Monday, January 08, 2007

Biology and History 3

Anyway, Boyd argues that anti-foundationalism wasn't the revolution it's made out to be.

"If they had been less parochial, the literary scholars awed by Derrida’s assault on the whole edifice of Western thought would have seen beyond the provincialism of this claim. They would have known that science, the most successful branch of human knowledge, had for decades accepted antifoundationalism, after Karl Popper’s Logik der Forschung (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 1934) and especially after Popper’s 1945 move to England, where he was influential among leading scientists. They should have known that a century before Derrida, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection— hardly an obscure corner of Western thought—had made anti-foundationalism almost an inevitable consequence."

The weird thing for me is that most discourse analysis of science that I encounter has no idea about this tradition in modern science (which also includes Einstein). Heisenberg's idea of complementarity suggests (I think) that the only way we can grasp reality is to report it in different ways and put them together to complement each other in an exhaustive overlay of different descriptions that incorporate apparently contradictory notions. I don't know why humanities people aren't interested in this core of science writing, and instead pretend that scientists are these quasi-fascist 'essentialists'.

The problem I have with discourse analysis in general is that it tends to put reality in quotation marks. But, by treating all human expression as 'tropes', it argues that all expression is dishonest- a pretense for power relations. This becomes bizarre when a historical source expresses horror at some act of violence, for example, and the historian contends that they are utilizing tropes in a discourse mobilized to essentialize the Other. The problem is, if we can't trust any objective statements about reality, how in the world can we trust the historian's statements about those power relationships, which we're expected to believe really existed?

Since scientists already realize that human knowledge is bound to be incomplete, (also see Heisenberg) relative, and falsifiable, why do humanities people believe that these 'radical' statements undermine the entire structure of Western knowledge? And why in the world do the stewards of Western knowledge so often feel the compulsion to enact attacks upon it? And yet uncritically accept attacks upon it from the 1960s?

"Recognizing our uncertainty helps us in our search to understand more. But those in the humanities who have become “disciples” of the “greatest generation” argue against the possibility of knowledge or truth, since meaning is forever deferred. That is the knowledge or truth, however selfcontradictory and self-defeating, that they insist on imparting. Their commitment to undermining the possibility of knowledge, even while claiming this as bracing new knowledge, explains much of the stasis of the Theorized humanities that Menand deplores."

Again, this stasis dates back to Nietzsche, who worked out several of these ideas and then became a catatonic. Perhaps there's a lesson there.

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