Date of Publishing:
May 8, 2015

Alpha, 2006 © Anderwald + Grond

Get Entangled! On Positions and Momentums

Karoline Feyertag
“Our heads are round so our thoughts can change direction.”
(Francis Picabia)

This second blog post takes up Lucretius’ clinamen from the first blog post and links it to the theory of quantum entanglement. In a second step, or maybe it will seem more like staggering forward, I will try to give an account of the questions, which arise among competing physical theories. These are Relativity Theory, the Uncertainty Principle and Quantum Mechanics. Furthermore, the philosophical implications of natural science’s findings will be the core of this blog post because I’m looking for the right questions to ask about dizziness in an anthropological sense and because I’m not a physicist and therefore not fully capable to understand contemporary physics. However, a feeling tells me that by following quantum entanglement, we could gain new insights relating to creative processes. In the end of this post, I hope to have come closer to the notion of dizziness as a necessary process, which we have to go through if we are to come out with new ideas. We might have to reverse questions and turn around to be able to navigate the Unknown.

1. “Aporon because apeiron”

This phrase, which was coined by Sarah Kofman, points out the paradox of limit (aporia) and limitlessness (apeiron) as well as their mutual entanglement. It also refers to the notion of the paradox itself, which is addressed by the words aporia, aporon and apeiron. The Austrian physicist Pietschmann uses the notion of the aporon to translate quantum entanglement from microscopic contexts in physics into the philosophical context. He reads the aporon as the unity of particles and communication, of the individual (individuum) and the community (communitas), and as the unity of the whole and the part. The aporon spells out that all being can only be understood aporetically: as a unity, which presupposes multiplicity in order to be communicated. The elements of all being subsequently are not “bodies in space” but self-contradictory identities understood as aporon, that is, they are separated and sealed like monads without any windows and, at the same time, they are unified through communication with each other. Moreover, Pietschmann relates his understanding of the aporon to the Japanese notion of the “absolute contradictory identity of space-time-self at the absolute contemporary point of now and here”, which was forged by the philosopher Nishida.[1] I will take up Nishida’s concept and Far East Asian philosophy in the next blog post.

When it comes to paradoxical and self-contradictory statements, it might be difficult for anyone to understand what is meant. In my case, I came to this point when I was trying to understand explanations of the Theory of Relativity and the problem Einstein had with quantum entanglement. Einstein refers to the latter as “spooky action at a distance”[2]. The translation from scientific and mathematical “language” into philosophical or even colloquial language seems especially difficult. But I feel something like intuition, or perhaps just the sense of getting closer to what dizziness is by connecting the chaotic, disordered movement and state of mind that it produces to the field of quantum theory. Chaos, limitlessness, space-time without possible definitions/limitations or a frame without reference or coordinates – once again it’s the apeiron that seems to be the appropriate denomination for the space-time, into which these “self contradictory identities”, or Lucretius’ atoms, are falling.

2. Lucretius’ Clinamen

In this blog post, I aim to get hold of some of the points, which seem to relate to these questions of the limits of understanding, that is to “the Borders of Knowledge”. First, there is the problem of gravity and the already mentioned clinamen, the “swerve of atoms” of Lucretius. The Roman philosopher and poet observed that atoms, when moving straight down through the void by their own weight, “deflect a bit in space at a quite uncertain time and in uncertain places, just enough that you could say that their motion has changed. But if they were not in the habit of swerving, […] no collision would occur [...] nature would never have produced anything.“[3] Lucretius was wondering why the atoms would collide and not fall straight down without colliding, that is “communicating” in quantum theory’s language. For a long time since then, Western science has tried to find out why there is deflection and what is gravity. My point will be to reverse this question into the following question: Why have we always been thinking in “straight lines” when Lucretius had already observed the swerve as a permanent change of motion?

