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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Promoting my academia column in the Austin American Statesman

I was editing away today on a dissertation {and I'm looking for more editing, please!) and forgot that I was supposed to be all about me today. Me, as in I, as in not-you, as in my column in the Austin Statesman on two books: Trying Leviathan by D. Graham Burnett and Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison's groovy Zone book, Objectivity. This is my second column so far, my dearest and nearest, and I'm looking to franchise this baby - gonna send it around to various newspapers in various high ed towns and offer it for peanuts - that is, a week after the statesman publishes it. I'm not sure if this will work, but I'm gonna give it a shot. And if it does work, I'll be your man on the university press beat.

So, did I say Me? Yes. This has been shameless self promotion on the part of LI. Check it out!

PS - here's my editor Jeff's blog post about this.


Anonymous said...

What you write about Trying Leviathan reminds me of Hillary Putnam essay, "The Meaning of 'Meaning'" (or is it "The 'Meaning' of Meaning"? I don't remember), which I read under pressure from a then-coworker who'd done graduate work in philosophy and was trying to instill in me a taste for the "real" thing as opposed to the "continental/cultural silly stuff." I found Putnam's Twin Earth/Twater thought-experiment twaddle, but I could accept his point that "meanings ain't in the head." But then he went on to try to show that χρυσος always meant gold in the sense of element 79 in the periodic table, and that made me want to go all Travis Bickle on Putnam and the jerk who insisted I read him. Burnett is right that there is no substitute for doing the history (or in this case, just reading the Liddle-Scott entry.)

I wonder if Dupré sites Putnam, who talks of a "linguistic division of labor." <shrug />

And what's this? Not Moby-Dick, but Moby Dick? Is there some copy editor at the Austin Statesman who needs that tome brought down on his head, and hard? Even if it were an oversight on your part, said copy editor should have caught it and added the hyphen.

These are dark times we live in.

—et alia

roger said...

ea, I don't have a lot of patience for Putnam's H20 is xyz in possible world q essay, either. On the other hand, Putnam was using that to blunder towards one real interesting idea in cog sci, which was the notion that something like mental processes could be supported on different platforms - carbon or silicon - which was a big deal for AI.

But Dupre doesn't, I think, mention Putnam in his essay. It is a pretty good defense of his core theme, which is that science isn't unified - it is a radical pluralism that strikes against the dominant idea of reductionism, and I'm in sympathy.

Sorry about the Moby-Dick business!

Anonymous said...

I like the non-analytic (post-analytic? pragmatist? Anyway, the stuff that my credentialed co-worker said wasn't worth reading because it mentioned Derrida, Foucault, etc. without immediately ridiculing them) Putnam I've read, especially The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy (I think that's the title, at least), and a book of lectures given somewhere in Yurrip on ontology, where he takes a pluralist approach to "Being," i.e., there's no fundamental "Being of beings" a la Heidegger.

My bad about missing Dupré's point about pluralism in science. I'm inclined to think of it that way myself, if only from pulling my hair out from having to listen to dorks with subscriptions to the Skeptical Inquirer talk about science! in a smug, philistine way, as if being someone who did science! meant you were part of something like the Borg, but that it made you rilly, rilly smart.

Aside: I think there are various "subjectivites" in the common sense of mindsets/ways of thinking for the various sciences and even for various specializations within a science, and what may be clear and obvious to a person in one discipline or specialization might be opaque or even bizarre to someone else. A case in point is the Hungarian mathematician Pal Erdös' reaction to Marilyn vos Savant's column on the Monty Hall problem. A lot of distinguished mathematicians got the Monty Hall problem wrong, but none more distinguished than Erdös. When a colleague finally showed him a proof that wasn't the hand-waving explanation vos Savant gave, he accepted it, but then commented that the proof was ugly. But if somebody like Erdös couldn't get it, that signifies to me that a lot of mediocre minds are simply taking it on faith because somebody with the label of unified science! attached to their lame ass said it must be true.

