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The Hermeneutics of a Hoax On the Mismatch of Physics and Cultural Criticism


Babette E. Babich


Copyright to Oxford University Press, for publication in Common Knowledge

As one who practices a marginalized approach to the philosophy of science, I have reason to tease mainstream, analytic philosophers about their desire to imitate scientists. But recent events have turned the tables on my joke. In essays and op-ed pieces, physicists are repaying the philosophers' compliment--not only by adopting, as popular science writers have long done, the role of cultural critic, but also by assuming the mantle of philosophy. Science, once the arbiter of scientific truth, now proposes to vet the truth about everything else. I am of course referring to the Sokal controversy.

In May of 1996, Alan Sokal, a physicist, submitted an inauthentic article to the journal Social Text.(1) Its inauthenticity in Sokal's view consisted in his pretending to articulate the political and philosophical implications of recent physics research relevant to various theorems of cultural criticism (multiculturalism or pluralism, deconstructive indeterminacy, and the valorization of feminist or gender-open logical schemes). Next, in Lingua Franca, a journal devoted to academic gossip and scandal, Sokal published a brief retraction.(2) Sokal's first article (in ST) was bogus, the second (in LF) explained why. For the world of academic publishing, it seemed scandalous that the editors of ST failed to notice that Sokal did not actually (personally or privately) believe or support the substance of the parallels he detailed between the results of recent physics research and those of cultural criticism. For Sokal, this same mental reservation was sufficient to render his effort 'parodic.'

In other words, it is possible to define Sokal's ST article as a parody (as Sokal insists) because the author was lying when he wrote what he wrote. He did not mean it, as children say. But Sokal's definition of parody is idiosyncratic. His ST article was neither constructed as satire nor recognizable (unassisted) as such, and it did not meet Wayne Booth's or any other criteria for irony. Instead, like a hoax or the related but just as banal genre of the practical joke, the ST article required a complementary way in order to be decoded as what Sokal likes to think of as parody. The difference between the parody Sokal composed and what ordinarily counts as parody or satire is the difference between Seinfeld and Swift, yet physicists and others found this hoax wildly amusing (and even worthy of 'awe,' in the case of Peter Caws).

But whether parody or prank, classification of Sokal's stunt is not the issue. The stunt, the sheer achievement of it (I suppose this is what drew Caws's philosophical breath), is the thing. A number of attacks and counterattacks have been proffered, mostly, as with Steven Weinberg's vigorous effort,(3) on behalf of the prankster-for who will take the part of the dupe? Defenses offered from the editors' side, it is complained, take an overly legalistic tack in charging "science fraud." Many such defenses indeed follow the thematics, though occasionally correcting the schematic flaws, of Stanley Fish's uninflected and less than tactful argument in the New York Times .(4) Better defenses, such as Dorothy Nellkin's essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, analyze the science wars in terms of desperate scientists seeking scapegoats to blame for the economic troubles in which they now find themselves, while Nelkin advises against the long-term efficiency of divisive academic bickering.(5) Defenses of ST offered from the left strangely assume the accuracy of all charges raised and, as accurately summarized in Ellen Willis's Village Voice essay, recall the scrambling for credit among extremist groups in the wake of a terrorist attack.(6) In fact, most of the reviews concur with Sokal's fundamental claim: Eliminate unclarity and all will be clear in (science) love and (science) war. Thus even Willis, decidedly on the left and writing for the defense, decries the fuzziness of "pomo lingo" and the "hermetic verbiage ... covering up muddled thinking," Weinberg, on the right and on the attack, declares that physics prose (he is thinking of the theory of special relativity) is clearly written, whereas the philosophical expression of Jacques Derrida is not.(7) If Weinberg does not quote any physics prose to make his point, that is because, as he reminds the reader, physics requires technical terminology and of course philosophy (Willis on the left agrees) does not. Ah, well. If only things were said simply, say intellectuals who ought to know better, we would have the truth. But is truth simple? Better to ask, Is anything simple?

