Re: Postmodernism

Ralph L Holloway (rlh2@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Fri, 25 Nov 1994 12:37:59 -0500

On Fri, 25 Nov 1994, Read, Dwight ANTHRO wrote:

> Ford writes:
> "Such beliefs are social reality that form and inform various people. PM,
> thankfully, acknowledge that there are multiple worlds out there. To
> subscribe to one theory - one way - one answer - is just as spurious as
> insisting that PM is anything one could want it to be. At least PM has the
> couarge to question the hegemonic control of information."
I'd like to thank Dwight Read for articulating that cogent response to
Ford's misubderstanding of what science is about. Frankly, I've always
wondered if in fact PM wasn't really some form of self-indulgence that
allows one to escape intellectual responsibility by living within a
self-indulged universe of cant.
> If by this is simply meant (A) that when we consider the culturally
> constructed realities that peoples have, we find not a single reality but
> multiple realities, then there there is nothing to quarrel about. Clearly,
> there are multiple, culturally constructed realities. If, however, by this
> is meant (B) that in some sense all of these have equal claim to constituting
> a representation of reality (that is, the reality that exists regradless of
> our perceptionsof it)--i.e., can be subjected to empirical test for
> consistency with respect to agreed upon observations--then equally clearly it
> is false.
> Who subscribes to "one theory?" Or, first, what is meant here by "one
> theory?" Science is not a "theory," but an agreed upon set of principles
> for constructing an account of "external reality." Those who reject
> evolution in favor of creation are not "cranks" but individuals who reject
> (implicitly, if not explicitly) that set of principles as the basis for
> constructing an account of lifeforms on planet earth. A creationist can
> easily construct a non-falsifiable theory that lays evolution to rest: God
> created life on earth as described in Genesis, but in such a manner that when
> "scientific observations" are made about life forms it will APPEAR as
> if there is a natural process, evolution, whereby there has been change
> leading from initial life forms to those life forms present today. Either
> you accept such a claim or you don't. If you do, then scientific discourse
> is meaningless. If you don't, and assume that phenomena are structured by
> processes that are knowable to human intellect, then scientific discourse
> makes sense. Within scientific discourse, there is only "one theory" to the
> extent that there is common agreement that the said theory has no evidence to
> its contrary; e.g., f = ma (force = mass x acceleation) is a fundamental law
> of physics by virture of (a) no evidence that it fails to be true and (b) its
> role in accounting for a wide range of phenomena that logically follow from
> this law. If person X can make observations replicable by others that
> contradict this "law," then at such a point what is now "one theory" will be
> become more than one theory as various proposals are made to account for the
> disconforming evidence.
> But I take it that his is probably not the kind of "multiple theories" Ford
> has in mind. Rather, it would seem that by "multiple theories" is meant
> something more like multiple "constructed realities" as different theories
> about external reality. If this is the case there are two problems. First,
> the cultural construction of reality proceeds not for the purpose of
> "objective" representation of an external reality--and indeed, consistency of
> the "constructed reality" with the external world is probably of less
> importance than the way in which the "constructed reality" provides a
> "universe" within which social action takes place. Second, mutually
> constradictory accounts of a single phenomena--the reality which exists
> "outside" of us--cannot simultaneously be valid.
> Finally, science does not constitute an attempt at a "hegemonic control of
> information." Rather, external reality is the source for "hegemonic control
> of information;" i.e., the account must be consistent with demonstrable,
> replicable empirical observations. It is only when one wants to insist that
> all culturally constructed realities are equally legitimate representations
> of that single external reality--despite the fact that these representations
> do not exist for the purpose of being accurate representations of external
> reality--that the illusion of science constituting "hegemonic control of
> information" arisees.
> D.Read