Perverse particles, entangled monsters and psychedelic pilgrimages: Emergence as an onto-epistemology of not-knowing Whither emergence?



In contrast to the relative equilibrium and mechanical conservativism at the heart of mainstream articulations of emergence, we ‘see’ emergence as errant, monstrous, ironical, nonlinear and indeterminate. Progress is not emergence. And emergence is not an arrow. There is a spontaneity at work that undermines the fundamental tenets of Calvinian teleology – one of which is the story that the world is captive in an unending progression towards grander sophistication, a process ineluctably steered by men (or to be more precise, ‘educated’ white men). In this playful interdisciplinary analysis of emergence, using ‘new’ insights into the ‘perverseness’ of the quantum world, and drawing from psychedelic research, popular culture, and Indigenous wisdoms, we reimagine emergence as a radical indeterminacy that unsettles the grounds upon which the exclusionary discourse/practices of neoliberal expansionism as emergence are built. In doing this, we point to other spaces of power, where new embodied forms of justice (in form of different ethico-epistemo-political imaginaries) might thrive.

If to write is to unsettle old assumptions, to hint at the unexpected, to form trajectories to the effaced and inappropriate, and to make room for radically new embodiments of justice, then the burden of this essay is truly an ethical intra-vention[1] (Barad, 2007) – a thought experiment into the embryonic elsewheres tugging at our frames of the present. Jumping playfully from charged visions of queer, self-birthing particles and ubiquitous, psychedelic compounds that destabilize the primacy of a local, three-dimensional reality to considerations about complex adaptive systems, climate justice, shamans and unwieldy sentences and footnotes, we write to wrestle with the stabilized visions and fantasies of emergence held by corporate hegemonies. We suggest that emergence is not the inevitable march of Western progress denoted by trivialities such as GDP growth, corporate revenue expansion, technological innovation or any other form of ‘achievement’.

The purpose of this interdisciplinary article is concerned with ethics: to open up radical spaces of possibilities once we accept the possibility of not-knowing. The aim is not to articulate a political manifesto that replaces capitalist accounts of emergence with something as equally fictitious. We are not trying to supplant one blueprint for another. Rather, we write to disturb convenient ways of reading the world. We do this by pointing to other places of power – broadening the spectrum of what is considered permissible. Jumping from here and there. Or making here and there by jumping.

If one were interested in linearity, this essay proceeds from the context of the climate change struggle to the root causes of this struggle – the deadening ideology of late-stage capitalism and its corollaries of patriarchy, rationalism, white supremacy and anthropocentrism. We draw on the concept of entanglement as a primary metaphor for emergence, and an unfurling of the ‘other’ as a mirror into our own souls, abandoning the fixity of any theoretical outside or of monsters under the bed. We invoke quantum physics, neuroscience, behavioural psychology and complexity economics as haptic heirs to their dualist counterparts, pointing to a new direction of messiness, intra-action, and symbiotic evolution with Nature and the universe itself. We pose paradoxes in order to challenge our notions of agency and causality, to re/discover the potency of liminal edges, and of other places of power where meaning and matter are intra-twined.

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