Archive for November 3rd, 2013

Interwingularity & Literary Theory   no comments

Posted at 6:56 pm in Uncategorized

In short: “It’s what I say it is”

The idea of looking at this discipline is to see if the study of Literary Theory offers up insights as to better ways to structure hypertexts, thus improving the richness of the overall Web experience. I am not thinking directly of hypertext literature so much as hypertext in general. Might we improve the way we describe and learn things, by borrowing from literature? At distance, this seems a reasonable hypothesis.

What is Literary Theory?

Beyond describing it as the study of literature this has proved a somewhat slippery definition – references are inconsistent. The best consensus is that it encompasses the body of ideas and methods used in practical reading of literature. However, most references go on to then ask is “What is literature?” and consensus begins to weaken and rapidly arrives at a conundrum akin to defining Art, and Duchamp’s “Urinal”[1]. Thus what is defined as Literature, or there terms used to define it actually tends to vary slightly depending on which school of Literary Theory being studied. It is perhaps a reasonable working definition to say that today, most Literary Theory¬†schools of thought see Literature in terms of ‘creative’ or ‘imaginative’ writing as opposed to all forms of writing. This is worth noting, in light of the opening paragraph, as much of Hypertext is not expressly literary.

It is also clear that Literary Theory and Sociology are closely intertwined, with literary schools linked to many of the genres within Sociology. Literary Theory doesn’t see it’s purpose to explain Literature to a general audience, as I’d supposed before investigating the discipline. Rather it provides methodologies for introspection, these varying depending on the school of though being applied. This makes for difficult study as such genres are broadly interpretive and introspective and I have a cognitive impairment that makes ‘normal’ introspection extremely difficult. So if my perspective of the discipline seems to take an external viewpoint it is by necessity rather than choice.

How did Literary Theory Arise?

Whilst literature has long been studied, the formal discipline of Literary Theory is a comparatively modern field and mainly based in the Western Cultural tradition (I’ll return to a dissenting view later). Modern Literary Theory’s roots appear in the 18C. At this time, Literature was was taken to mean many forms of writing valued by society (or the more privileged classes thereof); poems, essays, letters, history and philosophy. Note that these forms include both the ¬†literal and fictional. During the 18C gradually the concept of Literature coalesced as a notion of whether writing conformed to a standard of etiquette, of being ‘polite letters’. As such, the literal forms began to be left aside as Literature began to take a more explicitly idealogical form. In turn, Literature thus became an expression of its exponent’s ideology. As access to literature and the opportunity to discuss it passed from an elite to a larger middle class, so the field broadened and fragmented.

During the 19C that modern (Western) notions of Literature develop. Come the Romantic period, Literature becomes essentially a synonym for ‘imaginative’ writing. The field is still broad but many forms of literal writing are now excluded. In this same period, an burgeoning middle class (and some educated working class) seize on this imaginative writing as a way of expressing their aspirations and political views. It also offers an alternative to the newly popular empiricism. Literature moves from belles lettres to being a conduit for radical expression. It may be argued that Literature and ideology were no longer usefully regarded as separates. This duality seems to underpin modern Literary Theory. The discipline should not be seen as a disembodied set of ideas, rather it is embodied as a force within institutions and schools of thought.

Approaching the discipline in search of its¬†raison d’√™tre, but lacking the power of introspection, Literary Theory’s aggressive need for inwardly focussed self-justification offers little clear purpose. This is hard to process – so much intellect in harness, but to what useful end? It has proved difficult, with the time/depth available to study to draw a line from Literary Theory to actual advances. Instead, the focus seems to be a retrospective approach of justifying‚Äďwithin it’s own lexicon‚Äďexisting works, like a parent parent daring one to say that the daubing attached to the fridge is anything but impressive.

Do not rush to suppose this suggests I see nothing of merit in Literary Theory. Far from it, it cannot be the case that so much intellectual effort hasn’t but adding to the sum of human knowledge. But exactly what is¬†so far evades me at this (depth of) level of study. It also shows a disinterest by Literary Theorist for engaging with a wider audience, which again is worthy of note in the context of the Web and its aspirations for openness.

