Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau

I'm currently reading "Fooled by Randomness" by N.Talib, and I'm really enjoying a chapter dedicated on randomness in humanities... So let me start with two quotes:

" 'Reality is part of the dialectic of consciousness' says Derrida; however, according to Scuglia[1] , it is not so much reality that is part of the dialectic of consciousness, but rather the absurdity, and hence the futility, of reality."

"Sound is the change in the specific condition of segregation of the material parts, and in the negation of this condition; merely an abstract or an ideal ideality, as it were, of that specification [...]"

Very exciting. Now you have to guess: one of the two quotes is from Hegel, and the other one has been generated from a computer using the Postmodernism generator, created by Andrew C. Bulhak using the Dada Engine. (you can find the whole article I've created here, and if you want to make your own paper just click here).
Now, it's all fun, and if you know some philosophy you've probably guessed right (Hegel is the second one, also because it's very unlikely that he've quoted Derrida which was born 101 years after his death...). The point is, with another random combination (without Derrida being quoted) could someone have fooled you? To be honest I'm not a philosopher nor a postmodernist and I'll be concerned if you fool me with a scientific paper on spatial analysis rather than this (it would be nice to actually have a positivist generator to see how it would work...). I simply don't care much, but actually Alan Sokal, a physicist  of New York University, tried to submit a paper on Social Text by randomly creating (not with a computer this time) meaningless sentences... Well you can read his accepted and published paper here....Later in the same year, Sokal explains his point in another paper, (this time generated non-randomly I think):

"For some years I've been troubled by an apparent decline in the standards of intellectual rigor in certain precincts of the American academic humanities [...]. I decided to try a modest (though admittedly uncontrolled) experiment: Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies -- whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross -- publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions?"

and then states:

"Social Text's acceptance of my article exemplifies the intellectual arrogance of Theory -- meaning postmodernist literarytheory -- carried to its logical extreme. No wonder they didn't bother to consult a physicist. If all is discourse and ``text,'' then knowledge of the real world is superfluous; even physics becomes just another branch of Cultural Studies. If, moreover, all is rhetoric and ``language games,'' then internal logical consistency is superfluous too: a patina of theoretical sophistication serves equally well. Incomprehensibility becomes a virtue; allusions, metaphors and puns substitute for evidence and logic. My own article is, if anything, an extremely modest example of this well-established genre." (bold mine)

Scary, but perhaps true also in some archaeology and anthropology? While asking this question I've just read on Carl Lipo's blog how the executive committee of the  American Anthropological Association  are proposing to rephrase  their mission statement removing the word "science" (see here).

1 comment:

  1. An update. AAA has actually removed the word "science" from it's mission statement.