The Cyborg as a Body in Science: Vindicating the Discourse of Mathematical-Physics, Re-Normalization, and Feminist Science Fiction
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¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The essay explicates the relationship between mathematical-physical sciences, hard science fiction, feminist science studies, and two important players in the field. The main argument of the essay is that creative science is a form of queer intervention and that the intervention of feminist science must also take place at the most ontologically abstract level to force a re-reading of the mathematical sciences via a politically astute lens, possibly through feminist epistemology. Methodology-wise, the essay participates in a close reading of the intellectual biography of Emmy Noether and Maria Goeppert Mayer to demonstrate the importance and revolutionary nature of their respective contributions to fields that would later converge into the most cutting edge physics of today. Then, it will attempt to critique what was at stake for these two women who contributed enormously to shaping the imaginary of the world of theoretical physics, and therefore, of the imaginary that informs the foundations of hard science fiction focusing on speculative and ‘novel’ ideas in physics. The imaginary of theoretical physics is rife with a multiplicity of interpretations that shape the manner in which we like to perceive our microworld, and how that, in itself, influences how we see the connection to the macro-world. I round up with a brief discussion of my decision to produce my own queer feminist hard science fiction, Schrödinger’s Notebook.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 1 There have been rare, if any, instances of interventions by queer and feminist theories into mathematical and theoretical physics. Such lack is exacerbated by the small number of women who are participants in these two fields due to a combination of social and educational disadvantage over the course of centuries. In the cases of the female scientists and mathematicians, their lack of public visibility means that even the most stellar contributions do not lend them as readily to public acclaim that comparable contributions by male scientists and mathematicians would do for the latter; moreover, female scientists and mathematicians are less likely to receive credit for their scholarship.[i] Therefore, queer and feminist interventions are ever more needed in light of how scientific epistemology has been shaped by the social conditions of privilege (some more than others) of the majority practitioners of the field. I argue that the inviolability of the ontological constitution of science does not render its epistemological position closed to political visitation.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 1 Many of the earliest feminist interventions into science, or technology, derived from the turn that took place in cultural anthropology, literary studies, and cultural theory in the 1970s and 1980s that reversed their lenses so as to look inward into the critical examination of western cultures and the intellectual products that are the outcome of these cultures.[ii] Hence, given the background and direction from where much of (though not all of) science and technology studies originated, there tends to be more interest in the social rather than epistemological questions, while the internalist-directed philosophical analyses of scientific epistemology and ontology (particularly in analytic philosophy) would evaluate these fields in isolation of the social. Nevertheless, the traditions of literary and cultural studies are crucial for informing my transhuman[iii] reading and analysis in this project.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Since its early days, feminist technocultures have taken a more innovative turn by including the study of performativity and multi-modal transgressions, and such transgressions include the presentation of non-linearity as modals of arguments that are not continuous but contiguous.[iv] It is the aspiration of this essay to make the connection between mathematics, theoretical physics, and feminist technoscience more evident even as the non-linearity of such a connection must be emphasized. This would mean reading against the grain of the current philosophical and historical discourse. It also means making jumps between arguments that are not dissimilar to the ‘quantum jumps’ that Whitehead had thought about, in his Science and the Modern World, as representing categorical leaps. In his thinking, the move from classical to quantum modes of thinking represented an ontological jump, which we know is untrue today since that leap is purely epistemological; the ontology as embodied by the mathematics and mechanical worldview enables points of continuity between classical and quantum mechanics, even if some rules appear to have changed.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 In this essay, I will be exploring more specifically, Amalie Kauffman Noether/ Emmy Noether’s research on the mathematics of symmetries and invariance (both cornerstones to the development of quantum theory) and Maria Goeppert Mayer’s contribution to the theory of nuclear shells. The purpose for doing so is to help the readers evaluate the women’s positions as subjects of social constructivism and members of a scientific community in connection with the latter’s cognitive labors. While the women occupied marginal positions at the time of their labor, their contributions would grow to become part of the dominant discourse. Later in life, they managed to achieve recognition even if such recognition appeared to be premised on their tokenism[v]. They indirectly contributed to emerging creative thinking in the sciences and the scientific imaginary that shapes some of the popular themes in hard science fiction works focusing on the physical sciences, even if most of these works are produced by men rather than women. They overcame institutional and social hurdles through a combination of strategic alliances and dedication.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 The practices of these two women scientists reconstituted the notion of ‘competition’ and collaboration in their social milieu; they were responsible for contributing to the foundational ideas in physics and mathematics that facilitated the predictions and speculations of physics theories and objects that would later emerge in creative non-fiction and speculative science fiction. They also worked in collaboration with mostly male physicists and mathematicians through the exchanging of ideas. However, that required political savvy and delicacy since the women would have to find the best way to insist on the rightness of their ideas even when those ideas, however promising, could not yet be unequivocally demonstrated.[vi]
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 One cannot forget that these women occupied positions of privilege even if they had to work at the margins of the scientific institutions of their time, in that they had had influential male mentors; beginning from their fathers, then colleagues, and a husband in the case of Goeppert Mayer, who were supportive of their work and provided them with the unfettered access that most women could only dream of having. While their work should not be read against background of their token privilege, their privileged position, in social as well as political proximity, to the male elites in their fields must not be underestimated.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Mothers and female mentors were invisible in the life stories of these two women, at least in the accounts I have been able to access. Yet, one could speculate that their mothers, married to their fathers who were eminent in the scientific world, would have been aware of some of the more profound advances going on in such a world even if their knowledge were only peripheral. Little is known of the hidden services these mothers performed for their scientifically inclined husbands and daughters. More work would have to be done to unearth the influence of the (non-scientific or scientific, in the case of Marie Curie) mothers on female scientists and mathematicians, since this could provide a clearer explication on the limits of agency that women are able to negotiate. In the case of Noether, she did eventually go on to mentor women mathematicians during her truncated time at Bryn Mawr.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 I hope to provide an epistemic overview that will inform my own creative and political interventions in the form of a postcolonial-feminist-queer hard science fiction I am writing, to be discussed in greater detail in the penultimate section. I argue that there are parallel epistemic strains in queer and postcolonial discourses as both arose from the desire to theorize one’s situatedness at the margins while also attempting to theorize oneself out of the same margins. The goal is to contribute to meta-narratives that can free one from dominant master narratives. Of course, as to how much that can be true is dependent on the amount of risks we are willing to take. It is my intention to test the limits and durability of the theories I propose here before subjecting them through a fictionalization process.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Therefore, it became a natural progression to go from discussing the work of these remarkable women in relation to their social worlds to re-presenting them through fictional characters with similar traits (intellectually at least), but differently situated through fictional prototyping. The method of fictionalization also enables the theoretical exploration of certain social experimentation in superimposing the material perspectives of the micro-worlds with that of the macro-worlds where hard and speculative scientific problems and histories are involved in continuous interactions. In light of that, I argue that the explication of the ‘real’ through a critical reading of the production of these two women can foreground the limits contained in the fictional while problematizing the existing conceptions of the scientific method. The point is to invoke the potential for physics, and particularly mathematical physics, to incorporate qualitative queer interpretations.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Before continuing, I should explain what I mean here by speculative theories. Speculative theories are theories that could not directly explain the relation between cause and effect, or provide a determinate explanation to an outcome. However, it does not mean that the theory has no basis in hard facts or empirical data: it merely means that the theory is open to further re-interpretation and reconstitution as new knowledge and data emerge. Speculative scientific theories, as epistemological imperfectness overlying an ontology that is always at that point of becoming complete, do not object to considering subjectivities and affectivity that are part of the knowledge production. Debates internal and external to the science can then be illustrated through carefully constructed thought experiments that consider these debates separately and in combination. Subjective affectivity constitutes the social construction surrounding theory predictions and thought experimental narratives that have significant roles in the interpretative act. We must also consider the importance of experimental design for bringing theoretical predictions out of its under-determined (where cause and effect have no direct correlative) stage. The consideration of the experimental in partnership to theory is vital to an expanding feminist epistemology and intrinsic to thinking about how one can then go about ‘queering’ one’s interpretation of scientific theories and practices.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 2 Both women are the embodiment of cyborgian, scientific, and cultural multiplicities: their ideas challenging the privilege of the masculine insistence of its epistemic superiority through nuanced and subtle transgression; the transgression coming in the form of inserting the self into the stages of becoming that are integral to enabling the paradigmatic shifts necessary for the production of a “new” paradigm in physics. In other words, they rocked the boat quietly through more subtle forms of interventions, one of which was to use their solid scientific productions to stake their intellectual claims. Depending on how one sees it, such subtlety may be considered insufficient for encouraging more female participations in similar knowledge production, and does nothing for the elimination of tokenism taken for representation of female successes.
