0451: "Impostor"

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tyrinoc
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby tyrinoc » Sun Jul 20, 2008 2:44 pm UTC

Despite the guilt by association with sociology, as a psychology graduate student I feel like I need to defend my field's honor.

I'm pretty sure that with 95% of people I could tell they're full of crap within 10 seconds. It mostly has to do with the fact that even educated people don't know much about experimental psychology (psychology != counseling), and those who know something about "real" psychology think they know everything about it and that it's all common sense. If I had a nickel for everyone who tried to explain to me that their intuitions about how people think trump careful (well, I'll grant for some people, not so careful) experimentation.

Well, except for personality theorists. Even I have to face it, you could go all year with them. :wink:

cnoocy
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby cnoocy » Sun Jul 20, 2008 3:24 pm UTC

Ezbez wrote:Cnoocy's list of benefits:

Is the ability to discuss the cultural allusions in Don McLean's "American Pie" a benefit? Not in and of itself, no.
So you'd rather live in a world where you can just say "oh that song is cool"?
Is the existence of movies like Adaptation, Scream, and Airplane a benefit? What about books like The Princess Bride, If on a winter's night a traveler, or The Stinky Cheese Man? I guess, though I've only read/seen two of those. What do they have to do with literary criticism?

They wouldn't exist without it. They rely on analysis of tropes and other concepts that arose in literary criticism.
Is the concept of a tragic flaw a benefit? Not in an of itself, no. Just as imaginary numbers aren't a boon to society just as a concept, but their uses are. What are the uses of the concept of a tragic flaw, outside of the realm of pure literary criticism?
The concept of a tragic flaw is used constantly in discussions of real-world issues. I just got 28,900 hits on a quick google search of {"tragic flaw" politics}.
Are xkcd comics 246, 254, 270, 311, 319, 370, 395, 396, 409, 414, and 429? Again, I don't really see the literary criticism of these. I see some critiques of literature/media, but nothing that requires any particular practice or education to learn, just as it doesn't take any practice to say "Wow, that movie was terrible."

No it doesn't take any practice to say "Wow, that movie was terrible." It takes literary analysis to say why. And if you don't see the literary criticism in "I live in a world of moral absolutes and racist undertones" then it may be because you use literary criticism so often you take it for granted.

I really hate "define X" in conversations. I think that benefit already has a pretty clear definition, and that you know what I mean. The reason for most of those "define X"s is so that the other person can pick apart or around the definition rather than the actual problem. I think that Merriam Webster's definition fit quite well: "something that promotes well-being", and "useful aid". To make it more specific, I will have this within the context of "benefit to society"; so either something that promotes the well-being of society, or something that is useful aid to society.

I contend that everything I've mentioned is a useful aid to society. Would you rather live in the world of 1984 or The Giver?

Lentaja
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Lentaja » Sun Jul 20, 2008 6:03 pm UTC

Boy howdy, another comic arrogantly and ignorantly poking fun at those silly humanities. This is on par with the 'Hyuck hyuck, psychology is just applied biology!' tripe.

auspexd
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby auspexd » Sun Jul 20, 2008 6:12 pm UTC

I think this debate is less about definitions and more about philosophy. Some people will just refuse to acknowledge the value of knowledge and aesthetics for its own sake and that's fine. Every society needs some Weber-ites to devote their lives entirely to production. A little sad imho but who I am I to judge how people spend their time. You think Ezbez is bad I once had an engineer in my class who argued that fine art was not only useless but the museums in which they hanged were destructive to society since they distracted citizens from useful production.

Lentaja
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Lentaja » Sun Jul 20, 2008 6:24 pm UTC

auspexd wrote:I think this debate is less about definitions and more about philosophy. Some people will just refuse to acknowledge the value of knowledge and aesthetics for its own sake and that's fine. Every society needs some Weber-ites to devote their lives entirely to production. A little sad imho but who I am I to judge how people spend their time. You think Ezbez is bad I once had an engineer in my class who argued that fine art was not only useless but the museums in which they hanged were destructive to society since they distracted citizens from useful production.


A person unwilling to acknowledge the value of art while espousing productivity as the harbinger of social advancement would be best served to step into traffic while hoping, with every fibre of their being, to be reincarnated as an ant.

Pinky's Brain
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Pinky's Brain » Sun Jul 20, 2008 6:34 pm UTC

There are lots of areas of art which are an acquired taste and where without knowledge of the underlying rules you can't truly appreciate the artistry, even an internet forum like /b is like that. Literary criticism pretends to be a little more than just a set of guidelines for writing art for other literary critics though. I'd still like to see some evidence that a graduate level of understanding in literary criticism will allow someone to be a better writer, by being able to explain/teach better, by being more engaging/successful, by being able to manipulate the reader better ... whatever. Evidence preferred over assumptions.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby PhilSandifer » Sun Jul 20, 2008 6:37 pm UTC

Pinky's Brain wrote:There are lots of areas of art which are an acquired taste and where without knowledge of the underlying rules you can't truly appreciate the artistry, even an internet forum like /b is like that. Literary criticism pretends to be a little more than just a set of guidelines for writing art for other literary critics though. I'd still like to see some evidence that a graduate level of understanding in literary criticism will allow someone to be a better writer, by being able to explain/teach better, by being more engaging/successful, by being able to manipulate the reader better ... whatever. Evidence preferred over assumptions.


