Incorrect use of scientific concepts versus scientific metaphors[ edit ] The stated goal of the book is not to attack "philosophy, the humanities or the social sciences in general Sokal and Bricmont set out to show how those intellectuals have used concepts from the physical sciences and mathematics incorrectly. The extracts are intentionally rather long to avoid accusations of taking sentences out of context. Sokal and Bricmont claim that they do not intend to analyze postmodernist thought in general.
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Shelves: general-science , philosophy-of-science Assessing the usefulness or relevance of philosophy is a seemingly confounding endeavor. It becomes even trickier when approaching a specifically nuanced trend or style of philosophy. To add to that, there is the incessant theoretical backpedaling and earnest apologetics Assessing the usefulness or relevance of philosophy is a seemingly confounding endeavor. The reason this is complicated is because said apologetics typically entail claims that the philosopher in question was being misread, misunderstood, or read or understood in the incorrect context.
They might also claim that the translation of the work in question was a poor one, or that their critics have a very particular axe to grind against them, whether it be political, racial, or class-based. Of course, people usually question philosophers with good reason. The point here is that the importance or relevance of philosophy tends to be found in the act of posing big questions in unique ways, all the while offering something new to the theoretical ground that has been covered since the time of Thales and the pre-Socratics.
Well, probably when philosophers purport to understand actual science and implement it as a tool for understanding less scientifically observable phenomena such as the aforementioned types which are so inimical to the concerns of philosophy. Since the late sixties, postmodernity was and continues to be a vague moniker under which a variety of culture in general defined and questioned itself.
As an intellectual, Sokal probably found the writings of these particular philosophers to be nothing more than a lot of shallow, erudite poetics that, when analyzed on a grammatical and syntactical level, meant relatively little. So in , Sokal devised a devilishly clever intellectual prank: he contrived his own parody of a standard sort of postmodern essay, using the names of the aforementioned French and Belgian thinkers as references and source material; it was aptly entitled Transgressing the Boundaries; Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.
Sokal submitted this essay to a prestigious American cultural studies journal by the name of Social Text. His fake essay was immediately lauded with praise from some of the intellectuals mentioned in it, as well as a number of American academics and philosophers who were influenced by the prominent postmodern thinkers.
In it, the two run through the list of names, with fully researched analysis of writings illustrative of particular instances in which erroneous claims about science are made. The two also attempt to explain, to a popular audience, some of the theoretical arguments and discussions that have occurred throughout the history of the philosophy or sociology of science; thinkers such as Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, and Paul Feyeraband are taken into account.
Much like Edward O. Or rather, if social scientists were still needed, their services would be required in a more poetic context, rather than one of research, or merely that of developing theories and methodologies for use in the field.
Certain aspects of Fashionable Nonsense offer complications for the general reader uninitiated in technical physics, math, and science. Not only would this be immediately revealed by even more outraged scientists, but what exactly would be the point? Of course, things continue to seem even more complicated thanks to something called epistemic relativism. This is the school of thought that suggests that any mode of knowing — usually what people refer to as an objective truth — is just as good as the next.
In other words, what is commonly implied is that western science is just as solidly objective and reliable as tribal myth. Sokal discusses Feyeraband and his anarchic views on scientific method in discourse on the plausibility of epistemic relativism. Again, to the skeptical lay-reader, the entire argument might sound like two sides vociferously attempting to persuade and convince a neutral party. Such is the essence of discussion and argument really. Or to put it rather bluntly, the Strong Programme basically states that there is no such thing as observable rationality or reason.
In a sense, epistemic relativism lies at the heart of what Sokal and Bricmont are criticizing. The two physicists are very much aware of the apologetic arguments that might keep philosophical hucksters theoretically safe, but the basic question of why one would bandy about a very technical and specific scientific language to meet the ends of their philosophical means, remains inadequately answered.
It most likely will for some time. Along with this, accusations of right-wing politics and conservatism were made. In the face of such abysmal intellectual denial, scientific reason can only repeatedly make the claim that there are such things as facts, and that they are observable. Fashionable Nonsense is polemical, but only in the sense that Sokal feels an obligation to his notions of truth and fact as a scientist.
He repeatedly mentions the point that these writers willfully chose to include specifically scientific terminology in their writings. Sokal set out to reveal how one aspect of postmodernism was fraudulent, and in doing so seemed to invariably reduce that particular style of thinking and writing to what it truly is: superficial erudition garnished with a lot of fancy-sounding technical language.
What kind of literary style would you cultivate? Not a lucid one, surely, for clarity would expose your lack of content. The chances are that you would produce something like the following: We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on the author, and this multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic non-discursive character of their expansion: all these dimensions remove us from the logic of the excluded middle and reinforce us in our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticised previously. In the second place, singularities possess a process of auto-unification, always mobile and displaced to the extent that a paradoxical element traverses the series and makes them resonate, enveloping the corresponding singular points in a single aleatory point and all the emissions, all dice throws, in a single cast.
Sokal and Bricmont: Is this the beginning of the end of the dark ages in the humanities? London: Profile Books, When I was a boy, I was friendly with a lad who lived a few doors away. We used to take bicycle rides together and have gunfights on the waste land and light fires and play scratch cricket. Our ways parted as our interests evolved in different directions. There were no hard feelings and, indeed, much residual good will.