[Marxism] Fwd: The Shrinking World of Ideas - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 24 07:34:16 MST 2014

In other words, there’s a good reason that "neurohumanities" are making 
headway in the academy. Now that psychoanalytic, Marxist, and literary 
theory have fallen from grace, neuroscience and evolutionary biology can 
step up. And what better way for the liberal arts to save themselves 
than to borrow liberally from science? A 2013 article in The Nation 
informs us that "Duke and Vanderbilt universities now have neuroscience 
centers with specialties in humanities hybrids" and that Georgia Tech 
held a Neuro-Humanities Entanglement Conference in 2012 because 
"emerging research in the brain sciences has set into motion fundamental 
questions relating to social, political, aesthetic, and scientific 
discoveries." Apparently, speech, writing, meaning, and self-image are 
all "entangled with neural circuitry." The message is clear: We can no 
longer ignore the fact that cognition is quite literally the tissue that 
connects all manner of humanistic endeavor.

"Can ‘Neuro Lit Crit’ Save the Humanities?" The New York Times asked in 
2010. Apparently so, if the government and foundations are more inclined 
to support the humanities when they start borrowing terms and ideas from 
cognitive science. It seems that the more "scientific" the approach to 
the arts, the more seriously they are taken. In a 2008 paper titled "The 
Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations," Deena Skolnick Weisberg 
and colleagues demonstrated that ordinary people’s opinions were so 
influenced by neuroscientific terms that any explanation or critical 
judgment employing them seemed valid, however nonsensical. Well, 
professors of English and philosophy are ordinary people, too.

Although I haven’t done a precise count, the nonfiction books that 
receive the most play in our book reviews and general-interest magazines 
deal with neurological and evolutionary topics. Particle and quantum 
physics receive their due, but the ideas associated with them are so 
mathematically recondite that any general discussion is somewhat beside 
the point. There is also astrophysics, which continues to bring us the 
implausible news of the origin, expansion, and ending of the universe, 
not to mention the idea that ours is but one universe among an infinite 
number of parallel ones. None of this may affect the price of oil or 
Broadway box office, but the "conformal cyclic cosmology" of Roger 
Penrose, which attempts to explain the mystery of increasing entropy in 
a universe that had to begin in a state of maximum entropy, and Lee 
Smolin’s recasting of Einsteinian relativity, whereby the 
four-dimensional space-time continuum is less a fact than an idea, and 
less an idea than an illusion (because "the real relationships that form 
the world are a dynamical network" evolving over time), are damned 
interesting ideas.

full: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Shrinking-World-of-Ideas/150141

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