You're looking for a different discipline - that's creative writing, which has the MFA as its terminal degree.

Literary criticism is not about how to write good stories.

Danny_Salinger
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Danny_Salinger » Sun Jul 20, 2008 8:44 pm UTC

Ezbez wrote:
I really hate "define X" in conversations. I think that benefit already has a pretty clear definition, and that you know what I mean. The reason for most of those "define X"s is so that the other person can pick apart or around the definition rather than the actual problem. I think that Merriam Webster's definition fit quite well: "something that promotes well-being", and "useful aid". To make it more specific, I will have this within the context of "benefit to society"; so either something that promotes the well-being of society, or something that is useful aid to society.


Who's to say what "useful aid" is? I don't think its definition is so solid. Sure, the discoveries in the fields of chemistry and physics and engineering have given us longer lives, warmer or cooler homes, more complex information networks and more freedom to think and whatnot. I like these things, and I'm pretty sure a lot of other people do too, but I don't think it's a given that these have necessarily made our lives better. I'm used to them now, so I'd hate going back to a more primitive time, but I'm not willing to rule out that I'd be just as happy if I grew up in a time where I was used to infectious diseases, print-based media, and kicking it at the age of fifty. I know the argument gets thrown a lot, and I know a lot of the people that do it are Luddites with half-thought out philosophies who's primary appeal is that they sound good, but if you want to start treating the question of what a "benefit" is like it's stupid, inconvenient, or empty rhetoric, I think the implicit assumption that Science=Progress=Legitimacy ought to be challenged.

I also don't think we can assume that advances in media happen independently of literary criticism. Even if the academic stuff is impenetrable to people who haven't taken four years on it, things have a tendency to bleed out. We don't know how many tropes have been subverted because a writer's lit. crit. friend pointed out an implicit assumption about certain characters in stories, or if a story is engaging because the author took a different perspective on how the audience interacts with the presentness of blahblahblah or some other obtuse hoity-toity nonsense that no one wants to hear about. Heck, for all we know literary criticism could be the driving force behind the modern evolution of storytelling. This probably isn't true, and literary criticism's value shouldn't go unquestioned, but I don't see why we should discount it because it's inscrutable and funny-sounding to us.

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Nomic
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Nomic » Sun Jul 20, 2008 9:28 pm UTC

Randall spelled Fenno-Ugrian wrong. And no, Klingon isn't a Fenno-Ugrian language. It sounds slightly Slavish-inspired to me, with lots of additional apostropes, cause apostropes seem to be a necessity in any good made up language.

pegasos989
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby pegasos989 » Sun Jul 20, 2008 9:33 pm UTC

No, he didn't.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finno-Ugric_languages (and google gives 1450 results for "Fenno-Ugrian" and some 250 000 results for "Finno-Ugric")

You might be confused because finland (which belongs to Finno Ugric) is part of Fennoscandia (and Fenno Skandinavia)...?

But yeah, Klingon isn't that. However, Tolkien's elvish arguably is as it is based on finnish. Then again, it is also based on walesh or something and I don't know enough (=anything) about languages so that I could comment on that much...

Pinky's Brain
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Pinky's Brain » Sun Jul 20, 2008 10:54 pm UTC

PhilSandifer wrote:You're looking for a different discipline - that's creative writing, which has the MFA as its terminal degree.

So creative writers know better what information they are conveying, and how to best do it, than literary critics?

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby PhilSandifer » Sun Jul 20, 2008 11:01 pm UTC

Pinky's Brain wrote:
PhilSandifer wrote:You're looking for a different discipline - that's creative writing, which has the MFA as its terminal degree.

So creative writers know better what information they are conveying, and how to best do it, than literary critics?


No, creative writers are trying to convey a different sort of information than literary critics. They do a very good job of conveying that information. We do a very good job of conveying the information we're trying to convey. But they're different (albeit closely related) fields. Literary criticism doesn't try to teach how to write.

