But of course Lawrence Krauss has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal


Krauss & friends

He was “cancelled”, so he’s got to complain about all the “cancelling” going on, only, you know, it’s not just asshats like him being served their comeuppance, it’s The Ideological Corruption of Science. It’s not simply scientists being handsy or racist, this is an ASSAULT ON THE VERY FABRIC OF SCIENCE. Oh, fuck you.

In the 1980s, when I was a young professor of physics and astronomy at Yale, deconstructionism was in vogue in the English Department. We in the science departments would scoff at the lack of objective intellectual standards in the humanities, epitomized by a movement that argued against the existence of objective truth itself, arguing that all such claims to knowledge were tainted by ideological biases due to race, sex or economic dominance.

There’s the root of the problem right there, that he would scoff at other disciplines, and that he had this hierarchical notion of the value of knowledge that placed physics, no doubt, at the pinnacle of rigor and true science. Meanwhile, scholars in ‘lesser’ disciplines like sociology and psychology were doing real work to expose why, for instance, physics was so oppressive to women and why biology was infested with racists. One of the reasons is that so-called hard scientists have tended to dismiss the work of scholars outside their narrow domain.

Yeah, I was a grad student and post-doc in biology in the 80s. I saw that attitude, too, only I could see through it to the ignorant elitism behind it. Why can’t Krauss?

It could never happen in the hard sciences, except perhaps under dictatorships, such as the Nazi condemnation of “Jewish” science, or the Stalinist campaign against genetics led by Trofim Lysenko, in which literally thousands of mainstream geneticists were dismissed in the effort to suppress any opposition to the prevailing political view of the state.

Oh, yes, there has never been any political or social or economic influence on the hard sciences — those grants were awarded in a frictionless universe, professorships earned in a perfect vacuum, promotions achieved by pure disciplined calculation. Do tell me more.

Or so we thought. In recent years, and especially since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, academic science leaders have adopted wholesale the language of dominance and oppression previously restricted to “cultural studies” journals to guide their disciplines, to censor dissenting views, to remove faculty from leadership positions if their research is claimed by opponents to support systemic oppression.

You mean science has finally started cleaning up the deadwood and kicking the exploiters and frauds to the curb? You do realize that policies of oppression have affected the make-up of science, don’t you, and that granting agencies have slowly, deliberately begun cracking down on institutions that don’t practice the necessary principles of equal opportunity, right?

Well, let’s look at some of the examples Dr Krauss uses to bolster his argument. It’s curious how he thoroughly downplays the bad ideas of these “victims” to pretend that this is an attack on the purity of science.

… At Michigan State University, one group used the strike to organize and coordinate a protest campaign against the vice president for research, physicist Stephen Hsu, whose crimes included doing research on computational genomics to study how human genetics might be related to cognitive ability—something that to the protesters smacked of eugenics. He was also accused of supporting psychology research at MSU on the statistics of police shootings that didn’t clearly support claims of racial bias. Within a week, the university president forced Mr. Hsu to resign.

Hsu was outright promoting eugenics. He was making extravagant claims about genetics, a subject in which he has no expertise, and about intelligence (ditto), to propose ideas that were flatly rejected by the American Society for Human Genetics. Of course he would be found out and his qualifications rightfully questioned! Also, he only resigned from his administrative position. He is still employed as a professor. Perhaps Krauss is envious?

… Shortly after Mr. Hsu resigned, the authors of the psychology study asked the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science to retract their paper—not because of flaws in their statistical analysis, but because of what they called the “misuse” of their article by journalists who argued that it countered the prevailing view that police forces are racist. They later amended the retraction request to claim, conveniently, that it “had nothing to do with political considerations, ‘mob’ pressure, threats to the authors, or distaste for the political views of people citing the work approvingly.” As a cosmologist, I can say that if we retracted all the papers in cosmology that we felt were misrepresented by journalists, there would hardly be any papers left.

Is it common for cosmology papers to be used to justify discriminatory policies and police violence?

Also, there are a lot of papers in cosmology that ought to be retracted, because they are bad and go far beyond what the evidence warrants.

Actual censorship is also occurring. A distinguished chemist in Canada argued in favor of merit-based science and against hiring practices that aim at equality of outcome if they result “in discrimination against the most meritorious candidates.” For that he was censured by his university provost, his published review article on research and education in organic synthesis was removed from the journal website, and two editors involved in accepting it were suspended.

Oh, right, Tomas Hudlicky, who wrote a paper so backward and regressive that a large number of the board members of the journal promptly resigned in protest. It’s so good of Lawrence Krauss to come along and second guess prominent experts in the field in question.

Hudlicky also was not fired.

An Italian scientist at the international laboratory CERN, home to the Large Hadron Collider, had his scheduled seminar on statistical imbalances between the sexes in physics canceled and his position at the laboratory revoked because he suggested that apparent inequities might not be directly due to sexism. A group of linguistics students initiated a public petition asking that the psychologist Steven Pinker be stripped of his position as a Linguistics Society of America Fellow for such offenses as tweeting a New York Times article they disapproved of.

Right, Alessandro Strumia — hey! Have you noticed that Krauss is careful to not mention the specifics, like the names, of these more egregious cases? Is he afraid we might look them up? Or remember what stinkers they are?

Strumia is one of those physicists who dismissed the concerns of women physicists and scoffed at the humanities, so maybe he and Krauss are sharing a moment of fellowship. He also cherry-picked his data and used bad statistics to bolster his claim that Cultural Marxism was corrupting academia with the womens.

Whenever science has been corrupted by falling prey to ideology, scientific progress suffers. This was the case in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union—and in the U.S. in the 19th century when racist views dominated biology, and during the McCarthy era, when prominent scientists like Robert Oppenheimer were ostracized for their political views. To stem the slide, scientific leaders, scientific societies and senior academic administrators must publicly stand up not only for free speech in science, but for quality, independent of political doctrine and divorced from the demands of political factions.

We live in a country where climate data is suppressed, epidemiology disregarded, and the government is wrecking education, yet Krauss wants to compare the people who demand rigorous application of knowledge from all disciplines, even those less privileged than physics, to Nazis and Commies.

I’m more worried about scientific elitism that thinks it is above criticism and finds joy in spitting on research work that might expose their own flaws.

Oh, and Larry — are you still mad about those people who questioned your association with convicted pedophile and all-around sleaze, Jeffrey Epstein? It’s amazing that prominent publications still accept op-eds from you.

Comments

  1. raven says

    It’s amazing that prominent publications still accept op-eds from you.

    Not if it is this Wall Street Journal, owned by Murdoch, and a subsidiary of Fox NoNews.

    Calling the Wall Street Journal a prominent publication really stretches the definition of “prominent publication.”
    It’s incredibly right wingnut these days, incredibly biased, very dishonest, and more or less just a propaganda medium with some stock tables.
    It isn’t a serious or worthy publication.

    It’s no surprise that Lawrence Krauss published his op-ed there, in a basion of white racism and blatant misogyny.
    A mainline outlet wouldn’t have done it.

  2. raven says

    Lawrence Krauss the dishonest slime mold:

    …epitomized by a movement that argued against the existence of objective truth itself

    He is talking about post-modernism here, po-mo.
    He is also straw personing big time, a highly dishonest fallacy in one pretending to be so smart and educated.

    Po-mo failed and died decades ago.
    It didn’t work , collapsed on its own, and was buried by both the humanities and the sciences.
    It’s simply irrelevant to anything that has happened in the last 2 decades or so.

  3. says

    It’s a very common pattern for complaints about social justice related activities like this to be referred to in vague terms that are difficult to independently investigate. I see it in transphobes complaining about criticism, various people complaining about claims of racism… it’s a reason why I’ve started interrogating claims and pointing out that if it were really so bad they’d be willing to get specific. But burden of proof shifting is also combined with it so I try to leave the situation with it looking obvious that there’s not likely anything bad happening since they’re not willing to back their claims up with their own political work.

  4. mailliw says

    Po-mo failed and died decades ago.

    For post-modernism to have failed would have meant the complete abandonment of modern semantics, which certainly hasn’t happened.

    Post-modernism has been absolutely central to the development of social media. Winograd and Flores’ book Understanding Computers and Cognition was an enormous influence on Mitch Kapor who developed Lotus Notes (a precursor of modern social media) and Terry Winograd was subsequently the PhD supervisor of Larry Page of Google at Stanford.

    Understanding Computers and Cognition draws on the work of the philosophers Heidegger and Gadamer and the biologist Maturana – to take a quote from the book “But we ourselves are biological beings, and the thrust of Maturana’s argument is that we therefore can never have knowledge about external reality, we have a a structure that reflects our history of interactions in a medium, but that medium is not composed of ‘things’ that are knowable.”

    They move from a view of computers that embody the idea of objective reality to the understanding of computers as a means of communication.

    I have some reservations about their position. Clearly a computer program can be an immensely useful tool in enforcing logical consistency. On the other hand the symbols manipulated by the computer only acquire meaning when someone interprets them – and for a group of people to use a computer system effectively they all have to have a fairly common understanding of the meaning of these symbols – or belong to the same “semantic community” as the jargon has it.

  5. says

    Brony @ 4
    Yes, I’ve noticed that common pattern too. Complaints about being silenced or cancelled or etc based on “false accusations” or even more vaguely “disagreement” or “just stating facts” is always obfuscating what’s actually going on.

  6. gyreandgimble says

    Raven, it’s my understanding that, while the opinion side of WSJ is indeed awful, the news side is excellent. I’ve been hearing this since the 60s.

  7. raven says

    Raven, it’s my understanding that, while the opinion side of WSJ is indeed awful, the news side is excellent.

    I’ve never noticed that and don’t believe it.
    It’s impossible for one part of a fruit to be rotten without it spreading to the other parts.

    I’ve been hearing this since the 60s.

    So what.
    I’m sure you’ve heard that from…the Wall Street Journal and/or right wingnuts that read it and love it.

    BTW, I like your sources. Anonymous. Voices in your head, the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland???
    Inquiring minds don’t care in the least.

    I used to read it myself but after Murdoch bought it, it just became Fox NoNews in print and wasn’t worth my time or the money. It’s a big media world after all.

  8. consciousness razor says

    For post-modernism to have failed would have meant the complete abandonment of modern semantics, which certainly hasn’t happened.

    No, it wouldn’t imply that. The wiki overview is good enough for this….

    Postmodernism is a broad movement that developed in the mid- to late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism, marking a departure from modernism. The term has been more generally applied to describe a historical era said to follow after modernity and the tendencies of this era.

