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SEHR, volume 4, issue 1: Bridging the Gap
Updated 8 April 1995

editors' note


What you are not holding in your hands is the culmination of the diligent work of thirty-six busy scholars from a wide spectrum of academic disciplines, the support and assistance of many friends and teachers and colleagues at each unexpected stage of the year-long evolution of the project, and hundreds of (mostly electronic) exchanges between the authors and the editors of the Stanford Humanities Review. The final product could not have seen daylight without the committed effort of all parties involved, too numerous to mention individually. So let us start by simply expressing our gratitude to everyone who helped at each point along the way.

The original idea that eventually resulted in this special supplement dates back several months. We initially planned to include a "target article," with peer commentary and author response, in Constructions of the Mind -- Issue 4:1 of the Stanford Humanities Review that we were editing on Artificial Intelligence and the Humanities. Constructions of the Mind was intended be a forum for intellectual exchange between AI researchers, in the business of building "intelligent artifacts," and those in traditional humanities disciplines, who, independent of computational expertise, represented centuries of scholarship on the nature of intelligence and humanity. As part of that work, we wanted to present a "roundtable discussion" between a well-respected exemplar of the Artificial Intelligence research paradigm, and a group of those who, although we believed they had valuable contributions to make, would otherwise be liable to remain silent on this important topic. In brief, our hope was to encourage and facilitate an exchange between natives of far-away cultures who hardly ever spoke to one another, even if we didn't quite know what sort of an outcome to expect from such an encounter.

Our first idea for a target article was a "position paper" on the foundational assumptions of Artificial Intelligence, and we approached Professor Herbert Simon to ask for such a contribution. When one of the editors (Güven Güzeldere) visited Carnegie Mellon University in May 1993, the project took a different turn. In place of a standard defense of AI, Professor Simon offered to contribute a paper questioning the foundational assumptions of the "other side": i.e., a proposed reconstruction of literary criticism from a Cognitive Science/Artificial Intelligence perspective. Intrigued by Prof. Simon's idea, and convinced that his suggested "experiment in communication between the two cultures of the humanities and the sciences" was worth pursuing, we quickly set about eliciting appropriate peer commentary.

Within a few short weeks we received a very encouraging response. Although we had expected on the order of ten commentaries, we received close to forty submissions, all engaging Prof. Simon's article in substantive ways. The replies came in many different flavors-from those that branded his proposal to "bridge the gap from the cognitive side" as hostile and imperialistic, to those that applauded it as a welcome guide to their own territory.

Encouraged by the sheer level of enthusiasm, we decided to take up the challenge and to proceed with the enlarged debate as a self-standing project. Prof. Simon kindly reviewed all the commentaries we sent him, in a very timely manner, producing a detailed response that covered all the issues that had been raised. In the end, what had started out as one proposed section of a forthcoming issue of the Stanford Humanities Review grew into a manuscript the size of a full issue on its own. It was at this point that we decided to publish this roundtable discussion-on "bridging the gap between sciences and the humanities," with special focus on Cognitive Science and Literary Criticism-as a special supplement, alongside the main issue, Constructions of the Mind.

We hope you find the discussion thought-provoking and inspiring.

Many people helped us in different ways at each stage of the project. We would especially like to thank:

Herbert Simon, for offering us his paper for the "experiment in communication between the two cultures";

and the thirty-five commentators, who made the experiment possible;

Wanda Corn and Charles Junkerman, for being unfailing advocates of the Stanford Humanities Review;

George Dekker and John Etchemendy, for advice and support (financial and otherwise);

John Perry, for many words of wisdom, and for the "rollicking" blurb on our brochure;

Fred Dretske, for suggesting and encouraging the idea of a separate supplement;

Murat Aydede, Niklas Damiris, and Helga Wild, for camaraderie, and ever-present support throughout the year;

Barry Greenhut, for putting up with us through every new idea in the design of the supplement, and staying up all night to help us wrestle with the Xerox "DocuTech";

Geoff Nunberg, for showing us how to put punch in a text;

Gregor Kiczales and everyone in the Embedded Computation Area at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, for providing crucial resources to bring the project to fruition in its final stage, and Susi Lilly for making sure everything happened as it was supposed to happen; and,

Brian Smith, for being present, all along.

Stefano Franchi

Güven Güzeldere

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