Monday, June 30, 2008

Rant: Retro Newage Postmodernist Hippies

One step above the Earthbound/Mother series random encounter: The Retro-Newage (rhymes with sewage) Postmodernist Hippie. I imagine some literary critics are annoyed at my throwing Postmodernism into the stew, but as I'll cover in this rant, I'm generally talking about "Postmodernists" who try to apply literary analysis to science and mathematics.

First up: Retro. Newagers just love old crap. I mean "ancient wisdom." They seem to think stuff gets better by the mere fact that it's older. I wonder how long it'll take Plan 9 From Outer Space to become high art, with original reels enthroned next to all the marble statues and Renaissance paintings. When it comes to art, the best stuff tends to come to the surface as time goes on. For every award-winning novel that makes its way into required reading for English classes, there are thousands of cheap, cliche-ridden rags. Though the nostalgia filter isn't so powerful, there are lots of ancient beliefs that don't make it. The most appealing (not necessarily accurate) are the ones that have a habit of surviving. Add on all the psychological defenses the supporters throw in, and you've got a belief that makes testable claims (at least in original format) that allows believers to rationalize away all the failures despite the fact that we can objectively test their truth value.

Next: Postmodern: I'm not a lit person, so be kind about nuances I miss in my quick glossing over. Postmodernism generally involves taking a work of literature and reinterpreting it in some different frame of reference, usually taking into account the time period, the author's circumstances, and so on. I've got no problem with that sort of thing when applied to literature. Newagers, however, seem terribly eager to apply the method to science and demonstrable fact. Their identical cousins, Creationists, are often fond of talking about the racism of Darwin's time, Darwin's alleged racism, and other stuff to try to discredit the modern synthesis of evolution. As if that's going to change the observable evidence or the reasonableness of the inferences we draw from it. One of the archetypal examples I see on fictional TV, and actually once or twice on blogs is the claim that math is too "masculine" for various reasons, and thus wrong. That's the sort of crap that so much woo is built on, and I'm sick of it.


Anonymous said...

I must admit I've never heard the math thing before. Seriously, what?

So... they have a gender neutral version of math where numbers add up differently? I'm terribly confused about that.

Bronze Dog said...

Fictional example from a Simpson's episode: The school gets divided into male and female halves. Lisa's math class has the teacher going straw feminist newage, asking students about how numbers make them feel and about the smell of a plus sign. Lisa complains and she goes into a tirade about how men insist that math be full of problems to be attacked.

I can't recall any links to the RL examples I've bumped into, but they tended to be more vague complaints of maleness.

Anonymous said...

Hmm.... like 1 is phallic and 0 is it's opposite, and 0 only has meaning if a 1 is in front of it, and because you COULD think of such an explanation, that HAS to be what they were thinking, and therefore 1 and 0 are "wrong"?

If I work at it, I can come up with all sorts of nonsense :D.

Bronze Dog said...

Actually, I remember some numerologist woo who made some argument vaguely like that. Can't remember if it was a joke on a show or an actual factual woo.

Anonymous said...

Heh - I've often thought that it's interesting that 1 and 0 correspond so obviously with male and female, yoni and lingam, the grail and the lance, the monolith and the tomb... Of course, that doesn't mean I think maths is wrong, I just think it's interesting that these symbols keep recurring.

Anonymous said...

I also think it’s nauseating seeing English professors posing as philosophers of science but, having said that, I do think there is a kernel of sense in what the likes of Paul Feyerabend and Thomas Kuhn (who are often quoted by postmods) were saying :

1. Numerous theories could be used to explain a given set of observation data.
2. These theories can be compared according to how they meet criteria such as accuracy, consistency, scope, coherence, parsimony, explanatory power and so forth.
3. There is no objective way of assessing how these various criteria should be weighted (eg whether parsimony is given more weight than coherence or explanatory power and so forth).
4. Thus, different theories which explain the same observational data may be incommensurable, with no objective standard for how one can be compared against the other.