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Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning Paperback – 25 Mar 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 524 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press (25 Mar. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082233917X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822339175
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.2 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 74,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"Meeting the Universe Halfway is highly original, exciting, and important. In this book Karen Barad puts her expertise in feminist studies and quantum physics to superb use, offering agential realism as an important alternative to representationalism."-Arthur Zajonc, coauthor of The Quantum Challenge: Modern Research on the Foundation of Quantum Mechanics "Meeting the Universe Halfway is the most important and exciting book in science studies that I have read in a long time. Karen Barad provides an original and satisfying response to a perennial problem in philosophy and cultural theory: how to grasp matter and meaning or causality and discourse together, without either erasing one of them or introducing an unbridgeable dualism. These theoretical abstractions come alive in Barad's vivid examples; she shows that uncompromisingly rigorous analysis of difficult theoretical issues need not sacrifice concreteness or accessibility. Her methodological lessons from the diffraction of light and her convincing interpretations of familiar puzzles and recent experimental results in quantum physics also display how science and science studies can genuinely learn from one another. What other book could be a 'must read' in such diverse fields as science studies, foundations of quantum mechanics, feminist and queer theory, and philosophical metaphysics and epistemology?"-Joseph Rouse, Wesleyan University "Karen Barad's Meeting the Universe Halfway makes fundamental contributions to science studies, philosophy, feminist theory, and physics-it is a rare book that can do that. This is an important, ambitious, readable, risk-taking, and very smart book, one to savor and grow with. Barad elaborates Niels Bohr's philosophy-physics in the light of feminist science studies to propose an account of material-discursive practices in scientific knowledge. Eschewing all romantic appropriations of quantum physics that evade strong knowledge claims, Barad argues that Bohr's interpretation of the experimental-theoretical nexus of quantum mechanics is crucial to understanding how observations and agencies of observation cannot be independent. 'Agencies of observation' are not liberal opinion-bearers, but situated entities made up of humans and non-humans in specific relationship. Reality is not independent of our explorations of it; and reality is not a matter of opinion, but of the material consequences of some cuts and not others made in the fabric of the world. As Barad reminds us, identities are always formed in intra-action. Ethical practices and consequences are intrinsic to the web. These issues are at the heart of debates about 'constructivism,' 'realism,' and the import of science studies, including feminist science studies, for configuring the nature of objective knowledge and the kinds of authorized actors in public worlds deeply shaped by science and technology."-Donna Haraway, author of Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan(c)_Meets_OncoMouse(TM): Feminism and Technoscience "Meeting the Universe Halfway is an ambitious, thought-provoking, challenging book... The book is a provocative, generative, contribution to our attempts to provide effective tools to describe and understand the rapidly changing world we are part of. It deserves wide analysis and discussion. My intent here is to argue that it merits the serious attention of historians, philosophers, sociologists of science, and science studies and STS scholars." -- S. S. Schweber, ISIS

About the Author

Karen Barad is Professor of Feminist Studies, Philosophy, and History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has a doctorate in theoretical particle physics.


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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An interesting book, well written, interesting cover. Would read again.
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A ground-breaking inter-disciplinary book. Very inspiring!
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Brilliant book - very useful for my work in feminist methodology
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x95adf630) out of 5 stars 12 reviews
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9573d4ec) out of 5 stars it is worth it 24 Sept. 2007
By Elevate Difference - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In the preface to Meeting the Universe Halfway, Karen Barad says, "This book is about entanglements. To be entangled is not simply to be intertwined with another, as in the joining of separate entities, but to lack an independent, self-contained existence."

The subsequent pages are an elegant mesh of detailed explanations of social theories, scientific concepts and new pathways of technological innovation; all explored and then rewoven to form the carefully constructed foundation for her theory of agential realism. A theoretical framework wherein human, machine and interactions between, are all actually phenomenon that make up the world as agents in a dynamic of change, where "...knowing does not come from standing at a distance and representing but rather from a direct material engagement with the world."

A scholar of Neils Bohr's writings and work, she explains how the man who won the Nobel Prize for his model of the atom did not believe "in the inherent distinction between subject and object, knower and known," and how he struggled to rectify problems with quantum theory, problems with measurement and even got Heisenberg to postscript an admission of inadequacy in his uncertainty principle (although it is for the most part ignored). Yet Bohr was too human-centric in his viewpoint to see a way out. With agential realism, she picks up where he left off and takes us to a post-humanist world where "reality is composed of things-in-phenomena." She "propose(s) an interpretation of quantum physics based on agential realism."