    Postmodernism is generally defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies associated with modernism, often criticizing Enlightenment rationality and focusing on the role of ideology in maintaining political or economic power. Postmodern thinkers frequently describe knowledge claims and value systems as contingent or socially-conditioned, describing them as products of political, historical, or cultural discourses and hierarchies. Common targets of postmodern criticism include universalist ideas of objective reality, morality, truth, human nature, reason, science, language, and social progress. Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to self-consciousness, self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, and irreverence.

    Postmodern critical approaches gained purchase in the 1980s and 1990s, and have been adopted in a variety of academic and theoretical disciplines, including cultural studies, philosophy of science, economics, linguistics, architecture, feminist theory, and literary criticism, as well as art movements in fields such as literature, contemporary art, and music. Postmodernism is often associated with schools of thought such as deconstruction, post-structuralism, and institutional critique, as well as philosophers such as Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, and Fredric Jameson.

    If you can even figure out how a particular approach to semantics fits in nicely with that landfill of inconsistent ideas taken from so many different corners of academia, then congratulations. But they’re not the same thing.

  9. raven says

    For post-modernism to have failed would have meant the complete abandonment of modern semantics, which certainly hasn’t happened.

    No it wouldn’t.
    Assertion without proof or data and therefore meaningless.

    Wikipedia
    Criticisms of postmodernism are intellectually diverse and include arguments that postmodernism promotes obscurantism, is meaningless, and that it adds nothing to analytical or empirical knowledge.

    I’m in the embarrassing position of agreeing with Krauss and most or all scientists here.
    I suppose this is a case of a blind squirrel finding an acorn once in a while.
    The criticisms of Po Mo are vast and I don’t care to waste a nice day beating a dead horse.

    Postmodernism fell apart when it ran into the sciences.
    The claims were that there is no objective reality and reality is whatever we think it is or want it to be.
    This is just wrong and leads nowhere.
    The whole of science depends on their being an objective reality that is understandable and that we proceed to understand.
    It is worth noting that this scientific approach has been wildly successful and is the basis of our modern Hi-Tech civilization.

    AFAIK, very few people call themselves Po-mo’s anymore.
    That there are any just shows that someone will accept anything. The Flat Earthers are still here and 20% of the US population are Geocentrists who think the sun orbits the earth (a Po-mo position).

  10. consciousness razor says

    On the other side of the coin, Krauss’ brand of positivism/scientism has also been deader than dead, in respectable circles, for about the same amount of time.

  11. mailliw says

    @10 consciousness razor

    Given that an an important tenet of modern semantics is the arbitrariness of the connection between words and meaning – and the centralness of interpretation in post-modernist thinking – as a consequence of the social basis of meaning, the connection between semantics and post-modernism is perfectly clear.

  12. says

    Neither postmodernism nor deconstructionism “denies objective truth” in the abstract. They instead — through differing mechanisms — call into question the use of language to share truth in an unambiguous, unmistakeable fashion that can after the fact be confirmed as an objective truth regardless of its context, symbolism, or other meaning. In that, they are merely extensions (again, using different mechanisms and reaching subtly different results) of the linguistic battles surrounding positivism from the 1930s through 1950s.

    Krauss’s attack in this article is thoroughly intellectually dishonest. Not to mention that it attempts to equate contemporary “personal meaning” with “objective truth” for something expressed in language perhaps hundreds of years ago; one wonders if he had ever considered a deconstructive reading of “three-fifths of all other persons” in opposition to its “objective meaning.” Actually, one should not wonder at all about that: It’s all about what is good for Lawrence Krauss. Which, ironically enough, is exactly parallel to the point of postmodernism.

    N.B. I get to say this because I was a student of literary theory in the 1980s; and I know some of the Yale literature… miscreants… and their work. Such as it is, such as they are, and entirely discounting their rampant bigotry of various kinds. That is, unlike Krauss, I actually understood what they were saying from their own writings, having read them, and not from a sensationalized version “fit” for nonspecialists. One wonders how well statistical and quantum mechanics would have been understood or accepted if all we had was the out-of-context quotation from Einstein concerning the god he didn’t believe in, dice, and the universe… and didn’t know that Einstein later came to accept more and more of what is now taught as “objective truth” to physics and chemistry undergraduates as both he learned more and the expression of the theories became more detailed (with more-recognizable boundary conditions).

  13. mailliw says

    @11 raven Postmodernism fell apart when it ran into the sciences.

    On the contrary, it is now widely accepted that science is an interpretation of the world and not an account of objective reality, because we have no real access to whatever “objective reality” is.

    Because of the scientific method, science is of course by far the best interpretation of the world that we have at present. There is as such no conflict whatsoever between science and post-modernism – except for those pursuing a science is the ultimate truth agenda – which very few serious scientists do anymore.

  14. mailliw says

    Assertion without proof or data and therefore meaningless.

    Assertions backed by Wikipedia are surely equally dubious? It’s pot luck if you get an article written by someone who actually understands the subject.

  15. Matt G says

    The WSJ isn’t just awful in its op/ed section. There was a supposedly legitimate article addressing disenfranchisement of blacks in the 2016 election. The claim the writer made was that there was no disenfranchisement because blacks voted in record numbers. Even if that is true, it is a non sequitur.

  16. raven says

    Trump identifies another hoax: The Coronavirus
    Yahoo News Christopher Wilson
    July 13, 2020, 8:26 AM

    President Trump has called many things hoaxes over the years — the investigation into his 2016 campaign’s dealings with Russia, his impeachment, global warming — but on Monday he called into question the existence of an epidemic that has killed more than 135,000 Americans.

    During a flurry of activity on his Twitter account, Trump retweeted a message from game show host Chuck Woolery that claimed “everyone is lying” about the coronavirus as part of a plot to sabotage the economy and hurt Trump’s reelection campaign.

    Hmmm, looks like there is at least one Postmodernist left.
    Donald Trump is known for continuously rewriting reality and has been called the first Postmodernist president.

    Just today, he made the Covid-19 virus pandemic into a hoax and disappeared 135,000 dead Americans.
    Maybe Postmodernism isn’t totally useless after all.

  17. raven says

    Donald Trump is the ultimate postmodern presidential … – Quartzqz.com › trump-is-the-ultimate-postmodern-presidential…

    Sep 23, 2016 – Postmodern president. MIRROR IMAGE. Trump is the ultimate postmodern presidential candidate—and he’s been a long time coming.

    Trump fits the definition of a Postmodernist very well.

    This doesn’t make me like him more.
    It doesn’t make me like Postmodernism more either.

  18. consciousness razor says

    mailliw, #13:
    I’ll say it again: congratulations, but they’re not the same thing.

    Jaws, #14:

    One wonders how well statistical and quantum mechanics would have been understood or accepted if all we had was the out-of-context quotation from Einstein concerning the god he didn’t believe in, dice, and the universe… and didn’t know that Einstein later came to accept more and more of what is now taught as “objective truth” to physics and chemistry undergraduates as both he learned more and the expression of the theories became more detailed (with more-recognizable boundary conditions).

    He was of course influenced by Mach early on, but it’s not like he wasn’t a scientific realist. And other people did take relativity into all sorts of strange directions and tried to justify their positivism by associating themselves with it, but it’s not fair to blame Einstein for all of that.

    As for the famous “dice” quote that you referenced, it wasn’t about the dice (or God)….

    You are the only person I know who has the same attitude towards physics as I have: belief in the comprehension of reality through something basically simple and unified… It seems hard to sneak a look at God’s cards. But that He plays dice and uses ‘telepathic’ methods… is something that I cannot believe for a single moment.

    The “telepathic” stuff is just a different funny phrase for “spooky action at a distance,” or nonlocality to be more prosaic about it. The dice (or cards) part is not what sticks out there, and it wouldn’t have been a big deal.

    That did not change for him. He went to his grave thinking it was an issue with QM that had to be better understood or sorted in some way or other…. He thought the theory was incomplete, like he shows in the EPR paper, which took locality (and not determinism) as an assumption to derive its result. That seemed pretty safe at the time, and it shouldn’t seem surprising coming from the very person who came up with relativity. (To be clear, it’s not necessarily that there are things traveling faster than light, but you’ll have bend that rule in ways that nobody at the time would’ve expected that you had to do, in order to maintain consistency.)

    This was years before Bell’s 1964 paper made it clearer to everyone else, or at least to those who understood it. And experiments demonstrating nonlocality hadn’t been conducted until even later, starting with Aspect’s in 1982. So we can’t blame Einstein for not knowing about those things either, since he’s not a time traveler.

    This does come at a convenient time, however. That whole convoluted story about Einstein himself being derided and lied about for much of the last century, by members of his own academic community, just so they could ignore his criticisms of their precious theory, is probably a good one to remember, when we try to assess whether physics as a discipline really is above the fray of ideology and bias and factionalism and so forth. I obviously don’t think it is.

  19. microraptor says

    Matt G @17: And that’s how the WSJ does things: they deny that racism is happening or that there’s any discrimination in something, then cite something that doesn’t actually answer the question but sounds nice. Or at least sophisticated. They’re every bit as racist and dishonest as all of Murdoch’s other things, but they’re better at dressing it up and disguising it with dog whistles.

  20. springa73 says

    Re:postmodernism – It’s kind of amusing to me that people have such wildly divergent ideas of what postmodernism is or was, as well as such strong disagreements about whether it was/is good or bad. The content, meaning, and effects of postmodernism seems to depend entirely on who is doing the talking, which in itself seems a little … postmodern!

  21. Rob Grigjanis says

    raven @09: What are your sources about the WSJ? You say you used to read it, but never noticed the huge difference between the editorial (right wingnut) and news departments?

    https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/wall-street-journal/

    A 2014 Pew Research Survey found that 41% of the Wall Street Journal’s audience is consistently or mostly liberal, 24% Mixed and 35% consistently or mostly conservative. This indicates that they are slightly preferred by a more liberal audience.

    A factual search reveals that the Wall Street Journal has never failed a fact check regarding news reporting, however, IFCN fact checker Climate Feedback has found numerous inaccuracies in the WSJ editorial department.

    Overall, we rate the Wall Street Journal Right-Center biased due to low biased news reporting in combination with a strongly right biased editorial stance. We also rate them Mostly Factual in reporting rather than High, due to anti-climate, anti-science stances and occasional misleading editorials.

    Matt G @17: The only WSJ pieces I could find that said that were both in the Opinion section; here and here. If you have a news article link, please provide it.

  22. says

    @20: I was trying to be terse about that quotation from Einstein, and referencing how it has been received by the general public (not the scientific community). The general public doesn’t know or care about spooky-action-at-a-distance or “telepathic methods”; the general public, and in particular the mostly under/improperly educated “science journalist” community, only cares about and/or remembers “the universe,” “dice,” and “god.” Krauss (and the general public and the mostly under/improperly educated journalism community) make the equivalent error regarding postmodernism and deconstruction. I obviously didn’t succeed in communicating that.

