Tom Chivers has a good post excoriating the fetid creationist nouveau Virginia Heffernan, who thinks that science and religion can be treated as social “text.”
I cannot think of an insult too low for that intellectual whore and her creationist bullshit. But, in the words of Leslie Nielsen, that’s not important right now.
Instead, I wanted to use Heffernan’s tripe and Chivers sage rebuttal to highlight just how vacuous postmodernism is. Postmodernism is a reductionist (which they call “deconstructionist”) perspective on – well, pretty much everything – but seen through the lens of the arts rather than the sciences. It’s just the kind of semantics-free babble you get when some well-educated artists get science-envy and create their own, utterly baseless perspective of the universe.
Postmodernism originally served as a new means for people to spout nonsense about the classics of literature, which they could not have done otherwise because there’s just not much left to say about them. This ensured countless publications, essays, speaking engagements, conferences, debates, popular texts, and interviews – and the prestige and income that come with them. Had it remained confined to the arts, postmodernism might have been an amusing lemma in humanity’s search for truth – which is all it has ever deserved.
Instead, postmodernism has spread like cancer through society, providing ample ammunition to all manner of whack-jobs – including assorted religious apologists and deluded creationists. Reality doesn’t exist, they say, because it’s all a “text” to be interpreted.
You can see why postmodernism would appeal to anti-science groups like creationists: it gives them the means to argue against the truth of, say, evolution without having to present any evidence at all. They can, paraphrasing Chivers excellent words, simply claim “that the meaning of science and of the bible is not something fixed and eternal but the product of the reader’s mind in conjunction with the author’s.” That’s exactly what Heffernan did – she equated the two through the demented calculus of postmodernism.
Why is the postmodernist view wrong? Because it tries to fill what postmodernists think is a gap in our understanding – when the only real gap is in their understanding.
The whole concept of “the meaning of a text” is flawed, because there is no singular meaning of the kinds of texts that postmodernists think are universal. Meaning, in the sense of works of literature and fiction (including the bible), is a function of time, and can be quite well modelled by systems theory and by various types of logic. Not perfectly modelled (yet), but well modelled – better modelled in any case that what is on offer by the intentionally opaque rantings of postmodernists. For an expert in literature to assess science from a postmodernist view is about as absurd as a lawyer assessing brain surgery from a deontic view.
The “text” is just a model of a thought; it’s like a grainy, underlit polaroid of a thought, a snapshot, an instant in time. “Thought” itself is an artificial concept, a subjective experience only. What’s really going on in the brain is a dynamic, constantly changing process, only part of which we are conscious. Talking of “thought” as if it really existed is contrived, a convenience, but meaningful only so long as it remains grounded in the facts. Psychologists, neuroscientists, and other specialists can do it. Lit majors who claim postmodernism will save humanity cannot; they’re simply not equipped for it. Text, being static, cannot possibly truly capture thought. Furthermore, the meaning of any text is grounded in context. And since we cannot transmit all the necessary context with a given text, the text itself becomes a relatively poor conductor of thought and of meaning.
Still, no matter what happens to the mind of the maker of a text, the text itself is grounded in whatever the maker was thinking when he made the text. And the meaning of the text is what it meant to its maker at the time of its making. That’s all there is to it.
Now, the receiver of the text is given a crappy snapshot of a thought and no context in which to ground it. Naturally, the receiver will take a different meaning from the text than the maker may have intended. But we can predict what that meaning will be: it will be the meaning that is grounded in the receiver’s context. We can even conceive of a mapping between the maker’s and receiver’s meaning, in the simplest first order logic. The problem quickly becomes intractable, but that only means that the mechanisms we have with which to deduce are not sufficient for this task – it does not mean there is no solution, just that we haven’t found it yet. We can demonstrate it with sufficiently simple mappings and contexts. There is no magic here, no psycho-babble incantation that captures the profundity of it. All that complexity is just layers of bullshit liberally applied by the postmodernists who, lacking the necessary education and expertise, confound their own subjective ignorance with an objective gap in the larger body of knowledge.
I refer you to the image in Chivers’s article of a lizard. The caption reads: “See this? Evolved. Not developed in a textual reconstruction of the world etc.” That’s it in a nutshell.
If postmodernism were today an authentic and legitimate school of thinking, its adherents should be enraged at how their movement has been co-opted by the duplicitous and the intellectually dishonest – by people like Virginia Heffernan – who seek to apply it beyond its scope. But they are not enraged; and silence gives consent. They are privately content with this development. Of course they are – postmodernism has become a globally recognized “thing” – from which its adherents will obviously benefit personally and professionally.
And that’s why postmodernism is evil.