Volume 9, Number 1 (January 2012)
Mediation, Simulation, and the Large Hadron Collider
(M.A. Program in Sociology, Goldsmiths University, London, UK)
This essay analyzes the pursuit of reality enacted at/in/by the site of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) through theories of mediation and simulation. The LHC can be seen to offer a unique moment in which to acknowledge the ‘intra-actions’ and inseparability of events and their mediation in the co-constitution and production of reality, presenting a challenge to representationalist schematics that maintain a distinction between facts of nature ‘as they exist’ and as they come to be known. Additionally, the simulation of the Big Bang on a miniature scale, the (repetitive) re-creation of the primal scene of creation, interpolates a Baudrillardian analysis of the simulated nature of reality itself, especially as it regards this return-to-origins bred by a gridlocked inertia among the theoretical and empirical sciences and general uncertainty of and in ‘the real’. Both theories demonstrate that it is useful to remember, in our consideration of the LHC, that any re-creation of the Universal, of originary cause, of an origin of the universe is always and already a re-presentation; that the LHC is performative in demonstrating that any origin is always already produced technically, and that it is repetition or reproducibility itself that can be found at any origin, or non-origin.
The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, and it is expected to address some of the most fundamental questions scientists have regarding particle physics and the nature of the universe. The return to the primal scene of all creation, that of the Big Bang itself via its mechanized and virtualized simulation comes at an historical moment when physicists and particle theorists find themselves at an impasse ceded by the inimical theories of quantum mechanics and general relativity:
For the past few decades, physicists have been able to describe with increasing detail the fundamental particles that make up the Universe and the interactions between them. This understanding is encapsulated in the Standard Model of particle physics, but it contains gaps and cannot tell us the whole story. To fill in the missing knowledge requires experimental data, and the next big step to achieving this is with LHC (CERN, 2008).
And so it seems that, for Science at least, the one way to grasp the full reality of the universe is at a point where only experiments can lead the way forward.
The experiment itself consists of a 27 km ring of superconducting magnets that comprise the accelerator in which two beams of particles travelling in opposite directions at close to the speed of light and with very high energies will collide into one another at a precise collision point in which one of four detectors (cameras) will then capture the ‘event’. There are four detectors – ALICE, ATLAS, CMS, and LHCb - embedded into the accelerator’s framework, each involved in distinct experiments with different aims:
For the ALICE experiment, the LHC will collide lead ions to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang under laboratory conditions. The data obtained will allows physicists to study a state of matter known as quark-gluon plasma, which is believed to have existed soon after the Big Bang (ALICE, 2008).
By generating temperatures 100,000 times hotter than the heart of the sun, the protons and neutrons that comprise atoms will, ideally, melt thereby freeing the quarks from their bonds with gluons. ALICE plans to study the quark-gluon plasma thus produced as it expands and cools, observing how it progressively gives rise to the particles that constitute the matter of our universe today. A second detector, ATLAS, is involved in the search for the Higgs Boson, in addition to extra dimensions and particles that could make up dark matter. It is comprised of six different detecting subsystems that identify particles and measure their momentum and energy, and “will record sets of measurements on the particles created in their collision – their paths, energies, and their identities” (ATLAS, 2008). The CMS detector is involved in the search for the Higgs Boson particle, as well, though it uses different technical solutions to achieve these mappings. Finally, the LHCb experiment will help to solve the matter of, well, antimatter. “It specializes in investigating the slight differences between matter and antimatter by studying a type of particle called the ‘beauty quark’ or the ‘b quark’” (LHCb, 2008). To catch the b-quarks, LHCb will utilize movable tracking detectors close to the path of the beams circling in the LHC. Each of these experiments are designed to produce images of the collisions, otherwise known as events, and digitally construct graphs and charts of particle measurements, flows, paths etc. that, in the language of the scientists spearheading this project, bring us closer to the truth of how the world works (CERN, 2008).
