The Sokal Hoax

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The Sokal Hoax

Postby Polemarchus » Tue Oct 29, 2002 7:22 pm

Browsing the stacks at my local university library, I occasionally come across a treatise that makes as much sense held upside-down as rightside-up. I've come up with four possible explanations for my inability to comprehend such books. Beginning with the most likely, they are:

1) I'm too much of a simpleton to grasp the complex ideas.

2) The text is written for specialists, and as such, I don't understand the context of the arguments or the jargon in which the arguments are presented.

3) The author may indeed be a genius, but he lacks the ability to communicate his ideas in terms comprehensible to lesser intellects.

4) The subject matter is incomprehensible because it is utter nonsense.

Please take a moment to read the Introduction to, Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science, by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont. It may be found at:

http://www.human-nature.com/reason/book ... cmont.html

Sokal is telling us that nearly an entire genre of writing falls into the last category! He says:

"In particular, we want to "deconstruct" the reputation that certain texts have of being difficult because the ideas in them are so profound. In many cases we shall demonstrate that if the texts seem incomprehensible, it is for the excellent reason that they mean precisely nothing."

As I understand it, Sokal's primary complaint is in the lack of intelligibility of what he terms this "fashionable nonsense." However, the acceptance of Sokal's bogus paper in the journal Social Text, is not a sufficient reason to reach such a conclusion. For example, it was recently discovered that a physicist, Dr. J. Hendrik Schön might have fabricated his data in papers submitted to, and accepted by, a number of prestigious scientific journals.

http://ntserv.fys.ku.dk/Presseklip/Klip ... 092002.htm

While it's true that Schön was eventually caught and that his claims are in the process of being reevaluated, isn't this as much a black eye to science as the uncritical publishing of Sokal's hoax?

Science is afforded the luxury that experiments must be reproducible; unfortunately, philosophy shares no such luxury. It was only a matter of time before attempts to repeat Schön's results would have called his claims into question. Science is the process of constructing and performing experiments. Science is not the business of providing explanations. Philosophy is unique in its aim of explaining the world in reasonable terms. Scientists begin with philosophy when they ask the questions and they end with philosophy when they interpret their experimental results.

A criticism of Sokal is that he misunderstands the different nature of the explanations being given. He replied to this criticism in an interview,

"When the book came out in France, Jean-François Lyotard agreed to be on a television programme with Bricmont and me and we had a kind of debate. Unfortunately it wasn’t a very serious programme. Also, unfortunately the fifteen minute debate consisted of a ten-minute monologue by Lyotard in very flowery French, which, if I understood him correctly, he was saying that physicists don’t understand that words are used in a different way in poetry and novels than they are in physics books. When we finally got to the floor, we said, ‘Well, we know that, but to our knowledge the books of Lacan and Delouze are not sold in the poetry section of bookstores, they are sold in psychology and philosophy, so they should be judge by the standards of psychology and philosophy – those are cognitive discourses, they are purporting to say something about something, let’s judge them that way. If you want to re-classify them as poetry, then we can judge them on whether they’re good poetry or not."

Philosophy and poetry satisfy distinctly different human needs. Vagueness might be a virtue in poetry, but it's a cardinal sin in philosophy. John Searle remarked, "If you can't say something clearly, then you probably haven't understood it yourself." At the very minimum, our answers shouldn't be more vague than our questions. The mathematician, Gregory Chaitin, wrote:

"The belief that the universe is rational, lawful, is of no value if the laws are too complicated for us to comprehend, and is even meaningless if the laws are as complicated as our observations; for such laws would be no simpler than the world they are supposed to explain."

If vague and mystical explanations suffice I might as well abandon the library for the Church. But why exchange one incomprehensibility for another? I study philosophy because the world is a mystery. My aim is to reduce this mystery. Impressive sounding yet unintelligible theories are precisely not what I'm looking for. It's not enough to be able to point to a book and say, "Well, I don't understand it myself, but I'm pretty sure the explanation is in there." It's not an explanation until I understand it.

