This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Jeremy Collins's Profile

Jeremy Collins's Avatar Joined almost 5 years ago
Gender: Male

Latest Discussions Started by Jeremy Collins

More Discussions by Jeremy Collins

Latest Comments by Jeremy Collins

Go to: UPDATE: Fashionable Nonsense?

Jeremy Collins's Avatar Jump to comment 36 by Jeremy Collins

I was interested in 'post-structuralism' as a teenager, so I can try to define that, although I have no sympathy for it now.

One main strand of it is a very naive theory of the way language works. It claims that the only way to describe a word's meaning is to describe its relationship to other words. 'All elements of language have identity only in so much as they are produced by a network of differences', to quote one introduction to Derrida. It is based roughly on the familiar feeling of circularity we sometimes get when using a dictionary; we look up a word, and the definition uses words, which we look up, to have us referred to different words, and so on, endlessly, without any apparent grounding in the 'real world'.

Of course no linguist would take this view of language as a self-contained set of relationships between words seriously. But some literary critics do, and take it to the extreme conclusion that 'Texts do not have a single authoritative meaning; there is a 'free play' of meaning and anything goes' (quoting Roger Scruton). They then proceed to 'deconstruct' texts (i.e. deliberately misinterpret) to show this 'free play of meaning'. There is a hilarious parody by Frederick Crews Postmodern Pooh which analyses Winnie-the-Pooh variously as being about class struggle, male insecurity, and as having homo-erotic undertones, in a way that is basically typical of what 'critical theory' does.

Hard to defend as a view, but at least that is a definition. And I disagree that people who hold it are 'charlatans' - just genuinely seduced by this view.

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 18:05:57 UTC | #638032

Go to: Language May Have Helped Early Humans Spread Out of Africa

Jeremy Collins's Avatar Jump to comment 1 by Jeremy Collins

I am confused why you would expect greater diversity of phonemes at the place of origin. Greater genetic diversity in Africa is apparently because of 'a serial founder effect in which successive population bottlenecks during range expansion progressively reduce diversity' (from Atkinson's abstract). I guess the idea is that bottlenecks might have the effect of making speech more homogeneous and affecting phoneme diversity in a similar way, which is plausible. There are other factors, such as how languages subsequently come into contact - e.g. there is grater diversity in mountainous areas due to less frequent contact between groups. The languages of South-East Asia are grammatically and phonologically quite similar because of extensive contact (e.g. Vietnamese evolved tones under the influence of Chinese). African diversity might just point to a comparative lack of cultural contact between groups across that continent. It's just not obvious to me what greater diversity implies (although the correlation is interesting).

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 17:10:41 UTC | #616490

Go to: "The Selfish Gene's" negative message

Jeremy Collins's Avatar Jump to comment 102 by Jeremy Collins

The chapter on 'memes' is the happy ending - everything about human culture, the spread of knowledge and the establishment of moral conventions, that make human life enjoyable and something to take pride in.

Thu, 24 Feb 2011 14:23:26 UTC | #595407

Go to: Discretion please, not rulebooks

Jeremy Collins's Avatar Jump to comment 45 by Jeremy Collins

Steven Pinker pointed out the reason why these indiscriminate rules exist: 'The moment we stop checking the bags of old Chinese ladies, terrorists will find a way of getting bombs into their handbags'.
(somewhere in The Stuff of Thought). A similar point applies about discretion towards mothers. I agree with the rest of the article though.

Wed, 23 Feb 2011 15:44:43 UTC | #594990

Go to: Non-English Speaking Promotion of Reason & Science

Jeremy Collins's Avatar Jump to comment 12 by Jeremy Collins

Hong Kong and China are in need of a Chinese version of The God Delusion (I haven't seen one) - is there one?

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 15:03:15 UTC | #586669

More Comments by Jeremy Collins