If the Higgs Boson particle is discovered to exist, then the Standard Model can claim completion and perhaps scientific mastery over knowledge of the universe [given that the formulation scientifically mastering reality takes is one of speculation, and in that sense is too a form of fiction devised through the processes of experimentation]. For a handful of particle physicists, to not find the Higgs Boson would be the greatest discovery of all, for it would precipitate a revolution in rethinking the theory of the universe, of reality, of everything; it would provide scientific theory with the momentum and progression it currently requires. And still for others, namely social theorists of science and technology and media, regardless of what the LHC discovers, these experiments occasion an opportunity to rethink how the entire representationalist framework within which this phenomenon and the configuration of both knowledge and reality itself, are embedded, conceptualized, and narrativized.
Focusing on mediation, as a theoretical framework, generates a movement away from, or at least a renovative push against the limits of, a certain representationalism premised on the essential ontological separation of static entities, originating largely from what Karen Barad (2007) refers to as “Cartesian habits of mind” and perpetuated by the subsequent slew of binary oppositions thus metonymically and metaphorically rendered and legitimated across disciplines and time. The logic of representationalism, formulated upon the fixed distinction between representations and that which they purport to represent (some referent), relies on the categorical perception of reality that functions by fragmenting the world into particular subsets, often arranged in sets of oppositions, which, open to manipulations and exercises of power, have grave ethical and political consequences for our understanding of the world and its dynamic processes.
According to Henri Bergson (1998), these ‘false’ divisions limit understandings of the complexity and versatility of phenomena and processes in and of the world by intervening in the fluidity of experience and sorting it into manageable and easily measurable parts. Alongside the arguments that categorical perception of reality is innate to the intellectual production of knowledge and a made-meaning-ful world, Bergson posits an intuitive method that alternatively understands life as being synonymous with time, movement, and the process of creative evolution. From this perspective, spatial perceptions of reality can be seen to fix or immobilize what is mobile and to turn time into space in order to master it. The reassembling of parts and recreated movements that subsequently arise from this interference remain, according to Bergson, resolutely ‘false’, appearing as mere semblances of movement with no real duration. Once situated within the spatalizing trappings of representationalism, what Bergson formerly conceived of as a process or ‘event’ has been reduced to a mere, static ‘object’ whose ‘happening’ dissipates into ‘being’ and whose meaning no longer evolves but is situated according to its location within an already existing codified system.
This is how particles and their collisions at the LHC are conceptualized in the media, according to this normative and (necessarily) representational paradigm (for both the objectivity of scientific knowledge, as well as the legitimacy of the media’s very existence and social function rely upon this paradigm). The pursuit of knowledge and formulations of matter imagined and expressed by the physicists at CERN themselves, in addition to the whole of Newtonian physics, seem to correspond to this conventional representationalist rubric. This is not unexpected, for scientific knowledge functions by positing categorical (stable) perceptions, conceptions, and assumptions of the existence of a priori forces and elements of nature – of particles, atoms, force fields – that may be empirically revealed and represented to society through transparent empirical observation. Like the media enterprise, scientific theory, in this sense, takes coverage/observation to be the neutral facilitator of discovery between distinct knowers and objects to be known from which objective knowledge can thus be formed. So, in the case of the LHC, particles, detectors, and scientists are all inscribed with a respective sense of (allegedly) autonomous agency: particles circulate around cylinders, magnetically propelled, ultimately colliding into one another to produce an event; a series of detectors, or cameras, observe and capture the event, rendering an image of the collision in which the natural properties of particles are ably represented; only then to be read and interpreted by a squad of physicists who thence deduce the ‘facts of nature’ thus transported by an ostensibly transparent image or representation of otherwise imperceptible natural reality.
