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What can we learn from the Sokal Hoax?

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Boojatta Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-29-08 03:34 PM
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What can we learn from the Sokal Hoax?
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Dr. Strange Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-01-08 11:37 AM
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1. My all-time favorite hoax!
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Orrex Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-01-08 11:58 AM
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2. Sokal's book "Fashionable Nonsense" is also well worth reading
Great stuff!
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LeftishBrit Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-01-08 11:59 AM
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3. That was a great hoax!
Edited on Wed Oct-01-08 11:59 AM by LeftishBrit
And in a way it does not surprise me that people fell for it. I have tried at times to read postmodernist philosophers, and maybe my brain just lacks the necessary module for such things, but I find them totally incomprehensible - and they sound very much like the hoax paper. Especially when they start mixing their stuff with science or mathematics.

Has anyone else read Sokal and Bricmont's 'Intellectual Impostures'? It contains some examples of very jargon-filled and pretentious writings by well-known contemporary philosophers. I realize one could probably get a similar collection from many disciplines if one tried; but some of it was truly stunning. It's some time since I read it, but I remember that someone- possibly Lacane himself (certainly someone coming from a Freudian influence) - suggested that the square root of -1 symbolizes a penis!
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moggie Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-01-08 02:54 PM
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5. Yes, that was Lacan
Intellectual Impostures was hilarious and infuriating. There was a lot of that mathematical nonsense in it: the one I particularly remember is Luce Irigaray claiming that E = mc**2 is a sexed (male) equation. Presumably there's no room for special relativity in her feminist physics.

Have you heard of Labov's Test? Here's a brief description from Language Log:

This ... reminds me of a parlor game that a colleague of mine claims to have played, back in the day when it was easier to find academics who took Derrida seriously.

My colleague would open one of Derrida's works to a random page, pick a random sentence, write it down, and then (above or below it) write a variant in which positive and negative were interchanged, or a word or phrase was replaced with one of opposite meaning. He would then challenge the assembled Derrida partisans to guess which was the original and which was the variant. The point was that Derrida's admirers are generally unable to distinguish his pronouncements from their opposites at better than chance level, suggesting that the content is a sophisticated form of white noise. On this view, as Wolfgang Pauli once said of someone else, Derrida is "not even wrong.".


We need more Sokals.
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LeftishBrit Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-01-08 03:33 PM
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6. I once had a student who worshipped Derrida and the French philosophers
He used to get in endless debates with his tutors and lecturers about whether 'science is just another religion' which happens to be a dominant mode of thought at the moment, and suggested that I was only studying Experimental Psychology (rather than studying the human mind from a French philosopher's point of view) because it was the 'Zeitgeist'.

This must have been in 2004, because I remember having rather little patience with the idea of a general pro-science 'Zeigeist' just after Bush had been re-elected!
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Anarcho-Socialist Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-01-08 08:16 PM
Response to Reply #6
10. I sympathise
I debated with philosophy students when I was at uni, some of whom were affected by the postmodernist bug. This bug seemed a hodge podge of relativism, worship of Derrida and/or Lacan, and the throwing out of all hitherto knowledge because of inherent phallogocentrism, a baby out with the bathwater if ever there was one.
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WoodrowFan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-01-08 01:56 PM
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4. xkcd
XKCD touched on a similar idea.

http://xkcd.com/451 /


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realisticphish Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-01-08 07:11 PM
Response to Reply #4
8. xkcd rules
it should be in every newspaper
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Jim__ Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-01-08 04:15 PM
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7. One thing we can learn is how difficult "Transgressing the Boundaries" actually is.
A couple of thoughts and some questions. Sokal's paper is a difficult read for anyone who is not conversant with the topics he's writing about. I've read through his paper a number of times, and I'm sure I haven't identified all the nonsensical parts. Social Text is not a refereed journal, and did not vouch for the accuracy of the articles it printed. It also printed his article in a special edition called "Science Wars" - the article seemed pertinent to the topic. Should they have printed the article? What is the standard to be used? And does this standard apply universally?

The answers to those questions are important. If publishing nonsense in a non-refereed journal condemns all of post-modernism to ridicule, what are we to say of a number refereed physics journals that may have published nonsense (most physicists aren't sure). It's not as famous as the Sokal Hoax, but the Bogdonoff Affair is fairly well-known. The jargon in their papers published in refereed physics journals is impenetrable to all but a few:

For example, here's the beginning of Igor Bogdanoff's paper "Topological Origin of Inertia":

The phenomenon of inertia - or "pseudo-force" according to E. Mach <1> - has recently been presented by J. P. Vigier as one of the "unsolved mysteries of modern physics". Indeed our point of view is that this important question, which is well formulated in the context of Mach's principle, cannot be resolved or even understood in the framework of conventional field theory.

Here we suggest a novel approach, a direct outcome of the topological field theory proposed by Edward Witten in 1988 <3>. According to this approach, beyond the interpretation proposed by Mach, we consider inertia as a topological field, linked to the topological charge Q = 1 of the "singular zero size gravitational instanton" <4> which, according to <5>, can be identified with the initial singularity of space-time in the standard model.


It goes on to discuss the supposed connection between N = 2 supergravity, Donaldson theory, KMS states and the Foucault pendulum experiment, which he claims "cannot be explained satisfactorily in either classical or relativistic mechanics". If you know some physics you'll find this statement odd. The Foucault pendulum behaves exactly the way classical mechanics predicts: it is a standard textbook exercise!



It's not only post-modernism that has a problem with jargon. The lesson from the Sokal Hoax may well be that we may never know what the hell someone else is actually saying.
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Anarcho-Socialist Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-01-08 08:11 PM
Response to Original message
9. a favourite quote by Sokal
Edited on Wed Oct-01-08 08:12 PM by Anarcho-Socialist
"Anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. (I live on the twenty-first floor.)"
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