Review Essay: Karen Barad, quantum mechanics, and the paradox of mutual exclusivity

Download Review Essay: Karen Barad, quantum mechanics, and the paradox of mutual exclusivity

Post on 23-Dec-2016

213 views

Category:

Documents

0 download

TRANSCRIPT

  • http://sss.sagepub.com/Social Studies of Science

    http://sss.sagepub.com/content/41/3/431The online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/0306312711400657 2011 41: 431 originally published online 11 April 2011Social Studies of Science

    Trevor Pinchexclusivity

    Review Essay: Karen Barad, quantum mechanics, and the paradox of mutual

    Published by:

    http://www.sagepublications.com

    can be found at:Social Studies of ScienceAdditional services and information for

    http://sss.sagepub.com/cgi/alertsEmail Alerts:

    http://sss.sagepub.com/subscriptionsSubscriptions:

    http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.navReprints:

    http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.navPermissions:

    http://sss.sagepub.com/content/41/3/431.refs.htmlCitations:

    What is This?

    - Apr 11, 2011 OnlineFirst Version of Record

    - May 17, 2011Version of Record >>

    at UNIV OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA on April 7, 2014sss.sagepub.comDownloaded from at UNIV OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA on April 7, 2014sss.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • Review Essay

    Corresponding author:Trevor Pinch, Department of Science & Technology Studies, Cornell University, 306 Rockefeller Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA. Email: tjp2@cornell.edu

    Karen Barad, quantum mechanics, and the paradox of mutual exclusivity

    Trevor PinchDepartment of Science & Technology Studies, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

    Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 544 pp. 18.99/22.46/$27.95. ISBN 978-0-8223-3917-5 (pbk). 75.00/80.32/$99.95. ISBN 978-0-8223-3901-4 (hbk).

    I recently had the pleasure of sharing a lecturing platform with Karen Barad. As can only happen in our wonderfully diverse field of science studies, I discussed electronic music and she talked about quantum mechanics. It turned out we both shared a lot in common. I am not only a historian of the Moog synthesizer, but also a builder of such instruments and a performer. She is not only a philosopher of physics, feminist, and science studies practitioner, but also a practicing physicist. I was once an undergraduate physicist and cut my teeth in science studies on the topic of quantum mechanics.

    What could and should the relationship be to our subject matter in science studies especially when we increasingly work on the same sorts of topic as the people we study? I use this examination of Karen Barads work to offer some critical comments on her project and also to try and reflect a little on this wider issue.

    Quantum entanglementsMost of Barads talk was a fun and lucid account of some recent experiments in quantum physics that purported to show quantum entanglement a somewhat mysterious instan-taneous correlation between quantum systems separated by vast distances. She elegantly described the relevant experiments and their outcomes, but rather then deconstructing or contextualizing such experiments, she used the results to support her own position in science studies an approach she calls agential realism. Surprised by this turn of

    Social Studies of Science41(3) 431441

    The Author(s) 2011Reprints and permission: sagepub.

    co.uk/journalsPermissions.navDOI: 10.1177/0306312711400657

    sss.sagepub.com

    at UNIV OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA on April 7, 2014sss.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 432 Social Studies of Science 41(3)

    events, I asked her whether she thought it not more than a little odd that a metaphysical position in science studies should depend upon the outcome of experiments in physics. Supposing the experiments had come out differently? Would we then have to kiss goodbye agential realism? Her answer was even more surprising. She told me that she was happy for her work in science studies to stand or fall alongside the best work in physics. Ouch!

    The entanglement experiments are at the core of a subject that used to be called the foundations of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is a peculiar theory because it is used routinely by physicists, is the basis for much technology, and the consensus is that its predictions have, up until now, always been verified on all accounts it is a vastly successful theory. Yet what the theory means, its foundations, are notoriously obscure. What we might call the big issues of quantum mechanics its completeness and cor-respondence with reality, the nature of the fundamental entities it describes and what they mean for our conceptions of space, time, and matter, and the relationship between measuring instruments and system being measured used to be much discussed by lead-ing physicists when the theory was first formulated in the 1930s. The famous debate between Einstein and Bohr and Einsteins dislike of the theory for its statistical basis are the stuff of legend. The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, in hom-age to Bohrs influence, became the accepted wisdom and physicists were happy to stay in their labs and increasingly not worry about foundational issues after all they could still calculate, make predictions, make technologies (including atomic bombs), and get funding for their work. Increasingly, worrying about foundational issues passed to the terrain of philosophy. Philosophy, as all physicists know, is good for you in small doses but ultimately can be dispensed with.