Michael
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Postby Pangloss » Tue Oct 29, 2002 11:04 pm

An interesting piece, Polemarchus, which I think boils down a 'A song is not a song, until it's listened to' argument. You are right in my opinion to be denouncing the use of jargon out of its correct context: as a specialist shorthand language used by a particular group or profession which helps communicate complex ideas with greater efficiency. The doctor should certainly tell his patient that his diet will cause oily skin instead of epidermal seborrhoea.
However, the use of jargon when a writing is aimed towards the non-specialist is exactly what leads to the sort of meaningless nonsense you refer to. Specialists whose language is shaped around the jargon used in his/her discipline may struggle to project their expertise in layman's terms. This is, to an extent, a fault of their own. Though their work in advancing ideas in their own discipline may enable others within their discipline to express such ideas to the masses. It is unlikely that many people in the current generation interested in philosophy and historicism would have been able to comprehend the valuable works of Hegel without a figure such as Peter Singer, who deciphered Hegelianism and expressed it for all to see.

The Sokal Hoax was very amusing. Not only can nothing be hidden amongst such writing, but nothing ideas can be created out of previous algorithms. Will Self's 'Quantity theory of insanity' attempted to equate a society's gross insanity to the similar monetarist theory of a society's money supply. Though it was originally written as a joke, as a piece of fiction, academic psychologists have explored the theory renaming it the 'quanitity theory of collective angst'. It could be argued that those who take such ideas seriously are too open-minded for their own good. Or even that they are approaching a new idea, even a joke, in the right spirit of critical thinking.

There being no order to this post, I think I should quote a valuable section of Popper's 'Open Society and its Enemies vol.2' where he attempts to undermine Hegel by referring to an extract on 'Sound' in Hegel's 'Philosophy of Nature':

In order to discourage the reader beforehand from taking Hegel's bombastic and mystifying cant too seriously, I shall quote some of the amazing details which he discovered about sound, and especially about the relations between sound and heat. I have tried to translate this gibberish from Hegel's Philosophy of Nature as faithfully as possible; he writes 'Sound is the change in the specific condition of segregation of the material parts, and in negation of this condition; merely an abstract or an ideal idelaity, as it were, of that specification. But this change, accordingly, is itself immediately the negation ofthe material specific subsistence; which is, therefore real ideality of specific gravity and cohesion, i.e.-heat. The heating up of sounding bodies, just as of beaten or rubbed ones, is the appearance of heat, originating conceptually together with sound' There are some who still believe in Hegel's sincerity or who still doubt whether his secret might not be profundity, fullness of thought, rather than empitness. I should like them to read carefully the last sentence-the only intelligible one- of this quotation, because in this sentence, Hegel gives himself away. For clearly it means nothing but: 'The heating up of sounding bodies ... is heat ... together with sound.' The question arises whether Hegel decieved himself, hypnotised by his own inspiring jargon, or whether he boldly set out to decieve and bewitch others.
Popper then goes on to a full-blown rebuttal of the Hegelian triad dialectic, without understanding it in the first place.

Dismissing such works is dangerous if you find yourself dismissing an unnoticed idea in the process. I have found that seemingly unitelligible sentences with numerous sub-clauses are written by either 1) men whose talent for brevity is limited by a small vocabulary/weak command of language 2) men whose subject-matter is being explained by the wrong deliberative discipline (as with the example from Hegel) or 3) the tenet of a theory being expressed must be written/expressed alongside another tenet, giving rise to constant reiteration, and (before the tenets are understood in context) unintelligible sentences.

My central point is, that being 'turned off' by such language is more than likely to cloud the actual idea being put forward. You leave the script little-wiser, and fall into the danger of giving a refutation of a theory whose premises have not been understood. Even one the 20th centuries finest thinkers, Karl Popper, was guilty of this.

