1.30.2006

M-Theory and Falsifiability

You know, the arrogance of theorists like Edward Witten and Joseph Polchinski is astounding to me at times. I realize that the petty fiefdoms of academia require you to defend your turf in order to secure publishing and funding, but the tone of their claims recently has gone beyond the measure for me.

It's like, dude, M-Theory hasn't even produced any falsifiable results yet, but you want to put it forward as the leading candidate for the Theory of Everything? I mean, what about non-perturbative canonical quantum gravity, or b-quark interactions?

Look, if your theoretical model isn't fine-tuned enough to yield predictive datum, that's fine, feel free to publish it, but let's not get all messiah complex just yet, Ok? You're not the Savior of Physics. At best, you're a minor prophet.

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1.29.2006

Schönberg and Tonality

God, my head is killing me. I had way too much to drink last night, and my mind is still a bit fuzzy around the edges.

B and I got into a huge argument last night after dinner. She kept insisting that Schönberg's Chamber Symphony #2 represented a collapse of his tonal series exploration, and a return to the romantic sensibilities of his earlier writing. She thinks that he was turning his back on the experiment of the early 20th Century.

Which is just insane. I mean, Schönberg's entire trajectory was a movement away from convention. If anything, the #2 means that his audience had finally come to accept the contrapuntal density and harmonic exploration of his middle period, and that any further departure necessitated a ironic reuse of the staid materials of a previous era. It wasn't a defeat for innovation, it was the first truly post-modern use of irony in thematic development. The thing being self aware, and being a parody of itself while being the thing.

God, she's such an idiot sometimes.


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1.28.2006

Is Postmodernism really Hyper-modernism?

I have a nagging suspicion that postmodernism, as a philosophical edifice, has some cracks at the foundation. The epistemology seems to me to be more hypermodernism than anything.

Descartes has failed. The attempt to build perfectly certain knowledge from universal and properly basic foundations has proven to be a foolish project. In it's wake, however, it has left us with a limited definition of truth: that which can be logically derived. If something cannot be rationally defended from logical foundations, it cannot count as either truth or knowledge.

Postmodernism looks at this narrow definition, and says, "Nothing fits. Nothing succeeds at that kind of orthodox foundationalism. Therefore, nothing must be true, nothing can count as knowledge." In saying this, postmodernism has abandoned the project of modernism, but it has not abandoned the foundations, the limited definitions, the need for a mathematical kind of certainty as a prerequisite for knowledge.

Have we forgotten Kant? Have we forgotten that, in all of human experience, we never had access to that kind of certainty? Neumonon and Phenomenon have never been bridged by ration constructs.

I think, for postmodernism to succeed, it must not deny the possibility of truth. It must not abandon the project of communicable, propositional knowledge. Instead, it needs to reexamine the foundations left for it by modernism.

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After Cezanne

I spent some time this week at the "After Cezanne" exhibit at LA's Museum of Contemporary Art this week.

Schimmel, as usual, has constructed a compelling experience, with pieces carefully chosen from the permanent collection. Lichtenstein's "Man With Folded Arms" is hauntingly sensual, and "Glimmer" offers a voyeuristic journey into the eye[soul]eye of the watcher; we observe the observer, watching us, watching the reflection of their own observations.

I left with a lingering feeling of despair. Each piece in the exhibit seemed to underline the idea that we, as people, are machines for living, and that each act of life is an act of violence, oppressions, void of spiritual content. I have to reject that idea. I think we live in celebration of life, not as mechanistic, soulless participants in it.

I had to walk down to the Cathedral of Angels to cleanse my palate.

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Aesthetic Theory and the Artist

Robert Kraut is making a case for aesthetics as a rigorous branch of philosophy, as robust and precise as linguistics or epistemology.

Consider: a gifted painter, musician, or sculptor might--given the demands of artistic training--totally avoid those academic tracks requiring precision in argument and other aspects of theory construction. There is no assurance that a skilled dancer, for example, is able to theorize effectively about danceā€”or about anything else. Not a surprise: a person manifesting artistic skill is often whisked away from differential equations and/or textual exegesis and placed on a trajectory devoted to artistic performance (and, in some cases, the history of the genre). It is, therefore, not a surprise when a practicing artist, endeavoring to reflect philosophically upon the intricacies of the artworld, lacks the methodological resources to do so.

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1.27.2006

Expanding Your Art

It's depressing. I've been reading through the chatter on the blogosphere about PoPoZao.

What is that thing that Ornette Coleman and Anton Webern have, that thing that allows them to take risks, to expand their art in ways that challenge the listener to experience music in new ways? What rare air do they breathe, that we who are mundane are loathe to gasp?

I know who I am. I have made peace with it. I hope others can do the same.



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1.25.2006

The Gettier Problem


Knowledge is justified, true, Gettier-proof belief.


I've been wrestling recently with the Gettier problem of knowledge. The other three conditions (justified, true, belief) are so succinctly stated, so intuitively defensible, but to keep using the phrase "Gettier-proof" as a shorthand for such an unwieldily set of conditions seems too ... for lack of a better phrase, inelegant.

I see a possible means of escape from the clunkiness of the Gettier language. First, we might put an apostrophe by "Justified", and say that it is veracitous justification that counts. Justification which deceives is not really the sort of justification that counts toward knowledge, as per Gettier's famous objections.

Couple with this, we might specify the scope of the word "True", to make it specific to not just the conclusion, but the the process. In other words, not only that what we believe is true, but that the totallity of things that we believe in process toward what we finally believe must also be true.



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