January 23, 2004

The word of the day

Today's word is lumpenprofessoriat, found on Cosma Shalizi's blog. The lexicological division here at Pedantry whole-heartedly encourages the adoption and use of this term. Presently, Google only finds three pages containing the term, two of which are a Wikipedia page and a Wikipedia clone.

As for the rest of the content of his post, I have an ideological predisposition to view computation in general and stomatal aperture adjustment in plants both as forms of goal-oriented action, so I'm inclined to respond by nodding and saying: "See, there is a more productive underlying abstraction than computation." So: Neener, neener, neener on the whole "the mind is software" school of cognitive science.

The good bit - the one that is going to force me to blow more of my exceedingly small book budget on scientific literature that I ought to be getting free at a university library - is this:

The motivation for the EvCA work was that there are some computations which are very easy if you have a centralized processor or memory, but very hard for decentralized systems. Suppose, for instance, I give you a string of random bits, and ask whether most of the bits are 0 or most of them are 1 ("density classification"). This is easy, if you can count and store your results in a central place; it's very hard if you can only do local operations, looking at, say, a bit and its immediate neighbors in the string.
One of the things my once fairly simple idea for a PhD project has evolved into is a recasting of computer science to take this sort of thing into account. I have my own nefarious reasons for casting my net in that direction, reasons that come from the humanities rather than computing theory pur et dur. The biggest barrier to actually doing this PhD - besides having a job and paying the bills - is that I am woefully underread in just this sort of thing.

Ignorance can be bliss. As long as I don't know what kind of related work is going on, I don't have to face the mountain of reading my own asperations inevitably lead to, and Cosma is making that much harder for me.

Posted 2004/01/23 11:14 (Fri) | TrackBack

And here I was, all proud of myself for having actually coined a word! Sigh. (Scott --- e-mail me before you doing anything rash, like paying money for scientific papers.)

Posted by: Cosma at January 23, 2004 13:28

I saw the word "lumpenintelligentsia" in a book of parodies edited by Dwight McDonald long ago. It gets 68 Googles, some by rightwingers and others by lefwingers including E.A. Thompson, with cites showing up in Portuguese and German besides English.

One of the rewards of studying German was finding out that "lumpen" means "ragged" and not "lumpy". I had imagined a bag of generic intellectuals like a bag of lumps of mud or something, sort of like the proverbial "bag of rocks" that some people are no smarter than.

And in fact, Marx did say (speaking of the anomic German proletariat of his time) that "The mass of the German nation is formed by simple agglomeration, the way you form a sack of potatos by putting potatos in a sack."

Posted by: zizka at January 24, 2004 17:24

Potatoes. I tried too hard not to be Dan Quayle.

Posted by: zizka at January 24, 2004 17:26
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