Forum:Humanties vs Science

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Moved from Saloon Bar. 19:18, 19 July 2010 (UTC)

Humanties vs Science[edit]

It's graduation season again, so some recently graduated students seem to be shitting themselves that they may actually have to get a job or go beg mummy and daddy for some more money to do a Masters. Anyway, this has resulted in the age old "humanities vs science" subjects debate popping up across my friends on Facebook, and which is better and stuff like that. It started with a post saying that, if science students are so aloof, then they should eschew things that have developed from pure thought and philosophy, as an example the vote. Now, ignoring the fact that I'd happily lose the vote if it meant a government that applied evidence based policy and staffed by politicians that weren't just arbitrarily elected but actually trained for what they do, I turned this on its head, so if any arts/humanities students think their concepts of "original thought" and whatever are better, then they should give up stuff achieved through methodological naturalism and evidence-based research, like chemotherapy, or electricity and so on and so forth. But apparent this is a "straw" argument, because no humanities student thinks that they're better - despite some clear statements from humanities graduates that science is just "remembering stuff" and their "original thought" and essays are a better way of dealing with life. Indeed, one comment said that "life gives you coursework, not exams", so it's quite clear that despite them saying that they don't hold aloof positions, it's blatantly there. Of course, my response is simple; exams train you in the art of retaining knowledge and applying a skill as second-nature, which is essential for following a STEM-based career path where, if you're discussing your research, no one is going to hang around for you to formulate an piece of original thought or consult your notes or Wikipedia - your "original thought" regarding quantum mechanics isn't going to get you praised, it's going to get you laughed at in science because ultimately it's not about thought, but evidence (see Feynman's quote on the subject of things disagreeing with experiment). Anyway, the entire thing is as age old as the Conflict Thesis, really it is the Conflict Thesis transported to a marginally different arena. But my conclusion is fairly simple, if a slightly cop-out; you can't compare STEM and humanities degrees like this. The former is training for a specific career path (if you do a science and have no intention going into that career you need smacked for wasting valuable time and money) whereas, IMHO, humanities subjects are just a mere pretence to get people into Unviersity. I mean, really, everyone should have that experience; it's a great buffer between living with parents and living in the real world, if you fall down someone holds a pillow under your arse, you meet new people, you experience living on your own without the prospect of dying a horrible death etc. etc. But other than that, there's little you get in the form of career path training from humanities subjects, so it's more a of a generic meta-experience rather than a specific piece of training. So, that's enough tl;dr, if anyone has any thoughts, drop them below. Scarlet A.pngnarchist 21:02, 17 July 2010 (UTC)

