By John Hughes | September 20th, 2019.
Alan Sokal is a Harvard educated mathematical physicist working at NYU and London University. In 1996 he wrote an article 'Transgressing The Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.' The article was published by a mainstream respected journal 'Social Text' - it contains the suggestion that physical reality is 'at bottom a linguistic construct' - and sparked many similar articles, including one suggesting that astrological feminist interpretive dance was a better route to knowledge of the stars than the hard physical science of astronomy.
This is somehow both shocking and hilarious. The Sokal article can be seen as a key event in the culture wars that will likely continue to be a feature of life throughout the 21st century. It is also an example of culture jamming - an attempt to block or ‘jam’ transmission of cultural messages, beliefs and ideologies. Sokal was calling out the need for intellectual rigour in academic journals that he suspected were starting to publish based on ideology.
In follow up interviews the editors of Social Text had no idea that the article was a parody, which in effect cited the laws of physics as mere social / linguistic conventions. They thought Sokal was coming on board as an avant-garde post-modernist.
As a Radical Strategy, this idea really relates to blocking or re-directing cultural communication. In terms of application, the idea of blocking signals or messages that are not useful is worth thinking about, to reduce the noise before uploading and transmitting an alternative. The Sokal affair shows that this can be done with imagination and humour..
“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
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