IdleRich

IdleRich
"gut feeling?"
OK, to spell it out, S&B obviously see the scientific terminology being used as a reason to judge it scientifically ("though constructed from scientific terminology") as mentioned in the actual quote.

"Saying it's a provocation doesn't, evidently, mean that it's 'meaningless, or annoying' - I meant it's a provocation to thought, to think differently..."
No, saying it's a provocation means it's annoying, it was the bit before that that meant it was meaningless, I just put the two together.

"What I meant was, he needs to say why it is meaningless from a scientific point of view, not simply that assert that it is meaningless. How, precisely, is Baudrillard using these terms in a misleading or inaccurate way?"
How is he not? Maybe that's an annoying answer but it's not intended to be, I simply can't extract any meaning from what B said, can you?

"Well, his arguments are of the structure 'this is clearly irrelevant and inappropriate, because this sort of thing should not be done'... and why shouldn't this sort of be done? Well, because it is irrelevant and inappropriate, silly!"
His argument is "this sentence doesn't make sense and yet he is presenting it as though it does", I accept that he takes it as self-evident that it doesn't make sense (and I, but presumably not you, think most people would agree with him) but it's not circular.

"why are you sure, because you have FAITH?"
"So now it's another fallacy, irrelevant appeal to authority: Dawkins must be right, because he knows what he's talking about. We don't have to see any argument or evidence, because we know he could provide it if required. Why couldn't the same be said of Baudrillard: obviously he knows what he's talking about, and therefore there is no real need for him to explain himself to those who do not understand?"
What I mean is, he is taking it as self-evident that anyone reading that will be able to see it's nonsense. I think he's right because that's how it appears to me, B just throws together word after word that don't go together "turbulence distances effects from their causes" - what does that mean? I simply cannot get anything from that. Or at least, not in any "scientific" sense.

But, let's say that I am taking it on faith, in other words that when a physicist and a biologist argue about the meaning of scientific words in (what they take to be) a scientific context with a philosopher they are more likely to be right, I don't think that's a massive stretch.

"If you want to know why you should read Baudrillard, that's a different question. Approaching it from this angle, though, is like saying 'I've heard you're a wife-beater - tell me why I should like you..."
Maybe so, I hope not.

"And quite honestly, if you don't think that appeal to self-evidence, bullying use of authority and assertion without evidence don't weaken someone's case, then there won't be any repudiation of Dawkins that's going to convince you."
Well, once again, I have no problem with someone saying something is self-evident if it's self-evident. I don't see any assertion without evidence unless you are talking about the self-evident thing again (again). I don't see any bullying use of authority and even if I did I don't think that makes any difference to my opinion on the points being made.
 

John Doe

Well-known member
'd like to intervene at this late point in the thread and record my own personal sadness at JB's passing. I've enjoyed his writing immensely since I first came across it 15 or so years ago and over the years I've found his texts to be provocative, piercing, amusing, stimulating, maddening and sometimes more than a little excessive (that being the point, of course). I'm always astonished at this lazy but widespread consensus that posits he is some sort of fool or clown or charlatan (and so often from those who haven't read him, or not at all attentively). If nothing else Baudrillard's critique of media and his reflections on the 'information age' mark him out as an urgently prescient and perceptive thinker. He took up the pioneering work of Marshall McLuhan and was instrumental in formulating and deploying concepts to analyse and make sense of the absolute centrality of media to the functioning of late capitalist society (and, back in the mid-70s he was quick to recognise that the consumer society rendered much of Marx's analysis of a class based society redundant). He has combined (post) Marxism, semiotics, sociology, psychotherapy and (post) structuralism in genuinely original and exciting ways. The writers who influenced Baudriallard and were influenced him are select but outstanding cadre: Ballard, of course, and Pynchon and, my own personal favourite DeLillo. But you can find his ideas discussed in such unlikely non-post modernist novels as Richard Ford's Independance Day also. Baudrillard's like that: he has a habit of creeping into the culture, often in unlkely places and through unlikely means. I can't help thinking that those who so shrilly seek to denounce and dismiss him do so out of the creeping fear that they are indeed infected by the virus of Baudrillard: that their own precious, 'natural' and supposedly pure interority is indeed little more than a mediated, mass-market driven simulation of the most crassest banality.

