Clear Language, Clear Mind

December 3, 2014

Review: Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Bruno Latour)

Filed under: Metaphilosophy — Tags: , — Emil O. W. Kirkegaard @ 10:57

This is quite possibly the worst non-amateur book I’ve ever read. My notes to this book are so many that in the latter parts of the book, I got tired of noting the errors and oddities, just wishing to get it over with.

To those unfamiliar with this kind of thing, go read Sokal and Bricmont’s Fashionable Nonsense, or Dawkins’ review for the lazy. The very short version is that there exists a bunch of intellectuals working at fancy universities who write pure gibberish dressed up in near-incomprehensible language, and they not only get away with it, they are revered by many, and their stuff in taught in mandatory courses at normal universities. Case in point, I’m taking such a course as part of my minor in information science. As far as I can tell, this class has nothing relevant to the minor. There was nothing information theoretic or science about it.

Let’s get to it. I will use long quotes because I don’t want the reader to think that I’ve quoted stuff out of context. The reaction of many people to this kind of literature is disbelief that it is real or common. I have talked with many physicists who did not believe me. I had to show them the quotes. So I will do the same here.

This default position has become common sense not only for social scientists, but also for ordinary actors via newspapers, college education, party politics, bar conversations, love stories, fashion magazines, etc. 2 The social sciences have disseminated their definition of society as effectively as utility companies deliver electricity and telephone services. Offering comments about the inevitable ‘social dimension’ of what we and others are doing ‘in society’ has become as familiar to us as using a mobile phone, ordering a beer, or invoking the Oedipus complex—at least in the developed world.

Latour thinks it is common to invoke to Ødipus complex, as common as ordering a beer?!

In the course of the book we will learn to distinguish the standard sociology of the social from a more radical subfamily which I will call critical sociology. 7 This last branch will be defined by the following three traits: it doesn’t only limit itself to the social but replaces the object to be studied by another matter made of social relations; it claims that this substitution is unbearable for the social actors who need to live under the illusion that there is something ‘other’ than social there; and it considers that the actors’ objections to their social explanations offer the best proof that those explanations are right.

Italics are in the original. Is he saying that when people object to being analyzed in a particular way, this is the best proof that it is a correct analysis??

To clarify, I will call the first approach ‘sociology of the social’ and the second ‘sociology of associations’ (I wish I could use ‘associology’). I know this is very unfair to the many nuances of the social sciences l have thus lumped together, but this is acceptable for an introduction which has to be very precise on the unfamiliar arguments it chooses to describe as it sketches the well-known terrain. I may be forgiven for this roughness because there exist many excellent introductions for the sociology of the social but none, to my knowledge, for this small subfield of social theory that has been called—by the way, what is it to be called? Alas, the historical name is ‘actor-network-theory’, a name that is so awkward, so confusing, so meaningless that it deserves to be kept. If the author, for instance, of a travel guide is free to propose new comments on the land he has chosen to present, he is certainly not free to change its most common name since the easiest signpost is the best—after all, the origin of the word ‘America’ is even more awkward. I was ready to drop this label for more elaborate ones like ‘sociology of translation’, ‘actant-rhyzome ontology’, ‘sociology of innovation’, and so on, until someone pointed out to me that the acronym A.N.T. was perfectly fit for a blind, myopic, workaholic, trail-sniffing, and collective traveler. An ant writing for other ants, this fits my project very well! 9 Ideally, the word sociology should work best, but it cannot be used before its two components—what is social and what is a science—have been somewhat revamped. As this book unfolds, I will use it more and more often though, reserving the expression ‘sociology of the social’ to designate the repertoire to which other social scientists, in my view, limit themselves too readily.

Besides apparently not being able to settle on a name for the field, despite decades of ‘work’ in it… he rambles on with incoherent sentences. Did no one proof read this? (The answer appears to be “no” for there are typos spread around in the book, giving the impression that no one proof read it.)

Then comes the typical language abuse: actant-rhyzome ontology?? actant is their word for actor which also means something else. rhizome is a technical term from biology. ontology is from philosophy.

Do not miss the good part about the ant (apparently choosing this term because it fits with the abbreviation?) that is both blind and myopic. [A friend suggested a more charitable interpretation, namely that the ant has one blind eye and one myopic one. I guess that is possible!]

In what follows I am not interested in refutation—proving that the other social theories are wrong—but in proposition. How far can one go by suspending the common sense hypothesis that the existence of a social realm offers a legitimate frame of reference for the social sciences? 11 If physicists at the beginning of the previous century were able to do away with the common sense solution of an absolutely rigid and indefinitely plastic ether, can sociologists discover new traveling possibilities by abandoning the notion of a social substance as a ‘superfluous hypothesis’? This position is so marginal, its chance of success so slim, that I see no reason to be fair and thorough with the perfectly reasonable alternatives that could, at any point, smash it into pieces. So, I will be opinionated and often partial in order to demonstrate clearly the contrast between the two viewpoints. In exchange for this breach of fairness, I will try to be as coherent as possible in drawing the most extreme conclusions from the position I have chosen to experiment with. My test will be to see how many new questions can be brought to light by sticking firmly, even blindly, to all the obligations that this new departure point is forcing us to obey. The final test will be to check, at the end of this book, if the sociology of associations has been able to take up the relay of the sociology of the social by following different types of new and more active connections, and if it has been able to inherit all that was legitimate in the ambition of a science of the social. As usual, the result of whether this has been successful or not will be up to the reader.

Read that part again. The use of terms from relativity is a hallmark of Latour. He does not appear to understand the theory and did in fact write a 40 page paper about his misunderstandings.

Latour, B. (1988). A relativistic account of Einstein’s relativity. Social Studies of Science, 18(1), 3-44.
Twice does Latour misunderstand the word “quantum”, apparently thinking it is just a fancy synonym for “quantity”. E.g.:
I have left aside in this book the question of quantitative sociology not because I believe more in qualitative data, but because the very definition of which quantum to tally is at stake in the different definitions of the social vector I am going to follow here. [footnote 14]
The reader will discover here a set of complicated instructions to make displacement more costly and more painful. The reason for this is that I want to break the habit of linking the notions of ‘society’, ‘social factor’, and ‘social explanation’ with a sudden acceleration in the description. When sociologists of the social pronounce the words ‘society’, ‘power’, ‘structure’, and ‘context’, they often jump straight ahead to connect vast arrays of life and history, to mobilize gigantic forces, to detect dramatic patterns emerging out of confusing interactions, to see everywhere in the cases at hand yet more examples of well-known types, to reveal behind the scenes some dark powers pulling the strings. Not that they are wrong since its perfectly true that older social relations have been packaged in such a way as to seem to provide a ready explanation for many puzzling subjects. But the time has come to have a much closer look at the type of aggregates thus assembled and at the ways they are connected to one another.
Not even sure what this is.
Where should we start? As always, it is best to begin in the middle of things, in medias res. Will the reading of a newspaper do? Sure, it offers a starting point as good as any. As soon as you open it, it’s like a rain, a flood, an epidemic, an infestation. With every two lines, a trace is being left by some writer that some group is being made or unmade. Here it’s the CEO of a big company who deplores the fact that five years after the merger the firm’s various branches are still not fully integrated. She wonders how to ‘promote a common corporate culture’. A few lines further down finds an anthropologist explaining that there is no ‘ethnic’ difference between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, but that it’s really a ‘class difference’ that has been ‘instrumentalized’ by colonialists and then ‘naturalized’ as a ‘cultural’ one. In the letters section, a Scot reminds his readers of the ‘Glorious Alliance’ between France and Mary Queen of Scots, which explains why Scotland should not share the rabid Europhobia of Englishmen. A correspondent from France tries to explain why second generation girls from Algeria that show up at school with an Islamic veil are seen by their teachers as ‘fanatics’ who ‘exclude themselves’ from the French Republic. In the Europe section, it is explained that EU functionaries are more and more thinking ‘as Europeans’ and are no longer ‘loyal to their nationalities’. In the Music section, a fierce dispute divides Baroque ensembles according to the frequency of their tuning forks, pelting one another with accusations such as ‘modernist’, ‘unfaithful to the tradition’, ‘academic’. In the Computer section, the writer mocks the attachment of Macintosh users to their utterly marginal machines and puts forward a ‘cultural interpretation’ for what he calls a form of ‘techno-fanaticism’. Further down an editorialist predicts that Iraq, though its borders are fairly recent, will exist as a nation and will not split up along the older dividing lines of religion and historical ‘zones of influence’. Another column mocks the accusation that those against the war in Iraq are ‘anti-American’. It never stops.
This is the opening of a new chapter. He sure does read some other newspapers than I do.
This is a larger point about the vocabulary of ANT with which I should familiarize the reader at this early stage in order to avoid confusing the language of this book with the landscape we are going to visit. I find it best to use the most general, the most banal, even the most vulgar repertoire so that there will be no risk of confusing the actors’ own prolific idioms. Sociologists of the social, as a rule, do just the opposite. They are keen to produce precise, well chosen, sophisticated terms for what they say the actors say. But then they might run the risk of confusing the two meta-languages—since actors, too, have their own elaborate and fully reflexive meta-language. If they practice critical sociology, then there is an even greater risk to render actors mute altogether. ANT prefers to use what could be called an infralanguage, which remains strictly meaningless except for allowing displacement from one frame of reference to the next. In my experience, this is a better way for the vocabulary of the actors to be heard loud and clear—and I am not especially worried if it is the social scientists’ jargon that is being downplayed. If I had to provide a checklist for what is a good ANT account—this will be an important indicator of quality—are the concepts of the actors allowed to be stronger than that of the analysts, or is it the analyst who is doing all the talking? As far as writing reports is concerned, it means a precise but difficult trial: Is the text that comments on the various quotes and documents more, less, or as interesting as the actors’ own expressions and behaviors? If you find this test too easy to meet, then ANT is not for you.
Infralanguage? Ok.