    I could go on for about forty-five minutes on the relationship among anthropomorphism, the anthropic weltanschauung, postmodernism, and deconstruction… which is rather my point. It’s not as simple as Krauss made it seem; that one can have the conversation is about establishing boundary conditions for postmodernism and deconstruction that neither Krauss nor the maroons in Yale’s Comparative Literature department (where the worst miscreants hid out, instead of in English where “accurate translation of texts” was less of an issue) were/are willing to accept. That certainly doesn’t validate the absence of boundary conditions (like the lightspeed limit — it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law! which sort of gives away that I was studying physics during the days of the 55mph speed limit).

  23. anthrosciguy says

    A. How do I get cancelled into the open pages of a major publication?

    B. This quote from a commenter is uninformed:

    So what.
    I’m sure you’ve heard that from…the Wall Street Journal and/or right wingnuts that read it and love it.

    It’s true that this is no longer true, but it was until relatively recently, and was the same for Investors Business Daily. Essentially, they’re nutty rightwingers, but they want(ed) enough accurate info to make profitable financial decisions. So their editorial pages were often dramatically at odds with their news pages.

  24. anthrosciguy says

    My spell checker helpfully transformed “oped” into “open” in my above comment and even though I actually did preview it I missed that completely. :)

  25. Matt G says

    Rob@23- I read the article years ago and forgot that it appeared in the op/ed section. Regardless, stating that evidence X supports claim Y when it doesn’t cannot be chalked up to “opinion”; that’s intellectual dishonesty. The author claimed to have academic credentials.

    Speaking of intellectual dishonesty, Epstein pal Dershowitz invited ALL sex videos recorded by Epstein to be released because it would exonerate him (since he claims to be in none of the). The logical error there is obvious, as is the intent to mislead.

  26. says

    The claims were that there is no objective reality and reality is whatever we think it is or want it to be.

    That was never the postmodernism that I was taught.

    There is a difference between “objective reality” and “human knowledge of reality”. Postmodernism advised against conflating the two. But here you are, conflating the two to make the point that the thing you don’t like was wrong because they said something you probably agree with but haven’t actually thought through.

    Moreover:

    Po-mo failed and died decades ago.

    PoMo’s most infamous subgenre, LitCrit, failed and died, maybe. I’ll let the LitCrit folks speak more definitively to that. But PoMo generally? No.

    I can tell you from personal experience that PoMo is alive and well through different subgenera, including feminism’s standpoint theory and the related theory/metaphor of intersectionality. Where once it was taken for granted that we knew what sexism looks like, later scholars point out that during the exact same years that married working class and especially married middle class-to-wealthy white women were begging for access to voluntary sterilization as a form of birth control and being denied that access by sexist doctors, women of color and unmarried white women were fighting institutional practices of involuntarily sterilizing them during unnecessary c-section procedures when they came into the hospital to give birth, by telling them verbally that the doctor believed a c-section was required and then putting a consent form in front of them for them to sign between contractions, with no chance to read it.

    Both of these were sexism. Yet how can sexism be both denying access to sterilization as birth control and involuntarily imposing sterilization as birth control? It is through standpoint feminism and intersectionality that we are now recognizing what happened.

    And this isn’t merely academic. Feminist groups in the 1970s and 80s were legit fractured by the disparity between what the white women who donated money to groups considered sexism vs. what the street activists which included so many women of color considered sexism. When white women weren’t willing to pay to support activism against involuntary sterilization and when street activists weren’t willing to run the risks of promoting sterilization as a good thing when women were being medically abused, it took postmodernism to heal that fracture.

    As long as the work of standpoint feminism and intersectionality continues, PoMo survives.

  27. gyreandgimble says

    “ BTW, I like your sources. Anonymous. Voices in your head, the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland???
    Inquiring minds don’t care in the least.”
    Actually, all left wing sources. See also post 23. Maybe I’m wrong, haven’t heard anything,actually, since Murdoch bought it.
    Why so nasty? Be nice if you knocked it off.

  28. raven says

    That was never the postmodernism that I was taught.

    So what.
    That just means your education wasn’t even up to Wikipedia standards.

    Many postmodern claims are a deliberate repudiation of certain 18th-century Enlightenment values.
    Such a postmodernist believes that there is no objective natural reality, and that logic and reason are mere conceptual constructs that are not universally valid.

    Postmodern philosophy – Wikipedia

    Which letter of “no objective natural reality” don’t you understand???

    This is one of the many problems with Postmodernism.
    There isn’t even any agreement on what it is, what it covers, and what it says.

  29. raven says

    The problems of Postmodernism are so numerous and so serious that just about everyone but a few intellectual Zombies and Donald Trump have given up on it.
    One of the key problems is that there are no definitions and agreements on what is, what it concludes, and what it applies to.
    I’ll let Wikpedia explain it in more detail.

    Criticism of Postmoderisn Wikipedia

    It has been suggested that the term “postmodernism” is a mere buzzword that means nothing.
    For example, Dick Hebdige, in Hiding in the Light, writes:

    When it becomes possible for a people to describe as ‘postmodern’ the décor of a room, the design of a building, the diegesis of a film, the construction of a record, or a ‘scratch’ video, a television commercial, or an arts documentary, or the ‘intertextual’ relations between them, the layout of a page in a fashion magazine or critical journal, an anti-teleological tendency within epistemology, the attack on the ‘metaphysics of presence’, a general attenuation of feeling, the collective chagrin and morbid projections of a post-War generation of baby boomers confronting disillusioned middle-age, the ‘predicament’ of reflexivity, a group of rhetorical tropes, a proliferation of surfaces, a new phase in commodity fetishism, a fascination for images, codes and styles, a process of cultural, political or existential fragmentation and/or crisis, the ‘de-centring’ of the subject, an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’, the replacement of unitary power axes by a plurality of power/discourse formations, the ‘implosion of meaning’, the collapse of cultural hierarchies, the dread engendered by the threat of nuclear self-destruction, the decline of the university, the functioning and effects of the new miniaturised technologies, broad societal and economic shifts into a ‘media’, ‘consumer’ or ‘multinational’ phase, a sense (depending on who you read) of ‘placelessness’ or the abandonment of placelessness (‘critical regionalism’) or (even) a generalised substitution of spatial for temporal coordinates – when it becomes possible to describe all these things as ‘Postmodern’ (or more simply using a current abbreviation as ‘post’ or ‘very post’) then it’s clear we are in the presence of a buzzword.[5]

    It has been suggested that the term “postmodernism” is a mere buzzword that means nothing.

    Postmodernism explains everything and explains nothing.
    There is no agreement on anything about it including what it is, what it actually says and what it concludes.
    In that way it is exactly like religion, which has no reality testing mechanisms and continually diverges on what it calls truth.

  30. gyreandgimble says

    “ Which letter of “no objective natural reality” don’t you understand???”
    Raven, unnecessary nastiness.

  31. leerudolph says

    Is it common for cosmology papers to be used to justify discriminatory policies and police violence?

    Hey! We have it on the very highest Civil (though not civil) authority that “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

  32. leerudolph says

    consciousness razor@20, I think you and Jaws@14 may be thinking of two distinct Einstein statements about dice.

    Here’s a bit I had to edit out of a book chapter for lack of space (and time), about the statement I suspect Jaws had in mind, the one often (mis)rendered as “God doesn’t play dice with the universe”

    ===begin===
    In December, 1926, Albert Einstein wrote Max Born that “Die Theorie [quantum mechanics] liefert viel, aber dem Geheimnis des Alten bringt sie uns kaum näher. Jedenfalls bin ich überzeugt, dass der nicht würfelt” [Einstein’s emphasis; from a book of correspondence between Einstein, Max Born, and Born’s wife]; i.e., “The theory says a lot, but it hardly brings us closer to the Old One’s secret. Anyway, I’m convinced that he doesn’t play dice.” Of course Einstein knew about statistical mechanics (which he used in his 1905 paper on Brownian motion), but there (as it were) the dice are loaded, and the game is fixed: they fall purely in accord with deterministic mechanical laws, and the “the Old One” (as, surely, a vast intelligence* even were there no secret remaining for us to discover) can predict the precise outcome of every throw; the ‘statistics’ of statistical mechanics are a human succedaneum, a gambler’s system deployed against the omniscient house, and they work well enough in many situations at fending off ‘indeterminate determinism’—but the indeterminacy they fend off is, after all, only an illusion born of human ignorance and human incapacity.

    =====

    *Here I was alluding to a previous section on Laplace’s Exposition du Système du Monde, where I quoted his famous endorsement of mechanical determinism:

    An intelligence that for a given instant could know all the forces animating nature, and the respective places of the beings that compose it, were it also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, should embrace in one formula the movements of the largest bodies in the universe and of the lightest atom: nothing would be uncertain for it, and the future like the past would be present to its eyes.

    ===end===

  33. Rob Grigjanis says

    CD @28: If you haven’t read it, you might find this article by Michael Bérubé interesting. A snippet;

    Sokal seems to believe that an argument against relativism in the sciences requires a parallel argument against “postmodern” pragmatism in human affairs; accordingly, he devotes a few cursory pages of his book to a critique of neopragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty. Now, I was never convinced by Rorty’s shrugging dismissal of the idea that the physical sciences produce “objective” knowledge—that is, knowledge whose validity is independent of any human observer. But I am convinced that theories of social justice are qualitatively different things than, say, neutrinos or Neptune. I’m therefore inclined to accept John Searle’s distinction between the worlds of “brute fact” and “social fact,” and to insist that in the world of social fact, things like “theories of social justice” are indeed socially constructed.

  34. consciousness razor says

    To quote Woody Allen: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.”

    I don’t know about others here, but I do remember people claiming quite explicitly and directly that there isn’t (or there can’t be) any such thing as the truth, for instance. And of course all sorts of other nonsense comes along for the ride with zingers like that. No good reason to deny it.

    But this is like trying to argue with glibertarians about what “real glibertarianism” is about. They’re not often very willing to admit that any real glibertarian ever said or did anything glibertarian-flavored which is monumentally stupid and/or evil (probably “and”). That would be bad optics.

    Only fake glibertarians would say or do that. Or maybe it’s just a few bad apples here and there (but not actually here, only over there), ones who haven’t really let the good word wash over them like the economics that we’re told trickles down from on high upon those who are deserving of it. Those poor benighted fools just aren’t sophisticated enough to tell you about glibertianism per se, but somebody probably is, according to these sources. Maybe only the free market itself can ever really know what glibartarianism consists in, if it could be said to know anything, but not mere mortals like us. Besides, glibertarianism is different now, because it’s a living and growing intellectual tradition, which still gives inspiration to ignorant sociopaths who want to climb the corporate ladder even to this very day.

