Review: Beyond the Hoax: Science and Culture (Alan Sokal)

beyond the hoax – alan sokal

Much of the material is the same as in Sokal and Bricmont’s earlier book. But there is some new material as well. I especially found the stuff on hindu nationalism and pseudoscience interesting, and the stuff on pseudoscience in nursing. Never heard of that before, but it wasnt totally unexpected. All health related fields hav large amounts of pseudoscience. It is unfortunate that the most important fields are those most full of pseudoscience!


Part III goes on to treat weightier social and political topics using the

same lens. Chapter 8 analyzes the paradoxical relation between pseudo­

science and postmodernism, and investigates how extreme skepticism can

abet extreme credulity, using a series of detailed case studies: pseudosci­

entific therapies in nursing and “alternative medicine”; Hindu nationalist

pseudoscience in India21; and radical environmentalism. This investigation

is motivated by my suspicion that credulity in minor matters prepares the

mind for credulity in matters of greater import — and, conversely, that the

kind of critical thinking useful for distinguishing science from pseudoscience

might also be of some use in distinguishing truths in affairs of state from

lies. Chapter 9 takes on the largest and most powerful pseudoscience of all:

organized religion. This chapter focusses on the central philosophical and

political issues raised by religion in the contemporary world: it deplores the

damage that is done by our culture’s deference toward “faith”, and it asks

how nonbelievers and believers can find political common ground based

on shared moral ideas. Finally, Chapter 10 draws some of these concerns

together, and discusses the relationship between epistemology and ethics as

they interact in the public sphere.


surely this is true.



#115 The idea that theories should refer only to observable quantities is called operationalism.-, far

from being postmodernist, it was popular among physicists and philosophers of physics in the first

half of the twentieth century. But it has severe flaws: see Chapter 7 below (pp. 240-245) as well as

Weinberg (1992, pp. 174-184).


i thought this was a part of logiclal positivism, and it seems that it was. i knew about operational definitions.



When all is said and done, the fundamental flaw in Merchant and Hard­

ing’s metaphor-hermeneutics is not exegetical but logical. Let us grant for the

sake of argument that some of the founders of modem science consciously

used sexist metaphors to promote their epistemological and methodological

views (this much is probably true, even if Merchant and Harding have exag­

gerated the case). But what would that entail for the philosophy (as opposed

to the history) of science? Apparently the critics wish to claim that sexism

could have passed from metaphor into the substantive content of scientific

methods and/or theories. But if modem science does in fact contain sexist

assumptions, then surely the feminist theorists ought to be able to locate and

criticize those biased assumptions, independently of any argument from his­

tory. Indeed, to do otherwise is to commit the “genetic fallacy”: evaluating an

idea on the basis of its origin rather than its content.


Putting aside the florid accusations of rape and torture, the argument of

Merchant and Harding boils down to the assertion that the scientific rev­

olution of the seventeenth century displaced a female-centered (spiritual,

hermetic, organic, geocentric) universe in favor of a male-centered (ratio­

nalist, scientific, mechanical, heliocentric) one.21 How should we evaluate

this argument?


To begin with, one might wonder whether the gender associations claimed

for these two cosmologies are really as univocal as the feminist critics

claim.22 (After all, the main defender of the geocentric worldview — the

Catholic Church — was not exactly a female-centered enterprise, its adora­

tion of the Virgin Mary notwithstanding.) But let us put aside this objection

and grant these gender associations for the sake of argument; for the princi­

pal flaw in the Merchant-Harding thesis is, once again, not historical but log­

ical. Margarita Levin puts it bluntly: Do Merchant and Harding really “think

we have a choice about which theory is correct? Masculine or feminine, the

solar system is the way it is.”23


The same point applies not only to astronomy but to scientific theories

quite generally; and the bottom line is that there is ample evidence, indepen­

dent of any allegedly sexist imagery, for the epistemic value of modem sci­

ence. Therefore, as Koertge remarks, “if it really could be shown that patri­

archal thinking not only played a crucial role in the Scientific Revolution but

is also necessary for carrying out scientific inquiry as we know it, that would

constitute the strongest argument for patriarchy that I can think of!”24


true story :D



Of course, the feminist science-critics are not only archaeologists of

300-year-old science; some of their critique is resolutely modem, even post­

modern. Here, for instance, is what Donna Haraway, professor of the history

of consciousness (!) at the University of Califomia-Santa Cruz and one of

the most acclaimed feminist theorists of science, says about her research:


