[This is the third and final part of a series on the scientification of the humanities.]

Traditional technology refers to causes disclosing truth – such as a silversmith disclosing the truth of a chalice

Traditionally conceived, technology is that which allows human beings to bring about particular effects by enabling their causes. A silversmith, for example, knows what a chalice is for, the composition of a chalice, how to manipulate the materials needed to make a chalice, and has the sufficient initiative and motivation to make a chalice. The process the silversmith undergoes to produce a chalice, in a sense, reveals the chalice. It brings forth the appearance, which discloses the “truth” of the chalice. [1] Technology in DH complicates this traditional paradigm of the essence of technology. Whereas technology traditionally refers to causes that bring forth particular effects, DH refers to technology bringing forth human “truth” itself. The central concern with this dynamic is the way that our attempts to control and harness technology remain bound within technology. Pen and paper, for example, may help stabilize meanings, but is the means of domesticating the human mind; the human mind’s domestication sees everything as in need of organization and categorization, and the pen and paper give new possibilities and prowess for that categorization and conceals others. Computational technology may lead to an expansion of imagination and the possibilities for knowledge, but in its ability to provide new means of organization and categorization, it reshapes the “domestication” of the human mind, thus pushing out and concealing other possibilities. [2] The challenge is to recognize the ways we categorize our perceptions – “enframe” them—and to allow new possibilities to emerge.

Martin Heidegger, 1889-1976, German philosopher. Made significant contributions to philosophy, hermeneutics, existentialism, and phenomenology.

For Heidegger, this “enframing” presents what he calls “the Danger” (die Gefahr): the possibility that any particular categories and their systems of classification would remain permanent. Heidegger in particular fears that the way we enframe technology itself presents a unique danger of this. Unsurprisingly, this leads to no small amount of anxiety concerning the “computational turn” in the humanities. The argument rages as to the meaning of this turn: does “computation,” and whatever that means, simply support the work of “real” humanists, or does it have a place of its own squarely within the humanities? Does the “digital” in “digital humanities” refer to a medium or a mode? David Berry argues that we’re seeing a shift in the university from its central idea being reason or culture to being that of the digital. [3] Software and code, in their ability to hold together the multiple forms of knowledge produced by the university, abrogates the necessity of the individual needing to reason, to think for oneself. As sociologist Steve Fuller realizes, the question of what constitutes “the human” requires urgent thought because, at least on the face of it, the challenge of computationality threatens what it means to be identified as human at all. [4] To raise the question of the scientification of the humanities in this light reveals a fundamental insecurity about human nature as we have conceived it. If individual reason becomes the guarantor of freedom and agency, the factor that both governs and renders the world governable, then the collective intellect built by the digital age presents human nature with an existential question. If the individual no longer needs individual habits of memorization or calculation, for example, how can human life come to attain to rationality? The implications of this question are vast, with repercussions in pedagogy, psychology, information sciences, sociology, and philosophy, to name a few.

Modern technology complicates the traditional model of what technology is

What is the essence of technology? And what is the essence of human knowledge, as human? DH calls us to take on these questions seriously and to reckon exactly what our relationship to technology should be. How can we still allow for new possibilities to emerge in our constant enframing of perceptions and knowledge? Does DH calcify them, or does it break them down? What other means, if any, do we have, or can we develop, to aid our project of recognizing these new possibilities?   [1] Aristotle, Physics, 2; Metaphysics, 5. [2] Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology. [3] Berry, David M. “The Computational Turn: Thinking about the Digital Humanities,” in, Culture Machine, Vol. 12, 2011. [4] Fuller, Steven. ‘Humanity: The Always Already – or Never to be – Object of the Social Sciences?, in J. W. Bouwel (ed.), The Social Sciences and Democracy. London: Palgrave.

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