“Now I know this is a white piece of paper, but in the process of knowing I re-configure the paper’s whiteness”.
Embracing my human, material and natural condition I focused my attention on the agents of production of knowledge that intrinsically intra-connect (entangle) us with the nature of reality to define the concept of “truth” and “real(ity)” as an enclosed human paradigm.
produced by: Julia Creuheras
Being drawn by the rhetorical premise and the seductive promise of most data visualization, to see from a god view, from the perspective of no person, of no body, I started a research journey on “the truth” of reality; on knowing from a distance. I had a suspicion that such a fierceful and gluttonous appetite would be satiated once I would have understood the patriarchal aim of knowing nature came from wanting to position myself on top of it. Overcomming that hunger, I found out being precisely the other way around; by embracing my human, material and natural condition I focused my attention on the agents of production of knowledge that intrinsically intra-connect (entangle) us with the nature of reality that allowed me to dive into a perspective of embodied knowledge, to define the concept of “truth” and “real(ity)” as an enclosed human paradigm. Placing the viewer back to the equation of viewer, viewed, represented.
Concept and background research
“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. Individuals do not preexist their interactions; rather, individuals emerge through and as part of their entangled intra-relating.”(Barad,2017). Barad emerges as an opposition to Representationalism, which she calls it a Cartesian byproduct that comes from a division between internal and external, the viewer and the viewed, the scientist (including the methodology of his scientific practice) and the scientific matter of research. According to Hackings anthropological philosophy, representations were unproblematic before Democritus: ”the word real first meant just unqualified likeness”(Hackings, 1983, 142). With Democritus’s atomic theory emerges the vertiginous gap between representations and represented. Is a spoon a solid mass made of metal or a seething mass of entities moving in the void? The problem of realism in philosophy is a product of the atomistic worldview that comes from the ancient believe that the world is composed of individuals (with separately determinate non-relational properties) presumed to exist before the law, or the discovery of the law-awaiting for representation, instead of entities and realities emerging through and together, believing that what is represented is held to be independent of all practices of representations.
The critical examination of representationalism, such as performativity, emerged when the study of science shifted its focus from the nature and production of scientific knowledge to the study of the detailed dynamics of the actual practice of science. A performative understanding of scientific practices call into question representationalism’s claim that there are representations on the one hand and ontologically separate entities on the other; which take account of the fact that knowing doesn’t come from standing at a distance and representing but rather from a direct material engagement with the world. There are no entities awaiting to be represented by humans, there is no un-human truth that we can seek to understand as we actively intervene when we relate with the world. As Barad states, images or representations are not snapshots or depictions of what awaits us, but rather condensations or traces of multiple practices of engagement. Theorizing is dynamic practice that plays a role as an agent in the production of knowledge of objects and subjects and matter and meaning. So, in my mere opinion, there are no independent truths that we can passively reach but active entanglements with matter and meaning that lead us to a truth enclosed in the human paradigm. Haraway states that situated knowledge require thinking of the world in terms of the “apparatus of bodily production.” The world cannot be reduced to a mere resource if subject and object are deeply interconnected. Bodies as objects of knowledge in the world should be thought of as “material-semiotic generative nodes,” whose “boundaries materialize in social interaction” (Haraway, 1991: 201).
Scientific practices intervene and intra-act rather than represent. “The fact that scientific knowledge is constructed doesen’t imply that science doesen’t work, and the fact that science works does not mean that we have discovered human-independent facts about nature”(Barad,2017). Consequently, that which exists is that which we can use to intervene in the world to affect something else: electrons are understood as real because they are effective experimental tools, not because they have been “found” as independent entities. Representations aren’t independent of the practices of representing; to see one must actively intervene: you learn to see through a microscope by doing and performing a set of complex rules, not just looking. As Bohr states “we are part of the nature that we seek to understand”. Therefore, scientific practices must be understood as inter-actions among component parts that contribute to, and are a part of, the phenomena they describe.
It is not anymore about pointing down towards the thing that we’re supposed to be studying but up towards our experience of it. As the double slit experiment shows (I will describe it in the next paragraph), the presence of the scientist intra-acts, intervenes and modifies the production of knowledge, and so, knowledge emerges from the encounter of the scientist and the light (in this case). There wasn’t a wave of light independent to the scientist presence that he can seek to understand, because they emerge together. Bohr, would not relent on the validity of the profoundly new way in which the real was conceptualized by the new theory of quantum physics. Rather than the universe being filled with concrete entities that exist independently and whose motions and properties could be verified through experiments, quantum physics revealed that universe is a seething mass of probabilities brought to fruition only by the action of the observer. For him, we must accept the idea that reality is about interaction. Bohr argued that quantum physics not only revolutionized physics but shook the very foundation of western epistemology and ontology. As Komarine Romdenh-Romluc states “the sensible, - that which we perceive- comes into being through perception of it. Moreover, we perceive the sensible in response to a vague beckoning from the world. In other words, the sensible results from the interaction between the world and consciousness… on this model, objects are not green in themselves, their greenness is constituted in the experience of them…. All properties we experience are constituted in experience of them.” (Romdenh-Romluc,2011).
The double-slit experiment (and its variations) has become a classic thought experiment, for its clarity in expressing the central puzzles of quantum mechanics. Particles (electrons) are localized objects that occupy a given location at each moment in time. Waves (photons) have an entirely different nature: they are not even properly entities but rather disturbances in some medium field. In the experiment a coherent light source, such as a laser beam (photons), illuminates a plate pierced by two parallel slits, and the light passing through the slits is observed in a screen behind the plate. The wave nature of light makes the light waves to pass through the two slits to interfere, producing bright and dark bands on the screen. If electrons (particles) are bounced, an interference pattern is also created which is how light would act. . Matter could exhibit wave behaviour as well as particle behaviour. Wave-particle duality seemed to be a feature of both light and matter.