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 However, the exceptionalism pervasive in such tokenism masked other less overt forms of institutional devaluation and marginalization, requiring of the women greater confidence in their abilities to be able to earn respect through their work. The stress of working in such marginal environments cannot be underestimated, and parallels the adjunctification of the academy in the US institutions of today. While the world of physics need not be reminded that the most profound mathematical contributions that enabled the beginnings of a mathematical field theory, which led to the theory of quantum fields, came through the labors of some exceptional and better-known women scientists, the vital but less dramatic contributions from other women physicists and mathematicians get swept under the carpet and not paid the attention that is comparable to that given to the same (or lesser) achievements of their male counterparts.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 If one were to examine the official history of quantum mechanics, one gets the sense that it is a narrative of white-male dominance and female tokenism.[vii] Even as an increasing number of women and minorities are majoring in physics, the physics they study has an appearance of pedagogical immunity to other forms of interventions as its traditions of thought and knowledge transmissions are kept on a mostly ‘straight’ narrative promulgated by introductory and even advanced textbooks. But were one to enter into a thorough examination of the development of quantum theories, one would soon find many segue ways and theories that never quite entered into the mainstream of discourse, but most of such were never included into the popular textbooks used by the students.[viii]
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Historians of science like Frederick Gregory argues that the scientific revolution of the western civilization, that reified the mechanistic conception of nature, ensured the continuation of patriarchal attitudes towards knowledge as had happened throughout the development of the theory of mechanics in physics. One such example is the inclination towards the anthropomorphization of the universe and a refusal to consider a universe that can exist outside the empirically determined. This is made possible because the same clerical institutions that had hitherto resisted the epistemic changes during the scientific revolution had appropriated the same mechanical (abstract) view of nature as a tool for resisting a more organic, or other possible, views of nature that the church would not be able to regulate as easily. As Gregory argues, “the view of nature as a self-developing autonomous organism was discredited and replaced with a nature controlled and ruled by God the giver of fixed mechanical law.” The mechanical view of the universe, Gregory claims, is exemplified in how the male-dominated clerisy had decided what scientific questions are important and what approaches should therefore work, embodying again, the classic privileging of the intellectual choices of male authority.[ix]
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 While there might have been women who were contributing to the world of abstract ideations before the twentieth century, the perpetuation of masculine versus feminine ways of knowing (which, while a gendered discourse, has the insidious propensity of over-reaching into literal differences of the biological sexes and ignoring sexual diffÃ©rance) ensures the continuous ignominy of that pronounced as feminized ways of thinking; the knowledge driven by the ontology of mechanics is seen as constituted within the privilege of the masculine, with interventions from women discouraged.[x]
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 1 As much of the work in feminist science studies and also feminist science fiction are usually centered on issues of biology and the medical sciences, which is to be expected given the profusely important stakes in these areas, there has not been as much attention paid to how feminism can be active in the physical sciences; not merely in terms of pushing for greater accessibility and receptivity of these fields to women and girls but how feminist epistemologies can shape the knowledge practices in the field. In fact, two trained women physical scientists, in their 2006 NWSA paper, “Interpretations of Feminist Philosophy by Feminist Physical Scientists”, sounded the clarion call for greater attention with regard to knowledge practices in the physical sciences.[xi] It is easy to understand the reservations that most would have in dealing directly with modern physics theories, given the seemingly high level of esotericism of the subject (let alone the obtuse mathematics), where a single mis-step (or even an out-of-context misinterpretation by a reader) can subject one to a level of ridicule reminiscent of the Sokal hoax.[xii]
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 1 But, should one be interested in taking up the challenge of examining mathematical-physical theories in relation to politics, one might begin by taking a closer look at how the foundational concepts and philosophies embedded within quantum theory can be made amenable to a feminist re-reading, with the latter foregrounding powerful ontological revisions. Karen Barad illustrates such possibilities in her re-appropriation and re-presentation of Bohr’s theories, such as his theory of complementarity, which is the reconciliation between classical and quantum mechanics in terms of how they could be measured, through the enaction of agential realism. She then applies agential realism to issues of interest in feminist theory and feminist activism, such as reproductive technologies and the discourse on the body. However, it is not evident that she has applied agential realism, as a valuable material tool, for politicizing the interpretations she had made in connection to the standard readings for producing more challenging interpretations of the Bohrian epistemology, thus opening the official reading to further interjection.[xiii]
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Feminist scientific epistemologies have much to say about the specific assumptions of knowing that takes place during the process of de-naturing and reconstruction (a cyclic process of breaking down current epistemic structures to have then rebuilt in new configurations). These epistemologies work well in complement with feminist technocultures to produce a set of critical methods that could provide deeper interventions into the science by challenging the status quo in sociological and philosophical foundations. It is valuable to know what feminist scientific epistemologies can say with regard to forms of knowledge that rest uneasily on any discourse of gender politics, such as the mathematical sciences, even though such knowledge’s survivability and re-formations are partly the result of knowledge ideals that arose from social specificities, such as institutional recognition and access to resources, networks, and collaborations. At the same time, feminist epistemology shares parallel critical baggage and motivation with that of postcolonial theory, through a common subaltern genealogy, and the inclusion of the latter into the discussion can further enrich queer feminist intervention. Before going into a close examination of Noether and Goeppert Mayer, I would like to consider how one might want to rethink mathematical-physical sciences.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 2 According to Harding in the chapter “Why ‘Physics’ Is a Bad Model for Physics’ of her book Whose Science? Whose Knowledge: Thinking from Women’s Lives, published in 1991 by Cornell University Press, she argues that most feminist critiques have failed to identify the fortresses that seemingly protected science from “critical, causal scientific explanation that the natural sciences insist on for all other social phenomena (77).” Most physicists and philosophers of physics would dispute Harding’s claim, because the problem of causality, at least within the foundational questions arose by questions of determinacy, certainty, physical realism, and observations, are germane problems in physics and its philosophical disquisition. However, Harding’s criticism is more of a call to arms for feminist criticism to get more involved in interrogating the epistemological fundamentals of theories in abstract sciences such as physics because of the misperception that the field is not opened to discursivity or social maneuvers. The modest goal of this paper is to produce that interjection that has been lacking, while moving the goal post further forward, thus enlarging the intellectual interventions that feminist theory is able to make.
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 1 In line with the goals I have outlined above, I read the works of Noether and Goeppert Mayer as liberatory attempts at epistemic subversions that involve the dismantling of the current scientific order from a position of precarity. For them to arrive at the conclusions they did about their work, they had to move outside the dominant thought-styles of their respective fields (Noether more so than Goeppert-Mayer) so as to analyze the scientific problems they were faced with, then had their analyses re-articulated in a language that would make sense even to the most stubborn members of the scientific community. They flipped the order of linearity in the then mainstream mathematical and physical thought, through the advancement of an alternate logic (but still within the constraints of scientific logic), by reconstituting the explanatory theories current at that time. Therefore, they challenged the mantel of the ‘normal’ progression of the mathematics and physics they worked in by advocating other ways for thinking about the hard problems they faced. This is a form of inscrutable transgression that uses subtlety in its undermining of an environment that devalued the contributions of women scientists and mathematicians through the continuous denial of academic positions and honors.
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 3 Their respective contributions challenged the technoscience thinking of their time, and continue to do so thereafter. In the case of Noether, there were symposiums held in her honor decades after her death. Papers, in both mathematics and applied mathematics, were produced that demonstrate the refinement and extension of her original ideas and methods.[xiv] In the case of Maria Goeppert Mayer, the recognition came latterly in the form of a Nobel Prize in physics. She became the second woman to win it after Marie Curie, with the prize shared with two other male physicists, one of who later became her co-author.[xv] The implications of their work in mathematics and quantum physics can be read as knowledge not demanding of a ‘final control’ or finiteness, allowing for subjectivity even in objective analyses.[xvi]
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Final control, as invoked here, refers to the containment of an arbitrary value based on the assumption that there is an absolute standard of epistemology for objectivity to be situated. Instead, what is called for is the willingness to swim in the ocean of “dis-engagement” in a manner that is both mutual and unequal in the structuring of nature/culture, acknowledging that an attempt to draw boundaries will only fail. Therefore, it appears that the only way to proceed is to see nature as a coyote with ever evolving meanings in its embodiment (Haraway 201).[xvii] While I doubt that either Noether or Goeppert Mayer would think in such Harawayan terms in relation to what they do, being as they were, women who were trying to work within the constraints of their respective fields that they were also pushing forward; their works, on the other hand, took their own course outside the control of any one individual or institution, and therefore the representations of nature, as embodied by the ever refined epistemics, are never stable. The process, sociality, and product of scientific labor can be thought of as occupying a trinity of ontological-epistemological relations: image (the conceptual shape the science is imagined to contain), object (the image-subject interrogated), and mediation (existing/new medium whereby arguments undergo apophantic evaluation prior to transmission). The triptych is also representative of how my arguments are played out in the next three sections of this essay.
