Wednesday, October 31, 2007
If you say that the meaning of a poem is indeterminate, you are accused of posing a threat to Western values--often by people who never read poetry. But if you say that the universe is like an ATM card, you get the Nobel Prize. How did humanists get painted into a cultural corner such that everything that a social or natural scientist says that is counterintuitive receives public genuflection, but literature professors are expected to do nothing but reaffirm common sense? ("Dangers Within and Without" 10-11)and
Faculty members in science and in social science departments tend to regard humanists as reflexively oppositional to what they do and, therefore, as easy to discount. This perception is founded mainly on ignorance. The summaries of the state of ideas in the humanities in books like E.O. Wilson's Consilence and Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate are appallingly misinformed, but the ignorance is depressing, since it indicates that humanists have almost completely failed at explaining what they do and why it offers as good a return on social investment as genetics or economics. Humanists feed this perception by reciting predicatable critiques of the claims of science and social science. Our response to anything is, "It's more complicated." They assert X, and we say, "But it's overdetermined." They assert Y, and we say, "But there's a contradiction." They assert Z, and we say, "But the concept is socially constructed or historically contested." Humanities departments have turned into the little boy who cries, "Difference!" Humanities professors are right: there is difference, it always is more complicated, concepts are constructed. But the role of the humanities cannot be that of problematizing this and calling into question that. Humanities professors need to construct alternative paradigms, and if those paradigms are built merely from some notion of the literary, they will blow right over. (13-14)and
The humanities are the study of life in its cultural dimension, which happens to be the dimension in which every human being actually operates. You can study life in its biological and in its social scientific dimension--that is, you can look at the genetic causes of behavior or at the mehtods by which individuals calculate their political and economic interests--only if you hold culture constant. Culture is no an add-on to the biological and sociological conditions of existence; it is constitutive of species identity. Culture is the medium in which we act, and it is, from a purely rational point of view, always a distorting medium. Culture is why paradigms of social and scientific theory don't work, why people tend never to do what social theory predicts they will do. Kant once said that humanity is a crooked timber from which nothing straight can be cut. That's what humanists study. We study warp. (14-15.)In the end evolutionary biologists like Dawkins consider human culture as simply and outgrowth of evolutionary needs. Religion for Dawkins (as he states in the God Delusion is simply an aberration of some behavior that allows for the species to procreate. He is uncertain what that behavior is, but that's how he sees the world. It is not a far stretch to extend his interpretation of religion to all things cultural. They are all aberrations of, to be blunt, getting laid and having lots of babies. This reductive approach to the world, is what turns people off to science, as we can see in Menand's remarks. Ultimately people, when put under the microscope, squirm and say "but that's not me."
Perhaps that is the heart of the conflict between Humanities and Science: one field wishes to explore the rich complexity of human existence and the other wants to reduce it to data with little chance for misinterpretation in hard and fast theory.
Ah, if it were really that easy.
Whoops--there we go again!
(Cross-posted on my academic blog. Shh: don't tell anyone!)
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Remember last year when we were all excited how the Jazz actually busted out a great opening game and scored over 100? Remember how I predicted they'd definitely breeze through the second round?
Well, this is the 2007 Jazz rock prediction post:
1) The Jazz, while they will have a mid-season doldrum, will have the winningnest season since the Stockton/Malone era.
2) They will consistently score over 110 points (last year it was consistently scoring over 100.
3) They will down the Spurs and the Suns consistently.
Is this the year?
I should be so bold to say, yes.
Actually I think they will be in the Western Conference finals again. I don't think I can be so bold as to say they will win it. If they do, however, it will be theres.
In the meantime: Jazz 117 (One hundred fucking seventeen!) to Golden States' 96.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Friday, October 26, 2007
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Meta this: modern broadcasting incompetence, extraordinaire! or where I advertise another blogging venture
I see the lack of notification on the part of broadcasters as yet another example of the decline of our society into greedy, me-first, ill-mannered priggishness.
Stick that in your craw, FAWWWWWWWWWWWWKS* 13 and suck it!**
*You must picture John Kleenex saying the FOX 13 bit.)
**I need a little old lady to sit on the side of my blog and comment on my posts. On this one, she would be saying "How crass!"
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Why, you ask. Why?
- It was written by Graham Greene, first of all, one of the most interesting and undervalued authors of the 20th century. Seriously, this guy knew what in the hell he was doing and why he was doing it. He was clear-headed enough in his confusing time to understand the clear evil that is rampant self-centeredness.
- It has the tightest plot development I've ever seen.
- Its driving sound track played simply on a zither weaves into the movie so well that it becomes a character itself.
- It presents an ethical/moral dilemma that is complex yet simple in its outcome. The exploration of Harry Lime's crimes (what a rhyme there) is stunning. You could apply it to our current situation in Iraq quite readily.
- It explores, q.v. above, Americanism in all its naive and horrific glory. The contrast between Holly Martins and Harry Lime creates this weird, world-weary naivte. It is not the Henry James ignorant American. This (Holly Martins) is a gruf American who is supposedly "happy as a lark," idealistic, until he confronts his friend at 15 Stutgart, Harry Lime who is his foil: a corrupt gangster who provides bad medicine to children.
