Thursday, November 30, 2006

ON THE HAZARD OF EXPLAINING DIFFICULT CONCEPTS TO THE ELDERLY

When Chomsky referred to a generalized explanation of critical theory, as in comparison to quantum mechanics or topology or whatever, I do not think he was in any way attempting to equate the two. There is a significant difference between generalization, in a Chomskian sense and your request to explain quantum mechanics to your grandmother, who I assuming does not have a deep grasp of physics, and therefore would be somewhat immune to detailed or explicit explanations (even if I were qualified to give them). I could perhaps offer a list of intermediate steps whereby anyone (your grandmother included) might obtain the knowledge necessary to understand quantum theory. That list might include such obvious items as a) read an introductory physics textbook, b) take a college class in advanced physics, c) read Einstein's Special Relativity paper, etc.

I can imagine your objection here taking the form that "All you are saying is that you cannot understand quantum physics until you have attained all of the knowledge necessary to understand it, and that is exactly what I am suggesting vis-a-vis Deleuze, et. al." Here is where the key differance lies. I could (at least in theory) read all of the critical texts and the original works by Deleuze, and all of the commentary on it, which would be the eqivalent of working though the a), b) and c) of whatever list you provided. Yet, there would still be no means by which to prove that I understood it. You see, unlike physics, which relates to observable and testable hypotheses about external reality, Deleuzian philosophy and its idiosyncratic stylization, can only be grasped from within the space of its own imaginings. There is no yardstick, like reality, against which to test my (mis)understanding of Deleuze. Perhaps some of his metaphors are particularly apt or compelling or helpful in organizing one's thoughts, but how could you ever hope to show that I do or do not understand it, any more than one could refute someone else's interpretation of the Bible or any other (self-referential) text. Ultimately, it would only ever come down to opinion and argument. Yet quantum physics can be tested and experiments have shown time and again that it has explanatory power. There is a correct understanding and an incorrect one and the difference is not arbitrary. That emphatically does not mean that there is a dogma or an orthodoxy about it. Rather that interpretations that yield predictive results are simply better than interpretations that yield garbage. That is the key difference. And there is no equivalent basis by which to judge Deleuzian or many other postmodern texts.

1 Comments:

Blogger subtillioN said...

"I could (at least in theory) read all of the critical texts and the original works by Deleuze, and all of the commentary on it, which would be the eqivalent of working though the a), b) and c) of whatever list you provided. Yet, there would still be no means by which to prove that I understood it."

This is incorrect. Just as in literature, there are correct and incorrect readings of Deleuze. Indeed, that is how philosophy classes, in part, function. They have tests to determine whether or not you grasp the concepts.

The fact is that quantum physicists don't even know what their own equations mean. They can't generalize the complexity they have generated out of the necessity of mothering inventions.

"You see, unlike physics, which relates to observable and testable hypotheses about external reality, Deleuzian philosophy and its idiosyncratic stylization, can only be grasped from within the space of its own imaginings."

This is indeed true, but it is no different than physics. The tests are simply in a different domain, that of subjectivity, no less real than objectivity, mind you, but no more.

"Yet quantum physics can be tested and experiments have shown time and again that it has explanatory power. There is a correct understanding and an incorrect one and the difference is not arbitrary. That emphatically does not mean that there is a dogma or an orthodoxy about it."

Again, whether or not the domain is subjective, intersubjective or objective or interobjective has no bearing on its testability, and really no bearing on this discussion. We all know the difference between science and philosophy, and it is irrelevant. Chomsky, Sokal, Dawkins, et al were not dismissing the whole of philosophy. Merely postmodernism, within which they lumped Deleuze. Were they being unfair of the rest of the inhabitants of their little convenient box? I don't know. I just know that they are wrong to assume that Deleuze strives for obfuscation and writes gibberish. The gibberish, in this case, was truly in the eye of the beholder; a psychological projection, with neither empirical evidence nor scientific theory to back it up.

"Rather that interpretations that yield predictive results are simply better than interpretations that yield garbage."

Yes! That is why Sokal et al failed. They produced garbage for interpretation, and claimed it was gold.

"That is the key difference. And there is no equivalent basis by which to judge Deleuzian or many other postmodern texts."

Lol, what sets postmodernism in a different light here than the rest of philosophy? Where is the empirical evidence for this bold claim? Where is even the slightest hint of a theory? Is it still a matter of faith for you based on the priests of scientism, Sokal, Dawkins and Chomsky?

10:23 PM  

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