Postmodernism and Psychoanalysis

Jordan B. Peterson is a self-professed proponent of classical liberalism, a Jungian and a clinical psychologist. However, as I will argue here, classical liberalism and psychoanalysis are fundamentally at odds. Peterson’s emphasis on psychoanalysis is most evident in his Jung-inspired lecture series, The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories. This endeavour has been popular—perhaps because it fills the cultural void created by the so-called meaning crisis.

Liberalism and postmodernism are antagonistic ideologies. Psychoanalysis, I will argue, is related to postmodernism—hence it is paradoxical to advocate liberalism and psychoanalysis simultaneously. Ideas from postmodern philosophy, such as those of Michel Foucault, are unapologetically critical of liberal norms. But postmodernism may, in fact, serve Peterson’s aim to bring about a society saturated with meaning, through the teachings of psychoanalysis.

Take Philip K. Dick’s experience of what he called divine interference. Better known for his novels like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and The Man in the High Castle, Dick’s divine interference was a collection of meaningful coincidences, symbolic encounters and vivid hallucinations. Dick referred to this ordeal as 2–3–74, after the date it began. It started with an innocuous interaction with a delivery woman who happened to be wearing the ichthys (the fish symbol Christians wore before the cross became their predominant symbol), which marked the beginning of a series of events and visions. The sight of the necklace acted as a “trigger for gnosis,” whereby Dick received an onslaught of information and hallucinations. These acid trip-like experiences were often related, or similar, to books he had previously written. For example, Dick experienced visions and dreams connected with VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligent System), a satellite which served as a major plot device in his book of the same name. He experienced aural hallucinations in which he received pertinent information directly from the radio, as if it were speaking to him personally. He also imagined that he was exchanging telepathic information with a first-century Christian named Thomas. Some regard these experiences as par for the course for a sci-fi writer with an immense, intricate imagination. Others regard them as evidence of a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, frontal lobe epilepsy or psychosis. But others feel there is a more complex explanation.

In a passage from Dick’s Exegesis (a published section of his private journal, in which he documents the uncanny events), he states, “The trouble is, sitting here for instance, I do know what each object is. I know its name. I know its purpose, what it does, etc. I can’t unknow this is a typewriter, this here my light, this over here the air conditioner.” Dick became astutely aware of how we endow our perceptions and sociolinguistic constructs with a certain indelibility, as if they existed beyond question. But language and society do not map onto each other perfectly. In the passage above, Dick contemplates the absurdity of the connection between abstract words and material objects. This questioning of the status quo is thoroughly postmodern. Derrida does this by examining language, and Foucault by exposing the role societal structures and power play in the discourses of knowledge acquisition and the creation of societal norms.

Dick’s worldview changed as a result of his hallucinogenic experiences. He began to think of the world as fundamentally constituted of information: “narrative can be entered from any point in mundane time by the correct entry key which in itself tells a story or a part of a story—part of the master narrative (which, as I say, is information out of which reality is generated).” Information is persistent, but the form it takes is inconsequential since there is a higher underlying code, which is actually real. This extravagant metaphysical paradigm is compatible with postmodern thought. It pays less attention to material and economic conditions, and more to the mysterious structures of the human mind that create meaning and transcendence. This is important in psychoanalysis in general—and it is especially relevant to Peterson’s message, which aims to foster a sense of meaning in people’s lives via Jungian ideas, particularly as they relate to story and myth.

The timing of Dick’s visions was no coincidence—they are simultaneous with postmodernism. One year later, in 1975, Foucault published Discipline and Punish, which tackles similar themes. Notably, Foucault outlines how governments, jails, penitentiaries, schools, military, hospitals, etc. (structures of power in liberal societies) contribute to their own perpetuation and tend towards ossification, independently of their truth or non-truth.

For Foucault, liberal norms “give birth to man as an object of knowledge for a discourse with a ‘scientific’ status.” Scientific discourse classifies, compartmentalizes and empirisizes areas of study which, inevitably, result in the formation of a norm (a human norm, for instance, might be comprised of the most common characteristics of a particular population). For Foucault, the trouble is that, “although it is true that prison punishes delinquency, delinquency is for the most part produced in and by an incarceration which, ultimately, prison perpetuates in its turn.” Systems of discipline and punishment extract a norm from a group using empirical methods of study (usually science, in a liberal society), then discipline or punish delinquency in an attempt to coax the population towards this supposed norm—from which, as a result, the population never strays too far. Structures of discipline and punishment therefore continually reinforce their own norms under the guise of science, and thus, self-perpetuate. This process was historically stopped through a series of revolutions (scientific, Protestant and liberal), which overthrew the previous religious structures of discipline and punishment.

