Matter and meaning are not separate elements.
They are inextricably fused together
and no event, no matter how energetic,
can tear them asunder.
We are a part of that nature which we seek to understand.
In 1905, Albert Einstein established a new paradigm in physics with his proof of mass-energy equivalence (Einstein 639). Astonishing in its simplicity, the idea that a body's mass is a measure of its energy content complicates an entire metaphysical history steeped in dogmatic representationalism: if language and objects can be considered as productive of each other, and contingent, how can an object have innate and irrefutable attributes that exist prior to and regardless of description? More philosophically, how can matter and its meaning be understood as produced by and productive of each other? How can ontology and epistemology be implicated by and formulated within such a radical mathematical concept?
By merging and diffracting the theoretical frameworks of Karen Barad, Quentin Meillassoux, Seth Lloyd, and Alain Badiou, I argue that all phenomena in the universe are folded into a material-discursive equivalence, and therefore dissolve boundaries between subject/object, word/world, nature/culture, and ontology/epistemology. Initially tracing the measurement problem through early ideas of Niels Bohr, who was the first to propose that an observed entity is irrevocably affected by an observation, and then through contemporary French philosophy and quantum mechanics, I propose that all matter and meaning—atoms, planets, knowledge, consciousness—can be accounted for in a framework of elemental sameness. To maintain consistency across these fields, I use the 'paradox' of the wave-particle duality of light to demonstrate theories of agency, contingency, information, and ethics; it's also interesting to consider that the speed of light is the remaining component of E=mc2, and therefore an integral player in Einstein’s equivalence formula. The different ways in which light, an entity that underscores all life on earth (and also enables experimental explorations of both the quantum and cosmological realms), manifests in the universe is the perfect exemplar of how matter and meaning are "inextricably fused together", dissolving an ontological gap that has traditionally defined knowledge in relation to an ‘other’—and defined reality in relation to being human (Barad 3).
This evacuation of alterity has resonances across both science and philosophy, and allows me to build on ideas of material-discursive dynamism alongside quantum mechanical entanglement to arrive at a theory of the universe in which information is the currency of all phenomena. Consequently, a de-centering of the human within this egalitarian series of quantum encounters—from which all matter and meaning are manifested—allows for a posthumanist ethics to emerge. In an ethical framework that positions humans as a contingent participant in the world's complex and always-already evolving production of instances of matter and meaning, the 'other' becomes a nonsensical vestige of metaphysics. A new, posthumanist physics-philosophy is required to reconcile the unassailable underlying mathematics with the everyday reality that is populated with a stunning array of mass-energy entanglements.
Ecology provides an obvious position from which to explore this kind of entangled ethics of existence: without green plants and their ability to convert water and carbon dioxide to oxygen, the rich variety of animal life reliant upon oxygen to breathe would perish (among other reverberative environmental effects). New studies that explore the nature of this photosynthetic process reveal that quantum mechanical operations play a vital role—in short, photons act as particles while moving through the air but become waves when moving through plant matter. This macroscopic complementarity is a striking example of a universal reliance on principles of quantum mechanics, and also that traditional notions of ontology become obsolete within a schema of material-discursive entanglement and ethics. Only by including the apparatus as part of the photon's being—the apparatus in this case is either air, which induces the photon to act as a particle, or a leaf, which induces it to act as a wave—is the ontology of the photon made manifest. Every instance of matter and meaning is produced by and productive of each other, and rely on this very contingency in order to exist and thrive.
Given the immanence of ecological crisis on earth, I argue that an ethical relativity theory is required to better understand how human practices can ensure a future fit for all species. An ethics based on a relativistic framework necessarily enfolds political, economic, and social issues and ideologies that have enormous impact on today's increasingly technology-driven existence. A radical reorientation of the human subject within this technoscientific world also demands an epistemological egalitarianism that disbars contradiction in favor of contingency; no longer can any statement or event take place in isolation or without material and discursive effect. By recognizing that a posthumanist ethics requires thoughtful responsibility and allows for an open-ended future, we can capitalize on the phenomenal agency that exists all around and within us and positively affect this lively and lovely universe.
I. The Measurement Problem
“Notwithstanding the subtle character of the riddles of life, this problem has presented itself at every stage of science.”
—Niels Bohr, 1933
To illustrate Barad's central thesis that "matter and meaning are not separate elements," it is useful to take a look at how even the most basic quantum mechanical properties display the indivisible nature of nature (Barad 3). At the turn of the twentieth century, when Einstein was reformulating conceptions of time and space and Rutherford's assertion that atoms contained electrons and nuclei revolutionized physics and chemistry, Niels Bohr was willing to take scientific epistemology even further and argue that light was not only a phenomenon that could manifest itself as a particle or a wave, and was exclusively neither, but that the differentiating factor was an observer (Barad 96). In a series of gedankenexperiment, or the imaginary conduct of a real experiment to test predicted physical values, Bohr and Einstein devised a theoretical apparatus to test the viability of a theory of light that would produce either a particle pattern or an interference (wave) pattern, depending on the experimental arrangement. Einstein was determined to show that the nascent ideas of quantum theory were incorrect; Bohr suspected the paradox of wave-particle duality was integral to an emerging ontology that would accompany a successful theory of quantum physics.
The theoretical setup was this: building on Thomas Young's two-slit experiment, in which an electron source aims particles toward a partition with two slits and the resulting pattern behavior is marked on a detection screen, Bohr proposed a modification that altered the apparatus in such a way that it detects which slit an individual photon passes through on its way to the detection screen. This ‘which-path’ modification, which Bohr diagrammed in great detail in his notebooks, placed the top slit on springs, allowing the observer to measure the displacement of the top slit if an photon passes through it (Barad 101, 103-104). Bohr argued that, by experimentally observing the photon as it passes through the apparatus, the interference pattern would be destroyed; the photons would leave the marks of a particle pattern. This powerful theoretical argument debunked the ‘paradoxical’ nature of light, and instead introduced the idea that the apparatus itself played an ontological role in its very nature: light manifested as a wave and light manifested as a particle were complementary states. Light can never exhibit properties of a wave and as a particle at the same time; the distinction depends entirely on the observing experimental apparatus. In short, "the nature of the observed phenomenon changes with corresponding changes in the apparatus" (Barad 106).
Because quantum mechanics rests on a foundational principle of probability, before an observation is made, light has the potential for both a particle and a wave function. This was Bohr's revolutionary deduction. "Bohr considered the two pictures—particle picture and wave picture—as two complementary descriptions of the same reality…The transition from the 'possible' to the 'actual' takes place during the act of observation" (Heisenberg, 17, 28). This conclusion challenged the entire framework of Newtonian physics, in particular the assumption that the world is composed of individual objects with determinate properties independent of experimental or other material or discursive practices. This rejection of representationalism opened the door for radical new theories of ontology to emerge, theories that strengthened as technology grew sophisticated enough to corroborate gedankenexperiments, including the ‘which-path’ version of the two-slit experiment, experimentally. Quantum mechanical concepts that bewildered Einstein became centerpieces of modern technologies: quantum tunneling, for example, is commonly used in modern nanomaterials science, in which a semiconducting material is positioned above a sample—which can be as small as a single layer of atoms—and ‘tunnels’ electrons from the sample to the semiconducting material in order to image its topography based on the measurement of the electrons' distance between the two materials. This method is accurate and effective and has had enormous impact experimental science, providing visual models of material specimens at the atomic level; the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) even allows users to manipulate materials a single atom at a time (Barad 356).
This contemporary experimental example brings Bohr's mid-twentieth-century representationalist disavowal into even sharper focus: in an experimental setup where a person sits at a computer console used to operate an STM, which actualizes the quantum mechanical principle of tunneling to produce an abstracted image of a material sample at the atomic level, where does the ‘human’ end and the ‘apparatus’ begin? The ‘human’ role rests partly in his intellectual contribution, in the design and production of the computer, the STM, and the mathematical theory that led physicists to discover the principle of tunneling. Also playing a role are peripheral elements like the temperature of the room in which the STM rests (which must be very cold to keep the sample and semiconducting materials stable); the quality of the atomic sample itself (which must be prepared to very specific specifications in order to be a ‘viable’ sample, work that is also completed in combination of man and machine); the availability and amount of funding granted by a private institution or government, factors that are entangled with a host of political, economic, and cultural issues and that affect whether the STM is upgraded, whether the researcher can afford a graduate or postdoctoral student, whether he or a dedicated colleague is responsible for preparing the samples, etc. Like the seemingly paradoxical properties of light, this ultramodern scientific experiment demonstrates that "the line between subject and object is not fixed and it does not preexist particular practices of their engagement, but neither is it arbitrary. Rather, subject and object emerge through and as part of the specific nature of the material practices enacted" (Barad 359).
In order to further parse Bohr's ontological realignment, Barad breaks down the elements of material practices in order to recombine them using a theoretical approach that incorporates the ontological and epistemological aspects. Again using the wave-particle duality of light and its inseparable apparatus as our example, she insists that light (or more precisely, a quantum of light, or photon) is not an independent object with independently determinate boundaries and properties but emerges as an object only when an experimental apparatus resolves quantum indeterminacy—and then the apparatus must be included as part of what is being described (Barad 118). Rather than indicating a measurement of light, or providing an epistemological fact about what light is, the differentiation of light's properties of wave and particle functions are different resolutions of an inherent indeterminacy of light.
