- 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)
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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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"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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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."
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.
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.
This theorist is so important, she will have you questioning premises again!
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