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  • Author or Editor: K.M. Fierke x
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Repositioning the apparatus impacts on what is seen. The rationale for repositioning and the implications for my positionality as researcher were explored in the first part of the introduction. Here we seek to deepen understanding of the apparatus, that is, the parallel between quantum physics and ancient Asian philosophies, as preparation for the snapshots that follow. Nearly a half century ago Fritjof Capra’s ([1975] 1991) The Dao of Physics drew a parallel between quantum physics and Eastern mysticism, focusing in particular on Buddhism, Daoism and Hinduism. His book, which was a sustained exploration of the parallel, was both insightful and popular. The argument resonated with the New Age politics of the 1970s. In the context of the argument that follows, Capra’s framing of quantum science and Eastern mysticism is problematic in so far as experience within the world is the primary concern here. I argue that an earlier articulation of the parallel, by the Danish physicist and father of the Copenhagen interpretation Niels Bohr (2010), provides a better positioning for exploring the meaning of mind, action and strategy in an uncertain world. Bohr argued that mysticism was not the point of the parallel, and shifted emphasis to our role as spectators and actors. Further, Bohr’s concept of complementarity provides a different angle on the relationship between science and mysticism that goes beyond the either/ or terms in which it is usually discussed.

The first part of this chapter examines various ways that physicists have articulated the parallel between quantum physics and the Eastern philosophies, elaborating in particular on the contrast between Capra and Bohr.

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In 2020 uncertainty became the new normal as the world was gripped by pandemic, financial instability, extreme weather ‘events’ and political polarization, among others. The unpredictability of rapid changes with global impact highlighted the difficulty of decision- making and action in conditions of radical uncertainty. What happens to agency in conditions that are so unpredictable, where conventional wisdom can within a matter of weeks, or even days, be turned on its head in response to a dramatically changing context? This book approaches the problem through an exploration of a very old parallel between quantum physics and Daoism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Over the past one hundred years physicists have drawn on this parallel for a number of different reasons. In revisiting the parallel, I seek to explore what it might tell us about mind, action and strategy in a radically uncertain world. The question is timely in light of the dramatic changes brought about by global upheavals, from climate change to the COVID- 19 pandemic.

Change has been a consistent feature of global life, even if this has not always been recognized by those who study it. As Nassim Taleb (2010) notes, people often act from an assumption of certainty, yet history is driven by uncertainty. The upheavals of 2020 were accompanied by an unusual degree of uncertainty. But the pandemic is just the most recent of a series of global changes. As Katzenstein and Seybert (2018: xi) state, the world has been persistently ‘blindsided by the unexpected.’

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Mind, Action and Strategy in an Uncertain World
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Taking a broadly interdisciplinary approach, this book provides a unique angle on the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for global theory and practice.

The book bridges two important debates regarding the relevance of quantum theory to the social sciences, and the pressing need for a more global international relations (IR). It brings the parallels between quantum physics and ancient Asian traditions – Daoism, Buddhism and Hinduism – to an investigation of mind, action and strategy in conditions of radical uncertainty.

Engaging with both theory and real-world problems, including climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and economic and racial inequality, this book explores what it might mean to successfully navigate the potentials of a post-pandemic world.

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The previous snapshot zoomed in on Gandhi’s efforts to navigate the universe without doing damage. The question of what ultimately constitutes damage is not straightforward, and can look quite different depending on one’s perspective. When protests erupted in Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, and initially turned into riots, some observers focused on the damage to property. The point of the protests was to highlight damage of a more profound kind: the murder of a Black man under the knee of a White police officer as part of a legacy of damage to African Americans not only in the present but since 1619, when the first Africans arrived in English North America. Likewise, the protesters who somewhat later toppled the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, UK, were making a point about the damage done by the transatlantic slave trade to generations of Africans and their descendants, and about the hypocrisy of British society for celebrating those who pursued the trade. Others highlighted the damage done by the protesters to the statue as an historical object. The contested attributions of damage, that is, to property, inanimate objects or human beings who breathe and suffer, contained a measurement of value. That the humans in question had themselves been property, often of those whose lives were celebrated in the statues, only highlights the conundrum.

George Floyd’s last words as he lay dying, “I can’t breathe”, brought his humanity into view, and with it the legacy of a history of American enslavement and the transatlantic slave trade. The moment of seeing Floyd’s death as a part of this history contains a number of puzzles. The first regards the ethical justification, in the context of the slave trade, for bringing concepts of property and of human life together in the phenomenon of the chattel slave. The second regards the karmic resonance of the historical practice. ‘What goes around comes around’ suggests that we reap what we sow, whether in this life or another. Arguments that wealth is a reward for goodness, while poverty and other misfortunes are punishment, rest on a logic of karma, whether articulated by Hindus (Dhand, 2018), the Old Testament Job, Protestants (Weber, [1958] 1976), or in more secular discourse (Sandel, 2020), even when the concept itself is not invoked.

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The COVID- 19 pandemic gave rise to stark contrasts and reversals. The mass encounter with impermanence and loss of life went hand in hand with an appreciation of life and the importance of loved ones, now separated by lockdown restrictions, even at the moment of death. Images of overflowing hospitals and mortuaries were juxtaposed with protestors demanding the freedom to ignore restrictions necessary to defeat the virus, including the wearing of facemasks. With the US elections in 2020, the outgoing president spoke of having made America great again while claiming that the election had been stolen; the incoming president spoke of grief and the importance of compassion and the need for unity, not only at home but abroad. The new year saw a largely white and male mob, incited by a Trump rally, storm the US Capitol Building, threatening senators and representatives, desecrating its premises and leaving six dead, while threatening a new civil war. The small number of police contrasted starkly with their strong presence during the earlier Black Lives Matter protests in Washington DC, once again highlighting racial inequality in America. The stark contrasts were also evident in the environment. On the one hand, fires raged in California and Australia and hurricanes in the US, Caribbean and Pacific, among others. Populations were faced with the task of both protecting or escaping their homes and fending off disease. On the other hand, the global lockdown due to the pandemic brought an emptiness and calm to the experience of nature, as well as a greater ability to breathe.

The previous snapshot explored the inseparability of emptiness of mind and action for the Buddhist warrior, a concept that would appear to be a contradiction in terms. A similar problem is at the heart of this snapshot, but we reposition the apparatus slightly to zoom out to the larger environment, both as context and natural phenomenon, to gain some understanding of the stark contrasts and reversals that characterized the pandemic. The analysis that follows brings the quantum concept of complementarity to the Daoist yin and yang, asking what the latter has to say about processes of differentiation at the macroscopic level, the place of humans within nature and what it means to act from a place of paradox and contradiction.

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