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 That said, the formal ontology that underlies all physics theories across the classical and quantum spectrum is invariant to whatever social influences or conditions that produce that ontology. In other words, the laws[xviii] that determine the scientific theories proposed will not change regardless of the specific ideologies or institutional conditions of the scientists formulating them. One can read formal ontology as an androgynous figure that does not subscribe to any determinate categories of ideologies (gendered or otherwise) and is a composite of a series of different categories that could combine and split to re-emerge as an entirely new epistemic category. This formal ontology then attempts to communicate the physical reality, where the process of communication undergoes re-interpretations, which are open to multiple interjections from the most subjective to the more objective, but never in a form that is ‘detached.’ The interjections range from the sociology of its research programs, to the interactions between the scientists, to the philosophy of proofs. The androgynous, considered through the mathematical sciences, and therefore dissociated from direct social entanglement, is situated outside the phenomenon of the dichotomously gendered epistemology.
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 The androgynous figure of the abstract-exact science and its products are not undifferentiated, but instead, represent a form of non-normative differentiation, where the epistemics (factual interpretive areas of knowledge also making truth-claims) are differentiated from the ontological (formal equations, socially invariant, with dollops of objective truths). But even in their differentiation, epistemology and ontology exist as a Harawayan knowledge-hybrid cyborg. I ask the reader to consider the scientific production as a product of androgynous epistemology. The dissemination of such an epistemology enables the breaking of the first layer of exclusivity by moving away from strident binary thinking to encourage an explosion of pluralistic standpoints.
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 While knowledge accumulation and production appear apolitical at the point of their making, the readings of the knowledge, and thus of the mathematics, can still be politically reconstituted, particularly for understanding why certain interpretations are able to generate greater acceptances over others. I argue that the creation of an androgynous mental model for thinking through current and developing mathematical epistemologies can potentially make political engagement a feasibility even for highly esoteric mathematics, not by insisting on any lack of solutions and objective explication in mathematics, but by being cognizant of the fact that what underlies the objective is subjective social discursivity. As mathematics requires the mastery of specific knowledge genealogies, it and its ancillary epistemics can exist outside the context of institutional hierarchies once their bodies of knowledge are depoliticized. All participants of knowledge-making have equal access to making epistemological interventions, with the latter representing the decoupling of the condition of production from its final outcome.
¶ 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Thinking about mathematics as an androgynous category enables the coupling of mathematical functions to real and imaginary numbers that could then be constituted as an entity to be read as containing social causality. It also allows the works of the two women to be read transgressively through the ejection of the subject from a fetishized gaze, and by refusing to subscribe to the exclusivity of relationships between modern mathematics and an alphabetized culture as the dominant causal argument for mathematical developments. The ancient mathematics of the Chinese and Indus Valley had demonstrated how highly sophisticated mathematics, particularly geometry, were generated alongside the development of pictographic forms of writings in the aforementioned civilizations, and these mathematics were then applied as tools to mechanical arts and technology. What the ancient mathematics demonstrates rather simply is how the production of mathematics is not indifferent to cultural and social conditions.
¶ 36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 To begin the process of transgressive reading, I will have to, first of all, chip away at a Platonic idealization, an idealization that insists on mathematics being objectively detached and non-discursive. The Platonic idealization of mathematics represents mathematical solutions as inviolable and absolute. Instead, I want to advocate thinking about mathematics and the mathematical sciences as representative of the knowledge of constant becoming and re-invention. I intend for this process to return mathematics to a discourse that allows for more direct engagement with the why of physical materiality, instead of locating mathematics as distinct while still embodying the physical.
¶ 37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 At the same time, I hope to read mathematics outside the binary of determinism/indeterminism at the micro level, and determinacy/indeterminacy at the macro level[xix]. Such a re-interrogation of mathematics becomes increasingly pertinent in the age of new media and the digital medium that emphasizes a more multi-faceted representation of nature’s ontology. The Platonic ideal that infuses the method by which mathematics are thought about has located the latter in an abstractness that is no different from the written texts that the humanists encounter regularly, a familiar yet unradical practice. According to Brian Rotman in his Mathematics as Sign, there is a privileging of the code as opposed to the more affective metacode, the privileging of alphabetic prejudice that erases the acceptance of the diagram as a useful and effective tool for doing mathematics. Hence, we end up with literal strings of very long derivations of symbols that are prone to errors. While there are diagramming methods in physics and also mathematics that try to illustrate particular concepts or intricate calculations, such as the Venn diagram for set theory, and Feynman diagram for particle-field measurements, they are among the rarer instances of the invocation of the diagrammatic method for modern mathematical thinking. While I am not saying that the diagrammatic method is the only way to go, we must still consider as to why we privilege a specific form of mathematics over other possibilities. A more thorough excavation into the social-political history of mathematics could prove enlightening in this regard.
¶ 38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 The method at work in the production of mathematics is not as non-discursive and objective as one thinks, particularly not in its illustration of physics. In fact, the work of Noether particularly, which would have extensive implications in the development of particle physics, had first utilized visualization (thinking about algebra in geometrical terms constitutes a form of visualization) in the process of integrating abstract algebra into geometry. This integration that led to subsequent modern developments of abstract algebra were then further developed by Noether, and successive generations of mathematicians thereafter, into algebraic notations that have become so complex that the algebra produced is no longer intuitively imaginable without the deployment of visualizing software such as Maple and Mathematica. Is this embodiment of a trend towards abstraction a manner of demonstrating one is competent enough to be part of the old boys network of academic mathematics? We can think about this question as I move into close readings of Noether and Goeppert Mayer.
¶ 41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Novel developments in physics usually begin with a speculation. The speculation ranges from a prediction based on a simple hypothesis, right through the development of models, narratives, and prototypes of myriad possibilities. Some of the more known speculations emerge from thought experiments such as the Schrödinger Cat paradox and Einstein’s Twin Paradox, each having played important roles as narratives of indeterminacies and what-ifs, each with experimental counterparts through the double slit experiment, the determination of the lifetime of particles traveling at near the speed of light, and more generally, how time is transformed between different frame of references.
¶ 42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Emmy Noether and her far-reaching scientific contribution to the theory of invariance are important for grounding the ontology by which speculative physics theories are able to take place; and for providing the platform for epistemological explorations. The development of the theory of invariance resulted in paradigm shifting implications in physics, from relativity to quantum field theory. In fact, without the mathematical developments that she had pioneered, many of the media-celebrated physical objects, such as the Higgs Boson, would have looked very different, or possibly not predicted in the way they were. Her theorem, transforming between paths of actions, energy, and invariant framework, as well as finessing the connection between classical and quantum mechanics, enables what would have been considered ‘illegal’ actions under classical theory to become quantum mechanically feasible.
¶ 43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 Noether took the mathematical analytics of Euler, Lagrange, and Hamilton, and produced, from them, geometrical analytics that were sublimated and transformed through group theory and complex numbers. These functionals rendered the hitherto inexplicable physical phenomena logical through the development of new mathematical operators. Even as new developments in variational calculus have brought about short cuts for determining whether a particular mathematical embodiment of a physical action conforms to the symmetry of invariance and extremum (representing geometrical paths of minimum or maximum points in the curves of a graph), the foundation of her work itself remains unquestionable in its technical promise and application. The symmetry is represented by a physical object, which, after rotation within the framework, could not be discerned as any different in terms of its positioning and physique. Among the functions used to describe the mathematical ontology of the object are dependent and independent variables, which play important roles in determining the level of perturbation the functions are able to endure, and therefore in shaping their constraints and contingencies.
¶ 44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Through the process of rotation and transformation of spatial coordinates (and the substitution of mathematical representations of the physical processes), the question asked becomes: has mathematics been normalized so that some order of terms can be cancelled or factored out of the equations? The normalization of terms becomes a method of trimming the edges by coupling together the long-bit strings of spaghetti-like functionals, the folding in of terms to produce more elegant representations of equations then used to demonstrate whether the physical action under examination is feasible. This means that one has to consider the possibility of extrapolation from a single dimensional character to the multi-dimensional, requiring stripped-down and idealized entities that were used for testing the mathematics to be restored to their full-bodied version, then subjecting the rigorous proofs to the ultimate test of physical fit and fitness.
¶ 45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Therefore, the importance of Noether’s mathematical work has to do with its deployment for grounding theoretical problems in the ‘new’ physics of her day, and even the new physics of today. Her textual articulation of the mathematics is not particularly visual but still models, through abstract notations, the matrices of symmetries that would drive the highly mediated object-oriented age of today’s physics, and the mathematical sciences in general. The study of such a development opens up a line of communication that extends into consideration of the development of a highly visual media culture that is layered over, and bound together, through the application of the algebra of Noether, and her successors, for organizing data structures and categories.
