I’ve never really understood postmodernism, and what I do understand of it leaves me unsure whether I really do understand it at all. As a postmodernist would say, that’s the point. You understand that you don’t understand. Isn’t that wonderful? Uh, no, it isn’t. They say postmodern thought is a lens through which to view the world. If it is, it’s a lens I can’t see anything through. It’s less like looking through a lens and more like looking up an anus, if you ask me, a dark place smelling of convoluted language and faux profundity, a place which should be covered up at all times and wiped frequently (okay, the analogy is a stretch).

I’ve been chatting with Portwyne, a postmodern thinker who regularly reads and comments on articles at Crawley’s blog. In response to the question of whether there is or is not a God, Portwyne says:

John, some of us also have very nuanced views of what constitutes truth. I believe that a vivid hallucination may be more true than a dull deduction from rationally moderated observation.

I replied that I didn’t really know how he could come to such a conclusion. He responds:

For most of our history we humans have relied as much on instinct as reason. … In all societies where reason has not rubbished the notion, men accept absolutely that there are genii in places or objects. … I accept the existence of a spirit world parallel to the material world and at certain places, with certain objects, or in certain people the worlds collide. … I do not think science is inferior to instinct just as I do not think instinct is inferior to science – they are different but complementary.

In another response to someone else he says that advertising recalls certain responses in us all by using specific colors, phrases, songs and such and by appealing to our general feelings about things, and ends it by saying:

Now this is the sort of post-modern over-analysis which probably gives John headaches (or worse!) but I still think this is an ad worth watching.

My response is below.


Portwyne, don’t worry, I understand advertising well; it doesn’t give me a headache at all. But that could be a useful place to begin my reply to you.

See, I don’t think that’s an example of postmodern thinking. It’s an example of using rational thought about what we know of psychology and communicating with others. It’s very logical. At the same time, good advertising calls upon how we feel, and evokes emotional responses. But I don’t think that necessitates that we believe anything is going on ‘under the hood’ that we don’t know about or understand: it’s the same exchange of chemicals and electrical impulses that permits rational thought and there isn’t an ‘other’ side to that coin.

I understand what you mean when you refer to the ‘spiritual’ part of a human being. But honesty and science require us to admit that it’s all perfectly explainable by the processes we’re learning more about all the time, and that there’s absolutely no proof of (or need to invoke) any unseen, deeper, higher energy, force, spiritual world whatsoever. (That’s not to say I think we’ve discovered absolutely all of what the human mind is capable of, or that we won’t discover ways to use that mind that could sound or seem like some of what you’re describing, but it won’t occur in any way that couldn’t possibly be explained by science.)

Which brings me to the part of your post where you describe “instinct” and “rationality”. First, isn’t instinct simple evolution? Surely instinct is the baser of our capacities, cerebrally, in fact more so as we continue down the food chain? It certainly isn’t the ‘higher’ capacity, insofar as we’re capable of discerning truth. Instinct tells us we need to survive; it’s a biological demand upon us rather than a call of truth. The only truth associated with instinct is: “I will die if I don’t do what my instinct tells me!” Thus we don’t have the ‘instinct’ to commit suicide, for example, we only commit suicide when presented with the harsh truths we learn through rational thinking!

And secondly, can’t one address the other? Can’t rationality address instinct, and tell us the above about it? Rationality can provide us truth about instinct. And what you’re describing toward the end of your post can also be addressed rationally, can it not? Taking one of the examples you mention, love; isn’t it true that we can think about why we love rationally and ask ourselves why we feel love for certain people at certain times? While that may not produce the feelings, it can assess the feelings and come to rational conclusions about them based on what we know from science.

I guess I’m just confused about why you think certain truths can’t be discerned through reasoning, and why we need to posit anything else to explain what science already has explained.