New Comment
31 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:30 AM

I don't even. I'm just gonna score some points against this here...

Schizophrenia = sense of split self / lack of unity, leads to “Who am I even?"

Narcissism = so like, I need an identity, and hey these corporate advertisements sell me values (always ersatz, i.e. worse substitute) so I will spend spend spend so I can seem like someone

I feel urge to defend the technical meanings of those terms, but I think it's in large part because it seems like the author is invoking the technical terms as a bailey: claiming that everyone who goes "who am I even?" is in a technical sense schizophrenic, with a motte allowing the author to fall back on saying it's just about this specific scenario.

Is God dead?

If so, something must fill its void; nature abhors a vacuum

That's not actually trivially true, since "god" here is some social meme thing. I didn't update on this argument.

Empiricism = Truth is OBSERVABLE & TESTABLE

Rationalism = Truth is MENTALLY DEDUCIBLE


Christianity = Truth is GOD


That's not what lesswrong rationalism is about; it's an unfortunate name collision due to yudkowsky using a word that already meant "truth is mentally deducible", and then overwriting it with his own meaning. This presentation conflates them.

Re: God is dead: The argument is that religion was able to become so popular because of some intrinsic propensity towards it that the majority of humans have and that the decline of religion opens the door for other ideologies to spread (which can sometimes tend towards religion in terms of how they give a person meaning, a worldview and an in-group).

I understood the reference to schizophrenia, but I thought the narcissism link could have been drawn clearer.

This is wrong on oh so many levels, but I do not dare to criticize a powerpoint, because there might be many subtle points that were totally disregarded by the abreviated presentation. Does anyone know if there's a longer form? A video or a series of blog posts?

A word about the post modern epistemology section. Quine reached the point in the development of epistemology where there was realization of ontological (and also teleological) commitments to epistemological claims. Because very very few can engage with this and it hasn't yet lead to a new synthesis that is understandable and usefully supersedes the old conceptions of epistemology we are stuck spinning in the wind, culturally at least. I suspect this is partially a question of language. LW, cogsci, behavioral econ, analytic phil, and various phenomenologists are all groping towards a more technical vocabulary that will allow usefully grappling with this frontier, but are hamstrung by needing to reinvent the wheel over and over again. Each discipline tries out its own technical vocabulary in their carving of the problem space.

"Quine reached the point in the development of epistemology where there was realization of ontological (and also teleological) commitments to epistemological claims" - what do you mean by this?

gloss: Causal models of A->B have ontological commitments to the existence of all hypotheses consistent with the prediction A->B, chiefly that A and B 'exist' or are natural kinds in some sense, though other side effects may be present as well. Additionally, ontologies are not telos free.

Can anyone break down the Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, Man. vs. Reality from the Conflict in Literature chart?

Also what's a good example of Man vs. Author?

Further, what does Baudrillard mean by saying that, "History has become reified images without referent"

Conflict vs the Author: The novel White Noise by Don DeLillo has a humanities professor as a protagonist who likes to talk about reducing the number of plotlines in his life. Whenever something interesting happens to him he avoids it, doesn't investigate, tries to keep his life bland. There's an interplay between the book trying to present a story about a character and that character taking actions to minimize how narratively interesting his life is.

The film Stranger Than Fiction and the novel Lanark: A Life in Four Books are good examples of Man Vs Author.

I think the Man Vs Man, Self, and Reality thing is just about where the cause of conflict in fiction came from: first it was other characters , then it was inner struggles (with the rise of ideas like Freud's subconscious) and the protagonist's own limitations, then it was the meaninglessness or irrationality of the external world itself (in the manner of Albert Camus, Thomas Pynchon, and later Philip K. Dick, i'm guessing).

The Baudrillard bit is probably a reference to his concepts of "simulacrum" and "hyperreality", which i don't understand. Wikipedia says:

The postmodern semiotic concept of "hyperreality" was contentiously coined by French sociologist Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation. Baudrillard defined "hyperreality" as "the generation by models of a real without origin or reality;"[2] hyperreality is a representation, a sign, without an original referent. Baudrillard believes hyperreality goes further than confusing or blending the 'real' with the symbol which represents it; it involves creating a symbol or set of signifiers which represent something that does not actually exist, like Santa Claus. Baudrillard in particular suggests that the world we live in has been replaced by a copy world, where we seek simulated stimuli and nothing more.

The Sesame Street picture book The Monster At The End of This Book is an excellent example (minor variant; it's Man (or, rather, Muppet) vs. Reader).