The claim that there exists an anti-science and irrationalist movement antedates the Sokal affair, as evidenced by the title of the 1995 meeting of the New York Academy of Science, 'The Flight From Reason,' and by the book Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science,(8), published by Paul Gross and Norman Levitt in l994. According to the various scientists, logicians, and philosophers speaking at the New York conference, the grand and noble enterprise of science is and has been under attack from feminist, deconstructive, and postmodernist critiques.(9) The key culprit is apparently obscurantism, the influence of complex and vague academic discourse. Accordingly, the responsibility for an increasingly negative public perception of science and thus for the recent decline in federal funding of scientific research-the manifest "war" against science-should be traced to the subversive effects of the cult of irrationalism in the academy or at least in the English departments of various universities. Nip the obscurantism, bad writing, and thought patterns of deconstruction and postmodernism in the bud, and funding levels for the supercollider will be up to speed in no time. No more social constructivist talk: Bring reality back. I was there. That is what was said, uttered with astonishing passion for academicians of a kind unused to passionate discourse. I do not propose to review the merits of the claim that only irrational forces could be behind the decline in federal support levels (the projected budget for the supercollider was on the order of billions rather than the physics routine measure of millions of dollars), if only because the arcana of the national economy have managed to elude comprehension from either conservative or liberal perspectives. I address instead the postmodern misapprehension of physics, particularly the kind of physics that induces philosophers and postmodern cultural critics to speak of a 'new science' as they would any other new and improved commodity.

On the one hand, as Nelkin argues, the Sokal affair should be read in terms of the ideological program of the pro-science, anti-irrationalism movement. Yet, on the other hand, the anti-science movement that it is supposed to oppose is without a base in popular culture. The public continues to lionize science as much as it ever did, agitating not for less research to solve social problems, such as HIV or breast and prostate cancer, but for more and better. The public goes so far as to turn to science and scientists for spiritual guidance, regarding Stephen Hawking as a moral as well as intellectual hero, not to mention that great spiritual leader, Albert Einstein. New Age religions and fundamentalist conservative appeal to scientific authority in arguing their various positions, even those proposed against received scientific views. Still, to say that anti-science anxiety has no basis in genuine public sentiment does not mean that the scientists' own anxiety is not genuine. Plato, inventing the kind of thinking that would make science possible, pointed to unregulated mythic beliefs, poetry, and particular musical modes as the greatest dangers to, or enemies of, rational society. In the same tradition, modern science pronounced the church the incarnation of irrationality, and, borrowing the notion of martyrdom from the church, wrote its own story as a history of persecution. The rhetoric of persecution, and the conviction of the threat posed by ongoing religious hostility to science, persists even where the scientific sensibility is dominant or unrivaled. Chronic paranoia seems a legacy of every successful revolution.

Such change as there has been in public sentiment toward science ought not be interpreted as a sign of distrust but much rather and merely an increasing disappointment and impatience-not with the ideal of scientific progress but rather with its *slow* pace. And I submit that this is a consequence of the public's overweening trust in science. The value of science was never the production of pure knowledge; the strong cultural good of science (in Charles Taylor's sense of strong) has been all along inseparable from its technological embodiments or inventions. The rhetoric of scientific and technological progress has been a rhetoric of war against the foes of humankind: the war on cancer and poverty, the battle against HIV, the struggle against old age and death itself. The public that heard these claims subscribed fully to the implications of the metaphor, which implies a resolution or, preferably, victory in a finite matter of time. The American public expects its wars to be brief and decisive, and accordingly assumes that the 'scientific future' (with its attendant technological benefits) should have arrived by now.

The changed public perception of science results not from growing distrust but from disappointed confidence. It is not that the public has lost trust in science but rather that the public is increasingly eager to see science fulfill its promise.


For most commentators, the scandal is that Sokal's ST article was accepted for publication. As I see it, the conviction (which is both modern and postmodern) that scientific rationality represents the supreme intellectual perspective played a more pernicious role in this case. It was not anti-science sentiment on the part of the ST editors but exactly a pro-science prejudice that welcomed philosophical commentary from a scientist in the first place, and this prejudice persisted after the fact in the happy fantasy that all the trouble could have been avoided had real (not social) scientists been invited to referee Sokal's essay.

The problem is twofold: a problem of translation between conceptual schemes, as Donald Davidson might say, or, as the late Thomas Kuhn might (but would not) have said, of translation across incommensurable paradigms. For Sokal's difficulties began with his consummate inability (an inability typical of natural scientists) to attempt to imagine the significance of social scientists' and cultural critics' investigation of the social and political conditions of science, together with a flat-footed theoretical gap of linguistic functions. As some humanists are weak in mathematics and science, it is only fair that some physicists be deficient in the discursive complexities of rhetoric. But what is to be said of and for those humanists, on the postmodern side, who in their enthusiasm for the literary value of information science, chaos theory, and indeterminacy (that most delicious of free-play terms), have been seduced by the metaphors that researchers and theorists have appropriated to express scientific and mathematical relations? Attracted by the literary resonances of these metaphors, postmodernists have detected significances irrelevant to their use within the confines of science. Chaos theory neither uses nor entails reference to Hesiod's marriage of chaos and broad-breasted earth, nor does it invite parallels with Joycean chassis or the inventions of Thomas Pynchon. The belief in an openness to radical questions within such disciplines as physics and information science, which has been explicitly asserted by Lyotard and many others, depends upon a plain optimism that betrays an ordinal and ordinarily modernist - a pro-science - sensibility. The continuing and unchallenged position of science, from its inception and throughout modern culture, as arbiter of truth and value-a status, as more than one critic has noted, akin to that of religion in premodern societies - goes unchallenged in postmodernist thought.(10)