Another significant concept in Discipline and Punish is the divide between the body and the soul: specifically, the way in which structures of punishment targeted the body in the Middle Ages and earlier, but now punish the soul. The movement away from public torture and execution was symptomatic of a shift from punishing the human body to taking away life itself—with the least amount of bodily interference. English common law, with its emphasis on liberties, exemplifies this: citizens are endowed with certain inalienable rights and freedoms. Those who break the law are disciplined not through bodily means, but by restricting their liberty. Foucault states that these new structures “deprive the individual of a liberty that is regarded both as a right and as property.” In other words, the notion of liberty is reified as if it were not merely abstract, but an entity (a soul), which can be interacted with. Even when someone is sentenced to death, he is disposed of using medicinal concoctions designed to cause as little harm to the body as possible. Accordingly, a direct assault on freedom is possible.

The concept of the soul is integral to Foucault’s thought, particularly in tandem with the notion of causality. Modern liberal societies emerged as a result of the same Enlightenment thinkers—Locke in particular—who birthed empiricism. Not coincidentally, as liberty and the abstract soul become sacred, so does the notion of causality, which is tacitly accepted in both liberal institutions and scientific endeavours. Liberal institutions of punishment no longer require public torture, execution or horrific bodily harm to sway us from crime. We have linked crime and punishment so tightly that, Foucault claims, we live in a kind of panopticon, wherein the notions of causality and the soul coalesce to make us link crime with punishment directly, which pre-emptively deters us from committing crime.

Foucault describes the soul thus:

This real, noncorporal soul is not a substance; it is the element in which are articulated the effects of a certain type of power and the reference of a certain type of knowledge, the machinery by which the power relations give rise to a possible corpus of knowledge, and knowledge extends and reinforces the effects of this power.

We are so aware of the notion of our soul (liberty), and the liberal systems of power are so efficient at doling out punishment, that we causally link the act of crime to punishment—as if we were constantly being watched, without knowing from where or by whom. This is what it means to live in a panopticon. In much the same way, causality is cemented into liberal institutions. While conducting a scientific study of the natural world, empiricists must also assume causality in order to make predictive statements about the future based on empirical data.

Foucault’s Madness and Civilization provides a scholarly approach to the problems Dick experienced and wrote about first-hand. In it, Foucault claims that madness is defined by the institutions and discourse a society has in place. Hence, the definition of madness changes over time. He demonstrates this using the example of leprosy, “as leprosy vanished, in part because of segregation, a void was created and the moral values attached to the leper had to find another scapegoat. Mental illness and unreason attracted that stigma to themselves.” Initially, we defined ourselves in relation to bodily norms: humans with leprosy and similar diseases were seen as the other. Now, sufferers from mental illness are the other, and humans without mental afflictions are considered normal. Dick’s schizotypal visions may have been considered normal—or even laudable—in the past. Madness’s shift from a violation of a bodily norm to that of a mental norm occurred in parallel with the penal system’s shift from an emphasis on the body to an emphasis on the soul.

Liberal societies have created a discourse that perpetuates this new notion of madness. This discourse involves doctors and psychiatrists and institutions like hospitals, psychiatric wards and universities. These structures act as other liberal structures do: by pitting humans against a norm and ensuring its perpetuation through enforced uniformity. For instance, if a doctor claims I am sick, I must defer to the doctor’s authority because what do I know? She has the medicine I need, the antidote to my alleged ills, medicines and antidotes specifically engineered to bring me closer to the norm she has determined appropriate in the first place. So this norm will persist, since these institutions continually alter humans to make us approximate it more closely. Those within the system do not realize its self-reinforcing nature, as we too often suspend our rational faculties in the face of authority claims that invoke science, despite the ability of such systems of authority and power to be misused, and to gradually veer away from the truth.

According to Foucault, our individuality emerges through our relationship to a societal standard via discourse, which presents an opposition between the norm and the other, whereby the norm is created by structures of power dictated, in part, by their axioms. Currently, liberal discourse makes up our reality and perpetuates itself in turn. Many of you may be thinking that, even if Foucault’s discursive explanation of structures and systems is correct, liberal societies largely utilize empirical study and the scientific method. Therefore, although the structures are self-perpetuating, they really reflect the truth. Let’s examine this idea more closely.

One pivotal axiom of modern liberal societies is causality, since it is the bedrock of empirical measurement and empiricism more generally, and has been adopted by liberal punishment systems. As Hume has demonstrated, causality is merely a habit gained through experience: most things seem to respect causality (cause and effect), so we assume they always will. However, causality cannot be proven to exist in any definitive sense (Spencer Hall has shown how fickle causality is here), despite the fact that scientific laws are predicated on the assumption of it. Causality is predicated upon extrapolating from past experiences to predict future outcomes. But proving that the past will predict the future is not possible, since we must be able to prove that the future will be similar enough to the past to render the predictive statement always true. Obviously, we cannot empirically test whether the future is similar enough to the past, without being in the future ourselves, so this principle must always remain an assumption. This “habit of causality” is an unprovable axiom, which is foundational to all empirical measurement used in future prediction, such as the formation of scientific laws. We therefore have reason to be sceptical of the Newtonian laws of physics and laws of thermodynamics, as these laws are not definitively true—they are only true insofar as the assumption of causality holds.

