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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0207  Tuesday, 27 January 2004

[1]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Monday, 26 Jan 2004 15:22:46 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0197 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 26 Jan 2004 12:22:56 -0800
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0197 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"

[3]     From:   Al Magary <
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        Date:   Monday, 26 Jan 2004 19:33:05 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0197 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Monday, 26 Jan 2004 15:22:46 -0000
Subject: 15.0197 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0197 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"

"You've hit upon a happy phrase "New Science.""

Hmmmm... rings a bell somewhere...?

I guess all phrases come around again after a certain amount of time, in
a commodius vicus of recirculation...

m

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 26 Jan 2004 12:22:56 -0800
Subject: 15.0197 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0197 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"

Ward Elliot makes an interesting suggestion:

 >... our pilot study still seems to us an impressive

performance by undergraduates and an impressive clue as to what might be
done with more and better panelists.  What if, instead of a dozen
undergraduates, it were every interested SHAKSPERian?  Or every
interested SHAKSPERian who scores above a certain level on a
standardized Golden-Ear test, whichever produces the best combination of
aggregation and selection?

Isn't there a certain problem with using experts?  I can recognize most
Shakespeare, at least from the more famous plays.  Maybe I have an ear
for the stuff, but maybe I'm just recalling earlier readings.

How do we separate the function of a golden ear from that of a good memory?

Yours truly,
Sean Lawrence.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Al Magary <
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Date:           Monday, 26 Jan 2004 19:33:05 -0800
Subject: 15.0197 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0197 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"

R.A. Cantrell wrote:

 >... It may be a few years
 >coming, but Stephen Wolfram's "New Kind of Science," will, I
 >think, have a staggering impact on stylometrics and other
 >quantitative analytical approaches to Shakespeare (inter

alia).

This is the kind of overreaching prediction that made me instantly
skeptical of Wolfram when his book was published, accompanied with far
too much self-hype.  Now, I wish to tackle Wolfram but listmember
Cantrell is standing too near, so....

Wolfram's theory, as a non-scientist like me understands it, would
easily fail in application to even the quantitative aspects of literary
study because it gives too much credit to repeatability, very little
credit to the idea of creation (originality), and no credit to the
concept of continuing creativity.  In a few years someone might show
that Wolfram's big idea applies precisely to, say, the predictable
"Marmaduke" or "Family Circus" cartoons, but I don't believe it will
ever be seen to apply in any interesting way to even the worst hackwork
of the Renaissance.

And certainly not to Shakespeare.

*Even if* one were to argue successfully that Shakespeare deals with
some eternal themes, uses some common story formulas, a few stock
characters, and common stage routines, adapts someone else's historical
narrative or story, and, indeed, writes plays that develop in a
numerical fashion from Act I through II, III, and IV to Act V, one
would--should immediately--realize that Shakespeare's art does not
develop via "cellular automata," iteration, repeatable patterns, little
steps, building blocks, or anything like that.  Shakespeare is
constantly original; like the best artists, he constantly "jumps" in a
way that Wolfram's replicating objects based on simple algorithms just
can't.  Shakespeare's art is just not reducible to mechanical routines
in some "computational universe."

Or as another big thinker in Wolfram's league, Ray Kurzweil, put it,
"One could run these automata for trillions or even trillions of
trillions of iterations, and the image would remain at the same limited
level of complexity. They do not evolve into, say, insects, or humans,
or Chopin preludes."
(http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0464.html?printable=1)

Or even Two Gentlemen of Verona or Titus Andronicus.

Wolfram's theory is essentially reductionism.  It is much, much less
than it was trumpeted to be, but, it seems, is being modestly applied by
researchers in such fields as physical structures, biological evolution,
urban growth, and economics (see bibliography at
http://www.wolframscience.com/reference/bibliography.html), but in the
humanities only by graphic artists overly fascinated by what computers
do best:  follow rigid rules and produce rote work without complaint.
That's not our man or his students in this century.

Al Magary

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