For the complex or boundary objects in which I am interested, the

mythic, textual, technical, political, organic, and economic dimensions

implode. That is, they collapse into each other in a knot of extraordinary

density that constitutes the objects themselves. In my sense, story telling

is in no way an ‘art practice’ — it is, rather, a fraught practice for narrat­

ing complexity in such a field of knots or black holes. In no way is story

telling opposed to materiality. But materiality itself is tropic; it makes us

swerve, it trips us; it is a knot of the textual, technical, mythic/oneiric,

organic, political, and economic.2


As right-wing critic Roger Kimball acidly comments: “Remember that this

woman is not some crank but a professor at a prestigious university and

one of the leading lights of contemporary ‘women’s studies.’ ”26 The saddest

thing, for us pinkos and feminists, is that Kimball is dead on target.


women’s studies is nearly completely trash. reminds me of the article about black studies in the US:



This theory is startling, to say the least: Does the author really believe

that menstruation makes it more difficult for young women to understand

elementary notions of geometry? Evidently we are not far from the Victorian

gentlemen who held that women, with their delicate reproductive organs,

are unsuited to rational thought and to science. With friends like this, the

feminist cause has no need of enemies.


the worst enemy of women: women.



[after quoting Lacan]

Mathematicians and physicists are used to receiving this sort of stuff in

typewritten envelopes from unknown correspondents. Lacan’s grammar and

spelling are better than in most of these treatises, but his logic isn’t. To put it

bluntly, Lacan is a crank — an unusually erudite one, to be sure, but a crank



interesting. i will ask Sokal to expand on that theme.



So, if we look critically at realism, we may be tempted to turn toward

instrumentalism. But if we look critically at instrumentalism, we feel forced

to return to a modest form of realism. What, then, should one do? Before

coming to a possible solution, let us first consider radical alternatives.


surprisingly true.



[after quoting Plantinga]

Let us stress that we disagree with 90% of Plantinga’s philosophy; but if he is so eloquently on

target on this particular point, why not give him credit for it?


i was surprised they quoted him, but then, they make that comment. perfect play!



Let me stress in advance that I will not be concerned here with explaining

in detail why astrology, homeopathy and the rest are in fact pseudoscience;

that would take me too far afield. Nor will I address, except in passing, the

important but difficult problems of understanding the psychological attrac­

tions of pseudoscience and the social factors affecting its spread.28 Rather,

my principal aim is to investigate the logical and sociological nexus between

pseudoscience and postmodernism.


footnote 28:

For a shrewd meditation on the former question, see Levitt (1999, especially pp. 12-22

and chapter 4). The latter question is indirectly addressed by Burnham (1987), in the context

of a fascinating history of the popularization of science in the United States in the nineteenth

and twentieth centuries.


For my own part, I have been struck by the fact that nearly all the pseudoscientific systems

to be examined in this essay are based philosophically on vitalism: that is, the idea that living

beings, and especially human beings, are endowed with some special quality ( “life energy”,

elan vital, prana, q i ) that transcends the ordinary laws of physics. Mainstream science has

rejected vitalism since at least the 1930s, for a plethora of good reasons that have only become

stronger with time (see e.g. Mayr 1982). But these good reasons are understood by only a tiny

fraction of the populace, even in the industrialized countries where science is supposedly held

in high esteem. Moreover — and perhaps much more importantly — the anti-vitalism charac­

teristic of modem science is deeply unsettling emotionally to most (perhaps all) people, even

to those who are not conventionally religious. See again Levitt (1999). Of course, none of these

speculations pretend to any scientific rigor; careful empirical investigation by psychologists

and sociologists is required.


vitalism -.-



Sokal mentions the experiment.


the proponents must really feel bad… even a child can disprove their beliefs. how study are they??? hopefully, it was only a fringe idea, right, right?


