Sokal, Alan. Fashionable nonsense: postmodern intellectuals' abuse of science First published in France under the title Impostures Intellectuelles by. Editions. Essay review of Sokal and Bricmont's "Intellectual Impostures" defending Bergson and Deleuze against the authors claims that they distort or are ignorant of science, in particular Deleuze's discussion of calculus. Metascience 01/; 9(3) Essay Review: Buffon Studies. Intellectual Impostures. By Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. By John von Neumann. Article (PDF Available) in.
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File:Sokal Alan Bricmont Jean Imposture intellettuali pdf Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont: Intellectual Impostures: Postmodern Philosophers'. Intellectual Impostures, Profile Books ISBN 1 Intellectual Impostures has now been published in number of languages including. Intellectual Impostures: postmodern philosophers' abuse of science aydınların bilimi kötüye kullanmaları Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals'.
For him, it was just a word.
It had something to do with science and technology and the future and seemed rather glamorous and was much talked-about then. It was clearly just the thing to impress the readers of a provincial newspaper. I didn't pursue the matter and we saw little of each other subsequently. The last I heard of him, he was doing well as an estate agent. This was hard luck. Even more unjustly, he was not awarded a tenure-track post in humanities on the strength of his allusion to cybernetics, or a Chair in the Systems of Thought at the University of Paris.
Like Roger, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Jean Baudrillard and Gilles Deleuze have the habit of using terms of which they have not the faintest understanding, in order to impress the impressionable.
Unlike Roger, they did not grow out of it and, also unlike Roger, they were rewarded not with obscurity but with international fame and the adulation of seemingly intelligent academics the world over. For many years, Lacan, Derrida, Kristeva et al got away with murder, confident that their readers would have only the slightest acquaintance with the areas of knowledge they expropriated to prop up their ideas and their reputation for scholarship, indeed for omniscience.
Few if any real historians took note of Michel Foucault's eccentric periodisations; with a single exception, analytical philosophers did not think of Derrida as someone to engage in a debate about the contemporary significance of J. Eventually the postmodern Theorists started to attract the attention of experts in the disciplines into which they had strayed. Linguists looked at their linguistics and found it littered with elementary errors. Derrida, for example, repeatedly confused the sign as a whole with the signifier and so have his many hundreds of thousands of obedient disciples.
This error is one of the cornerstones of his work. Other linguists were amused by the Derrideans' ignorance of linguistics outside of Saussure -- this ignorance perhaps strengthening their confidence in their ability to pronounce on the whole of language. Historians have examined Foucault's egregious versions of the history of thought and have discovered that even the miniscule and eccentric empirical base upon which his broad sweep theories are poised is grossly at variance with the documentary evidence.
Indeed, one does not have to be much of a scholar to demonstrate that Foucault's epistemes and the so-called ruptures epistemologiques separating them -- the central notions of the book The Order of Things that brought him his international fame -- correspond in no way to any historical reality. Names that should fit into one of his periods are awkwardly active in others and disciplines that transcend his periods prove to be more numerous than he had thought.
One or two people did try to point this out to him while he was alive but you can't tell a Professor of the History of Systems of Thought at the Collge de France anything. It is interesting how contempt for facts goes hand in hand with a propensity for fabricating evidence. Perhaps there is a kind of consistency in combining hatred of truth -- and the very notion of truth -- with a love of error.
Some of the most detailed critical examinations have been carried out on postmodern theorists' misrepresentations of philosophical ideas and the history of philosophical thought. Surely, then, the game should have been up a long time ago.
This has been suggested by Terry Eagleton. To judge from his recently acquired hostility to postmodernist Theory, he has sensed that the clever money is moving on, and that now might be the time to switch from fellow travelling and collaboration to resistance. He has not, however, withdrawn his uncritical but lucrative Literary Theory. In a favourable review of M. Times Literary Supplement, 2 January , p. The laboured irony ill-befits one who has done very well financially and otherwise out of postmodern Theory.
At any rate, it is true that there is, indeed, always a risk that out there there might be a reader of the Liverpool Echo who will take notice and ask you what cybernetics is or wonder about your credentials for talking about it. So is the game is up? The appalling truth is that all the damaging revelations about the incompetence of the postmodern theorists have caused little or no damage to the major players or, indeed, to the industry itself.