    One of the fascinating things about the history of the area is how it has switched from physics to philosophy and then back again to physics. And these days it is more than just physics. As Barad points out in her dense and important book, quantum computers, quantum cryptography, and even the science fiction field of quantum teleportation, owe their existence to these entanglement experiments. The historical shifts in the field are not, however, examined Barad seems uninterested in history. She also does not reference the one science studies article on these experiments written by an Edinburgh science studies unit graduate student (Harvey, 1981). Harvey interviewed many of the experimenters working in the late 1970s and showed in his article how the very possibil-ity of turning philosophy into real experiments made the area much more plausible (that is, fundable). He also shows that the social and material practices of these physicists in obtaining their results and the credibility of the results was far more complicated than suggested in Barads rather bare-bones account.

    The idea that led to the entanglement experiments was first proposed by Einstein and his colleagues Podoloksky and Rosen as a thought experiment in a famous 1935 paper, now widely known as EPR. The experiments in their modern form involve searching for a correlation between two remote particles that once interacted. A quantum mechani-cal property known as spin is measured by each experimenter in different directions. The remotely separated experimenters (referred to as Alice and Bob) work as follows. Once the particles have separated from their source Alice randomly sets her detector to measure the spin of one particle in one direction and Bob randomly sets his detector to

    at UNIV OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA on April 7, 2014sss.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • Pinch 433

    do likewise for the other particle. Despite Alice and Bob having complete freedom to choose any direction in which to measure the spin, and Alice and Bob in principle being billions of miles apart, the spin of the particles at both locations is found to be instantaneously correlated to the degree predicted by a theorem known as Bells theorem.

    Barads account of the entanglement experiments and the earlier debate between Bohr and Einstein is extremely lucid. There is little doubt that she is a formidable expos-itor of difficult and tricky matters in physics, and understands what is at issue in the foundations of quantum mechanics, particularly in the famous debate between Einstein and Bohr. She is also a bold thinker, something to be welcomed in an increasingly pedestrian era of science studies. She advocates nothing less than a new metaphysics for the field. Unfortunately (for this reviewer anyway), when outlining her agential realism approach her writing changes from the crystal clarity of dealing with the physics to a series of very dense assertions about such matters as agency, intra-actions, becoming, phenomena, causality, dynamics, materiality, and the role of the post-human. It would be unfair to quote sentences out of context, but let me simply say that sections of this book contains some of the densest prose I have recently read in the field. Her book also suffers somewhat from repetition and has been sloppily edited with passages in different chapters sometimes repeating earlier passages and going over the same ground. Also her engagement with other relevant approaches in science studies such as the work of Andy Pickering, John Law, Annemarie Mol, and Lucy Suchman tends to be in the footnotes, and this is a loss (her main theoretical arguments in the text concern Foucault, Butler, and Haraway). More on this below.

    Even when dealing with the physics Barad takes no prisoners and rightfully exposes the limitations of popular accounts of quantum mechanics, such as in the well-known play, Copenhagen, which uses the metaphor of Heisenbergs uncertainty principle with-out understanding the physics behind it. Her target is a common misconception whereby the relationship between a measuring instrument and the system under measurement is misconstrued as being a matter of disturbance as in the disturbance to the actual pressure of the air in a car tire when we make a pressure measurement, which inevitably lets a small amount of air escape in the course of the measurement. She argues that Bohr in particular goes much deeper in thinking about measurement. At stake is not some sort of disturbance between measuring instrument and system being measured, but the very way that the relationship between the two should be conceived.