It would be possible to attenuate the differences between the two schools by saying that ‘naturally’ all social scientists agree that groups have to be made and remade anew through some other non-social means, and that there is never a grouping that can sustain its existence without some keeping up. To be sure, everyone will agree that, for instance, popular festivals are necessary to ‘refresh social ties’; that propaganda is indispensable to ‘heat up’ the passions of ‘national identities’; that traditions are ‘invented’; that it is good for a company to distribute a journal to ‘build loyalties’; that without price tags and bar codes it would be very difficult to ‘calculate’ a price; that for a child to become ‘responsible’ early spanking cannot do any harm; that without a totem it would be difficult for a tribe to recognize that they are ‘members’ of the same clan. These sorts of expressions flow effortlessly from our keyboards. But their precise effect depends on how exactly we understand ways of speaking which all allude to the ‘making’ of groups. For sociologists of the social, such terms designate the many avatars that the same social order can take or the variegated tools with which it ‘represents’ itself or through which it is ‘reproduced’. 29 For them, ‘social forces’ are always already present in the background so that the precise means to achieve their presence matters a great deal—but not that crucially.

The use of nonsensical single quotation marks and italics is found in the entire book. Unfortunately, italics do not copy from the PDF, and I’m too lazy to recreate them except for in some cases.

To take two of the very few technical terms I will need in this introductory book, it makes a huge difference whether the means to produce the social are taken as intermediaries or as mediators. At the beginning, the bifurcation seems small, but it will later on lead us into different territories. To be sure, this nuance will be fully visible only at the close of this book—if the reader is patient enough to reach it! Yet we should try to get familiar with it as early as possible as it will be our shibboleth throughout.

Very few technical terms? Hm! Since he continues to redefine common terms, sometimes without saying it, using terms from actual sciences in new ways, and introducing new words like infralanguage without defining them, I’d say that it is more than a “very few”.

In most situations, we use ‘social’ to mean that which has already been assembled and acts as a whole, without being too picky on the precise nature of what has been gathered, bundled, and packaged together. When we say that ‘something is social’ or ‘has a social dimension’, we mobilize one set of features that, so to speak, march in step together, even though it might be composed of radically different types of entities. This unproblematic use of the word is fine as long as we don’t confuse the sentence ‘Is social what goes together?’, with one that says, ‘social designates a particular kind of stuff’. With the former we simply mean that we are dealing with a routine state of affairs whose binding together is the crucial aspect, while the second designates a sort of substance whose main feature lies in its differences with other types of materials. We imply that some assemblages are built out of social stuff instead of physical, biological, or economical blocks, much like the houses of the Three Little Pigs were made of straw, wood, and stone. To avoid this confusion between the two meanings of social, we have to open a second source of uncertainty, one dealing this time with the heterogeneous nature of the ingredients making up social ties.

I can think of multiple common meanings of social, but this is not one of them. agrees.

It is not by accident that this expression, like that of ‘person’, comes from the stage. Far from indicating a pure and unproblematic source of action, they both lead to puzzles as old as the institution of theater itself—as Jean-Paul Sartre famously showed in his portrait of the garc¸on de cafe´who no longer knows the difference between his ‘authentic self’ and his ‘social role’. 40 To use the word ‘actor’ means that it’s never clear who and what is acting when we act since an actor on stage is never alone in acting. Play-acting puts us immediately into a thick imbroglio where the question of who is carrying out the action has become unfathomable. As soon as the play starts, as Irwin Goffman has so often showed, nothing is certain: Is this for real? Is it fake? 41 Does the audience’s reaction count? What about the lighting? What is the backstage crew doing? Is the playwright’s message faithfully transported or hopelessly bungled? Is the character carried over? And if so, by what? What are the partners doing? Where is the prompter? If we accept to unfold the metaphor, the very word actor directs our attention to a complete dislocation of the action, warning us that it is not a coherent, controlled, well-rounded, and clean-edged affair. By definition, action is dislocated. 42 Action is borrowed, distributed, suggested, influenced, dominated, betrayed, translated. If an actor is said to be an actor-network, it is first of all to underline that it represents the major source of uncertainty about the origin of action—the turn of the word ‘network’ will come in due time. Like Jesus on the cross, it is of the actor that one should always say: ‘Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.’

Some very peculiar ideas about acting.

What is even more dangerous in the inconsiderate acceptance of hidden variables is to shift from the sociology of the social to critical sociology. 47 This is the only discipline that finds itself scientific when it not only ignores data and replaces it with uncontroversial data from already assembled social forces, but also when it takes the indignant reactions of those who are thus ‘explained’ as what proves the unbearable truth of the critics’ interpretations. At this point sociology stops being empirical and becomes ‘vampirical’. It’s the great tragedy of the social sciences that this lesson was not heeded and that critical sociologists still consider as their treasure what they should rather be ashamed of, namely confusing what obfuscates data with what is revealed by it. Would you qualify as ‘scientific’ a discipline that puts to one side the precise information offered by fieldwork and replaces it by instances of other things that are invisible and those things people have not said and have vocally denied? For once, it’s sociologists of associations who are following common sense. For them, controversies about agencies have to be deployed to the full, no matter how difficult it is so as not to simplify in advance the task of assembling the collective.

Second, if agency is one thing, its figuration is another. What is doing the action is always provided in the account with some flesh and features that make them have some form or shape, no matter how vague. ‘Figuration’ is one of those technical terms I need to introduce to break the knee-jerk reactions of ‘social explanation’ because it is essential to grasp that there exist many more figures than anthropomorphic ones. This is one of the many cases where sociology has to accept to become more abstract. To endow an agency with anonymity gives it exactly as much a figure as when it is endowed with a name, a nose, a voice, or a face. It’s just making it ideo- instead of anthropomorphic. Statistical aggregates obtained from a questionnaire and given a label—like A and B types in the search for the causes of heart disease—are as concrete as ‘my red-faced sanguine neighbor who died last Saturday from a stroke while planting his turnips because he ate too much fat’. To say ‘culture forbids having kids out of wedlock’ requires, in terms of figuration, exactly as much work as saying ‘my future mother-in-law wants me to marry her daughter’. To be sure the first figuration (anonymous) is different from the second one (my mother-in-law), but they both give a figure, a form, a cloth, a flesh to an agency forbidding me or forcing me to do things. As far as the question of figuration is concerned, there is no reason to say that the first is a ‘statistical abstraction’ while the other would be a ‘concrete actor’. Individual agencies, too, need abstract figurations. When people complain about ‘hypostasizing’ society, they should not forget that my mother-in-law is also a hypostasis—and so are of course individuals and calculative agents as much as the infamous Invisible Hand. This is exactly what the words ‘actor’ and ‘person’ mean: no one knows how many people are simultaneously at work in any given individual; conversely, no one knows how much individuality there can be in a cloud of statistical data points. Figuration endows them with a shape but not necessarily in the manner of a smooth portrait by a figurative painter. To do their job, sociologists need as much variety in ‘drawing’ actors as there are debates about figuration in modern and contemporary art.

Everybody suffers from multiple personality disorder?

And lots of more fancy terms. The following paragraph has a few more:

To break away from the influence of what could be called ‘figurative sociology’, ANT uses the technical word actant that comes from the study of literature. Here are four ways to figure out the same actant: ‘Imperialism strives for unilateralism’; ‘The United States wishes to withdraw from the UN’; ‘Bush Junior wishes to withdraw from the UN’; ‘Many officers from the Army and two dozen neo-con leaders want to withdraw from the UN.’ That the first is a structural trait, the second a corporate body, the third an individual, the fourth a loose aggregate of individuals makes a big difference of course to the account, but they all provide different figurations of the same actions. None of the four is more or less ‘realist’, ‘concrete’, ‘abstract’, or ‘artificial’ than the others. They simply lead to the entrenchment of different groups and thus helps to solve the first uncertainty about group formation. The great difficulty in ANT is not to be intimidated by the type of figuration:ideo-, or techno-, or bio-morphisms are ‘morphism’ just as much as the incarnation of some actant into a single individual.

This belief in the ‘lived world’ is a nice case of ‘misplaced concreteness’ to use Whitehead’s term: an account full of individuals might be more abstract than another consisting only of collective actors. A billiard ball hitting another one on the green felt of a billiard table might have exactly as much agency as a ‘person’ directing her ‘gaze’ to the ‘rich human world’ of another ‘meaningful face’ in the smoke filled room of the pub where the tables have been set up. This is not what phenomenologists and sociologists of the social might say, but then listen to what the players themselves are saying about their own ‘behaviors’ and the unpredictable ‘action’ of their billiard balls. They seem to produce quite a lot of the very imbroglios which are strictly forbidden by the theory that states that a radical difference should be maintained between ‘action’ and ‘behavior’.68 Here again, social scientists have too often confused their role of analyst with some sort of political call for discipline and emancipation.

Once this second meaning of social as association is in place, we can understand what was so confusing about the sociologists of the social. They use the adjective to designate two entirely different types of phenomena: one of them is the local, face-to-face, naked, unequipped, and dynamic interactions; and the other is a sort of specific force that is supposed to explain why those same temporary face-to-face interactions could become far-reaching and durable. While it’s perfectly reasonable to designate by ‘social’ the ubiquitous phenomenon of face-to-face relations, it cannot provide any ground for defining a ‘social’ force that is nothing more than a tautology, a sleight of hand, a magical invocation, since it begs the question of how and through which means this increase in durability has been practically achieved. To jump from the recognition of interactions to the existence of a social force is, once again, an inference that does not follow from the premise.

Normal definition of social don’t work because eh..

Are sociologists of the social so foolish that they are unable to detect such a tautology in their reasoning? Are they really stuck in the mythical belief of another world behind the real world? Do they really believe in this strange bootstrapping of a society born out of itself? 76 Of course not, since they never really use it in practice and so are never confronted by the contradiction inherent in the notion of a ‘self production’ of society. The reason why they never draw the logical conclusion that their argument is contradictory is that they use it somewhat more loosely. When they invoke the durability of some social aggregates they always, wittingly or unwittingly, lend to the weak social ties the heavy load coming from the masses of other nonsocial things. It is always things—and I now mean this last word literally—which, in practice, lend their ‘steely’ quality to the hapless ‘society’. So, in effect, what sociologists mean by the ‘power of society’ is not society itself—that would be magical indeed—but some sort of summary for all the entities already mobilized to render asymmetries longer lasting. 77 This use of a shorthand is not tautological, but it is dangerously misleading since there is no empirical way to decide how all that stuff has been mobilized any longer—and worst of all, there is no way to know if such a load is still active. The idea of a society has become in the hands of later-day ‘social explainers’ like a big container ship which no inspector is permitted to board and which allows social scientists to smuggle goods across national borders without having to submit to public inspection. Is the cargo empty or full, healthy or rotten, innocuous or deadly, newly made or long disused? It has become anyone’s guess, much like the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

The tautology is.. contradictory?