    Anyway, the point is, it never happened. If you remember otherwise, several of them will definitely need to correct you about that, at length. And that’s the last thing you want.

  35. consciousness razor says

    leerudolph:

    Here’s Pauli writing to Born (the passage introducing it is from Bell, who also quoted it):

    There is a widespread and erroneous conviction that for Einstein determinism was always the sacred principle. The quotability of his famous `God does not play dice’ has not helped in this respect. Among those who had great difficulty seeing Einstein’s position was Born. Pauli tried to help in a letter of 1954:

    I was unable to recognize Einstein whenever you talked about him in either your letter or your manuscript. It seemed to me as if you had erected some dummy Einstein for yourself, which you then knocked down with great pomp. In particular Einstein does not consider the concept of `determinism’ to be as fundamental as it is frequently held to be (as he told me emphatically many times) … he disputes that he uses as a criterion for the admissibility of a theory the question “Is it rigorously deterministic?”… he was not at all annoyed with you, but only said that you were a person who will not listen.

    So you could read various things into the quote you gave, but Pauli understood what Einstein had been saying to him and was trying to correct Born. (I bet he was annoyed, but he was too polite to say so.)

    Anyway, no matter what gets written in private letters, it’s just a fact that the EPR paper needs locality for its conclusion, not determinism. That’s where things went wrong, as Bell’s theorem proves, and you’re really not going to get it if you think it proved something else. It’s an important result, and there shouldn’t be any confusion about it (especially now, since we’ve had over 50 years to digest it).

  36. mailliw says

    @consciousness razor #20

    I’ll say it again: congratulations, but they’re not the same thing.

    The semantic theories of Saussure, in particular the separation of sign, signified and signifier are fundamental to modern semantics. Saussure is often considered to be the founder of modern linguistics. There is a direct line of intellectual thought leading from Saussure to the structuralists and post-structuralists (which is pretty much a synonym for post-modernist) like Derrida.

    I hope you don’t think that words have some sort of integral meaning separate from their usage by people. Human beings are animals in a natural and social environment, everything we do and say is influenced by that environment and everything we say is the result of that environment.

    The strawperson argument against post-modernism is to interpret this as meaning all viewpoints are equally valid. Post-modernism allows one to address the question of whether particular positions are based on power or on reason. In semantics the notion that the meaning of words is determined by some external guarantee rather than usage is long outdated. As Orwell points out the attempt to enforce particular meanings on words is an instrument of totalitarianism – and Foucault expands on this argument.

  37. mailliw says

    The problems of Postmodernism are so numerous and so serious that just about everyone but a few intellectual Zombies and Donald Trump have given up on it.

    I am, for an intellectual zombie, surprisingly alive and sprightly.

    A post-modernist interpretation of Trump would be that he uses language as a means of establishing dominance, not as a means of communication. Like all people intent on power, he sees justice and punishment as a means of enforcing that power. Foucault points out that all tyrants are obsessed with law and order and harsh punishments not because they favour retribution or deterrence, but because every criminal act is seen as an act of insurrection against absolute power.

    That you seek to understand where Trump is coming from is not the same as justifying his position.

  38. mailliw says

    @raven #30

    that logic and reason are mere conceptual constructs that are not universally valid.

    That seems a reasonable position. After all if logic is universally valid why have their been developments in logic? If propositional logic was “universally valid” then why did Frege have to develop predicate logic?

    Where does this “universal validity” come from – what guarantees that?

  39. mailliw says

    @raven #30

    As an additional point, Kurt Gödel proved that there are axiomatic systems that are consistent, but which cannot be proved from their own axioms. Arithmetic being such a case.

    First order predicate logic is consistent and complete, higher order predicate logics are not.

    Gödel’s theorem was instrumental in Hilbert abandoning his goal of developing a complete and consistent set of axioms that applied to all mathematics.

    Where does your claim to “universal validity” stand now?

    Logic is an extremely powerful tool for constructing arguments and testing their consistency, but there is no reason to suppose that it is “universally valid”.

    Besides, it may that the human mind has a “Gödel sentence” that will make it forever impossible for us to truly understand how the mind works.

  40. KG says

    Understanding Computers and Cognition draws on the work of the philosophers Heidegger… – mailliw@5

    Ah yes, the well-known and respected Nazi.

  41. KG says

    On the contrary, it is now widely accepted that science is an interpretation of the world and not an account of objective reality, because we have no real access to whatever “objective reality” is. – mailliw@15

    Is that an assertion about objective reality, or is it just “an interpretation of the world”? If the former, how does postmodernism magically escape the relativism it asserts of everythnig else? If the latter, how is your claim any more valid than its negation?

    (Actually, of course, science is both an interpretation of the world and an account of objective reality. The earth really is approximately spherical, modern organisms really did evolve from earlier ones, Covid-19 really is a viral infection.)

  42. KG says

    It’s kind of amusing to me that people have such wildly divergent ideas of what postmodernism is or was, as well as such strong disagreements about whether it was/is good or bad. The content, meaning, and effects of postmodernism seems to depend entirely on who is doing the talking, which in itself seems a little … postmodern! – springa73@22

    It’s because postmodernism is a classic “motte and bailey” ideology. It has a “weak” version – which with respect to science says that it’s a human construct, hence fallible, and liable to ideological influences; and that we have no direct, unmediated access to its objects of study. No-one with any sense denies this (arguably the logical positivists did, and logical positivism has the distinction of being a rare philosophical position than was so clear that its advocates realised it was, in fact, clearly wrong), and it was a commonplace long before “postmodernism” was thought of. It also has a “strong” version, which in relation to science, claims we can never know anything about its objects of study, and that it is nothing but ideology. Postmodernists will routinely switch from the strong to the weak version when challenged.

  43. mailliw says

    Ah yes, the well-known and respected Nazi.

    You can separate Heidegger’s philosophy from his political position. So fine, let’s cancel Heidegger and just talk about some of the philosophical ideas, I have no problem about that.

    We can cancel post-modernism as well if you like, That’s not an issue for me. Let’s talk about the philosophy of science using some other words. After all the meaning of the words only depends on usage and if post-modernism is a trigger word for some people then let’s not use it.

    I am sure that you would see doubt as central to scientific enquiry and this is fairly central post-modernism, but call it something else if it makes you feel better.

  44. mailliw says

    The earth really is approximately spherical,

    The earth “really does” go round the sun, but for centuries people were able to construct fairly convincing models to explain a solar system in which everything resolves round the earth.

    Newtonian physics works well for lots of things but falls down at the cosmic and sub-atomic levels.

    So does the solar system “really” conform to Newtonian physics? It’s a good approximation, relativity is a better approximation, and in due course we will find better approximations, but which one of these approximations is the genuine “objective reality”?

  45. indianajones says

    Invoking Godels theorem and triggering inappropriately. Long walls of text and multiples of them. Not a well known regular contributor.

    Anyone elses spidey senses tingling a wee bit?

  46. mailliw says

    Anyone elses spidey senses tingling a wee bit?

    Perhaps you might care to address some of the points I made?

  47. mailliw says

    @indianajones 49

    Well, given that PZ has in the past posted some things that are favourable towards post-modernism, in particular some things from Peter Coffin, I was perhaps expecting a more positive response.

    I have long been puzzled by why Richard Dawkins seems to think it is some terrible threat to science and I am sad to say that many of the posts here seem to echo his somewhat ill-informed prejudices.

    As Alan Sokal himself has said, post-modernism doesn’t really represent a threat to science – most of the more vocal advocates stopped fairly quickly once they understood that people were misusing it to deny global warming and so on. Sokal sees things like alternative medicine as a far greater menace than post-modernism.

    I’m not a post-modernist, not an -ist of any description really (well socialist, yes I will admit to that). However to deny the close links between modern linguistics and post-modernism is a denial of the facts, as far as I am concerned.

    However, if someone can come up with some more convincing reasons why I should be working myself up into a panic about post-modernism, then please, be my guest.

  48. says

    mailliw @ #47:

    You can separate Heidegger’s philosophy from his political position.

    No, you can’t. For anyone interested, these issues are discussed in:

    Emmanuel Faye, Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935

    Peter Trawny, Heidegger and the Myth of a Jewish World Conspiracy

    (I should note that the scrupulously even-handed chapter “Let Being Be: Heidegger” in An Existentialist Ethics by the great Hazel Barnes, written in 1967 before many of the most damning materials came to light, makes clear that even if you removed the Nazism from Heidegger’s thinking you’re left with quasi-religious claptrap. “If Heidegger were willing to bestow on Being any discernible quality or effect whatsoever, I should be willing to be persuaded. Whatever Being may say to Heidegger, when he listens to it, Heidegger has kept it a deep secret.”)

    Frankly, I’ve had it with people citing Heidegger and trying to salvage Heidegger. If your philosophy doesn’t prevent you from becoming a fucking Nazi, I’m not interested.

  49. indianajones says

    @50. Sure.

    Godels theorem applies strictly to specific problems with certain formulations of mathematical proofs. Give or take anyway, mathematical enthusiast, not a mathematician here. It is out of place when discussing whether post modernism does/does not or is/is not this or that.

    ‘Trigger word’ as you use the phrase here is a douchey misuse of a real and tragic problem victims of trauma have. Fuck you for trivialising that term and those victims.

    Would you care to address my point that these and the long walls of text along with multiple posts following each other are causes for suspicion?

  50. mailliw says

    No, you can’t

    Well maybe you can’t. He was a big influence on Sartre who was a Marxist – who appeared to be able to separate the philosophy from the ideology, but maybe Sartre was mistaken, quite possible. I’m not going to defend Heidegger. Frege was a virulent anti-Semite, but this isn’t going to stop me using predicate logic and I am fairly sure that using predicate logic doesn’t make you a racist.

    I only mentioned the book because it demonstrates the strong connection between post-modernism and social media. It is definitely an interesting read, and I’ve already said I don’t entirely agree with Winograd and Flores’ conclusions.

  51. mailliw says

    Would you care to address my point that these and the long walls of text along with multiple posts following each other are causes for suspicion?

    If you tell me what you are suspicious of then I will be happy to oblige. I apologise if my use of the word trigger was inappropriate. I don’t understand your point about Gödel at all.

  52. says

    mailliw @ #51:

    Sokal sees things like alternative medicine as a far greater menace than post-modernism.