Foucault has exposed the fact that our current structures of discipline and punishment are predicated on norms created using medicine and science. Therefore, once we cast doubt on the assumptions of empirical study, we begin to realize how perilous these structures—and our own sense experiences—are. Moreover, if we agree that human norms change through evolution, each time a large enough change occurs among the populace, new structures need to be created to perpetuate this new norm. The norm within which we currently exist and to which we compare ourselves is therefore temporary. But, a postmodernist might say, once a set of structures has been established, why would they correct themselves to facilitate the continuation of a new norm and risk losing their influence? Do you think they will relinquish their status in favour of some vague notion of truth? Or would you expect humans to be driven by profit and power? The ossification of such structures guarantees a system and population that are relatively static, unless, of course, the situation becomes so dire (institutional norms become extremely unaligned with the population) that a revolution overthrows the current hegemony. However, as Foucault elucidates, these institutions continually reinforce and perpetuate their own norms—and as a result the population remains relatively uniform and revolutions are rare.

The connection between postmodernism and psychoanalysis is touched on by Foucault. In particular, he illuminates the relationship between madness and psychoanalysis, claiming that psychoanalysis creates a dialogue between madness and truth. Furthermore, Foucault asserts that Freud decoupled the existing doctor–patient structures of hospitals, institutions, wards, etc. so that only the direct doctor–patient relationship (discourse) existed:

Freud went back to madness at the level of its language, reconstituted one of the essential elements of an experience reduced to silence by positivism; he did not make a major addition to the list of psychological treatments for madness; he restored, in medical thought, the possibility of a dialogue with unreason.

This is one of psychoanalysis’ postmodern aspects: it subverts the current liberal structures of power by undermining some of their institutions (those related to mental afflictions). Similarly, much of the postmodern movement aims to expose and deconstruct liberal discourse, in order to reduce the power of the liberal hegemony.

I am not claiming that psychoanalysis was explicitly influenced by postmodern developments, but that psychoanalysis and postmodernism have striking similarities, similarities which set both philosophies in opposition to liberalism, but which ally them with each other.

Like postmodernism, psychoanalysis is sceptical of the scientific paradigm, and, thus, the liberal structures that perpetuate it. Psychoanalytic theories are not always scientific or causally justifiable, but, rather, predicated on dubious conscious influence or alleged acausal influence. As a consequence, it strives to make consciousness and its latent structure—rather than the material world as experienced by the senses—the centre of reality. Comparably, postmodernism exposes and rejects much scientific thought, often claiming that power is more influential than truth. As a result, alternative ways of knowing that are not Eurocentric have been drawn into its wake. Much of the so-called Grievance Studies scholarship—while not always postmodern itself—has been able to exist and thrive due to postmodernism’s influence. Psychoanalysis could follow their example and take advantage of postmodernism, in order to build a new way of knowing—in which unconscious and conscious influences are central.

One of the main foundational claims of psychoanalysis is that humans are not as rational as we once assumed. Psychoanalysis reveals the latent madness within each human mind, a madness capable of producing art if only we can could tap into it. From Freud, we learn that we are beholden to primitive and animalistic desires and follow certain patterns—for example, the Oedipus complex. Ernest Becker reveals that much of what we create and produce merely serves to temper our death anxiety, since we realize that our existence is somewhat meaningless without structures that persist beyond our lifetimes and carry on our legacies. If we only affect a single lifetime, why strive to do anything but achieve momentary pleasure? These systems are the same structures that both Dick and Foucault attempted to expose.

Carl Jung describes the way in which human beings act out archetypal characters and stories, which have been around for at least as long as we have been self-conscious. This is illustrated most thoroughly by Jung’s student Erich Neumann, in his book, The Origins and History of Consciousness. Neumann maps out how, just as stories follow a definite structure and evolve over time, so too does human consciousness. Different stages of consciousness are reflected in the various stages of progression apparent in religious stories and myths:

The developmental changes in the relation between the ego and the unconscious were expressed mythologically in the different archetypal figures uroboros, Great Mother, dragon, etc. in which the unconscious presents itself to the ego, or which the ego constellates out of the unconscious. In taking the archetypal stages to be developmental stages of ego consciousness, we have interpreted the mythological figures of the child, the adolescent, and the hero as stages in the ego’s own transformation.

Story has a specific structure and so does consciousness. Psychoanalysis emphasizes the mind’s ability to tap into existing patterns and provide guides for action, which the human ego follows in the abstract, and the human body imitates—implying, perhaps, that consciousness has access to some code or structure of being to which humans are beholden.

