Science and pseudo-science

One of the great spoofs in recent history.

Alan Sokal’s original article
Related articles

Alan Sokal
On Pseudo-Science, Religion and Misinformation in Public Life

In 1996, Alan Sokal, Professor of Physics at New York University, published, after being reviewed and accepted, a paper in the cultural-studies journal Social Text entitled Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity. Sokal immediately confessed that the whole article was a hoax designed to expose and parody the style of extreme postmodernist criticism of science, and became front page news around the world, triggering a fierce and wide-ranging controversy.

Sokal remains a powerful voice in the debate about the status of evidence-based knowledge. In Beyond the Hoax he targets pseudo-science, religion, and misinformation in public life arguing that clear thinking, combined with a respect for evidence, are of the utmost importance to the survival of the human race in the twenty-first century.

Please click below to read an interview with Alan Sokal

 Interview with Alan Sokal

Letter from Sayward

This post is by a former student, Paul Stahnke, who is living off the grid in Sayward, BC. I have invited him to contribute to the Blog when he feels like it. Welcome, Paul! What he has to say complements the discussion on happiness.

“Suck City” sure grabbed my attention.

We have invented a reflective lifestyle here, in Sayward. Certainly no Thoreau, but Michelle and I have made a conscious effort to live differently.

Most days I do not leave the 1 km dead end road we live on. Cell phones don’t work here. On sunny mornings I take my dog for a long walk and just enjoy the experience. On rainy days I light the woodstove in the shop, and then go for my walk. I try to work at least 6 hours per day….doing whatever project(s) I am consumed with.

Our scourge is the local elk herd, and I have spent countless hours trying to figure out their habits. I have fenced our home site and welded up a large steel gate to keep them out. We ensure it is locked every evening. If we are away, the neighbours do it for us. I spent hundreds of dollars constructing the ultimate predator-proof enclosure for our chickens. That is also locked up every night.  We are also very wary of cougars, and when they are actively around I pack a weapon and/or carry bear spray. If there are racoon tracks on  the river bank and lots of squirrels about there is most like no cougar in the neighbourhood. Plus, ravens follow them around and the stellar jays go nuts when they see them. There are clues, for sure.  In the last 5 years I have walked into 4 of them at close range. In the past they have killed our sheep and I have had to kill them in turn. One time a large cat tore open the closed shed they were locked up in. I no longer raise sheep because of that. (Sheep are cougar magnets).

Last summer a large cat broke into my neighbours house across the river. It pushed the door open and attacked one of their dogs about 9:00 in the evening. The next day I walked into the same cat as it had crossed the river to our side during the night. I grabbed up my little Jack Russell and squared to the cat and we both backed away. From that time on I always keep my dog leashed in the woods and a knife in my pocket. It is definitely a good way to ‘live in the moment’, for sure.

Living in Sayward is a way to live consciously for us. I try to ensure it is every moment, but certainly don’t succeed. The river, (where we live is tidal), is a main focus as is ‘the Mountain’. What’s the tide doing? The current? How much longer until the sun is above the mountain. Or, “Look at the way the shadow climbs every evening and turns the mountain pink”. Of course, many many days the clouds obscure it, entirely. And the wind! On those beautiful days it is usually blowing westerly here, sometimes 45 kts. Sometimes for days on end.

It is a vary encompassing place to live.

Sunday’s Sermon – “The Stranger”

Review – Looking for The Stranger Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic

by Alice Kaplan University Of Chicago Press, 2016

Review by Bob Lane Mar 14th 2017 (Volume 21, Issue 11)

We are in the midst of an ongoing Camus renaissance, one traced by Matthew Sharpe in his book Camus, Philosophe: To Return to Our Beginnings to four causes: The publication in 1994 of Camus’ Le Premier Homme, a true literary event; the fall of Stalinism; the war on terror; and the decline of the hegemony of post-modernism and post-structuralism with academia. We are blessed with many recent books on Camus [Sharpe produces an exhaustive survey of the recent secondary literature on Camus, heavily footnoted and annotated] and his works have continued to be a resource for philosophical inquiry even as his literary works have continued to be read and written about — or responded to as in the case of Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation which considers the same killing on the beach but from the Arab victim’s point of view.

