To Michael Redhead From Ivor Catt apr98 [oct98/jan99. Sokal and Redhead continue to not reply to my letters.]
I noticed that your lecture [about the Sokal Hoax, with Sokal present,] omitted all the content of my letter, copy below, except that you said phlogiston and ether had been put into the dustbin. I note that you did not respond when I said this very briefly in Question Time after your lecture. (At my suggestion, to save time, the chairman agreed to my giving a copy of my letter, copy below, to each of the fifty who attended.) I look forward to receiving a response to my letter, copy below. Yours sincerely,
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THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND
By Allan Bloom, pub. Penguin 1987, p376
.... protect their dominion over their works ferociously. University convention submerges nature. It issues licenses, and hunting without one is forbidden. Moreover, because of these conventions the professors also listen to one another more attentively than to outsiders, and are listened to more attentively than others by outsiders, as doctors are more impressive to laymen in matters of health than are other laymen. A cozy selfsatisfaction of specialists easily results (until there are rude jolts from the outside, such as occurred during the sixties).
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St. Albans AL3 4JR
20feb98/21feb/26feb [this copy printed 11/10/98]
Professor Michael Redhead,
1 Orchard Court, Orchard St.,
Cambridge CB1 1PR(01223 321226
Dear Professor Redhead,
The Science Wars
Retrospect and Prospect
Lecture. Prof Michael Redhead, mon16mar98, 5pm room 105, 24 Gordon Square, UCL.
Enquiries 0171 391 1328
THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUTH is elusive;
Is philosophy merely delusive?
What seems rubbish to you
May be for me true,
Which leaves everything inconclusive.
ed. E. O. Parrott, Penguin Book of Limericks, 1995, p53.
.... it is often the case that the same scientist who in one context offers resistance to the antiscientific currents of his milieu, in another context can be found flirting with propositions intimately associated with those same currents. .... the German physicists' predisposition toward acausal laws of nature .... arose as a form of accommodation to their intellectual environment. - Paul Forman, Weimar Culture, Causality, and Quantum Theory, 1918-1927: Adaptation by German Physicists and Mathematicians to a Hostile Intellectual Environment, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, vol 3, 1971, p39
I note particularly that the title of your lecture includes the word "Retrospect".
Retrospect. 2. c. A survey or review of some past course of events, acts, etc.; esp. in a particular sphere or line of things 1663.
- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 1973.
An early combatant in this matter is Popper 1963, in "Three Views Concerning Human Knowledge. 2 The Issue at Stake", p100 of Conjectures and Refutations, although Theocharis criticises his partial attack on the instrumentalists' dubious grip on reality. Popper returned to the fray in his late writings, throwing much doubt on the philosophical competence of key elements in Modern Physics. I note that in your inaugural speech you gave credit to Popper, as well as to your Professor, H Post, who is a renegade in this matter, as I found when I met him, and when I read his inaugural lecture. However, I am not concerned that you should mention Popper's role in the matter, any more than that you should mention my own, see for instance the enclosed from Wireless World, July 1987.
What I feel must take its proper place as a major landmark in the "Retrospect" part of your lecture on the Science Wars is the article in Nature by Theocharis, Where Science has gone wrong, 15oct87, p595. Theocharis was discussing Science Wars before it was christened, as was clearly indicated at the time by your colleague Jon Turney, when he commented on the Theocharis article;
Theocharis .... maintain[s] that the most fundamental reason for a decline in political and public support of science is a philosophical onslaught on objective truth. .... sabotaging the scientific method.... - Jon Turney, Science Editor, Times Higher Education Supplement, 8.1.88, p2
Referring to the 1987 Nature article itself, it is clear that Theocharis discusses Science Wars;
.... in the issue of 20 February 1986 The Listener published an article entitled "The Fallacy of Scientific Objectivity". .... these were attacks against objectivity, truth and science.
.... the RS, SBS and other scientific bodies do not .... answer such attacks on science ....