The individually determinate boundaries between particles (objects to be known), detectors (as neutral intermediary), and scientists (knowers) are clearly established and structurally necessary according to the principles of empirical truth making. While the attribution of agency to nonhuman actors within this experiment is worthy of notice, the act of properly assigning values and properties to objects as separate from the agencies of observation that mediate their becoming poses an epistemic paradox in the configuration of reality engendered by this experiment; or rather of how reality is come to be known. As mentioned above, a bulk of this experiment is invested in finding the elusive Higgs Boson; at this point, only a virtually existent element, or more precisely still, a theoretical concept, that nevertheless has already assumed and well defined, inherent and essential qualities separate from and prior to the agencies of observation that would bring about the proof of its ‘real’ being. That an object to be observed can pre-exist the processes of measurement and observation that would define or legitimate the verity of its conceptualization implies either (or both of) two things: first, as Niels Bohr says in his re-interpretation of quantum physics, assumptions of the separability between an object and its apparatus of discovery require theoretical reconfiguration; second, that according to Jean Baudrillard, this marks a prime example of when/how reality transforms into hyperreality, where models, in this instance the Standard Model, precede and pre-determine any allusively-causal referents, ultimately rendering the ‘event’ super-conductive, itself dispensable.
Baudrillard’s notion of hyperreality shall later be addressed, but for now, in keeping with a Bohrian critique of positive scientism, “the assumption entails a belief in representationalism (the independently determinate existence of words and things), the metaphysics of individualism (that the world is composed of individual entities with individually determinate boundaries and possibilities), and the intrinsic separability of knower and known (that measurements reveal the preexisting values of the properties of independently existing objects as separate from the measuring agencies)” (Barad, 2007:195). In contrast to these assumptions, Bohr posits a framework in which quantum physics cannot neglect the interaction and inseparability between object and apparatus. “In quantum physics…the unambiguous account of proper quantum phenomena must, in principle, include a description of all relevant features of the experimental arrangement” (Ibid.:196). In other words, the experiment cannot be understood without stating the conditions necessary for its reproduction.
Without a doubt, the LHC does not deny the agentive, incorporated roles of the technologies and apparatuses that constitute and make this experiment possible – i.e. super-conductive magnetic cylinders, stationary and mobile detectors, means of extracting individual particles from their composite forms, to name a few. In fact, if anything, they emphatically amplify the technological advancements that make possible this project, so much so that what appears on the one hand as a significant ascription of agency to interrelated nonhuman ‘actants’, on the other hand borders an overt anthropomorphism that still hinges upon representationalist paradigms. I refer to the way in which particles are afforded autonomous agency (in a non-radical way), explained above in which they are made to resemble people – independent, self-determining, essential, causal, effective. Particles, and people for that matter, characterized in this fashion appear then as distinct entities, as independent physical subject-objects that preexist and mark a spatial delineation against the apparatuses of their observation, inscription, and constitution. Additionally, agency and the power of perception are attributed to both the detectors themselves and then the scientists, but there nevertheless remains an asymmetrical relation between the subject-scientist and object status, allocated to particles and detectors. For example, the images captured at the LHC tell the scientists what ‘happens’ beyond human perception (what they want to believe, what they already believe), though from a position that is nonhuman, objective. It redoubles the power of human sight by articulating it with mechanical perception (Cubitt, 1998:42). Within this representationalist model, the camera and the images themselves are ambivalent, producing results from/on which scientists inscribe the meaning(s) of ‘reality’. This master-narrative of science can be seen to still assume a syntax of “subject knows object”, science “ostensibly masters the object” (Baudrillard, 1983:17). Though objects are endowed with seemingly autonomous agency, it is nevertheless of an asymmetrical sort that moves away from ‘Cartesian habits of mind’ and then back towards them once more
If, however, we return to Bergson’s intuitive notion that, a particle or a collision or a detector is not something that is and that has inherent properties and effects, but rather is an effect in itself – a non-essentialized and contingent effect of an (intellectual) habit of mind that disrupts the fluidity of reality via categorizing tendencies and is constituted of the mediating apparatuses and conditions for its occurrence – then the boundary between ‘reality’ and its mediation gets confused. Whereas the LHC posits the event, the collision of two particles into one another, itself as an object (to be imaged and interpreted) rather than a temporal phenomenon or process incorporating multiple agencies and apparatuses, Barad responds that “apparatuses, in Bohr’s sense, are not passive observing instruments. On the contrary, they are productive of (and part of) phenomena” over time and space (Barad, 2007:199). Nor are apparatuses in themselves preexisting or fixed entities, but are constituted through particular practices and are always in the process of intra-acting with other apparatuses, which may be traded through space and time (Ibid.:203). By recasting the apparatuses of observation as generative and co-constitutive of reality rather than ambivalent intermediaries that map, mirror, or correspond to a notion of an a priori reality ‘as it really is’, worries about the adequacy of scientific representation that constitute the familiar philosophical problematic of realism and objectivity disappear (Pickering, 1995:8), or they appear to be subverted… or at least, become irrelevant.