You ended your post writing with a particular attitude: "It's not an explanation until I understand it." My attitude is as follows: "The explanation is not understood until I understand it". And I suspect that despite Sokal's manipulation of venal minds in the name of fun, this is all it boils down to. ????????????
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Postby Brad » Thu Oct 31, 2002 4:13 am

Quickly, I just wanted to point out that 'Social Text' is a non-refereed journal. It seems odd that Sokal would make such a big stink about the boys and girls not being scientific enought when, in fact, they make no claims to be so (Unless of course, he's just not happy with people invading his turf). Schon's work was published in refereed journals -- a very good counter-example.

But what does all this jargon-filled 'nonsense' give us?

Here are a few of things:

1. A renewed appreciation of the use of metaphor in all factors of life including the hard sciences.

2. An appreciation of the fact that people do indeed think differently than "we are the world".

3. A critique of the distant thinker, alone on a hill, surveying reality. I suspect Sokal's real beef is here.

4. A shift from a subject-centered rationality to an inter-subjective based rationality or communicative reason.

5. A dissolution of the unitary self or subject. This is, perhaps, the hardest one to understand: A belief that we contradict ourself all the time and that's a good thing (think of Wittgenstein's language games).

And that's for starters.
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Postby Polemarchus » Fri Nov 01, 2002 6:52 pm

Pangloss and Brad,

Thanks very much for your thoughtful replies.

Stanley Fish characterized Sokal's hoax as a "despicable act." Robin Markowitz, the editor of Cultural Studies Central, went further in calling Sokal’s article a "roguish act of cultural terrorism."

Far from being an act of terrorism, I believe what Sokal did was to everyone's benefit. Criticism is nourishment rather than a poison to intellectual thought. Isn't the discussion of ideas, as opposed to their being revered as sacred truths the fundamental position of the postmodernists? Well, a debate of our beliefs is exactly what Sokal's "thought bomb" prompted. For a short time at least, the debate crossed over onto the radio and onto the pages of the large newspapers. How was this a bad thing? How was this "cultural terrorism"? Criticism in any reasonable form is good for us. A good thought can only be replaced by a better thought if we see the rationale for the better thought.

New life is breathed into cloistered intellectual thinking by having such "thought bombs" hurled into their midst. In 1900, the President of the Royal Society in Britain proclaimed that everything of importance had already been discovered by science. Bright young men of the time were even counseled not to go into science, for it was thought that all the big discoveries had already been made.

And then came a series of papers by an obscure Swiss patent clerk. These "thought bombs" appearing in Die Annalen der Physik threatened to wreck the tidy system of prevailing beliefs. In the 1930's Kurt Godel's "thought bomb" similarly exploded among mathematicians. Einstein and Godel's paradigm wrecking papers could have been seen as acts of "cultural terrorism." Instead they were evaluated and eventually accepted.

While Sokal's hoax was a markedly different sort of "though bomb," it's intent is clear. He reminds us that when we speak we at least ought to try and say something. Wittgenstein wrote, "A nothing will serve just as well as a something about which nothing could be said." I say as well that nothing will serve just as well as a something about which nothing is said.

(A digression: Religious discourse falls under this category. Religious claims are likewise so general as to mean nothing. Robert Nozick spoke of the case in which a minister asked by a troubled parishioner whether God exists, replied, "God is so perfect that he doesn't need to exist." End of digression.)

The informational content of Sokal's article was zero. Zero information may be conveyed with zero pages of text, yet the editors of Social Text chose to give it 35 pages. It's true, as Brad says that this journal is not refereed. But it does have editors whose names appear on the top of the masthead whose job it is to accept or deny articles for submission. Unless a disclaimer is made, the content of a journal is the ultimate responsibility of the editors. Did Ross and Robins read Sokal's article? If not, they should have paid a reviewer to do so. If the editors didn't understand the references to quantum physics they should have asked a competent scientist for a review.