    Contextualizing quantum mechanicsWhen reading Barads book, I was struck by something in the substance and tone of her account of the entanglement experiments and the earlier debate between Einstein and Bohr. She writes these sections mainly in the way physicists write. As Kuhn famously noted, we need to rescue the history of physics from physicists who write history for a very different purpose. One of the strangest absences in her book is Kuhns work, given not only his important research on the history of quantum mechanics but also his pio-neering contributions to science studies per se. Her account of the quantum experiments is not so much a view from nowhere as a rather Whiggish account. The experiments all

    at UNIV OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA on April 7, 2014sss.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 434 Social Studies of Science 41(3)

    lead up to what we know today: namely, the truth about quantum entanglements. She chides her fellow physicists for misconstruing and ignoring Bohrs contribution and her overall goal is to revive Bohrs approach and add to it. She describes the experiments conceptually (and clearly) in great technical detail, as though in a review article with none of the messy history, the lacunae, or the grasping and stumbling in the dark, and absent most of the social and historical context. In the standard way of physicists, the quantum elite such as Einstein and Bohr are revered for their brilliant insights, and one often gets the impression that Bohr isnt just a bloke from Copenhagen but someone who was closer to being a God. Elsewhere in her book she sides with Donna Haraway on the need to situate knowledge. Her own failure to situate these experiments is one of the paradoxes of the book.

    Now of course Barad could always reply that she is showing the conceptual basis of the experiments and offering something more akin to a philosophical take than an in-depth contextualized reading. But history and sociology do really matter here. They matter because if we include them we start to see the experiments as she argues in other parts of her book: she wants to see science in general as something that emerged from contingent human interests, from messy materiality and practice, and from a wider con-stellation of cultural, technological, and military interests. Seeing the experiments that way makes us also a little less likely to take them (as Barad seems to want to do) as the obvious grounding for a new ontology in science studies.

    Of relevance are the cauldron of the World War II and the physicists greatest triumph and source of guilt, the atomic bomb; the later Cold WarMcCarthy era, where confor-mity became the order of the day and provided the material infrastructure and appara-tuses that only a colossally wealthy postwar physics community allied to a military industrial context could produce and sustain; the counter-culture and the 1960s political protests in which Berkeley physics played a key role; and the subsequent austerity years, when the expansion ended and PhD physicists could no longer automatically find jobs and often sought alternative sources of funding. Quantum mechanics did not by accident become the hugely popular source for the culture industry that Barad berates; quantum physics aligned with the counter-culture took imaginative hold and brought the obscure quantum world of things such as Schrodingers cat into the full glare of pop culture.

    I cannot offer an account of the history, as it has still largely to be written, but the works of historians and sociologists of modern physics who work in the borderlands between history of physics and science studies would have helped her frame and contextualize the culture of physics that she describes in an overly reverent way.1 It is true that to be bold one has at some point to take a pass on the literature, but when the scholarly literature helps you establish the very points you want to make, you neglect it at your peril. Also of great historical relevance is the small number of physicists who explicitly rejected the Copenhagen consensus and who thought that the business of interpreting the quantum theory was too important to be left to philosophers. David Bohm was one such physicist.

    Bohm as an example of dissent from Copenhagen An alleged communist fellow traveler who refused to testify in the McCarthy era, David Bohm, one of the most gifted physicists of his generation, was forced out of his post at

    at UNIV OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA on April 7, 2014sss.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • Pinch 435

    Princeton University in 1951 and left the USA for good. Bohm found allegiance with physicists in the Soviet Union who also had the temerity to question quantum mechanics at the time. The story of these physicists and their struggles has never fully been told (but see Cross, 1991; Forstner, 2008; Pinch, 1976, 1977). When I interviewed Bohm in 1975 he told me that he had written his 1951 textbook regarded by many physicists at the time as the best account available in order to try understand the theory, and the more he delved into it the more he realized he didnt understand it. He rejected Bohrs idealistic metaphysics. When Bohm produced his rival materialistic interpretation of quantum theory in 1952 (known as a hidden-variables interpretation)2 he ran into the wall of Copenhagen. Bohrs colleague, Leon Rosenfeld, was the hatchet man, and announced to the world that Bohms version of quantum mechanics must be wrong because of a widely regarded proof by John von Neumann that showed that such theories were highly impos-sible. If the interpretation of quantum mechanics was a matter of mere philosophy, a mathematical proof was always going to trump philosophy (Pinch, 1977). Bohm made little headway, but his investigations (including a simplification of the original EPR experiment) set the stage for the later entanglement experiments. It was Bell who gave Bohms approach new life blood with a key paper in 1966. Bell showed that the proof used against Bohm had remained unexamined all those years and could trivially be over-come Bohm immediately published a new version of his hidden variables theory.