Bohr clarifies this lack of an innate distinction between the object and the agency of observation by defining this entanglement as ‘quantum wholeness’, and uses the term ‘phenomena’ to designate a particular instance of wholeness (Barad 119). Light as a quantum whole encompasses the indeterminacy of its wave/particle manifestation, and each function as displayed as the result of intervention with an experimental apparatus is a distinct, mutually exclusive phenomenon of light. "While, within the scope of classical physics, the interaction between object and apparatus can be neglected, or, if necessary, compensated for, in quantum physics this interaction thus forms an inseparable part of the phenomenon. Accordingly, the unambiguous account of proper quantum phenomena must, in principle, include a description of all relevant features of the experimental arrangement" (Bohr 1960, 4). The modified two-slit thought experiment demonstrates this concept exactly: only by altering the apparatus does it become clear that light can exhibit properties of two different material functions. The apparatus both enables this phenomenal distinction and is part of the phenomenon. In short, quantum theory exposes an essential failure of representationalism. "What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning" (Heisenberg 32).
Barad takes Bohr's post-representationalist epistemological insight and merges its ontological applications, arguing against the existence of dualisms that inform scientific and social ideologies: nature/culture; subject/object; word/world; and, importantly, epistemology/ontology. Like Bohr, she argues that phenomena are the ontological inseparability of objects and apparatuses, but she takes the idea one step further and states that phenomena are "the primary ontological unit…the term 'physical reality' can properly be attached to phenomena" (Barad 127). Every element of the universe is produced by, and productive of, phenomena.
Rather than relying on a reflexive or dichotomous method of examining the differences between phenomena, Barad suggests that ‘diffraction’ is a more productive methodology. Diffraction elucidates the patterns of differences between interacting bodies; for example, when two waves meet—say two pebbles are dropped into a still lake some distance apart—the wavelengths combine and in certain places increase the wavelength, and in others decrease it (or cancel it altogether). This property of a wave was an integral factor in the two-slit experiment, in that these intersecting waves produced the characteristic interference pattern created by photons when the experiment was performed without the ‘which-path’ modification. Barad builds on this metaphor in her philosophical framework, suggesting that all phenomena meet and affect each other, in places producing ‘subjects’ or ‘objects,’ in others producing exclusions. In the remainder of this paper, I further utilize this diffraction technique to refract Barad's philosophy at once within and outside of the ideas of her peers in ‘other’ fields—demonstrating, true to her argument, that alterity in general is inapplicable in an agential realist universe.
In direct response to the ontological inadequacies of representationalism, metaphysical individualism, and humanism—a triad that has dominated philosophical thought for centuries—Barad argues that concepts as well as bodies are meaningful not in the sense of a transcendental ideal but by virtue of their embodiment in a phenomenal dynamism (Barad 135). Following Bohr's assertion that interactions between phenomena (phenomena that include the apparatuses that enable the interactions) constitute reality, Barad offers a causal explanation of how phenomenal diffractions produce both discursive practices and material subjects and objects. Matter both plays an active role in the world's becoming and elucidates how discursive practices matter (Barad 139).
To emphasize the entangled nature of diffractive phenomena, she coins the term "intra-action," which signifies "the mutual constitution of entangled agencies" (Barad 33). Her neologism intends to supersede ‘interaction,’ which implies an inherent differentiation in its cut; "intra-action," alternatively, suggests that distinct agencies—indeed, distinct elements—do not precede their intra-action, but rather emerge through it. Therefore, "phenomena are the ontological inseparability of agentially intra-acting components" (Barad 33). Where representation takes the notion of separation as foundational, intra-action takes the notion of entanglement: through specific intra-actions, boundaries and properties of the components of phenomena become determinate, and particular material articulations of the world emerge and become meaningful. Bohr's conception of quantum wholeness becomes a fabric that encompasses everything in the universe; phenomena constitute reality by the always-already dynamic intra-active interplay between them, within the whole. "[T]he world thus appears as a complicated tissue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine and thereby determine the texture of the whole" (Heisenberg 81).
Barad writes that each intra-action includes the larger material arrangement—or set of material practices—effects an "agential cut" that differentiates "subject" from "object", enacting a resolution within the phenomenon (and resolving its inherent principle of indeterminacy) (Barad 154). "[I]ntra-actions enact agential separability—the condition of exteriority-within-phenomena…phenomena are differential patterns of mattering ('diffraction patterns') produced through complex agential intra-actions of multiple material-discursive practices or apparatuses of bodily production, where apparatuses are not mere observing instruments but boundary-drawing practices—specific material (re)configurings of the world—which come to matter" (Barad 140). In Barad's agential realist framework, alterity becomes a metaphysical ghost, an ontological illusion. There is no ‘other’ in the Lacanian sense; all phenomena comprise and are comprised by intra-actions with other phenomena. Like a Mobius strip, reality is a thing-in-itself.
As will become evident later in this paper, it's important to note that this reconfiguration of material agency necessarily decenters the human, as our existence becomes just one manifestation of a particular agential cut, and no cut has hierarchical power. This is not to say that technoscience and other material practices, themselves producing boundaries, don't have cultural or ideological power that instills hierarchies firmly rooted in reality; however, these processes are not materiallyhierarchical according to Barad's philosophy. Humans, atoms, ideas, gravity, etc. all are produced via the same dynamic process of intra-activity. According to her interpretation of Bohr, bodies (whether subjects or objects) and theoretical concepts are specific physical arrangements (Barad 139).
Crucial to Barad's argument is that agential realism reworks the traditional notion of causality, since the agential cut enacts a causal structure among components of a phenomenon in the marking of a 'subject' and 'object'. The measuring process itself—the cut differentiated by the agential intra-action—is causal. Reality can't be 'observed' with remove, nor can a 'subject' exist separately from the material-discursive practices that produced it. "Reality is composed not of things-in-themselves or things-behind-phenomena but things-within-phenomena. The world is a dynamic process of intra-activity and materialization…this ongoing flow of agency through which part of the world makes itself differentially intelligible to another part of the world and through which causal structures are stabilized and destabilized does not take place in space and time but happens in the making of spacetime itself…it is through specific intra-actions that phenomena come to matter—in both senses of the word" (Barad 140).
The world, then, is an open process that continually transforms matter and meaning through different agential possibilities, a dynamism that is itself agency. "Agency is not an attribute but the ongoing reconfigurings of the world. The universe is agential intra-activity in its becoming" (Barad 141). This formulation opens up the possibility to examine reality, ethics, and humans and their role in the universe from a radically different viewpoint than classical metaphysics: no longer is the human defined in relation to its exteriority, or fulfilled by peering into the ontological gap. There is no ontological gap; there is only a continually transforming series of engagements with the other, which is everything; the other is us. "Phenomena—whether lizards, electrons, or humans—exist only as a result of, and as part of, the world's ongoing intra-activity, its dynamic and contingent differentiation into specific relationalities" (Barad 353).
Having set up Barad's agential realist framework, I'll diffract Barad's concepts of intra-action and dynamic becoming through contemporary philosophical and scientific thought—fields that should not be considered as separate—and explore its applications in ethics, ultimately arguing that new theories of information and biochemistry provide a basis for a posthumanist ethics that is truly entangled.
II. The Paradox of the Arche-Fossil
“How can a being manifest being’s anteriority to manifestation? What is it that permits mathematical discourse to bring to light experiments whose material informs us about a world anterior to experience?”
—Quentin Meillassoux, 2008
The ways in which the particle-wave duality of light challenged Bohr to shift the ontological perspective from 'things' to 'phenomena' provide a radical opportunity to push the boundaries of representationalism and envision a universe that is implicated in our intra-actions, and not just a physical precursor to our reality. While this reorientation is an empowering one, granting all phenomena agency and a role in the universe's dynamic material-discursive becoming, it also raises new questions about the observer and her relation to these phenomenal happenings. Barad's framework insists that epistemology can be enfolded into ontology, that the two philosophical approaches are articulations of one material-discursive process that produces matter and meaning. "Knowing is a direct material engagement, and a practice of intra-acting with the world as part of the world in its dynamic material reconfiguring, its ongoing articulation. The entangled practices of knowing and being are material practices" (Barad 379). Barad sets the stage for a universe that reconfigures via these practices without end; neatly inscribed in her theory is all that surrounds and comprises us, all that we perceive to be.
At stake in this reformulation, and what must be addressed in order to suggest an agential theory of posthumanist ethics, is the nature of thought's relation to the absolute. If an observer can be reduced to an entanglement of intra-actions, and if intelligibility is not the result of actions by a human intellection as such but of an ongoing performance of the world in its dynamic articulation, what can we make of the observer's relation to those vast numbers of intra-actions that perform outside of our purview? (Barad 379). Quentin Meillassoux moves the focus of an ontological and epistemological analysis past the structural and to the sensible. "Nothing sensible—whether it be an affective or perceptual quality—can exist in the way it is given to me in the thing by itself, when it is not related to me or to any other living creature…[r]emove the observer, and the world becomes devoid of these sonorous, visual, olfactory, etc., qualities, just as the flame becomes devoid of pain once the finger is removed" (Meillassoux 1). Without resorting to representationalism, Meillassoux insists that primary qualities of phenomena should not be discarded as a relic of dogmatism; alternatively, he argues that "the correlation of thought and being is not reducible to the correlation between subject and object" (Meillassoux 7). In a move echoing Barad, Meillassoux goes further and rejects the notion of 'correlation' and its binary implications, instead suggesting that 'contingency' is a more apt term for what he argues governs the relations between the laws of nature. This subtle shift in terminology has wide-ranging implications that at once succeed in overcoming the trappings of metaphysical humanism and incorporate the necessity of mathematical logic, making his speculative materialism a productive lens through which I will focus and then build on Barad's agential realism.