Well, it seems to me that neither the sciences nor the humanities are particularly lucrative career paths, humanities are pretty useless with just a few notable exception (quality journalism, etc) and to an extent even science has become less about research and experimentation and more a race to publish, publish, publish. So I'd guess I'd say neither, if that's an answer.
On the subject of government, neither science nor humanities should have a monopoly on government. That is a phenomenally stupid idea, and you should go and tell your friends right now that they are fools for saying that. Go on, I'll wait.
I wouldn't say science is a training for a career path. I took plenty of science classes in college, even though I'm not actuallly a scientist. It's more a way of thinking than a "career path", and saying things that essentially boil down to "only scientists should know science" is also stupid, and you should be the one smacked, not them. Plus, I cannot image a scenario in which the accumulation of knowledge is a bad thing. Everybody should know something about everything.
The parting thought I leave you with is this: had you taken a humanities course, you would have been introduced to the wonderful concept called paragraphs. Use them. --The Emperor Kneel before Zod! 00:05, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
Interjection: it really annoys me when some TV pundit is proud (it seems) of not understanding and not wanting to understand maths or science. Any scientist or similar who treated (say) Shakespeare or (say) Mozart in that manner would be derided to the ultimate. 00:23, 18 July 2010 (UTC) SusanG Toast
What are "humanties"? I have 30 or 40, I think? ħumanUser talk:Human 00:54, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
...and I doubt you've ever worn a one. DickTurpis (talk) 02:00, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
I beg to disagree! ħumanUser talk:Human 03:19, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
Are we're supposed to take you at your word that it's really a picture of you? Right after you blatantly post a picture of Sean Bean and put your name under it? Liberal Deceit knows no bounds. DickTurpis (talk) 03:47, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
Noooo aauuugh it is human! Now there are two. The other being my imaginary visual jeez which must persist, I suppose. He is actually taller, huskier, and more foreboding. Lumenos (talk) 12:20, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
You could win a Johnny Rotten impersonation contest. CS Miller (talk) 18:17, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
Hmmm, thanks, I think? ħumanUser talk:Human 22:40, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
You have to put in a lot more hours for any science or technology degree. A friend of mine who was doing Spanish had 14 hours of attendance (lectures and tutorials) compared with the 30+ hours of physics & chemistry. In the UK there has long been a disapproval of commerce and trade (science and engineering) compared with the classics (or banking). In many respects it has what has contributed to the north-south divide - the 'dirty' science and industry being based in the north and midlands.  Lily Inspirate me. 09:28, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
A lot more attendance hours. Arts students have a fuckload more homework - the hours they aren't doing in classes, they're doing in the library.
What has to be kept in mind is that "liberal arts" was the solution to the problem: "how do we make this bright but unformed high school student into an educated, thinking citizen?" This was set pretty much before the twentieth century, when we would now think adding the faintest trace of respect for science and technology might be a useful idea. So of course they're arrogant.
But then, everyone thinks their own specialty is important and applies "I don't understand it but it can't be that hard" to everyone else's, particularly those hostile to one's own - David Gerard (talk) 11:30, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
I'm not sure the hours do make up for it. The music students I know are very busy with rehearsals, which you'd expect, but when you tally up the weekly hours it's not much more than scheduled practical work in most science subjects, although it is spread around rather than concentrated into one-two days. But other arts/humanities aren't rehearsing, so don't really do much in the way of practical work or anything contacted like that so they must be spending days on end in the library; but since all their work is (supposedly, according to the ones that started ranting to me about it) is "original thought" so what can they possibly be learning in there? And I don't know where this idea that science students don't do coursework and it's all contact hours comes from, my undergraduate reports were between 1500 and 3000 words every two weeks, which is about what you can expect from a normal student essay in a single term. Although that said, these essays tend to be worth a massive amount of marks compared to lab reports, so I imagine a bit more care would go into them. Although that said, the number of students that I know who leave it to the last minute and wing it all on an all-nighter is shocking. So I suppose you could conlcude from that, that with the arts/humanities you put in the time or you don't, and it's your own choice to get out of it what you want to put into it. Sciences on the other hand have a regimented teaching structure and you rarely have the choice whether to put the time in. Scarlet A.pngnarchist 11:47, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
You're going "I don't understand it but it can't be that hard" at them in reaction to them doing the same to you - David Gerard (talk) 12:02, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
I can certify that animation students, at least at my college, are expected to put in at least 40-60 hours a week (or more) outside of class hours. Not to mention, art in general requires you to be constantly in training, even well after you've gotten out in industry, so you'll typically be working 12-14 hour days as a rule. The benefit, of course, is it's not unpleasant work to do. --Kels (talk) 19:00, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
The yeti find it strange that somehow humans are enslaved to "industries" wherein they are forced to make boatloads of money to squander on all types of unnecessities. ~ Lumenos (your talk page) - ("my" talk page) 22:34, 19 July 2010 (UTC)
Yeah, the extra hours do add up, at least for a music major. For example, besides the rehearsal hours you mentioned, it's pretty standard for a music major to have at least 2 courses per semester which technically count for one hour a piece, but which boil down to three hours of contact time. Ensembles are the same way, one hour which requires 6-9 actual hours of rehearsal a week, and much more when a concert is coming up. There's also the recital attendance policy, a pass-fail zero-hor credit which requires you to see 15 concerts per semester (an average of 2-3 hours per week). And this is all not counting the personal practice time outside of that (3-7 hours a day, depending on motivation). My science major roommates at least got home at 10-11 p.m., in time for a beer before bed, whereas the music majors kept a beer cooler in the music building, to make 1 a.m. practice sessions easier to get through. Junggai (talk) 21:35, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
Spelling "corrected" quote from OP: ""IMHO, humanities subjects are just a mere [pretense] to get people into [University]. I mean, really, everyone should have that experience; it's a great buffer between living with parents and living in the real world,"
Let's backup a little. What is the purpose of University? I think of it kinda like the gym. You don't need a gym to exercise; it's more a social thing. It is a less "taboo" place to be seen exercising where you could meet other exercisers. If you want to figure something out, there are many better options than University. If you want to demonstrate your skill, there are a number of ways to do this that may be more convincing then University grades and test scores. If you are talking about living with students instead of parents, this is just a matter of meeting local people or meeting distant people, going where they are or vice versa. They may (also) let you live with them free of charge. So many of the "normal" solutions (in current English pop culture) seem to involve more unnecessary consumption and therefore more tax for weapons and oppressive laws, more pollution, and less wealth to share. A fake world (the Internet) offers incredibly more efficient ways of selling and distributing information, and it is just a matter of time before this becomes common knowledge. ~ Lumenos - (that other chattery) 05:16, 19 July 2010 (UTC)
Yeah, but who asked you? ħumanUser talk:Human 05:36, 19 July 2010 (UTC)
Is that like, you agree but don't find my opinion valuable? ~ Lumenos (your talk page) - ("my" talk page) 21:56, 19 July 2010 (UTC)
My eldest son is studying a marine biology masters in Faro, Portugal at the moment. At what alternative to a university could he learn what he's learning there and, as importantly, issue him with a degree or equivalent that would be valued in the market? Ajkgordon (talk) 14:00, 19 July 2010 (UTC)
As for learning, I believe there is a lot of this information on the Internet or in libraries. Questions are often answered via wiki talk pages, forums, Usenet, or email. At some sites you can pay to have more difficult questions answered. I'm not sure what kind of equipment is needed for field research but there are often ways to rent expensive things, "rent" them, borrow them at schools, governments, or businesses. As they say, it is not what you know but who you know. As for demonstrating skill, he could publish something that get's noticed by people who are established. I don't really know; I might speculate further if I knew what exactly he wants to do, but my expertise is imagining what would seem to be the most efficient/frugal way of doing something assuming that there is not some irrational/exploitive barrier constructed by the other humans. (These types of posts are more like questions than assertions. Am I missing something?) ~ Lumenos (your talk page) - ("my" talk page) 22:28, 19 July 2010 (UTC)
Universities are built to teach. With that comes efficiency and quality. What you describe above multiplied by all science students around the world would be a recipe for massive inefficiency and extreme variation in quality. Science and other academic studies rely on standards that would be impossible to maintain if everyone was being "self-homeschooled". On top of all that, universities provide infrastructure in libraries, labs, equipment, research, and an environment that is conducive to knowledge exchange. To propose that you can achieve the same results by having a bunch of students running around libraries and begging biotech companies time on their centrifuge is misguided at best, Schlaflyesque at worst.
Universities are not just social centres for kids who want to leave home and learn some cool stuff. They are centres of teaching and learning, academic rigour, research, as well as being standards institutes. Ajkgordon (talk) 08:45, 20 July 2010 (UTC)
I can definitely see that as "Schlaflyesque", kind of horrible, really. The entire point is that when you are taught, as opposed to learning on your own, it's from someone experienced and knowledgable. Anyone can get the info from Wikipedia, and they usually get it wrong - half of RW's mainspace content is dedicated to when this happens. Without a centralised institution setting standards of attainment, it just can't work. Scarlet A.pngnarchist 09:57, 20 July 2010 (UTC)
I guess that is what Ajk means by standards. I have campaigned at Wikipedia for a project to evaluate sources for their reliability. Of course this is totally unnecessary because we "know" who the reliable sources are. If RationalWiki even wants to be taken half as seriously as Wikipedia, it would need to source its claims, at the very least. Why don't we just tell everyone to go to university instead of read this silly thing, if this is no way to learn? ~ Lumenos (your talk page) - ("my" talk page) 22:26, 20 July 2010 (UTC)
Schools may be the best place to use certain equipment, not because this is the most efficient way, but because it is the racket they have going. If they require us to enroll to use the equipment, then I guess we would have to be very organized (or go to some socialist country or something) to be able to afford these things. You forgot to mention the subsidies!
I "agree" that for some the environment is more conducive. To me, an Internet situation, is more conducive. It is available round the clock, there are no other time restraints. Universities have lectures. How efficient is a lecture? Same teacher does nearly the same speech over and over. Why not record it? If you record it in text it is much easier to edit and organize. Why not put it on the Internet and expand the audience 100 times? Nothing compares to the organization of MediaWiki articles. You have an interconnected web of information that can be used to efficiently answer questions at any time. ~ Lumenos (your talk page) - ("my" talk page) 22:26, 20 July 2010 (UTC)
Universities use all sorts of media including the internet and wikis. You seem to have a very old-fashioned view of how universities work. Most lectures do not consist simply of a professor standing down in the pit repeating the same thing day in day out. If they need to do that, many of them do indeed use recorded sessions. But a good lecture is much more interactive. It involves the students.
And what about practical work? How would my son, the marine biology student, do what he's doing today? He's working on a team researching pollution's effect on infection and growth patterns in sponges at 15m depth off the Algarve coast. Universities provide the resources that enable this kind of research and students' involvement in it.
Your dream of having everything online and anarchistic is but that - a dream. A very naive dream at that. It's not just about asking questions. As said previously in this thread, it's also about teaching.
You also seem to forget that there is such a thing as distance learning. Here in the UK there is the very well regarded Open University. My wife attained her sociology degree through Toulouse University's distance learning programme.
Your narrow views of what a modern university does, how it does it, and your conspiracy theories about university equipment rackets are, without being rude, nonsensical. Ajkgordon (talk) 08:44, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
Computer organized information is often more efficient than sitting in room where one person gives a lecture and answers questions by 40-200 people. You have to sit and hear questions that may not help you. If the questions are in a Mediawiki, and organized well, you can peruse the TOC and see if it has what you need. In the Post Modernism section, someone is telling me about a speach by some humanities professor, who was soo stoopid. Would it not be a better use of time for this student to actively find the "teachers" or resources they perceive as trustworthy and relevant? ~ Lumenos 11:22, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
Voice can have advantages in terms of ergonomics. I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking, but unfortunately I'm kinda addicted to typing. <So now I have reminded myself and I'm using voice recognition now.> I wish I was taught to use voice recognition software before learned to type and because I have repetitive strain injury. Voice recordings could be a lot more efficient if they were organized in a wiki. PDA's could be used to select a recorded message from a wiki, or a text wiki could be used with text-to-voice software. This would work better if you could put a bunch of wiki sections in queue in a playlist. I find these sorts of interactions more desirable than reading wiki articles. But after we are through they become uninteresting. If we cut/copied out any interesting information and left the signatures, in order to have the source of the information, we can build wiki articles that might be more useful to others, or for our reference purposes. Conflict/debate can be more interesting than typical wiki articles. ~ Lumenos 11:22, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
He is working for The Man or a business? If he is working for The Man, I'm not convinced this is any more practical than school. ~ Lumenos 11:22, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
At this moment you seem to prefer my "dream world" to your University idea. Why is that? If you want to tell me how your son's research is practical and cost-effective, maybe I can tell you about more efficient ways similar things are being done in my dream world. Environmental/pollution studies often need to be funded by states, but like I say, who you know is often more important than what you know, unfortunate as this may be. I dabble in some green biotechnologies for backyard solar steam power and converting waste into food but with government subsidizing corn (etc, etc) these pollution preventing techniques aren't very necessary for our survival/happiness (in the short-term). ~ Lumenos 11:22, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
Some courses are available as distance learning. Was that what you were advocating for? Telecommuting is more efficient than commuting when all you really need to move his information. They are basically selling some copy protected information, interactive software, along with something like a tech support service. It might be subsidized. They might give you a degree and perhaps due to some government regulation a degree such as this will be required for employment. So maybe it's the most beneficial course for those who want/need to work for The Man. I think the testing services should be separate from the teaching services. I think we should start by figuring out what we need to know to achieve a certain goal, then work with those who share this same interest ("students") and share/trade any information we find, after we have exhausted free resources we start hiring people to add to our free resources ("or" we could keep the info private so that we could sell/trade it with others). ~ Lumenos 11:22, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
Where have I mentioned any conspiring? There is some better name for it; cronyism/nepotism are underlying corruptions (it's not what you know but who you know). Have you never noticed how states will justify all sorts of taxes that are supposed to be good for the public/national interest? How easy is "vendor" lock-in when you have monopolized an entire country? ~ Lumenos 11:22, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
I'm sure you have some good ideas but I find your arguments rather difficult to follow.
If you are advocating using new technologies and media to help students and universities, then I agree. As do most students and universities who, lest we forget, were and continue to be pioneers in the fields.
If, however, you are lambasting the whole university system as outdated, outmoded, monopolistic, inefficient and advocating a wholesale replacement of it by mass self-homeschooling, then I think you are deluding yourself. The vast majority of students, even the excellent ones, are not Einsteins, Newtons and Darwins who were very good at acting alone and working stuff out from first principles. No, they need teaching, tutoring, training. And testing. Ajkgordon (talk) 17:31, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
(I appologize for corn argument. It was difficult to follow because it was loopy.)
I'm talking about "consuming 'education'" not "(original) research". When students/faculty are doing something beneficial to the rest of the world, this is an end not a means. For the fields which are pioneered by the universities, I might attribute this to funding, not "efficiency". I'm watching a documentary about some United Statian who never went to college and likes to buy them. If you want to trust someone to define your curriculum, I would advise that you at least find out how they compare to the other options, in terms of results (presumably employment). I would probably contact those who do the employment and ask what criteria they use. If you want to work at a university, yeah, it might be best to go to school there... it might.
The "homeschoolers"/"telecommuters" could live in communities with students and teachers of all ages. I hear frat parties aren't the most conducive learning environments... well sometimes maybe they are. Curiosly, I find that one's own claims about what one needs are often different than one's "authorities". I guess distance learning (or school) is like psychotherapy, you (or your caretakers) may be more motivated when it is eating your/their wallet. Many students enter the workforce in dept to their student loans. Great way to keep them in line.
Whatever it is they need, there are people who could be hired to do it when suitable volunteers are lacking. I just don't like: daily commuting, mandatory lectures, inflexible curriculum, (for profit) schools focusing on enrollment rather than employment, mandatory overpriced textbooks/software containing less valuable information than could be assembled from free online sources, teachers who the students find boring/arrogant, etc. I find the less drunken parties generally more interesting but there are certainly exceptions there. The proof is in the pudding, or testing can be done by agencies that are proven to be trustworthy. I watched a documentary on failed universities. Their degrees may "dupe" an employer who graduated a similar institution. ~ Lumenos 07:30, 22 July 2010 (UTC)
Update on the streaming Netflix Frontline documentary I'm watching called College, Inc: Outstanding Federal student loans are roughly equal to the US credit card debt. The situation is compared to the housing bubble that recently burst; loaning to people who don't qualify on merit. Those who default on these loans are not protected by bankruptcy. The Man sues, garnishes wages, and intercepts tax refunds. The indebted "students" are not eligible for Federal employment or any other federal benefit and "increasingly many states piggyback those prohibitions". Trust in Him and you will certainly receive an education in fundamental life skills one way or another! =) ~ Lumenos 10:02, 22 July 2010 (UTC)
Again, I'm sure you make some good points. I just have no idea what they are. Ajkgordon (talk) 11:43, 22 July 2010 (UTC)