Pinky's Brain
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Pinky's Brain » Sun Jul 20, 2008 11:15 pm UTC

Science doesn't try to teach engineering either, but knowledge of the underlying science does tend to help. There are areas in engineering where a graduate level understanding of the underlying science is pretty much a necessity (although it doesn't really apply to me, not the brightest light). If literary criticism can tell us something about the information a text is conveying and how well it is doing it (to people other than other literary critics) it can tell us how to do it better. If it can only tell us what information it is conveying to other literary critics ... well it instantly becomes a lot less useful.

firinne
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby firinne » Sun Jul 20, 2008 11:26 pm UTC

Would it be presumptuous of me to say that literary criticism is merely specialized analytical thinking? (Well, maybe "merely" is not the best word to be using in this rather touchy debate.) I would separate the ability to write literary criticism from the actual criticism itself - that is, separating the eloquence and beauty-of-language of the writeup from the actual logical connections and so forth that the critic draws. It is my understanding that not a few philosophers had ideas that far eclipsed their writing abilities; I don't see how literary criticism should be any different... except perhaps in that the audience for literary criticism may be much more accustomed to elegant prose?

Anyway. The point being that maybe part of the whole "anyone can be a literary critic" attitude stems from the fact that there /is/ at least a seed of analytical thinking in anyone (and I'm sure that educators are not the only people who would like to see the general population further develop their analytical thinking).

If this has already been said... well, I suppose I can rest in the fact that I am not the only one who didn't read carefully through all seven pages. Sort of.


And in response to Pinky's Brain ["If literary criticism can tell us something about the information a text is conveying and how well it is doing it (to people other than other literary critics) it can tell us how to do it better. If it can only tell us what information it is conveying to other literary critics ... well it instantly becomes a lot less useful."]
The point of literary criticism, as far as I have gathered, is not to teach writers but to teach readers. (That is undoubtedly a gross overgeneralization and incorrect on several points, but I'm sure you understand what I'm getting at.) It provides new ways of understanding a literary work.

Pinky's Brain
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Pinky's Brain » Mon Jul 21, 2008 12:16 am UTC

firinne wrote:The point of literary criticism, as far as I have gathered, is not to teach writers but to teach readers. (That is undoubtedly a gross overgeneralization and incorrect on several points, but I'm sure you understand what I'm getting at.) It provides new ways of understanding a literary work.

If neither author intent nor the impact on lay readers have any bearing on that understanding then it is pulling itself up by it's bootstraps ... the validity of that understanding can not be tested (or in other words, literary criticism is not falsifiable).

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby PhilSandifer » Mon Jul 21, 2008 12:26 am UTC

Pinky's Brain wrote:Science doesn't try to teach engineering either, but knowledge of the underlying science does tend to help. There are areas in engineering where a graduate level understanding of the underlying science is pretty much a necessity (although it doesn't really apply to me, not the brightest light). If literary criticism can tell us something about the information a text is conveying and how well it is doing it (to people other than other literary critics) it can tell us how to do it better. If it can only tell us what information it is conveying to other literary critics ... well it instantly becomes a lot less useful.


Sure. And in my department, the MFAs have to take some graduate seminars in literary criticism too. Because it's considered useful to be able to think about literature from the criticism standpoint as well.

Personally, I think the PhDs should also have to take some creative writing workshops, but I'm just a grad student and nobody listens to me.

Pinky's Brain wrote:
firinne wrote:The point of literary criticism, as far as I have gathered, is not to teach writers but to teach readers. (That is undoubtedly a gross overgeneralization and incorrect on several points, but I'm sure you understand what I'm getting at.) It provides new ways of understanding a literary work.

If neither author intent nor the impact on lay readers have any bearing on that understanding then it is pulling itself up by it's bootstraps ... the validity of that understanding can not be tested (or in other words, literary criticism is not falsifiable).


No, it's not falsifiable. Why is this a problem? Falsifiability as an idea comes from Karl Popper, who never comes antwhere close to saying that all knowledge should be falsifiable. In fact, he's adamant that a second type of knowledge beyond scientific knowledge - what he calls metaphysical knowledge - is essential and valuable. So "not falsifiable" isn't a criticism.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby cnoocy » Mon Jul 21, 2008 12:43 am UTC

Pinky's Brain wrote:
firinne wrote:The point of literary criticism, as far as I have gathered, is not to teach writers but to teach readers. (That is undoubtedly a gross overgeneralization and incorrect on several points, but I'm sure you understand what I'm getting at.) It provides new ways of understanding a literary work.

If neither author intent nor the impact on lay readers have any bearing on that understanding then it is pulling itself up by it's bootstraps ... the validity of that understanding can not be tested (or in other words, literary criticism is not falsifiable).

The impact on lay readers does have a bearing on that understanding. Literary criticism doesn't necessarily teach readers to feel differently about a text. It does give them the tools to express why they feel the way they do about a text.
And yes, literary criticism is falsifiable. It is possible to make a statement that is not supported by the text. (Misreading is a common term for this.)

Edited: I may be using a different meaning of "falsifiable" and even "misreading" than Phil above. He's more likely to be correct, since I'm not a professional literary critic.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby PhilSandifer » Mon Jul 21, 2008 1:40 am UTC

cnoocy wrote:Edited: I may be using a different meaning of "falsifiable" and even "misreading" than Phil above. He's more likely to be correct, since I'm not a professional literary critic.