Meillassoux, like Bohr, introduces a thought experiment to launch his philosophy: in his epistemological and ontological deconstruction, he probes how discursive and material practices have allowed scientists to so blithely produce statements about events anterior to the advent of life—indeed, anterior to what we consider to be consciousness. Facts and figures that populate the scientific canon like the age of the universe (13.81 billion years) or the origin of life on earth (3.5 billion years ago) are accepted as certainties (not unrevisable necessarily, as the recent Planck satellite results made clear) but certainties nonetheless (European Space Commission 2013). Like the ontological nature of light, more information may be discovered that adds detail or reveals new entanglements about the phenomena, but the fact that we can reliably make statements about such events is rarely, if ever, the subject of debate. We study the wavelength of light emanating from primordial stars to deduce the rate of expansion of the universe, and date fossils that appear in the earth's crust to determine the nature of creatures that existed prior to the emergence of the first hominids. This particular discursive form—that of the arche-fossil, or of materials indicating the existence of an ancestral reality anterior to every form of human relation to the world—is what prompts Meillassoux to question the relation between thought and the absolute. "How are we to think the meaning of a discourse which constitutes a relation to the world—that of thinking and/or living—as a fact inscribed in a temporality within which this relation is just one event among others, inscribed in an order of succession in which it is merely a stage, rather than an origin?" (Meillassoux 10). Meillassoux implicates the empirical sciences and their capacity to yield knowledge by identifying mathematics specifically as the operative entity that traverses the human and non-human; by having the ability to "discourse about a past where both humanity and life are absent", mathematics "brings to life experiments whose material informs us about a world anterior to experience" (Meillassoux 26). Mathematics, in Meillassoux's formulation of contingency, becomes the discursive form of material practices, and therefore it becomes possible for knowledge (a distributed material-discursive practice, in Barad's agential realism) to both exist and transform the universe without a human referee. Meillassoux's challenge to philosophical thought, a challenge implied but not directly addressed by Barad, is whether it is possible to grasp the in-itself, to think the apparently unthinkable, "to know what is whether we are or not" (Meillassoux 27).
For something to exist without humans also existing seems like an obvious point: it's taken for granted that almost all of the universe's existence occurred ancestrally. While Meillassoux avoids including this in his essay, I also argue that the problem of ancestrality can be formulated to question the nature of indeterminacy in any temporal circumstance; implicated in Meillassoux's question of the absolute is the same measurement problem elucidated by the wave-particle duality of light: is light a wave or a particle before an apparatus makes an eventual cut that produces a phenomenal whole? Is this determination meaningful under circumstances that preclude a human observer? In other words: is there an ontology of light without an observer, either in the seconds after the Big Bang or in 2013? Meillassoux's problem of ancestrality serves to pose bigger questions about contingency and finitude, but it warrants mentioning that within Barad's framework—and within quantum mechanics—a circumstance outside of human experience doesn't necessarily need to be anterior to human experience outright.
It's still a productive question: how does a non-metaphysical absolute, and therefore one that avoids strict belief, become capable of founding science's ancestral discourse? I argue that a posthumanist turn is required here; only by decentering the human and the implied superiority of human thinking can a truly accessible absolute reveal itself, and one that finds a discourse of ancestrality just one point of access to an "eternal property of what is" (Meillassoux 52). Rather than ideating discourse as an entity that requires alterity—as a phenomenon that requires the existence of an outside observer—it can be understood as an indication of an absence of exteriority altogether. "[T]here is no outside to the universe, there is no way to describe the entire system, so that the description always occurs from within: only part of the world can be made intelligible to itself at a time, because the other part of the world has to be the part that it makes a difference to" (Barad 351). This relational ontology eliminates both the necessity of a metaphysical 'other' and also the requirement that knowledge (for example, whether a photon is a particle or a wave) requires the medium of human thought. Humans, in Barad's philosophy, emerge as intra-actions within the universe's dynamism; we are "a specifically differentiated phenomena, that is, specific configurations of the differential becoming of the world, of that world of which we are a part—not as spectator, not as pure cause, not as mere effect" (Barad 352).
Meillassoux argues that this lack of foundational alterity can be considered an absolute lack of reason, which he calls "unreason", and that this property of the universe is an absolute ontological property: only the absence of reason for any phenomena to exist is absolute, and not the mark of our finitude of our knowledge. "[T]he truth is that there is no reason for anything to be or to remain thus and so rather than otherwise, and this applies as much to the laws that govern the world as to the things of the world" (Meillassoux 53). Rather than define reality by how 'subjects' and 'objects' are manifested in relation to an other, or to a body of knowledge perceived as logical or deduced by reason, Meillassoux's unreason requires the very agency that Barad insists is responsible for being. In his formulation, "it is absolutely necessary that every entity might not exist…everything must, without reason, be able not to be and/or be able to be other than it is" (Meillassoux 60). This is not simply a Popperian falsifiability in the sense that there is no thesis that Meillassoux is attempting to disprove; his universe is simply without reason, capable of collapse at any moment, sustained only by its non-necessity for existence. Essentially, he takes Barad's material-discursive intra-actions and reiterates their independence from observation: nothing keeps physical laws from disobeying themselves except their own intra-active agency sustained by eternally productive intra-actions. The "very substance [of intelligibility and materiality] is morphologically active and generative and plays an agential role in its differential production, it ongoing materialization...There is only exteriority within, that is, agential separability" (Barad 377). Humans are one emergence of these diffractions, but hardly a necessary one. Meillassoux presents his paradox of the arche-fossil to demonstrate that any dynamic articulation of the universe—including knowledge of its existence and behavior prior to human existence—obeys no determinate law, and that this is the only absolute. Where Barad’s primary ontological unit is agency, Meillassoux’s is unreason—I argue that in a posthumanist rubric, these are complementary states.
Further echoing Barad's insistence that all matter and meaning are interrelated and inextricable in their mutual becoming, Meillassoux builds on his definition of the absolute by arguing for "the absolute necessity of the contingency of everything" in the universe (Meillassoux 62). Barad's theory of entangled phenomena uses different language to say essentially the same thing: both argue that every material or discursive iteration is necessarily bound up in every other. "Space, time, and matter do not exist prior to the intra-actions that reconstitute entanglements" (Barad 74). Meillassoux also insists on a reformulated causal agency when he writes that "absolute contingency designates a pure possibility", albeit one that may never materialize; his contingent universe is open-ended, one where "anything might happen, even nothing at all" (Meillassoux 62-63). This limitlessness is, to him, possibility and also chaos; without reason to support a foundation of laws and their persistence, "nothing is or would seem impossible, not even the unthinkable" (Meillassoux 64). This primary absolute is, then, the unreasonable, unpredictable "limitless and lawless power of [the] destruction, emergence, or persistence" of the universe—a contingent, eternal chaos that endlessly intra-acts to form new bodies and exclusions, intra-actions that are themselves agency (Meillassoux 63).
It's crucial that this ontological property of the universe be chaotic in order to retain intra-active agency within Barad's realism. “According to quantum theory, the vacuum [of the universe] is far from empty; indeed, it’s teeming with the full set of possibilities of what may come to be” (Barad 353). Whether it be the roiling primordial quark-gluon plasma or the complex technoscientific entanglements of the 21st century, chaos holds promise in its possibility, in its unrelenting entangled fluctuation. Meillassoux's contingency is Barad's entanglement; both rely on being at once produced by and productive of the matter and meaning that emerges, is destroyed, or persists in the universe. "The necessity of the contingency of the entity imposes the necessary existence of the contingent entity" (Meillassoux 74).
Bohr's breakthrough that a phenomenal whole encompasses a significantly enriched ontology, including the observer and the apparatus, defines contingency as absolute; at the same time, the messy business of identifying what the apparatus is and who the observer is demonstrates the underlying chaos present in an absolute posthumanist ontology. When describing the scanning tunneling microscope that so perfectly embodies the tricky relationship between subject and object, observer and apparatus, Barad is unable to list every participant in the experiment, sugesting there may be no finite number (Barad 356). It may not matter whether such phenomenal wholes are identifiable in precise ways; even such a discussion about which participants count as part of the whole is an example of the chaotic nature of entangled intra-actions, producing a new discourse that must then be incorporated into the phenomenal whole, and so on. "The reconfiguring of the world continues without end. Matter's dynamism is inexhaustible, exuberant, and prolific" (Barad 170).
Here Meillassoux bridges the gap between Barad's philosophy of matter and meaning and his speculative theory of the sensible absolute: he argues that the "immutable laws of becoming" are an illusion, that a stable empirical constant is metaphysical wishful thinking (Meillassoux 83). Rather, the emergent dynamics of the intra-active universe—the universe of unreason-able contingency—is propelled by chaos, and complexity itself is possible because of it. "The speculative releases us from the phenomenal stability of empirical constants by elevating us to the purely intelligible chaos that underlies every aspect of it" (Meillassoux 83).
