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Postmodernism Disrobed - Comments

Homo economicus's Avatar Comment 1 by Homo economicus

I remember reading this in the The Devil's Chaplin. One would hope that editors would not be captured by hearing the right words but know if it was the right argument or not.

We, the general reader, may not be advanced in these fields, but clarity in scholarship goes along way. Telling the difference between assertion and evidence for a position; and contemplation about it.

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 11:03:00 UTC | #26721

The author's Avatar Comment 2 by The author

A recommendation on the issue of postmodern philosophy (the book is one of the sources Sokal and Bricmont used):

The Illusions of Postmodernism by Terry Eagleton.

Yes, Eagleton, the guy who wrote that bad review on The God Delusion. He and Richard at least share an equal hatred of postmodern nonsense.

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 12:01:00 UTC | #26728

macronencer's Avatar Comment 3 by macronencer

Yes, I remember someone saying that Eagleton hated postmodernism. When I read his review, I actually thought it was postmodernism, but I now realise that I didn't know what the word really meant at that point: I now think his review was not postmodernism - although it certainly was baffling nonsense in places.

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 12:43:00 UTC | #26740

lpetrich's Avatar Comment 4 by lpetrich

That infamous Postmodernism Generator site is now at

http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 13:37:00 UTC | #26751

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 5 by Richard Dawkins

The reason for posting this old review here is the arrival of the new article by Carolyn G Guertin, under the title "Is this another Sokal hoax?" When I first read the Guertin article, I genuinely thought it might be an All Fools' Day hoax, and I actually wrote to Alan Sokal to ask him. His reply included the following:-


How do you find these things?!? This is a real doozie! I wish I could claim that I had written it, but it is in fact far beyond my modest satirical talents. Anyway, it seems that the author really exists:
http://www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/academy/carolynguertin/
and there are even photographs of her at
http://www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/academy/carolynguertin/about.htm
This was her 2003 doctoral dissertation (in physics?) at the University of Alberta
http://www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/academy/carolynguertin/diss.html
It is "under consideration by a major Canadian press and will be released in a Romanian translation later this year."
Her teaching philosophy is a gem, as well:
http://www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/academy/carolynguertin/phil.html

The University of Toronto is a normally respectable university. Let us hope this woman is not occupying a position that might otherwise be held by a genuine scholar doing worthwhile research. It is tragic the way humanities departments have been taken over by second-rate fakes. And can you believe a 'major Canadian press' is seriously thinking of publishing this pretentious and meaningless garbage?

Richard

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 14:35:00 UTC | #26760

Scifinerdgrl's Avatar Comment 6 by Scifinerdgrl

I'm am happily forever A.B.D. in my field because of the postmodernist takeover of its prestigious journals and conferences. In order to get published or get heard you have to toe this ridiculous line. Even though it's a humanities field, apparently a complete misunderstanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is a requisite for a Ph.D. Yes, children. Because physicists are uncertain about something we must all acknowledge that all half-baked opinions are equal to all *educated* opinions because nobody is sure of anything and all observation is relative. Research is futile. Why take a sabbatical, pay plane fare, and then suffer for hours on end in a stodgy European library when you can skim through a translation of a few texts, suggest the author may have been homosexual (and even if he wasn't, he wanted to be) and get published? Even though I managed to find a niche that was somewhat less insane, any job I could have wanted (and I did have a good starter job) would have depended on a faculty committee's approval for continuation... and the committees are now stuffed with 1) total nitwits who write this stuff and 2) total nitwits who think the nitwits who write this incomprehensible trash are brilliant. I left academia, doubled my salary, and never looked back. But this essay brings back memories. Thanks for making my Monday morning commute a little cheerier tomorrow.

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 14:50:00 UTC | #26766

drive1's Avatar Comment 7 by drive1

Honestly .. sex, sex, sex .. that's all these post-modernists ever think about. That and, of course, multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic catalysis.

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 15:10:00 UTC | #26774

ajpb's Avatar Comment 8 by ajpb

May I just make a quick point that has nothing to do with this specific news story.