¶ 46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Having worked closely with mathematicians such as Hilbert, Klein, Minkowski, and Schwarzschild, Noether was already familiar with problems facing the development of the multi-dimensional post-Newtonian physics, and has worked on the problem of energy conservation in Einstein’s theory. This work was drawn from two theorems that came out of her ‘habilitation’ submission[xx] in Göttingen, thus providing the tools for dealing with problems of conservation as one moves from flat space-time to curved space time, through the symmetry group of finite and infinite dimensions. The theorems also allowed for the reconstitution of conservation laws and identities, the latter known as the equality between functions differently defined but all adding up to describe the same qualities and quantities. Could Noether have foreseen the computational robustness of her theorem in the twenty-first century from her position in the early twentieth century?
¶ 47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 Noether came of a long line of mathematical women whose earliest contributions had been unsung agents of change that had pushed mathematical boundaries, either through intuitive insights, or from the ability to see through the chaos and connect pieces of the mathematical puzzles coherently. Needless to say, one of the luminaries is none other than Countess Ada Lovelace. Noether and Lovelace were involved in the production of pure mathematics with almost immediate application to physics and computing respectively, even if the applications required some translational work from pure mathematics to computable algorithms. But many of the early contributions of mathematics provided by female mathematicians (most being self-taught, had the privilege of private tutoring, and/or direct epistolary contact with famed mathematicians of their time) tended to be obscured by the fact that the theorems that they developed are named for their pater familia, once again, allowing patrilineal dominance to usurp their contribution, lending to the familiar assumptions that female mathematicians are exceedingly scarce historically. Noether was a case in point: for the longest time, I knew of her theorem long before I discovered that the person behind it was a woman, if only because the production of scientific discourse elides the social conditions and origins of the discourse.
¶ 48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Ada Lovelace was a different story, since everyone knew her as the woman mathematician who gave a ‘voice’ to Babbage’s calculating machine, who had also the honor of having a programming language named for her first name, which is therefore, her personal name. One other famous female Neo-Platonic mathematician whom we refer to by her first name is Hypatia, but whose fame, sadly, did not preclude the preservation of her writings in mathematics and philosophy.[xxi] While one might argue that ignoring the gender of the mathematical exponent speaks to the quality and therefore, the success of women, as equal participants in a highly abstract field, and supposedly giving lie to the idea that high-level cognitive functions are differentiated by gender, it also becomes a convenient excuse for ‘forgetting’ that the female mind matters, and that the assimilation of her contributions have been highly disadvantageous to her recognition, and therefore, her agency, turning her accomplishments by virtue of social conditions, exceptional.
¶ 49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 Noether’s theorem did for developments in relativistic quantum mechanics what James Clerk Maxwell’s equations did for the classical field of electromagnetism[xxii]. While Maxwell’s geometry provided the first level of unification for electricity and magnetism, Noether’s insight into the algebraic potentiality in geometry enabled the reconceptualization of field potentials in particle physics. There is an interesting twist to the story: prior to Maxwell’s formulation of the electromagnetic field, the constitution of electricity and magnetism had been viewed as micro particles because of the materialist-atomistic view. Charge, both positive and negative, playing an important role in the particle-field representations, was also part of this atomic-materialist quilt. This materialization was later reincarnated in the form of the conservation of charge density in both continuum and discrete representations of quantum mechanics, therefore taking on mathematical import in the envisioning of the probabilistic density of particles with wave-like characteristics. Hence, the story of the charge, presented through Lagrangian mathematics as a protagonist in classical and quantum physics, now becomes an integral representation of finiteness in mathematical physics and exists in the dual factions of the particle and the field.
¶ 50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 However, by the early twentieth century, the Maxwellian presentation of field had been replaced by a particle outlook because of developments in atomic and nuclear physics, such as the discovery of the electrons, protons, and neutrons. Later, there were also other experiments performed during the early years of the quantum theory conceptualization that led to the particle-wave duality debate that Karen Barad discusses in chapter seven of Meeting the Universe Halfway. Even the early development of quantum electrodynamics, a precursor to quantum field theory, was very much centered on the concept of the particles. Therefore, it appeared that field theory, which Noether’s theorem captures so elegantly, was, at that time, relegated to the back burner. This changed again in the 1960s when it became clear that field theory was needed to deal with the development of increasingly complex sets of new ‘particles’ that were being predicted and then discovered. The emphasis on the particle had brought about a number of unsolvable problems, such as that involving symmetry breaking of the unified forces and even the particle-wave paradox[xxiii]. Noether’s work on group theory that had been so essential in the early days to the development of Einstein’s Special Relativity now returns for the development of an axiomatic approach to quantum field theory, which is another way of saying, without going into technical detail, that it is a first principle/axiomatic approach to quantum field theory developed through abstract algebra.
¶ 51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 However, there was a period in the 1920s and 1930s when her work elicited only marginal interests from the mathematical community, mainly because she is not much of a self-promoter (Byers 954-55). That said, her work has been intrinsic to unifying the various disparate disciplines of mathematics, and even played a small, yet unfinished, part in the creation of the theory of everything whereby the mathematics she had developed are applied to the study of gravity and gravitons[xxiv].
¶ 54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 One of the most groundbreaking contributions to modern nuclear physics came from Maria Goeppert Mayer, a theoretical physicist, for her work on the nuclear shell model of the atom that was later to earn her a Nobel Prize in physics. The nucleus of the atom, as one might have learnt in high school physics and chemistry, consists of protons and neutrons. In the nucleus are ratios between the neutron and proton that can vary. The nucleus is surrounded by an electron cloud in the form of an imaginary shell-like structure with specific rules on why there are certain number of electrons, the how and why of their decay, and the how of classifying and predicting the energy levels of the electrons for the different elements that exist. She found that the stability or instability of the nuclear structure, or even why odd-numbered isotopes (atoms sharing the same mass but have different numbered neutrons) were less stable than even numbered ones, were then still rather unknown.
¶ 55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 At the time when Goeppert Mayer was working through the problem of the nuclear structure model and the ‘magic number’ in terms of how many electrons can maximally occupy one shell with stability, discoveries were already made with regard to the beta-emission of the electrons demonstrating the decay of the electrons and how that could be added up in relation to the nucleons. At the same time, there were major developments in quantum mechanics such as in the spin orbital and angular momenta of the electrons. As Noether’s work was about developing a big picture of the field in quantum theory, Goeppert Mayer’s findings fit perfectly with the mathematical ontology developed through the work of the former.
¶ 56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 To think about the atom in the structure of a ‘shell’ ran counter to the concept of the “liquid drop” model of the atom that suggested the nuclei as consisting of uniform density and that all the subatomic particles mentioned were configured, as a whole, in the form of a liquid drop, with differences in the forces observed in the interior and surface level of the nucleon. The fermions (protons, neutrons and electrons) were virtually ‘bunched’ together.[xxv] Additionally, her other significant (but also related) contribution was the nucleonic pairing involving even and odd number nuclei through the manipulation of spin numbers and the angular momenta at ground state (the physics of ground zero), which would have implications on how the ‘coupling’ between particles could be perceived in latter day developments in particle physics, especially in the examination of inelastic collision and decays into ever more fundamental particles than the fermions.
¶ 57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 Goeppert Mayer’s work has been important for thinking about energy and the construction of the most elementary entities. However, it was submerged within the dominant discourse of physics that were dominated by a group of rather influential men, from Born to Fermi.[xxvi] Within that context of epistemic development, Goeppert Mayer’s pioneering contribution is positioned against the need to reconcile the data observable within experiments of an already existing ontology. In other words, her contribution changed how one would think about an aspect of the atom and provided the impetus for further work in nuclear physics on some of the most fundamental questions in quantum theory regarding the property of spin, quantum ‘jumps’ (now known as the behavior of electrons within the constraints of the Exclusion Principle disallowing two fermions of similar spin to be on the same quantum state while dictating the movement of the fermions between the orbital shells of predetermined quantum energy), and the differential properties of the nuclei. However, her work did not actually change, momentously, the way quantum mechanics continued to be interpreted at that time. She later produced a thoroughgoing book on the subject, The Elementary Theory of Nuclear Shell Structure, in collaboration with J Hans D Jensen, which was published by Wiley in 1955.
¶ 58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 Nevertheless, it is difficult to tease out the specificity of her contribution from all the contributions made by the other male and (a small number of) female physicists whose approaches to their individual research problems added cumulatively, but never in a distinctively linear manner, to the knowledge at hand. One might say that she had proposed an ingenious explanation of the idea before the other person did, or in conjunction with the other people, as demonstrated by the shared Nobel Prize.