This again reorients causality, throwing into doubt even the most elemental beliefs about the universe and its laws. Bohr's insight of a phenomenal whole demolished the binary construction of things and their measurements, but doesn't abdicate the idea that there are rules by which things and measurements adhere. Whether photons act as waves or particles, their speed remains 183,000 miles per second, based on every single piece of observed evidence. But Meillassoux pushes this assumption, arguing that this evidence only verifies the behavior of natural laws in their progressive unfolding, not in their causal necessity. "It is our senses that impose this belief of causality upon us" (Meillassoux 91). The manifest stability of physical laws is not what Meillassoux argues against—it's obvious that physical laws are stable and consistent, even when our scientific or philosophical theories that describe them are not—but the belief that this stability is immutable and eternal. If physical laws, and all intra-actions, have agency, then anything is possible; one cause may bring about an infinite number of resulting events. An acausal universe would be as consistent as a causal universe, and just as capable of accounting for our actual experiences as a causal universe; but without an inherent necessity, the dynamic becoming that manifests all matter and meaning can be conceptualized without an origin story, and the paradox of the arche-fossil can be inscribed within the very dynamism that that produces it. "We have nothing to lose by moving from a causal to an acasual universe—nothing but enigmas" (Meillassoux 92).
Detaching the history of the universe and our place within it from representationalist causality gives the universe itself agency, and perfectly fits Barad's model of agential realism, allowing for a universe that is not "merely an idea that exists in the human mind. To the contrary, 'mind' is a specific material configuration of the world" (Barad 379). The problem of using the human mind to deduce information about the universe prior to that human mind existing becomes a moot point when considered within a contingent, intra-active universe: the fact that we know that the Big Bang occurred 3.81 billion years ago is simply a manifestation of matter and meaning intra-acting across time and space that is itself composed of, and always-already composing, that very matter and meaning. Contingency allows for a stability of phenomena within this acausal dynamism, while also allowing that such an agential contingency provides "the condition for consciousness as well as for a science of nature" (Meillassoux 93). By specifying a contingent necessity within an agential universe, he enlivens Barad's theory and gives its posthumanist foothold new purchase.
Finally, Meillassoux introduces a condition of his speculative materialism that brings agential realism to a point of quantum mechanical application, and crucially, disregards the aleatory as an element of emergent matter and meaning: the condition is the mathematical transfinite, or the detotalizable. "There is a mathematical way of rigorously distinguishing contingency from chance, and it is provided by the transfinite" (Meillassoux 104). Meillassoux uses the transfinite to demonstrate that chance alone is not enough to warrant the complexity of a universe with stable physical laws, and that the quantifiable totality of the thinkable is, according to the contingent absolute, unthinkable—and therefore capable of existing ancestrally.
A concept originally introduced by the mathematician Georg Cantor using whole numbers, a transfinite universe would be conceptualized as a set of possible events compared to the number of possible groupings of said events. These groupings can be in pairs, multiples, or even ‘one’ or ‘all.’ Cantor's theorem states that this possible number of groupings always exceeds the number of events in the set, even if the set contains an infinite number of events (Meillassoux 104).
Consider each grouping an intra-action, and it becomes obvious that mere chance encounters would not suffice to allow a consistent universe to emerge from the set's innate chaos; there are too many possibilities for a stable set of physical laws to exist. This application of Cantor's theorem to Barad's philosophy of agential realism provides space for Meillassoux's contingency to act as a sort of missing link: with contingency guiding these chaotic, transfinite intra-actions toward a stable physical universe, agency within these dynamic entanglements is opportunity for an eternally increasing complexity—a complexity that physicist Seth Lloyd argues led to a series of informational revolutions, including life. "It is precisely this super-immensity of the chaotic virtual that allows the impeccable stability of the visible world" (Meillassoux 111).
III. Quantum Information Theory
“Every detail that we see around us, every vein on a leaf, every whorl on a fingerprint, every star in the sky, can be traced back to some bit that quantum mechanics created.”
—Seth Lloyd, 2010
According to Barad, "intra-actions are…enactments through which matter-in-the-process-of-becoming is sedimented out and enfolded in further materializations…reconfiguring the material-discursive field of possibilities and impossibilities in the ongoing dynamics of intra-activity that is agency" (Barad 170). I've established via Meillassoux that propelling this dynamism is a chaotic field of possible events held in check by contingency; the contingent nature of emerging and inextricable intra-actions has allowed the universe to evolve from a featureless particle soup to the magnificently complex assembly of galaxies and life that is our reality. But what is this matter-in-the-process-of-becoming? What universal clay comprises these intra-active, contingent events? What comprises all matter and meaning, including us?
Lloyd argues that the fundamental makeup of the universe is 'bits' of information. Drawing from Claude Shannon's insight that matter and meaning can be described in a series of binary digits, typically written as '0' and '1', Lloyd describes everything in the universe as a series of informational bits that interact, or 'flip', to process that information with increasing complexity. In an uncanny development of Barad's physics-philosophy and Meillassoux's speculative materialism, Lloyd provides the mathematical structure on which the transfinite universe is built. "The significance of a bit depends not just on its value but on how that value affects other bits over time, as part of the continued information processing that makes up the dynamical evolution of the universe…every interaction between those pieces of the universe processes that information by altering those bits" (Lloyd 3). Barad's semantics are more precise—and Lloyd would likely agree with her neologism 'intra-action' according to his quantum information theory—but the overlap in their proposed frameworks is undeniable. Diffracting Lloyd's information through agential realism will illuminate how all three philosophers' theories embrace posthumanism, and how a new posthumanist ethics is possible.
The core of Lloyd's argument is that "information is physical" (Lloyd xi). Like Barad’s statement that "theoretical concepts are specific physical arrangements," this is profound in that it makes explicit the inextricable nature of matter and meaning, which are not differentiated when defined as information (Barad 139). For example, consider a leaf, an inanimate but living object. Its information is manifold: it is green; it stores carbon; it produces oxygen; to some creatures, it is delicious; to the soil beneath it, nutritious; if detached from its root, it will fall to the ground, subject to the law of gravity; etc.
Like Barad's endless list of elements that comprise a phenomenal whole, the ways in which an object contains or conveys information is unending and bound up in the information processing systems that comprise it and are comprised by it.
The universe is an ongoing quantum information process where "the laws of quantum mechanics, which govern all physical systems, make finite the bits required to specify the microscopic state of the [leaf] and its atoms…each nuclear spin in an atom's core registers but a single bit" (Lloyd x). Since everything in the entire universe is made up of atoms, every possible manifestation, from planets to furniture to forests to consciousness, can be broken down to spinning nucleons and their accompanying bits of information.
Refining an argument that will become important to a posthumanist ethics and its relationship to technoscientific practices, Lloyd asserts that because of its ongoing information processing, and because information processing is explicitly computational—as Shannon's insight proved, launching the electronic revolution—"the history of the universe is a huge and ongoing quantum computation" (Lloyd 3). In effect, the universe itself is indiscernible from a quantum computer.
Further echoing the theories laid forth by Barad and Meillassoux, Lloyd argues that the history of this computational universe is complex because of the necessarily compounded interactions (intra-actions) between bits; the history of the universe is, in fact, a succession of information revolutions, which developed from basic flipping bits to sex and life to language and digital technology. “Just as informational events are quintessential at the lowest level of quantum reality, so are informational structures quintessential as driving forces for the historical unfolding of physical reality” (Davies 7). This intrinsic ability of matter and energy to process information is Barad's intra-active agency; it is another way of expressing the fundamental parity of all dynamic materializations in the universe. "All physical systems are at bottom quantum-mechanical, and all physical systems register and process information. The world is composed of elementary particles…and each elementary piece of a physical system registers a chunk of information: one particle, one bit. When these pieces interact, they transform and process that information, bit by bit. Each collision between elementary particles acts as a simple logical operation, or 'op'" (Lloyd 6). I argue that these quantum 'ops' can be thought of as 'intra-active agential cuts'; ops are exactly the "agentially enacted ontological separability within the phenomenon…an agential cut" (Barad 175). The universe is a democracy of information that collides and transforms to produce from the flipping-bit chaos every single instance of matter and meaning.
In order to explain how the universe's evolution is necessarily of increasing complexity, Lloyd argues that energy and information play complementary roles resulting in a dynamism capable of exploiting the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics. "In this paradigm, there are two primary quantities, energy and information, standing on equal footing and playing off each other…Energy makes physical systems do things. Information tells them what to do" (Lloyd 169, 40). Because activity within quantum mechanics is inherently uncertain, detail and structure emerge and compound at a rate that far exceeds what would be possible via mere chance.
In complete agreement with Meillassoux, for whom chance is incapable of producing stability, Lloyd uses French mathematician Emile Borel's example of a million monkeys banging on typewriters for ten hours a day for a year and producing Hamlet. Based on chance alone, Lloyd argues there is literally no possibility that any of these monkeys could produce even one act of Hamlet—never mind, as Borel later insisted, all of the great works in the English language. Lloyd goes on to calculate that even if every elementary particle in the universe was a monkey (totaling 1090 monkeys), and each of these monkeys had been typing nonstop since the beginning of the universe, the best they could string together in sequence is a dozen of Shakespeare's words: "Hamlet, Act I, Scene I. Enter Barnardo and Francisco. Barnardo: Who's there?" But if the thought experiment is altered slightly, and those typewriters become computers, the computers become capable of interpreting those meaningless sequences as instructions and use them to construct the patterns that give rise to entities with increased complexity (Lloyd 59-61). In our quantum universe, quantum fluctuations are the ‘monkeys,’ are the intra-actions, that program the universe.