Origins of Literary Theory – a dissenting view

It seems mainstream Literary Theory doesn’t like to acknowledge older study of literature, or indeed non Western/English language literature. The reasons for this distain I’ve found hard to trace as practitioners care not to elaborate. Hogan[2], holds a mirror to this pointing out pre-existing strands of literary scholarship in a number of other parts of the worlds and which predate¬†Literary Theory’s supposed start date. He also cites other (Western) papers that look beyond the narrow confines of Western literature, indicating his position is not singular even if in a minority.

The mainstream’s insular scope for Literary Theory¬†seems an odd position to take, in scholarly terms. However, the deeply introspective nature of the subject may mean they simply don’t feel the need to justify the position. In essence the “it is because I say it is” approach to definition. I’m still researching this aspect, as its exclusionary nature sits at odds with the Web’s inclusive nature and thus pertinent to the central thrust of this exercise. Assuming for a moment that notions of Western Literature may help structure better hypertext, how inclusive is that of a readership that extends beyond Europe and North America?

What now?

This article, now written, feels remarkably light in content and unreflecting of the scope of my reading for it. But it has revealed that the term ‘Literary Theory ‘doesn’t describe a coherent whole, but rather it exists as an umbrella term for an ecosystem of differing and often opposed schools of thought. ¬†Therefore the next step is to review the major schools of thought within Literary Theory.


Primary book sources for this period of study are listed below. What’s harder to show is the disproportionately large amount of online research investigating these start points: listing places that didn’t offer new light on the topic seems self-serving.

What I have learned is that Literary Theory doesn’t reward the skeptic. Like a religion, it’s essentially accessible only to those who believe – another experience I’m ill equipped to understand.

Primary Sources:

  • Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Oxford : Blackwell, 1996.
  • Culler, Jonathan. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1997


  1. Duchamp’s Fountain.¬† (accessed 26 Oct ¬†2013)
  2. Hogan, Patrick Colm. Ethnocentrism and the very idea of literary theory. College Literature v23, n1 (Feb, 1996)

Written by Mark Anderson on November 3rd, 2013

Tagged with ,

Discipline Two: Law   no comments

Posted at 2:06 pm in Uncategorized

What is law?

Law seems to be a little harder to pin down than Anthropology (for me anyway).

According to Wikipedia (most of the information in this post will be from Wikipedia‚Ķ), ‚Äėlaw‚Äô is a term that does not have a universally accepted definition but is generally a system of rules and guidelines enforced through social institutions. The law shapes politics, economics and society in various ways, and this varies from country to country. Law can raise important issues concerning equality, fairness and justice ‚Äď The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proposes that ‚ÄėAll are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law‚Äô.

The settlement of the law is divided into two main areas; Criminal law and Civil law.

Criminal law: Deals with crime (duh) and conduct that is considered harmful to social order. Guilty parties may be imprisoned and/or fined. Regulates social conduct and forbids threatening, harming or otherwise endangering the health, safety and moral welfare of people.

Civil law: Unlike criminal law, civil law focuses on dispute resolution and victim compensation rather than punishment. Deals with the resolution of lawsuits (disputes) between individuals or organisations.

Under civil law, the following specialties, among others, exist:

Contract law: A contract is an agreement having a lawful object entered into voluntarily by two or more parties, each of whom intends to create one or more legal obligations between them. Contract law varies greatly from one jurisdiction to another, including differences in common law compared to civil law.

Property law: Regulates the transfer and title of personal property and real property.

Trust law: Applies to assets held for investment and financial security.

Tort law: Deals with compensation if property is harmed.

Constitutional law: Provides a framework for the creation of law, the protection of human rights and the election of political representatives.

Administrative law: Used to review the decisions of government agencies.

International law: Governs affairs between sovereign states.

At this point I skipped straight to legal theory and the philosophy of law, which sounds more like what I should be interested in. The philosophy of law is known as ‚Äėjurisprudence‚Äô. Those studying jurisprudence seek to obtain a deeper understanding of the nature of law, legal systems and legal institutions. According to Wikipedia, jurisprudence can be broken down into categories or schools of thought.

Contemporary philosophy of law addresses problems in two rough groups:

–¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Problems internal to law and legal systems as such.

–¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Problems of law as a particular social institution as it relates to the larger political and social situation in which it exists.