I suspect that no matter how the article fit together logically, it simply had the right "feel" to it. It felt right because it used the "right" code words and came to the "right" conclusion. Sokal comes to this conclusion and I see no reason to differ.

Brad wrote that this "jargon-filled 'nonsense'" has given us:
A renewed appreciation of the use of metaphor in all factors of life including the hard sciences.


But Irving Klotz, Professor Emeritus of molecular biology at Northwestern University complains:

"Postmodernist writers are infatuated with pretentious neologisms, such as rhetorical space, entropy of meaning, and gender valence. In rhetorical space, words are superfluid; they can fill a vessel of any shape, even climb up and over the walls unobtrusively and vanish. Postmodernist literature abounds in generalities and assertions of cosmic breadth, often laced with metaphors, analogies, and plays on words. Reason is replaced with rhetoric, logical arguments by emotional appeals."

The superfluity of word meanings is a wonderful poetic device, metaphor is likewise a useful literary tool, but both of these techniques are far less useful in the sciences. Science is best communicated in a terse, logically confined and unambiguous language. This is why the language of preference for most "hard" scientists is mathematics.

I believe there is room enough at the table for everyone: poets, writers, scientists, mathematicians and philosophers. My complaint is with the scientist ignorant of poetry, with the writer ignorant of science, and the philosopher ignorant of mathematics. Specialization breeds narrow-minded thinking. A proper gentleman's thinking was once expected to cut a wider swath than today. We are up to our elbows in Experts, but where are the so-called Renaissance men?

Brad wrote:
A dissolution of the unitary self or subject. This is, perhaps, the hardest one to understand: A belief that we contradict ourself all the time and that's a good thing.

Very well said. I tend to think of the "self" along the lines of Derek Parfit's "Bundle Theory." Self-contradictory? God yes! I suspect the more intelligent the man the more he's aware of these contradictions.
A shift from a subject-centered rationality to an inter-subjective based rationality or communicative reason.

Yes Brad, I agree this is a good thing. The West in general and America in particular places emphasis on the individual over society. It was Margaret Thatcher that (mistakenly) claimed, "There is no such thing as Society," though I think the view is predominately American. An infant one-day discovers the two legs bobbling in front of it are part of him. He is doing the bobbling. Unfortunately, not all of us make the next discovery, that the world in front of us is also part of us. In other words, we easily expand the notion of ourselves to include our legs but with difficulty expand the notion of ourselves to include our world.

Pangloss wrote:
It is unlikely that many people in the current generation interested in philosophy and historicism would have been able to comprehend the valuable works of Hegel without a figure such as Peter Singer, who deciphered Hegelianism and expressed it for all to see.

Yes, in fact I remember Brad having mentioned that he reads one philosopher through another. I think we all do. A gifted philosopher might not necessarily be gifted at expressing his ideas. I had a terrible time with Sartre's Being and Nothingness. But I once read about a philosopher (I can't remember who) that came to visit Martin Heidegger. As the philosopher sat down he noticed Sartre's Being and Nothingness on Heidegger's desk. He casually asked how Heidegger liked the book, "Oh that rubbish," replied Heidegger, "I don't know how anybody could understand it." I really had to laugh, here was Heidegger complaining that Sartre is unintelligible. It must be the supreme instance of the pot calling the kettle black!

