April 9, 2018Print | PDF
“Physics and politics are inseparable and they always have been,” says Scott Hamilton, political scientist and Banting Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Balsillie School of International Affairs.
Hamilton, working under the supervision of Wilfrid Laurier University Associate Professor Audra Mitchell, was awarded the prestigious Pre-PhD Paper Award in the ‘Theory Section’ of the International Studies Association (ISA), for a paper he wrote and presented at the 2017 conference.
His paper, entitled “Securing Ourselves from Ourselves? The Paradox of ‘Entanglement’ in the Anthropocene,” explores the how physics and political science intersect to inform our understanding and relationship to security, the nation-state, and nature.
“Science has always been harnessed by politics,” says Hamilton. “Right now, we operate in the everyday world with an understanding of classical, Newtonian physics. Simply put, we use an understanding of cause and effect to explain how countries and politics work: one country causes something to affect another.”
However, with political scientists now wading into the world of quantum physics, Hamilton says that our common assumptions and understandings about politics, and especially our relationship to nature, are ripe for change. Quantum physics shows how, at a subatomic level, particles work outside of the “classical” Newtonian laws such as “cause and effect.”
Hamilton’s paper examines how quantum politics might – and might not – work. It describes how some human beings attempt to feel “secure” in what scientists are labelling the Anthropocene epoch – a period of transformation of the earth’s operating system caused by humanity’s destructive behaviour upon the earth – by using the language of “quantum entanglement,” a unique connection between particles in a quantum system that influence one another instantaneously.
Some international relations and security scholars use the concept of “entanglement” to suggest that humans are no longer separated from nature, or that the planet is no longer to be considered along the classical or Newtonian lines of cause and effect. Hamilton says those scholars believe we are “entangled” with nature.
However, when Hamilton started exploring quantum physics, he found that “entanglement” worked differently than some scholars supposed.
“I went right back to read older, primary sources of quantum mechanics,” says Hamilton. “It seems the basic lesson, to me, is that entanglement is a very rare and different phenomenon; something that happens only in a laboratory setting and involves things very different from what political scientists were claiming. So, this raised the question: ‘Why are people using it today the way they do, to describe basic interconnections with nature?’”
Hamilton says that the gulf between humanity and nature has in fact increased. Humans are actually dis-entangled, or separated, from nature more now than ever before. He concludes that claiming “entanglement” is actually a way for people to feel more secure about their place in these uncertain Anthropocene times.
“Now I’m asking, ‘What do we do with this knowledge? How do we go forward from this?’” says Hamilton. “The important thing is to debate and to come out with new and interesting adjustments. It’s all about facilitating discussion.”
Hamilton received his PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Studies (LSE), and currently studies international relations, global environmental politics, the nature of global crises, climate change, nuclear war, the Anthropocene epoch, and political philosophy.
Hamilton received the award for this paper at the ISA’s 59th Annual Conference, April 4-7 in San Francisco, California.
Hamilton also spoke at the Quantum Theory and the International Conference April 8 at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies in Columbus, Ohio.
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