It is heartening to see that the use of the Internet has flattened the social structure/traditional hierachy to the point where a reader can make a comment or ask a question about an author's work, and then receive a pubically accessible response and/or answer back from that author within an hour.

I of course think we are all immensely privileged that the technology has reached this stage, but, almost more-so that Richard Dawkins is adopting and using it in a way that will benefit everyone. I do not think most authors are as 'on call' to his/her readership!

Congratulations on your recent award. Having read several of your books, I do think it was well deserved. And happy belated birthday!

Alex.

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 15:14:00 UTC | #26775

gorrepati's Avatar Comment 9 by gorrepati

This psuedo-science is prevalent is computers too. Djikstra(a reputed Computer scientist), though considered arrogant by many, is never the second to strip the emperor off his delusion. Check his writings here:
http://lambda-the-ultimate.org/node/2087
And his comments on how the world views(tolerates?) scientists and their work:
http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/transcriptions/EWD10xx/EWD1041.html

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 15:54:00 UTC | #26777

Polydactyl's Avatar Comment 10 by Polydactyl

Either very funny or very embarrassing. I do assure you that not all of us at the University of Toronto write like that. Some of us favour the 'Faith, Hope and Clarity, and the greatest of these is Clarity' line: but I suppose that isn't quite right for an atheist website either.
The McLuhan Centre is 'for Culture and Technology': makes you think, doesn't it?

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 15:58:00 UTC | #26778

AnnieKM's Avatar Comment 11 by AnnieKM

Well, this brings back some unpleasant memories.

As a graduate student (at the University of Toronto no less!) I waded through this nonsense for 12 long months. I was never entirely sure I was bright enough to be there in the first place and so was routinely brought to tears of frustration by Lacan, Irigaray, and others.

I'm sorry to say that it never occurred to me at the time that I might be reading the work of fakes. That knowledge would have saved me some heartache.

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 16:45:00 UTC | #26783

lpetrich's Avatar Comment 12 by lpetrich

I think that this also applies to postmodernism:

PZ Myers's The Courtier's Reply:
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 17:22:00 UTC | #26792

InManhattan's Avatar Comment 13 by InManhattan

I welcome all opportunities to attack postmodernism. It's the worst 'intellectual' movement ever devised.

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 18:21:00 UTC | #26797

nancy2001's Avatar Comment 14 by nancy2001

Thank you Dr. Dawkins for posting this excellent article. Back in the 60s a comedian named Prof. Irwin Corey often appeared on American TV. His routine was to deliver a lecture that consisted of multisyllabic nonsense. Apparently Carolyn Guertin is trying to steal his act.

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 18:34:00 UTC | #26799

Tridhos's Avatar Comment 15 by Tridhos

I was taught in Engineering the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 18:58:00 UTC | #26802

Shnarkle's Avatar Comment 16 by Shnarkle

I found a reference to "queer epistemology" on the Social Text website. My guess is it means knowing which curtains go with that wallpaper.

And this one is priceless: rethinking "queer critique in relation to the war on terrorism"...

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 20:29:00 UTC | #26810

TheSemolian's Avatar Comment 17 by TheSemolian

Postmodernism does harm beyond hampering research. An instructor might say to the impressionable: "Quantum feminisms are situated knowledges interpolated by experience and embodied presence and, most importantly, are personal philosophies," and the earnest among them will work at deciphering it, only to conclude that they aren't very bright.

At the same time I must confess a measure of envy the Guertin is making bank with this skill.

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 22:49:00 UTC | #26824

DNAtheist's Avatar Comment 18 by DNAtheist

drive1 said:

Honestly .. sex, sex, sex .. that's all these post-modernists ever think about. That and, of course, multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic catalysis.


And my postmodernist-to-english dictionary defines "multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic catalysis" as "sex." ;)

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 22:53:00 UTC | #26825

Sam's Avatar Comment 19 by Sam

After debating proponents of every kind of woo-woo imaginable on a regular basis for many years, i find that the single group i have gotten along with the least have been the postmodernists. Although it is hardly possible to disagree more strongly with anyone than i do with right-wing religious fundamentalist, at least we can agree that God either does or does not exist, that one of us is wrong if the other is right, and that it is not only a matter of subjective interpretation whether or not a sentence like "you shall stone him to death" in the Bible actually means "you shall stone him to death". If i don't agree with the fundamentalists on anything else, then at least we can have a meaningful conversation about where and how we disagree.

