Postmodernism – and so-called “Theory” – is dead as disco…
An amusing cartoon to begin:
So we’re now all living in, what’s being called the `post-truth’ era. The era where a guy like Donald Trump is going to be the PRESIDENT of the United States.
Truth don’t matter. Science don’t matter, and climate change is a left-wing hoax, etc.
The age of lies! The age of misbeliefs. The age of stupid.
So: Postmodernism is what killed the USA.
It gave us `PRESIDENT Donald Trump’. (That title with that name still sounds utterly ridiculous.)
Postmodernism is now dead. So is so-called “Grand Theory”.
They don’t solve any important problems. They create a lot. Like say, Trump.
Consilience is in. It solves problems.
Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett demolished `Postmodernism’ in 1998. See this lecture:
and for many more resources, see:
`Postmodernism and all that‘, Critical Thinking on the web (2007, online).
(Also, from the same site, here is a list of Great Critical Thinkers… By the way, I am not so sure about David Stove, as he gets a lot of this totally wrong, mainly by taking, and/or citing things out of context, sometimes using incorrect assumptions, or interpreting phrases in the wrong way – but, at the same time, this is pretty funny.)
Here is a great Edge conversation – on human nature – with Darwinian evolutionary (feminist) philosopher, Helena Cronin. Here’s an excerpt:
EDGE: How do you deal with relativism?
CRONIN: Post-modernism and its stable-mates — they’re obviously all complete balderdash, not to be taken seriously intellectually.
But as a social scourge they have to be taken very seriously. Apart from the sciences, which have built-in immunity, they’ve taken a frightening hold on academia — on people who are influential and who are teaching future generations of influential people.
It’s the resulting attitudes to science that I most deplore — the view that there are no universal standards by which to judge truth or falsity or even logical validity; that science doesn’t make progress; that there’s nothing distinctive about scientific knowledge; and so on.
One of the reasons why so much logic-free, fact-free, statistics-free criticism of Darwinism has been able to find an audience is this attitude that science is just another view so I’m free to adopt my view, any view.
EDGE: There’s a lot of scientists and science writers out there communicating with the public and there’s no central canon of science. When you use the word science in public discourse aren’t you trying to beat somebody over the head?
CRONIN: No, absolutely not. First, there is a central canon — a very robust one. The disagreements — especially those that attract public attention — are rarely to do with core theories. They’re usually about the elaboration of those theories — healthy disagreements about a core that’s fundamentally agreed on.
But second, and more important, the canon of science, what gives it authority, is above all its method. So, when scientists have those disagreements, there are objective ways of deciding between them. Theories must be testable and then must pass the tests.
On a day-to-day basis things won’t always be clear-cut; it’s not an instant process. Neither, of course, is it infallible. But it’s by far the best we’ve got and it’s done a breath-takingly impressive job so far. As for “trying to beat somebody over the head” … It’s not individual scientists being authoritarian. It’s science being an authority — and rightly so because it is indeed authoritative.
So, once people understand that there’s a vast distinction between science and non-science, and the distinction lies in scientific method, they’ll understand the status of current disagreements and how to assess them.‘
(Cronin, 2000, online, bold emphasis mine)
More recently, various consilient scholars who adopt the evolutionary slant have – quite convincingly – also successfully criticized (and demolished) critical “Theory” and Continental Philosophy approaches, including: Marxism, Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstructionism, and many other schools of thought like them (see: Carroll 2004, pp. 29-39), (Gottschall 2008a, pp. 17-41), (Boyd 2009, p. 2), (Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, pp. 1-20), (Carroll et al. 2012, pp. 2-8), (Pinker 2002, pp. 415-7), and (Martindale 1990, pp. 2-3).
And many more… For example: Boyd, B. (2006). Theory is Dead – Like a Zombie. Philosophy and Literature, 30, 289-298.
As Gottschall (2008) rightly notes, perhaps one of the strongest (and most accurate and incisive) criticisms among these, comes from the brilliant evocriticism scholar, Joseph Carroll, in Evolution and Literary Theory (1995): (And – 1995 wasn’t exactly yesterday. It was: 20 years ago. But, who’s counting…? Rhetorical Answer: I am). Carroll (1995) rightly notes:
`A very large proportion of the work in critical theory that has been done in the past twenty years will prove to be not merely obsolete but essentially void.