When I first heard about Emily’s experiment, I admired her ingenuity but

wondered whether anyone really took Therapeutic Touch seriously. How

wrong I was! Therapeutic Touch is taught in more than 80 college and uni­

versity schools of nursing in at least 70 countries, is practiced in at least

80 hospitals across North America, and is promoted by leading American

nursing associations.32 Its inventor claims to have trained more than 47,000

practitioners over a 26-year period, who have gone on to train many more.33

At least 245 books or dissertations have been published that include “Thera­

peutic Touch” in the title, subject headings or table of contents.34 All in all,

Therapeutic Touch appears to have become one of the most widely practiced

“holistic” nursing techniques.





cited from pseudoscience source:

[0]ur intuitive faculty is nothing other than a source of sound premises about the

nature of reality…. [T]here exists within us a source of direct information about

reality that can teach us all we need to know.


top #1 reason not to teach Plato’s nonsense.



But of course, those who believe in Genesis or transubstantiation do not

consider these ideas to be crazy; quite the contrary, they think that they have

good reasons to hold their beliefs. Indeed, Harris argues convincingly that

whenever any person P believes any proposition X — at least in the ordi­

nary sense of the English word “believe” — this requires, first of all, that P

must believe X to be true, i.e. to be a factually accurate representation of

the world; and secondly, that P must think he has good reasons to believe

X, in the sense that he envisions his belief as caused, at least in part, by

the fact that X is true. As Harris puts it (p. 63), “there must be some causal

connection, or an appearance thereof, between the fact in question and my

acceptance of it.”


this kind of causal reliabilism will not work. cf.




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

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.




Review: Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Richard Feynmann)

Richard Feynman Surely Youre Joking Mr Feynman v5 ebook download free pdf


this is a fun, easy to read book. i was told to read it by a friend. i read it to avoid doing the linguistics tests im supposed to do. useful procrastination ftw!


As usual, comments and quotes below



Another thing I did in high school was to invent problems and theorems. I mean, if I were doing

any mathematical thing at all, I would find some practical example for which it would be useful. I

invented a set of right-triangle problems. But instead of giving the lengths of two of the sides to

find the third, I gave the difference of the two sides. A typical example was: There’s a flagpole, and

there’s a rope that comes down from the top. When you hold the rope straight down, it’s three feet

longer than the pole, and when you pull the rope out tight, it’s five feet from the base of the pole.

How high is the pole?


tricky, but certainly doable for primary school children. the smart of them. im fairly certain that a lot of high school students wud not be able to solve this.



I tried to explain–it was my own aunt–that there was no reason not to do that, but you can’t say

that to anybody who’s smart, who runs a hotel! I learned there that innovation is a very difficult

thing in the real world.


truth! this is politics in a nutshell, any kind of politics: national, local, office…



The other guy’s afraid, so he says no. So I take the two girls in a taxi to the hotel, and discover

that there’s a dance organized by the deaf and dumb, believe it or not. They all belonged to a club.

It turns out many of them can feel the rhythm enough to dance to the music and applaud the band at

the end of each number.


It was very, very interesting! I felt as if I was in a foreign country and couldn’t speak the

language: I could speak, but nobody could hear me. Everybody was talking with signs to everybody

else, and I couldn’t understand anything! I asked my girl to teach me some signs and I learned a few,

like you learn a foreign language, just for fun.


Everyone was so happy and relaxed with each other, making jokes and smiling all the time; they

didn’t seem to have any real difficulty of any kind communicating with each other. It was the same

as with any other language, except for one thing: as they’re making signs to each other, their heads

were always turning from one side to the other. I realized what that was. When someone wants to

make a side remark or interrupt you, he can’t yell, “Hey, Jack!” He can only make a signal, which

you won’t catch unless you’re in the habit of looking around all the time.


never thought of that, but true!



When it came time for me to give my talk on the subject, I started off by drawing an outline of

the cat and began to name the various muscles.

The other students in the class interrupt me: “We know all that!”