This reads exactly like Bernard Ortiz a decade later, discussing the Sokal Hoax etc. in APS News, January 1998;
Postmodernists and adherents of the "social studies of science" school claim that science .... can no longer claim to be an objective or accurate reflection of the real world. .... other "ways of knowing" are as valid or better than science....
Brian Martin corresponds with me on why this peculiar meta-science, Modern Physics, arose early this century. For him, the key players are Paul Forman and John Hendry. With this much going on close around you, (Hendry is at Imperial College), you clearly have to subdivide "Science" into pre- and post- "Copenhagen Interpretation", when trying to defend Science (or are you only having to defend Modern Physics?) from outside attack. All agree that a revolution occurred in 1927 with the Copenhagen Interpretation. ".... dramatic ideological changes that accompanied the development of quantum mechanics, and as a major milestone in science historiography. .... acausality in quantum theory .... Adopting what he [Forman] terms a 'sociological' approach .... the Weimar intellectual milieu was hostile to physics, and especially to causality ...." -J Hendry, Hist. Sci., xviii (1980)
This is a three-way battle, with Sokal et al. caught in the middle, defending a much less defensible Modern Physics, against Sociology of Science to his front, and Theocharis to his rear, along with some of Popper. It would be unscholarly in the extreme to make the mistake of ignoring one adversary, or group of adversaries, at the rear. In 1987, Theocharis predicted that the present crisis would emerge if Science continued to ignore the central theme of this century for science; the question of whether absolute facts exist. He points out that when the frontal attack by Sociology began, more than ten years ago, Science, if anything, connived in encouraging it.
"As a result, the science-studies anti-science phenomenon grew monstrously out of control. At long last, the science-practice establishment noticed serious dangers in the 1990s ...." - Theocharis, When did the Science Wars start?, Science and Engineering Ethics, July (1997) 3, 271-272
Perhaps this has now to be admitted, and a change of posture by Science needed. Science needs to defend itself properly, in particular the basic precepts which distinguish it from religion; for instance, the attitude of true science to Mystery. Also, the question of whether Science in general, or only Modern Physics, is under attack, must be addressed. Thus, the peculiar nature of Modern Physics as a science has to be discussed. Around p49 in the 1922 version of his 1890 book The Golden Bough, Frazer defined and classified magic, religion and science before Modern Physics was invented. His definitions would probably class Modern Physics (= loss of control) as Religion, not as Science or Magic. I find it intolerable that the whole of Science should be dragged down with Modern Physics. After all, Einstein for one objected strongly to all of the precepts now under attack by sociologists, for instance in his letters;
I am quite convinced that someone will eventually come up with a theory whose objects, connected by laws, are not probabilities but considered facts, as used to be taken for granted until quite recently.
We all of us have some idea of what the basic axioms of physics will turn out to be. The quantum or the particle will surely not be amongst them; the field, in Faraday's and Maxwell's sense, could possibly be, but it is not certain. - p164
Quantum Mechanics and Reality. In what follows I shall explain briefly and in an elementary way why I consider the methods of quantum mechanics fundamentally unsatisfactory. p168
- ed. Max Born, The Born-Einstein Letters, pub. Macmillan 1971.
Also, Nigel Cook tells me that in the book Sidelights on Relativity, Einstein writes; "According to the general theory of relativity space without ether is unthinkable."
J Turney, Vitriol Spilled ...., Times H. Ed. Supp., 8.1.88, p2.
R Highfield, Science and Sociology Fight .... Telegraph. 11apr97. p14.
Theocharis, When did the Science Wars Start?, Science and Engineering Ethics (1997) 3, p271-2.
1999; Theocharis on . Faris's Review of the Sokal book…
I Catt, The Betrayal of Science by Modern Physics, Wireless World, July87.
I Catt, The clever take the brilliant, jan98.
Catt I, The Rise ands Fall of Bodies of Knowledge, The Information Scientist, 12 (4), dec78, pp137-144.
Catt I, The Catt Anomaly, Science Beyond the Crossroads, pub. Westfields 1996. Copy in Trinity College Library.