Materialist subjectivity: From quantum mechanics to the space of subjectivity
Klein Douwel, Mon
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How do scientists view the world around them? They see stars and galaxies, atoms and molecules, foetuses and trees. They see material things. Admittedly, scientists also talk about processes in which these things participate: they flutter and flash, they build and bend. But at the bottom of these processes are the things. These things form nature. And the scientist stands before nature to behold her. Scientists are materialists. But what have they forgotten? And what about us, who live in a scientific world, what have we forgotten? We have forgotten that we are nature, that we are a part of what we are trying to understand, rule and exploit. Scientific inquiry is thus self-referential, it is nature-investigating-nature. Now, this is the exact character of subjectivity. And we have forgotten the subject. The reason for our ignorance is twofold. Firstly, thanks to the amazing scientific progress of the last couple of centuries, we have become too arrogant towards Nature. Secondly, due to science’s explanatory success, we have become scared of contradiction and incompleteness. Scientists fear the self-referentiality of subjectivity, because they view it as a logical contradiction. Hence, can we come up with a materialist theory of subjectivity? At first sight it seems impossible to faithfully account for subjectivity in a materialist framework. Therefore, our first task is to map the problematic points. From there, we can adjust our ideas of the nature of matter and the nature of subjectivity such that they become consistent. All along the way we have to preserve our respect for nature, for the accomplishments of science and for subjective first person experience. This thesis consists of three parts. In the first, I sketch the context of the problem and review different ideas concerning the relation between subjectivity and reality. This will be the necessary foundation for a fruitful further discussion. Here I follow the ideas of Jenann Ismael, Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway. In the second part, I discuss a materialist theory in which the subject plays an important role: quantum mechanics. We look at this theory for inspiration to reconceptualise matter. The thinkers central in this part are Nils Bohr, Karen Barad and Hugh Everett. The third and final part is more abstract. I will turn to the genesis of the subject as a material entity and role of subject in the genesis of matter. Here, again, we encounter the indispensable self-referentiality of subjectivity and matter. The inspirations for this new model for the simultaneous genesis of matter and subject are Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze and Manuel DeLanda. I will connect the concept of the virtual to that of chaos, in order to speculate about a space of subjectivity which provides the canvas for reality.
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