To some extent. It's largely difficult to prove an interpretation false. You can refute a specific argument for the interpretation (what you're calling a misreading), and we tend to think interpretations that don't have specific arguments and don't quote the text carefully aren't worth talking about, but actual falsifiability is, I think, the exception rather than the rule.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby philippe » Mon Jul 21, 2008 2:04 am UTC

If you want an application of literary criticism, just look at the benefits Historiography has brought to History.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby GCM » Mon Jul 21, 2008 2:36 am UTC

The Rumpled Academic wrote:
Thelma wrote:*Delurks*

It's quite astounding the level of prejudice and basic ignorance that's cropped up in this thread. If lit critics were to attack mathematics from the basis of a highschool algebra class - claiming, for instance, that imaginary numbers are obviously a stupid waste of time because you can't count with them - they'd be laughed off the stage, and rightly so. Yet somehow, a corresponding level of amateurism in literary theory is experience enough to denounce the entire field? There's been some interesting discussion in these last pages, but an awful lot of it is like that Internet fight where a creationist denounces evolution by saying her grandmother wasn't a monkey.


:)

I just thought everyone should read this twice.


Aw yeah. Experts would be rather hesitant to denounce their field, yes?

But I don't think that Randall's denouncing the field as useless, no. The comic's about how you can pretend to be an expert in literary criticism simply because it's so open to discussion, as opposed to the more "set in place by Mr. X academic" rules in engineering, science, etc.. I'd talk some more, but all I have is 1.5 years in high school. :O
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Beaniedude
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Beaniedude » Mon Jul 21, 2008 3:17 am UTC

I needed this comic.
I was just writing an extended essay for Yr 12 lit and this brightened up my day.
It made me realise that it would be easier just to make stuff up and drastically improve my average of 65%
Well i guess someone had to do it...i will know deconstruct the comic.

The subtle shift of the protaganist from the right hand side to the panel, then to the middle, then to the far left and finally dormant in a chair suggests to the reader and viewers of the text that the main character is in fact growing in power while taking a subtle stab at the majority of society claiming that left and furthermore left handed people are more superior than right handed people. The enjambment present in the second panel positions the reader to view the protaganist as a sleek fast talking guy who maintains an air of proffesionalism around him. Monroe also writes heavily concerning the power struggle between the binary opposites of the male and female sex. By showing the female present in panel one (represented by the long hair) to be smarter than the apparent male seen in the final panel (represented by his lack of hair, of course this could simply be a bald woman but we are pertaining to the general views that the production context states, mainly a westeren civilisation) Monroe is critisising the general sexist view of the community that man is smarter than woman. Monroe subtly condemns society at large through this text while maintaining a humourous aura and mood presented in IMPOSTER.

Man i'm bored....
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Lentaja
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Lentaja » Mon Jul 21, 2008 3:21 am UTC

Beaniedude wrote:I needed this comic.
I was just writing an extended essay for Yr 12 lit and this brightened up my day.
It made me realise that it would be easier just to make stuff up and drastically improve my average of 65%
Well i guess someone had to do it...i will know deconstruct the comic.

The subtle shift of the protaganist from the right hand side to the panel, then to the middle, then to the far left and finally dormant in a chair suggests to the reader and viewers of the text that the main character is in fact growing in power while taking a subtle stab at the majority of society claiming that left and furthermore left handed people are more superior than right handed people. The enjambment present in the second panel positions the reader to view the protaganist as a sleek fast talking guy who maintains an air of proffesionalism around him. Monroe also writes heavily concerning the power struggle between the binary opposites of the male and female sex. By showing the female present in panel one (represented by the long hair) to be smarter than the apparent male seen in the final panel (represented by his lack of hair, of course this could simply be a bald woman but we are pertaining to the general views that the production context states, mainly a westeren civilisation) Monroe is critisising the general sexist view of the community that man is smarter than woman. Monroe subtly condemns society at large through this text while maintaining a humourous aura and mood presented in IMPOSTER.

Man i'm bored....


Perhaps if you used varied, effective sentence structure and learned to spell correctly, you'd transcend that C+ mark.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon Jul 21, 2008 3:27 am UTC

Both of you appear to be trolling. Please; it's late here, and if you're still at it tomorrow it will be late for someone else. I don't really feel like reading through a deliberately frustrating argument, so do us all a favor and leave the thread to those who have something informative to say.

I, for example, am done for now.
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Not even sporange.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby rknasc » Mon Jul 21, 2008 3:30 pm UTC

This comic is a case of art imitating life.

In 1995, a NYU physicist submitted an article on literary criticism to a
respected cultural studies journal on the topic of physical reality as
fundamentally a social and linguistic concept, using quantum physics to
prove his point. They published it. Little did they know... that he was
just making fun of them. Oops. Even refereed publications in
cultural/literary criticism can't tell who's an impostor in their field.

