Re: the arrogance of postmodern mumbo jumbo

Philip Deitiker (
Fri, 20 Sep 1996 19:49:27 GMT

Stephen Barnard <> wrote:

>In May, 1996 Alan Sokal, a physicist at NYU, published a paper in
>_Social_Text_, a leading journal of cultural studies. The title of this
>paper was "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative
>Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity."

>It was transparent bullshit, or a brilliant parody, depending on your
>point of view. Sokal's intention was to see whether such a journal
>would accept this parody at face value, just because it parroted the
>required postmodern jargon and reached the politically correct
>conclusions that the editors liked.

>That this journal could be taken in by such a broad parody, which was
>obviously a parody to any reasonably intelligent undergraduate in
>physical science, reveals a lot about the arrogance of the postmodern
>campus left. The editors never even considered sending it for review to
>someone who might be able to understand the technical "arguments."

>By the way, Sokal is a leftist and has impeccible leftist credentials.
>He just doesn't like the sloppy thinking that he sees in academic

>If anyone is interested in learning more about this fascinating event
>take a look at the web page


> Steve Barnard

>P.S. I've included an except from Sokal's article to give the flavor of


>Thus, general relativity forces upon us radically new and
>counterintuitive notions of space, time and causality; so it is not
>surprising that it has had a profound impact not only on the natural
>sciences but also on philosophy, literary criticism, and the human
>sciences. For example, in a celebrated symposium three decades ago on
>_Les Langages Critiques et les Sciences de l'Homme_,
>Jean Hyppolite raised an
>incisive question about Jacques Derrida's theory of structure and sign
>scientific discourse ...
>Derrida's perceptive reply went to the heart of classical general

> The Einsteinian constant is not a constant, is not a center.
> It is the very concept of variability --- it is, finally, the
> concept of the game. In other words, it is not the concept
> of some_thing_ --- of a center starting from which an observer
> could master the field --- but the very concept of the game ...

>In mathematical terms, Derrida's observation relates to the invariance
>of the
>Einstein field equation G_{\mu\nu} = 8\pi G T_{\mu\nu} under nonlinear
>space-time diffeomorphisms (self-mappings of the space-time manifold
>are infinitely differentiable but not necessarily analytic). The key
>is that this invariance group ``acts transitively'':
>this means that any space-time point, if it exists at all,
>can be transformed into any other. In this way the infinite-dimensional
>invariance group erodes the distinction between observer and observed;
>the \pi of Euclid and the G of Newton, formerly thought to be constant
>and universal, are now perceived in their ineluctable historicity;
>and the putative observer becomes fatally de-centered, disconnected from
>any epistemic link to a space-time point that can no longer be defined
>geometry alone.

But, I think there is still a legitimate argument to be made here,
disentigrating the overly verbose lingo, that not only should we
consider the impact of relativistic phenomena but also consider the
effect the devolpment of newtonian physics and the beliefs of those
incircled in these changing beliefs.
Well back several hundred years ago the dogma of RC church was that
everything revolved around earth (the earth was the center of the
universe), had to be because it was created by god 5000 Y previous and
since man was created in his image and likeness, and god was
omnipotent, walla we had to be at the universes center. Columbus,
Capernicous, Galileo demonstrated from even within the boundaries of
the RC church that their ideas of the world were false. By ordering
the world according to physical principles, the disintegration of an
RC centered world had already begun. The political center and the
geographic center of the human universe began to disconnect. First,
columbus and magellan proved to them the world was round not flat, so
the center of the word was several thousand miles below a center if
the world was flat (thus jeruselum or rome was as far from the center
as any other place). Then earth was found to rotate the sun along with
many other objects of greator and lessor size, thus the earth was
simply one of many incircling a huge object. More powerful telescopes
placed the sun not a the center of our galaxy but at some
incosequential position elsewhere. Finally doppler shift put our
galaxy not at the center of the universe but along the surface of
exploding sphere of galaxies. Along with this, einsteinian physics
tells us that not only is position relative but veloicity is relative
and that there is no absolute reference position or reference velocity
vector, all are of equal validity (as long as one can interconvert via
einstonian physical formulations). Heisenberg added to this by
predicting that sometimes knowing absolute position and velocity may
be difficult but knowing positional and velocimetric range and placing
these in a sort statistical profile is more useful than knowing
anything absolutely.
How has this translated into the way humans percieve their world
and themselves. To many probably not much, but to the intelligensia
and those who diseminate large amounts of information the combined
understanding of physics, chemistry, geology, biology has placed
constriants on how peoples can realisitically impose their religious
beliefs on the education of those who are to be educated and has
placed science and religion at odds with one another.
To add to this also (speculate), I think the idea of manifest
destiny, which in various forms had been used in the past to justify
the conquest of less technologically advanced people by more
technologically advanced people, has succombed to more relativistic
thinking. Think about the idea that cultures can only be compared
relative to one another, and that ranking of cultures is improper. How
then can one justify the conquest of one culture over
another......Easy.....greed, land lust, etc and all those nice
qualities attributed to animism by evolutionary thinking (natural
selection, competition and survival of the fittest). Since most of the
major modern religions ascribe to behaviors which desire an
insidiously transformation of the world into a socially civilized
state the loss of manifest destiny limits the ways in which they can
genetically or culturally transform other peoples. In as much, I
think modern world ideologies particularly communism and totalitarian
socialism have succomb to the same fate. Capitalism seems to persist
but has been restrained in the ways it can exploit resources in other
lands.....but has been blossoming with the insideous spread of
products and social organizations away from western europen and the US
into the developing third world. The manifest is that its my (some
big companies) manifest destiny to sell you (everyone in the world) as
much as you can consume of a product, if by your own choice you select
this product. Consider some of the major exports of the west now to
the third world (soft drinks, cigarettes, etc.) Some of this idea is
being challenged but not seriously.

Consider how the destruction of the idea of manifest destiny.

-Political reorganization of south africa.
-Political reorganization of the soviet union and eastern europe.
-The establishment of autonomus republics and the consideration of the
establishment of autonomous republics in several large nations
-The obtainment of power of 'non-european' minority groups in
ex-colonial nations worldwide
-The establishment of centers for the study of endigeonous peoples in
ex-colonial nations.

It becomes very difficult given the backdrop of what science knows and
how information spreads for groups to used certain justification
tactics to spread themselves or their beliefs (forcibly) on the
relative scale that was achieved in the past. Not to argue that there
can't be episodic relapses (such as Nazism). Nonetheless the
Eisteinian contribution has to be wieghed as part of a larger
scientific knowledge base which has effectively constrained the
blatant manifestation of certain mass behaviors.