The continuing dissemination of postmodern Theory and its increasingly powerful grip on the humanities almost beggars belief: there can be few liberal arts students who do not encounter Theory in their courses and for many of them, such as those studying literature, it lies like an incubus over the entire curriculum. How can this be possible? The protection built into Theory and its web of affiliated schools, weatherproofing it against criticism, is very thick indeed: it is composed of layer on layer of ignorance.
Nor, not infrequently, will their teachers or the teachers who taught them. The bibliographies that are dished out to support the postmodernist history of philosophy will often exclude the works of Plato, Descartes or even Heidegger. Both teachers and texts, in other words, will be several orders removed from engagement with, knowledge of, reflection upon, the thinkers whose thoughts are incorporated into the postmodernists' global systems of understanding that students have to accept on trust.
Those and I include myself among them who imagined that demonstrating the factual errors, empirical inadequacy, logical inconsistency and explanatory failures of postmodern Theory would be sufficient to raze the card castle to the ground had not taken account of this multi-layered insulation of the theorists.
They also suggest that, in criticising Irigaray, Sokal and Bricmont sometimes go beyond their area of expertise in the sciences and simply express a differing position on gender politics. In Jacques Derrida 's response, "Sokal and Bricmont Aren't Serious", first published in Le Monde , Derrida writes that the Sokal hoax is rather "sad", not only because Alan Sokal's name is now linked primarily to a hoax , not to science , but also because the chance to reflect seriously on this issue has been ruined for a broad public forum that deserves better.
He calls it ridiculous and weird that there are intensities of treatment by the scientists, in particular, that he was "much less badly treated," when in fact he was the main target of the US press. He suggests there are plenty of scientists who have pointed out the difficulty of attacking his response.
He then writes of his hope that in the future this work is pursued more seriously and with dignity at the level of the issues involved. Probably no one concerned with postmodernism has remained unaware of it. People have been bitterly divided. Some are delighted, some are enraged. One friend of mine told me that Sokal's article came up in a meeting of a left reading group that he belongs to. The discussion became polarized between impassioned supporters and equally impassioned opponents of Sokal [ From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science Cover of the first edition. Main article: Sokal affair. Lingua Franca. Retrieved March 5, Intellectual Impostures. Profile Books. New Politics. Archived from the original on May 12, Fashionable Nonsense. New York: Retrieved 15 April Oxford University Press. Event occurs at 3: Retrieved 25 June We do not show what new insights and ways of thinking he brings to bear on questions of mental processes except indirectly.
Nor do we offer reasons why Lacan is worth trying hard to understand. Of course, both targets are not always to be found in the work of each author they canvass. The second target, for instance, is not to be found in the work of Lacan.
Perhaps the best way to approach it is via the gap which separates the modern universe of science from traditional knowledge: for Lacan, modern science is not just another local narrative grounded in its specific pragmatic conditions, since it does relate to the mathematical Real beneath the symbolic universe.
In any case, this is evidence of the centrality Lacan gives to mathematical formalization in his attempt to establish the way in which psychoanalysis may be considered scientific. But in what way, exactly, does Lacan abuse mathematical ideas? The most common tactic is to use scientific or pseudo— scientific terminology without bothering much about what the words actually mean.
If a biolo- gist wanted to apply, in her research, elementary notions of mathematical topology, set theory, or differential geometry, she would be asked to give some explanation.
A vague analogy would not be taken very seriously by her colleagues. Here, by contrast, we learn from Lacan that the structure of the neurotic subject is exactly the torus it is no less than reality itself.
The goal is, no doubt, to impress and, above all, to intimidate the nonscientist reader. Some of these authors exhibit a veritable intoxication with words, combined with a superb indif- ference to their meaning. We organize our comments around questions of style and questions of substance. As we have already stated, many people, indeed many Lacanians, would agree that much of what Lacan said and wrote is very difficult to follow.
This is true not only of his views on and use of scientific and mathematical ideas, but also of his analyses of literature in other fields psychoanalysis, the hu- manities, social science, etc. But is this really the case? Probably not. Although he sometimes obliges in this regard,3 he for the most part clearly implies that his audience drawn from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds ought to take the initiative and investigate his recommended direc- tions of research if they feel so inclined.
Would it make any difference if Lacan took a principled position against pedagogically styled discourse? In fact, it turns out that Lacan —70 took an ex- tremely critical view of pedagogically styled discourse, always cautioning his audience to resist understanding too quickly. This does not mean that Lacan believed the obviously absurd view that pedagogy has no place in our society; only that he deliberately declined to adopt it himself in the delivery of his seminars and writings.