Michael
Last edited by Polemarchus on Tue Nov 05, 2002 10:08 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby Brad » Sun Nov 03, 2002 6:59 am

I wanted to add a couple of articles here. The first is an excellent reversal of scientists' spouting some of the 'nonsense' that postmodernists are spouting today:

http://www.mathematik.uni-muenchen.de/~ ... lhoax.html

From this text:


One of the more absurd examples of Sokal's satire, according to the author himself, involves the inference from quantum physics to Jacques Lacan's psychoanalytic ideas. "Even non-scientist readers might well wonder what in heaven's name quantum field theory has to do with psychoanalysis" -- exclaimed Sokal in the Lingua Franca article in which he promptly revealed his hoax [1]. Nonetheless, a "deep" connection between quantum theory and psychology was extensively discussed in the writings of Pauli, Niels Bohr and Pascual Jordan. Jordan explored the "formal" parallels between quantum physics and Freudian psychoanalysis, and even parapsychology. Pauli, in all seriousness, proceeded from quantum concepts to the idea of the unconscious, to Jungian archetypes, and even to extra sensory perception.
The following words of Bohr are among the more sober statements of these founding fathers with regard to the connection between the quantum and the psychological domains:
"...this domain [psychology] ... is distinguished by reciprocal relationships which depend on the unity of our consciousness abd which exhibit a striking similarity with the physical consequences of the quantum of action. We are thinking here of well-known characteristics of emotion and volition which are quite incapable of being represented by visualizable pictures. In particular, the apparent contrast between the conscious onward flow of associative thinking and the preservation of the unity of the personality exhibit...analogy with the relation between the wave description of the motions of material particles, ... and their indestructible individuality." [5]


And the second is, I think, a fine critique of Social Text's rather silly response to being hoaxed:

http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/jay_rosen.html

Although it would have been agonizingly difficult (pride is involved), I very much wish the editors had reacted differently. Had they said "We goofed" right away, and then examined -- penetratingly and in public -- everything that led them to accept the Sokal article, they might have demonstrated to literate America that what the academic Left thinks about itself is actually true: it has no peer when it comes to being critical of institutions. Social Text is an institution of the academic Left. It should have taken itself apart and put itself back together again after the Sokal debacle. It would have been fascinating and inspiring to watch. Working backwards from the hoax, like safety experts going over a crash site, they could have illuminated every standard they diluted in order to accept the article, and then asked themselves: Well, what are our standards?

Consider what the editors have already admitted:

1. They did not understand the ideas they were publishing. ("Scientific ignorance," Bruce Robbins calls it, acknowledging that the physics on display was Greek to them, as it would have been to anyone since much of it was gibberish or deliberate clowning by Sokal.)

2. They didn't respect what they were publishing. ("From the first, we considered Sokal's unsolicited article to be a little hokey ... His adventures in PostmodernLand were not really our cup of tea," Robbins and co-editor Andrew Ross wrote in a statement explaining their decision.)

3. But they published it anyway for political reasons. ("Enthusiasm for a supposed political ally," Robbins says, explaining why they went for the essay. "We thought it argued that quantum physics, properly understood, dovetails with postmodern philosophy." Note: what "dovetails" with the editors' perspective is good because it dovetails. Can Sokal's point be made any plainer? )

4. They were condescending to the author and his "hokey" ideas. (Robbins and Ross again: "It is not every day we receive a dense philosophical tract from a professional physicist. Not knowing the author or his work, we engaged in some speculation about his intentions, and concluded that this article was the earnest attempt of a professional scientist to seek some kind of affirmation from postmodern philosophy for developments in his field." Earnest is what counted; intelligent -- and intelligible -- did not.)

5. They abandoned their attempts to improve what they were publishing when the author they condescended to resisted, thus doubling the condescension. (Robbins and Ross write: "Having established an interest in Sokal's article, we did ask him informally to revise the piece. We requested him a) to excise a good deal of the philosophical speculation and b) to excise most of his footnotes. Sokal seemed resistant to any revisions ..." So they went ahead anyway.)

Given such damaging facts, it seems unwise for Robbins to term the episode a simple "case of temporary blindness, " and go on from there to criticize the critics. Decisions this dumb flow from a lot of small decisions over the years, and to me the first issue is how: How did we work ourselves into this position, where an article we don't understand and don't respect written by author who refuses to revise his work gets published in our journal merely because we find in him a "conveniently-credentialled ally," as Robbins wrote in a letter to the weekly In These Times. Imagine a Social Text roundtable that began with this question, placed on the Internet and published in the journal. Cultural studies would set a standard for "critical" discourse that might even outclass Sokal, who at this point is winning in a rout.


