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Re: [xmca] Representationalism, as a way of knowing, has a history
- To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Subject: Re: [xmca] Representationalism, as a way of knowing, has a history
- From: Larry Purss <email@example.com>
- Date: Mon, 15 Aug 2011 18:35:59 -0700
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The point that Karen Barad is making is that there is a long historical line
of viewing the world through a particular set of lenses.
Representationalism and its basic metaphysical premises that "entities",
"things", "relata", PRE-EXIST phenomena and it is through the INTER-activity
of pre-existing "atoms" that relationships form. Karen's INTRA-activity
perspective argues the opposite position, that phenomena pre-exist the
agential "cutting" or scientific "scissors" that are applied to phenomena.
WithIN this phenomenal intra-activity of cutting fuzzy boundaries emerge and
BECOME more distinct and "structured" within the phenomena. Karen always
puts in scare quotes terms such as "components" "parts" and other terms
that attempt to explain "things" withIN phenomena. From her perspective
"relata" or "entties" do not exist prior to intra-activity but are emerging
aspects OF this situated intra-activity.
Her perspective emerges from an elaboration of Neils Bohrs work in
theoretical physics. Karen received her doctorate in theoretical physics and
then moved into philosophy. I'm going to quote a key section of her article.
"Bohr rejects the atomistic metaphysics that takes "things" as ontologically
basic entities. For Bohr, things do not have inherently determinate
meanings. Bohr also calls into question the related Cartesian belief in the
inherent distinction between subject and object, and knower and known.... It
[Bohr's epistemological framework] rejects the presupposition that language
and measurement perform mediating functions. Language does not represent
states of affairs, and measurements do not represent measurement-independent
states of being."
For Bohr the uncertainty principle is not a matter of "uncertainty" at all
but rather of INDETERMINANCY of phenomena. For Bohr THEORETICAL CONCEPTS
[e.g., "position" and "momentum"] are NOT ideational in character but rather
are SPECIFIC PHYSICAL ARRANGEMENTS which are not inherent attributes of
independently existing objects. Any measurement of "position" must use a
RIGID apparatus [such as a ruler] and the "position" is NOT attributed to
the abstract independently existing "object" but rather is a property of the
PHENOMENON - the inseparability of "observed object" and "agencies of
observation". This relational phenomena BETWEEN the apparatuses of
production and the phenomena produced is a process of "agential
Karen then states,
"Therefore, according to Bohr, the PRIMARY epistemological unit is NOT
independent objects with inherent boundaries and properties but rather
PHENOMENA. On my agential realist elaboration, [of Bohr's uncertainty
principle] phenomena do not merely mark the epistemological inseparability
of "observer" and "observed"; rather, PHENOMENA ARE THE ONTOLOGICAL
INSEPARABILITY OF AGENTIALLY INTRA-ACTING "COMPONENTS" That is, phenomena
are ontologically primitive relations - relations without pre-existing
>From Karen's perspective there is always a mutual ontological dependence of
"relata" withIN the relation. Phenomena is the ontological primitive. Relata
only exist withIN phenomena as a result of specific intra-actions. There is
To make this perspective concrete Karen gives this example. When light
passes through a two-slit diffraction apparatus the light forms a wavelike
diffraction pattern. BUT light also exhibits PARTICLElike characteristics
called PHOTONS. The apparatus can be modified to allow only one slit and
THIS modification allows a DETERMINATION of a given photon's position as
particles only go through a single slit at a time. However in this
intra-activity the wavelike diffraction pattern is destroyed. Bohr explains
this wave-particle paradox as follows: "the objective referent is not some
abstract independently existing entity but rather the PHENOMENON of light
intra-acting with the apparatus. The FIRST apparatus gives DETERMINATE
MEANING to the notion of "wave". The second apparatus gives DETERMINATE
MEANING to the notion of "particle" The notions of "wave" and "particle" do
NOT refer to inherent characteristics of an object that PRECEDES its
intra-action. THERE ARE NO SUCH INDEPENDENTLY EXISTING OBJECTS WITH INHERENT
CHARACTERISTICS. As Karen emphasizes, the two DIFFERENT APPARATUSES effect
DIFFERENT CUTS [measures]. That is draw different distinctions delineating
the "measured object" FROM the "measuring instrument". In other words Karen
believes the two phenomena DIFFER in their local MATERIAL resolutions OF the
inherent ontological INDETERMINANCY withIN phenomena.