Dogs v cats[edit]

Humanities vs. Science is almost as silly as dogs vs. cats. Different strokes for different folks. Most of the humanities use a scientific methodology anyway - formulating an argument or hypothesis, citing evidence in support of it, discussing counterexamples, etc. So the way humanities & sciences are often presented as opposing ways of thought for different types of people is really misleading. When I was at school I bought into this silly dichotomy & saw myself as an arts & humanities sort of person, & so pursued this route, even though I was good at science subjects too. In retrospect, I wish I'd gone further with the sciences as it might have been more useful to me in the long run. WëäŝëïöïďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 17:41, 19 July 2010 (UTC)

Indeed. I don't think they can be compared very easily. Although not all humanities seem to put much emphasis on evidence or methodology. Certainly a few people in "gender studies" type subjects that I've read recently seem to just pull ideas out of their asses and just assert assert assert (I can't remember the name, but one claims "all gender is performance" and then wholeheartedly refuses to explain either what this means or the evidence to back it up, just saying random shite about deconstruction and so forth). It gives the entire thing an air of pseudo-intellectual bullshit-babble that's intentionally difficult to understand; because they don't want people to realise that they're talking bollocks just by stating their point in simple-as-possible terms, which seems to be a characteristic of authors with a more scientific angle. Although I have to emphasise that this is just some not all, a few other authors are actually much better and more readable. So I suppose from this you can take that it's not just the subject, but the methodological approach that's important. Scarlet A.pngnarchist 19:16, 19 July 2010 (UTC)
I guess it's true that some schools of thought within the humanities & social sciences do rest on those kind of unfalsifiable assertions or assumptions. There is more leeway for subjectivity than in the classical sciences, & "lab conditions" such as double blind testing don't really translate across, plus no scholarship is completely unbiased (arguably this applies to sciences too). But the basic principles of critical thinking & applying evidence are pretty much the same. In fields like history, politics, sociology, etc. it's good to look at the leftfield theoretical interpretations as well as the more straightforward ones, to get an overall understanding about a subject & its complexities. WëäŝëïöïďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 19:43, 19 July 2010 (UTC)

Post Modernism[edit]

To follow up on the last few comments above (as of this timestamp), I think that most humanties do indeed work like science. I've "watched" a historian write a book, and it is srs bsns. However, the ones that drift into pomo "methodology" (ie, spewing bullshit) seem to be outside the Venn diagram. I'd suggest Sokal's Law: "Any field where it appears one could write pure bullshit and get published isn't rigorous or scientific." ħumanUser talk:Human 20:34, 19 July 2010 (UTC)

Many decisions we are forced to make, we don't have scientific evidence for, or it would be too much work to acquire. How about the question, "What do you want/choose?" I'm not sure what "field" that would be, maybe psychology or philosophy. There is plenty of bullshit there, but it is still a fundamental and necessary question. ~ Lumenos (your talk page) - ("my" talk page) 00:45, 20 July 2010 (UTC)
Would you care to rephrase that in a native Earth language? ħumanUser talk:Human 04:59, 20 July 2010 (UTC)
I think that's basically the gist of post-modernism; you're not supposed to understand it, otherwise it wouldn't be post-modern. Scarlet A.pngnarchist 08:23, 20 July 2010 (UTC)
Nice one! ħumanUser talk:Human 01:41, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
I'll start over. What does it matter if it isn't scientific? Is the only useful information, scientific? ~ Lumenos (your talk page) - ("my" talk page) 21:26, 20 July 2010 (UTC)
It's not about "information", it's about "understanding" or "explanation". That's my lumentory and I'm sticking to it. ħumanUser talk:Human 01:41, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
I mean in the broadest sense, an explanation is a form of information. You didn't answer my question. I thought that your point had something to do with "scientific" information being more valuable than speculation, logic, etc. It "is" but speculation is far more abundant and easy to produce, and often works just as well, when you play your cards right. There are many things we don't need to know to achieve certain goals. I'm not arguing that humanities courses in a university are more valuable than science courses, although this seems to be what everyone else is talking about. We do "humanities" in this wiki. Apparently we find this more interesting than "science". ~ Lumenos (your talk page) - ("my" talk page) 10:12, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
Po-mo scholars in the humanities are not merely unscientific, they are at times hostile to claims for truth made by using the scientific method. The summer before last I listened in disgust to a Straussian political philosopher from Texas who insisted that we would have made as much progress in medical treatment using trial and error as empirical scientific research. Thorvelden (talk) July today 2010
Assuming all that is true, we can see that is wrong without doing any scientific research. ~ Lumenos (your talk page) - ("my" talk page) 01:37, 21 July 2010 (UTC)

I am very tired of this nonsense about postmodernism.--ADtalkModerator 03:12, 21 July 2010 (UTC)

