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science


the abacus above
is respectfully - but ironically -
indicative of the crucial importance
of mathematics to this region of human endeavour


And, here...I should make a confession - upfront, as it were - about my mathematical illiteracy. Lord knows, I tried - repeatedly - but, I could never actually think mathematically. The numbers simply remained dead upon the page - I may have been able to manipulate them, and memorize the techniques - but I certainly didn't fool myself that there was any real understanding going on within...

So...despite being torn between the arts & sciences as a teenager, there was only one route I could (properly) take. Nevertheless, I - honourably - refused to disdain the lover who repulsed my advances, and have remained an attentive reader of science, throughout...which is why I was then so horrified to encounter the postmodern version of the "Humanities".

Because "Science" - writ large - is probably the area most travestied by the stupidities of current "Theory" in the Humanities...as, rather than some "method" ripe for deconstruction, or whatever...the crucial means of science are social & pragmatic - dominated by public testing of results documented via publication, and hard-won knowledge about means to limit variables... Everything else - and I do mean everything else - is merely superficial, and yet that is the level upon which postmodern "critiques" invariably operate...

Science, to put it bluntly, IS the art of answerable questions - which is why it can never truly be in conflict w/the arts...whose proper domain is things that can't - strictly speaking - be formulated clearly, let alone answered definitively. To resuscitate the necessary word, the (lost) domain of the arts is that area where even casuistry does not suffice, as it does in history and law...and, where there is simply no possibility of one correct response, however nuanced - so that evocation is our only recourse.

And, this is why the study of the arts must itself remain a hybrid - a bastard - affair, well-informed by the sciences (where relevant), structured through an exhaustive knowledge of any applicable form of history (and, not merely cultural history), and then fed through the multiple subjectivities of varied practitioners...who can damn-well communicate, rather than merely mouth accepted platitudes to brainwashed audiences...

Sorry to get so far off the track, here...but - if you'd seen your mentors mostly driven-out of academia by idealogues, and had to live with the fact that there was no career for anyone locally that didn't play the pomo game, no matter how well-read, you'd be pissed too.

Real problem was, absolutely no-one seemed to know the key information I drew upon in wholeheartedly rejecting postmodernism, and - since it came from outside the sainted "Humanities" - it didn't "really" exist...in the current insular mindset...

And, well before said mindset was fully in operation, there was - funnily enough - ample reason for this attitude. After all, prior to the multiple breakthrough of cognitive psychology (let alone the even more important advent of neuropsychology), there were only two models in this crucial link discipline (in the English-speaking world, at least) - Freud...and "behaviorism".

So...no contest - and, despite the fact that Freud has not been taken seriously by yer actual scientific psychologists for decades (due to multiple & firmly-established findings), his last - academic - home remains "Theory" in the "Humanities"...a backward child...overly impressed by mythmaking and, by anyone who can successfully empire-build/especially if'n they damn "narrow-minded scientists" in the process.

Funny thing is, scientists themselves have exactly the same term for both this last attitude...and its inverse (the inappropriate demand for exactitude). They call it "physics envy" - a phrase everyone in the humanities badly needs to learn...and USE, on every appropriate occasion!

Because, the entirety of post-Saussurean cultural theory suffers from it - as did Freud and Watson (the originator of behavioralism)...not to mention both Marx & E.O. Wilson (founder of sociobiology) and many, many others...

To return - penultimately - to mathematics. To be sure, I (still) can't understand maths. But, there are ways around this disability, for we illiterate who - nonetheless - are willing to learn. First one is - in any area you want to understand, that is heavily dependent upon maths - read widely, but only entire books by authors that can actually write. Skip the maths itself, but pay very close attention to the assumptions behind it. This is pretty frustrating at first...because you seem (initially) to be buying-in to multiple/incompatible arguments - without having any real understanding of same. But, soon you'll begin to pick up the key terminology...and develop a real feel for the basic assumptions...

Then - Eureka! - the next well-written book you read'll seem like gospel...and, the biggest (and most common) mistake you can - then - make, would be to buy same wholeheartedly. Instead...try re-reading the best-written books which you read earlier, that came to different conclusions. Because, now that you've actually got some real handle on the field - however imperfect - you'll be surprised at how much more sense these dissenting works now make...and, how all of them - to some extent - probably do have something to offer.

Reason is, mathematics is (purely) about relationships. But - and this is crucial - only those relationships which can be expressed in exact terms. So, if your mind refuses to admit the existence of these, you'll never actually get your head around maths. But...this doesn't mean you can't understand the thinking behind it - the assumptions that underly the choice of variables, in particular - which is why I (now) consider myself a good critic of same, even though I'm still a dunce when it comes to any feel for maths itself...

The other key aid is very simple - mathematicians that can write well. There are many of them out there...and several now write regularly for the mathematically-impaired audience. Read them amidst your dives into the area you want to explore (note to all leftists: please...start w/economics), and you'll probably be surprised at how quickly the important things start becoming clear enough to really think about.

Because, that's the beauty of science for the genuine humanist - it actually answers things clearly, albeit in a limited fashion...thereby helping us w/those things that, simply, cannot be so dealt with. Science is, and always will be, "merely" a handmaiden in the humanities' realm...


But, please remember...sovereigns are nonesuch without aid.



John Henry Calvinist