“Oh,” I say, “you do? Then no wonder I can catch up with you so fast after you’ve had four years

of biology.” They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up

in fifteen minutes.


ive heard this complaint lots of time about biology. i rather like evolutionary biology, which surely cannot be learned in 15 mins, but i dunno abouy plant cell biology or whatever. is biology mostly just remembering stuff? surely things like genetics, pop* genetics, evolutionary theory are hard.



At the Princeton graduate school, the physics department and the math department shared a

common lounge, and every day at four o’clock we would have tea. It was a way of relaxing in the

afternoon, in addition to imitating an English college. People would sit around playing Go, or

discussing theorems. In those days topology was the big thing.

I still remember a guy sitting on the couch, thinking very hard, and another guy standing in front

of him, saying, “And therefore such-and-such is true.”


“Why is that?” the guy on the couch asks.


“It’s trivial! It’s trivial!” the standing guy says, and he rapidly reels off a series of logical steps:

“First you assume thus-and-so, then we have Kerchoff’s this-and-that; then there’s Waffenstoffer’s

Theorem, and we substitute this and construct that. Now you put the vector which goes around here

and then thus-and-so . . .” The guy on the couch is struggling to understand all this stuff, which

goes on at high speed for about fifteen minutes!


Finally the standing guy comes out the other end, and the guy on the couch says, “Yeah, yeah.

It’s trivial.”


We physicists were laughing, trying to figure them out. We decided that “trivial” means

“proved.” So we joked with the mathematicians: “We have a new theorem–that mathematicians can

prove only trivial theorems, because every theorem that’s proved is trivial.”


i thought of that befor. it makes certain theories of tautologies rather implausible. if tautologies, or necessary truths are all trivial, and just restating things – why arent they all obvius? …



One thing I never did learn was contour integration. I had learned to do integrals by various

methods shown in a book that my high school physics teacher Mr. Bader had given me.


One day he told me to stay after class. “Feynman,” he said, “you talk too much and you make

too much noise. I know why. You’re bored. So I’m going to give you a book. You go up there in the

back, in the corner, and study this book, and when you know everything that’s in this book, you can

talk again.”


i wish my teachers wud hav don that to me! or that i had grown up with Khan academy!



In another experiment, I laid out a lot of glass microscope slides, and got the ants to walk on

them, back and forth, to some sugar I put on the windowsill. Then, by replacing an old slide with a

new one, or by rearranging the slides, I could demonstrate that the ants had no sense of geometry:

they couldn’t figure out where something was. If they went to the sugar one way and there was a

shorter way back, they would never figure out the short way.

It was also pretty clear from rearranging the glass slides that the ants left some sort of trail. So

then came a lot of easy experiments to find out how long it takes a trail to dry up, whether it can be

easily wiped off, and so on. I also found out the trail wasn’t directional. If I’d pick up an ant on a

piece of paper, turn him around and around, and then put him back onto the trail, he wouldn’t know

that he was going the wrong way until he met another ant. (Later, in Brazil, I noticed some leaf-

cutting ants and tried the same experiment on them. They could tell, within a few steps, whether

they were going toward the food or away from it–presumably from the trail, which might be a

series of smells in a pattern: A, B, space, A, B, space, and so on.)

I tried at one point to make the ants go around in a circle, but I didn’t have enough patience to set

it up. I could see no reason, other than lack of patience, why it couldn’t be done.


yes, that DOES happen by accident in nature.



So Frankel figured out a nice program. If we got enough of these machines in a room, we could

take the cards and put them through a cycle. Everybody who does numerical calculations now

knows exactly what I’m talking about, but this was kind of a new thing then–mass production with

machines. We had done things like this on adding machines. Usually you go one step across, doing

everything yourself. But this was different–where you go first to the adder, then to the multiplier,

then to the adder, and so on. So Frankel designed this system and ordered the machines from the

IBM company because we realized it was a good way of solving our problems.