Did you write this Kaj or did someone else? This seems like the kind of thing I'd like to be able to link people to but it's a PDF which kind of sucks, so it'd be nice to see it exported as HTML.

The original presentation was written by Richard Wu, a member of the Seattle rationality community. I took notes and made the outline.

It is a real shame that this presentation was not recorded.

I think this is honest and I'm thankful to have read it.

Probably I'm biased and/or stupid, but with regard to Slavoj's comment “Coffee without cream is not the same as coffee without milk.” [this article's author's requests being charitable to this comment], the most charitable I can convince myself to be is "maybe this postmodernist ideology is an ideology specifically designed to show how ideology can be stupid - in this way, postmodernists have undermined other stupid ideologies by encouraging deconstruction of ideology to reveal its stupidity". I think that yes you could elaborate on the coffee comment to make it coherent (e.g. talk about how a human can think about the absence of milk or think about the absence of cream while drinking), but the comment isn't meaningful by itself.

I can't convince myself to say "maybe this comment about coffee is meaningful and I should learn to understand it better", for this reason I'm not planning to study postmodernism.

It's an illustration of postmodernism's insistence on looking at the context of a thing in addition to the thing itself. A modernist would look at coffee-without-cream and coffee-without-milk and say, "So what, they're both black coffee, right?" But a postmodernist would say, "Yes, they're both black coffee but the choices that led to each being black coffee were different." That history, that context, is different between the two coffees, and thus they're different.

Another way of thinking about it is, "Is a (ex-)Jewish atheist different from an (ex-)Catholic atheist?"

Your comment is quite clear and presents an important idea, thank you.

Why is the original comment about coffee in the presentation lacking in context? Is it deliberately selectively quoted to have less context in order to be provocative?

Zizek sounds just as ridiculous when you hear him speak in context.

Any idea why?

Is it possibly a deliberate strategy to keep average people away from the intellectual movement (which would result in an increased intellectual quality)? If so, I as an average person should probably respect this desire and stay away.

Possibly there should be 2 communities for intellectual movements: one community with a thickly walled garden to develop ideas with quality intellectuals, and a separate community with a thinly walled garden in order to convince a broader audience to drive adoption of those ideas?

You can't understand Zizek, or Zizek's "strategy", if you approach it in so straightforward a way.

And that's the point.

It's not "average" people who are being "kept away", it's enlightened people who are being filtered for.

By "enlightened", of course, I do not mean the Zen notion, or any such thing, nor do I even use the term normatively; I only mean that those who have independently had the experiences and reached the understandings necessary to apprehend what Zizek is saying, will be able to do so. That is the filter. If Zizek explains to you in plain language what he is saying, you may understand it; but that is counterproductive, because if you need his points explained to you in plain language then you are not the sort of person he is speaking to.

Conversely, if you listen to Zizek and do not understand him, you may later have the relevant experiences and reach the relevant understandings, and apprehend his points retroactively.

Many things work this way.

because if you need his points explained to you in plain language then you are not the sort of person he is speaking to.

Because... reason? Is there any valid point besides snobbery and fear of criticisms?

See my reply to habryka, below. Furthermore:

If you need Zizek's points explained to you in plain language, then you will not see Zizek's points even when they are explained in plain language. (That's the model he's using, to be clear; do I endorse it? Well, partly. It's probably a bit less true than he might think, but more than true enough to be the proper approach.)

It isn't arbitrary elitism that's at work here; it's that there are prerequisites for understanding! By analogy, imagine a mathematician who posts, on his blog, some equations. Other mathematicians who read his blog look at the equations, understand them to be making some point or other on some advanced mathematical point, and reply, there's a discussion, etc. A lay reader then comments, asking—why don't you say in plain language what you're saying in this post?? Why the equations?

Well, because if the mathematician stated his points in plain language, then non-mathematicians would in any case not understand it, as it requires a deep background in advanced mathematics to comprehend. Oh, they could understand what he's saying, but they in no way would be capable of understanding the truth of what he's saying—understanding his points, following his logic, etc. So, instead, he is only talking to people who can grok what he's saying, and to them, he can speak in equations.

P.S. I've found Zizek to be quite comprehensible sometimes.

I still don't see how there is any benefit to be gained from speaking in a way that most people cannot even understand what you're saying let alone "understand the truth of it", as you put it. It seems trivially obvious that, if talking about something contentious or for which you are drawing a lot of criticism, doing both is pretty much always superior.