¶ 59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 That said, the question is whether we can read Goeppert Mayer’s contribution from the angle of feminist epistemology, given that the explication of her work contains high social potential, not in terms of the epistemic content, but in the process by which that content is achieved. However, the nature of the discovery made is just one of the keys for unlocking the principles of life embedded in the unconscious for as long as we do not access them. But how far can we go in unlocking the contribution of the unconscious in thinking about scientific epistemology is worth exploring. It is an issue also of interest to Lacan, as demonstrated in his article “Science and Truth,” found in Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English translated by Bruce Fink.[xxvii]
¶ 60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 A rigorous analysis of the social context embedded in the production of the physics theories requires, foremost, the differentiation between the internal-analytical aspect of the theories derived from mathematical proofs and computation, and the epistemic drive that produces the predictions and enables the experiments. One also has to attend to the external-experiential aspects that involve certain ideologies, sets of scientific beliefs, as well as institutional hierarchies and constraints that drive the research programs that are the impetus for the dominance of certain models over others. Once the differentials are teased out, one would soon discover how sharp lines cannot be drawn around certain epistemic practices. At the same time, there are varying levels of oppressions involved in the insistence of specific ideologies that confine interpretations in a way that has nothing to do with obvious correlations between mathematical concepts and physical states, but the preference for advancing certain values and standards.
¶ 61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 Goeppert Mayer went against the grain of accepted beliefs by working on a project that did not arouse interests from among the most influential physicists of the day, with the exception of Enrico Fermi[xxviii]. Most official accounts would concentrate on the veracity and scientific value of her contribution, and its later reception. However, one does not know the intricate details of the social negotiations she had to perform unless one could access her correspondences or personal journals; she had occupied positions of no power in the university hierarchy, from ‘voluntary’ to rather condescending low pay in most of the universities her husband, Joe Mayer the physical chemist, was appointed to.[xxix] Similar to Noether, she needed her work to be validated and vouched for by the influential men in her milieu. At the same time, she did not allow herself to be dissuaded from her convictions. While many of the physicists she worked with were enamored with big accelerators and a macro perspective of the universe from the top, Goeppert Mayer was interested in how the details could be the key to changing existing ways of thinking about our universe, which quietly revolutionized with minimal fanfare.
¶ 62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 From what we can see from this and the previous section, the normative body, a body formed of coalescence between the two women scientists and all the other scientists, in their combined interactions with abstract knowledge, should be disrupted during the valuation of that knowledge through political and social interventions during the analysis of that knowledge. We know that knowledge is not autonomous and that even the most mathematical of knowledge can be made receptive to social epistemological arguments. Such an understanding indirectly informs my attempt at objectively confronting epistemic formations that have always been presumed as discursively inviolable. Hence, the knowledge arising from these highly mathematical sciences can become the inspiration for a new specter of speculative feminist science fiction.
¶ 65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 What if we were to take the life-stories and intellectual productions of these two scientists and have these different parts interact to create a new line of narrative; what could then emerge? It is not a ‘queer’ chimera made up of humanistic stories with highly abstract ideas that I am after, but rather, how queer feminist forms of agency can be approached through a combination of macro and micro politics. Many science fiction stories, even hard science fiction, tend to separate the producer from the production, possibly so that the writer need not be confronted with having to negotiate an unexpected unconscious that would arise from such a combination, and also because, to negotiate the science in a manner that will be attractive to a wide readership is difficult.
¶ 66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 One might notice certain similarities in the biographies of the female scientists just discussed to some characters in the hard science fiction stories. However, what tends to drop out of the discussion is the ability of the characters to enact queer interactive entanglement between rigorous science and the problem of humanity/gender to bring about a different imaginary that is neither humanistic nor scientific. Such an outcome can then create a situation that is productive for non-normative political and social interventions that are an intermingling of different global cultures, timelines, and histories, from which one can then prototype a different kind of logic on life and knowledge, one beyond the postcolonial and neocolonial. It is for all the aforementioned reasons that I have created the queer feminist science fiction story project.
¶ 67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 The narratives of real-life protagonists in the previous sections, intertwined with their science, open up possibilities for re-reading and envisioning new ways for thinking about mathematical physics in relation to a reality that is non-quotidian. Even as this re-reading is performed through the framework of feminist science studies and feminist science fiction, another dilemma is awakened: how plausibly could a ‘real’ hard science fiction prototype be created by altering the mode of realism; through the presenting of a world containing more traffic between the transatlantic continents and Asia than what would have been the actual, particularly the part of Asia constituted as under-developed and not cutting-edge? After all, we want predictions of the future to be realizable rather than far-fetched.
¶ 68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 That said, I hasten to add that there are no real-life parallels between the two women intellectuals I have just discussed with the characters of my fictional project, given that the fictional characters inhabit very different categories of worlds, time frames, and are preoccupied with different sets of problems. To begin, the intellectual cultures from which the real-life characters come from are altogether too different from the ones from which I derive the fictional characters. However, the parallels emerge from the position of femininity in the labor of abstract knowledge and the desire to push through difficult and cutting-edge ideas that are not always well received. The characters in the fiction are part of the same intellectual genealogy as Noether and Goeppert Mayer in terms of the epistemological interests they shared and the differences that they made to the epistemology. More importantly, in fiction, I am able to project a thought experiment involving the queering of both science and the human participants in a manner difficult to obtain with the real life characters. Through the characters, I try to imagine the interleaving of histories from the different epochs of the quantum theories produced, and project various causalities of that production through our imperfect understanding of how far quantum theory can stretch. This is most specifically explored from part two onwards of the serial that are still in the works at the time of writing.
¶ 69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 Another culturally different invocation is the re-appropriation of the localized myths and legends of Malaysia that has yet to take place at a radical techno-cultural level. In first producing a version of this fiction in Malay, I attempted to challenge the language to take risks, and therefore, to imagine and animate an alterity, even if such an alterity could only, for now, have life in pure fiction. Such an alterity can only take place if subversion is allowed at the linguistic, and later, at a political stage.
¶ 70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 Conceivably, the prerogative for the solution may lie in re-historicization as an act of agential reclamation of what is possible under the ideal, rather than after realpolitik corruption. This does not mean that one ignores the intellectual, political, and social inequities of the postcolonial worlds. Rather, a stage is set for the hard thinking that has to be done concerning how one can deal with an intellectual history that was not, or is unseen, and therefore, reconstructive of a history with an arrow of time pointing into the past before catapulting the newly historicized knowledge forward. It is through the desire to explore and exploit what is possible, and also to imagine a circumstance that has no comparable examples, that gave birth to the project I am discussing here.
¶ 71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 The quote from Deleuze and Guattari’s chapter, 1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming Imperceptible, taken from Brian Massumi’s translation of A Thousand Plateaus, best sums up the motivation behind the fiction-as-theory multimodal novel of ideas conceived in late 2010. The project arose from a desire to sublimate and complexify real-life events and narratives explicated through encounters that are not dissimilar to the ones just discussed in the preceding paragraph, with the injection of the author’s own utopian futuristic pathways:
¶ 72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 The plane of consistency of Nature is like an immense Abstract Machine, abstract yet real and individual; its pieces are the various assemblages and individuals, each of which groups together an infinity of particles entering into an infinity of more or less interconnected relations. There is therefore a unity to the plane of nature, which supplies equally to the inanimate and animate, and the artificial and the natural. This plane has nothing to do with a form of a figure, nor with a design or function. Its unity has nothing to do with a ground buried deep within things, nor with the end or a project in the mind of God. Instead, it is a plane in which everything is laid out…( 280).
¶ 74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 The fictionalizing of theory is presented through characters that are the outcome of the convergences of manifold epistemic differentials, organic-inorganic materiality, fantastical real, and dream-memories. The characters are also semiotical representations of the properties of quantum interpretations that are then ‘anthropomorphized’ so that the abstract properties now have organic qualities that are believable but not exactly mundane.
¶ 75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0 The project began life in a different form in 2010, when I decided that I wanted to write queer hard science fiction. In toying with the idea of developing a narrative that will allow me to experiment with, and negotiate, theories I wanted to examine in greater depth, such as whether it is feasible for feminism and queer physics to ‘copulate’ and produce an intellectual and creative progeny not like either of them. At the same time, I maintain a semblance of factual theoretical rigor, through acts of differentiation and conformance, between quantum physics and the macro-universe of human relations. The fictional aspect of the work acts as extended thought experiments in experimental feminist philosophy of science by allowing the politics of the ‘real-world’ to be driven by developments in physics and its rhizomatic history.
¶ 76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 The original Malay language version of the piece, referred to as “Kucing Schrödinger” (Schrödinger’s Cat), published in jalantelawi.com, a Malay language webzine established with the aim of promoting intellectual and political discourse, was written with a lay audience in mind that would have to deal with culturally unfamiliar neologisms and references that could be unsettling to them. The language, as repurposed for use in the country since its independence in 1957, has been set within a straitjacket of epistemic virtue that disallows the pollution of ‘deviance’ or ‘subversion,’ unlike the deployment of a similar language group in Indonesia. Hence, the Malay version of the serial novel project focuses on unstrapping the language from its shackles while straddling the unstable relationality of interdisciplinary mÃ©lange through the enaction of a defamiliarized quantum world against the phenomenology of cultural lineages in the Malay Archipelago.