For example, when we focus our attention to the image of the collisions, of the marks produced on computer screens at the LHC (images of particle movement, light refraction, or any pattern translated into an electronic image), they refer to a phenomenon that is co-constituted in the intra-action of the ‘object’ (the particle/collision) and the agencies of observation (the camera, the computer). The objective referent is no longer some bounded and propertied ‘natural’ object (a particle), but an effect of the phenomenal whole (the multiple agencies that mediate its existence). In other words, the notion of objectivity, presented by Barad’s reading of Bohr, is no longer predicated on an inherent spatial and material distinction between objects and agencies of observation, but would be defined by the ‘marks on the screen’ which take into account the entanglement and mutual constitution of different agencies within phenomena (Barad, 2007: 202). Simply put, the referent is not the collision or the particle reaction, but the entirety of the phenomenon observed; the inseparability and entanglement of agencies becomes the referent for ‘reality’. The very possibility of an independent particle is wedded to the technologies and apparatuses of production that make its conception, perception, and re-presentation possible; they cannot be separated since they were created together and reinforce one another. This constitutes the underlying logic of mediation: reality and its mediation are inseparable.
Barad continues that:
…phenomena are not the mere result of laboratory exercises engineered by human subjects but differential patterns of mattering (“diffraction patterns”) produced through complex agential intra-actions of multiple material-discursive practices or apparatuses of bodily production, where apparatuses are not mere observing instruments but boundary-drawing practices – specific material (re)configuring of the world – which come to matter (2007:206).
Even the boundary between humans and nonhumans designates particular phenomena in which differences are re-iteratively re-configured discursive-materially. A reformulation of realism and truth that is no longer premised on the metaphysics of essence, but the durational ‘intra-activity of agencies becoming’ certainly puts forth a coherent radical challenge to the representational nature of knowledge, but it also contradicts itself because in destabilizing the reality-as-referent construct, it displaces the very notion of an ‘objective’ referent unto the ‘phenomenal whole’. The pursuit of realism, truth, and objectivity offered by this seemingly more ‘authentic’ account of the ‘co-constitution of reality’ still privileges an architecture of knowledge in which scientists, Barad included, belong to the regime of experts able to colonize knowledge through ideologies of objectivity, and empiricism, truth grounded in materiality, and are able to choose the sites between which to make certain “agential cuts”. Barad’s challenge to objectivity reworks its former representational definition, repositioning it as a processual entanglement; an involution of intra-actions whereby the ‘phenomenon’ is rendered into an object-ive-referent in its own right, severed from a reality-referent it no longer describes but co-constructs. It presumes a distinction between the reality-referent and the objective-referent when it replaces the object to be studied by another matter made of relations. Barad makes it very clear that phenomena cannot be divorced from the materials or institutions of their production and circulation, but by idealizing the truthfulness and materiality of phenomena, it actually begins to take the form of an immaterial, universal presence in which the entire world and its practices become objectivized in the pursuit for objectivity and truth. Barad’s ‘phenomenal whole’ can be seen as an attempt to resolve the dialectic of the object world and the object medium by re-objectifying everything. Ironically, in this sense her theory is truly performative.