The postmodernists however only seem interested in undermining any attempt at a meaninful conversation. If we cannot even agree on the most basic concepts of "real", communication breaks down completely, which is of course exacly what the postmodernists want because that way they don't have to be open to persuasion through argument. It is just another immunizing-strategy and a way to make sure that communication fails lest it might cause you to re-evaluate your beliefs. No matter what arguments or facts might be presented, they can always be dismissed as just another "opinion" or "cultural construct" with no reference to anything in the "real" world. They are free to think this of course, but their hypocracy is thinking they still have anything worthwhile to say. I suggest they take Alan Sokal's advice and quit wasting my time:

"Anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. (I live on the twenty-first floor.)"

There is nothing particularly brilliant about the insight that for the most part things are not "black and white" (the false dichotomy fallacy). The postmodernists however, blinded by the cosmic revelation that thing are not black and white, head straight for the opposite extreme (see the irony of that?) and conclude that it is all grey (the false continuum fallacy). If the distinctions are fuzzy and not black and white, the postmodernists conclude that there are no real distinctions at all.

Because the postmodernists don't see the world in black and white, they also seem to take it more or less for granted that everybody else does, hence the arrogance and condescension that typifies the group as a whole.

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 23:33:00 UTC | #26830

steve_kap's Avatar Comment 20 by steve_kap

When such text is published, I believe two lies are being perpetrated:

Lie 1: That something meaningful has been written
Lie 2: That something meaningful has been comprehended

Sokal has implemented an experiment that exposed lie #2 (by writing something meaningless, and having it be taken as meaningful). Can anybody imagine an experiment that would expose lie #1?

Mon, 02 Apr 2007 00:15:00 UTC | #26834

Luthien's Avatar Comment 21 by Luthien

As a student, I remember a housemate was required to take a module on "Philosophy of Science" (as part of a proper SCIENCE degree in Queen's University, Belfast), and came to show me a philosophical definition of "space" they were required to study. It started out saying that Space is that where that which is, is not, and then somehow managed to go on for several pages. Neither of us could make head nor tail of the rest of it, probably because we were from Science and Engineering degrees respectively, and not used to having to pretend to understand bullshit.

Anyone who cannot express their ideas clearly and concisely does not belong in Academia.

Mon, 02 Apr 2007 01:41:00 UTC | #26850

silves93's Avatar Comment 22 by silves93

Dawkins seems to be writing off postmodernism because of its fraudulent, glory-seeking and gullible fools. He's not the only one: I overheard someone on the tube say "have you heard Dr Gillian McKeith's not a real doctor? You can't trust scientists can you?"

There are charlatans and fools in every discipline, but one cannot write off the large body of fascinating and insightful postmodernist work just because of some crap papers and some idiots who were taken in by a smart-arse. I've always supported and defended Dawkins - I'd agree that he's arrogant but assert that he's right and his motives are pure. After this vindictive and narrow-minded article I'm not so sure.

I have worked in an academic capacity in both an English and a Computer Science department. Both have equal measures of arrogance and condescension. But perhaps that's just academics?

Mon, 02 Apr 2007 01:42:00 UTC | #26851

Bremas's Avatar Comment 23 by Bremas

silves93
"Dawkins seems to be writing off postmodernism because of its fraudulent, glory-seeking and gullible fools."
Can you give me an example of something which might make sense?
I am looking at a postmodernist book I have on my bookshelf (that I was gullible enough to buy) right now. "Multitude"...quick review...what a load of horse shit.

