Psicoanálisis y Ciencia

Science, psychoanalysis and post-modernism
(About the book "Impostures Intellectuelles" by A. Sokal and J. Bricmont)


Among the books I read (or I started reading) last December , there are two that attracted my attention.

The first - which will be the center of this article - is the one Alan Sokal (Professor of Physics at the University of New York) has just edited together with Jean Bricmont (Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Louvain), entitled "Impostures Intellectuelles" , in the Odile Jacob Editions (

The second is the one by Teresa Brennan (Professor at Cambridge University) entitled "History after Lacan" , published by Routledge in 1993.


According to what I have been told , the first book is already considered an editorial best-seller. Its success and spreading is primarily due to a previous operation made by Sokal , very much liked by the press.

In order to prove the lack of scientific rigor that characterizes post-modernists (considering post-modernists those to whom the rejection towards the rationalist tradition of Enlightenment predominates and whose theoretical developments are characterized by a strong cognitive and cultural relativism , and a distinct independence from any empirical reference , insisting on taking the sciences , or any other object , as if they were narrations or social constructions) , A. Sokal has written an article making a parody of them and he has presented it for its publication to one of the post-modernist Yankee magazines in fashion, ( "Social Text" . The article was edited in the double issue 46/47 during the spring / summer 1996 , and it was dedicated ("Science Wars") to the conflicts between the so-called social sciences and the so-called hard sciences.

It was by reading the book that I came to know that this parody has become famous under the names of "The Sokal’s hoax " (1) and "Le canular de Sokal" (2) .

Just by looking up any of these titles, as I myself did then , in the major Internet browsers you will find dozens of texts and references (particularly , you will find the great majority of the links in the A. Sokal’s page , in, totally devoted to this subject). As it was in my case , I imagine it will surprise you that , although you are going to find some texts signed by well-known people - such as the Nobel Prize of Physics Steven Weinberg - and of course some of the French thinkers involved in the so-called Sokal’s hoax - for example Derrida , Kristeva , Latour , etc. - the great majority of the texts in question consist of newspaper articles (Le Monde , Libération , Times Literary Supplement , Le Nouvel Observateur , etc.). That is to say , the debate , if it can be called like that , takes place in important public means of communication.

The outcome of my search in Internet seems to show that the Spanish-speaking world has not still taken part in the debate (I may be mistaken , however I think that this must be the first article written in Spanish on the Web , or at least I have not been able to find any other reference in such language) ; besides , the Lacanian-psychoanalyst world has neither taken part (I have not been able to find, either, any Lacanian orientation in the last issues of any of the principal magazines of the most important schools of psychoanalysis).

The attitude of those psychoanalysts whom I have spoken with in Buenos Aires is similar to the position Derrida holds in his answer to Sokal , in the article from "Le Monde" from last November 20 , in which he says that "Sokal and Bricmont are not serious" because "it would have been interesting to study such scientific metaphors meticulously , their role , their statute , their effects upon the incriminating discourses. Not only in the French ones! Not only in those French ones! This would have demanded a serious reading of the agencement and the theoretical strategy of so many other difficult discourses. This has not been done". In other words , it would be useless to answer to Sokal and Bricmont.

In a way (later we will see in which one) , after having read the book , I may agree that this answer would be just (we will see that it is Sokal himself who unintentionally would agree with Derrida). Yet , I think that this procedure does not solve the problem in neither of its aspects. On the one hand , the answer is not so much required for the seriousness of the book or the lack of it , but for the widespread diffusion that the subject has gained (because as the saying goes , "silence gives consent") On the other hand , the apparent lack of seriousness of Sokal and Bricmont’s work , which has yet to be proved , does not invalidate the importance of the subject they have dealt with. As regards this , the psychoanalysts - as any other individual who would like to have some solution to the current problems of science and culture - are still called to provide an answer.


Teresa Brennan , editor of the series "Feminism for today" and "Between feminism and psychoanalysis" , and her book are related to the former because she is one of the few people who has understood that Lacan is not a structuralist , and , unlike the current post-modernist trends , she holds that a general historical explanation in order to draw together the distances between the contemporary critic theory and the problems related to sexual , ethnic and the like differences is necessary. We will come back to this at the end of the article (or perhaps in the on-coming second or third part of it) when we deal with some political questions.