Drum, drugs, Serious Thought: Kevin Drum wants to create a pop science masterpiece in which he explains relativity in a way that even Trump voters can fathom. If we understand his post, he's planning to do this on drugs!
Funny that! Ever since Stephen Hawking died, we've been trying to set aside a week to explore the same general topic. The difference:
While Drum wants to explain how relativity actually works, we want to detail the problems with conventional popularizations. It's a very Wittgensteinian thing to do!
By coincidence, we'd been rereading Hawking's Short History of Time in the weeks before he died. We decided to do so after watching a PBS show on his life.
When he died, we were struck by the incoherence of this piece at Slate concerning his famous book. Sub-headline:
"We desperately want to understand our place in the cosmos. Hawking’s book opened the door."
We're going to say that it didn't! For ourselves, we desperately want to understand the undying appeal of the types of bad explanations found in Hawking's book.
(For decades now, such bad explanations have been our favorite form of literature. Along with Homer, of course.)
Further inspiration! On the weekend of March 9, we watched C-Span's Q&A interview with Michio Kaku. We started rereading his 1994 book, Hyperspace, and were quickly amazed by how incoherent some of his formulations are.
We've been looking for a way to spend a week on these topics. Alas! The Chozicks and the Joe-and-Mikas make this an impossible dream. The Michelle Wolfs don't help. Truly, "It's always somethin'," just as Whatshername said.
This is why we can't have nice things! Could Mother Jones start an institute devoted to Serious Thought?
Sources of incoherence: According to Wittgenstein, it all comes down to similarities in what he once called "surface grammar." These two sentences look alike, but one of them doesn't make sense:
It's now three o'clock in Detroit.According to Wittgenstein, Serious Thought is full of sentences like the one which doesn't make sense. Because they resemble statements which do make sense, we never quite smoke them out.
It's now three o'clock on the moon.
As we were saying just last week, such sentences are about as useful as an empty box of tampons! Or perhaps as a condom which [rim shot] has already been used!