    To be precise, Sokal in his 2008 lecture “What is Science and Why Should We Care?” (I honestly don’t know if his views have changed substantially since then) discusses four separate threats to the scientific worldview, in order of their dangerousness: 4) pomo (which you correctly note he considers a minor threat), 3) pseudoscience/altmed, 2) religion, and 1) corporate and government fraud:

    Which brings me to the last, and in my opinion most dangerous, set of adversaries of the evidence-based worldview in the contemporary world: namely, propagandists, public-relations hacks and spin doctors, along with the politicians and corporations who employ them – in short, all those whose goal is not to analyze honestly the evidence for and against a particular policy, but is simply to manipulate the public into reaching a predetermined conclusion by whatever technique will work, however dishonest or fraudulent.

  53. indianajones says

    @55. You brought up the Godel thing (@43) inappropriately.

    This, and the other things in my handy dandy list @49, make me suspect yuu are a troll engaging in a ‘Look at me!’ moment.

  54. mailliw says

    Salty Current @56

    Thanks, I did watch that lecture quite a long time ago and I couldn’t remember clearly what he considered the main threats to be.

    I watched the video on the recommendation of someone who was complaining about post-modernism, so I was rather surprised that Sokal didn’t make a big thing out of it.I completely agree with his assessment of the greatest threat.

  55. mailliw says

    indianajones @55.

    The point about Gödel is entirely relevant when someone claims that logical systems are “universally valid”.

    I made one post and then people replied to it. After that everything I have written has been responses to these replies. If no one had replied then I would have stopped right there.

  56. KG says

    mailliw@42

    That seems a reasonable position. After all if logic is universally valid why have their been developments in logic? If propositional logic was “universally valid” then why did Frege have to develop predicate logic?

    Where does this “universal validity” come from – what guarantees that?

    Validity, when asserted of a logical calculus (the term has other meanings in other contexts), means that it is truth-preserving: if the premises of an argument using that calculus are true, the conclusion will also be true. Propositional calculus is valid. However, there is a great deal it cannot express, hence why Frege had to develop predicate calculus (and of course there is still a great deal that cannot express, hence the development of modal, epistemic, deontic, etc. logics).

    mailliw@47

    You can separate Heidegger’s philosophy from his political position.

    As SC@52 says, no you can’t. He was “preadapted” to Nazism by his veneration for the “authenticity” of German peasant life, and when a philosopher is of the kind who wants to tell people how they should live, as Heidegger was, their personal and political choices are directly relevant to the validity of their philosophical positions. That Sartre, among many others, failed to recognise this, is a fault of theirs, not a vindication of Heidegger. The last chapter of Yvonne Sherratt’s Hitler’s Philosophers has a good treatment of this point.

    mailliw@48

    So does the solar system “really” conform to Newtonian physics? It’s a good approximation, relativity is a better approximation, and in due course we will find better approximations, but which one of these approximations is the genuine “objective reality”?

    None of them. Your failure to distinguish between reality and theories about reality suggests that you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. A theory about reality may be true or false, and if false may still be a good approximation in many circumstances. The latter is the case for Newtonian physics. With regard to relativity, are you talking about the special or the general theory? Or don’t you know the difference (it’s significant in the current context in relation to compatibility with quantum mechanics)? With regard to any universal generalisation, we can never know that it is true, although we may discover that it is false (which means we know its negation is true). But scientific theories are (contra Popper) not always universal generalisations (for example, historical theories, such as that human beings are more closely related to the chimpanzee and gorilla than to the orang-utan) and when they are not universal generalisations, we can know they are true. (I am using “know” in pretty much the everyday sense, not in the sense that: “There is no logically possible way in which this could be false”.)

    mailliw@50,

    Perhaps you might care to address some of the points I made?

    Perhaps you might care to address the point I made @45:

    On the contrary, it is now widely accepted that science is an interpretation of the world and not an account of objective reality, because we have no real access to whatever “objective reality” is. – mailliw@15

    Is that an assertion about objective reality, or is it just “an interpretation of the world”? If the former, how does postmodernism magically escape the relativism it asserts of everything else? If the latter, how is your claim any more valid than its negation?

    mailliw@51

    Well, given that PZ has in the past posted some things that are favourable towards post-modernism, in particular some things from Peter Coffin, I was perhaps expecting a more positive response.

    PZ doesn’t in general insist on conformity with his views in order to comment here.

    mailliw@54,

    Frege was a virulent anti-Semite, but this isn’t going to stop me using predicate logic and I am fairly sure that using predicate logic doesn’t make you a racist.

    Interestingly, I was going to contrast Frege with Heidegger in a footnote. Frege’s philosophical work, at least as regards predicate logic, was purely technical in nature – he was not, as Heidegger was, telling people how they should live. That’s why it can be separated from his personal vileness – although it’s still useful to bear the latter in mind in case it has somehow contaminated the technical work.

  57. says

    mailliw @ #54:

    He was a big influence on Sartre who was a Marxist – who appeared to be able to separate the philosophy from the ideology, but maybe Sartre was mistaken, quite possible.

    This is confused. Heidegger’s early work influenced Sartre’s early work. They broke after the war (and before Sartre became a Marxist) over humanism, which was very much a philosophical-political dispute. (And Sartre had plenty of kooky, bad ideas no one should be drawing on in any case!) Again, people in these years didn’t have access to a good deal of Heidegger’s writing or to historical records of his actions in the 1930s and during the war, in part due to Heidegger’s own concealment of the documents. But enough was known that later intellectuals who continued to defend, praise, and build on Heidegger’s ideas really should have thought critically about what they were doing.

    As Nazism emerged, Heidegger developed his philosophy in line with it and his Nazism/anti-Semitism in line with his philosophy. (At some points his criticisms of Nazi practices amounted to arguments that they weren’t authentically Nazi enough.) His “being-historical” thinking was both evil and really hollow; as the chapter by Hazel Barnes – who was probably the world’s foremost expert on Sartre and one of the best writers on existentialism, and is woefully unappreciated – shows, Heidegger’s central concept is vague to the point of uselessness. I think the fact that his writing was so dense and obscure has disguised this. If “Understanding Computers and Cognition draws on the work of…Heidegger,” I’d be extremely suspicious. I’ve found that people who write about humans’ relationship with other animals and the natural world often cite Heidegger approvingly, and it’s unacceptable. I mean, if you’re thinking “This Nazi had some great insights about technology,” you might want to take a step back and consider if you’re really coming from the same place.

  58. consciousness razor says

    The point about Gödel is entirely relevant when someone claims that logical systems are “universally valid”.

    Nope. Again, a basic introductory passage from wikipedia should suffice to disabuse you of your misconceptions:

    The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an effective procedure (i.e., an algorithm) is capable of proving all truths about the arithmetic of natural numbers. For any such consistent formal system, there will always be statements about natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system. The second incompleteness theorem, an extension of the first, shows that the system cannot demonstrate its own consistency.

    The question is whether they’re capable of proving certain things, including their own consistency. That’s it.

    In fact, the second theorem expresses that a system is consistent (by hypothesis), and the result is that it cannot prove that fact about itself. But it is a fact, and the specific examples which people cite are all consistent. There would be little or no interest in them if they weren’t.

    Anyway, the point is exactly that consistency and provability are not equivalent, should not be confused with one another, don’t come as a package deal as you might have hoped, and so on.

  59. KG says

    Crip Dyke@28

    There is a difference between “objective reality” and “human knowledge of reality”. Postmodernism advised against conflating the two.

    Wow, what a dep and penetrating insight! I’m sure no-one ever thought of that before postmodernism came along! (This is the “motte” version of pomo – true but trivial; the “bailey” version – radical but false – denies the existence of objective reality – or “reality” as we non-po-moers tend to call it.)

    Yet how can sexism be both denying access to sterilization as birth control and involuntarily imposing sterilization as birth control? It is through standpoint feminism and intersectionality that we are now recognizing what happened.

    Er…wut? Srsly? Why on earth would it take “feminism and intersectionality” to recognise that both forbidding X and enforcing X are restrictions on freedom, and hence at least potentially oppressive?

  60. mailliw says

    Regarding Heidegger, I mentioned that he influenced the book and that the book has had a very big influence on the development of social media. I also said that I didn’t agree with Winograd and Flores’ conclusions – but it is still an interesting read.

    I suggested thatHeidegger’s thought could be separated from his politics – and several people have made many helpful comments to disabuse me of this. Thankyou.

    I don’t recall saying that I was a great admirer of the work of Martin Heidegger. If I gave that impression then there has been a misunderstanding.

  61. mailliw says

    Your failure to distinguish between reality and theories about reality suggests that you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

    I am fairly sure I understand what a theory is – in the scientific sense rather than the popular sense – and I am fairly sure that I can distinguish it from reality. I am puzzled as to why you believe I cannot distinguish between them, perhaps you could explain?

  62. consciousness razor says

    I’m sure no-one ever thought of that before postmodernism came along!

    Of course they didn’t. It’s common knowledge that postmodernism was a crude and rudimentary form of skepticism, prior to its development in ancient Greece, India, China and perhaps elsewhere. Then (skipping over a bit, when nothing too important happened) there was modernism, and I hear that was pretty bad. Oh, there were the dark ages too, when things were dark, but otherwise not so bad. Don’t you know your history?

  63. KG says

    mailliw@66,

    Because you asked the following question@48:

    So does the solar system “really” conform to Newtonian physics? It’s a good approximation, relativity is a better approximation, and in due course we will find better approximations, but which one of these approximations is the genuine “objective reality”?

    Which I quoted @61, in answering:

    None of them. Your failure to distinguish between reality and theories about reality suggests that you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

    How could an approximation, or for that matter a true theory, be ‘the genuine “objective reality” ‘? Reality (you don’t need the “objective”, it’s redundant) is what theories (true or false) and approximations attempt to describe andor explain. Got it yet?

  64. stroppy says

    Wall Street Journal

    I pretty much gave up on WSJ decades ago before Murdock. However I did notice that the news side, oriented of course toward business issues, was generally sound, and apparently still enjoys a reasonably good reputation in some respectable quarters. The glaring problem with the Journal is that the fulminating OpEd side is a portal to an alternate universe that willfully contradicts the news side of the operation.

    My father was Exhibit A of how insidious this is. He councelled me when I was young to read the news side and then turn to the back OpEd pages in order to understand and interpret what I’d just read up front. His explanation for contradictions was a hand-waving “it’s complicated” while making a smooth exit from the room.

    That’s The Wall Street Journal, golden tablets of the Church of Bizziness.

  65. mailliw says

    Salty Current @62

    Perhaps my confusion around Heidegger is compounded by the fact that one of the authors of Understanding Computers and Cognition, Fernando Flores was a former member of Allende’s cabinet in Chile.

