Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Quantum Knowing

This paradoxical status of the knowledge of the Other enables us to draw out another feature of the distinction between what Badiou calls (hedonist) "democratic" materialism and dialectical materialism. For standard materialism, things exist independently of our knowledge of them; for subjectivist idealism, esse=percipi, i.e., things exist only insofar as they are known or perceived by a mind, as perfectly formulated in the famous Berkeleyan limerick on "God in the Quad" (a courtyard on a campus):
There was a young man who said, "God
Must find it exceedingly odd
To think that the tree
Should continue to be
When there's no one about in the quad."

To which God replies:

Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd;
I am always about in the quad.
And that's why the tree
Will continue to be
Since observed by, Your faithfully God.
Note here the formal similarity with quantum physics, in which some kind of perception (or registration)_ is needed to bring about the collapse of the wave function, i.e., the emergence of reality. However, this similarity masks the fundamental difference: the agency which registers the collapse of the wave function is not in any sense "creating" the observed reality, it is registering an outcome that remains fully contingent. Furthermore, the whole point of quantum physics is that many things go on before registration: in this shadowy space, the "normal" laws of nature are continuously suspended. The theological implications of this gap between virtual proto-reality and the fully constituted form are of a special interest. Insofar as "God" is the agent who creates things by observing them, quantum indeterminancy compels us to posit a god who is omnipotent, but not omniscient: "If God collapses the wave functions of large things to reality by His observation, quantuum experiments indicate that He is not observing the small." The ontological cheating with virtual particles (an electron casn create a proton and thereby violate the principle of constant energy, on condition that it reabsorbs it before its environs "take note" of the discrepancy) is a way to cheat God Himself, the ultimate agency taking note of everything that goes on: God Himself does not control the quantum processes; therein resides the atheist lesson of quantum physics. Einstein was right with his famous claim "God doesn't cheat" - but what he forgot to add is that "God is unconscious" (God does not know), quantum physics is indeed materialist: there are micro-processes (quantum oscillations) which are not registered by the God-system.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Absolute Recoil: Towards a New Foundation of Dialectical Materialism"

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