And don't apologize for the Moby Dick vs. Moby-Dick stuff, seriously. A real copy editor should have caught that one. Find out who it was and show up on his doorstep at 2:30AM with a half-empty bottle of Wild Turkey and a revolver, lean into their smug, pasty face and say, "When I do it, it's an oversight. When you let it pass, you not doing your job, and making me look like the asshole you are." Then hand him a sheet of sentences from Ulysses where some of Joyce's idiosyncrasies have been changed, e.g., "snot green" instead of "snotgreen" and challenge him to fix them. For every sentence he gets right, he gets to do a shot of bourbon. For every one he gets wrong ("I think scrotumtightening should be two words."), spin the barrel of the revolver (which you have told him contains only one bullet) and fire it at his forehead. Of course, the revolver only contains a single blank, and when he collapses in terror, soiling himself, toss him a copy of Ulysses but tell him he better clean himself up before he touches it. Then walk away laughing.

—et alia

roger said...

E.A. - you made me laugh! But I do think your suggestion could get me in a wee bit of trouble!
Please go and note the Moby Dick thing on Jeff's blog. He needs some comments on that thing!

Praxis said...

"but tell him he better clean himself up before he touches it."

That goes rather against the spirit of Joyce, doesn't it? Or does your copy editor not deserve to participate in the true debasement of literature, until he's shown it proper respect?

I've got something of a soft spot for Putnam, for the reasons you mention. He was a (dim and faltering) ray of light in my none-more-analytic philosophical education. I wonder (in slightly dubious biographical mode) to what extent his lack of knee-jerk contempt for continental thought is a product of his theological interests - he takes Levinas seriously, and I wonder whether he came at him through his writings on Judaism. Plus Putnam's a lefty, of course, which always helps...

A friend of mine once proposed setting up a series of seminars in which the wackier thought experiments of analytic philosophy would be conducted. He'd have a tank of H2O and a tank of XYZ - and reveal the latter to be acid, dropping billiard balls into it and watching them dissolve...

Anyway, great article and posts. I need to get hold of those books on utilitarianism you mention above.

Anonymous said...

"but tell him he better clean himself up before he touches it."

That goes rather against the spirit of Joyce, doesn't it? Or does your copy editor not deserve to participate in the true debasement of literature, until he's shown it proper respect?

You're right that it goes against the Joycean spirit. But it isn't as much about Joyce as it is about humiliating the copy editor—although he might feel especially burned for having to clean himself up when he gets to Mr. Bloom in the outhouse after his breaakfast.

A friend of mine once proposed setting up a series of seminars in which the wackier thought experiments of analytic philosophy would be conducted.

Oh, could you please, please, please do that with the annoying interlocutor in Kripke's Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language who claims his victim meant a version of addition with an exception whenever he spoke of addition in the past? Except make sure the "victim" has access to a blow torch and a pair of pliers. (And fie on all the wretches who applaud that line in Pulp Fiction who've never seen Charley Varrick!)


Ray Davis said...

Nice recommendations, although I'm sorry Daston and Galison don't go into the all-important but mostly not-talked-about interplay between the objective wrappings of the typical paper and what ambitious scientists do with them in popular journalism.

Roger, have you read That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question' and the American Historical Profession by Peter Novick? It's so stylish that I stopped reading the library copy in order to go buy one of my own.

roger said...

Ray, no. Although I've heard of Peter Novick. Well, have to check it out at the library myself! It is amusing how objectivity has become a ritual that has to be bowed to in dissertations - as I know, being an all hours dissertation editor. One has to swear up and down, in social sciences disses, that one is using the most objective methodology ever employed by man or superman. Of course, there are all these subclauses to the oath, exceptions, a little of this, a little of that, and that is where the dissertation really goes. As it should, many times. An excellent hunch, excellently unrolled, being worth infinitely more than a lotta beancounting in the bean factory. Ho ho ho.