We needed a man to repair the machines, to keep them going and everything. And the army was

always going to send this fellow they had, but he was always delayed. Now, we always were in a

hurry. Everything we did, we tried to do as quickly as possible. In this particular case, we worked

out all the numerical steps that the machines were supposed to do–multiply this, and then do this,

and subtract that. Then we worked out the program, but we didn’t have any machine to test it on. So

we set up this room with girls in it. Each one had a Marchant: one was the multiplier, another was

the adder. This one cubed–all she did was cube a number on an index card and send it to the next



We went through our cycle this way until we got all the bugs out. It turned out that the speed at

which we were able to do it was a hell of a lot faster than the other way where every single person

did all the steps. We got speed with this system that was the predicted speed for the IBM machine.

The only difference is that the IBM machines didn’t get tired and could work three shifts. But the

girls got tired after a while.





Well, Mr. Frankel, who started this program, began to suffer from the computer disease that

anybody who works with computers now knows about. It’s a very serious disease and it interferes

completely with the work. The trouble with computers is you play with them. They are so

wonderful. You have these switches–if it’s an even number you do this, if it’s an odd number you

do that–and pretty soon you can do more and more elaborate things if you are clever enough, on

one machine.





All during the war, and even after, there were these perpetual rumors: “Somebody’s been trying

to get into Building Omega!” You see, during the war they were doing experiments for the bomb in

which they wanted to get enough material together for the chain reaction to just get started. They

would drop one piece of material through another, and when it went through, the reaction would

start and they’d measure how many neutrons they got. The piece would fall through so fast that

nothing should build up and explode. Enough of a reaction would begin, however, so they could

tell that things were really starting correctly, that the rates were right, and everything was going

according to prediction–a very dangerous experiment!


O_o, very dangerus experiment indeed!



That evening I went for a walk in town, and came upon a small crowd of people standing around

a great big rectangular hole in the road–it had been dug for sewer pipes, or something–and there,

sitting exactly in the hole, was a car. It was marvelous: it fitted absolutely perfectly, with its roof

level with the road. The workmen hadn’t bothered to put up any signs at the end of the day, and the

guy had simply driven into it. I noticed a difference: When we’d dig a hole, there’d be all kinds of

detour signs and flashing lights to protect us. There, they dig the hole, and when they’re finished for

the day, they just leave.





The meeting in Japan was in two parts: one was in Tokyo, and the other was in Kyoto. In the bus

on the way to Kyoto I told my friend Abraham Pais about the Japanese-style hotel, and he wanted

to try it. We stayed at the Hotel Miyako, which had both American-style and Japanese-style rooms,

and Pais shared a Japanese-style room with me.


The next morning the young woman taking care of our room fixes the bath, which was right in

our room. Sometime later she returns with a tray to deliver breakfast. I’m partly dressed. She turns

to me and says, politely, “Ohayo, gozai masu,” which means, “Good morning.”

Pais is just coming out of the bath, sopping wet and completely nude. She turns to him and with

equal composure says, “Ohayo, gozai masu,” and puts the tray down for us.

Pais looks at me and says, “God, are we uncivilized!”


We realized that in America if the maid was delivering breakfast and the guy’s standing there,

stark naked, there would be little screams and a big fuss. But in Japan they were completely used to

it, and we felt that they were much more advanced and civilized about those things than we were.


stupid puritanism and fear of nakedness.



There was a sociologist who had written a paper for us all to read–something he had written

ahead of time. I started to read the damn thing, and my eyes were coming out: I couldn’t make head

nor tail of it! I figured it was because I hadn’t read any of the books on that list. I had this uneasy

feeling of “I’m not adequate,” until finally I said to myself, “I’m gonna stop, and read one sentence

slowly, so I can figure out what the hell it means.”

So I stopped–at random–and read the next sentence very carefully. I can’t remember it precisely,

but it was very close to this: “The individual member of the social community often receives his

information via visual, symbolic channels.” I went back and forth over it, and translated. You know

what it means? “People read.”


Then I went over the next sentence, and I realized that I could translate that one also. Then it

became a kind of empty business: “Sometimes people read; sometimes people listen to the radio,”

and so on, but written in such a fancy way that I couldn’t understand it at first, and when I finally

deciphered it, there was nothing to it.


