22 January 2006

Waiting for Paul's Second Post

Paul has brought back Calvino and the Stoat in order to dismiss sweepingly and dramatically years of established scientific theory. Namely, he's tossing out the model of multiple universes and the particle-wave theory (neither of which I claim to know much about, other than what I read on Paul's blog and see innappropriately referenced analogically in social science literature). He concludes his first post on this topic (he promises another), as follows:
what I'm making is an argument using Ockham's Razor. Which is more likely: a universe that has a nearly infinite number of states, with more states splitting off every instant (many universes), or a universe that is kind of "fuzzy", where there's no fixed reality unless you force there to be one by making an observation (that is, via the collapse of a wave functions)? From a strictly design point of view, the second is utterly less complex to manage.
Perhaps I'm Paul's ideal reader (or possibly his worst one), because even without the second post, I think I pretty much already buy this. The model he suggests rejects determinism and insists that the outcomes in the universe will be created by agency (by actions and choices, by 'the forced reality' produced through 'making an observation). This is precisely the sort of model I always end up defending in political philosophy.*

And I wonder: does the theory of multiple determinist universes lend itself to taking a deterministic approach to this universe (whichever one we find ourselves in) - to think that history will progress, or at least move in some sort of linear pattern, to conceive of political gains made as something that cannot be lost precisely because we are marching somewhere in time, to think of time itself as a past/present/future that flows like a river? Paul calls the universe 'fuzzy' and I steal from Hamlet/Derrida and say that 'time is out of joint'.

In either case, agency rests not on a fixed identity that will predetermine outcomes, but on a partial and limited capacity to work with, through, and against the fuzzy disjointedness. And the future is not a point that we know and predict but a very fuzzy 'not yet' that we continually look toward just as we strive to bring 'it' about.

*Note: this statement and everything that follows it may all rest on my having utterly misunderstood what Paul is on about.


Transient Gadfly said...

No, you pretty much totally got it. I'm not, when I finally get around to it, actually going to reject wave/particle duality except to redefine it at little. Or, okay, a lot. Second post coming...soonish...

(also,curious note: the word verification string which it's making me type in order to post on your blog today, 'zplmvyzi', contains my initials. What are the odds of that?)

Transient Gadfly said...

living, as i do, with TG, i have made a similar point to him many many times. we humanities scholars, at the moment, are all on board with the fuzzy universe that doesn't exist until observed where nothing's either good or bad but thinking makes it so (while we're quoting hamlet). that there is no reality outside of our representation/observation/interpretation of it is, well, our approach to media, politics, art, philosophy, narrative, reading, writing, the world in general, and everything else there is in the universe -- absolutely...except that freaking cat -- has P. blogged specifically about the cat? -- who though i believe in every every important, respesentational, constructed, intent, and purpose way is neither/both alive/dead in my heart of hearts, i secretly can't convince myself that really REALLY he isn't actually one or the other.

there is a "this american life" that starts with how annoyed physicists get with all the humanities scholars who have a paragraph-understanding of their theories and make these lovely narrative metaphors out of them. i think ira glass's point was don't call something "the uncertainty priniciple" if you don't want humanities folks to make metaphors out of it. my point is closer to this: "there are infinite teeny little universes. in fact, i'm holding one in my palm right now. well, of course you can't observe it, it's too small. but it's really there. really. careful not to crush it when you hand me my nobel prize." by P's ockham principle or his odds are one, seems much more likely to me this is a load of crap. but what do i know.

hamlet is the king (well, dark prince, but whatever) of the deterministic universe. this is at least one of the morals of his story, at least for him (less so for us). in a kingdom rife with all manner of fuzzy disease and general rot, his metaphor, the line you quote, is of bone setting. his conception of his universe is that it is good or it is broken, that it can be fixed, put back together. he is wrong, of course, but it's more about his accepting the deterministic universe than disproving it.