It cannot be regarded as an earlier phase of a developing discipline, with all of the honor due to antecedents and ancestors
It is essentially a wrong turn, a misconceived enterprise, a repository of delusions and wasted efforts.’
(Carroll 1995, p. 468)
Also – this is interesting – in the excellent Evolution and Literary Theory (Carroll 1995), it seems evident that Michel Foucault was actually a gay serial killer. – I am not making this up. – Read it.
Carroll, J. (1995). Evolution and Literary Theory. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.
(I have no problem with Foucault being gay; it’s the serial-killer part that is a problem. – I think, Foucault was mentally ill? Much of Academia seems to have been infected with his mind-virus, namely his deeply strange and wrong ideas. But, thankfully consilience and rationality is prevailing now.)
This view – of most of `critical theory’ as a complete waste of time – also correlates with Gontier’s (2006) statement that:
`Evolutionary Epistemology (EE) is the most controversial, the most fascinating and the most difficult discipline within philosophy today. It is controversial because it declares all other philosophical disciplines bankrupt, and explains itself as part of the sciences. At the same time, it is a fascinating and difficult discipline because of its inter- and transdisciplinary character.’
(Gontier 2006, p. 1).
Another deeply problematic aspect of so-called `Grand Theory’ is the overwhelming influence of Continental Philosophy on this so-called ‘Theory’. This line of thinking has poisoned the minds of academics. This is primarily why the Arts/Humanities are not relevant to the real world. `Theory’ is: not even wrong.
In the abstract of `What’s Wrong With Contemporary Philosophy?’ (Mulligan, Simons & Smith 2006) the authors state:
`Philosophy in the West divides into three parts: Analytic Philosophy (AP), Continental Philosophy (CP), and History of Philosophy (HP). But all three parts are in a bad way.
AP is sceptical about the claim that philosophy can be a science, and hence is uninterested in the real world.
CP is never pursued in a properly theoretical way, and its practice is tailor-made for particular political and ethical conclusions.
HP is mostly developed on a regionalist basis: what is studied is determined by the nation or culture to which a philosopher belongs, rather than by the objective value of that philosopher’s work.
Progress in philosophy can only be attained by avoiding these pitfalls.’
(Mulligan, Simons & Smith, 2006, p. 63)
As it happens there is also Systems Theory, but anyway.
Mulligan, Simons and Smith (2006) are particularly devastating in their critique of “Theory”, which are similar to the critiques of Theory provided by those within Evocriticism:
`CP metaphysics are invariably tailor-made for particular political and ethical conclusions. Heidegger’s 1927 ontology is made for his lugubrious, supernatural Protestant naturalism. The multiplicities of Deleuze and Guattari, in which difference is neither numerical nor qualitative, are made for their corresponding peculiar brand of soixanthuitard infantile leftism. Habermas’ accounts of truth and of value are made for a vision of politics in which all citizens would be obliged to sit in on the equivalent of a neverending Oberseminar on Kant, talking their way to emancipation.
Second, as with all other parts of CP, its metaphysics is never pursued in any properly theoretical way. Just as, in a good poem, content and form are inextricably entwined, so too in CP the metaphysics is inseparable from its idiosyncratic expression (“différance”).
Finally, CP’s interest in the real world is an interest in the social and political world, never in the physical or biological world. Only occasionally, when a scientific theory or, more often, a piece of scientific jargon, resonates with the CP metaphysician’s view of things does he turn his attention to science (to catastrophe theory, complexity theory, quantum gravity, Gödel’s limitation theorems) in order to play with a handful of ill-understood expressions…
Phenomenology has, in fact, served CP well as a hydra-headed pretext – Marxist phenomenology, feminist phenomenology, hermeneutics, Derrida’s foaming defilements of what he calls ‘phallologocentrism’ – but in all these cases the aspirations of the founders of phenomenology to uncover truth have been made subservient to a non-theoretical agenda, whether political or socio-cultural, and in Derrida’s case to an agenda that is shamelessly anti-theoretical.’
(Mulligan, Simons & Smith, 2006, p. 65-7)
Koestler (1967) and Garstang (1922)’s evolutionary spiral of culture and biology explain why this situation with “Theory” has occurred, in terms of Evolutionary Epistemology, and why consilience and evocriticism have now evolved, partly as a realist reaction against the anti-realism of “Theory”.
i.e., – The evolutionary spiral, over time:
For more, see Evolutionary Epistemology (e.g. Popper 1963, DT Campbell 1974, and also DK Simonton 2012 on BVSR).