So farewell then, Jean: thanks for all the cool memories. I hope your final and ultimate fatal strategy took you to somewhere where the hyper-reality proved to be one of escastic seduction...
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
"Well said, JD."
Yeah, I liked that. Maybe I'm getting too stuck on one part I disagree with and not looking at the big picture.

"I'm always astonished at this lazy but widespread consensus that posits he is some sort of fool or clown or charlatan (and so often from those who haven't read him, or not at all attentively)."
Dunno that it's a consensus but fair points on the not having read him. I can't take it any further without doing that. Alright you two, where should I start? Been reading DeLillo and Pynchon recently so I ought to be ready right?

Some more back and forth on the subject on the guardian blog

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/julian_baggini/2007/03/the_shadow_of_his_former_self.html
 

k-punk

Spectres of Mark
No, saying it's a provocation means it's annoying

No, it really doesn't. It just means, 'designed to elicit a response'.

How is he not? Maybe that's an annoying answer but it's not intended to be, I simply can't extract any meaning from what B said, can you?

Yes I can (see below). But even if I couldn't, it wouldn't mean it was nonsense; it could well be that I didn't undersand it because I lack the relevant grounding. If I were presented with something from a physics journal, likely as not I would not be able to extract any meaning from it - even if it used analogies or correspondences from a field with which I am familiar. But it would be extremely ignorant of me to dismiss it as nonsense.

The onus is on those who are denouncing Baudrillard as a charlatan to demonstrate their case.

His argument is "this sentence doesn't make sense and yet he is presenting it as though it does",

But that isn't an argument - an argument is a conclusion supported by reasons. What you have presented above is merely an assertion. Now let's have the evidence.

I accept that he takes it as self-evident that it doesn't make sense (and I, but presumably not you, think most people would agree with him) but it's not circular.

As you present it, it isn't EVEN circular, because it isn't an argument. In any case, appeal to self-evidence is fallacious reasoning. And now you are throwing in another fallacy - appeal to popularity. So what if 'most people would agree with him'? 'Most people' don't have the skills to read theory any more than they have the skills to read science. But some of those people, I think, would be humble enough to admit that.

What I mean is, he is taking it as self-evident that anyone reading that will be able to see it's nonsense.

Well, I should have thought that, since you engaging with someone who doesn't 'see that it's nonsense', it is evident that this is not the case.

I think he's right because that's how it appears to me,

Are you an expert in chaos theory btw?

B just throws together word after word that don't go together "turbulence distances effects from their causes" - what does that mean? I simply cannot get anything from that. Or at least, not in any "scientific" sense.

Which words don't go together here - 'turbulence', 'effects' 'causes' seem fairly well-related to me. I took this as a gloss on the well-known 'butterfly effect' whereby tiny causes in one area have unpredictable effects in another, i.e. with the result that effects become distanced from causes.

I thought that the choice of Baudrillard's use of chaos theory as evidence of 'charlatanism' was especially poor, because the application of chaos theory to social systems is hardly unique to him; there are plenty of analyses of markets and other dynamic social processes which use chaos theory.

But, let's say that I am taking it on faith, in other words that when a physicist and a biologist argue about the meaning of scientific words in (what they take to be) a scientific context with a philosopher they are more likely to be right, I don't think that's a massive stretch.

I would say it is a massive stretch. They aren't arguing with a philosopher, they are simply denouncing him, using several classical fallacies of reasoning. I would accept the appeal to authority if it were backed up by argument and evidence, but none is forthcoming.

Also, doesn't your argument implode? If people are automatically infallible experts in their own field, then why can Baudrilalrd not be considered an infallible expert in the field of social theory who 'obviously knows' more about it than Dawkins et al? What qualifies them to comment on social theory?