  66. mailliw says

    Reality (you don’t need the “objective”, it’s redundant) is what theories (true or false) and approximations attempt to describe andor explain. Got it yet?

    As far as I can see this is exactly what I said, or if I didn’t explain myself very well, exactly what I meant. The claim that theories are a completely faithful representation of reality cannot be true though obviously very few people believe that anymore.

    There is absolutely no need to be so patronising by the way. It doesn’t make you anymore persuasive.

  67. mailliw says

    indianajones @60

    Aah. Sea-lioning. Got it.

    So long, and thanks for all the fish.

  68. KG says

    The claim that theories are a completely faithful representation of reality cannot be true – mailliw@71

    Yes they can, if the theories concerned are true – a true theory is a completely faithful representation of reality, but it is not the same thing as that reality. And you just confirmed that you don’t know the difference between reality and representations of reality.

  69. mailliw says

    a true theory is a completely faithful representation of reality

    Of course it isn’t. Newton’s laws of motion predict the movement of the planets sufficiently accurately to be useful, but to claim they are completely faithful representation of reality is obviously false.

    And you just confirmed that you don’t know the difference between reality and representations of reality.

    Surprising as it may seem, I am not surprised when looking at map, to discover that the rivers in reality are not actually blue nor the roads red. If someone showed me a photo and said “that is what my wife really looks like” – I would have to answer – she’s very small and very flat.

  70. KG says

    mailliw@76,

    Jesus wept.

    Newton’s laws of motion predict the movement of the planets sufficiently accurately to be useful, but to claim they are completely faithful representation of reality is obviously false.

    That’s because Newton’s laws of motion are not a true theory. They provide useful approximations for many purposes, but regarded as a theory of gravity, that theory is false.

    And niether maps nor photos are theories.

  71. stroppy says

    Theories are models. Models come in many forms with various degrees of accuracy (or inaccuracy). What is a “true theory?”

  72. mailliw says

    That’s because Newton’s laws of motion are not a true theory.

    Any other theory would just be a closer approximation, so by your criteria there are no true theories.

    Obviously there are true theories, so your criteria for truthfulness don’t appear to be correct.

  73. says

    mailliw @ #70:

    Perhaps my confusion around Heidegger is compounded by the fact that one of the authors of Understanding Computers and Cognition, Fernando Flores was a former member of Allende’s cabinet in Chile.

    I’m…not at all sure why that (or the fact that, according to Wikipedia, he more recently supported the candidacy and joined the government of the rightwing Piñera) would compound your confusion. From the comment to which you’re responding:

    I’ve found that people who write about humans’ relationship with other animals and the natural world often cite Heidegger approvingly, and it’s unacceptable. I mean, if you’re thinking “This Nazi had some great insights about technology,” you might want to take a step back and consider if you’re really coming from the same place.

    The people I see approvingly citing Heidegger’s ideas are almost all on the Left. I don’t think he’s more cited on the Left; It’s that I’m more likely to read leftwing writers. At the same time, I think there are aspects of his thought related to technology and humans’ place in the world and so forth that have an appeal to various thinkers on the Left, which is disturbing and dangerous. The fact that he was a literal Nazi and that this not only didn’t conflict with his philosophy but developed in conjunction with it should make everyone far more skeptical about drawing on his ideas. People should really examine what it is in his thought that appeals to them and why, and how it can push their thinking in a bad direction.

    As I said, people in the twentieth century (when the book you’re talking about was published) didn’t have all of the information we do now, but they knew enough that it was irresponsible to approach his work the way many did. Now, in 2020, there’s no excuse. And I don’t think there’s reason to try to save what’s allegedly of value in Heidegger’s thinking. As Barnes shows, when removed from the Nazi context in which it’s inextricably embedded, his philosophy is irrational and useless.

  74. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @39:

    it’s just a fact that the EPR paper needs locality for its conclusion, not determinism. That’s where things went wrong, as Bell’s theorem proves, and you’re really not going to get it if you think it proved something else. It’s an important result, and there shouldn’t be any confusion about it (especially now, since we’ve had over 50 years to digest it).

    Has anyone said that the EPR paper needs determinism? That’s a very different proposition from the one that says Einstein was a determinist. Anyway, it doesn’t just need locality. It also relies crucially on their notion of a ‘reasonable definition of reality’, which says that two physical quantities can be ‘simultaneously real’ – i.e. actual properties of a system – even if they can’t be simultaneously measured.

    In Bell’s paper, considering entangled fermions, locality is taken as meaning (call this assumption #1) that the axis chosen to measure the spin of particle 1 cannot affect the measurement of particle 2. In other words, if the axes were originally the same (so that the measurements, if done, would be antiparallel), fiddling with the relative angle for the axis used for particle 1 doesn’t affect the measurement of particle 2.

    In addition, the notion of simultaneous reality is concretized by a set of parameters λ, such that (call this assumption #2) the outcome of a measurement of 1 or 2 is determined by the axis chosen plus the value(s) of λ.

    So, if the axis chosen for particle 1 is the vector a, then A(a,λ) gives the spin of particle 1 relative to a. If the axis chosen for particle 2 is b, B(b,λ) gives the spin of particle 2 relative to b.

    The entanglement gives us the relation;

    A(a,λ) = −B(a,λ) = B(−a,λ)

    Bell shows you can’t satisfy #1 and #2. If you have ‘hidden variables’ which determine any measurement, the setting of the axis used to measure one particle must instantaneously affect the measurement of the other particle. If you don’t have ‘hidden variables’ you can still have locality in the sense of assumption #1.

    Bell’s paper is here.

  75. mailliw says

    SC (Salty Current) @81

    Thanks, that’s very interesting. I suppose I naively thought that someone who has been imprisoned by fascists must necessarily be anti-fascist.
    But please, as I said, I only mentioned the book because it shows the influence of anti-rationalist thinking on social media. When I first read it in the 1980s I found it very persuasive, today I find it far less convincing.

  76. KG says

    What is a “true theory?” – stroppy@78

    A theory that describes the aspect of reality which it concerns correctly.

    Any other theory would just be a closer approximation , so by your criteria there are no true theories. – mailliw@8

    Utter, ludicrous garbage. The theory of general relativity may be a true theory – we don’t know. The tgheory that AIDs is caused by a retrovirus is a true theory, because AIDS is, in fact, caused by a retrovirus.

  77. mailliw says

    The tgheory that AIDs is caused by a retrovirus is a true theory, because AIDS is, in fact, caused by a retrovirus.

    Well yes, I would agree with that, though I suspect the greater detail of how the retrovirus causes AIDS is a much more complex and less certain issue.

    Utter, ludicrous garbage.

    I do wonder why you feel the need to be so rude and aggressive. It is quite sufficient to explain your position clearly.

  78. stroppy says

    Ok, I don’t know why I’m letting myself get sucked into this… so just to be clear, a theory can be a “true theory” in that it meets the definition of a theory– as in a “real theory” as opposed to say something that is just a notion– and/or it can be a “true theory” in the sense that it is any factoid that is 100% verified as being certainly, actually and absolutely true.

    Yes? No?

    Just checking to convince myself that you characters are consistently talking about the same thing…

  79. mailliw says

    From my point of view a true theory is a hypothesis that has been shown to logically consistent, has been tested by experiment in such a way that the experiments are repeatable by other parties – and have been tested by those parties – and until now no decisive evidence has been found experimentally that contradicts the hypothesis. Over time contradictory evidence may be found and the theory must necessarily be reevaluated on the basis of this – to decide if the evidence is sufficient to warrant replacing the theory with another one that overcomes the contradictions.

    The truth of a theory is thus dependent on the correct application of the scientific method. Truth is thus always provisional and never absolute.

  80. Owlmirror says

    Let’s talk about the philosophy of science using some other words. After all the meaning of the words only depends on usage and if post-modernism is a trigger word for some people then let’s not use it.

    (Linnaeas to Gmelin: “Non placet, quod Hominem inter ant[h]ropomorpha collocaverim, sed homo noscit se ipsum. Removeamus vocabula.” [ It is not pleasing that I have assigned Homo to the anthropomorphs {the group of animals now called Primates}, but man knows himself. Let us remove the words. ])

  81. consciousness razor says

    Rob Grigjanis:

    Has anyone said that the EPR paper needs determinism? That’s a very different proposition from the one that says Einstein was a determinist.

    Yes, some have. And sure, those are different. I just don’t think anyone should care about whether the latter is true. His criticisms of QM don’t succeed or fail on that point, because it doesn’t matter, for the same reason it doesn’t matter whether or not he was a Methodist.

    It also relies crucially on their notion of a ‘reasonable definition of reality’, which says that two physical quantities can be ‘simultaneously real’ – i.e. actual properties of a system – even if they can’t be simultaneously measured.

    They said it was a “criterion,” which means it’s sufficient (maybe not necessary) for knowing you have what they called an “element of reality” (not reality as a whole). Not quite the same as a definition, which you might regard as something which fully specifies exactly what’s an element of reality and what’s not, no more and no less.

    It depends on not disturbing/changing the system, like they said, which might happen in a measurement process. So you’ve got a situation where you can determine which physical state a system is in, not only which state you might have put it in after you conducted a measurement of some sort on that system. Then, there has to be an element of reality for you to know about. Otherwise, you’ve got nothing, basically, meaning you’re not in that situation.

    If Bob is far enough away from Alice, so that even a light signal from Alice couldn’t reach Bob by time T to have an effect on Bob’s state, then doing something to Alice shouldn’t disturb Bob, at least not any earlier than T. Yet in the world (and this doesn’t depend on which form of QM it is), there is that sort of “disturbance” for spatially-separated entangled systems like that. This is what made Einstein think the theory was missing something, hence his paper that various people have misunderstood ever since.

    Moving ahead to Bell’s paper and the experiments confirming it… There is that kind of nonlocality in the world, hidden variables or no hidden variables. Even if QM gets replaced with something else some day, the same experiments showing nonlocal effects will still have to be accounted for, so we are stuck with it.

    Now, some might still be worried. It doesn’t have anything to do with signals of some kind traveling at any speed through spacetime. So that’s kind of a relief? You don’t actually have to know anything in particular about what’s going on in the region between Alice and Bob…. There could be a whole lot of nothing for 100 lightyears, an enormous lead wall, a billion octopi wearing funny hats, or whatever. Alice’s and Bob’s entangled states are just correlated, and there isn’t a local way of doing that. You could do it with spins or with various other types of experiments for that matter.

    Of course, you wouldn’t be able to know about both systems empirically, until you bring the results together (since they’re not already together and are separated). But the real world certainly isn’t waiting around for you to do that, because there is such a thing as the real world independently of us, at whatever time you care to choose, because we’re not engaging in any of this pomo funny business.