This is always worth keeping in mind. In a society structured by tight time constraints and imperatives of efficiency, it is natural to demand explanations that are quickly and easily digestible.
It has become second nature to expect clear instructions or guidelines on how to accomplish tasks or live a happier life. But Lacan is concerned first and foremost with what happens in the clinic, and his seminars and writings are addressed primarily to analysts.
It is from these concerns that his statements on misunderstanding directly spring. Why should he go out of his way to caution his audience to resist understanding too quickly?
Precisely because he is con- cerned that analysts are tempted to understand their patients too quickly. To under- stand something means to translate a term into other terms Postures and Impostures that we are already familiar with.
Instead of accessing the patient in his or her uniqueness, instead of being open to something new and different, analysts effectively reinforce their own self-understanding.
No doubt it is unsettling when we are confronted with something we cannot immediately understand. No doubt it is comforting to believe that we understand each other and that we all share certain aspirations and standards of morality. But, Lacan wants to claim, this comes at a price. The price we pay for an undue reliance on immediate understanding is an unthinking acceptance of premises we have come to rely on and that cease to elicit the need for justification.
Think, for instance, of the ideal of pedagogy. This is often taken as an unquestioned ideal that requires no justification.
And the strategy he chose to adopt in this regard involved systematically creating a margin of nonunderstanding. He recognized in this strategy its potential productiveness— productive in terms of generating a desire for responsible understanding and in terms of generating re- search.
In short, Lacan is not celebrating misunderstanding.
Rather, he is making an argument in favour of responsible understanding. As Fink notes, Lacan is seeking to have certain effects on the reader other than meaning effects: he is seeking to evoke, to provoke, to unsettle us—not to lull us but to jolt us out of our conceptual ruts. To accuse Lacan of this, implying thereby that he has nothing of value to say about mathematics in relation to psychoanalysis, would then be to make a category mistake.
It would be like ridiculing the work of an eminent physicist at the cutting edge of his or her discipline because he or she was either not willing or not capable of pedagogical delivery. We all agree that one can better follow an advanced physics seminar by becoming familiar with relevant prerequi- site courses.
From this perspective, each of his twenty-five seminars can be viewed as building upon even if sometimes in the sense of reacting against material produced in earlier seminars, not to mention the literature whether contemporaneous or not Lacan constantly engaged with.
Indeed, as is well known, his early papers on family complexes and criminology, or his early seminars, are very accessible, almost Anglo-Saxon in style see, for example, Lacan Though Lacan was often explicit in his references to past seminars, these references were also often implicit, obvious only to those who were familiar with his previous teachings. In my opinion. This process of reading Lacan is conducted with the utmost attention to detail, both because his seminars are a product of an editing exercise established from a collection of transcripts and from a non-French perspective because of the many problems that arise on account of the translation process.
The scholar or trainee, in other words, develops a critical understanding and opinion of the text after a difficult and protracted period of study. But then again, many may also drop mathematical physics after an equally arduous several- year struggle with that subject. They erect as the sole and unquestioned criterion of assessment a traditionally conceived pedagogical style, often using its ab- sence as evidence that Lacan abused well-established substan- tive knowledge.
The price they pay is heavy. For they do not know who Lacan is beyond the straw man they very entertain- ingly project. Lacan is explicit in giving us the opportunity not to understand him completely so that we may then take on full responsibility in trying to explain him. What is there then to stop him from deploying obscure references to the mathematical sciences in order to prop himself up as Master?
Should we not, as mathematical scientists, disabuse those poor souls who insist on taking Lacan seriously? This becomes clear when their analysis of Lacan is contrasted with their analysis of, say, Kristeva. Problems arise when the link between his mathematical statements and psychoana- lytic theory is unclear.
We have already seen that Lacan suffers from the supposed drawback of not being pedagogical enough. Instead, Lacan jumps straight into the interpretation of mathematical symbols from a psychoanalytic point of view. But this view stems from only one possible perspective on the nature of mathematics.
Admittedly, it is intuitively appealing and taps into commonsense ways about how we think of mathematics. But it is based on an underdeveloped analogy with an equally underdeveloped idea of linguistic meaning. It is worth noting, in this respect, that Lacan spent considerable time and effort articulating concepts such as analogy and meaning in relation to much literature on the philosophy of science and math- ematics.