His explanation:
http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/soka ... ca_v4.html

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Marleen » Mon Jul 21, 2008 3:57 pm UTC

pegasos989 wrote:But yeah, Klingon isn't that. However, Tolkien's elvish arguably is as it is based on finnish. Then again, it is also based on walesh or something and I don't know enough (=anything) about languages so that I could comment on that much...


Tolkien made up two elven languages: Sindarin and Quenya. One of them is based on Gaelic and the other on Finnish. I think.

Klingon isn't based on anything other then a few archaic grunts that James Doohan had made up prior to the invention of the Klingon language. It is an agglutinated language, so it has, in fact, something in common with finno-ugric languages.

[/summary]

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby PhilSandifer » Mon Jul 21, 2008 3:58 pm UTC

rknasc wrote:This comic is a case of art imitating life.

In 1995, a NYU physicist submitted an article on literary criticism to a
respected cultural studies journal on the topic of physical reality as
fundamentally a social and linguistic concept, using quantum physics to
prove his point. They published it. Little did they know... that he was
just making fun of them. Oops. Even refereed publications in
cultural/literary criticism can't tell who's an impostor in their field.

His explanation:
http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/soka ... ca_v4.html


This has come up before. /sigh

1) The paper was not significantly about literary criticism. Social Text is not a literary studies journal. Literary theorists work on the journal, and the journal is relevant to the field, but it's relevant in the same way an art history journal is - indirectly.
2) The journal was not refereed - Social Text was not a peer reviewed journal. Their explicit mission was to publish things that seemed interesting for the sake of publishing interesting and unusual material. That doesn't excuse the blunder, but on the other hand, it does make it hard to draw conclusions about the larger field.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Iori_Yagami » Mon Jul 21, 2008 5:00 pm UTC

Hey!
Randall missed information technology impostors!

I think these days they can truly compete with literature experts!
:mrgreen:
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Sagard » Mon Jul 21, 2008 5:29 pm UTC

For all those still fixated on how English class in high school was so *completely* useless (let's not forget that high school English and lit. crit. classes are very, very different):

Remember reading Brave New World back in high school? Remember the major themes in that book? Hold onto those thoughts for just a second.

Right now, I'm spending my summer in India. More specifically, I'm spending it in Mumbai, a city of 18 million, most of them living is terrible, terrible poverty. The infrastructure here sucks. Roads are potholed to hell, the train system is overrun, and if lines are being laid, workers will dig a line in the road for power, fill it up, dig another for water, fill it up, another for phone lines, fill it up, etc., etc., etc., for internet, cable, sewer, everything; this leaves the roads in a condition which can only be referred to as "one giant fucking mess."

Though they have bulldozers and steam rollers and all that fancy equipment, the municipal government prefers to employ lots of people from the slums to break down and build roads by hand. This has the benefit of employing lots of poor people and pacifying the slum vote (approx 60% of the popluation. Here, the poor vote, the rich stay in their ivory towers). It also tends to make the roads blow, and keep everyone very miserable, not to mention it takes *forever* for any work to get done.

You might draw a connection here to the novel, where things are done in an intentionally backwards-assed way only for the sake of consumption, and to keep blocks of the population occupied with menial labor. You might also recall that this is generally thought of as a bad idea.

How is this tied together? By the Indian educational system, of course. See, they have a very single-track focus. At the end of tenth grade, you decide what you are going to do with your life. If you do well in sciences, you go to school for a science, and do only that. No philosophy, no English, no nufthin'. Only what is applicable to your degree. This might be sounding really great to all you pure-science types right now.

I hope you realize that this means NO POLITICIAN will have read ANY important piece of literature after tenth grade here. They haven't read Brave New World. They don't have this body of knowledge to rely upon and draw from. They don't know how amazingly stupid these ideas are. They wonder why it isn't working. Maybe, just maybe, if 1% were forced to take these types of "English" classes, forced to analyze the concepts and themes in Huxley, in Machiavelli, in Homer, they'd have a slightly better understanding of human nature as a whole.

And then maybe it wouldn't take me 2 hours for my morning commute.

Stupid bastards.

/rant.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby flower of your contempt » Mon Jul 21, 2008 7:04 pm UTC

Don't post often, but the lil flame war (torch conflict? lighter skirmish?) and some of the notions and ideas espoused herein compelled me (a least a bit) to say a few things.

First, I don't think the comic is derisive of lit crit. It's obviously a confession from Randall that states, were he to go into an acting career, he would only ever get cast as a professor of literary criticism. I assume this is why he has not gone into a professional acting career, as the number of roles available to individuals that can only convincingly portray a professor of literary criticism are few. So be thankful, were he a more talented actor he would not continue to publish cartoons that enable others to feel (in turns, and sometimes at once) both smug and morose.