There was only one thing that happened at that meeting that was pleasant or amusing. At this

conference, every word that every guy said at the plenary session was so important that they had a

stenotypist there, typing every goddamn thing. Somewhere on the second day the stenotypist came

up to me and said, “What profession are you? Surely not a professor.”

“I am a professor,” I said.

“Of what?”

“Of physics–science.”

“Oh! That must be the reason,” he said.

“Reason for what?” He said, “You see, I’m a stenotypist, and I type everything that is said here. Now, when the other

fellas talk, I type what they say, but I don’t understand what they’re saying. But every time you get

up to ask a question or to say something, I understand exactly what you mean–what the question is,

and what you’re saying–so I thought you can’t be a professor!”


yes, it is mor difficult to say somthing clearly than to obscure it.



There was a special dinner at some point, and the head of the theology place, a very nice, very

Jewish man, gave a speech. It was a good speech, and he was a very good speaker, so while it

sounds crazy now, when I’m telling about it, at that time his main idea sounded completely obvious

and true. He talked about the big differences in the welfare of various countries, which cause

jealousy, which leads to conflict, and now that we have atomic weapons, any war and we’re

doomed, so therefore the right way out is to strive for peace by making sure there are no great

differences from place to place, and since we have so much in the United States, we should give up

nearly everything to the other countries until we’re all even. Everybody was listening to this, and

we were all full of sacrificial feeling, and all thinking we ought to do this. But I came back to my

senses on the way home.


The next day one of the guys in our group said, “I think that speech last night was so good that

we should all endorse it, and it should be the summary of our conference.”

I started to say that the idea of distributing everything evenly is based on a theory that there’s

only X amount of stuff in the world, that somehow we took it away from the poorer countries in the

first place, and therefore we should give it back to them. But this theory doesn’t take into account

the real reason for the differences between countries–that is, the development of new techniques

for growing food, the development of machinery to grow food and to do other things, and the fact

that all this machinery requires the concentration of capital. It isn’t the stuff, but the power to make

the stuff, that is important. But I realize now that these people were not in science; they didn’t

understand it. They didn’t understand technology; they didn’t understand their time.


sounds like sorryaboutcolonialism (see


these inequalities ar ther becus of ppl ar unequal to begin with. even if we redistributed wealth, it wudnt take long b4 whites and asians were superior again.



Once I was asked to serve on a committee which was to evaluate various weapons for the army,

and I wrote a letter back which explained that I was only a theoretical physicist, and I didn’t know

anything about weapons for the army.


The army responded that they had found in their experience that theoretical physicists were very

useful to them in making decisions, so would I please reconsider?

I wrote back again and said I didn’t really know anything, and doubted I could help them.

Finally I got a letter from the Secretary of the Army, which proposed a compromise: I would

come to the first meeting, where I could listen and see whether I could make a contribution or not.

Then I could decide whether I should continue.

I said I would, of course. What else could I do?

I went down to Washington and the first thing that I went to was a cocktail party to meet

everybody. There were generals and other important characters from the army, and everybody

talked. It was pleasant enough.


One guy in a uniform came to me and told me that the army was glad that physicists were

advising the military because it had a lot of problems. One of the problems was that tanks use up

their fuel very quickly and thus can’t go very far. So the question was how to refuel them as they’re

going along. Now this guy had the idea that, since the physicists can get energy out of uranium,

could I work out a way in which we could use silicon dioxide–sand, dirt–as a fuel? If that were

possible, then all this tank would have to do would be to have a little scoop underneath, and as it

goes along, it would pick up the dirt and use it for fuel! He thought that was a great idea, and that

all I had to do was to work out the details. That was the kind of problem I thought we would be

talking about in the meeting the next day.


i wonder… ar they still so depressingly dumb?



This question of trying to figure out whether a book is good or bad by looking at it carefully or

by taking the reports of a lot of people who looked at it carelessly is like this famous old problem:

Nobody was permitted to see the Emperor of China, and the question was, What is the length of the

Emperor of China’s nose? To find out, you go all over the country asking people what they think

the length of the Emperor of China’s nose is, and you average it. And that would be very “accurate”

because you averaged so many people. But it’s no way to find anything out; when you have a very

wide range of people who contribute without looking carefully at it, you don’t improve your

knowledge of the situation by averaging.


