Fictioned Science Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014-10-27 10:00:00-04:00 No comments

The LaTeX cargo cult

Graham Priest (I think) once defined philosophy as “that academic discipline whose limits lie within its own remit”, and all that navel gazing has a tendency to cause philosophers to be down on their own discipline. It’s common for philosophers to search for a justification for our existence by aligning themselves with other disciplines for whom that justification is supposedly not in doubt. A common (but not the only) move is for philosophers to seek a measure of intellectual rigour by comparing themselves with the formal sciences.

I don't agree with all of the negative comments here about LaTex — if only because I cut my teeth on it really early, back when it was just TeX, and I kinda fell in love with it then too — but this point is a really illuminating one.

One of the best ways to obtain legitimacy for any enterprise is to be seen hanging out with whatever else is legitimate. (Sometimes this is about discovering that everyone is part of the same crowd: When word breaks that most everyone has tried pot at one time or another in their lives, pot-smoking suddenly seems all the less like criminal behavior worth throwing people in jail for a minimum of five years over. But that doesn't stop the people who build and staff prisons from lobbying really hard to keep it that way.)

The same goes, I've noticed, for creative enterprises that don't have any "objective" way of being legitimized. Find someone else who has legitimacy of some kind, go hang out with them, and see if some of it rubs off. I think Jacques Barzun once noted that many modern/abstract artists liked to hijack the jargon and the presentation of science when it seemed to suit them, but all it did in the long run was make them look pretentious.

In the long run, though, I don't think this strategy helps. All it does is force you to become dependent on someone or something else for your own legitimacy, and if they walk off you're in an even worse position than before.

Tags: creativity science