Jung’s Synchronicity highlights the way in which consciousness seems to play a part in bringing about reality, through what he calls an “acausal connecting principle”:

The philosophical principle that underlies our conception of natural law is causality. But if the connection between cause and effect turns out to be only statistically valid and only relatively true, then the causal principle is only of relative use for explaining natural processes and therefore presupposes the existence of one or more other factors which would be necessary for an explanation. This is as much as to say that the connection of events may in certain circumstances be other than causal, and requires another principle of explanation.

According to psychoanalysis, we are not rational beings. Moreover, our minds—or consciousness itself—aid in manifesting the natural world in accordance with a common structure or pattern, in an acausal manner. This suggests that there is more to reality than the material. Jung would say that this is exemplified by the archetypes and symbols within our unconscious (the patterns apparent in movies, books, stories, etc.) and Dick might concur that this is the “information out of which reality is generated.”

If science is as fallible as I have suggested, then the assumption of causality and the truth of sense experience may be no more real than assuming information and patterns of consciousness are at the centre of reality. Consequently, the structures of discipline and punishment which currently exist actually oppress us. Their aim is to perpetuate themselves, in the service of nothing more than themselves. The norms we strive to uphold may be symptoms of our period: a limited epoch within human history. This is precisely why Becker would likely contend that we would not want to introspect enough to have this realization, since that would destroy the verisimilitude of these structures and thereby cast our whole lives into doubt.

Ultimately, psychoanalysis took many postmodern claims for granted, since, although it preceded the postmodern movement, it was already producing theories inimical to liberalism. Specifically, it sought an explanation of reality as something brought about by the mysterious workings of consciousness, going against the grain of science, empiricism, causality and the liberal paradigm to do so. If we take these claims at face value, perhaps Dick and Jung are correct: the world is fundamentally an amalgam of information, not just a material phenomenon. In a talk between Iain McGilchrist and Jordan Peterson, McGilchrist says of reality: “there are no things—oh there are processes yes, and there are patterns.” Peterson concurs, “music, you know, I’ve thought … that music is the most representative of the arts … music describes how those patterns should be arranged … it’s [music and patterns] representing the ultimate reality of the cosmos.”

The societal acceptance of this revelation would be a major step towards Peterson’s goal of engendering meaning in people’s lives, as it would become easier to emphasize the reality of meaning, as not just as a product of material interaction, but as a mental journey, guided by real patterns. Popularizing postmodernism will increasingly undermine liberal structures, which could allow for psychoanalytical strains of thought to take their place. Even without the erosion of the liberal hegemony, Peterson has found a niche audience for his Jungian message. Imagine how much more popular this message could be if the precarity of liberal structures were collectively pointed out, with the aid of postmodern scholarship, and new axioms sympathetic to psychoanalysis drawn up in their place.

The current systems of science and causality will not allow this to be a plausible worldview. Foucault might say that this is another way in which structures predicated on certain assumptions and norms perpetuate themselves: by discarding anything too divergent as heresy—or, as modern liberal societies would put it—as unscientific. Those who obtain meaning from the systems they inhabit will not want to overturn them. Perhaps that is why a full-throated postmodern movement will be necessary before psychoanalytic thought truly becomes mainstream. In the meantime, we can be cognizant of the temporal nature of our lives and embrace a more holistic—albeit less scientific—worldview. I am not advocating throwing science out altogether, but merely becoming aware that there is a transcendent—even divine—aspect to the human mind, which goes far beyond the material: one that strives for meaning and emotion, aligned with certain unconscious commonalities. I’m sure Peterson would agree that this is how we can attempt to saturate our lives with meaning: by enacting these patterns—not merely unconsciously like puppets, but taking control of them for our own good.

If you are committed to the axioms of liberal society, you may think this is merely conspiratorial and irrational thinking, aimed at undermining the current systems of progress and growth. But is this true? Or are you solely guarding your assumptions, which have not been placed under proper scrutiny? Bear in mind, that—despite Peterson’s adherence to liberal society—he is clearly aware of psychoanalysis’ rich understanding of the mind’s mysterious structure and he believes that the world is comprised of patterns. It would be interesting to hear how he can square these seemingly very different philosophies.

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26 comments

  1. Whatever economics is, it isn’t a natural science.

    The Spencer Hall link asserts we can’t say scientific discoveries are true even after a million trials because the millionth +1 may fail…

  2. The author’s view that psychoanalysis bears elective affinities with post-modernism, is deeply flawed. He is guilty of categorical thinking Because the two schools have a few things in common, in his mind, they are of the same cloth. But if psychoanalysis is postmodern, then so is all of idealist philosophy, including Hegel’s and Husserl’s phenomenology, as well as existentialism, because all these schools interrogate our perception of reality, and refuse to accept an empiricist, “correspondence” or “reflection” theory of the relationship between consciousness and reality. But idealist philosophy is central to liberalism. There are even things about idealism that Marx valued–its active stance toward reality, vs. the passive stance he saw in crude materialism. How can anyone, except of course that anti-communist ignoramus, Jordan Peterson, is of the same cloth as its most inimical rival, post modernism?! So this becomes, in Hegel’s immortal words, ” a night where all cows are black.” And the argument falls.

