be: how do abstractions help you think through complex ideas?

Stephanie Trigg said...

I was really struck, in the interview you did with each other, how quickly Jeffrey moved from the idea that humanities research would begin from the same point as the sciences: what's your big question? what problem are you trying to solve?

Fifteen years ago I would have had the same response. But in the Australian funding/research regimes, so many of our practices and scholarly decorums are modelled on science disciplines, so that we have become accustomed to ask similar questions of ourselves from the beginning. Our PhD students are similarly encouraged to formulate research questions from the beginning. And we all routinely now formulate our methodological approaches, our research aims, the significance of our research, etc. That may not always be a good thing, but it has helped us have conversations researchers beyond the humanities, at least, and make our work intelligible to them.

On good days, I've certainly heard scientists (a close friend of mine leads the Australian wing of the Hadron collider project) speak passionately and politically about their work, too, of course.

I liked the exchange very much, and would like to have heard more about Lindy's research, and her own research questions, too.

Ryan Judkins said...

It seemed during the excellent back and forth that the initial suggestions for differences between humanistic and scientific modes of inquiry resembled the differences between inductive and deductive modes of reasoning, but I don't think this fact is true at all. Humanities scholars have to combine inductive and deductive modes, though I think we do tend to start inductively. Lindy mentioned later in the evening that she didn't think that division held up either, and that scientists don't really follow the much-vaunted "Scientific Method." So, what's the defining difference in approach between the two areas, or are the differences mostly a matter of long-standing delusions that we deceive ourselves with?