Read the review.








Social media is filled with arguments. But usually they are comprised of opinions or pictures and not ‘good arguments’. We humans don’t often actually produce arguments, but merely shout at each other. How does this use of ‘argument’ arise? Why do we usually think of argument as a brannigan or donnybrook? Like all words ‘argument’ has evolved.

A quick internet trip to yields for ‘argument’ over 50 synonyms. These include ‘brawl’ ‘clash’ ‘spat’ etc. But notice:

Word Origin & History – argument late 14c., “statements and reasoning in support of a proposition,” from Fr. argument (13c.), from L. argumentum, from arguere “to argue” (see argue). Sense passed through “subject of contention” to “a quarrel,” a sense formerly attached to argumentation.

The word carries with it two distinct senses:

  • an exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one.

“I’ve had an argument with my father”

  • a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.

“there is a strong argument for submitting a formal appeal”

Lawyers and, of course, philosophers use the word in the second sense, while on social media it is often the first sense that is intended.

In Episode 29 of Monty Python’s Flying Circus a customer goes to the Argument Clinic but initially arrives in the abuse room where he runs into Mr. Barnard.

Mr. B: What do you want?

C: Well, I was just . . .

Mr. B: Don’t give me that, you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!

After abuse like that for some time the customer finds Mr. Vibrating in the argument room:

C: Ah, is this the right room for an argument?

Mr. V: I told you once.

C: No, you haven’t.

Mr. V: Yes, I have.

C: When?

Mr. V: Just now.

C: No, you didn’t.

Mr. V: Yes I did.

Mr. V merely contradicts every statement that the customer makes. Finally the Customer draws the distinction as follows: “Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just he automatic gainsaying of anything  the other person says.”



March’s Letter from South America

Dear Bob,

 I don’t know if I’ve told you that when I think of happiness I often think of you. You’re a true professor, a role model for many, an intellectual, an author, a man with a wonderful family, so successful, so admired. And I say and think these things, like Bob must be happysomeone must be happy, or I want to be happy or someone is not happy. It is a fact that everyone wants to be happy (or at least it is a fact that people say that). What do we mean? We look at so many things that are supposed to make us happy: tenure, money, beauty, or skillfulness. My mother used to say that a peasant must be happy: the countryside is so beautiful, so peaceful and so natural. But country life is hard work for little reward; especially in the developing world. And if you belong to a pampered circle you surely find a lot of satisfaction, basic needs fully satisfied and so many perks, but no happiness is guaranteed of course.

 The point here, the thing that I am thinking about, is not the profound question of what happiness is, although perhaps it is unavoidable. My question is how can I be happy? This doesn’t imply that I don’t feel like I am happy at times. You know, every time I go into my classroom and I engage my students in some fun topic I truly feel alive and useful and formidable. And whenever I sit to write to you I truly feel gooood (please don’t correct it. I mean it!). The thing is, is it possible to achieve this ideal: be happy? Not to have moments of glory, or moments of pleasure, or moments of success, but to reach some state of mind, impervious to tragedy, loss, failure, to your own tendency to regret or anything that seems opposed to happiness.

 The definition of being happy eludes me. But I somehow feel that the definition escapes language and I just know what that is. Perhaps I am bullshitting myself here. Maybe I believe it on faith! Who invented this term “happy” anyway! Did she refer just to moments of glory, moments of pleasure or moments of accomplishment? So is there only the temporary mood of feeling happy? Estoy feliz, as opposed to Soy feliz, the first one indicating a mood, the second one an inner characteristic.

 I want to tell you about a practice I have: if I feel lazy or tired or slow at times when I am not supposed to feel that way, first, I have something sweet to eat, and second, I make an inventory of the positive in my life which requires an inventory of the negative that is not part of my life; something like: I don’t have any debts, I don’t have ailments, etc. It works and I feel good. But of course I want more than that. Anyway, Bob, I meant what I said at the beginning of this letter. Being as intellectually active as you are must be happiness, just like Aristotle’s happiness: a philosopher always exercising his reason.


Until next time,


More on happiness: here and here.