Mon, 02 Apr 2007 01:59:00 UTC | #26854

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 25 by Richard Dawkins

Would silves93 (Comment 29188) accept that, far from being gullible fools, Guattari, Deleuze, Lacan and Irigaray are among the recognized leading lights of postmodernism in the world? If so, would silves93 please furnish a translation into clear and meaningful English of any one of the quotations given above, plus a defence of the proposition that any one of them is 'fascinating' or 'insightful'? Fascinating? Insightful? Let's hear it, please.

I can imagine only one defence, which might go something like this. "The technical language of quantum theory, too, is extremely hard to understand. Here is a paragraph from a learned journal of quantum theory. Please furnish us with a translation into clear and meaningful English." I accept that this challenge might be impossible to meet. So, what is the difference? The difference is that quantum theory makes predictions about experimental measurements in the real world, which are verified to an accuracy equivalent (in Richard Feynman's vivid analogy) to specifying the width of North America to within one hairsbreadth. That's how quantum theory buys the right to be unintelligible to non-specialists. Could silves93 or anyone else ever make such a claim for postmodernism?

Richard

Mon, 02 Apr 2007 03:08:00 UTC | #26866

silves93's Avatar Comment 24 by silves93

Bremas
Quick review? Would one attempt to appreciate computational linguistics in a quick review? Discussion of automata and context-sensitive grammar might seem superficially to be worthless, dull twaddle, but it's not. It's not expected or even acceptable for a layman to debate with a scientist on issues of science but it is fine for postmodernism to be dismissed after a quick review? Is this the rational and intellectual rigour that us lot are supposed to espouse so passionately?

I could provide many examples of postmodernist concepts that, with some study, might make sense. But everyone here seems to have made up their minds.

Mon, 02 Apr 2007 03:08:00 UTC | #26865

macronencer's Avatar Comment 26 by macronencer

I, too, would like to see a defence of Postmodernism that makes sense, but I'm not holding my breath. When objectivity is abandoned, one is left with a big fat zero, and, like the little dots on a TV set tuned to nothing but static, the syllables flow at random. Apply that philosophy to ethics, politics and economics, and civilization would vanish overnight. One is reminded of the nightmare world of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged". I want nothing whatever to do with such destructive nonsense.

Mon, 02 Apr 2007 03:47:00 UTC | #26868

William's Avatar Comment 27 by William

I suggest that if someone could provide a clear and meaningful translation of these papers they should be eligible for James Randi's million dollar prize. Such exposition would at least be astounding, if not actually supernatural.

Mon, 02 Apr 2007 04:09:00 UTC | #26871

Jef's Avatar Comment 28 by Jef

Comment #29203 by silves93:

"It's not expected or even acceptable for a layman to debate with a scientist on issues of science..."


Excuse me but, says who?

...but it is fine for postmodernism to be dismissed after a quick review?


I don't think anyone has dismissed postmodernism as a whole quite yet. They have however been extremely critical of certain postmodernist writers.

If, perhaps, you would care to grant us an interpretation of the material quoted in the opening post which gives us all a clearer understanding of its substance then I'd certainly be grateful.

(Aside) How exactly does one become a 'postmodernist' in any case? On a literal reading one would expect it to involve some form of time travel...

Mon, 02 Apr 2007 04:28:00 UTC | #26872

katiemuffett's Avatar Comment 29 by katiemuffett

At last, a form of feminism with NO fluid control.

Reminds me of those commercials when I was a kid "Mom, do you ever get that not-so-fresh feeling?"

I go to read an article during my lunch hour and what do I get? Male power rods and feminist fluids. Thank you very much.

"Tastes like...burning!"

Mon, 02 Apr 2007 04:36:00 UTC | #26873

William's Avatar Comment 30 by William

"I don't think anyone has dismissed postmodernism as a whole quite yet."

I have. Everything about postmodernism enrages me. Even the name "postmodernism" - it's not post-modern. It's pre-modern. It's pre-science, pre-Enlightenment.

It's utter nonsense. All of it. It's the reason I dropped my English major. It was exasperating, plowing through nonsensical, jargon-filled propaganda pieces. Cultural constructs and meta-narratives in "Turn of the Screw," etc. Bah! I have better things to do with my life.

Mon, 02 Apr 2007 04:38:00 UTC | #26874