- Valli: the quintessential European girlfriend we all wish we had.
- The best opening narrative from an inconsequential character:
I never knew the old Vienna before the war with its Strauss music, its glamour and easy charm. Constantinople suited me better. I really got to know it in the classic period of the black market. We'd run anything if people wanted it enough and whom had the money to pay. Of course a situation like that does tempt amateurs but, well, you know they can't stay the course like a professional." --Stay the course, oh my! That is probably the best opening for a story(film) that I've ever hear/seen/read. (cg)
- The most intricate film noir production aside from Maltese Falcon.
- A stunning slap in the face to all that we hold holy, witnessed by Orson Welles' supposedly improvised speech when he is menacing the Joseph Cotten character with a quick trip to the bone yard from the heights of a rather modern ferris wheel:
You know, I never feel comfortable on these sort of things. Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax - the only way you can save money nowadays.....Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.
As I said: stunning--simply stunning.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
A photo of mine posted over at flickr was published in a book to be used by the State Department of Economic Development. As you can see the book is pretty slick. Here my giant head has deflated slightly so as not to obscure it.
I've been published before, but have never published a photo. I guess, as well, this makes me a professional photographer since they actually paid me for the picture.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Sunday, October 07, 2007
The function of the appendix seems related to the massive amount of bacteria populating the human digestive system, according to the study in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. There are more bacteria than human cells in the typical body. Most are good and help digest food. But sometimes the flora of bacteria in the intestines die or are purged. Diseases such as cholera or amoebic dysentery would clear the gut of useful bacteria. The appendix's job is to reboot the digestive system in that case. The appendix 'acts as a good safe house for bacteria,' said Duke surgery professor Bill Parker, a study co-author. Its location _ just below the normal one-way flow of food and germs in the large intestine in a sort of gut cul-de-sac -- helps support the theory, he said. (Purpose of appendix believed found - CNN.com)
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
The reason that Dawkins doesn't get it is simple: he is misapplying post-modernism to science, much as he complains that post-modernists misapply science in their texts. I felt, however, that I had not properly explained my point and I did feel like some conspiracy theorist after my chat with Middlebrow.
I've got a lot to deal with in this thesis, I realize, not the least of which is my ability to lose people in pointless rants, so with that I will attempt to be succinct: Dawkins creates a straw man argument with post-modernism because he is talking about the perception of the world vs. the post-modern notion of texts. Post-modernists talk of texts and only texts. Those texts represent a relationship to the world, indeed, but they are just that: representations of the world. We're not talking about what observations one can make using one's senses--we're talking about a reading of a text that is produced before one. One reads a text. One puts one's whole experience into a text to understand it. One is challenged by texts to change one's mind about a text. One's perceptions are affirmed and challenged by a text.
One is changed by a text.
Dawkins doesn't understand that the scholars he finds fault with are talking about texts--not about the observable world that he privileges. (Yup, privilege is an important term that Dawkins picks up on. He doesn't get that either. Strangely enough, he seems to ignore the possibility of bias based upon social position or gender and just throws it away as some sort of whacko term that folks in the Humanities might use.) Texts are not artifacts like fossils or subjects like living creatures (or are they?) They are complex, multi-faceted phenomena that require a reader and an understanding how that reader's point of view shapes the interpretation of a specific text.
There is a big difference between an observable artifact like a rock and a text that has been written by a fellow human being. A rock, while it may create many various interpretations and a variety of opinions, remains the rock that it is. The rock, exists. And as Middlebrow pointed out in a comment on the previous Dawkins post, to deny that would be insanity.
A text, however, was created by a fellow human being with various intentions and purposes. Yes, indeed, the text exists as a physical artifact, but the interpretation of that text is not so easy. The nature of language and our use of it and its use of us forces further consideration. There is more to a text than what it, or its author, represents itself as.
See none of this is new to we text workers of the world. I'm am trying to explain this to the Science-minded who think that what we are talking about is utter bullshit. They frequently don't admit their their bias is often linguistic, race-based, or gender-based.
That is disturbing.
From my own perspective Science tries to exclude its biases, They usually do that on micro-scale. Science has strict controls for experiments and is certain to calibrate instruments and exclude biasing factors.
Where Science fails, at least in the Dawkins sense, is to exlude its macro-bias. Those biases are there and need to be examined carefully. Scientists like Dawkins refuse to admit that their cultural or linguistic background shapes what scientific problems they are likely to pursue or even the results that they prefer (there's that word again!) to deny.
I would put forward, as have others before me, that they need to consider not only their biases before they do their science, but also have to consider that how they are reporting it (through the use of language) is also going to bias it.
Natural language is not a specific medium. Interpretation is going to exist. And, as far as I've seen, interpretation also exists in the language of mathematics. I don't want to fall into a Dawkins' trap, but, as far as I know (and I am no mathematician), mathematics itself has build in biases--Godel's Theorem--which is infamously mis-applied (apparently) to post-modern theory.
Honestly, I'm not really certain why Dawkins, a perfectly respectable scientist of our modern ilk, refuses to explore the possibility of linguistic bias in how he observes the world. The thing that Dawkins doesn't understand is that post-modernism is about the bias that we all have in observing the world.
As a good scientist, you think he would.