F seems to be wrong, but he might hav a point about the conditions under which wisdom of the crowds averaging works.



I thought: “Now where is the ego located? I know everybody thinks the seat of thinking is in the

brain, but how do they know that?” I knew already from reading things that it wasn’t so obvious to

people before a lot of psychological studies were made. The Greeks thought the seat of thinking

was in the liver, for instance. I wondered, “Is it possible that where the ego is located is learned by

children looking at people putting their hand to their head when they say, ‘Let me think’? Therefore

the idea that the ego is located up there, behind the eyes, might be conventional!” I figured that if I

could move my ego an inch to one side, I could move it further. This was the beginning of my


Feynmann didnt do his research properly.

”During the second half of the first millennium BC, the Ancient Greeks developed differing views on the function of the brain. It is said that it was the Pythagorean Alcmaeon of Croton (6th and 5th centuries BC) who first considered the brain to be the place where the mind was located. In the 4th century BC Hippocrates, believed the brain to be the seat of intelligence (based, among others before him, on Alcmaeon’s work). During the 4th century BC Aristotle thought that, while the heart was the seat of intelligence, the brain was a cooling mechanism for the blood. He reasoned that humans are more rational than the beasts because, among other reasons, they have a larger brain to cool their hot-bloodedness.[2]



Other kinds of errors are more characteristic of poor science. When I was at Cornell, I often

talked to the people in the psychology department. One of the students told me she wanted to do an

experiment that went something like this–it had been found by others that under certain

circumstances, X, rats did something, A. She was curious as to whether, if she changed the

circumstances to Y, they would still do A. So her proposal was to do the experiment under

circumstances Y and see if they still did A.


I explained to her that it was necessary first to repeat in her laboratory the experiment of the

other person–to do it under condition X to see if she could also get result A, and then change to Y

and see if A changed. Then she would know that the real difference was the thing she thought she

had under control.


She was very delighted with this new idea, and went to her professor. And his reply was, no, you

cannot do that, because the experiment has already been done and you would be wasting time. This

was in about 1947 or so, and it seems to have been the general policy then to not try to repeat

psychological experiments, but only to change the conditions and see what happens.


sadly, this is STILL the case!



So I have just one wish for you–the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain

the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel heed by a need to maintain your

position In the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that




Feynmann wud hav been sad to see the state of affairs of the modern publish or perish science, the lack of repetitions in various fields, the publication bias, the near impossibility of politically incorrect science.

Review: Particle Physics, A very short introduction (Frank Close)

It’s pretty decent. I definitely learned a lot of quarks and squarks and other strange entities!

Particle Physics – A Very Short Introduction

The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) is 2070 metres below
ground in a nickel mine in Sudbury, Ontario. Its heart is an acrylic
vessel filled with 1,000 tonnes of ‘heavy water’, called deuterium, in
which a neutron joins the single proton of ordinary hydrogen. In
SNO, electron-neutrinos interact with the neutrons in the
deuterium to create protons and electrons, and the fast-moving
electrons emit cones of Cerenkov radiation as they travel through
the heavy water. The Cerenkov light forms patterns of rings on the
inner surface of the water tank, where it is picked up by thousands
of phototubes arrayed around the walls.

Thats not right. Deuterium is not heavy water. But heavy water usually contains deuterium. At least, if one is using “heavy water” as any water molecule heavier than normal, that is, which contains either deuterium or tritium or a higher isotope of oxygen (17 or 18). See also Wikipedia on heavy water.

This is the first fortunate circumstance. Humans are the pinnacle of
evolution and it has taken almost all of those 5 billion years for us
to emerge. Had the Sun burned faster, it would have died before
we arrived.

Biologists hate such talk. Assuming that life only started once on Earth, then every single nonextinct lifeform is evolved to the same degree. At least, if that is what one means by having used the same time evolving since the first life.