Applied to his theory of the universe, those early bits produced by the Big Bang (which Lloyd coyly refers to as "the Bit Bang") were the "seeds of future detail ranging from the positions of galaxies to the locations of mutations in DNA. These random bits, introduced by quantum mechanics, in effect programmed the later behavior of the universe" (Lloyd 61). Since energy and information are the complementary results of these quantum mechanical intra-actions, the universe that evolves by processing information and the universe that evolves by the laws of physics are one and the same. "The two descriptions, computational and physical, are complementary ways of capturing the same phenomena" (Lloyd 38). Here Bohr's insight once again finds reinscription: his philosophical breakthrough that parses the inextricability of object and subject can be traced as an inextricability of energy and information, which is the inextricability of matter and meaning.
Pushing Bohr, Barad insists that the transfiguring intra-actions of the universe itself generate every aspect of reality, and that reality is independent of an observer, human or otherwise. "These causal intra-actions need not involve humans. Indeed, it is through such practices that the differential boundaries between humans and nonhumans, culture and nature, science and the social, are constituted" (Barad 140). Lloyd's paradigm of a universe of informational evolution is similarly independent of a causal human relationship. "The total amount of information, known and unknown, in a physical system does not depend on how it is observed" (Lloyd 81). It's a neat proof of Meillassoux's paradox of the arche-fossil, in that a theory of information embodies Meillassoux's idea that a transfinite mathematics is the universal absolute: the number of combinations made possible by different bits playing different roles in the universe is always more than the number of bits in the universe, even if the number of bits is infinite. “The laws of physics are inherent in and emergent with the universe, not just transcendent of it” (Davies 83). This mathematical absolute allowed the quantum fluctuations of the early universe to give rise to bodies with increasing complexity, including—but not determined by—human beings capable of deducing information about this ancestral reality.
Lloyd's physics-philosophy, and its explicit complementarity with Bohr's radical theory of entangled phenomena and Meillassoux’s contingent theory of the transfinite, adds richness and solidity to Barad's agential realism. Where Barad insists that different bodies exist "as a result of, and as part of, the world's ongoing intra-activity, its dynamic and contingent differentiation into specific relationalities," Lloyd provides the mathematically viable ingredients that compose the phenomena on a quantum scale (Barad 353). Barad's dynamism is Meillassoux's chaos is Lloyd's uncertainty: a predictable and unchanging universe, all agree, would fail to have produced complexity or life. "The theory of quantum mechanics gives rise to large-scale structure because of its intrinsically probabilistic nature. Counterintuitive as it may seem, quantum mechanics produces detail and structure because it is inherently uncertain" (Lloyd 49).
We are quantum creatures, living in a contingent and entangled quantum universe. The fact that our particular manifestation is human bears no evidence of exceptionalism within these philosophies that probe the nature of matter and meaning—but, as Barad makes clear, this does not eliminate the burden of possibility that living in an open-ended and always-already transfiguring world presents. Humans may not have an innate material privilege, but we do bear responsibility for our entangled intra-actions. "The world is not populated with things that are more or less the same or different than one another. Relations to do not follow relata, but the other way around" (Barad 136-137).
“But it is not only we humans who encounter entities as information; the same holds for non-human entities in their encounters with each other…it is not just human consciousness that translates reality into information; relationality in general must do this.”
—Graham Harman, 2009
At the core of my agential realist diffraction is the decentering of the human: as demonstrated by Bohr, Meillassoux, and Lloyd, the universe is dynamic, entangled, and exists independently of any human observer. "All bodies, including but not limited to human bodies, come to matter through the world's iterative intra-activity…boundaries, properties, and meanings are differentially enacted through the intra-activity of mattering. The very nature of materiality is entanglement" (Barad 392). The metaphysics that places human experience and sensibility at the center of all knowledge and knowledge production is a fallacy undermined by theories of quantum mechanics and mathematics, even as those frameworks are claimed to be discovered or invented by humans; this irony is not lost on Meillassoux, whose understanding of a universe defined by a mathematical infinite provides the posthumanist spin that supports a necessary contingency. "[The transfinite] now indicates a world capable of autonomy—a world wherein bodies as well as their movements can be described independently of their sensible qualities…the world manifests itself as capable of subsisting without any of those aspects that constitute its concreteness for [human beings]. In this capacity…mathematized science is able to deploy a world that is separable from man" (Meillassoux 115).
Here Meillassoux intends "separable" not as a physical separability, but a sensible one: a rose will emit a scent whether a nose is nearby to sniff it or not. His underlying insistence on the contingency of all entities even while using this sensible distance in fact reinforces Barad's theory of agential entanglement: when a human does sniff the rose to inhale its scent, a new phenomenal whole is cut from the material-discursive fabric of the universe. Meillassoux's point that "the world possesses a persistence and permanence that is completely unaffected by our existence or inexistence" serves to provide another way of conceptualizing the inherent error of metaphysics to reify human beings over other material-discursive bodies; the universe itself, it's clear, makes no such assumption (Meillassoux 116).
The transition from philosophical materialism to quantum mechanical materialism bolsters Barad's argument that human bodies are the result of emergent material practices. The computational universe that evolved to include informational structures of such complexity as human beings is not preferential, but filled with infinite possibility. "Human beings are not the only physical systems that participate in a complex, rich computation. Every atom, every elementary particle participates in the huge computation that is the universe. At bottom, each bit of information is just a bit. In their ability to register and process information, all bits are equal" (Lloyd 210). Taking seriously these three contemporary thinkers' claims, no longer can a humanist imperialism of matter hold forth in either physics or philosophy; the scope of the conversation shifts perceptibly away from theories of comparison as introspection and to entanglement as extrasensory. "There is no separate substance, no vis vitae or vital force, that makes us living, breathing human beings. We are made of atoms, like everything else" (Lloyd 116). Its simplicity is devastating to anthropocentric power; its evidence is abundant and empowering.
This epistemological repositioning and ontological deprioritizing of human bodies allows, as Barad contends, an opportunity to reexamine the relationship of ontology, epistemology, and ethics in relation to each other and to us. During the first quantum revolution, this kind of philosophical inquiry was not excluded from conversations about physics. In his discussion about the measurement problem, and in particular about the dangers of representation in language ("Actually, we need not speak of particles at all"), Heisenberg wrote "we can leave it open for the moment, whether this…is a statement about the way in which we should talk about atomic events or a statement about the events themselves, whether it refers to epistemology or ontology" (Heisenberg 22). Such statements have since become rare in both physics and the humanities (at least on the public record) in part because of a slow descent of the ‘hard sciences’ into esoteric authority, and in part because of a schism between the fields as a result of the clamor for deconstruction of all ideologies and practices, including scientific ones. It could be argued that the Sokal affair was the final straw, and the vestiges remain. “The enemy here, so to speak, is a set of common misconceptions about the aims and results of both physics and philosophy. The misconception about physics is that it, and it alone, is the only legitimate or productive approach to the fundamental aspects of the physical world. The mistake about philosophy is that its methods proceed completely independently of the natural sciences” (Kuhlman 2).
I argue that a return to physics-philosophies like Bohr's and Heisenberg's, and a centering of ontology, epistemology, and ethics on what humans share with the universe—not what sets us apart—is required in order to bring the existence of humanity on earth back from the brink of self-destruction. Establishing a framework of critical thought with a posthumanist vector allows for an entangled series of networks to emerge; the responsibility of human experience as the lens through which reality is 'real' is removed, and can be replaced with a responsibility of entanglement by dint of the agency which all phenomena share, the agency that all phenomena are. "[W]hat we need is something like ethico-onto-epistem-ology—an appreciation of the intertwining of ethics, knowing, and being—since each intra-action matters, since the possibilities for what the world may become call out in the pause that precedes each breath before a moment comes into being and the world is remade again, because the becoming of the world is a deeply ethical matter" (Barad 185). To preface how ethics in particular comes to matter in a posthumanist universe, posthumanism itself warrants a closer look.
Theoretically, it's a tricky suggestion: how does one think about a posthumanist world, in which human thinking has no priority? How do non-human phenomenal agencies find parity in a material space so ideologically dominated by humans? Is it possible to realign human perspective toward a post-metaphysics? Meillassoux's paradox of the arche-fossil is instructive here, but doesn't explicitly address a posthumanist philosophy outside of his theory of the absolute; the mathematical transfinite is a posthumanist conceptualization, but I'm interested in exploring a philosophy of the contemporary posthumanist universe as humans exist in it, which includes how humans are capable of creating epistemologies of the anterior (or posterior) universe. By reconstructing a ethico-episto-onto-logical framework from information up, it's possible to respect the entangled agencies of all phenomenal intra-actions including, but without reifying, humans.
Barad's theory of a universe always-already produced by and producing all phenomena via dynamic intra-actions becomes a method by which to explore our ethical place in the world, but without becoming just another ideology—by definition, its material-discursive import is defined by, and definitive of, only its place within the emerging intra-active agencies that surround it. In turn, this human-produced essay is a starting point among many others: it takes an entangled material-discursive place within the theories that inscribe and inform it. A posthumanist philosophy can't exclude humans, and instead must take responsibility for the power that we do have, while recognizing how entrenched this responsibility and power is with a universe teeming with entangled phenomena, including the laws of physics. It becomes crucial to analyze not just how humans intra-act with our material-discursive surroundings, but how the differences that result from those intra-actions matter. "Posthumanism marks the practice of accounting for the boundary-making practices by which the 'human' and its others are differentially delineated and defined…Humans are part of the world-body space in its dynamic structuration" (Barad 136, 185).
