Devin Griffiths responds to Adam Fales
This is a generous and interesting suggestion: that Seeming Human’s account of the feedback loop can be used to theorize the book’s own reflexive historicism. What would such a feedback loop look like in action? How does the C19 novel reflect upon and condition how we should read the cybernetic, or the history of computing? At a more general level, we might recognize how such a method might inform any interdisciplinary study. This is precisely how Gillian Beer famously characterized studies of science and literature, when she called for scholars to examine the “two-way” traffic between scientific and literary writing in Darwin’s Plots.
Surprisingly, it’s a call that often is not often heard, even by some of the most gregariously interdisciplinary writers. That’s because thoroughly cross-disciplinary work is really, really hard. I’ve made this point before, but it’s important to recognize that Beer’s ‘two-way’ street needs at least four lanes. That is, the zippy external study of interplay must run alongside the slow but accurate work of internal description of each field. Seeming Human is filled with both wonderful readings of literature and sharp accounts of the various computational models it works with (though I did sense some slippage between Shannon’s definition of information and a more traditional, semantic understanding of what information means in the second chapter). I’m left wondering how Seeming Human’s engagement with the history of technology might have incorporated more of this disciplinary feedback. For instance, how did the literary, or characterization, or the novel condition Shannon’s approach to information? But all books must come to an end somewhere. One sign of a particularly good book: it raises questions that future scholarship might try to answer.