AD, I read not only your blog, but your little dust-up with MC in the comments. I've got to say, even as someone working in semiotics, which has benefited somewhat from postmodernist ideas, MC had a point which you never addressed. Your blog is indeed an unconvincing defence of postmodernism: essentially you're saying that in the case of King Arthur, literary historians were looking for the truth, and a postmodernist said the truth probably doesn't exist, therefore postmodernism won the argument. While I agree with the criticism that ordinary historians can be too keen to find that one holy grail, they're at least good at admitting what is known and what would be only speculation. Actually, we don't know that the King Arthur legend was just a centuries-long game of telephone; it's entirely possible that one day someone will discover the urtext, and then Baudrilliard will turn out to have been wrong. The rub is, you're tauting what he said as a "discovery," whereas more traditional scholars would just say that he's made a plausible speculation, which could well be later overturned. Do we really know any more than before, or did Baudrillard just make the (possibly wrong) observation that we're in fact searching for the unknowable?
But I often get the feeling that postmodernists don't seem to respect the boundary between concrete knowledge and theoretical speculation, or at least don't think it's important. I personally think that in art and music criticism, postmodernism has provided a necessary counter-balance to the old dogmatisms, often based on specious geopolitics and racism. But did it add new knowledge to the field? Would only postmodernism have done the trick? I can only speculate. So can you. Junggai (talk) 14:00, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
You make a good case for bad phrasing on my part - Beaudrilliard did indeed have a useful insight versus a "discovery" (in the sense of finding something concrete). But:
  • Consider that until Beaudrillard, no one had ever made a substantial case for the possible absence of an ur-text. My point about the usefulness of po-mo is grounded in this most basic fact: the postmodernist approach provided a literary scholar with the perspective that added an extremely valuable insight to the conversation. My intention was to provide evidence that po-mo was useful and should not be blithely dismissed, and I think the example illustrates my point.
  • Your phrasing is also somewhat skewed, just as mine was. Yes, technically it was just "speculation," and so no more is really "known" concretely, but most studies of literature from such eras are "speculation." Dozens of scholars have spent their careers engaged in the Shakespeare authorship question, even though the actual facts about Shakespeare himself and the plays' sources are only a few pages in length. You can objectively measure the distance traveled by a plane and the fuel burnt, so an insight into aeronautics is either concrete or not substantial. But that's just not so in literary criticism. Beaudrilliard had an innovative new theory in the field and supplied a persuasive case, and that's a hell of a lot in literary circles. He might be "wrong" if someone turns up evidence of an ur-text, but the fact that he can never provide evidence of absence in this case (it's hard to think of persuasive proof on the matter) doesn't mean that his theory is therefore useless. In short: yes, we know more.
  • I often get the feeling that postmodernists don't seem to respect the boundary between concrete knowledge and theoretical speculation, or at least don't think it's important.
There is something to this in the sense that many postmodernists would point out that the boundary is at best a very fuzzy one, and some would even suggest that it's essentially an illusion. But being unwilling to accept a dichotomous world of "right" and "wrong" in literary theory is not the same thing as not recognizing that those are nonetheless applicable qualities.
Let us take an example, with Gertrude Stein's immortal line of poetry, "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." Now, Stein was intent on freeing language from the dead weight of centuries hanging on it with colloquialisms and connotations and allusions, returning to the simple beauty of the words and their meaning. She was a genius of a modernist. But Derrida might look at her approach and critique it from a new way. He is not an idiot, so he would understand her intentions and their value. But he would also suggest that a rose was not a rose; there exists a gap between the word and what it means (a gap he called "différance").
It's not a discarding of what went before, it's an examination of the underlying rules. Knowing the rules and realizing the corresponding limitations isn't the same as throwing out the rules. Indeed, Derrida called it "trivial" to create errors in understanding the text: his deconstruction and other forms of postmodernism are aimed instead at identifying the errors that have been systematized.
  • It's true that one can only speculate that "only postmodernism [could have] done the trick." I couldn't say that only its theories were capable of something like the Arthurian idea. But you could pretty much say that about all of literary criticism, couldn't you? I mean, when Tolkien approached Beowulf in his essay about the poem's monsters - an essay that changed the way the poem was viewed by virtually all academia - he used his studies of archetypes to conclude that the monsters were an asset, not a detriment, to the poem. He's now considered as "right" as anyone can be in literary criticism (i.e. everyone agrees with him). But he was only "speculating" and didn't really "add anything new." Archetypes may not be worth anything and some other approach may have yielded the same insight, right?
Under your standards, it's hard to imagine any worthwhile theory or worthwhile scholarship in literary criticism.--ADtalkModerator
Don't think at all that I'm stacking the deck against postmodernism, nor that I'm using "speculation" as a dirty word. As a matter of fact, working in music analysis and criticism, much of the work I do is speculative in nature. But the validity of my analysis rises and falls on
a) whether it "feels" right to the reader and
b) whether it seems to plausibly explain a facet of what the composer meant to say
Of course, the first is a completely subjective criterion, and the second is a creature of speculation. However, it's not total speculation, as there are certain facts to be considered, the norms of a style as ascertained by contemporary music for example, the opinions of the composer on the matter (if they've survived), and reactions of the audience. Musicologists also make a lot of hay out of facts such as the order in which works were composed, how the work developed over time through sketches (again, if they've survived), and later revisions/corrections. From all of these things we can gather what elements of a work were an ordinary part of the style, which were intended to shock or surprise, and where humor was intended (even if it might not sound funny to a modern listener anymore). We can, through solidly factual methods, reconstruct a certain "stylistic competence" that was assumed in the original audience, and then suggest a reading of the piece based on that.
I can't remember where I've seen it, but someone made the comment that even a simple statement like "The dog is out again" can have multiple meanings, due to an intrinsic ambiguity in language. The imperfection of words is a very postmodernist idea (which originally came from Zen Buddhism, by the way), but it's also misleading, because people communicate in order to be understood first and foremost. If I say "The dog is out again" to my wife, I have a particular meaning in mind, which my wife understands perfectly. If James Carville had said this to Bill Clinton in April 1992, it probably would have had an entirely different meaning, but undoubtedly whatever meaning that was would have been understood perfectly as well. If I discover this sentence written on a bathroom stall door, it's indeed very ambiguous, neither would I really care what the author meant.
But as I said, my reservation about postmodernism is that the line between fact and theory is blurred, which makes the work of artistic interpretation difficult. By emphasizing the ambiguity, it seems as if all interpretations are equally valid, or if not, to absolve the analyst from the work of picking plausible interpretations and arguing them on merits. The emphasis in their philosophy is to say, "well, we don't really know anyway what the composer meant" as if it's a new insight, when it's not. This kind of "insight" does not make our work any easier, it only makes the postmodernist look clever. That's why Jean-Jacques Nattiez can write multiple 500-page books full of beautifully-written prose and fascinating diagrams, and not actually analyze any music based on them.
I do see a certain value, however limited, in what postmodernism has brought to the conversation. I also really enjoy the intellectual virtuosity of Derrida and Foucalt, even when I disagree. And as you mentioned, finding systemic bias is a valuable thing. But my point is that it's brought a lot of its own flaws along with it, among them a fuzziness of thinking, a curious dogmatism to this fuzziness, and a corresponding tendency to obfuscate rather than speak plainly. Moreover, I personally question if a lot of the good things that postmodernism has allegedly wrought were a result of the philosophy itself, or the contemporaneous boon of increasing multiculturalism in academia, which injected lots of fresh perspectives into scholarship. Junggai (talk) 22:44, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
Let me preface my reply by saying that I don't know anything about Nattiez or music theory. I can't even play a kazoo. So I can only reply based on postmodernism in reference to general understanding and literary criticism. Maybe Nattiez is terrible or maybe postmodernism doesn't work in music theory, either could be true as far as I know.
But as to deconstruction and différance: it's true that people communicate to be understood first and foremost, and in general they succeed. But the différance between signifier and signified means that such communication will always be flawed.
Consider "the dog is out again." There exists différance for the word "dog." In his Grammatology, Derrida explains that this différance stems from the difference between what I mean by "dog" and what you mean by "dog." This includes such things as our own experiences (I had one pet when I was a child, a dog, and I will associate it with the word in some part) but more importantly from the fact that the way to understand "dog" is by understanding its difference from other similar concepts like "cat" or "puppy," and that they in turn can also only be understood by further reference to other concepts. So while the word and the sentence can lead us to an approximate understanding based on context - and thereby achieve effective communication almost always - it will always be inherently imperfect, endlessly deferred to concepts that are themselves deferred.