While Barad is careful to maintain that she does not `write down' to a general audience, and that any reader must do the labor required to follow her descriptions of theoretical physics and several gedanken (thought) experiments performed by the likes of Einstein and Schrodinger, she encourages the work, and it is worth it.

Examples of how recent advances in nanotechnology, biomimicry, cyborg development and quantum physics all predict a future (world as growing into a changed state) where the presumed boundaries between human and non-human may become blurred beyond recognition and new ways of thinking about relationships and the fabric of the world will become necessary. Like the discovery of the brittlestar, a cousin to the starfish and sea urchin, it is a creature that has no brain or eyes, and yet functions as an organism that is all eyes... a skeletal system that acts as a visual system. "Brittlestars don't have eyes; they are eyes."

When viewed through Judith Butler's theory of performativity and body as matter, physicist Richard Feynman's call to question bodily boundaries and Leela Fernandes's study of the structural relationships of power on the shop floor of a Calcutta jute mill, Barad's call to a new way of looking at (and through) the world becomes an exciting herald of possibility. For if we are all a part of a reality, and every action, every measurement is a new event that effects all other aspects, no one should ever again feel isolated or removed from society or the world at large.

"The point of challenging traditional epistemologies is not merely to welcome females, slaves, children, animals, and other dispossessed Others (exiled from the land of knowers by Aristotle more than two millenia ago) into the fold of knowers but to better account for the ontology of knowing. ...ethics cannot be about responding to the other as if the other is the radical outside to the self."
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9573b198) out of 5 stars Worth reading but could have been so much better. 1 Feb. 2014
By W. R. Stewart - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Barad is an ex(?) - theoretical physicist. She is able to explain her ideas clearly - which is a wonderful change from many "continental" philosophers. I had no trouble with the physics but I have a degree and 25 years experience in medical imaging so I might not be an average test case. Her basic point is that we should be more aware that things do not always pre exist properties rather they come into being via property-relations -in fact jointly with context. Put this way it doesn't sound very world shattering or original, however this is where the book enters concept inflation mode rendering it tedious to read: Firstly Barad shoots first person pronouns like a maniac. Secondly she repeats her arguments dozens of times -sometimes using identical words. Thirdly she claims, in early chapters, to use a non-representational non-metaphorical discourse called 'diffraction' with a claim to be non metaphorical we will understand by the end of the book - there is however no clarification forthcoming and in the notes she seems to have changed her mind -diffraction is demoted to metaphor (a useful one though I think). Fourthly she bases her position on "a cut" that is made in the phenomenon - on one side (apparatus side) the degrees of freedom are massively reduced - this universal distinction is not implemented or dependant on human or even indeed biological involvement. Clearly then, she proposes a piece of physics - however little unqualified (very) evidence is supported and there is no attempt to explain how classical physics and the world of things arises - in other word the crucial problem of scale is just bypassed. Fifthly she veers towards the crackpot in some of her feminist applications of the "cut". The juxtaposition of feminism and the philosophy of physics needs grace and careful handling - Barad is rather too full of her own importance to say anything useful here, in fact she is probably quite unhelpful. Sixthly I think she should have drawn more attention to prexisting highly related similar approaches. For example the central concept of dependant co-arising advanced by Buddha more than 2500 years ago. This might have given her a more productive steer. Barad has the drive, passion and talents to work in this area it would be great if she de-emphasised the premature and naive social interpretations and the cliche science journalism. She has too much talent to waste time on just firing off words however easy she finds it to write in these other styles.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x95ad4a74) out of 5 stars The Quantum Copernican Revolution 13 Dec. 2010
By Ideophile - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In Meeting the Universe Halfway, Karen Barad convincingly removes the human observer from the center of the quantum formalism. To ruin the punchline, she does this by re-introducing the human observer into the physical universe, and in particular into the quantum entanglements being observed. To loosely paraphrase Barad, obtaining determinate values for a quantum phenomenon is what it is like to be entangled *in* that phenomenon; the collapse of the wave function is in fact no collapse at all but rather what it is like to *become* entangled in that phenomenon; in other words, determinate values are what you get in the view from *within*.