(fig. 1) This image illustrates the entanglement of a large number of atoms. The atoms, shown in purple, are shown mutually entangled with one another. Image: Christine Daniloff/MIT and Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT[4]

3. In the beginning, there was entanglement

In 2013, a popular natural science article summarised new results of physicist Julian Sonner, promoted by the MIT, concerning the problem of gravity from the perspective of quantum entanglement. He stated that gravity should not be understood only passively as the observation of particles, which are moved by some external force. Rather, gravity becomes the result of active “communication”, that is the interaction and entanglement of those particles, which were previously assumed – from Lucretius to Newton – as atoms moving in straight lines. Their “swerve” was understood as a deflection from the norm, their collision was a random phenomenon. Nowadays, we would speak instead of deviations of stochastic or random processes and Brownian motion. Quantum gravity is still an unresolved question and physicist Sonner puts it this way: “There are some hard questions of quantum gravity we still don’t understand, and we’ve been banging our heads against these problems for a long time. We need to find the right inroads to understanding these questions.”[5]

Thus, Sonner evokes another aporia, leading to the redirecting of his research, that is its reorientation within the field of quantum gravity. The interesting new hypothesis of the MIT research is held within the assumption that gravity only exists because of the deviation from the straight and predictable lines, that is because of the clinamen. The problem then arises that one cannot measure and predict these reactions, collisions and movements. The latter holds the question of why entanglement and deviation had always been regarded as a secondary effect and not the other way round as a source of life?

4. Not observable

“More fundamentally, the results suggest that gravity may, in fact, emerge from entanglement. What’s more, the geometry, or bending, of the universe as described by classical gravity, may be a consequence of entanglement, such as that between pairs of particles strung together by tunnelling wormholes.”[6]

(Fig. 2) A diagram of a wormhole, a hypothetical “shortcut” through the universe, where its two ends are each in separate points in space-time.[7]

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity already challenged the Euclidian geometry and the assumption of movement in straight lines. As “a physical body is recognized as having its own measure and its own time in Relativity Theory”, the “physical value changes relativistically according to the moving conditions of an observer and an observed thing.”[8] The mutual influence of observer and observed thing might be a second central point, when it comes to the question of dizziness as an unpredictable movement in the uncertainty of space and time. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle as well as the so called “observer effect” account for the impossibility to “know with perfect accuracy both of those two important factors which determine the movement of one of the smallest particles – its position and its velocity. It’s impossible to determine accurately both the position and the direction and speed of a particle at the same instant.”[9]

The acknowledgement of the impossibility to determine once and for all the position and the momentum of a particle at the same instant means to acknowledge the impossibility of “freezing” the permanent, but unpredictable movement which is characteristic of the “swerve of atoms”. It testifies also to the incapability of Western thought to think of contraries at the same instant. It is in this context that Pietschmann suggests using the notion of the aporon in order to grasp the aporetic unity of position and momentum.The same problem of self-contradiction is also addressed by quantum entanglement because it involves “two particles, each occupying multiple states at once – a condition referred to as superposition. For example, both particles may simultaneously spin clockwise and counterclockwise. But neither has a definite state until one is measured, causing the other particle to instantly assume a corresponding state. The resulting correlations between the particles are preserved, even if they reside on opposite ends of the universe.”[10]

It is the measuring and the observation itself which are defining the “definite state” of a moving particle. ‘Naturally’ – if I might say so – there would occur neither a straight line nor a complete standstill of microscopic and macroscopic processes. In other words, one could say that the “instability of trajectories, their irreducible and essential indeterminacy, have as a global result the heavy, macroscopic irreversibility of the self-organizing processes that make up nature”.[11] We will have to learn how to deal with this instability and irreversibility of infinite processes. It is exactly because we touch the borders of knowledge and begin to entangle with the unobservable and the unknown, that we have to reverse the question of how to navigate the unknown, into how to navigate in the unknown. While the first, to navigate the unknown, alludes to the intention of controlling the chaos, the latter, to navigate within the unknown, relates to acknowledging silent transformations, which includes staggering towards understanding.

5. From the Big Bang to silent transformations: a prospect

In their “Postface: Dynamics from Leibniz to Lucretius”, which is a comment on Michel Serres’ writings, Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers state that the question of deflection should be reversed and that the traditional scientific perspective on “creative chaos” as “illegality itself”[12] should be abandoned:

"It is no longer necessary to ask where the clinamen comes from or how one might justify the disturbing of laws. All laminar flows can become unstable past a certain threshold of velocity, and that was known just as the productive nature of organized forms, of bifurcating evolution, of what we call dissipative structures, was known. One must ask how an abstraction of this knowledge could have been made to describe the world in order, subject to a universal law.”[13]

From now on, the question should be: What language is capable of describing the world as being in permanent and silent transition? And how could we learn to “navigate in the Unknown” when there are neither given coordinates nor any defined positions and momentums?