This, for me, has always been a great surprise: How is it that, in spite of this massive and ubiquitous phenomenon, sociology remains ‘without object’? It is even more startling when you realize that this discipline emerged a full century after the Industrial Revolution and has been evolving in parallel with the largest and most intensive technical developments since the Neolithic. Not only that, but how to explain that so many social scientists pride themselves in considering ‘social meaning ’instead of ‘mere’ material relations, ‘symbolic dimension’ instead of ‘brute causality’? Much like sex during the Victorian period, objects are nowhere to be said and everywhere to be felt. They exist, naturally, but they are never given a thought, a social thought. Like humble servants, they live on the margins of the social doing most of the work but never allowed to be represented as such. There seems to be no way, no conduit, no entry point for them to be knitted together with the same wool as the rest of the social ties. The more radical thinkers want to attract attention to humans in the margins and at the periphery, the less they speak of objects. As if a damning curse had been cast unto things, they remain asleep like the servants of some enchanted castle. Yet, as soon as they are freed from the spell, they start shuddering, stretching, and muttering. They begin to swarm in all directions, shaking the other human actors, waking them out of their dogmatic sleep. Would it be too childish to say that ANT played the role of the Charming Prince’s kiss tenderly touching Sleeping Beauty’s lips? At any rate, it is because it was an object-oriented sociology for object-oriented humans that this school of thought was noticed in the first place—and that it makes sense to write an introduction to it.

This one starts out good enough.

In plain English, to say something is constructed means that it’s not a mystery that has popped out of nowhere, or that it has a more humble but also more visible and more interesting origin. Usually, the great advantage of visiting construction sites is that they offer an ideal vantage point to witness the connections between humans and non-humans. Once visitors have their feet deep in the mud, they are easily struck by the spectacle of all the participants working hard at the time of their most radical metamorphosis. 108 This is not only true of science but of all the other construction sites, the most obvious being those that are at the source of the metaphor, namely houses and buildings fabricated by architects, masons, city planners, real estate agents, and homeowners. 109 The same is true of artistic practice. 110 The ‘making of’ any enterprise—films, skyscrapers, facts, political meetings, initiation rituals, haute couture, cooking—offers a view that is sufficiently different from the official one. Not only does it lead you backstage and introduce you to the skills and knacks of practitioners, it also provides a rare glimpse of what it is for a thing to emerge out of in existence by adding to any existing entity its time dimension. Even more important, when you are guided to any construction site you are experiencing the troubling and exhilarating feeling that things could be different, or at least that they could still fail—a feeling never so deep when faced with the final product, no matter how beautiful or impressive it may be.

The difficulty was to make sense of this experience—and this took a very long time. That scientists were sometimes angry at us was not in itself that significant. Studying up does not mean being submitted to the agenda of those we study: what some disgruntled scientists concluded from our research remains their business, not ours. As far as I can tell from the confusing episodes of what has been called the ‘Science Wars’, they might have concluded that the white purity of science should never be sullied by the dark and greasy fingers of mere sociologists. 129 If they have not learned anything from their encounters with us, this is too bad for them and there is not much we can do. But even if they drew the wrong conclusion, their furor at what sociologists were so clearly missing in trying to explain their work was for me a crucial sign. No matter how misguided their reactions, it showed that whenever a social explanation was provided there was something very tricky going on. Instead of establishing some connection between two entities, it often happens that one entity is substitutedby another one. At which point the necessary search for causality has become a wholly different enterprise dangerously close to prestidigitation.

He is referring to Sokal’s critique here, citing it in footnote 129. They did not learn anything? lol?

It is exactly at such a juncture that we have to choose to be literal, naive, and myopic. Refusing to understand only half is sometimes a virtue. After all, physicists got rid of the ether only when one of them was moronic enough to ask how the small handle of a clock could be ‘superimposed’ on the big one: everyone else knew, he chose not to. 135 With all due respect, I propose to do the same with this great mystery of the social. Everyone seems to know what it means to ‘relate’ religion and society, law and society, art and society, market and society, to have something at once ‘behind’, ‘reinforced’, ‘invisible’, and ‘denied’. But I don’t!

Not quite sure what this is supposed to refer to. Anything better with history of ether in physics than me, please fill in here.

With my voluntarily narrowed mind I’d say that if social element A is said to ‘cause’ the existence of B, C, and D, then not only should it be able to generate back B, C, and D, but it should also account for the differences between B, C, and D, except if it can be shown that B, C, and D are the same thing, in which case their differences can be declared unimportant. If you peruse the social history literature and look at the number of things that are supposed to be caused by ‘the force of society’, the rise of the modern state, the ascent of the petty bourgeoisie, the reproduction of social domination, the power of industrial lobbies, the invisible hand of the market, individual interactions, then the relation might just be one where a single cause has a million effects.136 But a cause is a cause is a cause. Is the causing element able to account for the differences between millions of effects—in which case can I generate B, C, and D as consequences when I hold A as a cause? Or are these differences between millions of events really immaterial—in which case sticking simply to cause A implies that I hold everything as important, minus marginal perturbations? In both cases, the A cause is indeed, for all practical purposes, substitutable with the millions of B, C, Ds, etc. But with the ‘ascent of the petty bourgeoisie’, do I really grasp what happened in England, France, and Germany from the 15th to the 20th century? With the ‘automatic feedback of the invisible hand’, do I really grasp the millions of market interactions throughout the whole world? When holding the law of falling bodies, do I grasp everything pertinent there is to say about the planet’s interactions as well as in the pendulum movement of my mother’s old clock? Does ‘society’ or the ‘market’ contain in potentia what it is supposed to cause or not? ‘Of course not’ would respond the unanimous choir of social theorists, ‘we never claimed such a stupid philosophy of causes’. But then what exact role do they really give to ‘social forces’?

A real gem! The differences between the same things can be said to be unimportant!

Law of falling bodies presumably refers to Newton’s law of universal gravitation.

As I have said in the introduction, to use the word social for such a process is legitimated by the oldest etymology of the word socius: ‘someone following someone else’, a ‘follower’, an ‘associate’. To designate this thing which is neither one actor among many nor a force behind all the actors transported through some of them but a connection that transports, so to speak, transformations, we use the word translation—the tricky word ‘network’ being defined in the next chapter as what is traced by those translations in the scholars’ accounts. 144 So, the word ‘translation’ now takes on a somewhat specialized meaning: a relation that does not transport causality but induces two mediators into coexisting. If some causality appears to be transported in a predictable and routine way, then it’s the proof that other mediators have been put in place to render such a displacement smooth and predictable (see Part II). I can now state the aim of this sociology of associations more precisely: there is no society, no social realm, and no social ties,but there exist translations between mediators that may generate traceable associations. Through this book, we will hopefully learn to widen the gap between an account that makes use of the social as traditionally construed and this other one that purports to deploy strings of mediators. To learn ANT is nothing more than to become sensitive to the differences in the literary, scientific, moral, political, and empirical dimensions of the two types of accounts.

Another nonsensical redefinition.

Next up, let’s talk nonsense about sociobiology:

To pursue our project we don’t have to tackle these difficult philosophical questions. We just need to be open-minded about the shape in which former objects of nature might present themselves in the new associations we are following. To our great surprise, once the artificial boundary between social and natural was removed, non-human entities were able to appear under an unexpected guise. For instance, rocks might be useful to knock an idealist back to his senses, but rocks in geology seemed to be much more varied, much more uncertain, much more open, and deploy many more types of agencies than the narrow role given to them in empiricist accounts. 147 Steel desks offer a great opportunity for angry realists to thump the table in the name of ‘material constraints’ so as to bring sociologists back to reality, but laminated steel in metallurgy offers so many conundrums on the ways material resistance may occur that there is almost no relation between what positivist philosophers and material scientists call ‘matter’. 148 The inflexible drive of genetic make-up may be great for socio-biologists to ridicule the socialist dream of nurturing a better humanity, but genes in biogenetics take so many contradictory roles, obey so many opposite signals, are ‘made up’ of so many influences that if there is one thing that cannot be done with them it is to silence an adversary. 149 Computers might offer an advertisement for the best example of hype, but chips in computer science require vast institutions in order to live up to their reputation as ‘formal machines’. 150 Everywhere, the empirical multiplicity of former ‘natural’ agencies overflows the narrow boundary of matters of fact. There exists no direct relation between being real and being indisputable.

Is biogenetics something else than normal genetics? Is there a non-bio genetics? Alien genetics? A subfield of xenobiology perhaps?

It’s not too late to abuse math too:

This introduction to ANT begins to look like another instance of Zeno’s paradox, as if every segment was split up by a host of mediators each claiming to be taken into account. ‘We will never get there! How can we absorb so many controversies?’ Having reached this point, the temptation is great to quit in despair and to fall back on more reasonable social theories that would prove their stolid common sense by ignoring most of the sources of uncertainty I have reviewed. We could swallow one, maybe two, but not four in a row. Unfortunately, I have not found a way to speed things up: this type of science for that type of social should be as slow as the multiplicity of objections and objects it has to register in its path; it should be as costly as it is necessary to establish connections among the many mediators it finds swarming at every step; and it should be as reflexive, articulated, and idiosyncratic as the actors cooperating in its elaboration. It has to be able to register differences, to absorb multiplicity, to be remade for each new case at hand. This is why the four sources of uncertainty have to be tackled courageously all at once, each adding its set of differences to the others. If one is missing, the whole project falls apart.


A sudden flash of self-reflection?!

It’s thus a fair question to ask why the literature of social science is often so badly written. There are two reasons for this: first, scholars strive to imitate the sloppy writings of hard scientists; second, because contrary to the latter, they do not convoke in their reports actors recalcitrant enough to interfere with the bad writing.