¶ 77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0 The core of the serial centers on a female particle physicist and her non-cohabitating female partner, a historian of physics, both based at a consortium of universities in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Set at an undisclosed timeline, the story opens with a prelude that doubles as flash fiction. The flash fiction is a conceptual monad that unfolds throughout. The story begins with Linda waking up from a dream and then rushing to get ready for a meeting. She received a message from her partner, Nora, on a digital voice messenger with a central service connecting between her home and any place where she could access a computer-like device. The message is the spark that sets the register for the rest of the story: Nora had discovered a barely visible emblem on an original (German) copy of Erwin Schrödinger’s “The Present Situation in Quantum Mechanics” that points to a mysterious project or organization that the fictional Schrödinger was a participant of. From then on, Lisa and Nora would find themselves confronted with a myriad of scenarios that seemed an unsettling assemblage of physics, history, fantasy, horror, and the cybernetic. The story is imagined along two shifting horizontal and vertical lines, with sets of independent and dependent variables that could converge, or not, at varying points, thus opening the narrative to all forms of reading in the interpretative spirit of quantum mechanics.
¶ 78 Leave a comment on paragraph 78 0 The serial underwent a transformation, though only of the cosmetic nature, when I decided to embark on the project in English with a very different purpose and audience in mind. Moreover, the language switch also brings about a set of cultural shifts and the need to rethink what is familiar and unfamiliar to different sets of readers. While maintaining the essence of the story and the superficial characteristics of the two protagonists and supporting casts, this story-in-progress no longer wrestles with too many encumbrances found in the original language in which it was written. However, it is still trying to fit together different scales of physicality that neither coincide nor interleave straightforwardly into each other in terms of their respective schema and determinacy i.e. the macro entities behaving according to quantum-level rules that are inexplicable by the laws of the macroscopic state. The results contain some unexpected outcomes that are actually the effects of actions that are not yet made manifest in the unraveling of the plot.[xxx]
¶ 79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 The project is also an outcome of dissatisfaction with the way non-male characters are portrayed in hard science fiction, or the lack of agency attributed to the non-male characters. While many feminist science fiction, through writers such as Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Marge Piercy, and Octavia Butler, to name but a few, have done incredible work in articulating the problem of otherness and utopic limitations, their works have been mostly focused on developing a theme of social justice and awareness through the device of defamiliarization that science fiction is able to provide[xxxi]. This is because the critique of the status quo in gender politics becomes ever more powerful when the reader is displaced, imaginarily, on unfamiliar ground. Other than the question of ethics in science, much of the sciences featured in existing stories are used for place-setting and to leverage for certain actions in the plot, but definitely not given as equal consideration, or written in as the main engine, of most feminist science fiction. I hope to demonstrate, through my work, that science fiction enables social justice issues involving human and non-human organisms to be addressed and rendered more powerful when juxtaposed against the background of epistemic advancement or destruction enabled by an imaginary technoscience that is still located very much in scientific reality. In doing so, I have to be cognizant of how power is rebalanced, and if the choices I make would lead to the reification of the same power structures under a different name. Even the best of science fiction writer rarely escapes re-vindicating what is out there. I tentatively argue that the non-contiguous narrative device and the platforms from which the narratives are then developed could itself help to interrogate my choice of plot, character development, and theoretical predisposition.
¶ 80 Leave a comment on paragraph 80 0 As the work itself is still in progress, the story evolves organically as its material is sourced from the author’s dissertation research and philosophical interests. This project inspires the author to venture beyond the constraints set by modern science and their requisite laws so as to venture into the exploration of scientific knowledge unbred by a western model while challenging the current assumptions that only western modern science, as we know it, is capable of producing the technology that is conducive to our lives. It is my intention to problematize the notion of the ‘good life’ that modern technology is tasked with producing. The discourse of technoculture in the advancement of the ‘good life’ through scientific development and the destruction of pathological conditions, whether at the level of the physico-biologico or psychological, requires a more thorough examination of the cause of such pathologies. All of these, in the end, speak to the context-value of how technoscience, in its multifacetedness, is perceived and negotiated.
¶ 83 Leave a comment on paragraph 83 0 We do not know with certainty whether Noether or Goeppert Mayer could have been queer in their personal lives, had they different choices, but we know that their work had produced the space for reconstituting and renormalizing indifference in mathematical physics through transgressive technoscientificity. However, their epistemic contributions challenge the status quo of knowledge. They are descendents of Ada Lovelace in their privilege while also workers in the margin notwithstanding their privilege, because they are limited by a tokenistic existence.
¶ 84 Leave a comment on paragraph 84 0 At the same time, the queerness in the lifestyles and intellectual interests of the fictional characters in the abovementioned project serves as a way for thinking through the multifaceted ways by which queer ideologies and queer knowledges can be conceived. Hence, the political contribution of feminist science fiction should involve not only the subversion of the discourse within the science, but also acknowledges the importance of interrogating knowledge formations in these areas with questions of social justice; therefore pushing for the queering of science to produce a more liberatory and inclusive set of epistemic practices.
¶ 85 Leave a comment on paragraph 85 0 I close with a suggestion for reconsidering whether existing cultural-theoretical practices are amenable for the production of parallel interpretation of physics theories so as to be able to meet head on with the other forms of theorizations practiced by mathematical and theoretical physicists. Or, whether there is a need for reforming these cultural-theoretical methodologies, extensive or otherwise, in specific directions before real inter-penetrative collaborations can take place.
¶ 89 Leave a comment on paragraph 89 0 [i]. Other than Marie Curie, few female scientists, however paradigm changing their contributions, ever reached the same level of prominence and imagination-provoking stature of some of the famous male scientists and mathematicians (excepting Einstein from this comparison), even if the work that they did have enabled the work of these same male figures, and therefore, could be considered of comparable value. Einstein is in a class of his own, though one might say that his first wife, Mileva Maric, a woman of known brilliance and ambitions, had she not been burdened with the work of household management and childcare while her husband was out doing his thing, could have possibly been another famous scientist. But one could only speculate upon how far she could have gone given that she never had the chance to go beyond being the early succorer and supporter of Einstein’s endeavors. Scientific establishments have chafed at the idea of her making any substantial contribution to Einstein’s work, but then, they were working from the position that Einstein’s scientific production stand on its own merits with no regard for the social conditions that enabled that form of production in the first place. See < http://www.pbs.org/opb/einsteinswife/milevastory/> for a brief overview and also to references of other works.
¶ 91 Leave a comment on paragraph 91 0 [ii]. McNeil, Maureen, “Roots and Routes: the Making of Feminist Cultural Studies of Technoscience,” Bits of Life: Feminism At the Intersections of Media, Bioscience, and Technology, Seattle & London: University of Washington Press, 2008, 16-31.
¶ 93 Leave a comment on paragraph 93 0 [iii]. The transhuman quality I refer to here is a mode of thinking about knowledge as located and dislocated from its production, of seeing the supposedly ‘inhumane’ characteristic of that knowledge as being capable of informing its human origins, even when the origins have been so hyper-mediated that the connection is no longer evident.
¶ 95 Leave a comment on paragraph 95 0 [iv]. I am thinking here the works of Sadie Plant in Zeros + Ones: Digital Women + The New Technoculture, Robyn Ferrell’s Copula: Sexual Technologies, Reproductive Powers and Luciana Parisi’s Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biology, and the Mutation of Desire. In terms of anthologies, there are Between Monsters, Goddesses, and Cyborgs: Feminist Confrontations with Science, Medicine, and Cyberspace edited by Nina Lykke and Rosi Braidotti, and Cyberfeminism. Next Protocol edited by Claudia Reiche and Verena Kuni.
¶ 97 Leave a comment on paragraph 97 0 [v] . Tokenism stems from the idea that representations of minority, underprivileged, and traditionally excluded social groups have been accounted for by extrapolating from the successes of a small number from such groups in breaking through the barrier.
¶ 99 Leave a comment on paragraph 99 0 [vi]. The mathematical and physics contribution that Noether and Goeppert Mayer made cannot directly be viewed in the actual works of physics I am referring to, but their work enabled the discoveries and theorizations in quantum field theory, and therefore, in particle and nuclear physics, that were relatively popular subject matter in hard science fiction short stories and also in physics popularization, besides space and time travel, such as can be found in the likes of the serial Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Look particularly at issues published between 1960s and the late 1990s, which also coincided with the rise of the post-war big science of astrophysics and cosmology, and elementary particle physics.
