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Thursday, August 09, 2018

Where Computer Science Meets Greek Philosophy | Bowdoin

Fernando Nascimento
Photo: Bowdoin
"Post-doctoral fellow in Digital and Computational Studies Fernando Nascimento brings computational techniques to the study of humanities" inform Tom Porter, Communications and Public Affairs Office 

The School of Athens by Raphael, 1511.
Photo: Bowdoin

Fernando Nascimento began the lesson by dimming the classroom lights so the assembled students could get a good view of the PowerPoint image being projected: it’s a representation of The School of Athens, a fresco painted by the Renaissance master Raphael in the early 1500s portraying the theme of philosophy.

In the center, the philosophers Plato and Aristotle are locked in debate, each holding a book, one of them pointing to the earth, the other to the heavens. “Raphael’s masterpiece, like most works of arts, is an interpretation of reality,” said Nascimento. “According to his interpretation,” he continued, “Aristotle, the younger of the two philosophers, is pointing downwards, which makes sense, because he’s holding a copy of his Ethics, which argues that an important part of man’s happiness lies on earth and in being a good, ethical, citizen. Plato, meanwhile, is all about metaphysics and the soul. The answer to the most important questions lies in the heavens, according to him, which explains why he is pointing upwards. With his other hand, Plato is holding Timaeus, his exploration of the nature of the physical world and the universe.”

This is not a philosophy class, nor even part of an art history course, but a new Digital and Computational Studies(DCS) module, taught in the 2018 spring semester, called Digital Text Analysis. It was devised by Nascimento himself, a postdoctoral fellow in DCS who holds a PhD in philosophy. The idea, he explained, is to use computational techniques to augment conventional approaches, thereby gaining greater insight into the study of humanities through the analysis of texts. In this case, he said, the painting provides a good introduction to the texts in question...

Digital text analysis does not, of course, limit itself to the study of philosophy, and can be applied to any text. Nascimento’s students teamed up into pairs to work on a variety of texts of their choosing. Sawyer Billings and Vincent LaRovere, both class of 2018, chose “cars and technology” for their project. “We’re pulling texts from a number of car websites, such as Autotrader and Motor Trend, and comparing them to another group of texts about technology,” said Billings.
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Source: Bowdoin