Second, I am somewhat surprised at the number of people that ask the question the usefulness/benefit of the humanities (Ezbez, EtzHadaat, et al). I tend not to read the forums, so this may have come up a few times before, such as in the "Purity" discussion. The basis of the argument against the pursuit of humanities, or seeing the humanities as nothing more than codified opinions, seems to be utilitarian. That is, if the pursuit of a particular knowledge has no obvious benefit to society, it is more problematic to pursue such a knowledge if a more beneficial knowledge is available.

I've kinda extrapolated the argument against the utility of the humanities, and what seem to be the implied conclusions (P means premise, C means conclusion...in case any of you skipped the english or philosophy class where they taught about constructing arguments):

P1: Production of things is of benefit to society.
P2: Production of things or technologies that are based on theories that permit the production of things, are useful and valuable.
P3: The natural sciences are the means by which things are most effectively produced, or making things that are produced better.
C1: The natural sciences produce things, or make the production of things better. Therefore the natural sciences are useful and valuable and are of benefit to society.
P4: The humanities do not produce things.
P4: The humanities do not produce things or technologies that are based on theories that permit the production of things.
C2: The humanities are not of benefit to society, nor are they valuable or useful, because they do not produce things nor do they make the production of things better.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong in the premises as stated. It seemed most folks were reluctant to define what they meant by useful. Material things and some how making them better seemed to be the only measure that I could find as to why science was more useful than the humanities. Knowledge about the universe seemed conspicuously absent as a valuable contribution of science.

The issues I take with a utilitarian argument against the humanities are as follows. The first is that one must have a means of concretely and discreetly measuring usefulness. The second is that a utilitarian assessment of worth or value can only be applied over a clearly marked period of time and with omniscience. The position is ultimately untenable largely on account of the inability of anyone, at present, to develop a concrete and discreet measure of usefulness for knowledge that is not contentious or to acquire omniscience.

I'm also confused by the obsession some folks seem to have about making things better. Just seems like a strange motivation for the acquisition of knowledge.

Now, I can understand the desire to feel smug and derisive towards others. It's a great big nice warm feeling of subtle (or overt) superiority that fills ones head with soothing lullabies of self-worth as one lays his or head upon downy pillows of hubris to fall into dreams where laurels are gaily cast upon the feet of the one that showed us we were all so terribly wrong about everything we thought we knew. So, y'know...if that's what you're looking for right now, more power to ya. Just understand that some folks get a little snarky when told that their passions or interests are of zero worth to anyone save themselves.

Finally, i do not understand why the notion of "hard science" v. "soft science" v. "humanities/gasbag studies" continues to be embraced and espoused by those that would call themselves scholars of any discipline. Does that construct exist simply for the sake of permitting and promoting smugness? Can someone explain this to me? I can understand that different methods are applied in the natural sciences, social sciences, etc. But whenever I see arguments like the ones that appeared in this thread, I feel like we're all falling for a spin someone sold us...and we seem to fall for it with all the clumsy grace and cavalier attitude we can muster.

--edit--
tried to fix some grammar issues

PhilSandifer
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby PhilSandifer » Mon Jul 21, 2008 7:29 pm UTC

flower of your contempt wrote:P1: Production of things is of benefit to society.


More than anything else, this premise is the flaw in the argument as you present it - that production of things is of benefit to society does not mean that other things cannot also be of benefit to society. Thus the conclusion that the humanities do not benefit society doesn't follow - all that can follow is "the humanities do not benefit society in the same way that the sciences do."

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Iori_Yagami
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Iori_Yagami » Mon Jul 21, 2008 7:38 pm UTC

Come on.
Sciences tell how to sharpen a knife perfectly.
Humanities tell whether to carve a beautiful sculpture with it, make sandwiches, or plug it into someone's belly.
Simple!
They cannot defend themselves; they cannot run away. INSANITY is their only way of escape.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby flower of your contempt » Mon Jul 21, 2008 7:48 pm UTC

More than anything else, this premise is the flaw in the argument as you present it - that production of things is of benefit to society does not mean that other things cannot also be of benefit to society. Thus the conclusion that the humanities do not benefit society doesn't follow - all that can follow is "the humanities do not benefit society in the same way that the sciences do."


As I said after presenting the argument as I understood it, it seemed to be the only manifest instance of why science is more beneficial to society than the humanities. It also seems to be the only way to frame the argument in a way that one would arrive to rather strong the conclusion that others in the forum have espoused.

For example, if some folks had said that the humanities are not useful because they do not increase or provide knowledge of or about the universe, one could counter that the humanities do increase or provide for knowledge about human expression. Human expression is a necessarily human activity, and humans exist in this universe. Therefore, the humanities do provide or increase knowledge of or about the universe.

But again, knowledge of the universe was conspicuously absent from the reasons as to why science is valuable or useful.

Ultimately, the most glaring issues with a utilitarian assessment of scholarship is that utilitarianism falls apart both epistemically and in application.