Jean Baudrillard’s theory of simulation takes this notion of peformativity, intrinsic to the logic of mediation, and challenges the de-essentializing tendencies that, in turn, often re-essentialize objects (subject matter) in alternative, idealized forms. His challenge to this logic of mediation is that, in its insistence on the ‘newly’ reconfigured ‘truth’ of the constitution of reality, it turns everything into simulacra in the overall ‘will to meaning’, which he refers to as “Integral Reality” [the perpetrating on the world of unlimited operational (performative) projects whereby everything is made to become real, visible and transparent, ‘liberated’, and have a meaning (Baudrillard, 2005:17)]. Reality is the concept needed to justify the existence and meaning of both ‘media’ and ‘mediation’. Baudrillard points out that even with the critique of objectivity, even when “the singularity of objectivity is broken…and science ‘effaces itself before its object’ now dispersed into multiple fragments, nothing in fact changes. To ‘bow down before differences’ and to institute a shift from mastery by subject of science to the sovereignty of the object [-ive referent], now challenged to ‘speak’ in its own voice’, to be a ‘subject’, is simply a symptom of a different form of the confinement of the scientific object” (Grace, 2000:86). It merely means, in a way, that we have all become scientific objects, along with all events and phenomena. This configuration of material existence relies on redoubling the self as standing both as subject and in object, in constituting its realization as object, by object. So, a simultaneous auto-affection and auto-effection occurs, where the subject/object distinction is no longer distinct; the subject-object becomes tautological. “We are not only subjected to technologies of vision, but far worse, we are subjects only to ourselves, mediated through machineries downgraded to mere feedback loops” (Cubitt, 1998:36).
For Baudrillard, this is a double movement: the reification of objectivity and the dispersal of the subjective is a mirror of the disappearance of the real (2009:26). A disappearance is marked by its traces; just as the scientists at the LHC observe the traces, or “smoking gun effects” of each particle collision which appears moments after each “Big Bang”; the traces are all that are perceptible, what are able to be imaged. For example, when light from a star travels from outer space into view from earth, the traces of its light only appear just as, or after, the star itself is dying, disappearing. What the LHC demonstrates, quite literally but also functionally, is how “behind every image, something has disappeared” (Ibid.:32). This is not to say that nothing has physically (not) happened behind the image, but that in the pursuit of (proof of) a perfectly objective universe, the subject/ive itself disappears; subjectivity becomes one of objectivity; this nondistinguishability marks implosion. The distance between the subject and object, or rather the artifice of the distinction between the two, disappears in their operational conflation. Objective reality – reality related to meaning and representation – gives way to ‘Integral Reality’, in which everything is realized (made to be real) and technically materialized (made to matter)…so that ‘reality’ inevitably dis-appears, its meaning has disappeared whence dispersed in its appearances and then recognizable only in its traces.
In Baudrillard’s estimation, when (the mediation of) ‘reality’ becomes transparent, ‘it’ becomes meaningless or disappears through its proliferation and dispersal; reality gets pushed into its ‘secondary existence of simulation’. Or put another way, when the ‘natural’ real that precedes its representation is no longer the reference point for ‘reality’, the sign itself becomes the real. Similarly, Barad’s contributions to theories of mediation posit that the signs or ‘marks on a screen’ generated through intra-active processes and agents co-constitute the emergence of the ‘real’. In Baudrillard’s terms, this process forms the underlying structure of the ‘hyperreal’ mode whereby any signifier, wrested from its anchoring in the referent, becomes a sign. Both Barad and Baudrillard demonstrate that there is no ‘real’ other than that which emanates from signs. When Baudrillard claims that reality is lost, that its signs and models replace the ‘original referents’, he is not implying that reality is lost under, behind, or before simulation, not in the physical sense, at least. Baudrillard makes this very clear: simulation is not a pretense; such an interpretation would maintain the principles of representationalism and distinctions between truth/falsity and adherence to the reality principle. It is only when figured within an order of representation that simulation is interpreted as false representation. “Whereas representation tries to absorb simulation by interpreting it as false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation as itself a simulacrum” (Baudrillard, 1983:11). Reality constituted in terms of a relation of truth suggests that an image can convey, perceive, distort, pervert, or even produce ‘it’. “But when reality is configured in terms of simulation, the image bears no relation whatsoever to any reality: it is its own pure simulation” (Ibid). In contrast to Barad et. al., the sign doesn’t even represent or signify the array of temporal-spatial agents that facilitate its appearance in the co-constitution of reality. Within the order of simulation, “the whole edifice of representation (is) itself a simulacrum” (Ibid) which maintains the appearance of ‘reality’ out of some duty to reality, a duty of truth (whether moral, political, psychological, economic). Once everything has been deconstructed and de-essentialized, once performative perspectives renegotiate the notions of original referents or truth principles, “reality continues to exist; it is its principle that is dead” (Baudrillard, 2005:18). Following the subversion of the principle of representation, the whole of ‘the real’, as formerly understood, has no choice but to falter as well, in need of new terms.