This différance is essentially negligible in most aspects of life. Practically speaking, you're right: it's not a concern. (John Phillips: "All the different effects of the play on différer are just accidental. They are trivial. It is always possible to correct the mistake or to laugh it off as a joke.") That's a good thing, since Derrida asserts that it's inescapable. But in the study of literature, it's a valuable thing to know.
For example, The Dream of the Rood is one of the oldest extent English works. Near the end, a few lines read "Se sunu wæs sigorfæst on þām siðfate, mihtig ond spēdig, þā hē mid manigeo cōm, gāsta weorode, on godes rīce[.]" This is frequently translated "The Son was triumphant on that outing, mighty and successful, when he came with the multitude, the host of souls, into God’s kingdom"
Let's pick a fight: we can make some hay with the translation of "weorode." Does it express an army sort of idea, or does it express the "band of brothers" idea? Both were common uses of the word and both were well within cultural likelihood; while the Anglo-Saxons in the seventh century had moved away from the older times of blood debts and meadhalls, and were certainly familiar with contemporary gatherings of armies, either interpretation is possible. Many critics will look at other uses in the poem ["mete weorode" ("without a band") is used earlier as heroic understatement to express the cross' lack of company] or at uses in other poems (the use in Brun clearly implies a small band of men as brothers) or look for linguistic clues in etymology. But a deconstructionist will point out that meaning is derived from the word's difference from similar words, leading a scholar to study the ways in which "weorode" as an expressed concept would have diverged from "æðeling" or "gefylce."
You may not think this is a worthwhile way to approach things, or you may think it comes from some other quality like new diversity in scholarship. But it's more than just looking clever, and there's a reason to it - and it's certainly not fuzzy.
Here's a question: what would convince you of postmodernism's utility? Is there anything? Do you need more examples? More elaboration on theory? I'm not sure how to approach an accusation of it being fuzzy thinking or unsubstantive if substantive and clear examples don't do the trick.--ADtalkModerator 01:49, 22 July 2010 (UTC)
Sure you can convince me of pomo's utility. It's simple. Give me an objective accomplishment of pomo that can be placed in the "greatest achievements of man" hall of fame, with things like vaccination, space travel, democracy, calculus, etc. Until then, it's honestly just absurd solipsism that honestly, seems like woo. --The Emperor Kneel before Zod! 02:18, 22 July 2010 (UTC)
So you want me to select an example from a small branch of literary criticism that ranks with space travel or calculus? Don't you think that might be a little over-the-top? That standard would dismiss the whole of literary criticism itself - or musicology.--ADtalkModerator 02:39, 22 July 2010 (UTC)
Not really, I want you to justify the objective benefits that Pomo can have to humanity, or, failing that, literary criticism. Since it's clear that the former is untrue, we'll look at the latter. Let's take your blog post, for example. You open with the sentence "There is a marked tendency to dismiss postmodernism as being useless – a sort of empty set of theories disguised with opaque jargon". You then go on to obsfucate this point entirely and never address it ever again. Instead, you give empty anecdotes about an arthurian legend that don't really seem to justify pomo at all. Correct me if I'm wrong, but to very much decompose your argument, we would get "Pomo is useful because it leads to insights that would have evaded standard literary critics due to how obvious they were." So is shows us the forest instead of the trees. This is, in its own way, good. However, I fail to see what the core "goal" (indulge me with this word usage) of pomo has to do with the way it goes about it. It seems to me that the methodology pomo uses is completley irrelevant to the conclusions that it arrives at. The example you gave could easily be arrived at by most people who are not literary scholars (this may in part be a source of my misunderstanding)- perhaps what you're looking for dosen't exist- simply because the people who are looking at are not literary scholars. So, pomo enables us to see what we couldn't due to our preconceptions. However, the same conclusion could be arrived at simply by not having any preconceptions in the first place. Furthermore, if we attempt to use pomo to analyze things that might actually be useful, like fining preconcieve bias in, say, physics, where someone without biases couldn't understand what's gong on, it's totally useless because there is universal truth in physics. It's essentially going about a goal in the most roundabout way possible to arrive at a conclusion that could otherwise easily be generated. Compounding this with the fact that the presuppositions of pomo are objectively false to (it seems) everybody but postmodernists, it seems like it is, in fact, and empty set that's obfuscated by jargon. --The Emperor Kneel before Zod! 02:54, 22 July 2010 (UTC)
"Not really, I want you to justify the objective benefits that Pomo can have to humanity, or, failing that, literary criticism. Since it's clear that the former is untrue, we'll look at the latter."
The objective benefits? Could you please clarify what you mean by that? My answer will depend a lot on what you consider an objective benefit. I would ordinarily say that postmodernism, literary criticism, literature itself, and almost the whole of the humanities provide very few objective benefits, because I would assume you mean a quantifiable improvement to life. I'm not sure that deconstruction or literary criticism ever did anything quantifiable or objective. The same goes for music, The Iliad, the Sistine Chapel, and Guernica, actually. They are art, or help us understand art. But perhaps you mean something else by objective benefits. Please clarify for me? Sorry for the bother.
"You then go on to obsfucate this point entirely and never address it ever again."
Well, my entire post was designed to refute the idea that postmodernism was "useless." I tried to do this by showing it being useful in a particular field of literary criticism. My post assumed that the reader didn't think that literary criticism itself was useless, because that was obviously not what I was discussing. I'm not sure how I was obfuscating anything - I actually cannot think of any better way to prove usefulness than to give an example of usefulness.
"Pomo is useful because it leads to insights that would have evaded standard literary critics due to how obvious they were."
I guess the lack of an ur-text does sound like an obvious point. It's hard to prove that it wasn't - all I can do is say that it was a novel notion at the time. But that seems to be true about many discoveries. Hindsight is 20/20, and many ideas seem simple and obvious when we have the benefit of already knowing them.
I will agree with your basic summary if you clip it short, ending your sentence after "critics."
"However, I fail to see what the core "goal" (indulge me with this word usage) of pomo has to do with the way it goes about it."
I'm starting to suspect you don't actually know much about postmodernism and its associated movements. Would you mind telling me what you think the core goal is? It might be better if we defined such things so we know we're not talking at cross purposes.
"However, the same conclusion could be arrived at simply by not having any preconceptions in the first place."
So your complaint is that postmodernism - which is designed to examine and step away from our preconceptions and assumptions and rules - is silly because we could just examine and step away from our preconceptions and assumptions and rules? Seems a little like telling a pilot that his plane is silly and he should just fly a large metal tube with wings lifted under the Bernoulli principle.
"Furthermore, if we attempt to use pomo to analyze things that might actually be useful,"
I have no interest in postmodernism in the sciences, and no knowledge of it.
Thus the second paragraph from my blog: "In some respects, the blithe contempt of critics is justified. When some try to use postmodern tools to evaluate the objective sciences, such as physics and biology, they seldom find much worth the reading. While these disciplines are bound by some arbitrary rules and closeted by language in some ways, the problems of these strictures are seldom overlooked by scientists. Taxonomy, for instance, is an entire system of partially arbitrary classifications, but taxonomists are keenly aware of this and constantly propose changes to compensate. Postmodernism critiques subjective aspects of our knowledge, and incidents like the Sokal affair illustrate how little useful material there is to be found in the subjective investigation of objective science."--ADtalkModerator 06:36, 22 July 2010 (UTC)
Achievement of postmodernism: The entirety of '80s British pop music. QED! - David Gerard (talk) 14:18, 22 July 2010 (UTC)
Oooh, score 1 for David Gerard! But Tom, let's look at your points.
I would ordinarily say that postmodernism, literary criticism, literature itself, and almost the whole of the humanities provide very few objective benefits, because I would assume you mean a quantifiable improvement to life Well, I'm not going to say they provide no objective benefits. Art for the sake of art is always a good thing. But that's because good art is, at its core, merely cunning psychological manipulation. You mention Guernica in you next sentence, so let's look at that. It's a painting depicting the suffering and loss of the Spanish civil war. However, it is valuable as a piece of artwork in that it evokes an emotional response in the viewer- they see the devastation and suffering portrayed in a way that, somehow, shocks them. It's a very powerful painting. However, in order to analyze it, it's not necessary to strip away everything from it and then put it back together again. You don't need différance to analyze this painting, and you don't need to say the Picasso painted an imprecise definition of what he actually meant to paint, which eh couldn't express because of the innate deficiencies of language, or anything else. He painted a painting, and it's a damn good painting. Now analyze the fucking painting and figure out why it's so gripping. Knowledge of Picasso's motivation is unnecessary, because I certainly don't have access to years of scholarship or his letters or spent years studying his brain, and yet I still manage to get something out of the painting. So why are all the other elements necessary, when you really get down to it?
The same goes for music, The Iliad, the Sistine Chapel You just missed the point entirely. Like I said before, I would never be so arrogant to claim that art, literature, architecture, and music are useless. What I am claiming is that a system for their analysis seems, to me, to be useless. Besides, a very strong case could be made for any of those things you mentioned having a strong, positive contribution to society, culture, and the general welfare.
My post assumed that the reader didn't think that literary criticism itself was useless, because that was obviously not what I was discussing.Again, I wasn't saying that. I'm saying that this particular field of literary criticism seems to be working at cross purposes to itself, which doesn't make sense to me.