---edit---
Oh yeah, and granting the 1st premise (despite that it is contentious, why not use the charity principle, eh?) is the only way to show the flaws of the position as whole.

ScumBag
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby ScumBag » Mon Jul 21, 2008 11:11 pm UTC

PhilSandifer wrote:
BlackSails wrote:I dont have much to add other than:

1) Read Fashionable Nonsense, By Sokal and Bricmont


Oh God, please don't do this. As someone who both knows the theory they're talking about and knows or knows how to follow up on the science, this book is an utter trainwreck of missing the point. It's worthwhile to look at it in terms of a particular historical moment in the tension between the sciences and humanities, but this book is complete trash.


And why not? I've quoted this book (In Britain it's called 'Intellectual Impostures') for nearly every Philosophy of Science paper I wrote. Although, admittedly only for its poised attacks on both Popper and Feyerbend, the rest of the book however is worth reading.

How can it, in your words 'miss the point'? I keep hearing this from the detractors of the book, but never with any elucidation. If someone is trying to sell a paper by making claims like Newton's Laws amount to a 'Rape Manual', or to establish a link between Nietzsche's life and works with the discovery of the atom and the arbitrary (as well as incorrect) use of mathematical symbols to make a point - is that not as the title of the book suggests, 'nonsense'?

The guys who wrote it aren't trying to make claims on the whole subject of literacy criticism (your field of expertise, not mines, so I won't bother to make any claims like some of these supposedly 'know all' engineers) but rather poised right at the guys who made their name big with such garbage, even if the rest of their output (for all I know) is academically sound.

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Saturn
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Saturn » Mon Jul 21, 2008 11:34 pm UTC

It's a -comic-.

Laugh or don't. :<

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby voyou » Tue Jul 22, 2008 12:13 am UTC

ScumBag wrote:How can it, in your words 'miss the point'? I keep hearing this from the detractors of the book, but never with any elucidation. If someone is trying to sell a paper by making claims like Newton's Laws amount to a 'Rape Manual'


This isn't, as far as I know, an example that Sokal and Bricmont use; but it's an excellent example of missing the point, because it's based on a very clear misrepresentation of the source. Sandra Harding, who used the phrase "rape manual" in connection with Newtonian mechanics, didn't say that "Newton's Laws amount to a 'Rape Manual'"; she draws the connection hypothetically, in the process of suggesting that historians of science have adopted a double standard, by which mechanistic metaphors are taken to be vitally important in early-modern science, while rape metaphors are said to be "just metaphors" and thereby irrelevant to the kernel of early modern science. The passage in which the phrase appears is:

Traditional historians and philosophers of science have said that these metaphors [of rape and torture] are irrelevant to the _real_ meanings and referents of scientific concepts held by those who used them and the public for whom they wrote. But when it comes to regarding nature as a machine, they have quite a different analysis: here, we are told, the metaphor provides the interpretations of Newton's mathematical laws: it directs inquirers to fruitful ways to apply his theory and suggests the appropriate methods of inquiry and the kind of metaphysics the new theory supports. But if we are to believe that mechanistic metaphors were a fundamental component of the explanations the new science provided, why should we believe that the gender metaphors were not? A consistent analysis would lead to the conclusion that understanding nature as a woman indifferent to or even welcoming rape was equally fundamental to the interpretations of these new conceptions of nature and inquiry. Presumably these metaphors, too, had fruitful pragmatic, methodological, and metaphysical consequences for science. In that case, why is it not as illuminating and honest to refer to Newton's laws as 'Newton's rape manual' as it is to call them 'Newton's mechanics'? (The Science Question in Feminism, 113)


Which of course could be debated in various ways, but it doesn't simply equate Newton's laws to a rape manual, and it's not nonsense.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby az_sandhawk » Tue Jul 22, 2008 12:29 am UTC

As a matter of fact, which I haven't seen anyone pick up on, the character in the fourth panel in the chair is a structuralist. (Based on what he is saying.) Anyone who calls himself an "expert" deconstructivist instantly marks himself as a fraud. Any deconstructivist will immediately acknowledge that he, too, subverts himself.

Also, there has been a claim in this forum that desconstructivism, with its emphasis on irony and subversion of the text, has no use in the real world. If you really believe that, then you need to stop reading xkcd, start thinking of the children and join the war on terror. Now.

Spoiler:
Of course, since you will have become the terror (t[he ]error) you'll need to take on those you see in the mirror. Like a text that a deconstructivist has taken on successfully, you will eat yourself. A daisy cutter can vaporise a whole battalion of religious fanatics, deconstructivism can point out - to them, without the need to use force - the stupidity of their beliefs. It is an antidote to the rigiditiy of structuralism (or for the more dim among you, what we commonly call totalitarianism/authoritarianism) as applied to human affairs. Nothing new about it but literary critics are attempting to rigorously define it. xkcd is, also, a wonderfully deconstructivist comic.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby az_sandhawk » Tue Jul 22, 2008 12:57 am UTC

AvalonXQ wrote:
Phasma Felis wrote:I work in IT, and every damn day I have conversations that would be utter howling gibberish to most people, yet somehow the servers still work.