But this is not everything; if we were to perform a two-slit experiment with a which –path device (which can be used to determine which slit each electron goes through on its way to the detecting screen) we would find that the interference pattern is destroyed. That is, if a measurement is made and it identifies the electron as a particle, as in this case, then the result would be a particle pattern. So basically, if a single photon is shot and there is no detector or eye looking at it, it will create an interference pattern acting like a wave. However, if there is an eye or detector looking at it, it will create a 2 frames pattern acting like matter. The study of the subatomic particles revealed that they could as corpuscular entities but at the same time they could show ondictionary properties.
Fig 1: Two slit experiment. Barad, 2017.
In the image above it is shown that if a single photon is shot and there is no detector or eye looking at it, it will create an interference pattern acting like a wave but if there is an eye or detector looking at it will create a 2 frames pattern acting like matter.
“The nature of this results means that the nature of the observed phenomenon changes with corresponding changes in the apparatus which is contrary to the ontology assumed by classical physics where an entity is a wave of a particle independent of the experimental circumstances and to the epistemological assumption that experiments reveal pre-existing determinate nature of the entity being measured.” (Barad,2017) Because the experimenter disturbs the pristine system, Bohr argued, there are limits to what we can know about the nature of nature. To measure a quantity we must interact with it. The observer is part of the system being measured. He says we choose in advance how it will turn out by deciding how we would like to measure it. Concepts are defined by the circumstances required for their measurement. All the probabilities bar one vanish. Light is both particle and wave until we decide which form we want to test- then it adopts that form. Therefore something unseen exists in all possible forms. The universe operates in unseen ways, and we can only picture one at a time. “Since observations involve an indeterminable discontinuous interaction, as matter of principle, there is no ambiguous way to differentiate between the object and the agencies of observation.”(Barad,2017). Clearly, then, as we have noted, observations do not refer to properties of observation-independent objects (since they don’t pre-exist as such). “Hence, the only remaining possibility, if the goal is to determine the presumed measurement-independent properties of an object, is to determine the effects of the measurement interaction”. (Barad,2017) The bond, the boundary between us and the Out There.
Before concluding, I would like to zoom in a practice of image forming called STM (scanning tunneling microscope) which outstands as a contrast to the era in which we live, where sight is hegemonized and seems to be the ultimate truth provider (The tradition of grounding our epistemological premises in visual analogies dates back to the Greeks). The fact is that it “forms an image in a way which is similar to the way a blind person can form a mental image of an object by feeling the object”(Eigler 1999,427). The STM, operates by scanning the surface using a “tunnelling current” to “feel” the surface. When the tip of the instrument is close enough to sample surface, electrons flow across the barrier forming an electrical current. As Philip Ball (2018) states this current gives a detailed description of the structure of the surface being measured. Seeing using a scanning tunneling microscope operates on very different physical principle than visual sight, it would be closer to making a topography of the sample. Quantum tunneling has no analogy in classical physics. To understand quantum tunneling, we must understand that particles do not have a defined position until they are observed. Particles are described by what we call a wave function. The probability of a particle being observed at a particular location.
By means of existing we directly engage with our surroundings, with light and matter and the quantum field and create a humanistic paradigm of reality. There is no independent reality reachable to a human being as the human interacts (and modifies) with reality when he/she encounters it. If the human being is not there to create it, the human paradigm reality vanishes to allow an independent reality to exist. So we are intrinsically intertwined with reality, we give and receive, we feed and are fed.
After all that being said, what is needed is a deeper understanding of the ontological dimensions of scientific practice. I try to move towards an understanding of theorizing as an embodied practice rather than a viewer trying to match representations to pre-existing things; as Barad says. Taking account of the practices through which representations are produced. To know a thing, I must intra-act with it, and after that, not much of what it initially was (which I will never know) is left. The aim of the piece I made is to reflect on the investigator’s role as an instrument in the configuration of documentation. Putting the knower back to the equation and dis-focusing the attention on the relationship between objects and their representations but focusing on the ontology of what we can know. Bringing the observer or knower back into the world as re-configurators of it. We make knowledge not from outside but as part of it.
The observer takes part in the process of percieving the piece of paper, and as he does, he wrinkles the paper, modifying its surface and its color. The paper doesen't look as it used to look before the scientist examined it. However, the scientist and the paper have together, entangled, configured what we know of it.
Eigler, Don. 1999. “From the bottom up: building things with atoms”. In nanotechnology, ed. Gregory Timp,425-36.NewYork:Springer-Verlag.
Cushing, James T. 1994. “Quantum Mechanics: historical contingency and the Copenhagen hegemony”. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Haraway, Donna. 1988 “Situated knowledges: the science question in feminism as a site of discourse on the privilege of partial perspective.”
Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Hacking,Ian.1982.”Experimentation and scientific realism”. Philosophical topics.
Romdenh-Romluc, K. (2011). Routledge philosophy guidebook to Merleau-Ponty and phenomenology of perception. London [u.a.]: Routledge.
YouTube. (2013). Surface studies with a scanning tunnelling microscope [english]
[online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNEqRq6NyUw [Accessed 1 May. 2019].
YouTube. (2018). Why Everything You Thought You Knew About Quantum Physics is Different - with Philip Ball [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7v5NtV8v6I [Accessed 25 April. 2019].