False alarm.

But is it not somewhat disingenuous to retain the tricky word network to describe such a benchmark of literary quality? I agree that it does not resemble other words I have used up to now like group, actor, actant, group, fluid, and non-human, which are chosen voluntarily because of their benighted meaninglessness. This one, on the contrary, has too many meanings! The confusion took place—it is our fault entirely—because some of the earlier objects described by ANT were networks in the technical sense—metrology, subways, telephones— and also because when this term was introduced twenty-five years ago, the Internet had not struck—nor had al-Qaida for that matter. So, network was a novelty that could help in eliciting a contrast with ‘Society’, ‘institution’, ‘culture’, ‘fields’, etc. which were often conceived as surfaces, floods of causal transfers, and real matters of fact. But nowadays, networks have become the rule and surfaces the exception. It has lost its sharp edge. 185 If I believed in jargon and if worknet or action net had any chance to hold, I would offer it as a substitute so as to make the contrast between technical networks and worknets, the latter remaining a way for social scientists to make sense of the former. 186 Work-nets could allow one to see the labor that goes on in laying down net-works: the first as an active mediator, the second as a stabilized set of intermediaries.

More random allusions (9-11), and choosing words deliberately that are confusing.

A very strange part of the book is the Dialog in the middle. In the dialog, a professor and a student talk about ANT, and the student brings up the usual objections: nonsense dressed in fancy language, useless as a theoretical perspective, etc. The professor is Latour and he responds akin to Latour elsewhere in the book. The dialog is strange in that Latour seems to halfway understand the problems with ANT, but still engages in it. Dishonest or merely very confused?

The problem is that social scientists use scale as one of the many variables they need to set up before doing the study, whereas scale is what actors achieve by scaling, spacing, and contextualizing each other through the transportation in some specific vehicles of some specific traces. 244 It is of little use to respect the actors’ achievements if in the end we deny them one of their most important privileges, namely that they are the ones defining relative scale. It’s not the analyst’s job to impose an absolute one. As every reader of relativity theory knows, absolute frames of reference generate only horrible deformations, spoiling any hope of superimposing documents in some readable format, while soft and slimy ‘mollusks of reference’ (Einstein’s term) allow physicists to travel from one frame to the next if not smoothly, then at least continuously. 245 Either the sociologist is rigid and the world becomes a mess or the sociologist is pliable enough and the world puts itself in order. Here again the duties of empirical relativism are akin to those of morality.

As in every previous case of Latour using “as every… knows”…

Scale is the actor’s own achievement. Although this is the oldest and, in my view, the most decisive proposition made by ANT, 247 I have never encountered anyone who could accept to even glance at the landscape thus revealed—no more, if I dare the parallel, than Galileo could tempt his ‘dear and respected colleagues’ to have a look through his makeshift telescope. The reason is that we tend to think of scale— macro, meso, micro—as a well-ordered zoom. It is a bit like the marvelous but perversely misleading book The Powers of Ten, where each page offers a picture one order of magnitude closer than the preceding one all the way from the Milky Way to the DNA fibers, with a photo somewhere in the middle range that shows two young picnickers on a lawn near Lake Superior. 248 A microsecond of reflection is enough to realize that this montage is misleading—where would a camera be positioned to show the galaxy as a whole? Where is the microscope able to pin down this cell DNA instead of that one? What ruler could order pictures along such a regular trail? Nice assemblage, but perversely wrong. The same is true of the zooming effect in the social realm, except that, in this case, it is taken not as a clever artistic trick, but as a most natural injunction springing from the sturdiest common sense. Is it not obvious that IBM is ‘bigger’ than its sales force? That France is ‘wider’ than the School of Mines that is much ‘bigger’ than me? And if we imagine IBM and France as having the same star-like shape as the command and control war room I mentioned earlier, what would we make of the organizational charts of IBM’s corporate structure, of the map of France, of the picture of the whole Earth? Are they not obviously providing the vastly wider ‘framework’ into which ‘smaller things’ have to be ‘situated’? Does it not make perfect sense to say that Europe is bigger than France, which is bigger than Paris that is bigger than rue Danton and which is bigger than my flat? Or to say that the 20 th century provides the frame ‘in which’ the Second World War has ‘taken place’? That the battle of Waterloo, in Stendhal’s The Charter house of Parma, is a vastly more important event than Fabrizio del Dongo’s experience of it? While readers might be ready to listen patiently to the claims of ANT for a new topography, they won’t take it any further if it goes too much against every commonsensical reaction. How could ‘putting things into a frame’ not be the most reasonable thing to do?

An odd critique of zooming.

It’s worth noting at this point that ANT has been accused of two symmetric and contradictory sins: the first is that it extends politics everywhere, including the inner sanctum of science and technology; the second is that it is so indifferent to inequalities and power struggles that it offers no critical leverage—being content only to connive with those in power. 349 Although the two accusations should cancel each other out—how can one extend politics so much and yet doing so little for it?—they are not necessarily contradictory. Since the Left has always leaned on some science to reinforce its project of emancipation, politicizing science amounts to depriving the exploited from the only chance they have of redressing the balance by appealing to objectivity and rationality. 350 Although the false sciences have to be exposed—they are nothing but barely disguised ideology—there resides in the purely scientific ones the only court of appeal capable of adjudicating all the disputes. Only the most reactionary people rejoice at a weakening of reason. If not, the underdogs are left with ‘mere’ power relations—and at that game the lambs will be eaten much faster than the wolves. Moreover, by delivering the keys of a politicized science to the hands of the powerful, ANT turns into nothing but a ‘sociology of engineers’, or worse, a group of consultants teaching those who have been freed from the disciplining power of reason to be even more Machiavellian, even more scheming, even more indifferent to the difference between science and ideology. In the name of the extension of networks, the naked emperor gets more of the latest ‘wearables’. 351 ANT is nothing but an extended form of Machiavellianism.

Are they contradictory or not? And don’t tell Latour about advanced modal logic!

And finally in his conclusion:

I am well aware that I have not said enough to substantiate any of these numerous points. This book is just an introduction to help the interested reader in drawing the social theory consequences of the sociology of science. It’s not for me to say if anyone will end up using these tricks in any trade. At least now nobody can complain that the project of actor-network-theory has not been systematically presented. I have voluntarily made it such an easy target that a sharpshooter is not needed in order to hit it.

What Latour presents is neither precise, clear, introductory or systematic. It is a verbiage of misused, redefined, made-up without definitions mixture of language in essence presenting very simple ideas. It is exactly the kind of confused drivel that Sokal et al has claimed.

November 2, 2014

Beautiful nonsense

Filed under: Metaphilosophy — Tags: , — Emil O. W. Kirkegaard @ 22:20

In a comment on research of psychedelics, I found this gem:

.Your brain is a matrix that is dispensing substances known as neurotransmitters which don’t actually transmit anything but rather their purpose is to alter the rate and manner in which energy is affected. The resulting diffusion of energy is a 3-dimensional fractal continuously expanding outward in all directions or your ora which is being observed by a Consciousness at a given distance so it appears as a sphere. your ora could and perhaps is being observed at multiple distances giving rise to the sphere within spheres notion. As the observer perceives your ora it analyzes the resulting fractals (like divining the surface of the sun) and forms ideas within itself and then these ideas are conveyed back to you as thoughts to see how You react. This is either due to its choice or more likely due to the nature of “knowing” Let me deconstruct the word know for you, there is a line (l) intersected (->l) that diverges (->K) in (N) and around (O) to double you (W). The act of analyzing and conveying the information is perhaps the 1/2 to 2 second delay in “our” reality Didn’t Plato note that man by his nature is a member of a group which could be taken a step farther by saying man by his nature needs another to “be”. In this reality we are observed so that perhaps we become aware. So what I perceive as my conscious mind is my perception of the observed sphere (that hazy mirrored reflection) and my thoughts which are actually the interpretation of the observed sphere by another. Here is a way to examine what I mean, become a point in space then a sphere then back to a point again over and over, you can easily “see” a star and manipulate it by changing the perceived distance but when you are the point and become the sphere and back again you can only “feel” a sense of expansion and contraction. If we are only this then why do we perceive so readily from the outside and not vise versa. My subconscious is the swirling chaos of the 3-d fractal while my higher consciousness is that part of the interaction that escaped the analysis of the observer and is expanding infinitely fleeing from the observers expanding sphere of analysis. With its own analysis slowing it the only hope for rapture is becoming the leading edge expanding exponentially to complete dissipation. ora becoming light I meant.

My favorite part:

My subconscious is the swirling chaos of the 3-d fractal while my higher consciousness is that part of the interaction that escaped the analysis of the observer and is expanding infinitely fleeing from the observers expanding sphere of analysis.

I kinda want a t-shirt with it now.

For the uninitiated, see:,,

February 8, 2013

The usefulness of sentences, a hiarchial view?

Filed under: Linguistics/language,Metaphilosophy — Tags: — Emil O. W. Kirkegaard @ 06:26

(from A natural history of negation)

i had been thinking about a similar idea. but these work fine as a beginning. a good hierarchy needs a lvl for approximate truth as well (like Newton’s laws), as well as actual truths. but also perhaps a dimension for the relevance of the information conveyed. a sentence can express a true proposition without that proposition being relevant the making of just about any real life decision. for instance, the true proposition expressed by “42489054329479823423 is larger than 37828234747” will in all likelihood never, ever be relevant for any decision. also one can cote that the relevance dimension only begins when there is actually some information conveyed, that is, it doesnt work before level 2 and beyond, as those below are meaningless pieces of language.

and things that are inconsistent can also be very useful, so its not clear how the falseness, approximate truth, and truth related to usefulness. but i think that they closer it is the truth, the more likely that it is useful. naive set theory is fine for working with many proofs, even if it is an inconsistent system.

January 18, 2013

Kennethamy on ordinary language filosofy, and ‘deep, profound questions’

Filed under: Language,Metaphilosophy,Multilogues — Emil O. W. Kirkegaard @ 07:25

From here.


Frankly I cannot answer your question about Lancan because I really don’t understand what he is saying. However, let me ask you, in turn, what you think about the following quotation from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. I think it is relevant to this discussion.