Exactly. Your servers work. What, precisely, does literary criticism make work? What does it contribute? How does it advance society? What progress can be made in a discipline where every opinion is equally valid and nothing is falsifiable?
I'm not saying that literature is worthless. I'm saying the pseudo-intellectual crap that passes for academia in subjects such as "postmodern cultural studies" (I'm sure I'm not the first in this thread to mention the Sokal Affair) is worthless. You shouldn't be able to get a degree in nonsense, and nobody should take you seriously if you do.


Political debates. The targeted, expert use of irony (honed through literary criticism) against those who have authoritarian tendencies can move entire societies in directions that benefit their citizens (see Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact, etc, etc). It also helps train spies. And serves as a handy antidote (for the average citizen) for all sorts of bullshit ideologies (Marxists and Religious Conservatives, for example, hate it). It's particularly handy in international relations. And advertising (the "obey your thirst" campaign from Sprite is an excellent example of post-modern advertising).

In many fields and in many situations, there is no (structuralist "approved") right answer, only a preference. (I know that bugs a lot of my engineer friends and accounts for a lot of the misery in their non work lives.) Arguing things through can help compare, in a dispassionate way, the pros and cons of each preference. It can also obscure pros and cons. In that sense, it's a bit like a loaded shotgun. The fellow behind Sokal Affair, even, made use of irony as the basis of his exercise. You can not escape it. Well, you can if you move to North Korea, I suppose.

Since you are able to recognize "pseudo-intellectual crap," what pray tell, would intellectual "non-crap" be?

ScumBag
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby ScumBag » Tue Jul 22, 2008 1:17 am UTC

voyou wrote:
ScumBag wrote:How can it, in your words 'miss the point'? I keep hearing this from the detractors of the book, but never with any elucidation. If someone is trying to sell a paper by making claims like Newton's Laws amount to a 'Rape Manual'


This isn't, as far as I know, an example that Sokal and Bricmont use; but it's an excellent example of missing the point, because it's based on a very clear misrepresentation of the source. Sandra Harding, who used the phrase "rape manual" in connection with Newtonian mechanics, didn't say that "Newton's Laws amount to a 'Rape Manual'"; she draws the connection hypothetically, in the process of suggesting that historians of science have adopted a double standard, by which mechanistic metaphors are taken to be vitally important in early-modern science, while rape metaphors are said to be "just metaphors" and thereby irrelevant to the kernel of early modern science.


I concede that I made a mistake and yes, the book never made the claim. But rather this was from a review by Richard Dawkins. I'm willing to bet he mistaken one feminist for another. He quoted not Sandra Harding but an another American named Katherine Hayles who rendered a passage by Luce Irigaray clear in which she described E=MC2 a 'sexed equation':

The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, she attributes to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids... From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders.


I currently do not have the means to track down the original papers by either Hayles or Irgaray, but the context in which the claim was made in both the book and the article by Dawkins:

http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/dawkins.html

If they are simply quoting out of context, then let me know. But from here it looks pretty much comprehensive of their views on the matter, and to me as patent nonsense.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Lunch Meat » Tue Jul 22, 2008 2:59 am UTC

az_sandhawk wrote:Political debates. The targeted, expert use of irony (honed through literary criticism) against those who have authoritarian tendencies can move entire societies in directions that benefit their citizens (see Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact, etc, etc). It also helps train spies. And serves as a handy antidote (for the average citizen) for all sorts of bullshit ideologies (Marxists and Religious Conservatives, for example, hate it).


Argh. I'm really, really sorry to have to do this, because I know it's irrelevant to your point (with which I agree, by the way). But you're making a careless, sweeping generalization that crushes entire cities when you say that religious conservatives "hate" irony and literary criticism. It's not true. It's not even true for the majority. It may be true for the very vocal minority, but I just have to say that the vocal minority makes us cringe and hang our heads and wish they would shut up. It irritates the heck out of me when people say things like this in passing so you don't even get a chance to say "Wait wait wait wait wait. What??" Please, don't judge me by what other religious conservatives have said. It's illogical, it's silly, and it's most incorrect. I am a religious conservative. Yes, some religious conservatives are stupid and bigoted. Not all of us are, and I am not.

Goodness, I'm thinking we need another Godwin's Law that says "In any Internet debate, an insult along the lines of 'That idea is as stupid as religious fundamentalism/creationism/conservativism' will be used on one or both sides."

cnoocy
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby cnoocy » Tue Jul 22, 2008 3:02 am UTC

So Dawkins and Sokal are scientists who are annoyed because literary critics misrepresent information about their field?
I hope you will forgive me if I say that after this discussion, I find that hilarious.


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