Notably Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model of Creativity (1988-2014) and Sir Karl Popper’s (and Arthur Koestler’s and DT Campbell’s) Evolutionary Epistemology are describing the same phenomenon.They are just describing it in different words, and in different ways. But in a nutshell, that’s How Creativity Works. It works the same way in the Sciences, as in the Arts. i.e. Evolutionary Epistemology.
Similar (and/or identical) arguments to Joe Carroll’s (1995) against specific views, arguments and assertions made within `Theory’ are also convincingly made in the works: Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (Sokal & Bricmont 1998), Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science (Gross & Levitt 1994), After Poststructuralism: Interdisciplinarity and Literary Theory (Easterlin & Riebling 1993), Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder (Dawkins 1998) and The Trouble With Theory: The Educational Costs of Postmodernism (Kitching 2008). See also Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies (Bordwell & Carroll 1996)
If you read those books above – and assuming you understand them – you can’t ever – seriously – use “Theory” or Continental Philosophy again, with a clear conscience. It’s probably intellectual fraud to do so.
Yet another problem with `Theory’ is that a vast amount of words are continuously being published that do not appear to contribute to useful, usable or genuine knowledge for scholars or practitioners; it is, primarily idle philosophical speculation, commentary on speculation, and reference to prior speculative “Theory” that does not produce any results that most creative practitioners (e.g. screenwriters, filmmakers) can reliably use in practice – nor in general, does it provide reliable insights into big-c Creativity (in either the Sciences or the Arts). And that is what is needed.
Rather, “Theory” is generally `commentary on commentary’, and `criticism of criticism’ with occasional random and obvious opportunistic links to texts, culture, and reality. it gives the impression of knowledge, but doesn’t solve any problems.
As `Theory’ advocate Jonathan Culler writes in Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (2000):
`So what is Theory? Four main points have emerged:
(1) Theory is interdisciplinary – discourse with effects outside an original discipline.
(2) Theory is analytical and speculative – an attempt to work out what is involved in what we call sex or language or writing or meaning or the subject.
(3) Theory is a critique of common sense, of concepts taken as natural.
(4) Theory is reflexive, thinking about thinking, enquiry into the categories we use in making sense of things, in literature and in other discursive practices.
As a result, theory is intimidating. One of the most dismaying features of theory today is that it is endless. It is not something that you could ever master, not a particular group of texts you could learn so as to `know theory’. It is an unbounded corpus of writings which is always being augmented as the young and the restless, in critiques of the guiding conceptions of their elders, promote the contributions to theory of new thinkers and rediscover the work of older, neglected ones.’
(Culler 2000, pp. 14-5)
Notably with regard to Culler’s point (1) above, “Theory” for the most part does not have a positive effect on science, nor on social science – given its denial of Human Nature, and also asserts contradictions to science and social science (generally completely ignoring biology), yet, `Theory’ still calls itself `interdisciplinary’.
Regarding Culler’s point (2) above, the speculative nature of “Theory” also means it is usually not empirically tested (and/or indeed, testable), and thus often makes claims that are not falsifiable, or that are “not even wrong” in Wolfgang Pauli’s famous terms.
Regarding point (3), a critique of “common sense” with approximation to reality would involve empirical surveys of peoples’ beliefs, and/or the examination of empirically-selected datasets, which “Theory” rarely, if ever, undertakes.
Regarding point (4) above, the act of “thinking about thinking” usually results in opinions, or speculative philosophy with an infinite regress, and not facts, and certainly not solutions to `real-world’ problems. The constant generation of publications by “Theory” also clearly accords with van Peer’s (1997)’s First Law of Literary History.
One other major problem with “Theory” is it apparently does not need to be true, as long as it is somehow “interesting”, yet arguably most “Theory” is mostly only interesting to its authors. Philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky has also repeatedly convincingly criticized postmodernist “Theory” (Chomsky 1995), (Chomsky & Soper 1998), (Chomsky & Albert 2011).
Evolutionary Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett has noted the following:
“Harvey Bloom: Analytic philosophy has always been influenced by science. That seems to be true of your thought as well?
Dan Dennett: Analytic philosophy certainly aspires to the sorts of objectivity and opportunities for confirmation and refutation that science does. One of the things analytic philosophy always held against various continental schools was that they seemed to be doing something more like verbal ballet.