¶ 101 Leave a comment on paragraph 101 0 [vii]. For an exhaustive history of the development of quantum theory, I would suggest The Historical Development of Quantum Theory by Jagdish Mehra and Helmut Rechenbach in six volumes published by Springer-Verlag. For a rather thoroughgoing history on the developments of quantum field theory, which both Noether and Goeppert Mayer played important early roles in developing, one may check out Silvan S Schweber, QED and the Men Who Made It, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994. The other three useful references would be Kaiser, David. Drawing Theories Apart: the Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics. Chicago: Chicago Universtiy Press, 2005, Arkady Plotnitsky, Epistemology and Probability: Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and the Nature of Quantum-Theoretical Thinking. New York: Springer Science + Business Media, 2010, and Helge Kragh, Quantum Generations: A History of Physics in the Twentieth-Century, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002. The references cited here are not, by all means, the final word in the history of quantum theory but they provide sufficient triangulating information to prove that quantum theory, for the first half of the century, were dominated by white men of the transatlantic continents, with the exception of some still pivotal contributions from a small number of Japanese and American Chinese physicists during the post second world-war periods. In fact, Kragh states this as much in his book. Schweber’s book has a chapter dedicated to the role of Japan in postwar quantum field theory. On the American Chinese contribution, there are some mention (and contributing articles) in the anthology edited by Lillian Hoddeson, The Rise of the Standard Model: A History of Particle Physics from 1964 to 1979. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 and another by Laurie M Brown, who was herself a student of Richard Feynman, Renormalization: From Lorentz to Landau and Beyond. Berlin: Spring-Verlag, 1993.
¶ 103 Leave a comment on paragraph 103 0 [viii]. While there are many areas of interpretation of quantum mechanics that did not make their way into standard textbooks, one might still see them in more advanced or specialized books in foundational matters in quantum theory. However, even with the interpretational differences, the theories are derived from the same mathematical ontology. There exist, however, physicists from other cultures and nations who have tried to provide direct correlations between the intellectual histories of their cultures with what they observe as happening in modern physics. One such example is Maya in Physics authored by N.C. Panda, who tries to bring the Hindu intellectual traditions contained in some Vedic texts into a re-reading of quantum theory, by suggesting that similar strains of thoughts in modern quantum theory had already exerted and manifested themselves in the Vedanta tradition that appears similar, in its explication, to the idea of unification in western modern physics. The book is published in India. See < http://www.vedicbooks.net/maya-physics-p-799.html>. There have also been similar recuperations but done at a more academic historical level through the readings of the work and lives of colonial and immediately postcolonial Indian scientists, such as in the past and upcoming panels I have organized. Such existing interventions make it not impossible to contemplate other forms of interventions into the grand narratives of quantum theory.
¶ 105 Leave a comment on paragraph 105 0 [ix]. See Gregory, Frederick (2002). “Intersections of Physical Science and Western Religion in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.” The Modern Physical and Mathematical Sciences. Ed. Mary Jo Nye. Cambridge University Press, 51-53.
¶ 107 Leave a comment on paragraph 107 0 [x]. The American Physical Society publishes statistics of women majoring in physics as well as reports on the status of women in physics, periodically. Such reports give a climate in which female physicists are working in, as well as reports on their achievements, grants, prizes, and also tips for navigating the workplace. See http://www.aps.org/programs/women/reports/gazette/index.cfm. Also not too recently, a debate was sparked at an internal physics mailing list with regard to tokenism and the role that privilege plays in helping some women in physics, rather than all participating women, to advance, all other things being equal. Previous to that, there were also complaints of there being insufficient women physicists nominated to become speakers at summer schools targeting international groups of undergraduate physics majors. Both these narratives are contained, though not directly reproduced, in the two very different stories of Noether and Goeppert Mayer.
¶ 109 Leave a comment on paragraph 109 0 [xi]. Sarah-Marie Belcastro and Jean Marie Moran. “Interpretations of Feminist Philosophy of Science by Feminist Physical Scientists.” NWSA Journal 15.1 (2003): 20-33. Project MUSE. Web. 17 Jul. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu>.
¶ 110 Leave a comment on paragraph 110 0 [xii]. That said, I want to bring the reader’s attention to an article by Harry Collins on the “Mathematical Understanding and the Physical Sciences.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 38.4 (2007): 667″“685, which points to the possibility of learning physics without necessarily having to master, to excruciating detail, all the intricate mathematics involved. He is not arguing that the mathematics is unimportant to learning physics, but rather, how physical concepts can be made more accessible to the layperson, and to find ways to foster greater understanding and literacy of the physical sciences by advocating for the teaching of physical sciences that does not drown the learner with details to the point of missing the woods for the trees. That way, the learner can spend more time dealing with the subtlety of conceptual arguments, rather than figuring out which mathematical operator or functional goes with what physical delimitations while still not getting the bigger picture. Nevertheless, there is some merit in working out some problems laid out in the textbooks, not for the reason of solving everything to absolute finality, but for getting a feel of the mental models and thinking processes involved. At the same time, the article also showcases a social experiment he performed where he did the Turing machine equivalent of masquerading as a gravitational wave physicist without possessing much mathematical knowledge of the subject area, and being rather successful in his performance. With regard to the aforementioned hoax, it was perpetuated by Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist, who submitted a paper to Social Text in 1994, resulting in what was called the “science wars” that both humanists and scientists had not ceased commenting upon for the past two decades. He had cashed in on the hoax by writing a book on it, “The Sokal Hoax: The Sham That Shook the Academy,” published by Bison Books in 2000. If you want to see the original paper, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” <http://www.physics.nyu.edu/sokal/transgress_v2/transgress_v2_singlefile.html>. He did make a brilliant move of picking a subject in physics that would have confounded some physicists, given the high level of mathematical and theoretical esotericism involved, so it was not as easy to tell, for the uninitiated, of his true intentions unless they had subjected his piece to thorough scrutiny and used it to open discussions with other scientists. Of course, few physicists would appreciate his generous and random of sprinkling of postmodern theory that seems to border on the masturbatory rather than the advancement of actual arguments. Additionally, not many physicists are clued in on the discussion of realism, objectivism, and materialism that had been engaged by highly respected philosophers of physics, though the latter do not engage in postmodern discourse for the most part, being more interested in discussing foundational questions in physics rather than extend into questions raised in literary/cultural theories. Also, you may be interested to read Mara Beller’s interesting critique of how physicists themselves are more ‘tolerant’ of the ‘founding fathers’ of quantum theory’s own predilection towards philosophical ruminations that extend into psychology, politics, ideology, and religion, while remaining brutally derisive of the same moves made by the non-physicists theorists such as Derrida and Lacan. For those not in the know, Mara Better was trained as theoretical physicist before becoming a historian of physics, and was known for her incisive and clear writing in the field of the history of quantum physics. She has since passed on. See <http://www.mathematik.uni-muenchen.de/~bohmmech/BohmHome/sokalhoax.html>.
¶ 112 Leave a comment on paragraph 112 0 [xiii]. See Meeting The Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2007. Should one refer to the argument of the previous footnote, one would be presented with a clue as to why Bohr’s philosophical conceptualizations in the foundations of quantum theory appear amenable to cultural and political interventions.
¶ 114 Leave a comment on paragraph 114 0 [xiv]. Noether’s theorem has becomes so ubiquitous in thinking about particle physics that what it stands for is taken as given in most introductory particle physics textbooks that I have had a chance to read through. See Griffiths’s An Introduction to Elementary Particles (2008) and Mann’s An Introduction to Particle Physics and the Standard Model (2010). Also, see Emmy Noether in Bryn Mawr: Proceedings of a Symposium Sponsored by the Association for Women in Mathematics in Honor of Emmy Noether’s 100th Birthday. Eds. Bhama Srinivasan and Judith Sally, New York & Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1983. The contributors to the proceedings are male and female mathematicians, though one sees a greater number of contributions from female mathematicians than would have been found in most other proceedings.
¶ 116 Leave a comment on paragraph 116 0 [xv]. See the Nobel Prize website for more information <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1963/mayer-bio.html>. I am sure most would have known that, outside the Nobel Prize in Literature, Nobel Prizes in the natural sciences and economics have a pretty dismal track-record when it comes to awarding women. While prizes have been created specifically to celebrate a woman scientist/mathematician’s achievement, it did not yet accomplish the task of having the female scientists’ accomplishments recognized on a scale equivalent to that of male scientists, returning to the argument I made earlier in the essay about specific social politics that are at play.
¶ 118 Leave a comment on paragraph 118 0 [xvi]. As I have argued previously, such belated recognitions of their contributions are representative of the token successes rendered possible by the importance of their works, but in no way dilute the precarity of the positions from which they had produced their works. They were fortunate to have produced works that are, in pop-cultural parlance, ‘hits,’ which neither necessarily advance the conditions for all their other female colleagues nor eliminate tokenism.
¶ 122 Leave a comment on paragraph 122 0 [xviii]. On whether there are such things as the Laws of Nature has been debated enthusiastically in Laws of Nature: Essays on the Philosophical, Scientific, and Historical Dimensions, edited by Friedel Weinert who also provided a good comprehensive introduction to how one would classify laws, and what are real laws versus ‘pseudo’ laws, by demarcating what he considers as ‘lawful’ as representing true natures of laws versus ‘lawlike’ that has the appearance of exemplifying the essence of nature but are merely manifesting certain ‘accidental’ qualities in a regular fashion, a sort of ‘pseudo-law.’ The laws available are constituted as causal laws, functional laws, and statistical laws. See “Introduction” pp 4-14.
