Monday, April 30, 2007

"Finally, the content of any science is profoundly constrained by the language within which its discourses are formulated; and mainstream Western physical science has, since Galileo, been formulated in the language of mathematics. But whose mathematics? The question is a fundamental one, for, as Aronowitz has observed, "neither logic nor mathematics escapes the `contamination' of the social.'' And as feminist thinkers have repeatedly pointed out, in the present culture this contamination is overwhelmingly capitalist, patriarchal and militaristic: "mathematics is portrayed as a woman whose nature desires to be the conquered Other.'' Thus, a liberatory science cannot be complete without a profound revision of the canon of mathematics. As yet no such emancipatory mathematics exists, and we can only speculate upon its eventual content. We can see hints of it in the multidimensional and nonlinear logic of fuzzy systems theory; but this approach is still heavily marked by its origins in the crisis of late-capitalist production relations. Catastrophe theory, with its dialectical emphases on smoothness/discontinuity and metamorphosis/unfolding, will indubitably play a major role in the future mathematics; but much theoretical work remains to be done before this approach can become a concrete tool of progressive political praxis. Finally, chaos theory -- which provides our deepest insights into the ubiquitous yet mysterious phenomenon of nonlinearity -- will be central to all future mathematics. And yet, these images of the future mathematics must remain but the haziest glimmer: for, alongside these three young branches in the tree of science, there will arise new trunks and branches -- entire new theoretical frameworks -- of which we, with our present ideological blinders, cannot yet even conceive."
-- Alan Sokal


At 2:38:00 PM , Blogger chartom_shel_tehom said...

yay!! you joined the group!!

At 5:20:00 PM , Blogger Nicholas LeCompte said...

Sokal's hoax is funny, though a bit mean-spirited, but this (non-satirical) quote is a bit unsettling:

"The thesis `light consists of particles' and the antithesis `light consists of waves' fought with one another until they were united in the synthesis of quantum mechanics. ...Only why not apply it to the thesis Liberalism (or Capitalism), the antithesis Communism, and expect a synthesis, instead of a complete and permanent victory for the antithesis? There seems to be some inconsistency. But the idea of complementarity goes deeper. In fact, this thesis and antithesis represent two psychological motives and economic forces, both justified in themselves, but, in their extremes, mutually exclusive. ...there must exist a relation between the latitudes of freedom df and of regulation dr, of the type df dr=p. ...But what is the `political constant' p? I must leave this to a future quantum theory of human affairs." - Max Born

I can't believe he was being serious. It has always annoyed me when people apply bad philosophy to incomplete physics. It's sticky issues like this that draw me to fluid mechanics. Nobody ever says things like "Oh, the weak attractor in the Euler equations is reminiscent of the weak attractor that draws human society...into war!"


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