But this structuration is fraught with metaphysical polarities, including many that supersede the human/nonhuman divide. Graham Harman contends that the classical metaphysical 'mind-body problem' should be thought of as "a more basic body-body problem…the inadequacies of materialism arises not from its inability to balance its accounts in the physical realm. It ignores the problem of how relations arise between two beings" (Harman 253). Classical materialism and representationalism ignore this relation between bodies and the practices that account for their emergence; like Barad, who writes that "like any good magician, representationalism would have us focus on what seems to be evidently given, hiding the very practices that produce the illusion of givenness," Harman argues against an ontology in which things are reducible to a listing of attributes (Barad 360). "I hold that the being of things is never commensurate with descriptions of any sort" (Harman 254). The idea of description itself implies a positioning of humans as the phenomena uniquely capable of doing the describing—an immediate fall into a humanist ontology incapable of incorporating the entangled material-discursive characteristics of matter that the laws of quantum mechanics demands.
Instead of identifying humans as having hierarchical relations with the objects around us, a posthumanist ontology defines humans as "part of the world in its ongoing intra-activity" (Barad 184). Drawing Lloyd's theory of quantum information into Barad's agential realism, it becomes evident that description is not only inadequate, but impossible; according to a universe of endless flipping bits intra-acting to form increasingly complex phenomena, a description is infinite. “Quantum mechanics demolishes the concept of an external state of reality in which all meaningful variables could be assigned well-defined values at all times” (Davies 67). All material energies and their underlying informational values are entangled and play a role in the diffracted becomings that manifest as phenomena, and there is no ontological division between them. "Entanglement is responsible for the generation of information in the universe…by naming things—by assigning meanings to words—we introduce artificial distinctions that fail to capture the underlying wholeness of the universe" (Lloyd 119, 153).
The philosophical problem cannot, then, regard 'things' and human access to them, but opposition between any two entities in the universe, with no preferential philosophical treatment to those that involve humans. "The single pampered modern rift between human and world gives way to trillions of rifts between all beings in the cosmos….and just as importantly, any entity can serve as intermediary—not just god or the human mind" (Harman 259). God and the human mind are just two of an infinite number of manifest intra-actions of the dynamic universe. "The world is not merely an idea that exists in the human mind. To the contrary, 'mind' is a specific material configuration of the world" (Barad 379). 'Mind', then, is produced by (and productive of) information, whether described as a 'brain' or as 'consciousness', the material or the discursive. "Information is described as having a 'double aspect,' since both phenomenal and physical realities can be seen in informational terms" (Harman 269).
Whether the absolute ontological unit is a single phenomenon or a single bit (Barad and Lloyd's preferred units, respectively), the point is that the human need not be the sole purveyor of encounter. "All bits are equal"; information is fundamentally egalitarian (Lloyd 210). "[I]t is not only we who encounter other entities as information; the same holds for non-human entities in their relations with each other…it is not just human consciousness that translates reality into information; relationality in general must do this. You and I encounter nothing but information, and so do protons, electrons, candles, dogs" (Harman 274). Whether a phenomenon is living or inert, a black hole or consciousness, its existence is the result of the same basic forces that underlie all of reality and comprise everything in the universe. "It is true that despite the wholeness of the living organism, a sharp distinction between animate and inanimate matter can certainly not be made" (Heisenberg 128).
Positioning information as the common currency of intra-active phenomena and the complexity those intra-actions yield makes posthumanism the obvious philosophical choice, and this will have deep implications on my discussion of ethics.
V. An Ethics of Truths
“Let us say that a subject, which goes beyond the animal, needs something to have happened, something that cannot be reduced to its ordinary inscription in ‘what there is’. Let us call this supplement an event, and let us distinguish from multiple-being, where it not a matter of truth (but only of opinions), from the event, which compels us to decide a new way of being.”
—Alain Badiou, 2002
“Je est un autre.”
Posthumanist or not, ethics is a tricky subject. Many issues touched by 'right' and 'wrong' depend on circumstance, perspective, or culture. Terminally ill adults of sound mind who ask for a dignified death may be denied this request based on an ethical imperative of life; advanced medical treatments that save or prolong human lives may be accused of unwarranted cruelty in their testing on animals. Even syntax is implicated; one may interpret my state of mind on such issues based on how I constructed these sentences (though he may well be incorrect in his guess). My goal in this essay is not to delve into one particular issue or another and argue its innate value, good or bad. I aim, instead, to lay a framework for a new advance in human thinking that places our role in the universe away from heedless consumption in the interest perceived self-interest: the core of my argument is that by thinking of the world as entangled at every level, consumption is redefined as the opposite of our self-interest Furthermore, the diffractive effects of this behavior harm almost every single particle on the planet, which will ultimately eliminate the ecosystem capable of supporting us. In this way, my posthumanist goals become selfish by entanglement; but as Barad's agential realism has reminded us time and time again, diffractive effects are reverberative, so a selfish ethics can also be selfless.
By positioning ethics within a framework that prioritizes neither humanity nor alterity, Alain Badiou provides an opportunity to diffract agential realism, and its quantum mechanical and materialist nuances, through human action on a macroscopic scale. The core tenet of Badiou's ethical philosophy is radical in context of metaphysical (and psychoanalytical) history: he evacuates from ethics the foundation of 'the other'. "The whole ethical predication based upon recognition of the other should be purely and simply abandoned. The real question—and it is an extraordinarily difficult one—is much more that of reorganizing the Same" (Badiou 25). Barad, Meillassoux, and Lloyd have already done a lot of this difficult work for us in their formulations of particular sameness produced by (and productive of) contingent, informational phenomena. This is the core of my posthumanist ethics: everything in the universe is fundamentally the same.
But differences are unavoidable, and also constructive, as Barad makes a point to reiterate. "Diffraction is not about any difference, but about which differences matter" (Barad 378). Complexity is necessarily about differences, otherwise the universe would remain a consistent sea of quarks and gluons. As Lloyd asserts, the incredible diversity of matter evident around us is the result of quantum mechanics' probabilistic nature, which injects quantum fluctuations into that quark-gluon plasma (and has since a billionth of a second after the Big Bang), resulting in the succession of information revolutions that brings us to the contemporary universe (Lloyd 5). Intra-actions depend on differences to produce phenomenal wholes. Light that displays properties of a wave and light that displays properties of a particle are two different phenomenal wholes, but both are light; it's this contingency of matter and meaning that allows life to exist. A posthumanist ethics must incorporate this seeming contradiction that is, in fact, reality.
Even as he disbars alterity as such from his ethic of truths, Badiou recognizes the vital role difference must play in the making of the world. "Infinite alterity is quite simply what there is. Any experience at all is the infinite deployment of infinite differences" (Badiou 25). And yet, this fact of difference remains "what is", and not "what comes to be" (Badiou 27). The future is open-ended and subject to change by the forces of agential intra-actions; within a framework of posthumanism, this provides an opportunity to embrace an ethics of sameness.
A truth, the element on which Badiou's framework of ethics is based, is "indifferent to differences…a truth is the same for all…It is our capacity for truth—our capacity to be that 'same' that a truth convokes its own 'sameness'" (Badiou 27). According to Lloyd, Meillassoux, and Barad, information is truth; the mathematical transfinite is truth; intra-action is truth. These ontological units unite 'matter' and 'meaning' profoundly, and reorients Badiou's Subject as composed of and composing truths, or rather, infinite subjects composing and composed of infinite truths. "There is not, in fact, one single subject, but as many subjects as there are truths" (Badiou 28). This statement is provocative in that Badiou thwarts a metaphysical reliance on one Subject and its robust provision of alterity. Peter Halliward, in the introduction to Ethics, writes that "Badiou's philosophy seeks to expose and make sense of the potential for radical innovation (revolution, invention, transfiguration) in every situation" (Badiou viii). By insisting on an ethics of truth based on sameness, not the ubiquitous 'other,' Badiou dares any subject—all subjects, human or non-human—to take ethical responsibility for the effects of her (intra)actions. "Knowing is not a capacity that is the exclusive birthright of the human" (Barad 379).
However, for Badiou, access to this realm of truth-knowledge is hardly automatic, and explicitly historical and/or political. A 'truth-procedure' is required, an 'event,' that essentially provides a parallax shift for a subject—a dislodging from the status quo that allows a new truth to emerge, a "circumstance of truth" (Badiou 40). "Let us say that a subject, which goes beyond the animal, needs something to have happened, something that cannot be reduced to its ordinary inscription in 'what there is'. Let us call this supplement an event" (Badiou 41). The subject, event, and truth are inextricable from one another; their intra-actions produce each other and are productive of the effective transfigurations of the world that are its consequence. Badiou uses the example of Einstein's special theory of relativity: after this radical break from classical mechanics, physics was the same but not the same. The laws of classical mechanics did not change, but were enveloped in a new paradigm that forever usurped it. The 'truth' of relativistic physics, and the 'fidelity' to this truth by Einstein as subject, ruptured the ethos of science irrevocably and created a space within which a new circumstance of truth emerged and persisted; this truth-event "compels us to decide a new way of being" (Badiou 41-42).
Therefore, a truth is both fidelity to a truth-event and that reality which the fidelity produces within the circumstance of truth; "a truth is the material course traced, within the situation, by the evental supplementation" (Badiou 42). I argue that this definition can be claimed as material-discursive: the materiality of an event produces a discursive truth, both of which produce and are productive of each other, and of the subject implicated within. "Different material intra-actions produce different materializations of the world, and hence there are specific stakes in how responsiveness is enacted. In an important sense, it matters to the world how the world comes to matter" (Barad 380). Einstein's paradigm-shifting relativistic insights set a series of material-discursive intra-actions in motion that have reverberated through a century of scientific innovation, from the basic elements of cosmology to the finest corroborations of the Standard Model. Prior to special relativity, a concept like spacetime was gibberish. Relativity redefined the prevailing language and established knowledge of physics.