In your mathematician-postmodernist analogy, were the mathematician to face entire populations of otherwise intelligent, interested people claiming that he is saying nothing meaningful, it would be a relatively trivial matter to sit down for a few hours and break down his claims, filling in the blanks with "true enough" connections and sketching out what he's trying to communicate in layman's terms. Doing so would make his, and everyone else's lives, better; if you cannot truly explain something then you can make it clear that at least there is something being explained here.

It's therefore odd that pomo thinkers as a whole seem to have no desire to do so, and that people who try to do so take only a single step of simplification to go from totally unintelligible to trivially obvious (in contrast to mathematicians, who have a whole series of building blocks, abstractions and prior results to show the way through their proofs).

Maybe the ideas behind and insights of postmodern thinking really are irreducible in any meaningful way. But if so, it's the only discipline I can think of to have such a barrier to discourse, and were I (or any well-meaning person) working in such an embattled field, I would surely take great pains to make that clear from the outset whenever talking about it to a lay audience. I would also be very careful to use a jargon that does not seem specifically designed to look like deliberately misleading, obfuscatory abuses of preexisting vocabulary...

Perhaps there is a "here's a provocative puzzle; thinking about it will help you learn" teaching style going on, but if so, it doesn't appear to be working very well, and it would be nice to see some other strategies being tried, if there is anything meaningful to be learnt here at all.

It was never my intention to defend “postmodernism”, or “postmodern thinking” as a class, only Slavoj Zizek in particular. To whatever extent others are similar to him, my points apply to them also; otherwise, they don’t.

As to the rest of your comment… consider that mathematics rarely has political implications, while the words of Zizek and others like him surely do have such. This provides both an additional incentive for many people to label his ideas as “meaningless” and to refuse or fail to understand them, and for him to decline to make his points too explicitly.

(There is also the point I made in my earlier comment, which I do not think you have really engaged with.)

Said did indeed explain why. At least in his model, the thing that he says Zizek is doing is using his explanations as a filter to attract the people who already understand what he means (or to further the understanding of the people who already understand 90%) and to shy away the people who do not understand what he is talking about. According to Said, his goal is not to educate, but to use his essays and talks as a way to build a following and a social group out of people who already largely agree with him.

Sorry, I don't quite think I've gotten my point across very well, as it seems that you (and, I suppose, MrMind?) have misunderstood… I am not saying that Zizek is trying to build a following. (To build fame, notoriety, sure; but that is orthogonal to the whole filtering business.)

So bandwagonism isn't a problem (for Zizek; for people who understand his points and are interested in discussing them with other like-minded folks, it is a problem… but constructing their own filters is left as an exercise for them).

Is Zizek's goal to educate? Well, was the Buddha's goal to educate? Laozi's? etc. But if so, why did they occasionally speak in riddles? Why obfuscate? (Zizek is no Buddha or Laozi, of course, I'm only pointing out that this question can be put to any number of well-known and respected figures who are commonly understood to indeed have been aiming to educate people, in some sense, and are also generally considered to have been successful in doing so.)

(For more on this, see my response to MrMind, upthread.)

Agree, I think my last sentence about building a following was unnecessary and confusing.

No, that I understood, but on one side, you cannot distinguish people who agree with you because they understand from people who simply agree with you because they want to jump on the bandwagon, and on the other side the purpose of the construction of this following is...?

I would add two things to this comment. First is that maybe there's no strategy of keeping people away. If ChristianKI thinks Zizek sounds ridiculous, there are many possible explanations. But second, and more important, is the fact of selection.

Zizek is not a lone prodigy. He has been elevated by and into media success from among hundreds if not thousands of writers and thinkers of similar taste but different execution. So we must expect that his behavior has attributes that originated as mere quirks, but, because we have picked out a particularly famous specimen, we can expect such quirks to be unusually suited for fame. The quirks that start with no explanation, after selection are explained by the desires of the audience.

Yes, i think a big aspect of postmodernist culture is speaking in riddles because you want to be interacting with people who like riddles.

I don't think that the ability to understand a confusingly-presented concept is quite the same thing as intellectual quality, however. I think it's a more niche skill.

Why speak in riddles? Because sometimes solving a puzzle teaches you more than being the solution.

As an observation about coffee, Zizek's statement is true in its way but not especially useful. His broader point is "you should think about history and context more." So he presents you with two physically identical items, coffee without milk and coffee without cream, so that you can be surprised by noticing that there's potentially an important difference, and that surprise will make you update towards considering context and history as well as present physical makeup.

I think it's more that, on a slide you necessarily have to remove context in order to keep the presentation legible (both metaphorically and literally) for the audience. Walls of text in tiny print don't make for good slides.

New to LessWrong?