Tony, this is certainly a shift of "perspective" but one that is "grist for
the mill" It does emphasize phenomena as inherently relational and objects
[relata] as derivative. Not sure where this fits into CHAT or
phenomenology. John Shotter has diffracted Karen Barad's perspective THROUGH
his elaboration of speech acts from a perspective that diffracts Bakhtin.
He also brings in Merleau-Ponty's perspectives. Tim Ingold's articles also
point in this direction. Certainly challenges the representationalist
On Mon, Aug 15, 2011 at 8:59 AM, Tony Whitson <email@example.com> wrote:
> I think what Larry says is right about the Cartesian legacy, but I think
> the legacy in the Anglophone world might owe as much to Hobbes and Locke. I
> see all three as sources of the common legacy of modernism.
> Descartes is more rationalist while Hobbes and Locke are more empiricist,
> but representationalism is what's common to them all.
> On Sun, 14 Aug 2011, Larry Purss wrote:
> Hi Martin
>> The other post had 18 entries so thought I would begin a new post.
>> Karen Barad, in 2003, wrote an article, "Posthumanist Performativity:
>> an nderstanding of how Matter Comes to Matter" in the journal "Signs:
>> Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 2003, Vol.28, no. 3 pp. 801-831"
>> She has a provocative quote that speaks to Vygotsky's historical
>> or way of seeing. She is pointing to the fact that both scientific
>> and social constructivism share common ground in how they view scientific
>> knowledge IS the multiple representational forms which MEDIATE our access
>> the material world. Where they differ is on the question of referent.
>> Whether scientific knowledge represents things in the world as they really
>> are or "objects" that are the PRODUCTS of social activities, but Karen
>> points out BOTH groups subscribe to representationalism.
>> Karen points out,
>> "Representationalism is so deeply entrenched withIN Western culture that
>> has taken on a common sense appeal. It seems inescapable, if not
>> natural. But representationalism (like "nature itself," not merly our
>> representations of it!) HAS A HISTORY" [p. 806]
>> She references Ian Hacking who traced this notion of knowledge back to
>> Ancient Greece and the Democritean dream of atoms and the void that
>> a gap between representations and represented and the concept of
>> "appearance" makes its first appearance. Karen's perspective is that the
>> problem of realism in philosophy is a PRODUCT of THIS atomistic worldview.
>> And from this moment in history the consequence of this product isthe
>> DIVISION between "internal" and "external" that breaks the line of the
>> knowing subject.
>> Joseph Rouse is quoted in Karen's article. He states,
>> "The presumption that we can know what we mean, or what our verbal
>> performances say, more readily than we can know the objects those sayings
>> are about is a Cartesian legacy, a LINQUISTIC variation on Descartes'
>> insistence that we have a direct and privileged access to the contents of
>> our thoughts that we lack towards the "external" world."
>> Karen summarizes this section of her article by saying,
>> "In other words, the ASYMMETRICAL FAITH in our access to representations
>> over things is a contingent fact of HISTORY and not a logical necessity;
>> that is, it is simply a Cartesian habit of mind. It takes a healthy
>> skepticism toward Cartesian doubt to begin to be able to see an
>> (p. 807)
>> Karen ends with a concrete example of this perspective which she borrows
>> from Foucault. In sixteenth century Europe, language was not thought of as
>> MEDIUM; rather, it was simply "one of the figurations of the world".
>> (Foucault, 1970, p.56). Today the notion of "con-figurations" or
>> point in the same direction of a shift away from representative notions of
>> knowledge formation. This shift allows us to use our "scissors"
>> as we make "agential CUTS" in coming to dwell in the world.
>> xmca mailing list
> Tony Whitson
> UD School of Education
> NEWARK DE 19716
> "those who fail to reread
> are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
> -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
> xmca mailing list
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