We are under the illusion that what is peculiar, profound, essential in our investigation, resides in its trying to grasp the incomparable essence of language. That is, the order existing between the concepts of proposition; word, proof, truth, experience, and so on. This order is a super-order between – so to speak – super-concepts. Whereas, of course, if the words “language,” “experience,” “world,” have a use, it must be as humble a one as that of the words “table,” “lamp,” “door.” (p. 44e)


It is funny that you bring up W. in this, Ken, as he wrote most incomprehensibly! Perhaps he was doing analytic philosophy but it is certainly extremely hard to understand anything he wrote. It’s not like reading Hume which is also hard to understand. H. is hard to understand because the texts he wrote were written 250 years ago or so. W. wrote only some 70-50 years ago and yet I can’t understand it easily. I can understand other persons from the same era just fine (Clifford, W. James, Quine, Russell, etc.).


W. wrote aphoristically (Like Lichtenstein) so you have to get used to his style. But what of the passage. Do you understand that?


No, I have no clue what it means. I didn’t read PI yet so maybe that is why. I read the Tractatus.


Well, he says that philosophers should not think that words like, “knowledge” or “reality” have a different kind of meaning than, and need a different kind of understanding from, ordinary words like “lamp” and “table”. “Philosophical” words are not special. Their meanings are to be discovered in how they are ordinarily used. (That does not, I think, suppose you have read, PI).


Alright. Then why didn’t he just write what you just wrote? I suppose this is the paradigmatic thesis of the ordinary language philosophy.


First of all it was in German. And second, it wasn’t his style. But I don’t think it was particularly hard to get that out of it. Yes, it is ordinary language philosophy. But, going beyond interpretation (I hope) don’t you think it is true? Why should “knowledge” (say) be treated differently from “lamp”?


I think it is. Especially for a person that hasn’t read much of W.’s works. You have read a lot more than I have.

I agree with it, yes.


There are lots of people who think that words like “knowledge” and “information” are superconcepts which have a special philosophical meaning they do not have in ordinary discourse (and which it is beneath philosophy to treat like the word, “lamp”) That’s why they are interested in what some particular philosopher means by, “knowledge”. They think there is some “incomparable essence of language” that philosophers are “trying to grasp”.


Ok. But some words do have meanings in philosophical contexts that they do not have in other, normal contexts. Think of “valid” as an example.


Yes, of course. But in that sense, “valid” is a technical term. “Knowledge” is not a technical term in the ordinary sense. It doesn’t have some deep philosophical meaning in addition to its ordinary meaning, nor is its ordinary meaning some deep meaning detached from its usual meaning. What meaning could Lacan find that was the real philosophical meaning? Where would that meaning even come from? Heidegger does the same thing. He ignores what a word means, and then finds (invents” a deep philosophical meaning for it. But he uses etymology to do that. It is wrong-headed from the word “go”. If you read Plato’s Cratylus you find how Socrates makes fun of this view of meaning (although, Plato here is making fun of himself, because he really originates this idea that the meaning of a word is its essence which is hidden).

Wittgenstein’s positive point is, of course, the ordinary language thing. But his negative point (which I think is more important for this discussion) is that terms like “knowledge” or “truth” do not have special meanings to be dug out by philosophers who are supposed to have some special factual for spying them. Lancan has no particular insight into the essence of knowledge hidden from the rest of us which, if we understand him, will provide us with philosophical enlightenment. Why should he?


There is a risk in all of this that by excluding the idea of the ‘super concept’ in W’s sense, or insisting that it must simply have the same kind of meaning as ‘lamp’ or ‘table’ that you also exclude what is most distinctive about philosophy. Surely we can acknowledge that there is a distinction between abstract and concrete expression. ‘The lamp is on the table’ is a different kind of expression to ‘knowledge has limits’.

When we ‘discuss language’ we are on a different level of explanation to merely ‘using language’. I mean, using language, you can explain many things, especially concrete and specific things, like ‘this is how to fix a lamp’ or ‘this is how to build a table’. But when it comes to discussing language itself, we are up against a different order of problem, not least of which is that we are employing the subject of the analysis to conduct the analysis. (I have a feeling that Wittgenstein said this somewhere.)

So it is important to recognise what language is for and what it can and can’t do. There are some kinds of speculations which can be articulated and might be answerable. But there are others which you can say, but might not really be possible to answer, even though they seem very simple (such as, what is number/meaning/the nature of being). Of which Wittgenstein said, that of which we cannot speak, of that we must remain silent. So knowing what not to say must be part of this whole consideration.


“Lamp” is a term for a concrete object. “Knowledge” is a term for an abstract object. But the central point is that neither has a hidden meaning that only a philosopher can ferret out. The meaning of both are their use(s) by fluent speakers of the language. It is not necessary to go to Lancan or Nietzsche to discover what “knowledge” really means anymore that it is to discover what “lamp” really means. As Wittgenstein wrote, “nothing is hidden”. Philosophy is not science. It is not necessary to go underneath the phenomena to discover what there really is. It is ironic that interpretationists accuse analytic philosophy of “scientism” when it is they who think that philosophy is a kind of science.


I interpret Wittgenstein as saying that the philosophical language-game is not a privileged language game. To say that something isn’t hidden is not to say that everyone finds it. This is just figurative language. Wittgenstein should be read by the light of Wittgenstein. His game is one more game, the game of describing the game. I interpret him as shattering the hope (for himself and those whom he persuades) for some unified authority on meaning.
Also he stressed the relationship of language and social practice. He finally took a more holistic view of language, and dropped his reductive Tractatus views. (This is not to deny the greatness of the Tractatus. Witt is one of my favorites, early and late.)
I associate Wittgenstein with a confession of the impossibility of closure. I don’t think language is capable of tying itself up.


To say that “nothing is hidden” is to say that words like “truth” or “knowledge” do not have, in addition to their ordinary everyday meanings, some secret meanings that only philosophers are able to discover. There are no secret meanings. There is no, “what the word ‘really means'” that Lacan or Heidegger has discovered.



Well my reason is that a lot of what goes on in this life seems perfectly meaningless and in the true sense of the word, irrational. Many things which seem highly valued by a lot of people seem hardly worth the effort of pursuing, we live our three score years and ten, if we’re lucky, and then vanish into the oblivion from whence we came. None of it seems to make much sense to me. I am the outcome, or at least an expression, of a process which started billions of years ago inside some star somewhere. For what? Watch television? Work until I die?

That’s my reason.


Just what are you questioning? (One sense of the word, “meaningless” may well be something like “irrational”. But that is not the true sense of the word. What about all the other senses of the word, “meaningless”? ). By the way, I think that “non-rational” would be a better term than “irrational”. And, just one more thing: what would it be for what goes on in this world to be rational? If you could tell me that, then I would have a better idea of what it is you are saying when you say it is irrational or it is non-rational. What is it that it is not? What would it be for you to discover that what goes on is rational?


Have you ever looked out at life and thought ‘boy what does it all mean? Isn’t there more to it than just our little lives and personalities and the things we do and have?’ You know, asked The Big Questions. That’s really what I see philosophy as being. So now I am beginning to understand why we always seem to be arguing at cross purposes.

Dunno. Maybe I shouldn’t say this stuff. Maybe I am being too personal or too earnest.


In my opinion, it is the belief that philosophers are supposed to ask only the Big Questions that partly fuels the view that philosophy gets nowhere and is a lot of nonsense, and is a big waste of time. And that would be right if that is what philosophy is.

Where would science have got if scientists had not rolled up their sleeves and asked many little questions.


from what I know of Heidegger, I very much admire his philosophy. There are many philosophers I admire, and many of them do deal with profound questions; and I know there are many kindred spirits on the forum. But – each to his own, I don’t want to labour the point.


How about “deal with seemingly profound questions”? But one of the philosopher’s seminal jobs is to ask whether a seemingly profound question is really all that profound, and what the question means, and supposes is true.Philosophers should have Hume’s “tincture of scepticism” even in regard to questions.

Kennethamy on the analytic principle of analyzing questions

Filed under: Metaphilosophy,Multilogues — Emil O. W. Kirkegaard @ 07:02

From here.


So many threads ask whether this or that is logical. Is probabllity logical? Are moral arguments logical? And so on. I never know what it is being asked by such questions. Is there something clear and specific that is being asked by the question, is X logical? What is it?


Maybe they’re asking if it can be identified through premises and conclusions…Or maybe they are trying to figure out if abstract concepts like morality follow some kind of mathematical pattern or have a logical purpose for existing.


What does “logical purpose” mean?


I imagine it might be asking whether the purpose is something that can be accomplished, or whether the purpose is worth accomplishing. The trouble is that it can mean so many different things that the question, is it logical? does not convey anything really being asked.

So, rather than simply ask whether X is logical, why not, instead, ask about the problem you have in mind when you asked the question. And, maybe if you think about what the problem is, and cannot come up with anying specifice or clear, maybe you will wait to ask the question, or maybe not ask the question at all.


Basically the analytic principle of questions. Always start by analyzing the question.


It was a great advance in philosophy when it was understood that philosophical questions had to be analyzed to determine what they were asking, or whether they were asking anything sensible, before trying to answer them. In the sciences, it is taken for granted that the important thing is to answer the questions. But it took some time to recognize that was not true in the case of philosophy.


Metafilosofy: excerpt from a discussion

Filed under: Metaphilosophy,Multilogues — Emil O. W. Kirkegaard @ 02:33

I used to discuss alot of filosofy, especially on internet forums. One forum was philosophy boards, i think. it changed its name and merged with another forum, and its software is now trash. however, by fortuitous coincidence, i stumbled upon an old discussion of mine on Google. too bad the forum software makes it difficult to save the entire discussion (i tried), but here is the excerpt:


I suppose I take a pretty holistic view of humans. What they associate with the word “intelligent” is tied in to their value system. Fred likes Jims values and calls him intelligent, which some might view as an abuse of the word. I suppose “intelligent” can function as a word of praise. I also take a holistic view on words. So many types of people out there. If we are “networks of beliefs and desires,” which I think is a good phrase if not the whole truth, then it all get’s tangled up. For some people, their idea of human decency is intelligence. For others, it’s all about the heart. For these heart-types, intelligence might as well mean wisdom or feeling. I think persuasion swallows everything. It’s just that objective science is so persuasive that there’s not much disagreement. But ethics, politics, this sort of philosophy we are doing now..all of these are tangled with ethics, and self-conception/self-ideal. Or such is my current view.



