Bodies of Water

2020

The 7th of December 1972, the Blue Marble was shot, 29000 kilometres away from the surface of the Earth. For the first time, humanity was being confronted with the whole image of the terrestrial globe, tiny and floating in a vast ocean of blackness. Instead of uniting the human race - creating a sense of community at the realisation of how insignificant our civilisation is, in the face of the astronomical scale - it divided us even further - as the same realisation caused disorientation, fear, reasons for wars and political controversies.

Bruno Latour - contemporary French philosopher, anthropologist, sociologist - defines the terrestrial as a new entity which is claiming attention; we do not know what to do about it because we are still in the old mind-setting and are not capable of orienting ourselves towards the terrestrial. He pointed out how, the photograph The Blue Marble, alongside with the whole ecological campaign, has caused what he refers to as the conservative revolution: reducing Earth to a globe, makes every detail seem insignificant; seeing our planet for the delicate entity that it is, perverts the way we experience it; it makes us want to invert the tendency towards full globalisation, and go back to what we feel we know best - protection, identity, borders.

The scientific community is ultimately acknowledging the existence of a non-human agency, as the American professor Donna Haraway puts it, ‘the world neither speaks for itself nor disappears in favour of a master decoder. The codes of the world are not still, waiting to be read’ Haraway (2001). Humanism is tempting, the comfort of a simpler, authoritarian relationship with the world, the assertion that what we see is the truth, and what we cannot understand is either beneath us or is serving a higher purpose for us. However, we cannot ignore that any description of the universe, is inevitably made by an observer who remains within the confines of it — depriving such observer of the capability of looking at a phenomenon in its entirety.

We are multitudes. According to the Lovelockian theory of Gaia, the Earth is a self-regulating system, constituted by biomes - also called major life zone, the largest geographic biotic unit, a major community of plants and animals with similar life forms and environmental conditions. Encyclopedia Britannica (2019) - that overlap and fold onto one another. These considerations hold the seed of a change towards a new conception of individuality; it blurs its boundaries. Texts like A Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals (2012) by Scott Gilbert, How Forests Think- Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (2013) by Eduardo Kohn, and The Mushroom at the End of the World (2015) by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing mark a shifting of cosmology from the Galilean object to the Lovelockian agent - life as an agent in its survival. There has been so far a tradition, in science, to position oneself as a spectator, completely removed from participation. 

The Austrian theoretical physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961) - who found that the quantisation of the energy levels in an atom could be calculated from the evolution of the wave function of a quantum mechanical system: the Schrödinger equation - observed that 

 

measurements do not reveal a preexisting value. A measurement is considered correct when it repeats consistently; therefore the measurement creates the value. Consequently, how can we rely on the truthfulness of the data? How can we be confident we are effectively learning something about nature? He stated that as the wave function changes, the expectation catalog of predictions changes, which means that in the catalog not just new entries, but also deletions, must be made. No knowledge can well be gained, but not lost. […] A correct statement can become incorrect only if the object to which it applies changes.Schrödinger E. (1935)

 

Latour debates that the hurtful association of knowledge and truth has to end, as its only effect is to corrupt the scientific field which, burdened with something it cannot produce - the truth - ends up being unable to produce anything valuable at all. According to the physicist Niels Bohr, the only truth we should learn from quantum physics is to view ourselves as part of that nature we strive to understand. He rejects the atomistic metaphysics that considers everything as separate ontological entities; in his view, things do not have implicitly defined boundaries and attributes. His philosophy-physics drastically challenges not only the notions of Newtonian physics, but also the Cartesian representationalist epistemology - of a world structured in words, observer/describer, and things. 

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© 2020 by ARIANNA POVERINI