Meeting the Universe Halfway

A mini book review of Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (2007)

I found this book because of a shared pet peeve, that of hucksters misusing the concepts of quantum physics to promote Self-Help Books like “The Secret”. Karen Barad’s massive book does not spare any detail. Her exhaustive tome dives deep down into her decades-long study of Neils Bohr’s philosophy of science.

Thinking through Bohr’s misunderstood theory of “complementary” against Heisenberg’s theory of “uncertainty”, Barad grounds her theory of Agential Realism. Matter matters, but for real here. She uses a beautiful metaphor of the refraction of light (as opposed to mere reflection) to poetically frame her insights. Combined with her fervent commitment to “intra-agency” as a more accurate model for embodied reality, all of these big ideas serve as impressive tent-poles to this sprawling and generous work.

It can be overly repetitive in sections due to its unflinching commitment to clarity via scientific language, but perhaps with good reason. To err on this side makes sense here – rather than slipping into the sloppier ease of Pop Science styling which this book is in large part a polemic against.

Committed readers are treated to a final section that is a wild tour of the intra-entangled mind of a species of brittle star (Ophiuroidea, similar to starfish). This is the feminist physics you’ve been looking for. Taking the profound implications of quantum reality seriously is still making my head spin a bit, but hey, that’s ontology for ya!

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