I imagine that objective science is so persuasive for a pretty good reason. Don’t you? I expect that this sort of philosophy that I do is not all that tangled up. After all, you seemed to think that what I wrote about the term “exist” as denoting a meta-property (what did you say?) made sense. I think a lot of philosophy can be done so that it makes sense, and give sensible answers that can be supported by reason and by argument. Sounds like a plan to me.

Oh yes, your brand of philosophy sticks near the rigor of objective science, and I respect that. It’s not my favorite part of philosophy, but I respect it.. I came to philosophy from a literary background/obsession It’s very much an aesthetic pursuit for me. My ethics are tangled up with it. Anxiety of influence and all that. I want to create, ultimately. Therefore the emphasis on metaphor and the creation of concept. I don’t know if you’ve look at the thread “subversive absolute christianity” but that’s the sort of thing that fascinates me. Much of what interests me could be put away in other genres, but much that influences me is called philosophy. Many Germans. And many of them are myth-makers, poets. Rigorousness is a virtue, yes, but not the only virtue.
I thought that the point of philosophizing was to clarify and find out things. Not to entertain. How can philosophy be an aesthetic pursuit? What is it that you would be pursuing? Rigor is a virtue only because it is a necessary means in inquiry. I don’t care about rigor in itself. Why should I? It is not as if I were in the pursuit of rigor, you know. If you want to create then why are you interested in philosophy? Why isn’t writing short stories, or poetry occupying you?
I don’t know how much continental philosophy you have enjoyed, but there is plenty of opportunity for creativity in philosophy. Many concepts are invented by means of metaphor. Also a holistic view of “first science” is not one that’s going to put everything in its own little box. I’m interested in connecting the dots. I hope this does not offend you. Whether you want to understand where other human beings are coming from is of course your choice. To me, this too is part of philosophy. Sure, we could chop it up into psychology/aesthetics/ ethics/epistemology/religion, but this is to chop up the living human being for whom all of these are a lived unity. I’m willing to explain my perspective but it’s nothing I want to argue about. I want to hear other people’s enthusiasms (however different than my own) more than their objections.
I think good philosophers are more than capable of being rather literary. Quine’s web metaphor is the obvious example, but this is primarily done in search of clarity rather than in writing an article that people want to read. On the other hand, Bernard Williams wrote what I believe is one of the finest philosophy articles ever written, called ‘The Self and the Future‘; it hardly creates serious difficulties with conventional beliefs about personal identity, as Quine’s article does for anyliticity, nor is it particularly convincing. It certainly makes you think that there may be something more to personal identity than psychological continuity, but lots of articles do this with lots of philosophical problems, so it’s no great achievement. The brilliance, or at least the thing that makes it such a wonderful article to read, lies not so much in the argument, but in the ingenuity and imagination of the thought example used to convey the argument. Presenting a situation that shows certain things to be the case, then offering an apparently different situation that shows opposing things to be the case, before allowing it to dawn on the reader that the appearance of a difference between the two situations is merely that, an appearance. Certainly one of the ‘must read’ philosophy articles.

The danger is, that when one becomes too concerned with how one says something, one loses sight of what one is trying to say. Indeed, you might find yourself spewing beautifully worded, meaningless nonsense, and if you lack the gift of being a good writer, simply nonsense. Not good philosophy. Of course, if you are too concerned with philosophical questions when attempting to write literature, your work risks sounding contrived, abrasive, and often even comical. It’s one of the reasons I think Orwell’s fiction is grossly overrated; the sound points he makes about socialism (or rather particular types of socialism) mask a lack of literary merit. Being too concerned with philosophy is certainly one of the many reasons why Ayn Rand writes terrible novels.

Of course, there’s a difference between employing literary techniques and writing literature, just as there is a difference between exploring philosophical themes and writing philosophy. Great literature is usually subtle in meaning, great philosophy makes meaning explicit and clear. But back to ethics.

The ten commandments are poetry. Plato’s republic is poetry. VCR instruction manuals are poetry. Profanity is poetry. “Self is illusion” is poetry. “Philosophy is poetry” is poetry. Tautologies are poetry. Sure, this is to bend to current use of certain words, but that’s how abstract concepts are made in the first place. Just as concept comes from conception, the fertilization of the egg. A dead metaphor. Dead metaphor rubbed together to make live metaphor. Taste varies. Its the risk one runs. But if a writer doesn’t enjoy his/her own lines, he’s in the wrong business. Poetry is child’s play, sure, so what? And perhaps much of the serious business of philosophy is the child playing a game of grown-up. Soft science is generally made of poetry/trope. But to understand what I mean takes a leaning in, a sincere openness. And that statement is rich with metaphor. I can’t write it off, that language is primarily made of metaphors and philosophy of language.

We’ve got laws and churches and traditions. It’s no big deal if a foolosopher sees that ethics is made of air.

I assure you, understanding what any of this means would take a great deal more than a leaning in, no matter how sincerely open a lean it might be. I think you’ve managed to strike an unhappy medium of writing nonsense in a comically contrived way. Really now, ‘Dead metaphor rubbed together to make live metaphor’? Do try not to beat us over the head with your metaphors.
Ah now, that’s not so silly as it sounds, I assure you. Crack open a dictionary. Examine etymology. There you will find the birth-metaphor of words that have since changed their meaning. —If you don’t understand, that’s fine. There are those who do. I think you overestimate the strangeness of what I’m saying. I certainly have my influences. I didn’t make it all up myself, although I wish I could claim that. Do you know Joyce? It’s a wide wide world. Lots of new teeth coming in.
Finnegans Wake – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

December 22, 2012

Review: Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont)

Filed under: Education,Education,Linguistics/language,Metaphilosophy,Science,Sociology — Tags: , — Emil O. W. Kirkegaard @ 23:22

Fashionable Nonsense, Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science – Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont ebook download pdf free


The book contains the best single chapter on filosofy of science that iv com across. very much recommended, especially for those that dont like filosofers’ accounts of things. alot of the rest of the book is devoted to long quotes full of nonsens, and som explanations of why it is nonsens (if possible), or just som explanatory remarks about the fields invoked (say, relativity).


as such, this book is a must read for ppl who ar interested in the study of seudoscience, and those interested in meaningless language use. basically, it is a collection of case studies of that.






[footnote] Bertrand Russell (1948, p. 196) tells the following amusing story: “I once received a

letter from an eminent logician, Mrs Christine Ladd Franklin, saying that she was a

solipsist, and was surprised that there were not others”. We learned this reference

from Devitt (1997, p. 64).





The answer, of course, is that we have no proof; it is simply

a perfectly reasonable hypothesis. The most natural way to ex­

plain the persistence of our sensations (in particular, the un­

pleasant ones) is to suppose that they are caused by agents

outside our consciousness. We can almost always change at will

the sensations that are pure products of our imagination, but we

cannot stop a war, stave off a lion, or start a broken-down car

by pure thought alone. Nevertheless— and it is important to em­

phasize this—this argument does not refute solipsism. If anyone

insists that he is a “harpsichord playing solo” (Diderot), there is

no way to convince him of his error. However, we have never

met a sincere solipsist and we doubt that any exist.52 This illus­

trates an important principle that we shall use several times in

this chapter: the mere fact that an idea is irrefutable does not

imply that there is any reason to believe it is true.


i wonder how that epistemological point (that arguments from ignorance ar no good) works with intuitionism in math/logic?



The universality of Humean skepticism is also its weakness.

Of course, it is irrefutable. But since no one is systematically

skeptical (when he or she is sincere) with respect to ordinary

knowledge, one ought to ask why skepticism is rejected in that

domain and why it would nevertheless be valid when applied

elsewhere, for instance, to scientific knowledge. Now, the rea­

son why we reject systematic skepticism in everyday life is

more or less obvious and is similar to the reason we reject solip­

sism. The best way to account for the coherence of our experi­

ence is to suppose that the outside world corresponds, at least

approximately, to the image of it provided by our senses.54


54 4This hypothesis receives a deeper explanation with the subsequent development of

science, in particular of the biological theory of evolution. Clearly, the possession of

sensory organs that reflect more or less faithfully the outside world (or, at least,

some important aspects of it) confers an evolutionary advantage. Let us stress that

this argument does not refute radical skepticism, but it does increase the coherence

of the anti-skeptical worldview.


the authors ar surprisingly sofisticated filosofically, and i agree very much with their reasoning.



For my part, I have no doubt that, although progressive changes

are to be expected in physics, the present doctrines are likely to be

nearer to the truth than any rival doctrines now before the world.

Science is at no moment quite right, but it is seldom quite wrong,

and has, as a rule, a better chance of being right than the theories

of the unscientific. It is, therefore, rational to accept it


—Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development

(1995 [1959], p. 13)


yes, the analogy is that: science is LIKE a limit function that goes towards 1 [approximates closer to truth] over time. at any given x, it is not quite at y=1 yet, but it gets closer. it might not be completely monotonic either (and i dont know if that completely breaks the limit function, probably doesnt).


for a quick grafical illustration, try the function f(x)=1-(-1/x) on the interval [1;∞]. The truth line is f(x)=1 on the interval [0;∞]. in reality, the graf wud be mor unsteady and not completely monotonic corresponding to the varius theories as they com and go in science. it is not only a matter of evidence (which is not an infallible indicator of truth either), but it is primarily a function of that.



Once the general problems of solipsism and radical skepti­

cism have been set aside, we can get down to work. Let us sup­

pose that we are able to obtain some more-or-less reliable

knowledge of the world, at least in everyday life. We can then

ask: To what extent are our senses reliable or not? To answer

this question, we can compare sense impressions among them­

selves and vary certain parameters of our everyday experience.

We can map out in this way, step by step, a practiced rationality.

When this is done systematically and with sufficient precision,

science can begin.


