Tuesday, December 28, 2004

At Whom Are We Laughing?

I have an article that somebody tore out of the September 1998 Physics Today, called "The Sokal Hoax: At Whom Are We Laughing?" The article points out that pioneers of quantum theory such as Bohr and Pauli were quite happy to pontificate about political, spiritual, artistic, or mystical/religious implications of quantum mechanics. If black-sweatered deconstructionist humanities professors were to say similar things today, they would be considered naive or stupid by most scientists today.

I don't think I tore this article out myself, I think someone sent it to me or gave it to me in 1998. It bothers me that I can't remember who.


At 12:37 PM, December 30, 2004, Blogger Matt Bruce said...

Wouldn't most of the political comments made in Pauli or Bohr's time strike well-informed people of today as stupid or naive?

Two things seem to have happened: First, with information traveling so much faster than it used to, something like natural selection is taking place with opinions and arguments and belief systems. The transaction costs of ordinary people debating each other have gone way down.

Second, (on the other hand) for whatever reason, the truly erudite turtleneck-wearing humanities people (at least they think they're erudite) have resorted to a level of intellectual exchange that many even intelligent people have a a hard time distinguishing from gibberish. The two possibilities are, for any given piece of seeming gibberish, either that it really does mean something we're not smart enough to comprehend, or it really is gibberish.

The warm reception given to Sokal's original submission (which actually WAS gibberish, or at least intended to be) suggests to me that a lot of humanities' eggheads' b.s. detectors don't work very well.

Funny thing about comprehension: After typing out everything you see above, I realized that the crux of the post was that Bohr and Pauli were commenting about the political implications **of quantum mechanics**. I'd say a prerequisite to doing this intelligently is that you actually understand what quantum mechanics is (are?). Whether deconstructionist humanities professors understand the basic principles (and more importantly can write well enough that readers trust that they do) is an open question.

Of course even modern *scientists* are all too happy to comment on the politicial implications of various and sundry things. c.f. Slashdot.


Post a Comment

<< Home