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Intellectual Impostures Paperback – April 3, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Economist Books (April 3, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861976313
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861976314
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,083,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


'A splendid book.' Richard Dawkins, Nature 'A delicious revelation that even the perpetrators of postmodern philosophy often have no idea what they're saying.' The Observer 'The exposure of ignorance, pomposity and pseudo-science in this book are truly breathtaking.' Sunday Telegraph 'A forensic examination of sackloads of ordure from the postmodern stable.' Financial Times

About the Author

Alan Sokal is Professor of Physics at New York University. In 1996 his infamous article 'Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity' which parodied postmodernists use of scientific language was published in all seriousness by the American cultural journal Social Text, thus becoming one of the great academic hoaxes of all time. Jean Bricmont is Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Louvin in Belgium.

Customer Reviews

If he said that the neurotic torus really exists, then it does.
I'm *not* some lentil-munching, kaftan-wearing, feng-shui-hugging hippie with airbrushed unicorns and a yin-yang sign on the side of my Kombi.
Olly Buxton
The introduction provides the history of the Sokal Hoax and the response to it.
Peter Uys

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Suet on August 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
... it may be too late. Let me start by addressing a misconception you may get from another review. Sokal, in his famous hoax, did not write "a bunch of nonsense and falsely attribute it to prominent French intellectuals". Indeed, much of it was not nonsense - to postmodernists - which is why it was snapped up by 'Social Text'. It appeared to touch all the right bases, with scientific bells on. Physical reality is at bottom a social and linguistic construct. Postmodern science has freed itself from dependence on objective truth. A truly liberatory mathematics is what we need. Etc, etc. The article starred in a special issue on the so-called 'Science Wars', and one editor refused to believe it was a parody even after Sokal said so.

In itself that showed not much more than the tenuous intellectual grip of some cultural studies grandees. So Sokal and Bricmont followed up with this book. Their stated intention was far from producing a critique of the entire oeuvre of Lacan, Deleuze, Derrida and a dozen others, all between two covers:

"We make no claim to analyse postmodernist thought in general; rather, our aim is to draw attention to the repeated abuse of concepts and terminology coming from mathematics and physics."

"We show that famous intellectuals such as Lacan, Kristeva, Irigaray, Baudrillard and Deleuze have repeatedly abused scientific concepts and terminology ... throwing around scientific jargon in front of their non-scientist readers without any regard for its relevance or even its meaning."

"There is nothing shameful in being ignorant of calculus or quantum mechanics.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Jill Malter on December 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
Have you ever been tempted to write pure nonsense? Maybe on some rainy first day of April? I once felt like writing:

"I sure made a mistake when I told the Goddess Minerva that She couldn't square the circle. In response, She drew a circle next to me, a truly beautiful and perfect circle. And right in front of my panicky brown eyes, She turned pi into four! Not just the circumference divided by the diameter, but the series expansion as an inverse tangent as well. What would She do next, make me unwell by dropping the first letter from my first name? i tried to apologize, but it was too late."

I was not the only one to dream of mangling pi. In "Contact: A Novel," Carl Sagan went me one better when he had aliens send messages to each other at infinite speed by hiding them in a numerical representation of pi and then, you guessed it, changing pi everywhere!

Still, Alan Sokal went beyond even this, getting the following published in the journal "Social Text:"

"In this way the infinite-dimensional invariance group erodes the distinction between the observer and the observed; the pi of Euclid and the G of Newton, formerly thought to be constant and universal, are now perceived in their ineluctable historicity; and the putative observer becomes fatally decentered, disconnected from any epistemic link to a spacetime point that can no longer be defined by geometry alone."

Sokal put this and many more whoppers into his hoax, which defended an equally absurd thesis: that "physical 'reality,' no less than social 'reality,' is at bottom a social and linguistic construct.
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Peter Uys HALL OF FAME on September 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book grew out of the famous hoax in which Alan Sokal published a parody article in the American postmod journal Social Text. The article was filled with non sequiturs and nonsensical quotations about maths and physics by prominent French and American intellectuals, yet it was published unaltered. Sokal then revealed that it was a deliberate parody, to the great consternation of the editors.

Intellectual Impostures broadens the investigation to demonstrate how intellectuals such as Lacan, Kristeva, Irigaray, Baudrillard, Deleuze and Guattari have repeatedly abused scientific concepts and terminology. They have either used these ideas completely out of context without justification or they have thrown scientific jargon around with no regard for its meaning or relevance, obviously to try to impress their readers.

In the preface to the first edition, Sokal and Bricmont provide the background to the controversy whilst in the preface to the second edition they discuss the four types of criticisms of their book. These are: critics who tried to refute them, critics who attributed to them ideas that the authors themselves had rejected, name-calling and ad hominem attacks, and finally those who agreed but thought that the authors did not go far enough.

Here one is tempted to partly agree with Anne Applebaum who, in her review of the book, claimed that of course post-structuralist theory is rubbish and that we don't need a book to tell us that. I disagree with the second statement, because Intellectual Impostures is mostly an amusing read that will have you rolling on the floor and because it is vitally important that intellectual frauds be exposed.
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