Ploughing our way through massive amounts of fascinating new philosophy this European winter – including inspiring variations on the Syntheist theme from writers as different as Simon Critchley, Quentin Meillassoux, and Martin Hägglund – perhaps the most fascinating read of all has been Meeting The Universe Halfway, from new American philosophy superstar Karen Barad. Now here is a Syntheist manifesto if ever there was one!
Barad is radically unique. A woman, a feminist, a critical theorist, and a quantum physicist, all in one person, she provides fresh air like no other author into the often conservative world of academic philosophy. Closely related in attitude to another obviously Syntheist thinker from North America, Mexican philosopher Manuel De Landa (the author of much recommended classics like A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History and War In The Age of Intelligent Machines ), Barad represents a new generation of philosophers best described as the American Ultradeleuzians.
Building on the groundbreaking work in the 1960s by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, Barad and De Landa represent a radically monist mode of thinking in radical opposition to the Kantian paradigm which has dominated the world of philosophy for the past 300 years. Of all the old gurus, it seems the radically original Baruch Spinoza is the only classic thinker left reasonably respected among these new radical monists steeped in and inspired by 21 century physics and biology.
Taking her starting point from Niels Bohr’s heartbreaking correspondence attempting to convince Albert Einstein in the 1930s that quantum physics presents us with a relationist worldview far more radical than Einstien’s own limited relativism, Barad turns Bohr’s highly original thinking on the dissolution of subject and object in physics and turns into philosophy proper. The consequence is that Barad has to regard all philosophy written so far, in its historical entirety, as being way too anthropocentric.
What we need is instead is a second Copernican revolution. We need to get rid of concepts like individualism and atomism once and for all. In Barad’s beautiful new world there are frankly no things, no separate objects, no isolated beings left. There are just entanglements and nothing but entanglements. And this very physically proven fact – quantum physics proves there is for example never such a thing as an observer independent from his or her observation – means we can finally get rid of Immanuel Kant’s sad division between phenomena and noumena.
Barad’s phenomena of entanglements are in no need of any separate noumenal world. Mathematicaly solid and empirically verified (quantum physics being the most well proved scientific theory ever, by far) Barad instead preaches the gospel of an agential realism we as Syntheists can happily adher to. To be honest, has any philosopher since Friedrich Nietzsche provided us with this much hope, belief in amazing possibilties, and inspiration to act? What is this if not radically affirmative philosophy par excellence?
It is while reading Meeting The Universe Halfway, digging into Barad’s beautifully universocentric paradigm, where The Universe appears for itself through itself, including us all as agents and phenomena of ontological entanglements, where we are confronted with a world of enormous complexity and senseless intensities all around. But without any sadly isolated individuals of any kind. Like Karen Barad says herself, what we experience when finally looking at the Universe through the well proven glasses of quantum physics is nothing less than an immense sense of awe.
This is a book full of excellent texts for your local Syntheist mass. Use it!