I will agree with your basic summary if you clip it short, ending your sentence after "critics." Okay, fine. Point conceded.
I'm starting to suspect you don't actually know much about postmodernism and its associated movements. Would you mind telling me what you think the core goal is? I'm not a literary scholar. I'm trying to understand something that makes very little sense to me in its goals and objectives by questioning someone who does know about it and observing their responses and defenses. There was a guy called Socrates who came up with a very similar system. I think that the core "goal" would be to reveal insights that would otherwise not be readily apparent. Again, I'm using the word goal because I'm not sure what other word would be better, although it may not be the best word in and of itself.
So your complaint is that postmodernism - which is designed to examine and step away from our preconceptions and assumptions and rules - is silly because we could just examine and step away from our preconceptions and assumptions and rules? Seems a little like telling a pilot that his plane is silly and he should just fly a large metal tube with wings lifted under the Bernoulli principle. That was a bad analogy on my part. Look, you've read Foundation, right? Remember the bit where they disguise science as a religion and use it to control others? Pomo seems to be kind of like that. They've taken a useful goal and a good idea and surrounded it with layers of bullshit for reasons I cannot fathom. Also, airplanes do not fly exclusively on the Bernoulli principle (Newton's laws play some part), just for your edification :P.
I have no interest in postmodernism in the sciences, and no knowledge of it. Good. I've run across far too many people (i.e. I have met people) that use pomo as an excuse to attack science because "you can't know anything!".
Again, I'm not trying to be hostile here, I'm just trying to understand something, mm'kay? --The Emperor Kneel before Zod! 21:06, 22 July 2010 (UTC)
Your indistinguishable-from-hostility combined with admitting you don't know what the hell you're arguing about suggests the most mutually productive answer to your question is "go read a book".
And BTW, the '80s pop thing and pomo is ha ha only serious. Paul Morley in NME in the early 1980s - David Gerard (talk) 22:46, 22 July 2010 (UTC)
I'm afraid the mid section of your first comment applies soundly to my futile attempts to play along. I wasn't talking about PM because I know nothing about it. So I'm never gonna dance again. I have this guilty feeling... ~ Lunemouse 02:47, 23 July 2010 (UTC)
" However, it is valuable as a piece of artwork in that it evokes an emotional response in the viewer ... So why are all the other elements necessary, when you really get down to it?"
I am not familiar with art criticism. But I think if we slip The Iliad back in as a substitute, nothing need be changed in your question. And that one I can answer.
Yes, The Iliad is beautiful and provokes an emotional response. And I suppose it's not "necessary" to deconstruct it or understand the most fundamental linguistic rules and assumptions under which it was written; people have been enjoying it for centuries before they thought to do that. But understanding something better often enables you to get more out of it: the greatest works of art are astonishingly deep, both because of intentions on behalf of the artist and because of their unconscious efforts. Something as simple as the chapter about Achilles' shield has depths within depths. It depicts a multitude of everyday things in a precise order. Is it telling an allegorical story about the future? Is it depicting the ordinary life that will be ruined through war? To figure out these things and know them, getting more out of the passage and improve our understanding of both The Iliad as well as ancient Greek literature and literature as a whole: it helps to understand the story. And to help understand the story sometimes you need to take it apart and figure out why and how it was written. I can give another example if you want, but I've already given several for reference.
"You don't need différance to analyze this painting, and you don't need to say the Picasso painted an imprecise definition of what he actually meant to paint, which eh couldn't express because of the innate deficiencies of language, or anything else."
It would indeed be inadvisable to use literary criticism on a painting.
"There was a guy called Socrates who came up with a very similar system. I think that the core "goal" would be to reveal insights that would otherwise not be readily apparent."
That's your summary of postmodernism and its goals?
"They've taken a useful goal and a good idea and surrounded it with layers of bullshit for reasons I cannot fathom."
Can you give me an example?
"Also, airplanes do not fly exclusively on the Bernoulli principle (Newton's laws play some part), just for your edification :P."
I thought my mocking response was long enough without detailing fixed-wing flight right down to thrust and altimeters.
"Again, I'm not trying to be hostile here, I'm just trying to understand something, mm'kay?"
You seem a trifle hostile. And while the Socratic method is very useful, it's kind of a large burden on me to give you an introductory course in the topic of conversation. It's like saying to a physicist, "I think quantum tunneling is nonsense: what is it?" Maybe you can pick up a book or a selection of essays, and we can revisit later?--ADtalkModerator 05:04, 23 July 2010 (UTC)
I am not familiar with art criticism. But I think if we slip The Iliad back in as a substitute, nothing need be changed in your question. And that one I can answer.
Whoa whoa whoa. Hold your horses. I have two pretty large complaints here. 1. Why did you cite something as evidence if you know jackshit about it? 2. I'm not questioning you about the Iliad. I'm questioning you about Guernica. They are two completely different things, and you should answer me by responding to my comments about Guernica, not by going off on a random tangent I never mentioned in my post. That's like me saying "Quantum mechanics supports my argument", and then when you call my bullshit, I give a lengthy and detailed explanation about how religion is crucial to it's understanding, because I have no idea what quantum mechanics is and was just namedropping to support my arguments, which is absolutely what you were doing there.
It would indeed be inadvisable to use literary criticism on a painting
THEN WHY DID YOU USE IT AS AN EXAMPLE?!?!?!?
That's your summary of postmodernism and its goals?
My bad. There should have been a line break between the sentence about the Socratic method and the system about the core goal; they address two different points you mention in consecutive sentences. They have nothing to do with one another.
Can you give me an example?
You mean like différance? Surrounding an idea with impenetrable jargon designed to deter laymen(see also: Quantum woo) sets off my bullshit detector pretty fast.
I thought my mocking response was long enough without detailing fixed-wing flight right down to thrust and altimeters.
Hm. This sentence details you total lack of understanding of the subject you are trying to discuss, which is ironically what you accuse me of like it's some kind of mortal sin I will never live up to. That's funny. Maybe you can pick up a book or a selection of journal, and we can revisit later?
You seem a trifle hostile
No, that's just how I am normally. How long have you been here again? Since late '08, right? You should I'm like this by now.
And while the Socratic method is very useful, it's kind of a large burden on me to give you an introductory course in the topic of conversation.
Yes, it's called the burden of proof, and it is indeed upon you in this discussion. Let's track the course of the burden of proof. Firstly, pomo scholars claim that all language is imprecise, our core preconception need to be stepped away from and analyzed, etc. People call bullshit. The burden of proof would be on pomo scholars, because they are the ones making the claims. You come along and say "It's unfair for you to call bullshit". The burden of proof is now upon you, because you have to prove why the claims of bullshit are false/irrelevant. I come along and call bullshit on your complaints, because they are irrelevant to what you are trying to prove. The burden of proof is still upon you, though, because you were making the claims. Capiche?
It's like saying to a physicist, "I think quantum tunneling is nonsense: what is it?"
The difference between that scenario is that the quantum physicist would then proceed to give an explanation of quantum mechanics and the principles behind it that would be understandable to a layman, not retreat further into layers of bullshit about "Oh, well we've used it to do this experiment which some people think is correct (even though others disagree), and besides, you're not a quantum physicist so I can't tell you because you're too stupid to understand!"
Maybe you can pick up a book or a selection of essays, and we can revisit later?
Wow, arrogant much? I'm sorry, I must be too stupid to engage your highness in a discussion about your beliefs. Naturally, since I'm not TomMoore, I must be wrong in my criticisms, and thus am wasting your time. What can I do to prove myself worth of your attention? Oh, I know! I'll just go post on my blog how erudite I am, and how I'm clearly sooo much smarter than anybody else here because I have the reading comprehension level of a fucking fifth grader and tons of spare time on my hands! Then will you engage me in discussion? [Aside: THIS is what I'm like when I get hostile, just for the reference.] --The Emperor Kneel before Zod! 02:50, 24 July 2010 (UTC)
"Whoa whoa whoa. Hold your horses. I have two pretty large complaints here. 1. Why did you cite something as evidence if you know jackshit about it?"
It was an example of "art" - things that don't have a quantifiable effect (unless you count tourism, I guess?). Sorry if that wasn't clear. I am also not an expert in music or the Sistine Chapel.
"2. I'm not questioning you about the Iliad. I'm questioning you about Guernica. They are two completely different things, and you should answer me by responding to my comments about Guernica, not by going off on a random tangent I never mentioned in my post. That's like me saying "Quantum mechanics supports my argument", and then when you call my bullshit, I give a lengthy and detailed explanation about how religion is crucial to it's understanding, because I have no idea what quantum mechanics is and was just namedropping to support my arguments, which is absolutely what you were doing there. "
Is it? I was only referencing various important and valuable things that are not quantifiable, by way of making an argument that quantifiability is not essential to a field's worth. I didn't make any reference to postmodernism's application to Guernica. Nor to its application to the Sistine Chapel. How would one apply postmodernism to the Sistine Chapel, anyway? Beyond me.
"THEN WHY DID YOU USE IT AS AN EXAMPLE?!?!?!?"
It was an example of the nonquantifiable.
"My bad. There should have been a line break between the sentence about the Socratic method and the system about the core goal; they address two different points you mention in consecutive sentences. They have nothing to do with one another."