While I don't think Sokal is winning/has won in a rout, it does seem that the hoax explains much more how scientism and the 'two cultures' actually do influence the way we think and see things. If that's not a philosophical/sociological topic for debate and introspection, I don't know what is.

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Postby Polemarchus » Tue Nov 05, 2002 6:56 pm

Hi Brad,

For some reason I wasn't able to bring up the Bohm link you provided. I'll try again later. But from your quote:
Nonetheless, a "deep" connection between quantum theory and psychology was extensively discussed in the writings of Pauli, Niels Bohr and Pascual Jordan.

Small things play by quantum rules. Human bodies are made of small things. Therefore, human bodies fundamentally play by quantum rules. Bohr's "correspondence principle" says as much; QM systems reduce to classical physics in the limit of large quantum numbers.

The question isn't if we are subject to quantum rules, the question is how these rules determine what we are. Nearly everyone has heard Feynman's quip about QM, "I think it is safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics." Unfortunately, this is taken by some as a free license to use QM as an engine to power nearly any belief. We have books by Hindu Swamis connecting QM to mystical consciousness. Others use QM in their attempts to explain God's place in the world, and so on. It won't be long until Quantum Horoscopes, and QM to Improve Your Love Life appear on the bookshelves.

I've little doubt that advanced models of how the mind works will have to include aspects of QM. Having said that, it's not enough that the words "quantum" and "psychology" simply appear in the same paper. One might as well say that the answer to your every question is already in a dictionary; all you have to do is read the words in the correct order. If reading were a totally subjective activity there would be no reason to print any book other than the dictionary. What is the point of stringing words together into a sentence if the meaning of the sentence is entirely up to the reader? Why would anyone bother to publish a cookbook if by following a recipe for apple strudel we could end up with a bowl of pea soup?

We write books and converse because we do understand each other, not perfectly, not all the time, but sufficiently so. You understand me because you and I evolved together beginning with the same strain of pond scum. And as much as you might rather be related to bathroom mold than to me, the brute fact is that you and I are overwhelmingly identical beings. The psychologist/philosopher Nicholas Humphrey wrote in his The Uses Of Consciousness:

"It is no more likely that two people will differ radically in the way their brains work than they'll differ radically in the way their kidneys work."

A number of anthropological theories suggest that the relatively recent explosion of Hominid intelligence resulted from our success at communication. Man evolved as a social creature. We lived, hunted, scavenged, and defended ourselves in-groups. The ability to exchange intricate ideas wasn't merely a fringe benefit of our evolution; it was a central reason for our evolution.

We understand each other all too well. If anything, I have a difficult time keeping my inner thoughts private. The tone of my voice, my facial expressions and my "body English," all conspire to betray what I often wish to keep secret. My wife can read me like a textbook. But that doesn't imply that I can get away with giving her evasive answers. She wouldn't be pleased if I only answered her questions with metaphors, or if I repeatedly feigned misunderstanding her.

Try this. When someone speaks to you today, ask him or her, "What do you mean by that?" See how far you get before they have your head in a vise-hold. My experience is that we're allowed to ask this question only once. If we ask it a second time the other person invariably responds in a raised voice, "You know what I mean!" And they're right. Even when others try to disguise their intentions, more often than not, we "see" right through them. You'd have to be pretty dense to read a "Dear John" letter and come away thinking she still loves you.

I don't understand why anyone would make a fundamental issue of man's inability to communicate his ideas to perfection. The beauty of human communication is that I can so easily explain my ideas to you. I don't have to place your entire brain into a one-to-one neural correspondence with mine, nor do you have to re-construct the exact causal history that my brain followed to arrive at an idea. You don't even have to agree with my idea in order to understand it.

