Rhetoric roundup: falsifiable, observable, multicultural

2 February 2007

The ‘drinking from the firehouse,’ tag is for many of these essays collectively and for Arts and Letters Daily individually. That’s a great page, and every article cited below came from the 2 February 2007 version.

First of all, a review of Lee Smolin’s new book about string theory [amaz] by Michael Riordan, a physicist at UC Santa Cruz. Riordan heartily agrees with Smolin’s niggling that epistimologically, string theory and intelligent design are the same. Both can suitably explain historical events and observations very well but neither can be used to make testable predictions about future discoveries. Back to the ever-persistent Popper–neither is falsifiable.

The foil here will be played by Stephen Weinberg, reviewing Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Weinberg seems to bring the bathwater in with the baby, taking negative reviews of Dawkins book as personal affonts to science and, by extension, Weinberg himself. I mean, this is Erik versus a guy with a Nobel prize, but it distinctly calls to mind Sherryll’s comments about scientists’ misuse of humanities terms and arguments when Weinberg casually dismisses Terry Eagleton’s not-so-casual-after-all dismissals. And I distinctly think that Weinberg threw in a reference to Toqueville just to prove that he did the reading for class. It seems pretty disingeneous, else.

The only stuff on ‘observable,’ really, is this article on color perception, long a standard in discussions of subjectivity, particularly favored by those who can recite the bandpasses for U,V, B, J and K filters by rote.

Also striking tonight were the two articles which make ‘multicultralism,’ a word which divides, limits, and oppresses. The first article is a very able-bodied defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Dutch MP and emigre from Somalia. My own unfamiliarity with philosophy make some of the finer points a little out of my reach, and I wonder what a feminist critique of the situation would say, but the general sentiment is definitely noble. Paired with it, then, is a third book review for the night. The book is The Trouble with Diversity, by Walter Benn Michaels. Even though I associate their ideas, Michaels would have to be a really impressive speaker indeed to match up with the person from whom I first heard these ideas: racism without racists author Victor Villanueva. That guy can really rant. Rock on, VV.


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