The task of putting science in question, of questioning both the 'new' science (replete with chaos, indeterminism, and what not) and the good old 'old' science (garden-variety explanation, prediction, and control), is a project for a philosophy of critical reason, a philosophy of truth, and a philosophy of science precisely because the questions we need to ask are philosophical, rather than technical, questions. Philosophical questions are not clear or easy, and in order to understand reason or truth, we need to reason against reason, against truth. A vigorous and determinate reflexivity would characterize a thoughtful philosophy of (the very problem of) science. Such a philosophy, which does not now exist as a discipline, must be prepared to raise questions about the problematic values of rationality and truth. Names like Heidegger and Nietzsche, but also like Husserl and Adorno, would come to matter as they do not now in traditional, typically analytic, philosophy of science. For we need to begin to ask why we value science and reason, to ask - and to dare to reply - what exactly it is about us that desires truth (whether simple or complex).(11)


It is this last question that ought to be kept in mind as we return to the task at hand: to offer a hermeneutic account of a hoax. In his ST essay, Sokal promised 'A Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.' What did the essay promise to do on its own terms and how, on its own terms, should it be read? In all honesty, re-reading Sokal's ST text is hard to do. Something in the academic reader resists a text subsequently unveiled as a hoax by its author. That something is the part of us that strains to see both duck and rabbit, that reminds us that the two horizontal lines of the Muller-Lyer illusion are 'really' equal in length, that wants to be hoaxproof and never wrong. The intellectual's desire for truth is not unrelated to the schoolchild*s fear of being fooled.

But putting aside readerly diffidence, we note that Sokal's stated intention, at least, was not the production of argument or the presentation of anything like a finished claim. In the introduction to his ST article, Sokal allows that his remarks will be 'of necessity tentative and preliminary':

I do not pretend to answer all the questions that I raise. My aim it, rather, to draw the attention of readers to these important developments in physical science and to sketch as best as I can their philosophical and political implications. I have endeavored here to keep mathematics to a bare minimum... (12)

The interpretive problem would seem to be whether Sokal meant (as he has since told us that he indeed did not mean) what he said in this expression of reserve. But apart from qualifiers routine enough in a provisional or speculative or experimental text, Sokal's only real assertion, meant or not, concerns his effort 'to keep mathematics to a bare minimum.' Here he does not lie: the subsequent text cites a single equation, Gij = 8 GTij. All things considered, Sokal in his preface does no more than give himself a warrant for superficiality, while warning the reader away from evaluative skepticism.

If Sokal's ST text begins tentatively, his LF text begins indignantly and implies that he might serve as judge, jury, and executioner of whole disciplines other than his own. But Sokal has no understanding of the project of reflective critique; and none, of the complex nature and range of the kind of things one can do with words. For discursive, speculative, and critical texts are under no compulsion to follow the logic of a physicist. While meaningful discourse need not (although it may well) observe ordinary patterns of logic, it is a capital if also a paradoxical and inevitably obscure point that philosophical speculation about the fundamental value of logical constructions cannot do so. A critique of logic and truth cannot be conducted on the ground of logic or truth. It is for this reason that Nietzsche wrote in 'tissues' (in aphorisms and patterned discussions, ranging contradictory points in productive tension): 'the problem of science', as Nietzsche put it, 'cannot be recognized in the context of science.' (13)

The language that Sokal uses in his LF essay marks him as a nonphilosopher. While in LF he challenges the editors of ST for failing to check the accuracy of his claims about the new physics' research standards, the editors of LF clearly granted him the same leeway, unchallenged, with respect to his use of the coordinate terms subjective (by which he may mean relative, if we adopt the interpretive generosity that Sokal attacks) and objective (by which he means something vague but commanding of enthusiasm). When Sokal asserts that there is an objective world, he apparently means to speak of a world real and independent of the knower and of the knower's capacity and way of knowing. But there is a difference of a whole philosophical kind between the claim that we cannot know the world (real, true, and objective) except on the terms of our capacity to know the world and the claim that there is no (real, true, objective) world. The difference has to do with the transformation of understanding involved in speaking of the real world, the true world, that follows on consideration of what it means to speak of knowledge and truth. This last is an issue demanding an epistemological sophistication uncharacteristic of scientists.