Well, once again, I have no problem with someone saying something is self-evident if it's self-evident.

There is no problem with appeals to self-evidence if indeed the claim is self-evident. But the only statements that would really qualify as self-evident are those which are tautologous - i.e. 'a vixen is a fox'.

I don't see any assertion without evidence unless you are talking about the self-evident thing again (again).

Of course I'm talking about the 'self-evident thing' again. What is your position, now? Above you were saying that it was OK for them to use self-evident reasoning, now you are saying that there was, in fact, evidence. Could you please present this evidence, because I haven't seen it yet.

I don't see any bullying use of authority and even if I did I don't think that makes any difference to my opinion on the points being made.

There is no problem with appeal to authority, if the authority is relevant, and if the authority presents evidence. The latter is not the case here, and the former is only partially true: as scientists, they have some authority (but are they experts in chaos theory, or does being an expert in one field of science qualify you as an expert in all areas of science?), but they have don't have expertise in social theory.
 

k-punk

Spectres of Mark
Alright you two, where should I start? Been reading DeLillo and Pynchon recently so I ought to be ready right?

I would start with Simulations and Simulacra - a series of short essays from the 1970s (it's the one that they use in The Matrix). This contains his reflections on advertising, Apocalypse Now, science fiction (there are two essays, one on SF in general, including reflections on Dick, and one specifically devoted to Ballard) and nihilism.

Seduction is also a fabulous book - his challenge to feminism, his own theory of erotics and theory of ambivalence

Symbolic Exchange and Death includes his most sustained and clear discussion of his theory of simulacra
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
"No, it really doesn't. It just means, 'designed to elicit a response'."
But it was annoying.

"Yes I can (see below). But even if I couldn't, it wouldn't mean it was nonsense; it could well be that I didn't undersand it because I lack the relevant grounding. If I were presented with something from a physics journal, likely as not I would not be able to extract any meaning from it - even if it used analogies or correspondences from a field with which I am familiar. But it would be extremely ignorant of me to dismiss it as nonsense."
But Sokal, Dawkins et al do have all the relevant grounding, that's why people took notice.

"But that isn't an argument - an argument is a conclusion supported by reasons. What you have presented above is merely an assertion. Now let's have the evidence."
OK, I agree with that, it's not an argument as such, they are merely highlighting a nonsensical sentence which B tried to get away with. The argument they *are* making is, given that the work of several named philosophers (self-evidently?) falls down badly when they deal with science, perhaps it might fall down badly in general.

"Well, I should have thought that, since you engaging with someone who doesn't 'see that it's nonsense', it is evident that this is not the case."
Correct me if I'm wrong but, up to now, I don't remember you at any point actually defending what was said - in other words it wasn't obvious that you didn't see it as nonsense.

Are you an expert in chaos theory btw?
Hardly, I did a masters degree in maths and did study chaos theory but I would be the first to admit that it was some time ago.


"I would say it is a massive stretch. They aren't arguing with a philosopher, they are simply denouncing him, using several classical fallacies of reasoning. I would accept the appeal to authority if it were backed up by argument and evidence, but none is forthcoming.
Also, doesn't your argument implode? If people are automatically infallible experts in their own field, then why can Baudrilalrd not be considered an infallible expert in the field of social theory who 'obviously knows' more about it than Dawkins et al? What qualifies them to comment on social theory?"
I still disagree regarding the size of the stretch. I don't see any fallacy of reasoning.
I don't think that people are "automatically experts in their own field" but, at the same time, I think that we both know that Sokal is more likely to know the correct usage of mathematical and physical terms - or don't we?

"Which words don't go together here - 'turbulence', 'effects' 'causes' seem fairly well-related to me. I took this as a gloss on the well-known 'butterfly effect' whereby tiny causes in one area have unpredictable effects in another, i.e. with the result that effects become distanced from causes."
I guess it could be that. But it would be a guess.

