Culture Magazine

Scientist Vs. Humanist: Dueling Strawmen

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
I can’t stand it.
Woke up this morning, checked in at 3QD and saw a link to Sebastian Normandin, Scientism and Skepticism: A Reply to Steven Pinker. Here we go again, says I to myself, here we go. So I refreshed myself on Pinker’s New Republic article and then blitzed through the Normandin.
I don’t know what’s going on here.
You need to understand. I was at Hopkins when the French landed. Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, Freud, Foucault, Derrida, Nietzsche, I’ve read them all. But I’ve also read Chomsky, Herb Simon, Warren McCulloch, Robert Merton, Don Norman, George Miller, Irwin DeVore, and a bunch more. I’ve been walking both sides of that aisle for over four decades and I think they’re all crazy.
A plague on both your houses!
* * * * *
The Humanist: The problem with science is that it’s always cranking it up to 11.
The Scientist: You humanists always speak in extremes. So obscure. “Eleven”? What’s that, a metaphor?
The Humanist: There you go again. Crankin’ it up a notch. “Thirteen”? That’s an unlucky number!
The Scientist: At least it’s a number!
The Humanist: 15!
The Scientist: 4 squared!
The Humanist: Who’s a square, you blockhead?!
The Scientist: ninety-nine!
The Humanist: ‘Leventy-‘leven!
* * * * *
Something’s missing here, and I’m not sure what. A common ground? Sure, but that’s just a name for it. Maybe that’s the only way these folks have for delimiting a common ground. Maybe the idea’s to keep talking until they’ve got it surrounded. Trouble is, though, they’re just spiraling out of control. At this rate they’re not going to surround anything.
Maybe it’s just high-class professional busywork. The academic equivalent of a no-show job. THAT I can understand. Don’t like it, but the motivation is intelligible. Whereas it makes no sense as an intellectual dialog.
This, of course, is an extreme statement. Where it to be taken into evidence by either side in this debate, the carefully crafted context would be dropped and I'd be pilloried as an extremist of the other stripe.
I note, in passing, that few of us are any good at observing our own methodology. This debate seems to be carried on in terms of methodological observations divorced from any sense of what is actually being done.
* * * * *
See my old post, I don’t give a crap about science, where I conclude “Ergo, I tend to regard much-most humanities vs. science discussion as ideologically-driven wanking and I regard Snow’s Two Cultures and its spawn as children of the Devil.”

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