Month: March 2020

False Demands for Falser Progress

“Lost in Math” author Sabine Hossenfelder, in a recent piece in IAI, laments that there has been no fundamental progress in physics for nearly 50 years.

My retort to this is simple: why would you expect otherwise?

Physics is not politics or fashion. A physical theory is either true, or false, or so close to true that there is little worldly use or intellectual interest in filling it out to more decimal places; or, in mysterian fashion, it may be simply inaccessible to human intellection.

Here, in handy condensed form, is the whole metaphysical view underpinning science itself:

1) there is an external Reality, that contains some kind of order;

2) at least parts of that order are knowable by aligning theory with experiment; and

3) once you do know those parts, you are done. Literally forever (if a science’s basic truths don’t stay true, it is not a science.)

To demand anything of science beyond 3) ends up simply injecting postmodernism into the sciences–which is to say the scientists, ensconced in their institutions and flush with an unfulfilled self-importance, grow bored with having nothing fundamental to discover and so begin either rediscovering the same things under new sophistic names, or expanding irrelevancies into “fundamentals”, or simply making things up per their taste.

All of these are forms, not of discovery, nor of knowing, but of epistemic breakdown–plain and simple.

This is, alas, happening all over now. Hossenfelder seems to be no exception, with her strange insistence that the way to new fundamental physics depends on physicists learning more about “sociology of science”.

This idea, that the fundamental structure of the physical world must somehow limitlessly depend on the social patterns of the people studying it, is pure postmodernism. It is not a way to “save” science, but rather a way of poisoning it by reducing it to the social.

The wide and un-careful dissemination of Kuhnian views of science, lamentably, has allowed this confusion–between science as world-exploring and science as arbitrary world-creation–to metastasize.

We had an Age of Discovery, an Age of Reason, an Age of Information. Now, right on schedule, begins the Age of Navelgazing–to be followed soon I fear by an Age of Pandaemonium, in which the full Jaynesian or Jungian psychotic potential of the human mind bursts loose, untethered by any unified loyalty to or grasp of external reality. (Even Nietzsche, espouser of the end of morality and the value-creating Overman, thought this would be abysmal if everyone did it.)

The real remedy for science? Same as for government: take about 95% of scientists, tell them thank you for your service, and retire them immediately with a nice pension.

Iphone, Therefore I Am

Writing in NR, Mr. Charles Cooke has served up an especially cringeworthy version of the much-repeated and now decades-old “technology surely can’t be stagnating, because iphones” pseudoargument.

Where, oh where to begin?

Through roughly 1500 words that walk the line between Pangloss and Orwell, the one thing Mr. Cooke manages to say that’s even symbolically true is: “the smartphone has annihilated geography altogether”. Except that he actually thinks that the total destruction of all local culture, diversity and sense of place that this entails is a wonderful thing, the very crown-jewel of technological accomplishment hitherto. Indeed, to him, this condition of absolute digital anomie alone amounts to nothing less than a “renaissance”.

Undifferentiated Human Matter and total interchangeability, here we come! Now that’s real Progress™!

Reading Cooke’s panegyric, one certainly can’t help but wonder how much the masters of the actual Renaissance would envy our ability to get by with knowing and doing almost nothing (since all the accumulated wisdom of the ages, rather than being “learned”, can now be Googled as needed and then, thankfully, instantly forgotten).

Just imagine–da Vinci, the vegetarian and habitual releaser of birds, engrossed in Twitter wars over the unethical caging of poultry! Michelangelo, offering real-time painterly updates on Instagram, trawling anxiously for likes for his newest fresco! Monteverdi, hooked on Spotify 24/7, finally abandoning the drudgery of four-part harmony to compose his very own playlists instead! Really, who knows what sublime masterpieces humanity was denied because of the barbaric deprivations under which such men lived?

About halfway in, as if suddenly unsure of having firmly established his complete addle-mindedness, Mr. Cooke goes the extra mile by the rhetorical masterstroke of admitting to the very point his whole piece is supposed to deny. Wondering to himself what could possibly surpass the technology of today (as represented in that infallible bellwether of Progress, Disney’s “Spaceship Earth” theme park attraction), he intones: “…I have come to conclude that the answer is almost certainly nothing. One cannot improve on instant worldwide communication that is accessible to every person.”

Of course, “Cannot improve upon” is just another term for… stagnation. That which cannot be improved, even if by dint of being perfect, obviously does not progress. But as this conclusion does not fit Mr. Cooke’s limited mental script, he effortlessly blinks it away, and continues on his course. For him, stagnation equals perfection equals progress equals renaissance.

Things get even worse from there, with Mr. Cooke plunging into a bizarrely detailed, Elon-Muskish comparison of the Digital Age with old-time comic book & sci-fi visions of the future–visions of daring planetary travel, alien life forms, faster-than-light communication, and miraculous cures. (Journeys to “Planet Zog”, for some reason, figure heavily here.)

The failure of such to actually materialize, once again, actually strengthens the point he is claiming to refute. But such trifles as involuntary self-refutation need hardly embarrass a true optimist.