Derrida, for example, said that all interpretation is misinterpretation. But if this is true, how could I interpret his sentence? Please look at this famous painting by Edvard Munch:
http://www.edvard-munch.com/Paintings/a ... ream_3.jpg

Never mind that Munch spoke Norwegian and you probably don't. Never mind that this work was painted at the end of the 19th century and you live in the beginning of the 21st. Never mind that no words are exchanged and that you and I are imperfect art critics. How likely is it that your interpretation of this painting is other than what the painter intended? No, of course you don't have a one-to-one neural correspondence with Munch's brain at the moment he finished his last brush stroke. But Munch doesn't intend that viewing his painting will change your brain into his brain, not even for a moment.

When we express an idea we're curious how our idea looks from the vantagepoint inside another person's head. But Derrida (and Focault as well) would say that I could never know how my idea appears from another perspective. But that's not the worst of it. Their belief is that I can't even know an idea from my own perspective; since reference is impossible the 'self' is fiction. By this point you might want to have another look at "The Scream." :)

Brad, I generally agree with the comments made by Jay Rosen about the editors of Social Text. I don't want the editors to be made scapegoats for all our reservations about postmodernism. The question is, to what degree do the conclusions drawn by Rosen apply to postmodernists in general?
...it does seem that the hoax explains much more how scientism and the 'two cultures' actually do influence the way we think and see things. If that's not a philosophical/sociological topic for debate and introspection, I don't know what is.

Agreed. Though I'm sorry the "two-cultures" have found so little common-ground since C.P. Snow first spoke of them. And yes, epistemology is fascinating. Kant thought that all our rational interests are combined in the following three questions.

What can I know?
What ought I to do?
What may I hope?

The fundamental question is, "What can I know?" One can visit every branch of philosophy via the path of Epistemology.

Michael
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Postby Brad » Tue Nov 05, 2002 11:20 pm

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Postby Brad » Wed Nov 06, 2002 12:29 am

No doubt, if it hasn't already happened, a book will be published, "10 Easy Ways to Success by Following Quantum Theory." One can imagine sentences like, "One must maintain the flexibility of the wave and the linear trajectory of the particle at the same time in order to be successful in all walks of life." But this only goes further to explain how scientism (as opposed to a healthy respect for science) invades and infests all levels of culture.

But the point in question is that scientists are beholden to this view just as much as laymen. Now, personally, I don't have much use for Lacan (at least not yet) except that he did help me understand a Warner Bros. cartoon psychologically (the one where Elmer Fudd loses it and thinks he's Bugs and Bugs, having his 'space' taken away, becomes Elmer Fudd -- it's a classic.). Interestingly, Sokal and Bricmount respond to this article agreeing that scientists should indeed deplore these wild speculations as unscientific.

Fair enough, but what's wrong with being unscientific? Why is that word, unscientific, have so much power to disrupt and censor honest investigation? What's wrong with wild speculation now and then? Well, there is a problem, but it's not wild speculation that's the problem, it's the way people react. I sometimes call it the, "Now we know. . ." problem. For all of our scientific development, we are still in a kind of infancy, we are still looking for that one idea that solves everything, the easy way out (mathematicians might cringe at that.), the one that says, in the end, this is what is important. I do not see intelligence as a way out of this dilemma, the only way out is a change of attitude.

I'll have to address most of your comment later, Michael, but for the moment, I want to say that Sokal's points and seemingly endless rebuttals still revolve around a certain conception of knowledge that no longer needs to hold sway. In fact, and I'll try to explain this later, what he is trying to inhibit is precisely the ability to come up with new ideas. To jump a bit, he wants to limit misinterpretation insomuch as it's misinterpretation -- and that's a mistake. Don't misunderstand me, I don't mean a lack of understanding, I mean that new ideas are precisely the result of seeing something from a different point of view, of trying out new metaphors.

I hope that's not too obscure but more later.
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