20 April 2010

Is cognitive science the final word?

Who are we? The answer to this question is not only one of the tasks but the task of science.

- Erwin Schrodinger, Science and Humanism, 1951

Would an ever expanding knowledge of how the brain and the mind work culminate in the undisputed victory of natural science in the Science Wars? Although cognitive science covers various disciplines, including a few from the social sciences, its methodology is mainly that of the natural sciences; objective empirical study with the aim of developing predictive, falsifiable theories. Given the speed at which new understanding is acquired on how the physical brain produces non-physical phenomena like thoughts and emotions, cognitive science is becoming ever more indispensable in our ancient quest to know ourselves, as individuals and as a species. Meanwhile, social science is playing catch-up as it finds its ideas continually overturned by some latest discovery in neuroscience or evolutionary psychology. It seems that the more social science tries to emulate the methods of natural science, the more open it leaves itself to criticism or refutation.

16 April 2010

A victory for critical journalism!

After 2 years slogging through an expensive libel case brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association, journalist and science writer Simon Singh was finally vindicated on Thursday when the BCA dropped their libel suit. Medical bullshit-buster Ben Goldacre wrote a piece on the good news, and you can read the original article by Singh published in The Guardian in 2008. When the BCA sued Singh for apparently defaming their medically dubious profession, the article was forced to be taken down from the Guardian website. Since the libel case was dropped, it has been reinstated, to the cheers of intelligent folk across the land.

Now the push for libel law reform in the UK begins in earnest. Singh’s victory, though a sweet one, is only over one battle in a much larger war, a conflict that pits evidence-based medicine and rigorous science against the legions of bogus alternative therapies and their fraudulent claims. Without a legal system that protects free speech and scientific criticism, quacks, charlatans and witch-doctors will continue to threaten the health and welfare of gullible citizens, unchallenged by critics gagged with dysfunctional libel laws.

Let’s hope the UK gets the libel law reform it so obviously needs.


14 April 2010

Vain men ascendant

Here's GQ Style Guy Glenn O'Brien's encouraging thoughts on the return of the Well-dressed Male. I especially agree with his observation of how the female half of many couples tends to be far better dressed than her male consort. Maybe there's an evolutionary reason for the male predisposition to slovenliness, but surely it can't hurt the guys to up their sartorial game, if only as a gesture of respect and appreciation for the effort their lady friends make.

Sure, don't judge a book by its cover and all that, but here's a thought: what are the odds that a hooligan/hillbilly/harasser/heckler/hoon would be wearing a baseball cap, hoodie, saggy jeans and dirty trainers, rather than a smart hat, fitted jacket, trim pants and dress shoes/boots? You don't need a PhD in Research and Statistics in Social Psychology to intuit that how one dresses can speak volumes of one's character (or pretensions to a certain kind of character). And spare me the charge of monetary elitism; you can get a decent jacket from an op shop for a fraction of the price of those hi-tech, hi-performance, hi-monstrosity sports shoes.

The ideal man strives to cultivate internal and external grace, charm and style. We're all gonna be a long time dead. Might as well look dapper before our final exit.


12 April 2010

Postmodernist writing: the real deal

In case you hadn’t notice (and who could blame you for failing to do so), my previous ‘essay’, "Preconceptualist patriarchialism and semiotic narrative", was a pastiche of absolutely meaningless mumbo-jumbo, randomly generated by this clever program created by fellow Melbournian Andrew Bulhak (click on your browser’s ‘refresh’ button to generate a brand new configuration of po-mo keywords, hackneyed phrases and notable names). A wry dig at the abstruse terminology, liberal name-dropping appeals to authority and banal observations dressed up in profound-sounding language that are the stock-in-trade of many postmodernist and social constructivist writers, the Postmodernism Generator at least produces essays that are, as Richard Dawkins noted, “distinguishable from the real thing only in being more fun to read.”

07 April 2010

Preconceptualist patriarchialism and semiotic narrative

1. Capitalist subcultural theory and capitalist deappropriation

“Sexual identity is fundamentally responsible for capitalism,” says Bataille; however, according to la Fournier, it is not so much sexual identity that is fundamentally responsible for capitalism, but rather the failure of sexual identity. Semiotic narrative implies that narrative is a product of communication, but only if Sontag’s analysis of capitalist deappropriation is invalid; if that is not the case, language may be used to entrench the status quo.

06 April 2010

Objective reality and science

No one would deny the utility of science in creating more effective medicines, more nutritious food, less polluting fuels and faster, more efficient communication systems. But to achieve such utility, it requires researchers, designers, engineers and manufacturers to recognise the objective laws of nature (in physics, chemistry, biology etc) and work within their limits. Would you fly in a plane designed and built by folks who reject the physical laws of aerodynamics? Or take medication prescribed by someone who is totally ignorant of human physiology or pharmaceutical chemistry? Yet when scientists declare that an objective reality – independent of our subjective selves and our culture – exists, and that the scientific method is to date the most accurate way to discover the facts – truths – of this objective reality, they are accused by non-scientists (and amazingly, even some scientists, as we shall see below) of being needlessly provocative and egotistic.