Answers to these questions come from four primary schools of thought:

Natural Law: Sees that there are rational objective limits to the power of legislative rulers. Foundations of law are accessible through human reason. It is from laws of nature that human-created laws gain their force.

Legal Positivism: Contrasts Natural Law. Believes there is no connection between law and morality. The force of law comes from social facts (but Legal Positivists differ in opinion on what these facts are).

Legal Realism: Argues that the real world practice of law is what determines what law is ‚Äď the force of law comes from legislators, judges and executives.

Critical Legal Studies: Developed in 1970’s. Argues that the law is contradictory and is best analysed as an expression of the policy goals of the dominant social group.

Wikipedia tells me to look at the work of Ronald Dworkin, who advocates a constructivist theory of jurisprudence that produces a middle path between natural law theories and positive theories. I’ll investigate whether or not this is relevant with some reading.

Hopefully that is more or less a basic outline of law… I think Property Law will be the most relevant when investigating the rights people have in their digital afterlives. I should also look into work already done surrounding Internet Law.

Next steps:

Deeper investigation in Jurisprudence, Property Law and the law online/Internet Law.

Read about Dworkin.






Written by Amy Lynch on November 3rd, 2013

On cognitive science   no comments

Posted at 12:52 pm in Uncategorized

This week I decided to adapt last weeks post to a more extended version:

A brief history:

Aristotle was perhaps amongst the first who drew attention to the way that the mind processes information. He was interested in the reasons why an argument could be accepted as valid by those who were both for and against it. His theory of syllogistic reasoning is a form of deductive reasoning that suggests the validity of the argument could be explained by its symbolic form rather than its content.[10]

Many years later Freud conceptualized the mind as an iceberg which was composed of three levels: The conscious mind (the top of iceberg which is out of water), The preconscious mind (the bit that submerges into the water but yet remains visible) and The unconscious mind (the bit that is hidden under the water).He believed that the unconscious (containing Id and Superego) is the biggest part of the mind which is responsible for many unexplained hidden emotions that the individual is not aware of, their existence and their consecutive behaviours which can therefore be seen as implicit or automatic.[3][5]

During the early 20th century Santiago Ramón y Cajal was studying the behaviour of micro structures of the neurons in the brain. Some of his observations led to what is today the foundation of modern neuroscience.[3]

At around the same time some scientists, including B.F Skinner, believed that in order to understand how the mind works they should focus on observing human behaviour rather than the hidden processes that happen in the mind. This led to the birth of behaviourism.[6]

In the mid 20th century Alan Turing saw the human brain as an “unorganized machine” that learned through experience. [1] He imagined a virtual device (the Turing machine) that could translate any humanly computable mathematical problem into a sequence of simple operations [2][4]

A few years later in 1959 Chomsky published a paper in which he proved that behavioural approaches were not valid in relation to the structure of English sentences.[1]

Later on various questions about the human mind and the way it processes information led to the birth of cognitive science.  An example of this is the thought processes that happen in the mind of a jazz musician when he/she is improvising (in some cases without any formal music theory knowledge).How do they know how to put the specific notes and phrases in the right order whilst making infinite set of improvisations in the chords that remain loyal to a finite set of formal structures?[10]

What is Cognitive Science?

In Cognitive Science the mind/brain, (including its characteristics and behaviour), is considered an object of scientific study (as opposed to behaviourism).

Although this field has been dramatically improved in recent years yet it remains an immature field as there are still many debates that remain unsolved. One of which is about its domain of research and its commitments. For example, should it also study the non-human intelligence such as animals or computers? Or should it also be investigating other phenomena of the human mind such as emotions? [7]

As a result the research framework and the questions about it have to be conceptualized in common sense terms. There seems to be substantial agreement amongst cognitive scientists that the research framework should include exploring human intelligence and cognition and its capacities (this includes a machine with information processing capacities). How do these capacities differ amongst different adults, genders, cultures, neurologically impaired patients, and other subsets of the human population. [7] This can be performed by redeveloping the mind as a machine that performs computational and representational activities. [8]

In 1950 to 1980 cognitive scientists used to see the mind/brain as a general-purpose conventional machine. [7] This was changed during 1980’s as notions were raised that the mind/brain is a connectionist device and the fact that the cognitive mind is not only a computational device, but it’s also a representational one. [7][8][11][12][13][14]

As we realized from the history of cognitive science, this field has a multidisciplinary nature as it can be described in three levels: [7]


1. Psychology (assumed as common sense)

2. Information processing (assumed as the non neural cognitive sciences like semantic and syntactic level (pylyshin 1984) or knowledge level and symbolic level (Newell 1986))

3. The neural level (assumed as neurosciences)

Scientists from different scientific perspectives such as computer science, artificial intelligence, psychology, neuroscience, linguistics and philosophy are using cognitive science in their fields to try answering many questions about the human mind.