Barad metaphorically labels her overall approach to the subject "diffractive". The approach is to draw unflinchingly from different disciplines and let the "interference patterns" reveal themselves, much like how dropping rocks into a pool sets up interference patterns that reinforce and dampen each other in interesting ways. She draws from science studies, social studies, feminist studies, etc. - but her principal inspiration is quantum mechanics and in particular Niels Bohr. Key insights obtained from this exercise are the performative-ness of the universe (in contrast to the usual focus on thing-ness) as it continually creates novel possibilities for itself (at the cost of excluding others) in its own becoming.

Barad then introduces her metaphysics of "agential realism". In her metaphysics, phenomena (or more precisely, quantum entanglements) are the basic ontological unit. At its most fundamental, this metaphysics is about how material cuts (or distinctions) performed as part of the ongoing becoming of the universe can lead bodies to leave marks on one another (cause and effect) within each entanglement. Within the context of controlled laboratory experiments, a body which is marked is part of the "agencies of observation" whereas the bodies leaving marks are the "objects of observation". But a crucial point here is that both are parts of one and the same entanglement (phenomenon). This "exteriority within phenomena" is what secures objectivity for science without forcing the human to be on the outside looking in. Another crucial point here is that controlled laboratory experiments are merely a special case of entanglements and that material cuts within entanglements are routinely performed by the universe outside of controlled experiments. (Since humans are part of the universe, they may enact these cuts - but then again so may other parts of the universe.)

Barad then tests out her metaphysics via what she terms "empirical metaphysics". That is, the ability today to actually execute some of the metaphysical gedanken experiments posed and counter-posed by Einstein and Bohr. The results of these experiments bode poorly for Einstein's metaphysical views and better for Bohr's. However, Barad's agential realism fares better yet, having rid itself of Bohr's implicit anthropocentric biases.

This new metaphysics of "agential realism" is extremely fertile ground for thought, and that's where Barad heads next. Since humans are part of the universe and as such may enact the material cuts that determine which bodies will leave marks on which other bodies within a given phenomenon, there is an ethical dimension to the cuts that humans enact. Nanotechnology, bio-mimicry, etc., are explored as material cuts that need ethical consideration. Not in the sense of disinterested human stewardship of nature as was the case for traditional anthropocentric metaphysical views, but in the sense of the ethical human contribution to the ongoing becoming of the universe of which we are but one part.

Barad can sometimes get a little repetitive in trying to express her metaphysics, and there are points she does not delve into (e.g., what is the generic mechanism by which the universe enacts material cuts?) - but all in all this is a book extremely rich in ideas worth thinking about.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x95ab3be8) out of 5 stars Exceptional Work 11 Sept. 2007
By Terrence Findlay - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Meeting the Universe Halfway is a remarkable accomplishment. In it the author presents her philosophy-physics agential realism. As developed in this book, the power of agential realism to resolve paradoxes of quantum physics that have, until now, defied explanation is quite amazing; as is its application in fields such as sociology, epistemology, and ethics. In fact, there seems to be no realm of consideration that agential realism does not touch. Moreover, the repercussions for everyday living are profound. An agential realist point of view changes everything, including the entangled viewer's sense of self and place in world.

I find agential realism's defeat of both determinism and absolute freedom to be essentially optimistic. In a recent discussion with a friend I defended science as the best hope for our survival as a species. Meeting the Universe Halfway, particularly agential realism's take on ethics, has confirmed my belief that this is indeed the case. This book is a challenging but immensely rewarding read. The importance of this work, in terms of our understanding of the world and the responsibility we all bear as integrated phenomena of and within it, cannot be overstated.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x963189cc) out of 5 stars Important new theory. Perhaps one of the top theorists of the 21st century. Quantum Physics is for everyone--accessible. 8 May 2015
By G.E. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent. New theory that advances the New Materialisms. Her critique of "The Enlightenment culture of objectivity" that has produced representationalism, strict anthropocentrism, and metaphysical individualism (fixed ontologies) is a welcome addition to any serious research library. Her Agential Realism reworks how agency can be understood in radical, useful ways. Contingency is so important in science and how we culturally relate, that I also recommend her essays on time. Google them. One is a keynote speech.

This theorist is so important, she will have you questioning premises again!
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