¶ 124 Leave a comment on paragraph 124 0 [xix]. In her article “Living in a Posthumanist Material World: Lessons from Schrödinger’s Cat,” in Bits of Life: Feminism At the Intersections of Media, Bioscience, and Technology (2008), Seattle & London: University of Washington Press, Barad outlines very clearly, in item number 3 of her notes (pp 174-5), the difference between determinacy and determinism, by emphasizing that determinism has nothing to do with causality but to do with levels of certainty and probability of something being definite, while determinacy itself has to do with the larger causal effect that, as Deleuze and Guattari would put it, something that is becoming that has neither an end nor a beginning, at least not in a way that our limited capabilities can apprehend. John Earman has written a primer on the subject, aptly called A Primer on Determinism (1986), Dordrecht: D Reidel Publishing Company, though much of the material there are centered on how various forms of determinism operate in physics and therefore, philosophy of physics. Nevertheless, the same ideas hold true when we think about mathematical sciences and how far we can go with theory bending and semiotical deconstruction.
¶ 126 Leave a comment on paragraph 126 0 [xx]. The habilitation operates like a postdoctoral examination that endows on you the recognition of being a full member of the academy (who can supervise PhD students) once your post-doctoral work submitted for that purpose is accepted and approved by a committee of specialists in your field at the university where you seek the habilitation.
¶ 128 Leave a comment on paragraph 128 0 [xxi]. It was serendipitous that I came across Margaret Alic’s 1986 publication Hypatia’s Heritage: A History of Women in Science from Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century, Boston: Beacon Press. The work concentrates mostly on the contribution of women in the western worlds (we do not know what women in other non-Western civilizations did, so more work has to be done in this area) and ends sometime in the late nineteenth century, so women such as Noether and Goeppert Mayer, and their female contemporaries, are not part of the story. However, in reading about the backgrounds of these other women who preceded them, some of who we might have known by their last names, having seen those referenced in mathematical papers, we come to appreciate the difficulties and gumption required to do what they did. Of course, class is also part of the story, for one does not hear of a countrywoman deciding suddenly that she wanted to do mathematics. It would have been bordered on the miracle had she succeeded. Ada Lovelace’s story is told alongside that of French Sophie Germain and Russian Sofia Kovalevsky (nee Korvin-Krukovskaya) in the book.
¶ 130 Leave a comment on paragraph 130 0 [xxii]. Scientist-mathematician-philosopher, James Clerk Maxwell, was interested in working out a more mathematically logical way for speculating on the formation of the laws on electricity. His earlier work contains a geometrical outlook that conformed to the more dominant mathematical discourse of his time that privileged geometrical thinking over analytical subtleties. However, his later work, built on a mechanical viewpoint that drove the dynamical model that led to the formation of his four famous equations of electromagnetism, was on modulating electrical forces and the displacement of electrical current. See “On Faraday’s Line of Force” in Thomas K. Simpson’s Maxwell on the Electromagnetic Field. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997. 55-138.
¶ 132 Leave a comment on paragraph 132 0 [xxiii]. For a serious discussion on the conceptualization of the particle, one can read Gordon Fraser’s The Particle Century published by the Institute of Physics. For more popular accounts, one can check out Robert Gilmore’s Alice in Quantumland, Lisa Randall’s Warped Passages and Knocking on Heaven’s Door, and Frank Close’s The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe. All the popularizers above are physicists. Also, one might be interested in journalist John Gribbin’s In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality which will help explain the world in which physical paradoxes exist (Gribbin is a physicist turned science writer).
¶ 134 Leave a comment on paragraph 134 0 [xxiv]. If you are interested in the kind of developments that Noether’s theorems have engendered, check out a rather comprehensive and thoughtful overview of it in Dwight E. Neuenschwander (2011)’s Emmy Noether’s Wonderful Theorem, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. For a very short biography of Noether, there is Nina Byers’s (1996) “The Life and Times of Emmy Noether: Contribution of Emmy Noether to Particle Physics” in History of Original ideas and Basic Discoveries in Particle Physics. Eds. Harvey B. Newman and Thomas Ypsilantis, NATO ASI series, New York: Plenum Press, 945-64. There is also a German biography of Emmy Noether by Auguste Dick, translated by H.I. Blocher, tersely titled Emmy Noether: 1882-1935, Boston: BirkhÃ¤user, 1981. This biography contains her list of publications, the students she supervised, and her obituaries. However, there are no references to the papers and materials that would have aided in the writing of the biographical parts. Much of the childhood material could have been obtained through interviews, though not explicitly stated as such. The German Wikipedia entry on the author describes her as an Austrian historian of mathematics and professor < http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auguste_Dick>.
¶ 136 Leave a comment on paragraph 136 0 [xxv]. A brief and concise history of the liquid drop model, and the physics that was developed around it, could be found online in a talk given at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science by Roger Stuewer, “An Act of Creation: the Meitner-Frisch Interpretation of Nuclear Fission” < http://quantum-history.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/news/workshops/hq3/hq3_talks/17_stuewer.pdf>. Meitner in the title refers to Lise Meitner, who had also contributed considerably to developments in nuclear physics through her extensive theoretical work on nuclear fission, as the title of the talk suggests, a work that, once again, failed to be recognized. There is also a discussion of the contribution of Meitner, and Marietta Blau, in chapter three of Peter Galison’s Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics. Under-appreciated and under-acknowledged female physicists played important roles in the early development and transition between radiation and nuclear physics, using the most rudimentary instruments available to them. According to Galison’s argument, they were quite involved in a physics that privileged the image of the data as opposed to the highly mediated, abstract logics that particle physics experiments are involved in today.
¶ 138 Leave a comment on paragraph 138 0 [xxvi]. As will be shown in Julie Jardins’ book to be mentioned in the next footnote, while Goeppert Mayer followed her instinct, she did not work alone but always in collaboration with another prominent male physicist, an example being Fermi. For a more conclusive confirmation, see the oral transcript of an interview conducted with her by Thomas S Kuhn for the History of Quantum Physics Project. I was fortunate that the Niels Bohr Library had generously supported my research at its library in the summer of 2010, during which I was able to go through the profiles of the various eminent and influential figures, mostly males, who contributed in myriad ways, to the shaping of quantum physics into the form we recognize today. However, I could locate only rarely, the female physicists, from among the profiles found in the archive. Interview of Maria Goeppert Mayer by Thomas S Kuhn on February 20, 1962, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, <http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4770.html>. [Accessed July 8, 2013].
¶ 142 Leave a comment on paragraph 142 0 [xxviii]. See Jardins, J.D (2010). “Maria Goeppert Mayer and Rosalind Franklin: the Politics of Partners and Prizes in the Heroic Age of the Science,” The Madame Curie Complex, New York: Feminist Press, Women Writing Science, 157-200.
¶ 144 Leave a comment on paragraph 144 0 [xxix]. See Mozkowski, Steven A (2006), “Maria Goeppert Mayer (1906-1972),” Out of the Shadows, Eds. Nina Byers and Gary Williams, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 202-212.
Leave a comment on paragraph 146 0
[xxx]. The published episode of this story in progress can be found at <http://dces.essex.ac.uk/Research/iieg/papers%282011%29/CS11_Lee%2820%29.pdf>, as it has been published as part of the conference proceedings of the Ambient Intelligence and Smart Environments,
Volume 10: Workshop Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Intelligent Environments by IOS Press. A prototype of the electronic literature version of the story, all 10 minutes of it, can be found at <http://people.duke.edu/~cal33/SLSA2012ELITPERF/>. Please check out the readme.txt before you begin viewing the video and the PowerPoint. The PowerPoint and the video are best viewed in tandem on two different screens (until I work on an alternate presentation of the material later).
¶ 147 Leave a comment on paragraph 147 0 [xxxi]. The works that I am thinking about in this case are Ursula K Le Guin’s Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, Joanna Russ’s Herland, Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, and Octavia Butler’s Dawn, though these works represent only a tiny sampling of their corpus, and there are also the works of other authors who I have not mentioned by name here. But even then, the authors have to deal with the constraints of the language from which their novels are written and also with the fact that science that do make an appearance in their work is circumscribed by its political-epistemological provenance. This is most evident in the discourse of biological sciences especially concerning sexuality. However, the physical sciences contain subtle inklings of it, such as in our perception of space and time. The struggles in trying to articulate something outside the socialization of our experience is evident in the struggles articulated by the characters themselves, regardless of gender. Science is inserted into the stories as narrative props, and often as a dystopic critique of the abuse of power and authority in scientific practice (though not necessarily of the science produced, though sometimes, that too) where the feminine appears disempowered and ambiguated. However, they all demonstrate science fiction as a powerful tool for creating provocative thought experiments regarding our assumptions about life, philosophy, and the facticity of science.