On the macroscopic level of observation, we have to ask how to translate physical into anthropological knowledge, that is to say how to apply the ideas of self-contradictory entanglement within the physical unit of the “particle” (as the smallest element or individuum of life) to the human world. One application of quantum entanglement and the acknowledgement of unpredictable and seemingly chaotic movement is the Big Bang theory. Other applications or rather other fields which may be joined by the quantum physical research results, are the philosophical fields of political communitas, interpersonal intersubjectivity, self-observation, empathy and epistemology.

It’s a field of knowledge, which has been developed quite differently in Western and Oriental philosophy. The French Sinologist and philosopher François Jullien is committed to this type of “in between” research, which is positioned on the threshold of Western and Oriental thinking. In his writings, he points out that Chinese philosophy, contrary to Western philosophy, did not start by establishing order to the initial chaos, but tries to find ways – or rather ‘detours’ – to acknowledge the unpredictable and permanent transformations that occur before our very eyes without us being aware of it.[14]

Instead of a noisy big bang, Jullien speaks of silent transitions which are hardly observable. The limit of the observable, that is the threshold of perception, links together once again macroscopic and microscopic universes.[15] What we could possibly learn from navigating within the Unknown is part of what Western thought has excluded and will be subject to the next blog post.


Cf. Herbert Pietschmann, Zum Begriff des „Aporon“. Raum-Zeit-Gravitation in physikalischer und philosophischer Hinsicht. Vortrag am Symposium „Intellectus Universalis“, Universität Wien, 18. Mai 2006. Own translation of this following paragraph: „Unter Aporon verstehe ich die Einheit von Teilchen und Kommunikation, es ist somit zugleich Individuum und Gemeinschaft, Ganzes und Teil. Der Begriff Aporon soll verdeutlichen, dass das Seiende nur aporetisch verstanden werden kann: Als Einheit, die Vielheit voraussetzt um kommuniziert werden zu können. Die Elemente des Seienden sind demnach nicht "Körper im Raum", sondern als Aporon selbstwidersprüchliche Identitäten, die zugleich abgeschlossen (fensterlos) und kommunikativ vereint sind. Der Begriff Aporon ähnelt dem Ansatz des japanischen Naturphilosophen NISHIDA, der von einer "absolut widersprüchlichen Selbstidentität" ausgeht.“

Quoted from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. „You can’t get entangled without a wormhole: Physicist finds entanglement instantly gives rise to a wormhole.“ In ScienceDaily, 5 December 2013.

Quoted from wikipedia: Clinamen.

Quoted from MIT News, Jennifer Chu, “Thousands atoms entangled with a single photon”, March 25, 2015.

Cf. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “You can’t get entangled without a wormhole: Physicist finds entanglement instantly gives rise to a wormhole.” In ScienceDaily, 5 December 2013.



Cf. Hisaki Hashi, "The Significance of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in Nishida’s 'Logic of Field'" in Philosophy East and West, Volume 57, Number 4, University of Hawai’i Press, October 2007, 457-481, here: 472.

Quoted from wikipedia: Uncertainty_Principle.

Quoted from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. „You can’t get entangled without a wormhole: Physicist finds entanglement instantly gives rise to a wormhole.“ In ScienceDaily, 5 December 2013.

Cf. Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, "Postface: Dynamics from Leibniz to Lucretius", in Michel Serres, Hermes. Literature, Science, Philosophy, ed. by Josué V. Harari and David F. Bell (London, Baltimore:The John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1982), 135-155, here: 152.

Ibid., 153.

Ibid., 153/154.

Cf. the books of François Jullien, Le détour et l’accès. Stratégies du sens en Chine, en Grèce (Grasset, Paris, 1995), The Silent Transformations (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011) and Francois Jullien, A Treatise of Efficacy. Between Western and Chinese Thinking (Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2004).


– Sea also The unexplained "Rest.

See also Inside/Outside.

See also On the Threshold in between Motion and Standstill.