Cognitive psychologists have achieved many breakthroughs in the areas of education and learning by studying the process of reading or learning. Applied cognitive science has been used by scientists to diagnose and treat learning difficulties, speech impairments, and aiding therapies for stroke victims. As exciting as applied cognitive science can be, it also raises many moral and political challenges for cognitive scientists in this field as the technology in some cases can be misused. [10] ‚ÄúFor example results in computer vision might be used to design either a visual prosthesis for the blind or the control system of a cruise missile carrying a nuclear warhead.‚ÄĚ[10] Therefore cognitive science is also interrelated with the studying of history, social science and humanities.[10]

As there has always been an analogy between the human mind and the computer mind, cognitive science and computer science are interrelated and on many occasions have played the role of a catalyst in the process of improvements and developments of one another but yet in some cases this can be misleading. [10]


Is cognitive science a normal science?

There have been disagreements amongst scientists in the past about whether cognitive science comes with a single coherent research paradigm or if what we have is just a variety of cognitive sciences. As cognitive science is still in the process of development, scientists are not able to come up with descriptions as final products. Kessle, with an empiricist view of science, claims that we must turn to the views of Kuhn.[7] Others suggested that cognitive science is antithetical to Kuhn‚Äôs views [9] and therefore Kuhn‚Äôs notion of paradigm (which some claimed is inconsistent and too open) cannot be applied to cognitive science. Also the fact that the framework of shared commitments cannot easily be rejected within cognitive science makes scientific revolutions quite unlikely to happen. [7] Some took a step further to claim that even other units for analyzing science like the logical positivist notion of theory and Larry Laudan’s notion of a research tradition could also not be applied to cognitive science.[7]

References :

1. Dr. C. George Boeree, Psychology:  The Cognitive Movement,[Accessed 21 Oct 2013]

2. Anon,[Accessed 30 Oct 2013]

3. Anon,The birth of cognitive science,Society for the philosophy of Information[Accessed 31 Oct 2013]

4. Houdé. O, Kayser D., Koenig O., Proust J., Rastier F. (2003) Dictionary of Cognitive Science: Neuroscience, Psychology, Artificial Intelligence, Linguistics, and Philosophy. Publisher: Routledge [Accessed 24 Oct 2013]

5.Cherry K., The Conscious and Unconscious Mind: The Structure of the Mind According to Freud,[Accessed 31 Oct 2013]

6. David w. Green & others.( 1996) Cognitive Science: An Introduction ,Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

7. Eckardt B.C.( 1955), What is cognitive science? ,First MIT Press.

8. Stillings N.A, Weisler S.E., Chase C.H.,  Feinstein M.H., Garfield J.L., Rissland E.L.( 1995),Cognitive Science :An Introduction, Second Edition.

9. Stanford encyclopaedia of philosophy, Thomas Kuhn, First published Fri Aug 13, 2004; substantive revision Thu Aug 11, 2011[Accessed 22 Oct 2013]

10. Stillings N.A., Weisler S.E.,Chase C.H.,Feinstein M.H., Garfield J.L. and Rissland E.L. (1987),Cognitive Science: An Introduction ‚Äď Second Edition.(1-17)

11.Fodor J.(1975), The Language of Thought, Harvard University Press.

12. Newell, A. (1994).Unified Theories of Cognition, Harvard University Press; Reprint edition.

13. Haugeland J. (1981) , Mind Design. Cambridge, Mass.MIT Press

14. Pylyshyn Z.,(1984)Computation and Cognition: Toward a Foundation for Cognitive Science ,MIT Press.

Written by Faranak on November 3rd, 2013