Thus Sokal is an academic mole of the kind necessary to an imaginary cold war between science and 'postmodernism' or 'feminism' or 'the left.' Indeed, the function of a mole is the only war-making tactic available. 'Reasoned' debate would have to be conducted on the ground of (real: hard or true) science, because it is essentially and inevitably irrational to question the value of rationality. It is for this self-referential reason that the task of critical reflection on science, on rationality and logic, is not the first or proper task of cultural and social criticism, of the sort of work that generally appears in ST or LF. Much less can the task be undertaken on the basis of sociological or anthropological studies of science, inasmuch as sociology and anthropology are part and parcel of the scientific enterprise. No one, as Nietzsche repeats the old proverb, can jump over his own shadow. A reflective inquiry into the nature of science, reason, or truth requires the resources not of literary or cultural critique, nor of social science, but of and only of philosophy.

Of course, those philosophers who make it their business to question science, reason, or truth are usually charged with irrationalism and recategorized as romantics, poets, or mystics. Philosophy has long defined itself as the discipline of the rational, the science of science. Still, the philosopher, the lover of truth, was originally and should remain a seeker, a radical questioner, an inquirer after origins. Where the pursuit of truth is not devotional but critical - where it is possible not only to pursue truth but to ask 'Why truth?'-the philosophy of science cannot use the value of science but must first raise the question of science, in Nietzsche's words, 'as problematic, and questionable.'(14) This task has yet to be accomplished, but Nietzsche, Heidegger, and other nontraditional philosophers have at least made a critical philosophy of science plausible.(15)


Why do so many postmodernists believe that science is on their side? Because they are persuaded, like everyone else in Western (global) society, that science is liberating: science is conceived as free play - the sphere in which orthodoxies have no purchase. But this is the cost of a coopted conventionality. Any assumption of postmodern sophistication on the part of science and technology (to use David Kolb's Hegelian formulation) is fundamentally illusory, but is not an accidental misunderstanding. With earnest levity and declared irony, the vision of postmodern sophistication premises a solution to the limitations of the modern idea of progress under the guise of what is 1. 'technically' called 'playfulness.' I would argue, however, that the original problem of play, articulated in agonistic not ironic tension, should be ranged with the tragic in antiquity rather than with a postmodern optimism about free play that approximates to Enlightenment trust in the hand of god in the market.(16)

There can be nothing like a postmodern perspective interior to science itself There is no postmodern science as such. The project of science is not the reflection upon, not the thinking of or theory of but and only the consecration or certification of, knowledge. And science is non-self-reflexive because it is the only episteme in town. As science occupies the place once held by the church in Western society, so whatever our politics and whatever our stand on global warming, pesticides, and irradiated fruit, we all run to science for our justification. As the free thinker once said of the church, we have no choice but to love its poison.(17) We are all courtiers of truth, however awkward our rhetoric; we are all defenders of rational inquiry, no matter our critical suspicions. Hence we are bound to go, in Nietzsche's words, 'straight into-the old ideal.'(18)

I have said that the critique of science cannot be conducted by social scientists, but must be instead the task of a philosophy prepared, for the sake of truth, reason, and science, to question and not assume the values of truth, rationality, and science. Facing that task, Nietzsche proposed to illuminate the project of science on the ground of art, and to consider art, in turn, in the light of life. Does this mean that science, like art, is a human invention? Yes, but just where art, like science, exceeds in both influence and significance the cultural world that gave it birth. The Vichian axiom that we can know only what we make does not mean that we already know what we have done. Still, this does not mean, to speak in the vernacular of an Alan Sokal, that there is an objective world. The question of the objective reality of the world apart from our knowledge of it is an absurdity. Not because it is patent that the objectively real world is given with or without the human knower - the very logic of the claim, of what it means for the world to be given without one to whom it would be given denies the possibility of the assertion - but because it makes no sense, to use yet another Nietzschean metaphor, to wonder about the way the world would appear if we could (as we cannot) cut our heads off and still take a look.(19) The objective look of things is unknowable - not so far, not up until now, but intrinsically unknowable, because the world known by subjective inquiry, however scientific, however objectively attuned, can only count as an object for a knowing subject.