    In 1977, I happened to be in Berkeley when Bohm made his triumphal return to the US. It was an emotional occasion the great quantum physicist was at last allowed to travel to the US, and here he was at the place that gave birth to the free speech movement. It was also a very changed context in which to practice physics entanglement experi-menter John Clauser, along with Nobel Laureate, Jeffery Chew, and Tao of Physics author, Fritjof Capra, were members of what was known as the Fundamental Fysiks group at Berkeley (Kaiser, 2009). The group would discuss extra-sensory perception (ESP) experiments as well as entanglement experiments. Bohm, in a lecture to a packed Berkeley physics audience, presented some of the results of his Birkbeck colleague, John Hasted, with the then psychic wunderkind, Uri Geller. The much-revered quantum physicist held up several pieces of bent metal for his audience of fellow physi-cists to eagerly peruse. Down the road at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), two laser physicists, Targ and Puthoff, earlier published their investigation of Geller in Nature, declaring his telepathic powers to be valid. For a moment the unthinkable seemed thinkable that the paradoxes of quantum mechanics might be connected to the field of parapsychology (Collins and Pinch, 2008 [1982]). That moment didnt last very long. Uri Geller was accused of fraud and physicists who had previously backed him started to back down. As the 1970s turned to the 1980s, the Thatcher and Reagen era, physicists, like the rest of us, took on other, newer realities. But the quantum entanglements became further entangled with military and corporate funding, giving birth to quantum computing, quantum cryptography, and quantum teleportation.

    Bohrs relationismBarad writes at the start of her most technical chapter (in terms of the physics), [m]y project departs from science studies approaches that place science at a remove. In my

    at UNIV OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA on April 7, 2014sss.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 436 Social Studies of Science 41(3)

    account, the study of science and the study of nature go hand and hand (p. 248). By this she seems to mean not only that participating in physics is important to her (she talks about the sensorium of the lab), but also that the results of her thinking about physics, and Bohrs views on quantum mechanics in particular, have direct import for science studies. Her argument, in a nutshell, is that the entanglement experiments and Bohrs take on quantum mechanics, when properly interpreted, have implications for how we in science studies should think about issues like agency and our relationship to the material world.

    The view she is advocating can best be understood by revisiting the classic double-slit experiment an experiment that Richard Feynman claimed entailed the whole quantum mystery. This experiment illustrates wave-particle duality. A beam of electrons (or atoms or photons) will produce the well-known interference pattern when projected through two slits. This interference pattern (similar to that made when two water waves reinforce each other) occurs even when only one electron at a time passes through the system. Is matter made of waves or particles? The interference pattern seems to indicate waves. But if there is only one electron at a time in the apparatus this seems to indicate particles. Suppose we try to resolve the issue and set up an experiment to detect which slit the electron passes through. Barad describes an experiment that does just this, using atoms that decay by a photon emission, leaving a tell-tale trace as to which slit the atom passed through before it reached the double slit, without in any way disturbing the forward momentum of the atom. If we can see which slit the atom goes through, then for sure the atom at that moment must be a particle. Amazingly it turns out that once we know which slit the atom goes through it starts to behave as a particle rather than a wave and the characteristic interference pattern vanishes (known as a quantum erasure experiment). Even more amazingly the choice of whether to turn on the Which slit? device can be made after the atoms have gone through the double slits. Even though the atoms will have registered their pattern in the detector, the characteristic wave-like interference pattern will vanish if the Which slit? device is turned on.

    For Bohr the properties of waves and particles are part of the complementarity principle whereby certain classical concepts such as waves and particles are mutually exclusive. Bohr argued that any difficulty in talking about these sorts of issues (including EPR) could be avoided by considering the whole measuring system by which he meant the sorts of apparatus needed to manifest the phenomenon of interest. Do an experiment to search for particles and lo and behold you will find particles; set up an experiment to study waves and you will find waves. This means that it is not a matter of disturbance, but rather that the sort of phenomenon the physicist is looking for in the experiment becomes actualized according to how the experiment is set up. According to this Bohrian view, there is no independent reality with well-defined properties waiting to be measured, as in classical mechanics. Rather, which complementary phenomena (waves or particles) are realized in an experiment depends on considering how the whole measuring apparatus is set up. Barad argues that in the quantum erasure experiments there is no spooky action-at-a-distance taking place or no paradox of changing the past in the Bohrian view, objects and agencies of observation form inseparable wholes and space and time are themselves phenomenal. By considering the sets of experimental arrangements that would be needed to materialize a classically described phenomenon, Bohr provided a self-consistent way of describing quantum mechanics. This did not make quantum

    at UNIV OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA on April 7, 2014sss.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • Pinch 437

    physics subjective or mystical or a source of ESP. She describes Bohrs account as being objective in the sense that it provided a way for reproducible results to be clearly described and communicated between physicists. Jammer (1974) describes Bohrs view as form of relationism. It is the relationship between sets of physical appara-tuses the whole context of observation that need to be taken into account to avoid inconsistencies.