The self-evident thing. I agree, they are not arguing for it, I take the structure of what they are saying to be that on reading B they found something they consider to self-evidently nonsense and that if they highlight it for the benefit of people to read then everyone will see it. OK, you disagree with this because you don't think it is self-evidently the case but I don't think you can attack their reasoning.

OK, I see what you meant with the "bullying appeal to authority" now, I misread/misundertood that before.

Anyway, I'm in a hurry to go home now (this post was all written in a bit of a rush so if mistakes in spelling, quoting, whatever I apologise). I don't have a computer at home but I will try and check dissensus over the weekend if you do reply but I don't promise that I will be able to do so.
Thank you for your tips regarding the books, I will honestly try and read them when I have read the pile on my floor.
Have a nice weekend.
Rich
 

John Doe

Well-known member
Yeah, Simulations and Simulacra is the best place to start: and the book on Symbolic Exchange is the most thorough going exposition of B's concept of simulation. I don't know if they're still in print but In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities and The Ecstasy of Communication are also good reads: they're short, sharp and very stimulating.

A different sort of book I'd recommend is America. This is less an academic work more a colleciton of reflections on a journey B undertook around the US at the beginning of the 80s (it ultimately prompted the whole Cool Memories series). Like de Toqueville, it stages an encounter between an 'intellectual' of 'old Europe' with the excesses and mores of the new Republic. B's observations are obviously deeply informed by his theories of simulation and hyperreality, and, for a book that is well over 20 years old, it really is staggering in it prescient critique of the media society. The first section, I recall, is a little slow, but his reflections on how and why America is indeed 'utopia achieved' are worth the price of admission alone.
 

John Doe

Well-known member
On a different note, this argument about Sokal, Dawkins taking Baurdrillard to task for not using 'scientific' terminology 'correctly' so spectacularly misses the point of his writing that it's staggering. Baudrillard, in his late work, consistently seized on such concepts - entropy, cloning, chaos theory, cancer/metastasis etc - as tropes or figures for cultural analysis. He is not attempting a 'scientific' analsysis of society based on such theories but exploring cultural processes through analogy. In this he pursues his central theory of the 'end of the dialectic' and he both argues for and stages rhetorically his theory of the 'fatal strategy' - ie taking each process to its extreme in the hope of exploding it or pushing it beyond its limits and into collapse.

I expect Dawkins will next attack and dismiss Joyce's Finnegan's Wake because it is composed in a language that isn't 'proper' words.

Quite unbelieveable.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
It strikes me that a lot of tension in this thread has arisen because supporters of scientific/analytic thought (*raises hand*) are used to a very rigidly defined jargon: to a layman, words like 'power', 'energy' and 'force' can often be used almost interchangeably, but to a physicist or an engineer they mean very different things. Then someone like Baudrillard appropriates jargon from mathematics or science in a loose or highly context-dependent way, Sokal or Dawkins attacks him for misusing scientific terminology and the response is to say "Dudes, lighten up! I'm a philosopher, not a scientist." Which, to me, raises the question, why did you choose to use scientific terminology in the first place? To an outsider like me, it can seem almost like a deliberate attempt to antagonise people who work in a field where those terms have precise meaning. A good communicator of scientific concepts gets his ideas across as plainly and unambiguously as possible, in contrast (it would seem) to Baudrillard et al who delight in ambiguity, provocativeness, 'playfulness' etc. You'll not find many scientific papers written in a 'playfull' style, I'll tell you now, because their purpose is to get across ideas, not amuse or titillate the reader. If their style is impenetrable to the layman, this is through necessity rather than choice.

I'm certainly not saying that humour or provocativeness have no place in philosophy or the humanities in general, it just seems academically inappropriate to try to appeal to scientific ideas for the sake of analogy or metaphor and then wilfully misuse them.