Baudrillard posits that there is no alternate reality behind or under or even after simulation; there is only an implosion between the relations of truth and falsity, of the real and appearances. “It is in this sense that simulation as an order of the real obliterates the ‘relation’: the sign is the reality, and there is no falsity to be unmasked. There is no simulation versus truth: the simulated and the true are one in the same thing” (Grace, 2000:84). Whereas mediation still posits the existence of ‘reality’, the discourse of ‘hyperreality’ overtly chooses not to conceal the fact that there is none. Simulation eliminates ‘relations’, while mediation proposes that ‘relations’ are exactly those which temporally, perpetually re-figure, re-shape, and re-institute (an idea of) reality comprised of signs and phenomena. Commensurate with Foucauldian notions of power as productive, peformativity for both Karen Barad and Judith Butler is, simply put, the power of discursive-material phenomena to produce effects through reiteration. Baudrillard suggests that if power works through production, through the material-discursive drawings of boundaries, then the challenge to power must take the form of a nondialogical space. The challenge must come from a “symbolic reversal” (Baudrillard, 2007:40) offered by the logic of simulation and implosion.
In his essay “For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign”, Baudrillard demonstrates the structural interweaving between the political economy (of equivalence) and signification (the logic of meaning) that relies upon an a priori assumption of an object/subject dichotomy which, in fact, cannot be understood independently from its emergence in the economy of exchange and the code of equivalence. Grace (2000) further analyzes this structural reliance upon a dichotomous split and subsequent resolution between use value/exchange value and signifier/signified that prefigures notions of distinct objects and subjects (individuals). For economic exchange relies on the existence of a code (of value) that structures the relationship between objects, and between objects and subjects, whereby the object must exist autonomously so that the (semiotically) equivalent and independent subject’s ‘needs’ or ‘desires’ can constitute the utility and therefore value of the object. Put another way, an economic-object takes on an identity or meaning conferred upon it by a linguistic-subject according to its location within a codified system [for example, the incredible financial costs the LHC, (six billion dollars), fits perfectly into this economic model of exchange value where meaning, the enterprise of scientific knowledge production, diffused computing mechanisms (the Grid) all figure in with reasonably gainful value]. Structured by this utilitarian imperative, the existence of the individual with needs, desires, and self-ness is required to substantiate the static identity and finality of an object according to its use, functionality, and location within a codified system. Within this system, use value provides the rationale for exchange value just as biological sex has seemingly provided the naturalized alibi for gender, as exposed by Judith Butler’s theoretical development (1990) of ‘performativity’. Through his critique of the political economy and its entanglement with signification, Baudrillard exposes the underpinnings of economic value, which implicated in the Nature/Culture dichotomy, are inherent to the constructions of identity, and how the codification in which identity is produced by means of (/as phallic) currency-exchange institutes the possibility for hierarchical relations of power.
Therefore Baudrillard posits a challenge to such ‘apparatuses of power’ via the logic of ‘symbolic exchange’, where no positivity of identity can exist since there is neither subject nor object in their implosion. Since there is no possible ‘outside’ or reversion allowable within the logic of signification, Baudrillard posits his challenge at the level of the logic of the system itself. “A collapse, or implosion, of the poles of the sign (signifier/signified) precisely registers the loss of the referent (itself a phantasmatic formulation of a previous era, or ‘episteme’ in Foucault’s terms), and institutes the precession of the model of reality, and the logic of simulation” (see Grace, 2000:124). Implosion is the term that marks this inward movement of collapse, of dissipation where signifier/signified becomes sign; reality/appearance becomes simulation; cause/effect becomes information, not in a revolutionary transformation but through a collapse that often goes unnoticed. For Baudrillard, performativity, far from being a universally analyzable mode of discourse (thus limited to discursivity) is itself the dominant logic in the hyperreal world, impelled by theories of mediation, and governed by the contemporary logic of the sign.
