?

Log in

No account? Create an account

fanf

Need a better name than post-postmodern

« previous entry | next entry »
16th May 2008 | 00:11

A few days ago, Ben Goldacre linked to an article by and an interview with a guy called Jonathan Gottschall who likes to apply the scientific method to literary theory. I was gobsmacked! I thought that no-one who takes literary theory seriously has any intellectual engagement with the real world.

I had a brief discussion about Librarything with addedentry at his and j4's birthday party on Saturday, in which he talked about its new approaches to cataloguing. Its use of tagging, as opposed to ontological classification, is its most obvious feature, but its concept of a "work" as an umbrella for the multiple editions of a book is also useful.

In the pub this evening we decided that both of these things are post-postmodern. Traditional cataloguing is very modernist in its approach: top-down, paternalistic, relying on the academic expert to benevolently provide for everyone's needs. Literary criticism is the ultimate expression of postmodernism: observing that experts are not always right and that new theories come from outside of the consensus, they deny the existence of objective truth and assert that all opinion is equally valid. Scientists and engineers instinctively reject postmodernism, but often fail to do so without relying on discredited modernist thinking.

How can we get beyond postmodernism? I think it has to be the acknowledgment that a fuzzy consensus is a valid approximation to the truth, and that we have experimental and statistical tools which can refine that approximation. But the crucial thing is to realize that these tools don't just work for physics or chemistry or biology or medicine, but they also work for cataloguing books, or establishing that the author does have a degree of control over the reader's thoughts, or showing that beauty does have a degree of commonality across cultures, or that we can automatically translate between natural languages.

The preceding ill-informed rant was brought to you by Summer Lightning.

| Leave a comment | Share

Comments {10}

from: furrfu
date: 16th May 2008 09:11 (UTC)

a fuzzy consensus is a valid approximation to the truth

That way lie bigotry and knee-jerking...

Reply | Thread

Tony Finch

from: fanf
date: 16th May 2008 10:17 (UTC)

Not if you quote the whole sentence.

Reply | Parent | Thread

from: furrfu
date: 16th May 2008 10:18 (UTC)

Ah, but then where's my knee, eh?

You intellectuals think you have all the answers, etc.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Tony Finch

from: fanf
date: 16th May 2008 10:27 (UTC)

:-)

Reply | Parent | Thread

jhnc

from: jhnc
date: 16th May 2008 10:06 (UTC)

I, too, wonder about your "a fuzzy consensus is a valid approximation to the truth". Perhaps you have a different definition of "truth".

In the past, to this kind of assertion I would have given the counter-example of a chess grandmaster playing against a random group of people who vote on their move, as I assumed it was obvious that the grandmaster would generally win.

Apparently it's not though, as someone is testing it: http://www.crowdchess.com/

Also, there is the recent generation of Go programs that use Monte Carlo methods and are proving significantly stronger than traditional programs. I suppose one could reasonably argue that the simulation result is "fuzzy consensus".

Reply | Thread

Tony Finch

from: fanf
date: 16th May 2008 10:26 (UTC)

I was talking about scientific truth, hence the rest of that sentence. It's a different kind of truth to mathematical truth, because scientific truth is never absolute whereas mathematical truth can be. Games like chess and go are mathematical though their size prevents us from analysing them completely. However I did have in mind AI's move from analytical (modernist) techniques to statistical (postpostmodern) techniques as an exampleof the shift in our approach to knowledge that I was talking about.

Reply | Parent | Thread

pozorvlak

from: pozorvlak
date: 16th May 2008 10:44 (UTC)

That doesn't strike me as obvious at all. You can get surprisingly good results by asking large groups of random people.

Of course, 96% of the German population voted for Hitler, so it's not foolproof.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Jos Dingjan

from: happydisciple
date: 16th May 2008 16:34 (UTC)

Of course, 96% of the German population voted for Hitler, so it's not foolproof.
Not sure whether you're joking here or not, but that doesn't seem to mesh with what I've been taught.

In the '32 presidential elections, Hitler got at most 37% of the vote, losing to Hindenburg. In the '33 Reichstag elections, the NSDAP was by far the biggest party, but still only got 44% of all votes. And that was the best he, and they, ever did.

Hitler's rise to absolute power was through careful manipulation, intimidation, and blatant force.

Reply | Parent | Thread

pozorvlak

from: pozorvlak
date: 17th May 2008 09:45 (UTC)

I was misremembering this, which refers to some election in '34. I wouldn't be particularly surprised if that's totally wrong, though, or somehow messes with the figures - like adding up votes for all the parties in Hitler's coalition, or something.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Jos Dingjan

from: happydisciple
date: 17th May 2008 11:47 (UTC)

Nah, he refers to the 19 August 1934 referendum that confirmed the transfer of all presidential powers to, you guessed it, one A. Hitler as führer & chancellor. The numbers that I find online vary a little bit, but range from 85% to 90% in favour.

I can't find info on how free that referendum was, but somehow I have my doubts. This was, after all, after the Reichstag-fire (February 1933), after the Ermächtigungsgesetz that gave Hitler's Cabinet extraordinary powers (March 1933), after the Night of the Long Knives (end of June/start of July 1934).

Oh, and only three hours before the death of von Hindenburg (on 2 August 1934) Hitler's Cabinet passed a law that all presidential powers would transfer to the chancellor upon the death of the president. How convenient.

Reply | Parent | Thread