and now, a reminder about post-modernism

December 8, 2011

Despite being gone for a while, I’m sure that my now returning readers remember how often I used to pick on post-modernism whenever its ghost arose in the woo that is biocentrism, the fluffy haunt of many wannabe wise sages at the Huffington Post who decided that science is a tool of child abuse and oppression, that all that truly matters in the universe is their own perception of it, and that because they can summon terminology used in quantum mechanics, they proved that they’re immortal souls drifting between vast cosmic realms of their own design. Sure all that seems rather ridiculous, you may say, but surely, you can’t judge all of post- modernism solely by what you see from Deepak Chopra and his disciples, can you? If post-modernism truly is an exercise in packaging intellectual vacuity as profound insights into the universe, couldn’t you present an example or two not found on woo-friendly sites? The answer is yes, yes I could. In fact, allow me to present a phrase that I earnestly believe to be one of the most imbecilic things ever written down not in jest…

The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, [Luce Irigaray] attributes to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings which leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids… From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. Turbulent flow cannot be solved because conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders.

That quote is a summation of a thesis by a Belgian feminist philosopher positing that the laws of physics are sexist, containing references promoting the subjugation of women, using the odd dynamics laid out above as her key argument. If you’re feeling a sudden pain in your eyes and your brain began to violently scream in your skull as you read this, I certainly understand and please accept my apologies, though I did warn you. It’s right there on par with the barking mad ravings of William H. Depperman, but at least Depperman has the excuse of not being entirely sane while Irigaray is presumably somewhat in her right mind, even if one could make an entirely valid point by questioning whether this is the case. How did this little gem make it to light? Actually, it’s one of the highlights of Richard Dawkins’ delightful review of Fashionable Nonsense, a book by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont which put trendy, primarily French, post-modernist babble under factual scrutiny. As you’re probably well aware, the Alan Sokal in question is the scientist responsible for the eponymous hoax in which he submitted a paper he himself described as utter bullshit peppered with popular post-modernist buzzwords to see if it would be published or if the sages of post-modernism would catch on to his trick. They didn’t.

Just to torture you a little more, let’s go back to the quote for a moment. Irigaray essentially posits that science can’t deal with turbulent fluid dynamics, apparently having never heard of Navier-Stokes equations, and then goes on to say that any problems with quantitative analyses of turbulent flows aren’t due to the fact that highly dynamic systems require millions upon millions of calculations to fully quantify over even a few seconds, but because scientists have penises, see everything as just a bunch of penises in action, and think that vaginas are scary. And here is the profound musing of our Belgian philosophical feminist without a shred of the typical obtuse pseudo-eloquence with which post-modernists lard their attempts at arguments, laid out exposing its bare and unabashed insipidity like the proverbial turd in a punchbowl. But it would be fine if this was just one isolated incident, or even one in a hand full. Every field has examples of poorly thought out or even downright ridiculous ideas. However, she is considered to be an accomplished academic and given numerous awards and honorary doctorates for her contributions to literature and feminist thought. What should have gotten a big roar of laughter and a prompt dismissal was accepted as an incisive analysis of gender studies.

Take a look at Dawkins’ review, really. There you’ll find example after example of nonsense being dressed up and paraded around as deep and fundamental insight into the inner workings of the universe, freely mixing a myriad of unrelated concepts into a grab bag or absurdity which sounds extremely well refined and educated until someone familiar with a few of the terms takes a look and is flabbergasted by the inanity therein. That’s the secret of Deepak Chopra and all the woo-meisters who follow in his footsteps. They sound educated and they use real, recognizable, highly technical scientific and mathematical jargon, which fools laypeople paying for the privilege of reading their books and hearing them talk into thinking that they’re really on to something or have a legitimate point they can’t quite grasp because they’re not experts. But when you look just a little closer and do a little digging, you find that the terms they used have been bastardized and made to fit in ways which defy all facts and logic. If I had written arguments like this during my studies, my professors would most likely grab all the papers I had submitted, arrange them in a thick tome, and throw them into the nearest trash can, deeming them unfit even for recycling. And I would’ve thanked them for it. But then again, that is probably just the kind of thing a post-modernist would expect one of those penisy STEM majors to say…

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  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    Ahhh…. Nice to remember good old Billy Depp. He certainly knew how to bring the crazy.

    What is an “unarticulated remainder”?

  • Russ Toelke

    Yep. Mix in a few well-placed buzzwords with normal-looking text and it’s just enough to get the semi-intelligent reader curious. Advertisers have been using this tack for ages. If the description is peppered just enough (not too much) with ten-letter words, it sounds semi-intelligent. Virtually spotless! It means nothing, but boy, does it have syllables! (And honestly, if I hear the term “investment portfolio” one more time during Sunday football games I’m gonna hurl.)

    Was it Einstein who said that if you can’t explain it in simple enough terms you don’t understand it yourself? (Or maybe it was Freud who said if you can’t explain it in simple enough terms you have penis envy.) :D

  • http://skepticalcubefarm.wordpress.com/ Edwin

    Ah yes, how well I know post-modernity. My department has unfortunately become so rife with academics spouting this sort of ridiculous twaddle that it’s a wonder I managed to earn a masters and remain relatively untouched by it. I’ve been told that ‘Western Knowledge’ is inherently colonial, sexist, racist, and speciesist, that the moon itself is sexist, and the theory of plate tectonics privileges one way of knowing over ‘indigenous knowledge’. I was told in all seriousness by one of my methods professors that she hoped to show me how thinking about the world in a different way could LITERALLY change the laws of physics.

    When my professors discovered that I conducted my research from the logical positivist perspective and that I was an active member of the scientific skepticism community, I was told that my research would never be taken seriously by anyone, and that I ran the risk of being branded a sexist or a *gasp* ‘modernist’. Forget that I am actually quite left-leaning; because I wasn’t ‘one of them’, my colleagues assumed that I was a ‘neoliberal conservative’.

    I have some hope however. I was able to show a small number of my fellow graduate students how damaging and anti-knowledge the post-modern position is in the social sciences, and most of them began to question and then reject their earlier beliefs. I continue to hope that eventually there will be a sizable pushback against this crap.