For us, the scientific method is not radically different from

the rational attitude in everyday life or in other domains of hu­

man knowledge. Historians, detectives, and plumbers—indeed,

all human beings—use the same basic methods of induction,

deduction, and assessment of evidence as do physicists or bio­

chemists. Modem science tries to carry out these operations in

a more careful and systematic way, by using controls and sta­

tistical tests, insisting on replication, and so forth. Moreover,

scientific measurements are often much more precise than

everyday observations; they allow us to discover hitherto un­

known phenomena; and they often conflict with “common

sense”. But the conflict is at the level of conclusions, not the

basic approach.55 56


55For example: Water appears to us as a continuous fluid, but chemical and physical

experiments teach us that it is made of atoms.


56Throughout this chapter, we stress the methodological continuity between scientific

knowledge and everyday knowledge. This is, in our view, the proper way to respond

to various skeptical challenges and to dispel the confusions generated by radical

interpretations of correct philosophical ideas such as the underdetermination of

theories by data. But it would be naive to push this connection too far. Science—

particularly fundamental physics— introduces concepts that are hard to grasp

intuitively or to connect directly to common-sense notions. (For example: forces

acting instantaneously throughout the universe in Newtonian mechanics,

electromagnetic fields “vibrating” in vacuum in Maxwell’s theory, curved space-time

in Einstein’s general relativity.) And it is in discussions about the meaning o f these

theoretical concepts that various brands of realists and anti-realists (e.g.,

intrumentalists, pragmatists) tend to part company. Relativists sometimes tend to fall

back on instrumentalist positions when challenged, but there is a profound difference

between the two attitudes. Instrumentalists may want to claim either that we have no

way of knowing whether “unobservable” theoretical entities really exist, or that their

meaning is defined solely through measurable quantities; but this does not imply that

they regard such entities as “subjective” in the sense that their meaning would be

significantly influenced by extra-scientific factors (such as the personality of the

individual scientist or the social characteristics o f the group to which she belongs).

Indeed, instrumentalists may regard our scientific theories as, quite simply, the most

satisfactory way that the human mind, with its inherent biological limitations, is

capable of understanding the world.


right they ar



Having reached this point in the discussion, the radical skep­

tic or relativist will ask what distinguishes science from other

types of discourse about reality—religions or myths, for exam­

ple, or pseudo-sciences such as astrology—and, above all, what

criteria are used to make such a distinction. Our answer is nu-

anced. First of all, there are some general (but basically nega­

tive) epistemological principles, which go back at least to the

seventeenth century: to be skeptical of a priori arguments, rev­

elation, sacred texts, and arguments from authority. Moreover,

the experience accumulated during three centuries of scientific

practice has given us a series of more-or-less general method­

ological principles—for example, to replicate experiments, to

use controls, to test medicines in double-blind protocols—that

can be justified by rational arguments. However, we do not

claim that these principles can be codified in a definitive way,

nor that the list is exhaustive. In other words, there does not

exist (at least at present) a complete codification of scientific ra­

tionality, and we seriously doubt that one could ever exist. After

all, the future is inherently unpredictable; rationality is always

an adaptation to a new situation. Nevertheless—and this is the

main difference between us and the radical skeptics—we think

that well-developed scientific theories are in general supported

by good arguments, but the rationality of those arguments must

be analyzed case-by-case.60


60 It is also by proceeding on a case-by-case basis that one can appreciate the

immensity of the gulf separating the sciences from the pseudo-sciences.


Sokal and Bricmont might soon becom my new favorit filosofers of science.



Obviously, every induction is an inference from the observed to

the unobserved, and no such inference can be justified using

solely deductive logic. But, as we have seen, if this argument

were to be taken seriously—if rationality were to consist only

of deductive logic— it would imply also that there is no good

reason to believe that the Sun will rise tomorrow, and yet no one

really expects the Sun not to rise.


id like to add, like i hav don many times befor, that ther is no reason to think that induction shud be proveable with deduction. why require that? but now coms the interesting part. if one takes induction as the basis instead of deduction, one can inductivly prove deduction. <prove> in the ordinary, non-mathetical/logical sens. the method is enumerativ induction, which i hav discussed befor.



But one may go further. It is natural to introduce a hierarchy

in the degree of credence accorded to different theories, de­

pending on the quantity and quality of the evidence supporting

them.95 Every scientist—indeed, every human being—proceeds

in this way and grants a higher subjective probability to the

best-established theories (for instance, the evolution of species

or the existence of atoms) and a lower subjective probability to

more speculative theories (such as detailed theories of quantum

gravity). The same reasoning applies when comparing theories

in natural science with those in history or sociology. For exam­

ple, the evidence of the Earth’s rotation is vastly stronger than

anything Kuhn could put forward in support of his historical

theories. This does not mean, of course, that physicists are more

clever than historians or that they use better methods, but sim­

ply that they deal with less complex problems, involving a

smaller number of variables which, moreover, are easier to mea­

sure and to control. It is impossible to avoid introducing such a

hierarchy in our beliefs, and this hierarchy implies that there is

no conceivable argument based on the Kuhnian view of history

that could give succor to those sociologists or philosophers who

wish to challenge, in a blanket way, the reliability of scientific



Sokal and Bricmont even get the epistemological point about the different fields right. color me very positivly surprised.



Bruno Latour and His Rules of Method

The strong programme in the sociology of science has found

an echo in France, particularly around Bruno Latour. His works

contain a great number of propositions formulated so ambigu­

ously that they can hardly be taken literally. And when one re­

moves the ambiguity— as we shall do here in a few

examples— one reaches the conclusion that the assertion is ei­

ther true but banal, or else surprising but manifestly false.


sound familiar? its the good old two-faced sentences again, those that Swartz and Bradley called Janus-sentences. they yield two different interpretations, one trivial and true, one nontrivial and false. their apparent plausibility is becus of this fact.


quoting from Possible Worlds:


Janus-faced sentences

The method of possible-worlds testing is not only an invaluable aid towards resolving ambiguity; it is also an effective weapon against a particular form of-linguistic sophistry.

Thinkers often deceive themselves and others into supposing that they have discovered a profound

truth about the universe when all they have done is utter what we shall call a “Janus-faced

sentence”. Janus, according to Roman mythology, was a god with two faces who was therefore able

to ‘face’ in two directions at once. Thus, by a “Janus-faced sentence” we mean a sentence which, like “In the evolutionary struggle for existence just the fittest species survive”, faces in two directions. It is ambiguous insofar as it may be used to express a noncontingent proposition, e.g., that in the struggle for existence just the surviving species survive, and may also be used to express a contingent proposition, e.g., the generalization that just the physically strongest species survive.


If a token of such a sentence-type is used to express a noncontingently true proposition then, of

course, the truth of that proposition is indisputable; but since, in that case, it is true in all possible

worlds, it does not tell us anything distinctive about the actual world. If, on the other hand, a token

of such a sentence-type is used to express a contingent proposition, then of course that proposition

does tell us something quite distinctive about the actual world; but in that case its truth is far from

indisputable. The sophistry lies in supposing that the indisputable credentials of the one proposition

can be transferred to the other just by virtue of the fact that one sentence-token might be used to

express one of these propositions and a different sentence-token of one and the same sentence-type

might be used to express the other of these propositions. For by virtue of the necessary truth of one

of these propositions, the truth of the other — the contingent one — can be made to seem

indisputable, can be made to seem, that is, as if it “stands to reason” that it should be true.



We could be accused here of focusing our attention on an

ambiguity of formulation and of not trying to understand what

Latour really means. In order to counter this objection, let us go

back to the section “Appealing (to) Nature” (pp. 94-100) where

the Third Rule is introduced and developed. Latour begins by

ridiculing the appeal to Nature as a way of resolving scientific

controversies, such as the one concerning solar neutrinos[121]:

A fierce controversy divides the astrophysicists who calcu­

late the number o f neutrinos coming out o f the sun and Davis,

the experimentalist who obtains a much smaller figure. It is

easy to distinguish them and put the controversy to rest. Just

let us see for ourselves in which camp the sun is really to be

found. Somewhere the natural sun with its true number o f

neutrinos will close the mouths o f dissenters and force them

to accept the facts no matter how well written these papers

were. (Latour 1987, p. 95)



Why does Latour choose to be ironic? The problem is to know

how many neutrinos are emitted by the Sun, and this question

is indeed difficult. We can hope that it will be resolved some day,

not because “the natural sun will close the mouths of dis­

senters”, but because sufficiently powerful empirical data will

become available. Indeed, in order to fill in the gaps in the cur­

rently available data and to discriminate between the currently

existing theories, several groups of physicists have recently

built detectors of different types, and they are now performing

the (difficult) measurements.122 It is thus reasonable to expect

that the controversy will be settled sometime in the next few

years, thanks to an accumulation of evidence that, taken to­

gether, will indicate clearly the correct solution. However, other

scenarios are in principle possible: the controversy could die

out because people stop being interested in the issue, or be­

cause the problem turns out to be too difficult to solve; and, at

this level, sociological factors undoubtedly play a role (if only

because of the budgetary constraints on research). Obviously,

scientists think, or at least hope, that if the controversy is re­

solved it will be because of observations and not because of

the literary qualities of the scientific papers. Otherwise, they

will simply have ceased to do science.


the footnode 121 is:

The nuclear reactions that power the Sun are expected to emit copious quantities

of the subatomic particle called the neutrino. By combining current theories of solar

structure, nuclear physics, and elementary-particle physics, it is possible to obtain

quantitative predictions for the flux and energy distribution of the solar neutrinos.

Since the late 1960s, experimental physicists, beginning with the pioneering work of

Raymond Davis, have been attempting to detect the solar neutrinos and measure their

flux. The solar neutrinos have in fact been detected; but their flux appears to be less

than one-third o f the theoretical prediction. Astrophysicists and elementary-particle

physicists are actively trying to determine whether the discrepancy arises from

experimental error or theoretical error, and if the latter, whether the failure is in the

solar models or in the elementary-particle models. For an introductory overview, see

Bahcall (1990).


this problem sounded familiar to me.