  3. There’s a fundamental misunderstanding. First of all, please note that Foucault has been highly critical of psychoanalysis, and he was at odds with it in the context of French society, where psychoanalysis held (and fucking still holds!) scientific status.

    “Psychoanalysis, I will argue, is related to postmodernism”

    Well… I think you have an extensive view of postmodernism, and that is a bit unfair.

    Admittedly, postmodernism has clearly gone batshit crazy in the modern world, and there are reasons for this.

    However, if you get down to the most rational core of postmodernism, you do get an assault on the scientific method. Not a full blown assault, but an assault nonetheless and a legitimate one.

    It is true that some science operates, and that is blatantly clear in the field of psychology, psychoanalysis and psychiatry (which were coalesced at the time Foucault was sectioned as a student at the Ecole Normale Supérieure), with blunt categorizations. And these categorizations are indeed social constructs more than they are products of a rational and scientific appraisal of what diagnostic categories should be used for (which can be done, but is not yet done). Moreover, in fields like psychiatry, when we talk about healing or treatment, the goals of such an endeavor are not “objective” in the same sense as fixing a broken leg. They are defined again according to social constructs. And even the criterion by which we judge effectiveness of treatment are again not so objective but rather social constructs.

    This seems a consequence of the fact that psychiatry’s aims outstretches what is currently measurable scientifically (which is not an attack on science, but merely a statement that we are sort of at a loss to know what we should really be looking at). So it relies on heuristics that are socially constructed to attempt to achieve its goals.

    So postmodernism, in the most rational acceptation of the term, could be construed as the study of how social constructs, whatever they be, make the scientific method, as it is conceived nowadays, stray from the quest of objectivity that it is by definition attached to. In that sense, it is the search of all socially constructed fallacious thinking that makes the scientific method fail to attain objectivity. It is a correction of the scientific method, and in the end, will end up included in the scientific method itself. In 200 years, it will have been smoothed out of all the current irrationalities, and will be a part of the scientific method. We’re not there yet. Currently, it’s an assault on the scientific method.

    There are many things that are batshit crazy in gender studies. But postmodernism is essential to understand why batshit crazy stuff such as intersex surgery on toddlers exist in the first place, and how it is a misapplication, or rather a blind spot, of the current scientific method.

    Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, will seriously remain a vitalistic pseudoscience grounded in an unspoken transcendentalist ethos. Which inherently is rejected at best, or orthogonal at worst, with the aims of postmodernism.

    What specifically frightens me is the way postmodernism as a criticism of the scientific method and its applications is blurred and merged into social activism. Every effort should be made to differentiate these two aspects of postmodernism because confusing these two goals makes people believe in really crazy shit (like “sex is a social construct”…).

    1. Do you have any examples of socially constructed fallacious thinking leading to failures of scientific objectivity outside of psychoanalysis?

      1. “Do you have any examples of socially constructed fallacious thinking leading to failures of scientific objectivity outside of psychoanalysis?”

        Sure. A lot. But you’ll likely disagree with most of my examples.

        So I’ll focus on one, that occurred before postmodernism came into the light, but on which postmodernism has devoted quite a lot of attention reframing it in its own language.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCloskey_critique
        http://www.deirdremccloskey.com/docs/pdf/Article_110.pdf

        If you haven’t read this paper, you cannot understand postmodernism, and even less detect when it goes into full blown irrationality (as it quite often does nowadays, unfortunately.)

        1. The dismal science is not natural science, it’s barely a science at all

          The author claims that one day we’ll wake up and E=mc**2 will cease to be… That would be nice as far as nuclear weapons go, but bad news for anyone requiring nuclear medicine.

          1. “The dismal science is not natural science, it’s barely a science at all”

            If you say so. I just wish I could pick and chose what I’m supposed to consider as a science, and be as free from these epistemological constraints as you are, but unfortunately I come from a family of medical doctors, and they clearly explain to me that there are things I have to believe because of an interesting argument: violence.

            More seriously: economics is a science, no matter how you want to look at it. It has a theoretical framework and experimental data backing some of its claims. But it also has crazy fundies claiming wild things and some paucity of data. Doesn’t change the fact that it is a science. You do not get to pick and chose what is a science and what is not a science in just the manner that you seem to oppose postmoderns allowing themselves to pick and choose what is true and what is not.

            No Free Lunch.

            I have not seen where the author claims that E=mc2 will “cease to be”. Please provide a quote or the page number so that I can double check.

            At first glance, it seems that you are engaged, with your argument, in quote-mining and strawmaning the whole article, and in a non-sequitur.

            Non-sequitur: It’s not because we now have Einsteinian descriptions of gravity instead of Newtonian one that the Earth has suddenly stopped revolving around the Sun. Likewise, if E=mc2 “ceases to be” (I really want to see a quote to be sure you’re not misrepresenting the article…), then that would be no reason for nuclear medicine to stop working.

