I wrote this text in November 2010. A different version will be published soon in a book publication of the NABA Design University of Milan, Italy.
Transforming Computer Science into a Humanities Subject
Alan N. Shapiro
Recently I bought a copy at the St. Mark’s Bookshop in New York City of an interesting book by Edward Slingerland called What Science Offers the Humanities: Integrating Body and Culture. Slingerland argues persuasively that the “French theory” which has dominated university humanities studies in recent decades has serious flaws – like disembodiment and cultural relativism – that need to be corrected by infusions from the cognitive and natural sciences. Postmodernism emphasizes cultural discourse, claims that culture determines perception, and “assumes that humans are fundamentally linguistic-cultural beings.” Scientific fields like Artificial Intelligence, semantics, cognitive linguistics, behavioral neuroscience, and developmental psychology teach us that the human person is “an integrated mind-body system.” Knowledge and action are embodied. Slingerland, however, has such a vested interest in carrying out his academic culture war against those who wielded power during the era of the “postmodern turn” that he forgets what is of lasting value in the writings of the deconstructionist thinkers. Regardless of what one may think of the social constructivism of the early Bruno Latour, or of the feminist “science studies” of Sandra Harding, the fact remains that France has since 1960 contributed four great philosophers to world intellectual culture: Baudrillard, Derrida, Deleuze, and Foucault. It is the primary source texts from which we must learn about that Gallic contributory stream to human knowledge, and not from second-hand versions of so-called “French theory.” Slingerland seems to simply want to swap out the era where postmodernism commanded the humanities, and swap in a new era where cognitive science commands.