    Bohr made most of this clear in his reply to EPR and then confused the issue some-what in his notorious later writings where he started to apply his principle of mutual exclusivity tout court to all sorts of other situations, including those of the social sci-ences. Most physicists, as Barad points out, have either not understood or ignored the issue. The full radical nature of Bohrs views has not always been recognized and although physicists often claim some sort of allegiance to the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics they often do not in fact to subscribe to Bohrs views (Collins and Pinch, 2008 [1982]). For readers in science studies, the situation can be grasped by a parallel in our own field. Many people in science studies claim some sort of allegiance to actor network theory, but very few of them fully embrace Latour and Callons radical claims for complete symmetry between humans and non-humans.

    Beyond Bohr agential realismI found one of the great merits of Barads work and this is a real contribution to be how she teases out and recovers what Bohr actually meant and the radical nature of his take on the issues. Barad goes further of course and this is where I start to have reserva-tions. First, she provides a way of trying to save Bohr from himself. Bohr, and indeed Einstein, were committed to a form of humanism whereby they gave priority to humans and how humans agree over measurements. According to Barad, this is a mistake and leads to a subjective trap whereby it is easy to extrapolate from agreement over outcomes of measurements to some sort of knowing mind which recognizes the measurement as such. It is a short step to views, such as suggested by Wigner and von Neumann, that quantum phenomena only actualize when they encounter the consciousness of a human. But her criticism of Bohr is even more fundamental: essentially Bohrs view of comple-mentarity rested upon a notion of what could be communicated by language and by this he meant classical concepts. This was part of Bohrs thinking of which Bohm was par-ticularly critical, suggesting in his later work that we need to find a new language to discuss quantum phenomena.

    Barads extension of Bohrs position into what she calls agential realism seems to rely on three major points. First, she argues that Bohrs notion of language as being about linguistic concepts shared between humans is too narrow, and that a more sophisticated notion of language is needed. Here she draws upon a materialist reading of Foucault to ground language in what she calls material discursive practices. Second, she extends the rather limited notion of apparatus that Bohr (and most scientists) share. I found this point to be the most intriguing in Barads whole approach. She argues that an apparatus is much wider than just the sets of material off-the-shelf instruments, as usually described. She nicely shows, in one the few experiments in the book that is actually richly contex-tualized, how the cigar of physicist Otto Stern was a relevant part of the apparatus in the

    at UNIV OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA on April 7, 2014sss.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 438 Social Studies of Science 41(3)

    original SternGerlach experiment. Stern smoked a cheap form of cigar with lots of sulfur in it that enabled the trace of the silver atom beam to show up more clearly as it formed black silver sulfide on the plate he was examining. She points out that what counts as the apparatus in this case and the boundaries around it are not easy to delineate. Since the sort of cigar being smoked was arguably lower class, class and social variables are all relevant. She extends this new approach to the apparatus with a theory of the political economy of apparatuses that offers a new take on Leila Fernandes (1997) book, Producing Workers. In Fernandes account, a jute mill is treated as a piece of apparatus for producing workers, management, machines, bodies, materials, post-colonial relation-ships, and more. Third, Barad argues that humans themselves are produced by nature. She focuses upon bodies, and drawing upon Monica Caspers work on fetal parenthood and STS investigations of ultrasound technology, she offers a materialist critique of Judith Butlers overly human-centered performative approach to the body.

