Some philosophers seem to have lost touch with reality.

Bruno Latour (RIP) was a proponent of the idea that everything is a social construction. This leads to stuff like:

“Butler makes the general assumption that anything at all humans can meaningfully think about is socially constructed, ‘all the way down’ as it were. This means she thinks there are no material facts before language – that is, prior to culturally specific linguistic and social constructions of them. Linguistic categories, including scientific and biological ones, aren’t a means of reflecting existing divisions in the world, but a means of creating things that otherwise wouldn’t have existed.”

Stock, Kathleen. Material Girls (p. 16). Little, Brown Book Group. Kindle Edition.

“Butler’s conclusion is embedded in a much wider philosophical worldview from which it cannot really be unmoored.
Intellectual commitments include the idea outlined in Chapter 1 that there is nothing intelligible in the world before it is referred to in language. Linguistic categorisation doesn’t refer to prior reality, but is rather ‘productive’ or ‘constitutive’ of it.”

Stock, Kathleen. Material Girls (p. 44). Little, Brown Book Group. Kindle Edition.

In the instant that the apple fell on Newton’s head, the planets did not break out of their crystal spheres and fall into the orbits that match his “laws” of gravity. Halley’s comet did not go back 5,000 years in time so the Chinese astronomers could document an observation that we could later user to help predict its return.

Another counterpoint:

Zinc is a commodity because it’s a stable element at room temperature with 30 electrons and it’s shell configuration makes it useful in tools and conducting electricity, as a commodity it does not depend on a narrative or shared collective delusion to give rise to this utility.

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Philosophy has gone off the rails if it can’t articulate the relationship of external reality to our internal understanding of it. Physics was formerly called natural philosophy: love of knowledge of nature. If what you study is the mental constructs we create as we strive to survive in this world, you are missing the point. Reality matters more than our beliefs about it. Hurricanes, wild fires, and floods don’t do opinion polling.

To teach that our perception creates the real universe is academic malpractice.


About the Author

Tony Williams

physics nerd -> software geek -> progressive activist trying to make the world a better place.

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