American Mathematical Society

Notices of the AMS vol 46, number 2 feb99 p190

Letters to the Editor

Impostures Intellectuelles and Faris's Review.

I was very interested in the book review article by William G. Faris of Impostures Intellectuelles (Editions Odile Jacob, Paris, 1997) by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont in the August 1998 issue of the Notices (Volume 45 pp.874-876). The reason for my interest id the following point:

"The major gap in the Sokal-Bricmont book is that it avoids dealing with . The confusion over the foundations of quantum mechanics. This confusion is a major weak point in modern physical science. Numerous popular writings about science exploit this obscurity, but the book does not address this issue."

To the best of my knowledge, no other reviewer made this important point, and I suggest that this is a grave omission by both the Sokal-Bricmont book and its numerous reviews.

It is generally believed that post-modernism was originated by culture studiers in the revolutionary ambience of 1960's France. But from which prior paradigms might the French postmodernists have derived their (now rightly recognised as) daft ideas? Might they have been influenced by the philosophical utterances of earlier eminent mathematicians and scientists (mostly quantum physicists)? I have argued that this is indeed the case. The following passages are conveniently taken from a single source, Alan L. Mackay's A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (Adam Hilger, Bristol, 1991):

Niels Bohr: " two sorts of truth: trivialities, where opposites are obviously absurd, and profound truths, recognised by the fact that the opposite is also a profound truth."

J. B. S. Haldane: "The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."

David Bohm: "There are no things, only processes."

Hermann Bondi: "[Science doesn't deal with facts; indeed] fact is an emotion-loaded word for which there is little place in scientific debate."

Bertrand Russel: "Mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true."

G. H. Hardy: "Beauty is the first test; there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics."

Paul Dirac: "It is more important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit experiment."

Arthur Eddington: "It is also a good rule not to have overmuch confidence on the observational results that are put forward until they are confirmed by theory."

Albert Einstein: "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Freeman Dyson: " Most of the papers which are submitted to the Physical Review are rejected, not because it is impossible to understand them, but because it is possible. Those which are impossible to understand are usually published."

Fred Hoyle: " [We must] recognise ourselves for what we are - the priests of a not very popular religion."

Before any mathematicians and scientists (and especially quantum physicists) dare to accuse any others of the very serious charge of intellectual imposture, they first ought to put their own houses in order.

- Theo Theocharis London, England

(Received September 22, 1998 revised October 7, 1998 {and half suppressed})