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Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning

3.5 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0822339014
ISBN-10: 0822339013
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Editorial Reviews


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©_Meets_OncoMouse: 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.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (July 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822339013
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822339014
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,641,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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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.
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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".Read more ›
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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.
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