An ethic of a truth, then, enables the continuation of this novel process: the stabilization of the material-discursive environment in which the truth can persist as such. An ethic of truths is "that which lends consistency to the presence of someone in the composition of the subject induced by the process of this truth" (Badiou 44). It would not be enough for Einstein to deduce the mathematical theorems of relativity in obscurity; the validity of the epistemological break is required to then effect subsequent ontological and ethical revolution. Einstein must have committed to being that carrier-subject, the vehicle through which an evental break produced a truth-process. The publication, the Nobel Prize, the unyielding commitment to the theorem were all necessary elements of this intra-active ethical emergence. The fact that Einstein did not endorse the major revolution his physics preempted—quantum mechanics—was irrelevant according to Badiou's ethical framework; his fidelity to relativity was enough to realign scientific perspective as a new truth-process. The entangled and transformative nature of the universe allows an inseparability of knowing, being, and doing, even as those elements are not restricted to the point of origin (Barad 380). "The someone thus caught up in what attests that he belongs to the truth-process as one of its foundation-points is simultaneously himself, nothing other than himself, a multiple singularity recognizable among all others, and in excess of himself, because the uncertain course of fidelity passes through him, transfixes his singular body and inscribes him, from within time, in an instant of eternity" (Badiou 45).
It's the intra-active nature of truth encounters that produces a subject "in excess of himself"; according to Barad's agential realism (and Lloyd's theory of flipping bits), all manifestations of matter and meaning are necessarily the result of intra-actions that leave neither phenomena entirely separate from its productive origin (nor its productive future). Einstein's insight was possible because of a number of factors (apparatuses): his work at the patent office allowed him access to a glut of cutting-edge inventions submitted at the turn of the century; new mechanisms that were manufactured on a large scale began to redefine time on an atomically consistent scale, begging questions about time itself and its relationship to matter and space; Einstein's day job as a patent clerk afforded him more free time to think and work through complicated theoretical ideas. In short, his genius was paramount to his innovation, but surrounding encounters played an integral role. "In all that concerns truths, there must be an encounter" (Badiou 51). In this intra-active and quantum mechanical universe, "All real living is meeting. And each meeting matters" (Barad 353).
VI. Quantum Biology, Technobiopower, and Ecology: An Ethical Relativity
“All living matter at the cellular level can be thought of in terms of pure physics and chemistry and that at such scales, even quantum mechanics would play a role.”
—Erwin Schrödinger, 1944
“A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction.”
—Donna Haraway, 1991
In a posthumanist ethics, all phenomenal encounters matter materially and discursively; energy and information are mutually articulated. Ethics concerns "the search for a good 'way of being', for a 'wise course of action'. On this account, ethics is part of philosophy, that part which organizes practical existence around representation of the Good…ethics is the principle that judges the practice of a Subject" (Badiou 1). How contemporary humans relate to each other and the world, how they organize themselves around practices of practical existence, are manifold: our commentary on historical situations, including human rights; our interactions with and through media, including those that help us communicate; our technological advances and how they advance human accomplishments, both good and evil; our shifting priorities in social interactions, both real and virtual; and the myriad issues surrounding animal rights, ecology, and consumption that have different effects on different cultures, depending on economic and social position. Populations increase, technology grows more sophisticated, animal-machine intra-actions emerge more prominently, especially “when plugged into our favorite technological prostheses” (Barad 378). Lloyd's argument that a universe built on information necessarily generates increasing complexity is evident on a macroscopic scale both biologically and computationally (Lloyd 5).
With such teeming difference and chaos surrounding us—plus the overwhelming quotidian concerns that create endless networks of worry and stress—it's no wonder humans have become short-sighted, survivalist, solipsistic. Badiou criticizes 'ethics' (as opposed to his 'ethic of truths') as an ideological tool used to manipulate and suppress the masses by those who are in power. "The theme of ethics and of human rights is compatible with the self-satisfied egoism of an affluent west, with advertising, and with service rendered to the powers that be…ethics prevents itself from thinking the singularity of situations as such, which is the obligatory starting point of all properly human action" (Badiou 7, 14). Let me clarify here that a posthumanist ethics is still an ethics for humans; I'm not describing a new philosophy that is expected to be enacted by animals or inanimate objects. Being human carries with it responsibility, and a posthumanist ethics recognizes that responsibility in light of the fact that, according to Barad's agential realism, all phenomena are entangled and intra-actively causal. "The attending ethico-onto-epistemological questions have to do with responsibility and accountability for the entanglements 'we' help enact and what kinds of commitments 'we' are willing to take on, including commitments to 'ourselves' and who 'we' may become" (Barad 382).
Donna Haraway takes ideas of entanglement and mutual production and analyzes how phenomena manifest within socio-cultural, political, economic, scientific, and other ideological spaces. She uses the term 'technoscience' to indicate a "time-space modality that is extravagant, that overshoots passages through naked or unmarked history. Technoscience extravagantly exceeds the distinction between science and technology as well as those between nature and society, subjects and objects, and the natural and artifactual" (Haraway 3). Like Barad, Haraway challenges these binary constructions, and approaches their dissolution on a macro scale; she argues that as technology supersedes human intellect, and human and nonhuman activity and interaction is mediated through technological prostheses, an entity like the Internet is "synecdochic for the wealth of connections that constitute a specific, finite, material-semiotic universe called technoscience" (Haraway 3). I argue that the Internet is just one example of how bioscience and technocscience have emerged as complementary practices. For the remainder of this essay, I'll use the example of photosynthesis, and its entangled ontological and technoscientific properties, to exhibit an instance of a truth-event that pushes Badiou's text to its philosophical limit—and allows a posthumanist ethics to emerge simultaneously from quantum mechanics and philosophy.
The idea of 'quantum biology' dates back as far as 1944, in the writing of Erwin Schrodinger, the visionary thinker whose eponymous cat signifies the paradox of quantum entanglement on a macroscopic scale. In his provocative and prescient essay, What Is Life?, Schrödinger suggested that quantum mechanics played a role in biological activity. "From all we have learnt about the structure of living matter, we must be prepared to find it working in a manner that cannot be reduced to the ordinary laws of physics" (Schrödinger 76).
Fast-forward sixty years, and both Schrödinger's cat and his suspicion that quantum mechanics plays a role in biology have gained relevance: in a 2010 paper published in Nature Physics, researchers presented data supporting the theory that quantum coherence plays a role in plant photosynthesis. Essentially, the biochemical process of converting sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to oxygen and chemical energy, which occurs with incredible speed and almost 100% efficiency, is the result of macroscopic quantum mechanics. When photons enter plant matter, rather than randomly selecting an individual path through the leaf, they act like a wave, displaying an interference pattern and exploring all possible paths of energy conversion at once—a classical display of quantum complementarity.
"Unlike in classical physics, within quantum mechanics one can have maximal knowledge of a composite physical system and still not be able to assign a definite state to its constituent elements without reference to their relation to each other. Such systems are called entangled, and entanglement is a characteristic quantum mechanical effect that has been widely investigated in recent years. Entanglement is often viewed as a fragile and exotic property, and in the quantum information context, where it is based on a resource for information processing tasks, precisely engineered states of indeed be both fragile and difficult to manufacture. However, is has also been recognized that entanglement is a natural feature of coherent evolution…and can be shown to exist rigorously, particularly in ‘natural’ systems—i.e. not ones manufactured in laboratory conditions…Here we present strong evidence…by determining the timescale ands and temperatures for which entanglement is observable in a protein structure that is central to photosynthesis by green anoxygenic bacteria" (Sarovar 462).
This remarkable finding demonstrates that quantum mechanics is inextricably bound up in the entangled and chaotic biological processes that are life, and not just as its shadowy underworld. Often, physicists argue that quantum mechanical operations decohere (or resolve indeterminacy) long before reaching such a warm, wet system as a living cell; this quantum biological evidence is sound refutation. Suddenly, Lloyd's theory of quantum information underlying every process in the universe has a macroscopic application—and photosynthesis may not be the only place quantum processes play a role. Migration patterns in birds and the human sense of smell are two oft-cited examples in which researchers have seen some evidence that quantum coherence drives biological functions (Ball 273). All three operations—photosynthesis, migration patterns and orientation, and sense of smell—are poorly understood, despite decades of inquiry. Emerging scientific consensus that quantum behavior may be a missing link is a hint that science could be at the precipice of discovering many more macroscopic instances of quantum mechanics in nature.
Quantum photosynthesis also demonstrates agential realism in action: this biological process is not an independent chemical transformation that simply converts one form of energy to another; what this experiment demonstrates is that when photons act as catalysts within the plant matter, they are coherent quantum waves. “This wavelike characteristic of the energy transfer within the photosynthetic complex can explain its extreme efficiency, in that it allows the complexes to sample vast areas of phase space to find the most efficient path” (Engel 782).
