Readers are cautioned not to infer my views on any subject except insofar as they are set forth in this Afterword. In particular, the fact that I have parodied an extreme or ambiguously stated version of an idea does not exclude that I may agree with a more nuanced or precisely stated version of the same idea.

For example: ``linear'', ``nonlinear'', ``local'', ``global'', ``multidimensional'', ``relative'', ``frame of reference'', ``field'', ``anomaly'', ``chaos'', ``catastrophe'', ``logic'', ``irrational'', ``imaginary'', ``complex'', ``real'', ``equality'', ``choice''.

By the way, anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. I live on the twenty-first floor. (P.S. I am aware that this wisecrack is unfair to the more sophisticated relativist philosophers of science, who will concede that empirical statements can be objectively true - e.g. the fall from my window to the pavement will take approximately 2.5 seconds - but claim that the theoretical explanations of those empirical statements are more-or-less arbitrary social constructions. I think that also this view is largely wrong, but that is a much longer discussion.)

The natural sciences have little to fear, at least in the short run, from postmodernist silliness; it is, above all, history and the social sciences - and leftist politics - that suffer when verbal game-playing displaces the rigorous analysis of social realities. Nevertheless, because of the limitations of my own expertise, my analysis here will be restricted to the natural sciences (and indeed primarily to the physical sciences). While the basic epistemology of inquiry ought to be roughly the same for the natural and social sciences, I am of course perfectly aware that many special (and very difficult) methodological issues arise in the social sciences from the fact that the objects of inquiry are human beings (including their subjective states of mind); that these objects of inquiry have intentions (including in some cases the concealment of evidence or the placement of deliberately self-serving evidence); that the evidence is expressed (usually) in human language whose meaning may be ambiguous; that the meaning of conceptual categories (e.g. childhood, masculinity, femininity, family, economics, etc.) changes over time; that the goal of historical inquiry is not just facts but interpretation, etc. So by no means do I claim that my comments about physics should apply directly to history and the social sciences - that would be absurd. To say that ``physical reality is a social and linguistic construct'' is just plain silly, but to say that ``social reality is a social and linguistic construct'' is virtually a tautology.

Ryan (1992).
Hobsbawm (1993, 63).
Andreski (1972, 90).
Computers existed prior to solid-state technology, but they were unwieldy and slow. The 486 PC sitting today on the literary theorist's desk is roughly 1000 times more powerful than the room-sized vacuum-tube computer IBM 704 from 1954 (see e.g. Williams 1985).

I certainly don't exclude the possibility that present theories in any of these subjects might be erroneous. But critics wishing to make such a case would have to provide not only historical evidence of the claimed cultural influence, but also scientific evidence that the theory in question is in fact erroneous. (The same evidentiary standards of course apply to past erroneous theories; but in this case the scientists may have already performed the second task, relieving the cultural critic of the need to do so from scratch.)
Ross (1991, 25-26); also in Ross (1992, 535-536).

Ross (1991, 26); also in Ross (1992, 535). In the discussion following this paper, Ross (1992, 549) expressed further (and quite justified) misgivings:
I'm quite skeptical of the ``anything goes'' spirit that is often the prevailing climate of relativism around postmodernism. ... Much of the postmodernist debate has been devoted to grappling with the philosophical or cultural limits to the grand narratives of the Enlightenment. If you think about ecological questions in this light, however, then you are talking about ``real'' physical, or material, limits to our resources for encouraging social growth. And postmodernism, as we know, has been loath to address the ``real,'' except to announce its banishment.
U.S. Bureau of the Census (1975, 47, 55; 1994, 87). In 1900 the mean life expectancy at birth was 47.3 years (47.6 years for whites, and a shocking 33.0 years for ``Negro and other''). In 1995 it is 76.3 years (77.0 years for whites, 70.3 years for blacks). I am aware that this assertion is likely to be misinterpreted, so let me engage in some pre-emptive clarification. I am not claiming that all of the increase in life expectancy is due to advances in scientific medicine. A large fraction (possibly the dominant part) of the increase - especially in the first three decades of the twentieth century - is due to the general improvement in the standards of housing, nutrition and public sanitation (the latter two informed by improved scientific understanding of the etiology of infectious and dietary-deficiency diseases). [For reviews of the evidence, see e.g. Holland et al. (1991).] But - without discounting the role of social struggles in these improvements, particularly as concerns the narrowing of the racial gap - the underlying and overwhelming cause of these improvements is quite obviously the vast increase in the material standard of living over the past century, by more than a factor of five (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1975, 224-225; 1994, 451). And this increase is quite obviously the direct result of science, as embodied in technology.
Ross (1991, 26); also in Ross (1992, 536).
By the way, intelligent non-scientists seriously interested in the conceptual problems raised by quantum mechanics need no longer rely on the vulgarizations (in both senses) published by Heisenberg, Bohr and sundry physicists and New Age authors. The little book of Albert (1992) provides an impressively serious and intellectually honest account of quantum mechanics and the philosophical issues it raises - yet it requires no more mathematical background than a modicum of high-school algebra, and does not require any prior knowledge of physics. The main requirement is a willingness to think slowly and clearly.
Snow (1963, 20-21). One significant change has taken place since C.P. Snow's time: while humanist intellectuals' ignorance about (for example) mass and acceleration remains substantially unchanged, nowadays a significant minority of humanist intellectuals feels entitled to pontificate on these subjects in spite of their ignorance (perhaps trusting that their readers will be equally ignorant). Consider, for example, the following excerpt from a recent book on Rethinking Technologies, edited by the Miami Theory Collective and published by the University of Minnesota Press: ``it now seems appropriate to reconsider the notions of acceleration and deceleration (what physicists call positive and negative speeds)'' (Virilio 1993, 5). The reader who does not find this uproariously funny (as well as depressing) is invited to sit in on the first two weeks of Physics I.
I wasn't joking about that. For anyone who is interested in my views, I would be glad to provide a copy of Sokal (1987). For another sharp critique of the poor teaching of mathematics and science, see (irony of ironies) Gross and Levitt (1994, 23-28).

Telepathy: Hastings and Hastings (1992, 518), American Institute of Public Opinion poll from June 1990. Concerning ``telepathy, or communication between minds without using the traditional five senses'', 36% ``believe in'', 25% are ``not sure'', and 39% ``do not believe in''. For ``people on this earth are sometimes possessed by the devil'', it is 49-16-35 (!). For ``astrology, or that the position of the stars and planets can affect people's lives'', it is 25-22-53. Mercifully, only 11% believe in channeling (22% are not sure), and 7% in the healing power of pyramids (26% not sure). Creationism: Gallup (1993, 157-159), Gallup poll from June 1993. The exact question was: ``Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings: 1) human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process; 2) human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process; 3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so?'' The results were 35% developed with God, 11% developed without God, 47% God created in present form, 7% no opinion. A poll from July 1982 (Gallup 1982, 208-214) found almost identical figures, but gave breakdowns by sex, race, education, region, age, income, religion, and community size. Differences by sex, race, region, income and (surprisingly) religion were rather small. By far the largest difference was by education: only 24% of college graduates supported creationism, compared to 49% of high-school graduates and 52% of those with a grade-school education. So maybe the worst science teaching is at the elementary and secondary levels.
See Note 11 above.
Chomsky (1984, 200), lecture delivered in 1969.
Ryan (1992).

Daniel Sleator
Fri Jun 7 10:56:35 EDT 1996