Can I at this point stress again that no, I have not read any of Baudrillard's original texts, but that my arguments are based on those of people who obviously have read him, whether they support him, attack him or have mixed feelings, and that descriptions like playfulness and ambiguity come mainly from the tributes of admirers.
 

swears

preppy-kei
The only thing I've read concerning Baudrillard is Robert Hughes' scathing review of America. And that's enough to put you right off him. But if you haven't read the original texts, then it's a bit fruitless to comment, no?
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
That may be a fair criticism - but if even his most ardent supporters say things about him which make me think (for example) that he talked a lot of old toot about subjects he knew little about* - well that doesn't really make me want to go out and buy his Collected Works, does it?




* I mean, I can do that, and I'm not a venerated philosopher, am I? :)
 

old goriot

Well-known member
There's a piece on Baudrillard (and others) use of science here: http://indolentdandy.net/phd/approp.pdf

thanks k-punk. I'm interested to know what your opinion on this peice is, because athough I don't know anything about chaos theory, I am uneasy with Baudrillard's forays into other topics for very similar reasons (as in the case of the Gulf War). Does the author have a good understanding of Baudrillard? Are his objections fair?
 

k-punk

Spectres of Mark
The three terms Mr Tea uses - 'power', 'energy' and 'force' - are hardly exclusive to science. Is he really asserting that there is no acceptable or rigorous uses of the word 'power', 'energy' and 'force' in terms of social analysis?

Look, no-one has established that Baudrillard used terms from chaos theory wrongly. (As I argued above, the alleged 'nonsense' about turbulence, cause and effects is not, in fact, meaningless, but is a play on the widely-known exampe of the butterfly effect.) Some people have asserted that he did, but there has been no explanation of in what ways he is in error. Simply saying 'well, other people who know what they are talking about thought it was rubbish, so I needn't bother offering a detailed critique, in fact I needn't read it at all' - which Dawkins does, never mind about folk on this board - is, I would have thought, not an acceptable or a persuasive form of argument.

What is evident from the discussions so far is not that supporters of science are rigorous and clear in their communication, and philosophers are loose and ill-informed in their terminology, but that some supporters of science - and once again this includes Dawkins - are either unfamiliar with the basic rules of argument or choose to ignore them. Appeal to self-evidence, assertion without evidence, and irrelevant appeal to authority are classic bad forms of argument.

It seems to me that the objections to Baudrillard are not that he mis-uses scientific terminology, since no-one has proved that, but rather that:

1. He mis-APPLIES terminology. This is different from saying that he misunderstands it. He uses scientific terminology in ways that 'shouldn't be done'. But this is more a matter of intellectual etiquette ('here we don't eat from our knives') or gamekeepering ('stay off our land') than it is about accuracy. As I said upthread, this is particularly amusing - and bemusing - in respect of chaos theory, which has been applied by many others - including those within the field - to social analysis. Of course history would be a 'chaotic formation' from the point of chaos theory - or is that the rules of chaos theory mysteriously fall apart when it comes to human behaviour? The irony of the furore about Baudrillard and science is that he is not critical of science; rather he is interested in it (and what could be a worse crime than that?) The article I linked to shows how Baudrillard's interest in science was not some passing fad, but came out of long-standing fascination with concepts of indeterminacy (from Heisenberg, Monod and chaos theory).

2. He writes in a way that is ambivalent and difficult to understand. This is at the nub of it, I think - Baudrillard's alleged 'crescendo of nonsense'. Certainly, it is true that he writes in an allusive, elusive and heightened style. There is an irreducibly literary dimension to his work - deliberately so, since he thinks that theory has collapsed into fiction. The 'poetic' dimension of his writing is liable to set off alarm bells - 'ah, if it's literary and poetic, it's loose, anything goes!' Well, no: Baudrillard could be compared to the Metaphysical Poets, who used images from science and philosophy to elucidate concepts and feelings. Similarly, and as John Doe established above, Baudrillard uses scientific references as tropes - repeated figures, images, analogies - in his work. He is very clear about this, and if you read the chapter from which the quotation about chaos theory was taken you would see him saying: 'there are these ideas, mightn't they provide us with interesting ways of thinking about history?' Then he goes through a number of ways in which history could be re-conceived using chaos theory. As you'll see, then, it is not even a case of Baudrillard's applying chaos theory to history - it is a matter of finding certain correspondences between particular concepts in chaos theory and certain historical processes. Therefore, if Baudrillard were proven to have used scientific terms wrongly, this would be of interest, but it would harldy destroy the integrity or value of his writing.
 