Bohr's insight has come full circle: the photons' quantum ability to display properties of particles (as they rain down from the sun) and waves (once they participate in the photosynthetic process within plant matter) are encountering which-path modifications in nature all around us, resulting in biological processes that provide an environment suitable for life. The intra-actions between photons and plants—entangled in a series of phenomenal wholes whose lists of apparatuses include the sun, the earth's rotation, carbon dioxide, oxygen, animals (including human beings), clouds, water, wind, etc.—play a major part in producing the world's matter and meaning, and demonstrate the profound inextricability between humans and nonhumans. These contingent quantum events take place independent of an observer, human or otherwise, but are the essential and primary dynamism that sustains a viable ecosystem. Neither animals nor plants could exist without each other; neither plants nor animals could exist without the sun; the universe itself is entangled in our most basic life processes, and we therefore also embody some share of the entangled responsibility to maintain this balance. “This conception of nature, in which the consequences of our choices enter not only directly in our immediate neighborhood but and also indirectly in far-flung places, alters the image of the human being relative to the one suggested by classical physics…it changes this image in a way that must tend to reduce a sense of powerlessness, separateness, and isolation, and to enhance the sense of responsibility and belonging” (Stapp 118).
Recent scientific research has also produced evidence to suggest that plants communicate orally (it's been understood for decades that plans communicate chemically). In June 2012, a team of scientists from Australia and the UK published a paper detailing that information is transducted between plants via nanoscale vibrations, and that "in plants, both emission and detection of sound may be adaptive…there is early evidence about plants' ability of detecting vibrations and exhibiting a frequency-selective sensitivity that generate behavioural modifications" (Gagliano, 324). When so much emphasis is culturally placed on communication as a differentiating factor between sensible and insensible, this result is tantalizing to a posthumanist. "What would it mean to acknowledge…that nature expresses itself, that nature is not the other of thought or speech? What if we were to acknowledge the nature of materiality itself, not merely the materiality of human embodiment, always already entails 'an exposure to the other'?" (Barad 392). Of course, in an agential realist universe, 'the other' is always already 'us'.
From a technoscientific viewpoint, quantum photosynthesis poses an interesting avenue to considerations of a posthumanist ethics. The practices required to investigate and verify a notion like quantum wave coherence in plants is distinctly cyborgian: the sophistication of synchrotron light sources, and their blatant emulation and manipulation of nature's products (electron beams, photon pulses, x-rays, organic tissue) and their own (beam accelerators, nanolenses, Fourier-space algorithms, photodetecting plates) is an obvious example of the entanglement of apparatus and observer. This sort of cyborg figure is for Haraway "the offspring of implosions of subjects and objects and of the natural and artificial" (Haraway 12). A goal of the type of research conducted to identify and understand quantum behaviors in ‘natural’ systems is biomimetic: researchers want to be able to break down and understand photosynthesis so they can mimic those processes. These goals, often funded by the Department of Energy or other government/institutional hybrids, ostensibly work toward identifying and producing alternative forms of energy or fuel; using biomass as a supplement or replacement for petrofuels promises both independence from imported fuel sources and reduced CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
It’s an easy sell, but caught up in this blurred boundary—this space of intra-action—is a darker figure of exploitation: capitalism. Badiou writes that "the modern name for necessity is, as everyone knows, 'economics'" (Badiou 30). Profit models and distribution matrices are an inescapable element in any innovation that requires outside funding; the network of ideological, political, cultural, technoscientific and ecological entanglements of an entity like alternative energy is overwhelming. A movement like ‘environmentalism,’ with its soft and diffuse actions (carry a canvas bag to the grocery store; put empty water bottles in a recycling bin) carry intensely ameliorating public weight—but in reality do little to reverse the institutional damage done to the earth’s oceans and atmosphere, its desiccated forests and polluted reservoirs. This kind of ‘ethics’ (as opposed to an ethic of truths) “from the beginning confirms the absence of any project, of any emancipatory politics, or any genuinely collective cause” (Badiou 31).
I argue that, though it seems like calamitous phrasing, capitalism is Badiou’s ‘death drive’ manifest by a complicit populace. Capitalism, with its relentless defense of free market economics and globalization, has at its core a triad of environment-destroying practices: producing, packaging, and shipping products. Whether extracting petroleum from the earth to make plastic or emitting carbon monoxide from a FedEx aircraft, Wall Street’s consumer-based ethos is a façade for an unsustainable economy and an unsustainable environmental practice. Without a tree cover capable of photosynthetic processes at a scale suited to support the earth’s population, and without an abundant water supply clean enough to drink, humans will eventually perish. We therefore must accept a posthumanist ethics, an ecological ethic of truths, to avoid “an insurmountable, properly ontological clash between post-evental fidelity and the normal pace of things, between truth and knowledge” (Badiou 54).
Slavoj Žižekidentifies this space ‘between truth and knowledge’ as an entangled economy-ethics that is at once exploitative and redemptive—and, like Barad’s dynamism, this “soft apocalyptic vision” is produced by and productive of itself. He uses the example of a wealthy producer of innovative technological products whose aesthetic is one of minimalist ecological footprint, and whose public charitable giving is eco-friendly. Behind the scenes, though, this inspirational entrepreneur exploits foreign labor and destroys foreign ecological systems. “[This] structure—the thing itself is the remedy against the threat is poses—is widely available in today’s ideological landscape… Charity is the humanitarian mask hiding the face of economic exploitation” (Žižek 21-22).
Badiou’s point that an ideological ‘ethics’ insulates and valorizes capitalism through a labyrinth of lobbyists and laws, and Žižek’s formula of giving with one hand yet taking with the other, is particularly apt when it comes to U.S. environmental policy. In April 2013, Obama ratified legislation that allows genetically modified food to be farmed and sold without juridicial review or consumer labels, a clear win for Monsanto and other major producers of genetically altered seeds that represent both the boons and dangers of untested, unpredictable forms of biomimesis (Gibson 2013). That this provision was written in dense legalese and buried within a larger bill addressing Homeland Security is both typical and devious; Žižek’s tenet of "evil working for the good" is bound up in notions of a government for the people, by the people, and the ethos of 'security' in the midst of an unending ideological war explicitly entangled with sources and quantities of petrofuels that represent both big business and an institutional ruthless disdain toward a global ecology. “[Capitalism] as an institution itself should be investigated with regard to the way it systematically creates conditions for such crimes” (Žižek 168).
Imperialism is not a structure that is limited to human-human interactions: it is a human imperialist ontology toward photosynthesis-producing phenomena that needs to be undermined by a posthumanist ethics. Bound up in both capitalistic economic interests and biomimetic scientific research is humanism, and a willful turning away from the far-reaching and profound intra-active reverberations that are effected by these short-sighted actions. An ethics that is muddled within these practices—for example, the uproar against genetically modified foods of all kinds, without distinctions that matter greatly to the method and intent of the altered seeds—is a distraction. Instances of emergent matter and meaning can contort infinitely to produce infinite phenomenal wholes, each carrying equal ontological weight. By discovering the truth of the post-human, we can recognize the good. “[The good’s] sole being lies in the advent of a singular truth. So it must be that the power of a truth is also a kind of powerlessness” (Badiou 84). The singular truth is the entangled power of posthumanism; the powerlessness of abdicating a human imperialism is recognizing the agency of all phenomena.
As humans, our responsibility is to recognize this distributed ethics, and approach a technoscience like genetic modification in ways that avoid thoughtless and exploitative pursuit of profit, and instead focus on using these technologies to better understand and approach the equilibrium the earth and its inhabitants deserve. If a genetically modified food is capable of safely alleviating famine by introducing a strain of wheat capable of thriving in the desert, it's up to us to elect an ethically sound implementation, not to unilaterally ban any kind of alteration of nature. Based on an ontological theory of intra-acting flipping bits that comprise every single possible material-discursive manifestation in the universe, it is possible to produce an ethically sound genetic alteration; nothing makes a laboratory-bred seed less comprised of spinning nucleons. The 'ethics' that compounds these arguments, that Badiou criticizes, thrive on the exact kind of dispersal of language and understanding that marks the Monsanto provision; stronger than hypocrisy, it's an example of an ideological sleight of hand. "What must not be lost from sight in all of this complexity, however, is that power, profit, and bodily arrangements are at the heart of biotechnology as a global practice" (Haraway 61).
An ethic of truths, in contrast, requires an event “which compels us to decide a new way of being”, which absorbs but redefines “the prevailing language and established knowledge of the situation” (Badiou 42). I argue that the discovery of quantum coherence in a natural system like photosynthesis is a truth event, and one that can propel us to a posthumanist ethics that at once evacuates the other and requires action. By embracing a philosophy of agential realism and demanding its entangled ethics, common sense can supersede ideology. “A truth works for all; a politics works for a few” (Badiou 32). A technoscience that makes explicit the collapsed boundaries between ‘quantum mechanics’ and ‘biology’, between ‘economics’ and ‘ecology,’ can fulfill Badiou’s material-discursive power of truth. “The subject-language would claim the power, based on its own axioms, to name the whole of the real, and thus to change the world" (Badiou 83).
Just as mathematical relativity revolutionized physics in the 20th century, an ethical relativity is due to revolutionize the 21st century. Throughout this essay, ideas of entanglement and mutually articulated matter and meaning weave through science and philosophy in provocative and profound ways, insisting that no field of research—no phenomenon—is capable of existing as an independent object immune to transformative observation and change. Quantum mechanics, information theory, speculative materialism, agential realism, ecology, ethics: all of these subjects are complementary states of the phenomenal whole that is our universe, and are productive of and produced by each other and of us. Only by embracing an ethics that accurately positions our entangled place in this cosmos can the damaging ecological cascade effect be reserved.
“Just as the human subject is not the locus of knowing, neither is it the locus of materiality. We are always already responsible to the others with whom or which we are entangled, not though conscious intent but through the various ontological entanglements that materiality entails…Ethics is therefore not about a right response to a radically exterior/ized other, but about responsibility and accountability for the lively relationalities of becoming of which we are a part” (Barad 393).