            1. Whatever economics is, it isn’t a natural science. It sheds zero light on this universe.

              The Spencer Hall link claimed we can’t say scientific discoveries are true even if they’ve been replicated a million times because the millionth +1 may fail…

              1. “Whatever economics is, it isn’t a natural science.”

                The question is not whether or not economics is a “natural” science. The question is whether or not it is a science. So tell me, where do you stand on the demarcation problem? Otherwise, this discussion is becoming more than moot: Whatever the example you may ask from me vindicating the idea of a rational core to postmodernism, you may claim “well, it’s not a science”… In order to get you not to move goalposts around, you have to take a clear stand on the demarcation problem.

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demarcation_problem

                “It sheds zero light on this universe.”

                Sorry? The economy of human societies in undoubtedly a material fact pertaining to the “universe”. Explain to me how it is not an aspect of the “universe”.

                “The Spencer Hall link asserts we can’t say scientific discoveries are true even after a million trials because the millionth +1 may fail…”

                What Spencer Hall link?

                Please start making your references explicit. If I started claiming things without reference, you’d be quick as hell to claim I’m a crank simply because I talked about postmodernism in a way you likely do not like. Do not force me to behave in a symmetric way with respect to what I perceive as your lack of discursive rigour. Moreover: it’s a courtesy to lurkers on the blog to be as clear and thorough as possible.

                1. Oh. I just saw that the “Spencer Hall link” refers to something referenced in the article we are commenting upon. I thought you were making a point about the McCloskey paper. But you are not. So the “Spencer Hall link” is currently irrelevant to the discussion we are having about exhibiting an “example of socially constructed fallacious thinking leading to failures of scientific objectivity”. I therefore roundly and squarely dismiss its relevance to the discussion.

                  The only thing we now have to deal with to move this discussion forward is your answer about where you stand on the demarcation problem. That will allow me to determine from which domain of science I should pick my example.

                  (I’m still a bit flabbergasted by your implicit innuendo that economy is not following the scientific method, but well, I guess we’ll have to temporarily leave it at that to get the discussion rolling.)

                    1. “ya, St. Ronnie Reaganomics is science based LOL”

                      Reagonomics is a matter of policy and moral ideology. Science only deals with question of objectivity. Two distinct topics. You seem not to understand what science is.

                      “So, no examples then. Typical.”

                      Factually, I gave you an example. You objected to my answer on the grounds that economics is not a science. Hence, your opposition to my claim is not based so much on the fact that “I did not provide an example” (which is demonstrably false) but rather on your claim that “economics is not a science”.

                      Your defense against my claim that there is a rational core to postmodernism whose aim is to correct the scientific method is therefore NO SOUNDER than your claim that economics is not a science.

                      So here is the argument that you have to debunk:

                      http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2006/05/is-economics-science.html

                      Waiting for your input and your rebuttal, genius.

                      And honestly, I feel I’ve been kind and lenient when I offered you to take into account your position on the demarcation problem, so that we could have a fruitful discussion. Given the amount of fallacies your comments generated, I should have called you out as a crank outright.

                2. “Sorry? The economy of human societies in undoubtedly a material fact pertaining to the “universe”. Explain to me how it is not an aspect of the “universe”.”

                  Elucidate for all and sundry the effects of economics on the indigenous population of the Antipodes in 25,000BC or the remaining flora and fauna after our species has shuffled off this mortal coil…

                  1. “Elucidate for all and sundry the effects of economics on the indigenous population of the Antipodes in 25,000BC or the remaining flora and fauna after our species has shuffled off this mortal coil…”

                    Ubercrank level. This kind of argument in no way rebuts the material FACT that economies do exist in our world, which offers observable FACTS to deal with when studying them.

                    You’re way worse than the average postmodern apologist. Full-fledged obscurantist.

                    1. Tsk, tsk, you made this up – “economics is not a science”.

                      From the get go, all you’ve done is avoid a simple question, with your passive aggressive demeanour and insult me. I never said economics doesn’t exist. I made it clear it isn’t anything like biology, chemistry or physics or astronomy or… Ya know the things that were affecting life on this planet long before we came along, and will continue to do so, long after we’re gone.

                      Some geniuses called these the natural sciences long before I came along. The fact is, economics is an entirely human endeavour, and unsurprising that it isn’t very objective.

                      If you don’t like my opinion of economics, tough titty. You could have offered one of the other examples you say you have…

                      In Japan it’s impolite to question the Professors out of respect (at least at one University), so one guy was producing a large number of papers on a large variety of topics. This was discovered by another scientist quite by accident, as I recall, and the papers are bogus.

                      Homeopathy is big in Germany, where it was dreamt up.

                      It is abundantly clear that PoMoWoo, like grievance studies, has a bias towards politically acceptable language. Did you know that witchcraft is a liberal idea? It is according to at least one PoMoWooist.