k-punk

Spectres of Mark
thanks k-punk. I'm interested to know what your opinion on this peice is, because athough I don't know anything about chaos theory, I am uneasy with Baudrillard's forays into other topics for very similar reasons (as in the case of the Gulf War). Does the author have a good understanding of Baudrillard? Are his objections fair?

I read the article quite quickly. My impression was that it's not a critical piece, it just explains how and why Baudrillard introduced particular scientific concepts into his work.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Well fair enough, perhaps I've been taking things too literally. After all, if the best way he can think of to say something is through allusion, analogy and metaphor then it's his prerogative to do that.

My point about work/force/energy was that they're all part of everyday vocabulary yet to a scientist they have equally precise and specialised definitions as words like 'non-linearity' and 'entropy', which certainly aren't.)
 

tryptych

waiting for a time
That in no way makes science a religion or anything like one. Scientific theories are only accepted into the corpus of human knowledge after rigorous (favourable) comparison to empirial data, and if and when solid, repeatable contradictory data comes to light, or a fatal logical flaw is found in the theory, then old theories are discarded or modified as appropriate as new ones are developed. I suggest you read some Thomas Kuhn.

For the record, I don't think anyone has ever been killed over a purely scientific dispute, much less a war started over one.

Don't have time to read all this thread now - but wanted to comment on this.

That seems like totally wrong reading of Kuhn to me (in fact it sounds if anything more like Popper) - the whole point is that there is no fixed corpus of scientific knowledge, and part of what instigates changes in paradigms is cultural context, the puzzles and questions that culture expects science to answer. He was rejecting both verification and falsification as methods of moving closer towards a scientific "truth".

Your disdain is for relativism - Kuhn is nothing if not a scientific relativist (remember incommensurability?) - and I guess many would place him in the "post-modern" bracket.
 

Wolves Evolve

New member
( New poster, joined for this discussion. )

I don't pretend to know Baudrillard's mind but it seems clear that he sought out scientific terminology purposefully; as they increasingly became the narrative logic of how we talk about life, he riffed on them relentlessly, toying with the words as much as the precepts which underpin them. This was precisely to dislodge our imaginations from what he saw as very staid, very quasi-Victorian notions of life, which go on to impact we produce the sense of liberty, freedoms, culture. He took the blanket of persuasion away from language, and thus was a poet.

So for me, he is one of the modern thinkers through whom it is obvious that theory is a type of literature (I think other people have said this of late), not a bulwark against it. That is not to say that Baudrillard is given free reign; even moreso the focus could be on the potentials of his thought. For the bulk of the academy hated him for being accessible, and a ensorcelled public used him as a emblem for haughty detached ivory tower academics, all that was wrong with what was left of the education society we once dreamed of. I doubt any honest thinker could want anything more. He refused even iconoclasm, every status to him seemed to be abhorrent and vulgar.

As for science, let science determine his value for science. But for the record, I have read Fashionable Nonsense, and found Sokal and Bricmont's take an almost parodically lacking analysis, a masterwork of missing the point. Arkady Plotnitski's critique of the book is withering, absolutely withering. Spine-tingly complete, it tears through every error and mis-step, every misconstruction, every deceit and lazy turn. If it is meant as hermeneutic assault on a serpent's tail, then bravo to the young men of the revue. Otherwise, it was a wasted effort.

I still think that Baudrillard, Derrida et al should have their facts checked, the usefulness of their appropriations of other fields called into question. But their statements should be taken as those of novelists and poets, I feel. "The Gulf War did not take place" is contra language, not contra the fact of death. At least for my two pence.
 
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