Reviewed by: Benjamin Lamb-Books
Quantum Mind and Social Science: Unifying Physical and Social Ontology by Alexander Wendt (2015), Cambridge University Press.
In his latest book, Alexander Wendt, the well-known political scientist and International Relations theorist, ventures across disciplinary borders to rethink social ontology through the counterintuitive principles of quantum physics. Wendt’s proposal is radical, with radical implications for sociology. At stake is sociology’s classically-inherited ontological commitment to Newtonianism, a commitment that manifests itself in beliefs that social causation should always be mechanical, local, and materialist.
Wendt’s quantum social ontology goes something like this: People are “walking wave-functions.” In other words, the human brain is a quantum operating system, protected by organic boundaries and highly skilled in processes of quantum computing that we more commonly call memory and feeling (Experience), information-processing (Cognition), and agency/freedom (Will). Wendt’s three quantum faculties, Experience, Cognition, and Will, are the constitutive components of his theory of “quantum mind” as highlighted in the book’s title.
Newtonianism lurks every-where in social science today. Most forms of conflict theory and political realism, whether in sociology or political science, are Newtonian, as is analytical sociology’s theory of mechanisms, processes, and networks. For Wendt, these familiar features of the discipline rest on a flawed ontological foundation, one which does not adequately measure, interrogate, and wrestle with the quantum foundations of social life, such as the sentience, sociality, and spontaneity of human beings equipped with the faculties of consciousness that Wendt calls “quantum mind.”
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