Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Deliberately Incomprehensible

"[A]rticles in physics journals are also incomprehensible to the uninitiated. But physicists are forced to use a technical language, the language of mathematics. Within this limitation, we try to be clear, and when we fail we do not expect our readers to confuse obscurity with profundity. [...] In contrast, Derrida and other postmoderns do not seem to be saying anything that requires a special technical language, and they do not seem to be trying very hard to be clear. But those who admire such writings presumably would not have been embarrassed by Sokal's quotations from them."
Who else does this remind us of? Alan Greenspan? Ben Bernanke?


adrinna said...

Back when I was a scientist, I'm pretty sure I just thought that whole thing was stupid because it was just a given that we all had our own incomprehensible jargon.

I have a different perspective now, I guess. It seems that obscure vocabulary is more common when your sense of self-worth and professional identity are tied to your explanation of your work, more so than the product itself. I guess that is inevitable when the product can only be realized through explanation, because your product isn't a physical object.

It's a great way to avoid criticism from those you think are not experts.

Sure, I have pastry french, but I don't need to explain my cookie to you. You eat it. I don't want to explain it anyways. I'm spent after making it.

And there are no non-experts in pastry. Everyone likes dessert.

CP said...

I think that the obscure vocabulary (and deliberately obfuscated, in the case of these social science fields, is to cover up the lack of serious worthwhile scholarship, so that no one can call B.S. and they can live high on the taxpayer hog.

Imagine if the government was paying you to make cookies, and normal people thought they tasted horrible, but you said that it was too profound for them to understand.

Really good writing about economics can be understood by an intelligent layman. The bogus, fraudulent economic writing is incomprehensible (deliberately).

Good comment!