    Barads own performative approach of agential realism is heavily indebted to Bohr in the key aspect that phenomena (the fundamental entities of her ontology) are instantiated by the material agencies found in pieces of apparatus. Her notion is that the world is a place of becoming. Intra-actions (interactions between two entities, not only a human and a non-human) occur everywhere and these produce phenomena. It is not just humans that make phenomena intelligible. They become intelligible to non-humans as well, who respond to them (she presents an interesting example of a brittle starfish that has no brain but acts intelligibly). Space, time, and matter continually unfold in the course of intra-actions. Her agential realism is grounded in the notion that a much wider array of material circumstances than just experiments lead to phenomena becoming manifest. Her major point is that we as humans are not outside observers of the world, but we are part of the world in its ongoing intra-activity. Ontology and epistemology cannot be separated; she advocates a form of onto-epistemology the study of practices of knowing in being in order to come to understand which specific intra-actions matter.

    Agential realism assessedAgential realism, she claims, provides a more self-consistent way of describing the foun-dations of quantum mechanics than is found in Bohrs writings. It avoids subjectivism but still gives room for a radically new way of thinking about the connection between humans and non-humans. I leave it to specialists in the foundation of quantum mechanics to judge whether her account of agential realism really does add something new or solve the notorious difficulties in that field. But Barad is not content to offer a way of dealing with the philosophy of quantum mechanics: at the same time, she wants to claim that agential realism should be the basis for doing science studies and also as a new basis for ethics.

    Often, the history of science studies is presented as a move from issues of representa-tion, through more of a focus on practice and intervening, to todays ontological turn and an interest in performativity. Andrew Pickering is someone who has led the charge towards emphasizing practice, and then performativity (Pickering, 1995). Given that Pickering too has written about physics, and his metaphor of the dance of agency fig-ures also in Barads work, I found it rather unconvincing for Barad to deal with his

    at UNIV OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA on April 7, 2014sss.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • Pinch 439

    mangle theory in footnotes and dismiss it for its overly humanist leanings. Other relevant post-humanist approaches such as the writings of Annemarie Mol and John Law are not properly addressed. Barad also notes that there are views in the philosophy of quantum mechanics that are quite close to her own, including, I was interested to read, the Ithaca Interpretation of Quantum mechanics advocated by my Cornell colleague David Mermin. Again, I find it puzzling that she never elaborates upon, confronts, or teases out in her text these similarities and differences. For someone committed to the diffrac-tion metaphor and its emphasis upon difference, ignoring approaches that are subtly different from her own is disappointing.

    One difficulty I had with Barads agential realism is that it seems to buy into Bohrs views about the reproducibility of experiments. Barad, like Karl Popper, seems to assume the very grounds that much of science studies has contested. How is it that sci-entists can agree that phenomena are the same or agree on what makes an experiment repeatable? Once it is realized that repeatable experiments themselves come from a culture of trust, a shared form of life and shared practices, including tacit knowledge, learnt and passed on in communities of practice, then the orientation is focused once more on humans. It involves exploring much more of the cultural and social dimen-sions of the physics community and their institutions, including physicists training whereby such agreements become possible. Epistemology, or epistemography, as some of us prefer to call it, just wont go away.3 Of course, if entanglement experiments are described in a simple realist way, so that all the history, sociology, and struggle of the physics community to obtain a precious consensus is effaced, then agential realism may seem a neat sort of philosophy. Since Barad never fully engages with work that prob-lematizes how agreement is reached in science (dismissing it, it seems, for being merely human-centered), we do not know if she can take on board a richer notion of what it means to agree over experimental outcomes. Perhaps those agreements could them-selves be described as part of the becomings of the world, but this would need to be shown. In summing up the weight of the evidence of the entanglement experiments she writes: While results in science are never incontrovertible, but rather are always open to question and multiple interpretations and to the possibility of reinterpretation in the face of new theoretical and empirical findings, these experimental findings offer direct evidence on behalf of several main tenets of Bohrs philosophy physics (p. 310). This seems more like a physicists typical viewpoint (caveats and all) and a long way away from a science studies treatment of experiments and the grounding of experi-mental findings in the society and culture of physics.

    The turn to ontology will sit uneasily with its claim to situate knowledge in human communities as long as it continues to neglect the epistemology of the communities and how they reach agreement over what is in the world. I find it deeply puzzling that Barad can call for a more situated account of science and at the same time fail to situate the vey part of science she is talking about, while drawing in a realist mode upon experiments to support her position. Perhaps this is where we do need Bohr after all there does seem to be something mutually exclusive in Barads way of doing the science and writing about the science as a scientist, and doing and writing about it as a science studies practitioner. To think that both activities can easily be carried out as part of the same project also negates the history of our field. Attempts to produce a productive dialogue

    at UNIV OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA on April 7, 2014sss.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 440 Social Studies of Science 41(3)

    between scientists and science studies practitioners (including one of Barads heroes of quantum mechanics, David Mermin) have proven to be an enormously difficult and fraught enterprise, with much misunderstanding and miscommunication going both ways (Labinger and Collins, 2001) .