  82. says

    Thanks, that’s very interesting. I suppose I naively thought that someone who has been imprisoned by fascists must necessarily be anti-fascist.

    Good grief. If you took from my comments above that I was suggesting that anyone who’s drawn on or approvingly cited Heidegger can’t be anti-fascist, then I can’t help you.

    But please, as I said, I only mentioned the book because it shows the influence of anti-rationalist thinking on social media. When I first read it in the 1980s I found it very persuasive, today I find it far less convincing.

    I don’t care why you mentioned the book. I was responding specifically to your claim that “You can separate Heidegger’s philosophy from his political position” (as a Nazi). I wasn’t going to respond to your #65, but then you tossed out #70. Responding gave me the opportunity to formulate and communicate my thoughts a bit more fully, so fine. But your arguments are rather confused, so I’ll take my leave.

  83. KG says

    mailliw@85

    I do wonder why you feel the need to be so rude and aggressive. – mailliw@85

    Sheer exasperation. The points I am making are extremely simple, but you have appeared determined to misunderstand or misrepresent them.

    mailliw@87

    From my point of view a true theory is a hypothesis that has been shown to logically consistent, has been tested by experiment in such a way that the experiments are repeatable by other parties – and have been tested by those parties – and until now no decisive evidence has been found experimentally that contradicts the hypothesis… Truth is thus always provisional and never absolute.

    Well your point of view is wrong. Physicists thought for a long time that Newton’s theory of gravitation was true. But it wasn’t. It was just as false then as it is now, and if they’d been able to measure the movement of Mercury accurately enough (I don’t know exactly when this became possible), they could have discovered that it’s false. Physicians thought that malaria was caused by “bad air” (hence the name). It was a reasonable theory, because of its tendency to occur near to standing pools or marshy areas in hot countries, which often smell bad. But the theory was false. Malaria was then, just as it is now, caused by single-celled eukaryotic parasites transmitted by mosquito bites. Nothing but unnecessary confusion results from abandoning the simple idea that truth is correspondence with the facts, whether or not we know or even could know the relevant facts.

    stroppy@86,
    Since the context has been a discussion of science, I have always been talking (in this discussion) about real theories, to use your term. Such theories may be true, or false – and even if false, may be useful approximations. If true, we may or may not know they are true so no, they don’t have to have been verified in order to be true theories – they just have to be true, meaning that what they assert to be the case is, in fact, the case.

  84. mailliw says

    If you took from my comments above that I was suggesting that anyone who’s drawn on or approvingly cited Heidegger can’t be anti-fascist,

    I think you have misunderstood, I was thinking that Flores might have been able to divorce Heidegger’s politics from his philosophy. But you have convinced me that I and he were both mistaken in this belief.

    What problem do you have with me agreeing with you? This is really very puzzling.

  85. stroppy says

    Yeah, a theory is a model and I think a map is indeed often a model in the same sense, which people who have been involved in cartography would probably accept.

    And most of what we think about as theories involve trying to conceptualize the big questions that are almost certainly too large to ever be fully comprehended. That doesn’t necessarily pertain to all, less than grand, theories; though I have to think that once a question is definitively solved, there ceases to be a viable, non-trivial theory by definition.

  86. mailliw says

    Well your point of view is wrong.

    As far as I am concerned I have just described the standard scientific method.

    If I am having trouble understanding you, it is because you appear to reject it. You are not explaining yourself clearly at all.

  87. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @89: Towards the end of the EPR paper, they say “No reasonable definition of reality could be expected to permit this”, where “this” is the dependence of the reality of two quantities in system 2 on the process of measurement in system 1, even if the two quantities are such that they could not be measured simultaneously (like position and momentum, or the x and y components of spin).

    So, no, they don’t provide a full definition, but they specify something that any ‘reasonable’ definition should not permit.

    Yeah, there’s some notion of nonlocality in either case, but the one associated with hidden variables has what Bell calls “a grossly non-local structure” (not in a disparaging way, obviously). And assumption #1 is what is commonly referred to as “locality”. If you want to call it “non-gross non-locality” that’s fine by me.

  88. says

    A sample of mailliw’s remarks:

    “If you tell me what you are suspicious of then I will be happy to oblige. I apologise if my use of the word trigger was inappropriate.”

    “There is absolutely no need to be so patronising by the way. It doesn’t make you anymore persuasive.”

    “But please, as I said, I only mentioned the book because…”

    “I do wonder why you feel the need to be so rude and aggressive. It is quite sufficient to explain your position clearly.”

    “What problem do you have with me agreeing with you? This is really very puzzling.”

    “You are not explaining yourself clearly at all.”

    Draw your own conclusions.

  89. mailliw says

    <

    blockquote>Draw your own conclusions.

    I would be interested to hear what conclusions you have come to,

  90. says

    @KG

    Why on earth would it take “feminism and intersectionality” to recognise that both forbidding X and enforcing X are restrictions on freedom, and hence at least potentially oppressive?

    Because, in case you haven’t noticed, humans are idiots.

    Or, if you prefer the study of psychology has amassed vast amounts of evidence that heuristics and cognitive biases are a thing, and despite how “duh” it might seem to state that reality and knowledge of reality are separate things, people need to be (metaphorically) smacked upside the head repeatedly in order to act as if they know that reality and their knowledge of reality are not the same thing.

    Call feminists stupid if you like, but white women feminists refused to help Black feminists in the 70s and early 80s in their fight against forced sterilization. At least in the 70s this was because of differing priorities – white women wanted broader access to voluntary sterilization – combined with an inability to truly credit other people’s reports. The white women were being denied access to sterilization after pleading. It was very hard for them to credit reports that the same medical infrastructure was, to their minds, so eager to sterilize people that they were doing it without consent.

    It was only the development of standpoint feminism and related progress that led to an uneasy truce between feminists on seemingly-opposite sides of anti-/sterilization advocacy and only intersectionality that truly healed the fracture.

    This is the reality of what happened, and whether or not you’re willing to deny the reality has no impact on the fact that the tools and language of postmodernism were used in moving from the 1970s fracture to the 1990s healing.

    A good part of this is documented in an excellent book, Killing the Black Body which I’ve recommended before. Other parts are documented in other books and articles and all this information, including good sourcing, are freely available to you.

    So please, feel free to be as insulting and dismissive as you like, but know that in so doing you’re engaging in reality denial as willful and unjustifiable as anything Lindsey Graham can manage.

  91. mailliw says

    KG @44

    Ah yes, the well-known and respected Nazi.

    From the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heidegger/)

    Heidegger’s involvement with Nazism casts a shadow over his life. Whether, and if so to what extent, it casts a more concentrated shadow over at least some of his philosophical work is a more difficult issue. It would be irresponsible to ignore the relationship between Heidegger’s philosophy and his politics. But it is surely possible to be critically engaged in a deep and intellectually stimulating way with his sustained investigation into Being, to find much of value in his capacity to think deeply about human life, to struggle fruitfully with what he says about our loss of dwelling, and to appreciate his massive and still unfolding contribution to thought and to thinking, without looking for evidence of Nazism in every twist and turn of the philosophical path he lays down.

    One faces a similar problem with Günter Grass who revealed late in life that he had been in the Waffen SS. Does this negate all his work as a novelist or not?

  92. consciousness razor says

    Physicists thought for a long time that Newton’s theory of gravitation was true. But it wasn’t. It was just as false then as it is now, and if they’d been able to measure the movement of Mercury accurately enough (I don’t know exactly when this became possible), they could have discovered that it’s false.

    From the wiki page on tests of GR:

    Mercury deviates from the precession predicted from these Newtonian effects. This anomalous rate of precession of the perihelion of Mercury’s orbit was first recognized in 1859 as a problem in celestial mechanics, by Urbain Le Verrier. His reanalysis of available timed observations of transits of Mercury over the Sun’s disk from 1697 to 1848 showed that the actual rate of the precession disagreed from that predicted from Newton’s theory by 38″ (arcseconds) per tropical century (later re-estimated at 43″ by Simon Newcomb in 1882).[6] A number of ad hoc and ultimately unsuccessful solutions were proposed, but they tended to introduce more problems.

    So, 1859 would be one way of answering your question. But presumably, it could have been noticed before Le Verrier (also famous for discovering Neptune, due to discrepancies in the orbit of Uranus).

    Even if observed earlier, it would still take a bit more time/work to sort through other possible (ad hoc and ultimately unsuccessful) proposals, which don’t imply Newtonian gravity is wrong…. Or not all of them do, like Le Verrier’s idea of another planet named Vulcan. (I guess there may have been some others that did say Newtonian gravity is wrong, besides GR itself, but I have no idea. That doesn’t seem to have been a popular option, as far as I’m aware.)

    By the way, if you go down the wikipedia rabbit hole, you’ll find this:

    [From the page on Le Verrier]
    Le Verrier began studying the motion of Mercury as early as 1843, with a report entitled Détermination nouvelle de l ’orbite de Mercure et de ses perturbations (A New Determination of the Orbit of Mercury and its Perturbations).
    [From the page on Vulcan]
    In 1840, François Arago, the director of the Paris Observatory, suggested to Le Verrier that he work on the topic of Mercury’s orbit around the Sun. The goal of this study was to construct a model based on Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation. By 1843, Le Verrier published his provisional theory on the subject, which would be tested during a transit of Mercury across the face of the Sun in 1848. Predictions from Le Verrier’s theory failed to match the observations.

    And in case anyone is wondering, as I’m sure you are….

    The other planets experience perihelion shifts as well, but, since they are farther from the Sun and have longer periods, their shifts are lower, and could not be observed accurately until long after Mercury’s. For example, the perihelion shift of Earth’s orbit due to general relativity is theoretically 3.83868″ per century and experimentally 3.8387±0.0004″/cy, Venus’s is 8.62473″/cy and 8.6247±0.0005″/cy and Mars’ is 1.351±0.001″/cy. Both values have now been measured, with results in good agreement with theory.[11] The periapsis shift has also now been measured for binary pulsar systems, with PSR 1913+16 amounting to 4.2° per year.[12] These observations are consistent with general relativity.[13] It is also possible to measure periapsis shift in binary star systems which do not contain ultra-dense stars, but it is more difficult to model the classical effects precisely – for example, the alignment of the stars’ spin to their orbital plane needs to be known and is hard to measure directly. A few systems, such as DI Herculis,[14] have been measured as test cases for general relativity.

  93. Owlmirror says

    I guess there may have been some others that did say Newtonian gravity is wrong, besides GR itself,

    Technically, there still are who posit MOND, because alternatives to dark matter were desired, I guess, and the Bullet Cluster hadn’t been discovered yet.