In personages such as Mr. Cooke, we seem to have living proof that too much time spent worshipping the supposed blessings of the “information age” is actually toxic to independent or even minimally consistent thought. The result is an unwitting surrender to Doublethink, leading to such choice cultivars of contradiction as “Stagnation is Renaissance”.

On a closer examination, Mr. Cooke’s basic view seems to be this: why care about real-life adventures, explorations, relationships and discoveries when you can sit in a comfy chair, glue your face to a screen and just simulate having these things? Rejoice in the tidal-wave of electronic drugs that generations of geniuses suffered and struggled to provide for you, ye woke and hyperconnected pinnacles of all history! Eat, drink, and be passive!

It isn’t really a stretch to say that by publishing such blithely defective arguments as Mr. Cooke’s, National Review, once a staid and tradition-minded journal, has basically gone over to rah-rahing for Brave New World and a kind of universal mental onanism. It’s certainly hard to imagine anything more perniciously alienating, postmodern and absolutely typical of the Last-Man mentality than said arguments—and this is on a supposedly conservative site!

We might, in fact, take Mr. Cooke’s painfully contorted triumphalism as both an affirmation and an example of a phenomenon lamented in another, more sensible NR article that appeared not so very long ago, on a seemingly unrelated topic. That author, Victor Davis Hanson, wrote:

“We of the 21st century are beginning to look back at our own lost epic times and wonder about these now-nameless giants who left behind monuments that we cannot replicate, but instead merely use or even mock.”

“[…] True, social media is impressive. The internet gives us instant access to global knowledge. We are a more tolerant society, at least in theory. But Facebook is not the Hoover Dam, and Twitter is not the Panama Canal.”

In this light, Mr. Cooke’s article demonstrates that the cultural pygmies that rule our time have at least one other way, besides replication or mockery, of reconciling themselves with the rebuking greatness of past creations and the ongoing crisis of Progress: that of mindless, preening self-distraction.

An Infection of Speech

Assembled Comrades, Commissars, Deputies and Commissioners, Chairmen and Co-Chairmen of the Party—

Thanks to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, I am pleased to report that remarkable new frontiers in Newspeak expression and deployment are daily being advanced before our eyes!

In the recently-released and masterful “stigma guide“, created by the World Health Organization, we now see a firm commitment to comprehensive thought-leadership of which all can be proud.

This document, forged in the heat of possibly the most desperate and fast-moving world crisis of language in our lifetimes, all but ensures that no “negative meanings” will intrude upon the discussion of COVID-19’s effects, and puts paid to the nefarious practice of assuming the virus’s origin.

What is more, it lays out the groundwork for great patriotic “Hero Campaigns”, honoring those brave souls who, while treating the pandemic, have faced down the grave personal danger of stigma. Take joy, comrades! May the Heroes of the People prevail against all stigmatizers!

I must admit my own favorite development, however, was when the WHO chief announced in a recent speech that the chief danger is not the virus itself, but the stigma that it could create.

Such wise words! One can hardly express a greater love of humanity, nor a more perfect consummation of the idea of global solidarity.

But even having reached these heights, we are doing hardly enough in my view. Our struggle has barely begun!

To give but one example, treating “sick” people as in any way different from “healthy” ones is inherently racist and discriminatory, since it assumes and reinforces harmful hegemonic heteropatriarchal narratives of “health” and “wellness”. Not to mention the obvious and dangerous undertones of ableism involved!

This is why I feel we must, extending the wise spirit of this superb new stigma guide, denounce in the strongest terms all use of the words “sick”, “healthy”, “contagious”,  “cases”, “diagnosis”, “infect”, “transmit”, “treat”, “spread”, “improve”, “worsen”, “quarantine”, “isolation”, “cure”, “recover”, “antiviral”, “vaccine”, “medicine”, “dead”, “survive”, “doctor”, “nurse”, and “hospital”.

Listen carefully, comrades. The correct word for “sick” is “differently-well”, or transwell. The correct word for “well” is therefore, obviously, ciswell. Education, as in all things, is key!

So, if a differently-well person is shown to carry COVID-19, but nevertheless identifies as “ciswell”, I believe healthcare workers should do everything in their power to accommodate that patient’s wishes, up to and including:

1) foregoing treatment (“treatment” being, of course, just an imperialist form of other-shaming and systemic invalidation of difference designed to delegitimize otherness); and

2) immediate returning of the patient to freely mingle with the general population, without any required disclosure of their transwellness status.

Of course our hearts are with the physical victims of the virus—among whom, we fully realize, we may soon number. Yet this sentiment and this realization should never induce us to forget the real victims: those persons offended and marginalized by the shameless and recklessly stigmatizing nicknaming of this coronavirus after the geographic region in which it arose!

Together, we are fighting the gravest peril: the improper and emotionally hurtful use of language. And I have every confidence, comrades, that this is a fight we can win. Unlike our fight against the coronavirus itself—or, as it should more correctly be called, the transwellness empowerer.