Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Annie Hall Moment

One of the best moments in Annie Hall occurs when Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) is standing in line at the theater with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), listening to a guy pontificate behind him. When the guy mentions Marshall McLuhan, Singer pulls out McLuhan from behind a poster, who then proceeds to say "You know nothing of my work!"

Singer then says, "Boy, if life were only like this!"

Well, perhaps what just happened to me is not up to that standard, but here goes anyway:

Over at Uncommon Descent, writer "DonaldM" uses the satiric experiment of physicist Alan Sokal to argue against "dogmatic Darwinism" and for "the sunshine of Truth".

I wrote to Alan Sokal and asked him what he thought of DonaldM's ramblings. Here are excerpts from his e-mail to me (ellipses, as usual, denote omissions):

Many thanks for drawing my attention to that strange blog item... I don't really understand the logic of how that ID guy is purporting to use me!

I mean, I looked at Paul Greenberg's article in the Jewish World Review that he cites and it seems to be a straightforward piece supporting my contention that there is such a thing as objective reality (though he didn't get quite correct his purported quote from me). But then the ID guy seems to overlook the obvious irony in the paragraph from Greenberg that he quotes, and takes it literally -- or else he just drops the subject there, says that "All this reminds me" of something else that is vaguely related, and goes on with his own pet story.

Now, that story makes a valid point, namely that how one interprets evidence is affected (though not determined) by the preconceptions one comes with. But if we are having a contest about who is more open to having his or her preconceptions be refuted by inconvenient evidence, then I would have to say that -- though no one is perfect -- scientists win hands down over the devotees of sacred texts. (I know, I know, they will respond in a chorus: ID is not religion, and our support for ID does not arise from any religious commitment but simply from our dispassionate analysis of the scientific evidence. Yeah, right.)


Isn't it great that life is like this!


Reginald Selkirk said...

My own "Annie Hall moment" over at Atheism: Proving The Negative:
Jesus Magic

The fun happens in the comments after Creationist commenter "Brigitte" says (December 13, 2008 11:53 AM), "I see Reginald does not know biochemistry, nor has stood in front of a protein molecule model either, to make up his own "reasonable mind"!"

Guess what I do for a living? I did not shed my anonymity, but I gave the blog host sufficient proof of my identity to let him in on the joke.

Miranda said...

Is it then true that Greenberg was correct in guessing that Sokal was the letter writer to the Arkansas paper, writing under a fake name? Can you get a copy of that letter and paste it here?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Miranda, Miranda, Miranda! How can you possibly be so dense?

Miranda said...

Ah, I read the following without the word "purported"

"(though he didn't get quite correct his purported quote from me). "

Dense is not the same as uncareful.

But you're rude.

Blake Stacey said...

I would like to recommend Sokal's book Beyond the Hoax, not as the last word on anything, but as a good set of well-thought-out contemplations on many things. One of the essays included in it, "Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers?", says exactly what Sokal thinks of creationism.

rien said...

I've got a funny moment too, perhaps not of the same magnitude. I'm a theoretical physicist by profession. I was debating with a creationist on a skeptical forum (in our little European language) and he was saying some stupid things about quantum mechanics, which I pointed out. He answered with something along the lines of that I should look it up at Wikipedia. Now, what he didn't know is that when I last taught quantum mechanics I also took the opportunity to write a good chunk of the Wikipedia article on quantum mechanics at our language version of the wiki. So my answer was given: "Yes, but should I read the part that I wrote or the other part?"

Ty said...

"But you're rude."

I'm even ruder, and you come across as extremely dense. And I can stifle my rudeness when the occasion warrants it. You have yet to demonstrate the ability to seem less dense.

Miranda said...

"And I can stifle my rudeness when the occasion warrants it."

Give three examples of such occasions.

Gareth McCaughan said...

Miranda, I fear you may be confused.

1. The "purported quote" from Sokal was from "Transgressing the boundaries", not from this letter to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

2. Greenberg was not actually claiming that the letter was written by Sokal. He was saying it was so stupid that it reads like a deliberate parody, Sokal-style.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Yes, Miranda's completely confused. Thanks for describing the confusion in detail - I was too bored to point it out.

Miranda said...

I'd rather be called dense than confused. That way, when I catch Jeff in a misstatement (as I have before), he'll be all the more embarrassed.

Jeffrey Shallit said...


I think you seriously overestimate your ability to embarrass me.

But if that's your goal in life, who am I to deprive you of this joy?

Miranda said...

Are you so dense that you couldn't catch a joke? Hah!

Joshua said...

Note also the example used by the essay in Uncommon Descent about the "dwarfs are from the dwarfs" - the original context of this is that in the last of the Narnia books they refuse to acknowledge Aslan's existence and presence. Well, since Aslan is Jesus, it seems that failing to recognize ID is now identical to failing to recognize Jesus. Are they even trying to pretend that ID isn't about Christianity at this point?