Monday, June 11, 2007

Postmodernism 2007

Sean Carroll has decided to compete with the postmodernism generator. In his essay remembering Richard Rorty, an eclectic philosopher who just passed away, Carroll proposes some kind of unification of science and postmodernism. His ambitious unification project is somewhat analogous to Brian Josephson's Mind-Matter Unification Project.

In Sean's utopia, scientists should accept the wisdom of postmodernism saying that the truth can't be found, it is socially constructed, and our language is always inappropriate. On the other hand, postmodernists would also pay their price because they would have to accept the existence of Nature. That's what I call a great and balanced compromise, especially for the postmodernists. ;-)

Richard Rorty has argued that every person should try to be an ironist. How can you become an ironist? The original explanation isn't terribly comprehensible but as far as I understand, an ironist must be
  • female
  • confused
  • postmodernist
  • dissatisfied with her situation
  • thinking that all other cultures and languages are better than hers.

It's very nice but not too much. ;-) If a sane physicist arrived at this idea, she would probably instinctively use her garbage bin. However, philosophers haven't yet invented this gadget. Moreover, ironism is not the only notion that Rorty has invented.

He has also invented the concept of a final vocabulary. A final vocabulary is defined as something that upsets an ironist's stomach. Why does it happen to her? It's because a final vocabulary is a set of "communicative beliefs" whose "contingency is mostly ignored by the bearer". This fancy language reminds me of the essay that Feynman decided to crack during an interdisciplinary conference:

"The individual member of the social community often receives his information via visual, symbolic channels."

Do you know what it means? "People read." Recall that the essay continued: "Sometimes people read, sometimes they listen to radio."

If I understand the definitions well, then the terms "ironist" and "final vocabulary" themselves belong to the final vocabulary. More precisely, they belong to the garbage bin of confused, incoherent ideas.

More generally, I always wondered how it happens that a particular person who invents this kind of verbal nonsense becomes famous even though millions of village philosophers are doing pretty much the same thing.

My conjectured answer is that the success in philosophy is a social construct - it is a result of the person's charm, his or her good luck, and his or her ability to appear at the right places in the right times. Pomo philosophers realize that this is how results are created in their field. But they haven't yet realized that this fact demonstrates a huge problem with their discipline, not a virtue, and that there can exist other disciplines that are based on merit.

And that's the memo.

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