Saturday, July 17, 2010

Otto E. Rössler is the anti-Sokal

I've never paid as much attention to Rössler as to El Naschie and He, but I am starting to get a sense of who he is and what makes him tick.

In an earlier post I said "As a rule of thumb I run away as fast as I can from anyone who uses the word hermeneutics" which provoked "Researcher" to fume

You are an idiot, limited in your scope of knowledge, uninformed, and without any sense of an intuitive, informed future for science outside of your simple approaches.

any time someone says they will not read the work of the other --- this is incredibly dangerous.

Science goes forward by articulate jumps, responding to the "written ideas" of the other.

This kind of blog is deeply empty and does not deal with the true intellectual depth of research that constitutes and questions the field and posits new idea that challenge the status quo.

All great science advances through paradigm shifts.

Do you have any sense of the history of science? It does not seem like it.


I take postmodernist jargon like "hermeneutics" as seriously as whoopie cushions and fake dog poo. In 1996 Alan Sokal submitted a paper called Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity to the journal Social Text. The paper was a hoax, and Social Text (which remains a parody of itself to this very day) fell for it, flat on their faces. There are Wikipedia articles about the incident in English, German, and other languages. It confirmed for many in the sciences the long-suspected intellectual emptiness of their campus neighbors in certain fashionable disciplines within the Humanities. Their jargon was not only pretentious, it was actually meaningless.

There's lots to read about the Sokal affair. If you want more, try Richard Dawkins, Postmodernism disrobed, Nature, 9 July 1998, vol. 394, pp. 141-143. Sokal is also coauthor of a book, Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science, in which, according to Wikipedia, a feminist author, Luce Irigary,

is criticized for asserting that E=mc^2 is a "sexed equation" because "it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us"; and for asserting that fluid mechanics is unfairly neglected because it deals with "feminine" fluids in contrast to "masculine" rigid mechanics.

At the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada there was held from April 8 to 10 this year a conference on what is called "Media Theory". One of the speakers was a doctoral student named Nina Samuel, and you can see a synopsis and video of her session "Die Bildszene" ("The Drawing- or Image-Scene"): Otto Rössler, Chaos and the Materiality of Thought, followed by audience questions.

In normal-people language, it was about how Rössler figured out what his attractor looked like by drawing pencil sketches. But that description is not grand enough for Ms. Samuel, who after all needs to elaborate the previous sentence into a doctoral thesis.

...the pencil became an indispensable tool in the process of extracting a theoretical idea from the bulk of visualized data. In many cases it is the drawn line that enables the passage from experimentally-generated images to a concept: the linear was needed to understand the non-linear

she explains. Rössler, she tells us,

used paper and pencil in an accentuated physical and experimental way when developing his concepts on chaos and hyperchaos. He felt that the fingers’ contact with any materiality and the pencil’s abrasiveness on the paper function as material thresholds for thought (“Denkschwellen”) that, in a performative way, can have a retroactive effect on creative ideas, whether artistic or scientific (like a feedback loop).

That is how a Media Theorist says "when a sketch wasn't right he tried again". By the way, readers may recall that Samuel's postmodernist buzzword "performative" is also a favorite of Rössler's student Hans H. Diebner.

At the end of Samuel's talk there are audience questions and remarks even more depressing than the talk itself, like this, seemingly from a lesbian trapped in a man's body, not that there's anything wrong with that:

Many of the ingredients of nonlinear dynamics seem to incorporate certain features or aspects or traits which are traditionally connoted as female, and that is - it comes to your talk - the bodily involvement, this ability to deal with gestalt rather than straight masculine linear rationalizations and so on.

Sokal would have deflated these poseurs. What about Rössler? Nina Samuel concluded her talk with a Rössler quote that shows it's in his nature to do the exact opposite:

Real images are always erotic images. Everything has to be tactile. It is completely unimaginable without touching and healing. Materiality does matter. Basically mathematics is nothing else than just pottery.

He flatters them and he speaks their language. And that is why Samuel's thesis is not about a good scientist, but instead about Rössler.

There are more such quotes and near-quote paraphrases in her talk.

Posts about Otto E. Rössler:

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  1. "Anti-Sokal" makes me think of the Bogdanovs ( who pulled the reverse Sokal. In some ways Rossler and El Naschie probably wish they could be as devious as the Bogdanovs who published pseudoscience in leading journals without being on editorial boards.

  2. The Bogdanov Affair is an interesting and funny example of crackpottery. A difference is that the Bogdanovs at least stick to the language of math and physics. They don't embrace postmodernism, deconstructionism or New-Age woo-woo as Rössler does. The Bogdanovs are incompetent, while Rössler is insane.

    I just read on the following:

    Comment from Admin LHC-Kritik
    Time July 8, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Prof Otto E. Roessler sent us this new text to publish:
    [...] The world’s most prestigious science journals to whom I sent it too [sic], did not reply as of yet. Maybe they know that this is a sensitive bet to take: either risk bancruptcy [sic] (as “Chaos, Solitons and Fractals“ did who would rather fire their maverick founding editor and his whole honorary editorial board than tolerate their accepting my 2007 paper) or stick to the responsibility conveyed by their prestigious names and not go bancrupt [sic] (but dare annoy Mr. Anonymous Consensus).

    Rössler has some psychiatric self-awareness problem, some dysfunction of the ego, like bipolar mania, extreme narcissism, or megalomania. He thinks the firing of CSF's editorial board has to do with him. He thinks Science and Nature should feel grateful to have the opportunity to compete for the papers he spams them with, warning of LHC-induced apocalypse. He is warning us. He is our savior. Everything has to do with him.

  3. The term "reverse Sokal" was indeed applied to the Bogdanovs for a time. But ultimately everyone has come to agree that their papers, which they managed to have published in peer-reviewed physics journals, were not hoaxes. They were serious attempts to do physics. So it turns out not to have been a "reverse Sokal" in that sense.