The Knowable and the Unknowable

Modern Science, Nonclassical Thought, and the "Two Cultures"
Arkady Plotnitsky
A welcome intervention in the science vs. humanities debate


This book investigates the relationships between modern mathematics and science (in particular, quantum mechanics) and the mode of theorizing that Arkady Plotnitsky defines as "nonclassical" and identifies in the work of Bohr, Heisenberg, Lacan, and Derrida. Plotinsky argues that their scientific and philosophical works radically redefined the nature and scope of our knowledge. Building upon their ideas, the book finds a new, nonclassical character in the "dream of great interconnections" Bohr described, thereby engaging with recent debates about the "two cultures" (the humanities and the sciences).

Plotnitsky highlights those points at which the known gives way to the unknown (and unknowable). These points are significant, he argues, because they push the boundaries of thought and challenge the boundaries of disciplinarity. One of the book's most interesting observations is that key figures in science, in order to push toward a framing of the unknown, actually retreated into a conservative disciplinarity. Plotnitsky's informed, interdisciplinary approach is more productive than the disparaging attacks on postmodernism or scientism that have hitherto characterized this discourse.

Arkady Plotnitsky is Professor of English and Director, Theory and Cultural Studies Program, Purdue University. Trained in both mathematics and literary theory, he is author of several books, including In the Shadow of Hegel: Complementarity, History and the Unconscious and Reconfigurations: Critical Theory and General Economy.

Praise / Awards

  • "Offers a unique perspective on the ongoing 'Science Wars' coupled with an equally unique aspiration: that of making their engagement more truly production of light than heat."
    --Claudia Brodsky Lacour, Princeton University
  • "An important, even crucial intervention in the 'Science Wars,' for it seeks to move the debate beyond superficial readings and ill-informed criticism on both sides into a much deeper and more philosophically grounded consideration of the epistemological issues at stake."
    --N. Katherine Hayles, University of California, Los Angeles
  • "[Plotnitsky] endeavors to explain to nonexperts the rationally necessitated departure from traditional visual representation that, in part characterizes 'modern' or 'nonclassical' physics and mathematics while--equally if not more arduous to achieve--distinguishing and defending groundbreaking philosophical reflection from the scattershot of slighter minds. In addition, rather than succumb to the ready pleasures of polemic in carrying out these aims, he carefully provides, in his own writing, an example of intellectual scrupulousness so striking as to inspire the improbable hope that The Knowable and the Unknowable might set a discursive benchmark to which less circumspect commentators may one day rise."
    --Postmodern Culture

Look Inside

Copyright © 2002, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted June 2002.

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 328pp.
  • 3 drawings.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2002
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06797-8

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  • $36.95 U.S.