  94. consciousness razor says

    Owlmirror, #102:
    Yeah, that’s true, but I was thinking of it in the context of dealing with Mercury’s orbit, before Einstein came up with GR.

    You got me wondering whether anyone has even bothered to do calculations related to that, because the focus is usually on larger-scale things like galaxies or clusters of galaxies (basically, whenever dark matter would be noticeable). There was this….

    It has been suggested that MOND could be tested in the Solar System using the LISA Pathfinder mission (launched in 2015). In particular, it may be possible to detect the anomalous tidal stresses predicted by MOND to exist at the Earth-Sun saddlepoint of the Newtonian gravitational potential.[59] It may also be possible to measure MOND corrections to the perihelion precession of the planets in the Solar System,[60] or a purpose-built spacecraft.[61]

    So there is something. The predicted corrections (if some version of MOND is right) to perihelion precession are due to the galaxy’s gravitational field, as you might have guessed.

    Definitely not an expert, but I doubt that’s headed anywhere useful.

  95. mailliw says

    @101 consciousness razor

    That is how the scientific method works, attempts are made to shore up an existing theory until a more accurate one is developed and accepted.
    For most practical purposes Newton’s laws of motion are still valid, and therefore still taught in schools, because of their relevance to all sorts of practical matters such as engineering.
    Thus you can argue that Newton’s laws are still true, even if they are no longer applicable in some situations.

    When does the new hypothesis become a theory? When it has been through the process of the scientific method and is accepted by the scientific community, before then it is still a hypothesis and therefore false.

  96. consciousness razor says

    That is how the scientific method works, attempts are made to shore up an existing theory until a more accurate one is developed and accepted.

    A more accurate one may never be developed or accepted, even if it’s attempted. Then we’re just stuck with a false theory, and that’s a way scientific methods (plural) can fail to work. What is your point?

    For most practical purposes Newton’s laws of motion are still valid, and therefore still taught in schools, because of their relevance to all sorts of practical matters such as engineering.
    Thus you can argue that Newton’s laws are still true, even if they are no longer applicable in some situations.

    You can make bad arguments, like that one. But you could do a lot of things. Is this one of the things you should do?

    And if they’re not applicable for some things now, then they never were.

    When does the new hypothesis become a theory? When it has been through the process of the scientific method and is accepted by the scientific community, before then it is still a hypothesis and therefore false.

    More garbage. Like KG said in #91, a proposition about the world is true when it corresponds to facts in the world. That’s all that determines it. If you think we could do without or could substitute it with something better, then in either case you’re wrong.

    Also, countless true propositions don’t come from the sciences. Probably best not to tie those things so closely together in your mind, because that will very quickly fall apart.

  97. mailliw says

    consciousness razor @105

    What is your point?

    In the context of school physics and engineering the interpretation of Newtonian physics is that it is true. From an engineering perspective Newtonian physics corresponds to “facts in the world” (except in rare cases like global positioning where relativity has to be taken into account).

    In the context of academic physicists and undergraduate physics students the interpretation of Newtonian physics is that it is false.

  98. mailliw says

    More garbage. Like KG said in #91, a proposition about the world is true when it corresponds to facts in the world.

    A proposition may well correspond to facts in the world, but until that proposition has been subjected to the scientific method the proposition is definitely not a theory.

  99. consciousness razor says

    In the context of school physics and engineering the interpretation of Newtonian physics is that it is true.

    All you have to say is that it’s “useful.” You could say it does well enough for these purposes, or however you’d like to put that. If you just want to avoid incoherence and use words in ways that most other people will have no trouble understanding, it’s not that difficult. You obviously have a lot of other words, so just use them. Have you considered using them?

    But you assert that “the interpretation” is that it is true, in “the context of school physics,” whatever that means when it isn’t the physics of “academic physicists and undergraduate physics students,” because that’s when you say it’s false. I did learn it in elementary school, but is that supposed to be it? And then there’s that business about engineering, except presumably when it’s engineering GPS satellites and such. Unnecessarily confusing and complicated.

    I don’t think you need to slather some extra goop of interpretation on top of a theory, in order to claim that it is true. You could say “the Earth is not flat” or “it’s true that the Earth is not flat,” and I think you would be telling me the same thing about the Earth’s non-flatness. In the context of standing on the Earth and looking around, it may not appear to be non-flat to you, but in all contexts the truth is that it is non-flat.

    If you were only saying it’s “true” — scare quotes, wink wink, nudge nudge — then I don’t get what the hell you think you’re saying about it anymore. And in that case, you probably shouldn’t bother saying it.

    So, I showed you something simpler and cheaper above: “it’s useful” is just one very easy example. And it’s somewhat informative — we could then talk about how it is used, if your statement about its usefulness is in fact correct (meaning it’s true).

    But I really don’t have much, so why am I supposed to buy this convoluted mystery contraption that you’re selling here?

  100. mailliw says

    I don’t think you need to slather some extra goop of interpretation on top of a theory,

    If you misinterpret Darwin and Mendel you can end up with eugenics and social Darwinism. Is the interpretation then really just “extra goop”?

  101. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Larry needs to find a Curly and a Moe and take this schtick out on the road. Is there still a borscht belt?

  102. Rob Grigjanis says

    mailliw @106:

    In the context of academic physicists and undergraduate physics students the interpretation of Newtonian physics is that it is false.

    No, in that context it’s more nuanced. There certainly are cases in which one would throw a theory into a bag marked ‘false’ (phlogiston, luminiferous aether, etc), but it’s ridiculously simplistic to call Newtonian mechanics false. Given that we live in a curved spacetime, we should then label special relativity false as well. And since the Standard Model of particle physics incorporates special but not general relativity, it must be false as well. The game is becoming rather silly…

    One could say that, in physics at least, no theory is true. They are all approximations, of varying validity in varying domains. Special relativity is valid in situations for which local curvature can be ignored. Newtonian mechanics is valid in situations for which corrections of order (v²/c²) and local curvature can be ignored. And of course, deciding when those things can be ignored can be dicey (e.g. GPS, where the accuracy required is such that neither (v²/c²) nor local curvature can be ignored, even though they are both ‘very small’).

  103. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @108:

    in all contexts the truth is that it is non-flat.

    In all contexts? If there are contexts in which the local curvature can be ignored, you certainly do assume flatness. For example, if you’re building pyramids or houses. Or calculating trajectories that don’t travel too far.

  104. Rob Grigjanis says

    Further to #111: And of course, the theories I mentioned are (with the exception of the SM) only valid in situations for which, roughly speaking, the Planck constant can be ignored.

  105. mailliw says

    Rob Grigjanis @111

    but it’s ridiculously simplistic to call Newtonian mechanics false.

    Agreed, I was trying to make a more general point that you cannot divorce theories from the context in which they are applied.Thus I agree that it doesn’t make sense to say Newtonian physics is false; in the context of engineering Newtonian physics still works – planes don’t fall out of the sky, bridges don’t fall down, my bicycle doesn’t fall to pieces under me.

  106. jack lecou says

    As a naive passerby here, I’ve got to say this whole thread is all pretty goddamn meta.

    Follow me here:

    Everybody seems to agrees that the map/model is a representation of the universe rather than the actual universe. That may even be trivial, depending on who you ask. Everybody also seems to agree that how well a given model represents the universe depends in some sense on what you’re using it for. That is, that it’s also obvious that Newtonian mechanics and general relativity and the Hardy-Weinberg principle probably all in some sense say something true about the universe, but what they say may be less or more important to you depending on whether you’re designing freight elevators, studying finch beaks, observing black hole collisions, or cutting people’s hair.

    What y’all can’t seem to agree on is mainly the semantics. The words to use to describe that concept. “These theories have different truth values,” one person says. “No, absolutely not, you dunderhead, they just have different usefulness values,” the next person says. Etc. Etc.

    It’s almost as if having some kind of overarching framework to discuss this contextual relativity would be true and useful in and of itself. Something with a well-defined (to the extent we can ever truly agree on definitions) set of terms to focus and clarify the discussion. Maybe a way to dig in and ask deeper questions about the things “everybody knows” to be true.

    It’s possible such a philosophical framework could even have applications outside of the philosophy of science. We might want to look at the truthiness and usefulness of various assumptions and contextual relationships in culture, economics, power, art, etc. And even how culture and science and technology all relate to each other.

    One could imagine at least one such a framework growing organically out of, say, a response/critique/development upon some earlier framework. For example, suppose there is a framework which supposes that science and technology are more or less universal – that history, society, and other contextual factors make little or no difference in how science and technology work, how they are applied and practiced, or what the outcomes will be.

    Apropos of nothing, I think I’ve heard of a framework like the latter, popular in the mid century. I think some people used to call it ‘modernism’…

  107. xohjoh2n says

    history, society, and other contextual factors make little or no difference in how science and technology work

    I don’t think that’s true, since the Ancient Greeks managed to invent the steam engine but without managing to invent the steam train (or anything else along the same technological lines)…

    Whereas we (UK) did. Same basic technology but we made something very different out of it from our different societal, historical and contextual factors…

  108. mailliw says

    There’s the root of the problem right there, that he would scoff at other disciplines, and that he had this hierarchical notion of the value of knowledge that placed physics, no doubt, at the pinnacle of rigor and true science. Meanwhile, scholars in ‘lesser’ disciplines like sociology and psychology were doing real work to expose why, for instance, physics was so oppressive to women and why biology was infested with racists. One of the reasons is that so-called hard scientists have tended to dismiss the work of scholars outside their narrow domain.

    Is there not a certain irony, that in posting a comment illustrating the broader influence of deconstructionism, I appear to walk into an enormous shitstorm? I am accused of talking “Utter ludicrous garbage”, with some people even seeming to imply that I am Nazi apologist because I mentioned Heidegger – that could be a misunderstanding on my part – but if it isn’t I would like to take this opportunity to say “fuck you”.

  109. jack lecou says

    @118:

    Is there not a certain irony, that in posting a comment illustrating the broader influence of deconstructionism, I appear to walk into an enormous shitstorm?

    It’s something, alright. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this whole thread was some kind of elaborate performance piece. People vehemently denounce postmodernism as so much useless fluff and then proceed to vivid demonstrate just how much we need it — or at least something functionally very like it, whatever label you care to use. It’s kind of hilarious.

    @117:

    Same basic technology but we made something very different out of it from our different societal, historical and contextual factors…

    Indeed. How very postmodern.

  110. mailliw says

    @119 jack lecou

    It is even more ironic that my comment was about the influence of postmodern thought on social media.

    Understanding Computers and Cognition takes an anti-rationalist stance, its authors also developed one of the first versions of “groupware” and one of its authors was Larry Page’s PhD supervisor.

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