                      Obscurantist = PoMoWoo, it’s a feature, not a bug. There’s a reason for the Random Postmodern Generator…

                      It’s the philosophical arm of the quack med industry.

                      1. “Tsk, tsk, you made this up – “economics is not a science”.”

                        Did I? You claimed that “Whatever economics is, it isn’t a natural science.”. Are you now saying that I’ve been strawmaning you? In the sense that you claimed that economics isn’t a natural science, but you implicitly do think that it is a science, without saying so?

                        If no, I did not make this up. I only slightly misinterpreted you.

                        I yes, then we can proceed and discuss the McCloskey critique. Because my claim about postmodernism was about science, not merely natural science.

                        Your call.

                        “From the get go, all you’ve done is avoid a simple question, with your passive aggressive demeanour and insult me.”

                        I’ll drop the ad hominem insinuation that adds nothing of value to the discussion. I did not insult you from the get go. I called you a crank rather later on… when you earned it. I believe the description is factual given how you behaved not answering my call for you to take position of the demarcation problem,

                        “I never said economics doesn’t exist.”

                        Seemed like it. Glad that you do recognize the fact that it can be an object of scientific study. Please tell me if I get this last statement wrong.

                        “I made it clear it isn’t anything like biology, chemistry or physics or astronomy or… Ya know the things that were affecting life on this planet long before we came along, and will continue to do so, long after we’re gone.”

                        Which is completely irrelevant to its qualification as a science. What only matters is whether or not it follows the scientific method. Do you accept that economics follow the scientific method?

                        “Some geniuses called these the natural sciences long before I came along.”

                        I believe they were called “natural philosophy”. The term “natural science” comes later after quite a long social process. But that’s irrelevant.

                        “The fact is, economics is an entirely human endeavour, and unsurprising that it isn’t very objective.”

                        Doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not it follows the scientific method.

                        “If you don’t like my opinion of economics, tough titty.”

                        Whether or not economics is a science is not a question of “opinion”. But is a factual claim as to whether or not it follows the scientific method. You haven’t taken a stance on that yet…

                        “You could have offered one of the other examples you say you have…”

                        The question is not whether or not I can give you an example or not. I could argue that the interpretation of quantum mechanics (choice between Copenhaguen interpretation, multiverse interpretation or pilot wave theory) is a currently a “social construct”. I can argue, as a pure mathematician and logician, that set theory is a “social construct”. But you won’t care either way.

                        So I want to find the most convincing arguments that are not mine, but that come from the literature to have the strongest case possible. There’s no shame in that. That’s why I restrict my choice of examples to what people have argued better than me over time.

                        The fact is, indeed, that the more you get into the soft sciences, the easier it is to show socially constructed biases to scientific objectivity. That’s why I’m asking you for your position on the demarcation problem. So that I can pick my example in the most convincing fashion. You declined and behaved like a crank purposefully derailing a conversation.

                        But you want examples? Here are few of them. Start at 7:22. You’ll find: 1. The McCloskey critique. 2. Galileo’s proof that the Earth orbits the Sun. 3. Scientific racism and phrenology.

                        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGvGQSazaTM

                        But, if you want my answer, and not a mere youtube video, you still have to take position on the demarcation problem. Not doing so is behaving maliciously and derailing the conversation.

                        “In Japan […] Homeopathy […]”

                        I do not see what that has anything whatsoever to do with the discussion.

                        “It is abundantly clear that PoMoWoo, like grievance studies, has a bias towards politically acceptable language. Did you know that witchcraft is a liberal idea? It is according to at least one PoMoWooist.”

                        I have no fucking clue what PoMoWoo is. Bringing up Grievance Studies constitutes a strawman on my original claim (I’m pretty sure you do not even see how). Whether witchcraft is a liberal idea or not is a claim that is so vague that I do not even know what you claim to mean.

                        “Obscurantist = PoMoWoo, it’s a feature, not a bug. There’s a reason for the Random Postmodern Generator…”

                        Which, again, is a strawman of my argument.

                        “It’s the philosophical arm of the quack med industry.”

                        Talking out of your ass. People who engage in quackery, either as doctor or patient, usually do not have a fucking clue what postmodernism even is. My ex-wife is currently going down the path of Ayurveda as of today. And it’s absolutely not because of postmodernism. No. Relation. At. All…

  4. Interesting that PoMo is anti-liberal. The only PoMo-ist I’ve had the misfortune to encounter is an avowed “lefty” who claims “the only reason” to point and laugh at people who claim to practice witchcraft is because the witches “are making lefty noises about science”.

    “For instance, if a doctor claims I am sick, I must defer to the doctor’s authority because what do I know? She has the medicine I need, the antidote to my alleged ills, medicines and antidotes specifically engineered to bring me closer to the norm she has determined appropriate in the first place.”

    Never met a a real MD that would just claim I am ill. Quacks, on the other hand, will invoke scientism as they do just that or claim to have the cures “they don’t want you to know about”. “They” being the existing science based medicine power structure.