    By drawing upon the results of physics not as a metaphorical enterprise but as having direct implications for science studies, Barad also courts a form of scientism. Using science and a highly prestigious form of elite science at that to bolster a view in science studies is a dangerous game. In Barads case, I think the outcome is rather benign. Bohrs views on quantum mechanics are hardly at the center of the scientific enterprise these days. Most feminists who advocate a turn to science do so in terms of critical project that attempts to reconfigure the science, or at least its social relations. Barad states that femi-nist science studies is about gender and science in the making, or the two co-constituting one another, and although she does emphasize a new ethical framework that stems from her post-humanist viewpoint, and claims that understanding how bodies are made mate-rially has important consequences for gender, I failed to see how this understanding impacted the version of the entanglement experiments as she presents them. Perhaps having science on your side is the right political move, and she is also right that we need to think about how we can engage with the people we study and at the same time study them. But I do not think the solution is to reproduce the paradox of mutual exclusivity between science and science studies. Barads project is fascinating, complex, and impor-tant, and offers one way of dealing with living in a material world. However, it remains to be seen whether the project can be taken forward so as not to lose the earlier insights gained from the contextualizing and the cultural and social embedding of science.

    Notes1. Of greatest relevance are the works of Harry Collins, Andy Warwick, Suman Seth, Richard

    Staley, Simon Schaffer, David Kaiser, and Otto Sibum.2. It is called the hidden-variables interpretation, because it is assumed that there were causal

    variables acting at a sub-quantum level producing the statistical fluctuations at a higher quantum level in the same way that the kinetic theory of gases can be used to explain Boyles law.

    3. Epistemography is the term coined by Peter Dear (2001) for the naturalistic study of epistemology.

    ReferencesCollins HM and Pinch TJ (2008 [1982]) Frames of Meaning: The Social Construction of

    Extraordinary Science. London: Routledge.Cross A (1991) The crisis in physics: Dialectical materialism and quantum theory. Social

    Studies of Science 21: 735759.Dear P (2001) Science studies as epistemography. In: Labinger J and Collins H (eds) The One

    Culture: A Conversation About Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 128141.Fernandes L (1997) Producing Workers: The Politics of Gender, Class, and Culture in the Calcutta

    Jute Mills. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Forstner C (2008) The early history of David Bohms quantum mechanics through the perspective

    of Ludwik Flecks thought collectives. Minerva 46(2): 216229.

    at UNIV OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA on April 7, 2014sss.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • Pinch 441

    Harvey B (1981) Plausibility and the evaluation of knowledge: A case-study of experimental quantum mechanics. Social Studies of Science 11: 95130.

    Jammer M (1974) The Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics: The Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics in Historical Perspective. New York: John Wiley.

    Kaiser D (2009) How the Hippies Saved Physics. Unpublished book proposal, Program in Science, Technology & Society, MIT.

    Pickering A (1995) The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Labinger J and Collins H (eds) (2001) The One Culture: A Conversation About Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Pinch T (1976) Hidden variables, impossibility proofs and paradoxes: A sociological study of non-relativistic quantum mechanics. Unpublished masters thesis, University of Manchester.

    Pinch T (1977) What does a proof do if it does not prove? A study of the social conditions and metaphysical divisions leading to David Bohm and John von Neumann failing to communi-cate in quantum mechanics. In: Mendelsohn E, Weingart P and Whitley RD (eds) The Social Production of Scientific Knowledge. Sociology of the Sciences Yearbook, Vol. 1. Dordrecht: Reidel, 171215.

    Biographical note

    Trevor Pinch is Professor in Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University. He has published numerous books and articles on the sociology of science and technology including the award-winning Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer (with Frank Trocco) (Harvard University Press, 2002). He is President Elect of The Society for Social Studies of Science. His latest book is The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies (edited with Karin Bijsterveld) (Oxford University Press, 2011, in press).

    at UNIV OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA on April 7, 2014sss.sagepub.comDownloaded from

Recommended

View more >