It is not uniquely the role of science to prove the existence of an objective world. Medieval theologians could prove the existence of angels on the grounds of their necessity, much as current physicists demand the existence of neutrinos to enforce modern theories of stellar evolution. The aether once consigned to the realms of romantic fancy by scientists seems likely to be reinstalled one day as the framework for the energies of the universe. Physicists and scientists generally have very simple notions of reality, truth, and objectivity, and (as social and historical studies of science attest) they are notoriously unreliable witnesses to their own practice. They are in a word incompetent philosophers of science. But the reliability of scientists in accounting for science reflects a quite ordinary self-reflexive limit, and in any case the value of science is practical. Science is skilled labor and, in that sense, an *art.* Scientists know how to do things, but that does not mean that science has to do with thinking. For calculation is not about reflection; it is about the production of effects, within limits, for the sake of appearances.(20)


I have two conclusions. One to do with the role of philosophy-or rather, with such philosophy as is prepared to think in and with contradictions. The effort to think the patently unthinkable began with the pre-Socratics - Anaxagoras, Heraclitus, Empedocles; even Parmenides and Pythagoras - and has continued throughout the history of philosophy. It is with the critical resources of this kind of philosophy that, I would argue, one must raise foundational questions of a kind addressed to the rational values of rationality and particularly to those of scientific inquiry. This is my (as it were) disciplinary conclusion. But I have a further, more speculative, and far more radical interdisciplinary conclusion to propose regarding the specialization of scientific research. Specialization has had the effect - whether necessarily (insufficient time) or accidentally (a result of focus) - of so narrowing the education of scientists that each has little if any knowledge of any discipline apart from his own. I do not mean simply that aging male academics, which is what scientists mostly are, need to understand the death of Antigone or the role of Cordelia, rather I would like to end, I need to end, with more than a plea for the human value of a humanist education.

I began with a joke. Unlike Alan Sokal's, I meant mine. Philosophy does in general seek to model itself on the image of science, and physics now has adopted the pose (for the media, anyway) of wisdom. But can physics afford to neglect its own affairs? Very little of moment has occurred in physics since 1925, and it may be that the great era of scientific achievement is not still to come. I wonder if it made a difference for his scientific practice that Werner Heisenberg, for example, enjoyed a generalist but not cursory education, requiring that already as a young man he had read Kant's reflections on the problem of space and time? I wonder if Heisenberg's familiarity with philosophical concepts (and this means exactly the philosophical tradition of thinking hard and unthinkable questions, where philosophy is neither science nor art but a kind of love) were not essential to his scientific work? It is fashionable to claim that Einstein was not very highly trained in mathematics. Like Heisenberg, enjoyed the broad education, he including the study of philosophy and the classics, that is altogether missing in the formation of today's scientists. The mathematical or computer literacy required for the sake of practical proficiency in any given scientific discipline has come to replace the kind of literacy available to Einstein and Heisenberg.

I am not making a plea for courses on Shakespeare for Cosmologists. I am arguing for the special value of philosophical study in the education of scientists became that study is a step in the direction of learning how to think. Heidegger observed that science does not think; and before him Descartes, who was a mathematician and scientist and philosopher, emphasized the danger of assuming that thinking was a skill one did not need to learn.(21) For its own sake, it is important that science learn to think. What a revolution thinking might be for science I do not pretend to say. But there is no way to thinking without philosophy.


The author wishes to thank Patrick A. Heelan.

(1)Alan Sokal,'Transgressing the Boundaries Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, Social Text, 46/47 14.1-2 (Spring/Summer 1996):217-52 (hereafter cited as ST). The bulk of the essay is comprised of citations from other authors, notably Luce Irigaray and Stanley Aronowitz, and fully half of the page range given corresponds to footnotes and references (231-52). Sokal's text is absent from Science Wars, ed Andrew Ross (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), which reprints the essays in the original ST issue with additions but only an obliquely casual reference to Sokal, his hoax, or its aftermath. 'Preface,' 14.

(2)Sokal, 'A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies,' Lingua Franca (May/June 1996): 62-64 (hereafter cited as LF).

(3). Steven Weinberg, 'Sokal's Hoax', New York Review of Books, 8 August 1996, 11-15.

(4). See Lingua Franca (July/August 1996): 55-64 for a round of letters from assorted academics, including a four-page reply by Bruce Robbins and Andrew Ross, editor of the original Social Text issue. See Liz McMillen's review of the hoax and its aftermath in the Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 June 1996, Al3.