Okay. Could you give me some idea of your understanding of postmodernism, though? I want to make sure we're on the same page.
"Surrounding an idea with impenetrable jargon designed to deter laymen sets off my bullshit detector pretty fast."
It seems to me like différance is actually the ideal use of jargon. Derrida writes impenetrably and is terrible for it, but this is actually an instance of a novel concept that needs a descriptive term. There's just no easy way to discuss the difference between signifier and signified deriving from the re-referencing of associated concepts and the gap between what is said and what is meant, unless you coin a word for it. It makes it a lot more easy to discuss.
There are certainly some useless jargon terms, of course. But really the main flaw of someone like Derrida (who is by far the best evidence for someone making a case about po-mo being obfuscation) is the writing in which he explains things, not so much the jargon. Witness.
"Hm. This sentence details you total lack of understanding of the subject you are trying to discuss, which is ironically what you accuse me of like it's some kind of mortal sin I will never live up to. That's funny. Maybe you can pick up a book or a selection of journal, and we can revisit later?"
Exactly as soon as I declare some branch of aeronautics useless. I agree it would be absolutely ignorant of me to make such judgments without knowing something about the topic. Anyone would have to be, in fact.
"Yes, it's called the burden of proof, and it is indeed upon you in this discussion. Let's track the course of the burden of proof. Firstly, pomo scholars claim that all language is imprecise, our core preconception need to be stepped away from and analyzed, etc. People call bullshit. The burden of proof would be on pomo scholars, because they are the ones making the claims. You come along and say "It's unfair for you to call bullshit". The burden of proof is now upon you, because you have to prove why the claims of bullshit are false/irrelevant. I come along and call bullshit on your complaints, because they are irrelevant to what you are trying to prove."
I'm not arguing the burden of proof. It's just difficult to do to someone who doesn't know what we're discussing. I guess maybe if you want you can declare yourself the awesome winner and postmodernism is debunked because I don't want to teach you about its basics so I can begin to then argue their merits. Congratulations?
"The difference between that scenario is that the quantum physicist would then proceed to give an explanation of quantum mechanics and the principles behind it that would be understandable to a layman, not retreat further into layers of bullshit about "Oh, well we've used it to do this experiment which some people think is correct (even though others disagree), and besides, you're not a quantum physicist so I can't tell you because you're too stupid to understand!""
"What do you mean, -\frac{\hbar^2}{2m} \frac{d^2}{dx^2} \Psi(x) + V(x) \Psi(x) = E \Psi(x)? Listen, sir, if you can't explain why you think you're correct in a way I understand, then you must be wrong. Now teach me algebra and then we'll start in on the calculus!"
"Wow, arrogant much? I'm sorry, I must be too stupid to engage your highness in a discussion about your beliefs."
I don't think you're stupid necessarily, just ignorant of the topic of conversation and hostile about that fact. You think it's my responsibility not just to defend postmodernism, but also do you the favor of explaining its basic concepts. I don't actually think that's my job. I think that if you want to intelligently discuss a topic, it's your responsibility to learn about it first. I'm sorry if you disagree.--ADtalkModerator 15:27, 24 July 2010 (UTC)
Here's where the rubber hits the road for me: if a philosophy promises to rearrange man's concept of verifiable truth, and invents a new vocabulary that one needs a doctorate in the discipline to understand, the insights it produces have to be a whole lot better than they would be otherwise. For moral and political reasons, I become very impatient with scholars who cannot explain their discipline to a group of curious laymen without resorting to jargon. Even a quantum physicist can talk to a group of 14-year-olds about what they do and keep them riveted. I imagine I could do the same with Beethoven string quartets, and actually feel morally compelled to be able to evangelize my discipline, so to speak.
If I may piggyback on something theemperor said earlier, I just can't see that the insights you've mentioned really took a fancy new word to come up with. The Dream of the Rood example you gave was very interesting, and I mulled over it for a while. But as an honest question, how is the postmodernist's answer to the problem a better alternative than that found through more traditional, text-critical means? If I'm reading a modern translation of Dream of the Rood, and know next to nothing about Old English, I like to know about these difficulties in translating extremely important words, and to have in front of me a couple of possible alternatives, along with the scholar's inclination and logic for choosing one over the other. In this case, I'm going to be biased toward the traditional scholars, who have found the word used in other places, or better yet, elsewhere in the poem itself. Why? Because it makes more sense to me that poets write with the language they've inherited, and use words that they're sure will resonate with their readers; also, I find it hard to believe that such an important word as you describe would not be extant anwhere else with the same usage. Moreover, the postmodernist answer seems to me too speculative for the pomo scholar to know what the probability of being right is, much less to explain their reasoning to the reader. That, for me, is where the fuzziness of thinking comes in. Traditional scholars are able to tell you how likely it is that they're wrong; they know the topography of their ignorance, to borrow a phrase from Thomas Pynchon. Postmodernists, as we've established, like to work the blurry line between the known and unknown, to the point of being hesitant to admit plain facts.
Back to "The dog is out": it makes to me not one whit of difference (pun intended) that someone's mental image of a dog is not the same as mine. When I say "the dog is out again," it's damned well precise enough for my wife to understand what I mean. I've related a fact, and the fact was received successfully, and one of the reasons it was so well received was that we both know the same dog, and the same damned rickety fence that never fucking stays shut, and the same bitchy neighbor who likes to record our dog's barking with her iPhone and e-mail the *.wav file to the police once a week. This is Peircian semiotics, as I understand it, but it's also known as common sense. We humans have a knack for absorbing language and using it as precisely as we can to convey what we want. We also have a knack for saying things ambiguously when we want to be deceptive, and our fellow humans have an equally good bullshit detector that picks such things up. If anyone tells me "all language is essentially imprecise" as a way of arrogantly pointing out that there are meanings I can never understand, my most honest response is, "true, but I don't really care."
There is a great Zen Buddhist parable, by the way, about the master who showed his monks a broom and asked them, "What is this?" When one says "a broom," the master responded by shaking his head and whacking the monk with it -- "That's what this is." As a Zen parable, I get it. Short circuiting language to achieve direct experience is an awesome thing, because language puts us at a certain remove from other, more essential thought processes. But, when analyzing what people have said and written, I'd rather assume that the author or speaker knew what he/she meant to say. Junggai (talk) 22:02, 22 July 2010 (UTC)
"For moral and political reasons, I become very impatient with scholars who cannot explain their discipline to a group of curious laymen without resorting to jargon. I imagine I could do the same with Beethoven string quartets, and actually feel morally compelled to be able to evangelize my discipline, so to speak."
Fair enough; that's a very just criticism of postmodernism. It's true that Derrida was a jerk who was deliberately obscure and annoying with his writing just to confuse people trying to understand deconstruction. And much else of postmodernism is very difficult.
But it can be explained. I have tried to give substantive and topical examples that anyone can understand. An expert in postmodernism could probably do so far better than I, and maybe even rivet some children.
"But as an honest question, how is the postmodernist's answer to the problem a better alternative than that found through more traditional, text-critical means?"
It's not necessarily better, per se. It's just a new way to approach things, like adding a socket wrench to your toolbox. You seem to think that one interpretation supplants the other, but they're all valid ways to look at it. Sometimes différance might not help give any insight at all into a text, and sometimes it might.
"Moreover, the postmodernist answer seems to me too speculative for the pomo scholar to know what the probability of being right is, much less to explain their reasoning to the reader. ... Traditional scholars are able to tell you how likely it is that they're wrong;"
I think you would be hard-pressed to find much difference between a deconstruction critic and a structural critic in this regard. If either one couldn't explain their reasoning, then no one would take their scholarship seriously. And both could tell you how likely it is they're wrong.
"If anyone tells me "all language is essentially imprecise" as a way of arrogantly pointing out that there are meanings I can never understand, my most honest response is, "true, but I don't really care.""
Has someone made such a claim? It doesn't seem very useful.
"But, when analyzing what people have said and written, I'd rather assume that the author or speaker knew what he/she meant to say."
Well, if we're referring to deconstruction again: the point is that while they knew what they meant, that isn't what they said. Instead they took what they meant (the signified) and translated it into a set of symbols (signifier) to express roughly their meaning. Again, as I said already: no one is saying that they can't get their meaning across. That would be absurd and useless. Instead, the point is that it can be very useful in literature to realize the difference that exists between signifier and signified. This isn't pointed out by deconstructionists for shits and giggles: it's done for a point and to help understand something.--ADtalkModerator 05:04, 23 July 2010 (UTC)
Strikes me as a bunch of people who got a bit too caught up in the philosophy of language and forgot to relearn how to actually communicate. "...like adding a socket wrench to your toolbox" Please to at least make a good analogy, one that you understand. The nominative referent you employ is not even an observable phenomenon. ħumanUser talk:Human 05:12, 23 July 2010 (UTC)
A socket wrench is not extant? It's this thing. I'm not very handy, I'll admit, but I thought that was a solid analogy.--ADtalkModerator 15:30, 24 July 2010 (UTC)