If Baudrillard sees the ‘real’ as a semiotic category and function within the system of signification, then ‘it’ derives from a representational model that is itself a simulacra of complex symbolic relationships. Working off this semiotic/symbolic distinction, William Merrin allies Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacra with a neo-Durkheimian utilization of the symbolic realm as Other, envisioned as more ‘authentic’ or ‘sacred’ than the semiotic order (of media) which ‘profanes’ reality through the impositions of its own legitimating metaphysics and “its total organization of everyday life” (Merrin, 2005:140). But, perhaps Baudrillard’s sense of the hyperreal order that replaces, or abolishes, ‘the real’ does not adhere to some anthropological notion of the world being primordially split into two realms: the sacred and profane, but instead marks a structural, or perhaps even historical, transformation that identifies the transforming (non)meaning of reality in relation to technology and our knowledge of the (re)mediated world.
Baudrillard exposes the inconsistencies and uncertainties within the semiotic structure itself, and offers the symbolic strategically to point out those very inconsistencies and indeterminacy. The tension between the same and the other is secondary with regard to the (non)coincidence of the Same with itself (Zizek, 2007). It isn’t necessarily some nostalgic, or regressive, gesture back to (or towards) some ‘authentic’ ‘primitive’ reality that existed a priori to the ‘totalitarian code of semiotics’, rather it can be read as a peformative theory, a strategic hypothesis, and challenge to the structure of signification and representation; the ‘symbolic’ is the figure of the reversion of opposite terms, the transgression of the code. The use of the symbolic replaces the tension between ‘relations’ with the possibility of a tension between ‘the real’ and itself/s. Baudrillard aims to collapse the boundaries between reality and illusion, between truth and falsity, that challenges us to rethink these very notions, their appearances, and their functions within a world still governed by the politics of representation by which reality becomes simulation (and simulation becomes reality). Furthermore, the symbolic offered might be best understood not in opposition to materiality (resuscitating the symbolic/material binary of traditional semiotics) but rather as the very strategy with/through which to question the ‘nature’ of signs and their relations to matter, materiality. It reveals the problems within signification and semiosis itself, challenging us to rethink techniques of ordering and making meaning out of/with/through reality, signs, language, and (what) matters. At times commensurate, at other points drastically verging, the theories of both mediation and simulation help us to think about materiality, to encourage us to move us beyond, to challenge, or reconceptualize, two spaces in analogical repetition: the symbolic and the material. To this extent that this hypothesis is experimental, despite, ironically, its anti-empirical core, it can also be seen to fail, as many contemporary theorists confer. Some may intuit the semiotic/symbolic; symbolic/material distinction(s) that necessitates the possibility of alterity to be a theoretical deadlock, whereas Baudrillard (or is it my (re)interpretation?) may take this deadlock to be in itself exemplary of the inertia that plagues contemporary ‘theory-and-practice’s’ pull towards ‘reality’. Regarding the LHC in light of the discourses of mediation and simulation reminds us of the fluidity and dynamic nature of materiality and what constitutes reality. “The very definition of the real becomes: that which of it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction…At the limit of this process of reproducibility, the real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is always already reproduced” (Baudrillard, 1983:146).
After all the discussion of the disappearance of the real, and with such uncertainty of/in the real, fascination regarding how the ‘real world’ began to exist no doubt abounds. Such is what the experiments at the LHC perform for us in its explorative endeavor. Read as an extremely large metaphorical narrative/project, the LHC demonstrates the mode by which the ‘real world’ begins: by means of scientific codification, the pursuit of objective knowledge, and the implementation of technologies that mediate these ‘discoveries’. From (the invention of) a transcendental observational point of view outside ‘the world’, the natural world comes to be, becomes definitively alienated, objectivized. That the natural world has always already originated from within the space of techne, the world is seen, in Bolter and Grusin’s words (1999), to have always already been remediated.
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