(5) Dorothy Nelkin, 'What are the Science Wars Really About?' Chronicle of Higher Education, 26 July 1996, A52. See also Nelkin, 'The Science Wars: Responses to a Marriage Failed' in Ross, Science Wars, 114-22, and Charles E. Rosenberg*s review of Marcia Angell's Science on Trial ('The Silicon Papers,' New York Review of Books, 14 July 1996, 9-10). Where Angell blames society's enthusiasm for litigation as the main culprit in the controversy over breast cancer, Rosenberg's critical conclusion refers to both the 'anti-science movement' and to the 'problem of junk science,' in part echoing many of Nelkin's points. A wry oblique defense of 'ironic' or postmodern science appeared in the July 16th issue of the New York Times, authored by John Horgan, senior writer at Scientific American and author of The End of Science

(6)Ellen Willis, 'My Sokaled Life: Or, Revenge of the Nerds,' Village Voice 25 June 1996, 20-21.

(7) Weinberg*s case works because, although he tactically cites Derrida on (of all things) relativity, he does not cite physicists' writing on the same theme.

(8) Paul R Gross and Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academy Left and Its Quarrels with Science (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994). See also Norman Hackerman and Kenneth Ashworth, Conversations on the Use of Science and Technology (Denton: North Texas University Press, 1996). For an extended, critical review, see Roger Hart, 'The Flight from Reason: Higher Superstition and the Refutation of Science Studies,' in Science Wars, 259-92.

(9) The endangered sciences are notably physics but also chemistry and, to a much lesser degree, biology in the guise of evolution theory. Thus, in addition to its enemies on the left, science has also to face danger from religious fundamentalist opposition to evolutionary theory on the right (in addition to New Age groups).

(10) Though for a reading of the subversive power of science as an agency of patriarchy and violence, and thus as inimical to leftist ideals, see the introduction and lead essay in Geraldine Finn's, Why Althusser Killed his Wife: Essays on Discourse and Violence (Atlantic Highland: Humanities Press, 1996).

(11) Friedrich Nietzsche, 'What really is it in us that wants 'the truth'?' Beyond Good and Evil, I 1, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), 15.

(12) Sokal, 'Transgressing the Boundaries,' 218. This qualifying introduction thus purported to offer the services of a physicist to champion the views of feminist and leftist critics on the ultimate meaning of quantum theory. The editors of ST were not prepared to look such a flattering gift horse in the mouth.

(13) Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 'Attempt at a Self-Criticism,' par.2, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1967), 18.

(14) Nietzsche explains this as his own achievement, articulating 'the problem of science itself, science considered for the first time, as problematic, as questionable, ibid.

(15) See my Nietzsche's Philosophy of Science (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994) and Nietzsche and the Sciences: Critique of Knowledge and the Philosophy of Science, eds. B. Babich and Robert S. Cohen, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science (Dordrecht: Kluwer, forthcoming 1997).

(16) 0nly the late Gillian Rose, in Love's Work: A Reckoning with Life (New York: Schocken Books, 1995), catches the maturity of what Nietzsche calls the seriousness of a child at play. Waging an impossible battle against cancer, but losing in the same way that each of us must lose in life (she tells the story of love exactly as he story of 'loss,' of 'binding and loosing, loosing and binding'), she reminds us that 'Acknowledgment of conditionality is the only conditionality of human love,' 105. Rose really, ruefully, wryly plays where others simply play at playing, and thus she does not seek simply to keep it light, or to forget negation and pain: 'I reach for my favorite whisky bottle and instruct my valetudinarian well-wishers to imbibe the shark's oil and aloe vera themselves.' Real play is for keeps: that is why it is serious and why she chooses her epigraph from Staretz Silouan: 'Keep your mind in hell, and despair not.'

(17) Cf Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, I. par.9, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Book, 1969), 36.

(18) Genealogy of Morals, III, par. 25, 155. Translation modified for context.

(19) 'We behold all things through the human head and cannot cut off this head; while the question nonetheless remains what of the world would still be them if one had cut it off.' Human, All Too Human, II, par. 29, trans., R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 15.

(20) This is the practical conditionality that yields Nietzsche's best proposal for a philosophy of science: 'to look at science in the light of art, but at art in the light of life.' Birth of Tragedy, 19.

(21) Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking, trans. J. Glenn Guy (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 8. See the beginning reflections of Rene Descartes, A Discourse on Method, Part One.

[After Post-Modernism Conference. Copyright 1997.]