My view of science is very much an enlightenment view. Aside from minor disagreements, it’s pretty close to [E. O.] Wilson’s view in Consilience. That’s not an accident. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about it.
Much of what is said about science as an objective, progressive, best-ever technology for getting at the truth I simply think is right, and I believe people who think otherwise are deeply mistaken.”
(Dennett, 1998, online)
The above is from Dennett in Blume, H. (1998). `The Digital Philosopher: A Conversation with Daniel Dennett.’ The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/digicult/dc981209.htm
Perhaps most importantly, one key reason that prior critical approaches – using what is commonly termed “Theory” – are viewed as problematic by scholars who adopt a consilient biocultural approach, is its denial of a universal Human Nature, as clearly summarized in the title of Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002).
Likewise, as evolutionary psychologists Tooby and Cosmides (1992) note:
`Artificial intelligence research demonstrated in a concrete, empirical form, the long-standing philosophical objections to the tabula rasa (e.g. Hume 1748; Kant 1781; Popper 1972; Quine 1960, 1969).’
(Tooby and Cosmides in Barkow, Tooby and Cosmides 1992, p. 106)
While all these alternate “Theory” approaches have certain merits and validity (though very few indeed), by ignoring Human Nature, and/or, attributing determinism to limited causal frameworks, they are certainly not holistic views. Gottschall (2008) also directly addresses the rampant reductionism and determinism inherent in many of these prior “Theory” approaches:
`The Lunacy of One Idea – As Brian Vickers (among others) has pointed out, literary analysis has been dominated by intellectual “Masters”: Marx, Freud, Jung, Saussure, Barthes, Derrida, Frye, Lyotard, Althusser, Kristeva, Butler, Lacan, Jung, Foucault, and so on.
The “master narratives” composed by these thinkers and elaborated by their devotees are typically determinist, reductionist, and highly aggressive. They suggest that all aspects of human conscious and unconscious life are determined by language, early childhood trauma, class striving, the conspiracies of patriarchs or plutocrats, or competing discourses of power.
Even post-structuralist theory – which was famously defined by Lyotard as skepticism toward grand narratives and as a “war against totality”- provides an especially aggressive, deterministic (with human beings defined not as relatively free agents but as “subjects” of cultural and linguistic forces), and reductive narrative that embraces all totality.
As Cunningham writes, while post-structuralists set their faces “against Grand Narratives and Keys to All Mythologies, as delusive and imperialist, and all that, Theorists have managed to erect the Grandest Narrative of all – Theory – the greatest intellectual colonizer of all time” (2005, 28).
A more sympathetic commentator, Madan Sarup, reaches the same conclusion, and asks: “Why is Lyotard telling us yet another grand narrative at the end of grand narrative?” (1993, p. 146)…
The alternative to some form of reductionism is, I think, well described in Darwin’s letter to Henry Fawcett: “About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorize; and I well remember someone saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel pit and count the pebbles and describe the colors. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!” (F. Darwin and Seward 1903, 194–196)’
(Gottschall 2008a, pp. 35-6)
My own view of much of “Theory” is that overall it tends towards obscurantism and `endarkenment’ rather than enlightenment, and I am reminded of Hume’s Fork in `An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding’ (Hume 1817):
`…Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.’
(Hume 1817, p. 132)
With regard to certain key common misconceptions and assumptions made about the consilient biocultural approach to studying literature, movies, the arts, or bioculture in general, it is germane to further examine the (mistaken) charges of `reductionism’ and `determinism’ that are sometimes also mistakenly brought against the consilient approach.
For that, see: StoryAlity #71B – Invalid criticisms of Consilience
A really great book is:
See also: Bordwell, D. (2012). The Viewer’s Share: Models of Mind in Explaining Film from http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/viewersshare.php where Bordwell notes:
`Academics praise interdisciplinarity, of the cooperation of the humanities and the sciences. Too often, though, that cooperation involves only interpretations. Humanists join with social scientists in producing readings but not explanations. The engagement of film studies with empirical psychology and cognitive science over the last three decades has come closer to providing the sort of “consilience” that Edward O. Wilson proposed: unified explanations that bring art, humanistic inquiry, and scientific inquiry together (Wilson 1998). Film researchers invoke naturalistic models and findings from psychology in order to understand more fully how cinema works, and works with our minds.’