The solar neutrino problem was a major discrepancy between measurements of the numbers of neutrinos flowing through the Earth and theoretical models of the solar interior, lasting from the mid-1960s to about 2002. The discrepancy has since been resolved by new understanding of neutrino physics, requiring a modification of the Standard Model of particle physics – specifically, neutrino oscillation. Essentially, as neutrinos have mass, they can change from the type that had been expected to be produced in the Sun’s interior into two types that would not be caught by the detectors in use at the time.


science seems to be working. Sokal and Bricmont predicted that it wud be resolved ”in the next few years”. this was written in 1997, about 5 years befor the data Wikipedia givs for the resolution. i advice one to read the Wiki article, as it is quite good.



In this quote and the previous one, Latour is playing con­

stantly on the confusion between facts and our knowledge of

them.123 The correct answer to any scientific question, solved or

not, depends on the state of Nature (for example, on the num­

ber of neutrinos that the Sun really emits). Now, it happens that,

for the unsolved problems, nobody knows the right answer,

while for the solved ones, we do know it (at least if the accepted

solution is correct, which can always be challenged). But there

is no reason to adopt a “relativist” attitude in one case and a “re­

alist” one in the other. The difference between these attitudes is

a philosophical matter, and is independent of whether the prob­

lem is solved or not. For the relativist, there is simply no unique

correct answer, independent of all social and cultural circum­

stances; this holds for the closed questions as well as for the

open ones. On the other hand, the scientists who seek the cor­

rect solution are not relativist, almost by definition. Of course

they do “use Nature as the external referee”: that is, they seek to

know what is really happening in Nature, and they design ex­

periments for that purpose.


the footnote 123 is:

An even more extreme example o f this confusion appears in a recent article by

Latour in La Recherche, a French monthly magazine devoted to the popularization of

science (Latour 1998). Here Latour discusses what he interprets as the discovery in

1976, by French scientists working on the mummy of the pharaoh Ramses II, that his

death (circa 1213 B.C.) was due to tuberculosis. Latour asks: “How could he pass

away due to a bacillus discovered by Robert Koch in 1882?” Latour notes, correctly,

that it would be an anachronism to assert that Rainses II was killed by machine-gun

fire or died from the stress provoked by a stock-market crash. But then, Latour

wonders, why isn’t death from tuberculosis likewise an anachronism? He goes so far

as to assert that “Before Koch, the bacillus has no real existence.” He dismisses the

common-sense notion that Koch discovered a pre-existing bacillus as “having only the

appearance o f common sense”. Of course, in the rest o f the article, Latour gives no

argument to justify these radical claims and provides no genuine alternative to the

common-sense answer. He simply stresses the obvious fact that, in order to discover

the cause of Ramses’ death, a sophisticated analysis in Parisian laboratories was

needed. But unless Latour is putting forward the truly radical claim that nothing we

discover ever existed prior to its “discovery”— in particular, that no murderer is a

murderer, in the sense that he committed a crime before the police “discovered” him

to be a murderer— he needs to explain what is special about bacilli, and this he has

utterly failed to do. The result is that Latour is saying nothing clear, and the article

oscillates between extreme banalities and blatant falsehoods.





a quote from one of the crazy ppl:


The privileging o f solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the

inability o f science to deal with turbulent flow at all, she at­

tributes to the association o f fluidity with femininity. Whereas

men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women

have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids.

Although men, too, flow on occasion— when semen is emit­

ted, for example— this aspect o f their sexuality is not empha­

sized. It is the rigidity o f the male organ that counts, not its

complicity in fluid flow. These idealizations are reinscribed in

mathematics, which conceives o f fluids as laminated planes

and other modified solid forms. In the same way that women

are erased within masculinist theories and language, existing

only as not-men, so fluids have been erased from science, ex­

isting only as not-solids. From this perspective it is no wonder

that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model

for turbulence. The problem o f turbulent f low cannot be

solved because the conceptions o f fluids (and o f women)

have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated

remainders. (Hayles 1992, p. 17)


u cant make this shit up



Over the past three decades, remarkable progress has been

made in the mathematical theory of chaos, but the idea that

some physical systems may exhibit a sensitivity to initial con­

ditions is not new. Here is what James Clerk Maxwell said in

1877, after stating the principle of determinism ( “the same

causes will always produce the same effects”):


but thats not what determinism is. their quote seems to be from Hume’s Treatise.


it is mentioned in his discussion of causality, which is related to but not the same as, determinism.


Wikipedia givs a fine definition of <determinism>: ”Determinism is a philosophy stating that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given those conditions, nothing else could happen.”


also SEP: Causal determinism is, roughly speaking, the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature.”



[T]he first difference between science and philosophy is their

respective attitudes toward chaos. Chaos is defined not so

much by its disorder as by the infinite speed with which every

form taking shape in it vanishes. It is a void that is not a noth­

ingness but a virtual, containing all possible particles and

drawing out all possible forms, which spring up only to dis­

appear immediately, without consistency or reference, with­

out consequence. Chaos is an infinite speed o f birth and dis­

appearance. (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, pp. 117-118, italics

in the original)





For what it’s worth, electrons, unlike photons, have a non-zero

mass and thus cannot move at the speed of light, precisely

because of the theory of relativity of which Virilio seems so



i think the authors did not mean what they wrote here. surely, relativity theory is not the reason why electrons cannot move at the speed of light. relativity theory is an explanation of how nature works, in this case, how objects with mass and velocity/speed works.



We met in Paris a student who, after having brilliantly fin­

ished his undergraduate studies in physics, began reading phi­

losophy and in particular Deleuze. He was trying to tackle

Difference and Repetition. Having read the mathematical ex­

cerpts examined here (pp. 161-164), he admitted he couldn’t

see what Deleuze was driving at. Nevertheless, Deleuze’s repu­

tation for profundity was so strong that he hesitated to draw the

natural conclusion: that if someone like himself, who had stud­

ied calculus for several years, was unable to understand these

texts, allegedly about calculus, it was probably because they

didn’t make much sense. It seems to us that this example should

have encouraged the student to analyze more critically the rest

of Deleuze’s writings.


i think the epistemological conditions of this kind of inference ar very interesting. under which conditions shud one conclude that a text is meaningless?



7. Ambiguity as subterfuge. We have seen in this book nu­

merous ambiguous texts that can be interpreted in two differ­

ent ways: as an assertion that is true but relatively banal, or as

one that is radical but manifestly false. And we cannot help

thinking that, in many cases, these ambiguities are deliberate.

Indeed, they offer a great advantage in intellectual battles: the

radical interpretation can serve to attract relatively inexperi­

enced listeners or readers; and if the absurdity of this version is

exposed, the author can always defend himself by claiming to

have been misunderstood, and retreat to the innocuous inter­



mor on Janus-sentences.




December 17, 2012

Alan Sokal ebooks

Filed under: Metaphilosophy,Sociology — Tags: — Emil O. W. Kirkegaard @ 19:29

I recently acquired these (yes, bought them). Enjoy!

Fashionable Nonsense, Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science – Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont

beyond the hoax – alan sokal

November 28, 2012

Paper: AGAINST PHILOSOPHY: WHY PHILOSOPHY GETS NO RESPECT; A TAXONOMY of philosophy & A REVIEW of the successes and failures of 20th Century academic philosophy & RECOMMENDATIONS for the educational re-engineering of academic philosophy departments (Zak Van Straaten)

Filed under: Metaphilosophy — Emil O. W. Kirkegaard @ 20:04

AGAINST PHILOSOPHY WHY PHILOSOPHY GETS NO RESPECT A TAXONOMY of philosophy & A REVIEW of the successes and failures of 20th Century academic philosophy

This is a pretty odd paper. At first i was very critical of it. But its really a hard job to diagnosticize what is wrong with filosofy, exactly becus filosofy is so many different things. it seems like a catch-all category of whatever didnt fit in other disciplines. there is some truth to this, which is why things like astrology are sometimes categorized as filosofy. but there are also clear subfields of filosofy, which have different things wrong with them. the author gives a reasonable first hatchet job at categorizing these and noting what is wrong with them. worth reading if one likes metafilosofy.

also important to read:


Steven Weinberg: “Against Philosophy” (from “Dreams of a Final Theory”).

Filed under: Metaphilosophy,Science — Emil O. W. Kirkegaard @ 15:49

Steven Weinberg “Against Philosophy”

Great text. The beginning:

Physicists get so much help from subjective and often vague aesthetic judgments that it might be
expected that we would be helped also by philosophy, out of which after all our science evolved.
Can philosophy give us any guidance toward a final theory? The value today of philosophy to
physics seems to me to be something like the value of early nation-states to their peoples. It is only
a small exaggeration to say that, until the introduction of the post office, the chief service of nation-
states was to protect their peoples from other nation-states. The insights of philosophers have
occasionally benefited physicists, but generally in a negative fashion—by protecting them from the
preconceptions of other philosophers. I do not want to draw the lesson here that physics is best done
without preconceptions. At any one moment there are so many things that might be done, so many
accepted principles that might be challenged, that without some guidance from our preconceptions
one could do nothing at all. It is just that philosophical principles have not generally provided us
with the right preconceptions. In our hunt for the final theory, physicists are more like hounds than
hawks; we have become good at sniffing around on the ground for traces of the beauty we expect in
the laws of nature, but we do not seem to be able to see the path to the truth from the heights of
philosophy. Physicists do of course carry around with them a working philosophy. For most of us, it
is a rough-and-ready realism, a belief in the objective reality of the ingredients of our scientific
theories. But this has been learned through the experience of scientific research and rarely from the
teachings of philosophers. This is not to deny all value to philosophy, much of which has nothing to
do with science. I do not even mean to deny all value to the philosophy of science, which at its best
seems to me a pleasing gloss on the history and discoveries of science. But we should not expect it
to provide today’s scientists with any useful guidance about how to go about their work or about
what they are likely to find. I should acknowledge that this is understood by many of the
philosophers themselves. After surveying three decades of professional writings in the philosophy
of science, the philosopher George Gale concludes that “these almost arcane discussions, verging on
the scholastic, could have interested only the smallest number of practicing scientists.” Wittgenstein
remarked that “nothing seems to me less likely than that a scientist or mathematician who reads me
should be seriously influenced in the way he works.”

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