    I, for one, am quite happy that cancer is not considered a norm and that this power structure will not “relinquish their status in favour of some vague notion of truth”

    ymmv

  5. Causality is tricky and to reinforce this it is simply untrue that scientific ‘laws’ (theories) require it as stated in the article. The probabilistic nature of quantum theory, the time reversibility of physical theories and the ability to view space time as a whole as the domain of scientific theories all undermine simplisitic views of causality but clearly although no scientific theory is ever proved in an absolute sense, we can and do predict future results of experiments with extraordinary acuracy and consistency so that to any practical purpose we can predict the future from the past.

    The issue with psycho-analyssis is that it is unscientific nonsense which may provide an interesting, comforting or attractive narrative but is not based on evidence. Naturally belief in it as anything more is incompatible with a philosphy of belief based on evidence and logic.

  6. I am not a postmodernism expert, but I am going to attempt a critique here at some risk of humiliation to myself.

    You write “This “habit of causality” is an unprovable axiom, which is foundational to all empirical measurement used in future prediction, such as the formation of scientific laws. We therefore have reason to be sceptical of the Newtonian laws of physics and laws of thermodynamics, as these laws are not definitively true—they are only true insofar as the assumption of causality holds.”
    From what I can tell, almost every action postmodernists take in the world assumes causality is “definitively true”. This is self-evident to me in at least three ways.

    1. As you note, if causality is not definitively true, then science and mathematics are not definitively true. If science and mathematics are not definitely true, then logic and reason are not definitively true. If logic and reason are not definitively true, then you have no foundation on which to convince me that causality is not definitively true. The mere act of engaging in reason as a means of discovering truth presupposes that reason exists in the first place.

    2. Engaging with modern technology that would endanger one’s life if the scientific laws are not definitively true (such as riding in an airplane) seems like evidence to me that, despite the rhetoric, the postmodernists actually do believe the scientific laws are true, and therefore they believe the axioms of scientific laws are true. I guess this presupposes that postmodernists value their own lives, which presupposes they have some sort of value system. That postmodernists do have a value system seems self-evident to me which brings me to point number 3.

    3. You write “Consequently, the structures of discipline and punishment which currently exist actually oppress us. Their aim is to perpetuate themselves, in the service of nothing more than themselves.” The very act of using terms like “oppress” shows that postmodernists do have a value system by the very definition of the word, and what is any value system if not a grand-narrative? Why is an a-priori value system any less unprovable than causality?

    You also write “This questioning of the status quo is thoroughly postmodern. Derrida does this by examining language, and Foucault by exposing the role societal structures and power play in the discourses of knowledge acquisition and the creation of societal norms.” The idea that humans have power over one another seems to me to presuppose that humans have free will in the first place, which is a highly contentious claim. It also assumes that the world is not ordered exactly the way it is supposed to be, perhaps by a creator. If a creator did create one class of people that is superior to other classes of people with the intent that superior class should use the inferior class much the way that our current society uses plants to forward our goals to an end, is that an expression of power or simply an expression of the creators will? By what system of knowledge can you refute such a claim that is not unprovable itself?

    From what I can tell, postmodernists have taken a giant sledgehammer to the foundation of our current society while sparing their hypothetical society from the exact same sledgehammer. Jordan Peterson is right to hold such contempt for postmodernism as an intellectually rigorous field of study.

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  7. Very interesting piece. What do you think of the idea that there is a dialectic between conscious and unconscious, reality and fantasy? In my view postmodern and psychoanalytic analysis is necessary to expose the hidden underside of our supposedly rational and fair institutions. But they make more sense as criticisms of a dominant hegemony – if they come to supplant that hegemony, without a plan to construct a new rational order based on enlightenment values, that is the equivalent of domination by unreason. Which is hardly an improvement from domination by reason which doesn’t understand its own limitations. Basically madness becomes the enforced reality, and the roles are reversed. I think that’s what we’re seeing an inkling of with “grievance studies” and the associated identity politics and diversity industry.

    In my view there is a need to move beyond both liberalism and postmodernism, to forge a new synthesis.

  8. ‘Or are you solely guarding your assumptions, which have not been placed under proper scrutiny’

    Hmm, who’s more likely to allow themselves to be put under proper scrutiny? Liberals and those who believe in the scientific method or the adherents of post modernism. Anyone who’s spent any time in modern academia or collided with anyone in thrall to the post modernism on social media already knows the answer.

    1. I can’t wait for this new scientific paradigm where nukes are rendered inert and homeopathy works, forcing law enforcement to re calibrate all breathalysers for dilutions

  9. «We therefore have reason to be skeptical of the Newtonian laws of physics and laws of thermodynamics, as these laws are not definitively true—they are only true insofar as the assumption of causality holds.» — I would advise the author to study more physics. The virtual reality of computer engineering is far from reality. I can say this, I am familiar with both of them.

    Sincerely, Napoleon Bonaparte

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