(Bordwell 2012, online)
And – see this post for more on consilient film research: StoryAlity #71 – On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication
Comments and feedback, always welcome.
Unless you are a postmodernist or a Continental Philosopher, in which case, our ontologies and epistemologies are probably at odds.
Po-Mo is dead as disco. It’s also ethically and morally evil, as it uses resources that could be used to solve problems and create genuine knowledge.
Kitching, G. N. (2008). The Trouble With Theory: The Educational Costs of Postmodernism. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press.
So – Consilience is a better solution.
There are urgent problems to be solved!
See also: Boyd, B. (2013). `What’s Your Problem? And How Might We Deepen It?’ Scientific Study of Literature, 3(1), 3-7. doi: 10.1075/ssol.3.1.02boy
And – for more detail on the evolutionary systems (or, complexity) view of narrative and bioculture in general, see, this book chapter:
StoryAlity #132 – The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture – and the narreme, or unit of story – book chapter (Velikovsky 2016)
High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher
The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky
JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/
Bordwell, D. (2012). The Viewer’s Share: Models of Mind in Explaining Film – Retrieved Nov 9th, 2015, from http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/viewersshare.php
Bordwell, D., & Carroll, N. (1996). Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Boyd, B. (2013). `What’s Your Problem? And How Might We Deepen It?’ Scientific Study of Literature, 3(1), 3-7. doi: 10.1075/ssol.3.1.02boy
Boyd, B., Carroll, J., & Gottschall, J. (2010). Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press.
Boyd, B. (2009). On The Origin Of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Boyd, B. (2006). Theory is Dead – Like a Zombie. Philosophy and Literature, 30, 289-298.
Campbell, D. T. (1974). Evolutionary Epistemology. In P. A. Schlipp (Ed.), The Philosophy of Karl Popper (Vol. 1, pp. 413-459). Illinois: La Salle.
Carroll, J. (1995). Evolution and Literary Theory. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.
Carroll, J. (2004). Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature. New York: Routledge.
Carroll, J., Gottschall, J., Johnson, J. A., & Kruger, D. J. (2012). Graphing Jane Austen: The Evolutionary Basis of Literary Meaning (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Culler, J. (2000). Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chomsky, N. (1995). Chomsky on Postmodernism, from http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/chomsky-on-postmodernism.html
Chomsky, N., & Soper, K. (1998). On Human Nature: Noam Chomsky interviewed by Kate Soper – from http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/199808–.htm
Chomsky, N., & Albert, M. (2011). The Chomsky Sessions II: Science, Religion and Human Nature, Part I. The Chomsky Sessions – from http://zcomm.org/zcommentary/the-chomsky-sessions-ii-science-religion-and-human-nature-part-i-by-noam-chomsky/
Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1992). The Psychological Foundations of Culture. In J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides & J. Tooby (Eds.), The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture (pp. xii, 666 p.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Dawkins, R. (1998). Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Easterlin, N., & Riebling, B. (1993). After Poststructuralism: Interdisciplinarity and Literary Theory. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.
Gontier, N. (2006). Introduction to Evolutionary Epistemology, Language and Culture. In N. Gontier, J. P. v. Bendegam & D. Aerts (Eds.), Evolutionary Epistemology, Language and Culture (pp. 1-29). Belgium: Springer.
Gross, P. R., & Levitt, N. (1994). Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Hume, D. (1817). Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (A new ed.). Edinburgh,: Printed for Bell & Bradfute.
Kitching, G. N. (2008). The Trouble With Theory: The Educational Costs of Postmodernism. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Koestler, A. (1967). The Ghost In The Machine. London: Hutchinson.
Martindale, C. (1990). The Clockwork Muse: The Predictability of Artistic Change. New York, N.Y.: BasicBooks.
Mulligan, K., Simons, P., & Smith, B. (2006). `What’s Wrong with Contemporary Philosophy?’ Topoi, 25(1-2), 63-67.
Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. New York: Viking.
Popper, K. R. (1963). Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. (Essays and Lectures.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Simonton, D. K. (2012). Creative Thought as Blind Variation and Selective Retention: Why Creativity is Inversely Related to Sightedness. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 33(4), 253-266.
Simonton, D. K. (2011). Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sokal, A. D., & Bricmont, J. (1998). Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science. New York: Picador USA.
Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.‘ In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.
Wilson, E. O. (1998). Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1st ed.). New York: Knopf: Distributed by Random House.