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Fashionable Nonsense

Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science

By Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont
10-minute read
Audio available
Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont

In Fashionable Nonsense (1998), we dive into some of the problematic aspects of postmodernism, a fashionable intellectual trend in universities worldwide. Learn how inaccessible, complex language does not always translate into profound ideas, and discover how the popularity of postmodern nonsense can actually harm society.

  • Readers who want to learn more about the Sokal hoax
  • Scholars and critics of relativism and its implicit dangers
  • Students critical of postmodernism

Alan Sokal is a physics professor at New York University and the author of Beyond the Hoax.

Jean Bricmont is a professor of theoretical physics at the Université de Louvain, in Belgium. He also co-wrote Humanitarian Imperialism, with Diana Johnstone.

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Fashionable Nonsense

Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science

By Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
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Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont
Synopsis

In Fashionable Nonsense (1998), we dive into some of the problematic aspects of postmodernism, a fashionable intellectual trend in universities worldwide. Learn how inaccessible, complex language does not always translate into profound ideas, and discover how the popularity of postmodern nonsense can actually harm society.

Key idea 1 of 6

Postmodernism is a wide-ranging term that challenges the concept of objective truth.

To understand what makes postmodernism such a controversial subject, let’s first take a close look at the concept’s defining features.

Postmodernism denies that there is any objective “truth” to be found in the world.

Postmodernists believe that everything, including science, is a social construct. According to their view, all traditional forms of knowledge contain limited and biased ideas about the way things are. This facet of postmodernism is often called relativism, because it suggests that everything we know is relative and based on the individual.

For example, several Native American tribes have origin myths that claim their people have lived in the Americas ever since their ancestors “emerged onto the surface of the earth from a subterranean world of spirits.”

Some postmodernists argue that such beliefs are just as “valid” and “true” as the scientific evidence showing that the first humans entered the Americas by crossing the Bering Strait from Asia between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago.

In this way, postmodernists suggest that there is no objective reality and that everything is an individual interpretation of the world. So, from a postmodern perspective, the Native American creation myth is as valid as the scientific evidence. From a scientific and factual perspective, however, only one can be considered “true.”

That said, postmodernism can balance out the negative effects of extreme modernism.

Modernism was an early twentieth-century movement designed to analyze every aspect of our existence in order to find out what was holding us back from “progress.” Sometimes this caused us to over-romanticize technology or Western values.

So, when postmodernism arrived in the late twentieth century, it showed us that such idealistic views often lead to our diminishing the value systems of other cultures.

And making room for a broader and more diverse range of voices is, of course, beneficial to our culture. So, in the following blinks, we will limit our look at postmodernism to cases involving scientific discourse – where it can do the most damage.

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