Gender Studies[edit]

Someone just mentioned this in the section above, and I thought it deserved its own thread. It's nice to see that it's not just me who thinks that the gender studies authors seem bound by no rules of evidence in their writing. Unfortunately, however bad the writing or arguments are, it seems that they're getting awesome university jobs and have no problem getting published. For example, in feminist musicologist Marcia Citron's book Gender and the Musical Canon, she asserts at the beginning of chapter 2, "Patriarchal society has captured the concept of creativity and used it as a powerful means of silencing women." She apparently thought that this statement required no evidence or even logical argument, because none are forthcoming, only a host of other assertions. My favorite among them is the idea that while women used to give birth at home, patriarchal society invented hospitals in order to claim control over the birth process, to "confirm society's fears about the evils of the woman's body," and to give the woman the clear signal that her procreative powers are equal to a disease. Or maybe would that be for the improvement of infant mortality? Nahh...

What really gets to me is that in any other field, any such untested assertions would never pass for a graduate term paper, much less a peer review or academic book publishing. This book received rave reviews, and Dr. Citron holds probably a six-figure faculty position at Rice University. Junggai (talk) 21:11, 19 July 2010 (UTC)

That's the sort of thing I was thinking of, although it wasn't Citron and I can't say I heard her; which is strange as it was a music and gender course that fired me off on the topic. And it's not that such things are completely beyond testing either, they assert that gender influences things like writing and music and I'm pretty sure you can test this. That I Write Like script should be able to, in principle, statistically analyze the writing for trends - if you can't spot them then you're obviously talking about an effect that doesn't objectively exist. As someone, I keep forgetting who, said "facts without theory is trivia - theory without facts is bullshit". Scarlet A.pngnarchist 21:20, 19 July 2010 (UTC)
As I understand it, such feminist artistic critiques are self-justifying: men have long been suppressing women's voices, which explains the lack of documentation for such oppression. To a degree, I can humor such reasoning if there are other convincing arguments present, but unfortunately this is usually the central point.
From what you said earlier, it seems like you might have been reading Ruth Solie. Junggai (talk) 21:34, 19 July 2010 (UTC)

Support[edit]

One of the observations I have made over the years is that the level of support for science students dwarfs what is usually available for humanities. This hit particularly close to home for me this year during negotiations for the TA contract with my university. The TAship is only about a third or less of the average funding for the science student at my university. For the humanities students its pretty much all they get. So there is this massive divide between how much the science students care about small changes in wages, versus how the humanity students feel. This is coupled with the fact that your average individual that shows up at union meeting and elects administration is going to be more likely from the poly sci department than engineering. It was a fairly epic conflict, that nearly came to blows, and did induce more than a few death threats to myself.

There is a very strong tension between the two groups at my university and the heart of that tension is support. But why the difference in support? I think some of this comes down to what does science oriented research produce in terms of concrete benefit, versus humanities. I think the humanities can produce some truly important works, but its not the kinds of things that industry and government granting agencies really invest it. Therefore, the universities get such a disproportionately huge amount of money from science research. Follow the money is the take home lesson here. The end products of humanities departments don't produce what major sources of funding invest in, therefor universities disproportionately support science faculties and departments. This leads to massive tension and us vs. them mentalities on campus. It is a mess. tmtoulouse 21:38, 20 July 2010 (UTC)

Humanities Grad Students for Trent Toulouse !!!! P-Foster (talk) 21:49, 20 July 2010 (UTC)
There's no easy way of resolving that situation. Ultimately education is a commodity as much as anything else, & the departments which bring the most money into universities are bound to be the ones which specialise in the most marketable skills, like sciences, engineering, architecture, medicine, and business. With a few exceptions, the humanities can't easily compete with that. WëäŝëïöïďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 23:57, 20 July 2010 (UTC)
At the extreme, if one wants to write the Great American Novel, one will do it while living on Ramen Noodles, the only budget one needs is something to write on. If one is inspired to explore breakthroughs in particle physics, a few expensive machines are absolutely necessary. Although, of course, that bitch Einstein did all his seminal work with a pencil and paper... ħumanUser talk:Human 01:45, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
My doctoral dissertation in the humanities will require travel to archives and extended stays for archival research and interviews in New York, London, Paris, and a few African sites TBD. Not cheap. P-Foster (talk) 01:58, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
I said my examples were extremes. Your project will cost several (tens of?) thousand dollars, a mere pittance compared to the LHC, or even a well-equipped lab. So you get screwed on the money end... ħumanUser talk:Human 02:12, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
Eeeaarruum who exactly is screwing P-Foster in this situation?
While it sounds like a magnificent safari, I would prefer not to subside unless I get to go also. (Although upon returning home I fear the feeling that I am back where I started.) ~ Lunemowse 16:08, 24 July 2010 (UTC)

Remember ...[edit]

... there's no "I" in humanities. (sorry but it's bugged me for days now.) 05:14, 23 July 2010 (UTC) SusanG Toast

I know, it's addressed in the first (?) section. It was put here with the typo from the SB intact. ħumanUser talk:Human 05:23, 23 July 2010 (UTC)
I thought it was quite apposite, no I (no ME) in humanities, if you get my drift. 05:29, 23 July 2010 (UTC) SusanG Toast
(Couldn't actually understand most of it. What with Lumenos[whatever that is] and "postmodernism"[whatever that is] it's largely TL;DR. That's why I missed it, I suppose) 05:31, 23 July 2010 (UTC) SusanG Toast
I find if you employ stratigery, it creates the illusion that everyone is talking to themselves. We really should sign at the beginning of posts for better informed consent. ~ Lunemowse 03:38, 24 July 2010 (UTC)

Bull Puckey, It's a False Dichotomy[edit]

The social sciences all use scientific methodology and statistics. In some ways, doing statistical studies in the social sciences can be more complex because of the mind-bending number of confounding variables. Even the "softer" side of the humanities like history, anthropology, etc. can require enormous amounts of diverse knowledge. In my history courses, which concentrated on late 19th-early 20th century US and Europe, we had to learn about a ton of disparate fields, like environmental issues (the Dust Bowl), economics (John Maynard Keynes got around a lot back in those days), and technology (heavy industry, Second Industrial Revolution). There are also fields with a lot of crossover, like biological anthropology and archaeology, which draw on the sciences and humanities. I've done things ranging from a high dose of undergrad to research in history, psychology, and archaeology. In my experience, there's always some "No True Scotsman" accusations being hurled at other fields or even subfields within fields, but it mostly amounts to a big dick-waving contest. Sure, there's a higher bullshit quotient in some fields and you can dig up some po-mo lit crit and wave it around. But doing good research in any field is hard.User:Nebuchadnezzar