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WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A SOCIAL SCIENTIST? Stephen J. DeCanio ABSTRACT: Alexander Wendt’s Quantum Mind and Social Science is an effort to establish foundations of social science based on the ontology of modern physics. The quantum revolution has deservedly had repercussions in many sciences, but it is unwise to ground social science on physical theories, which are subject to constant revision. Additionally, despite its empirical success, there is no agreed-upon interpretation of quantum theory. Finally, even if there were, the random indeterminacy intrinsic to the quantum world cannot account for the intentionality of human action. Intentional agents act for reasons, not at random; nor are the reasons chosen at random.
CONSCIOUSNESS AT THE INTERFACE: WENDT, EASTERN WISDOM AND THE ETHICS OF INTRA-ACTION K. M. Fierke ABSTRACT: Drawing on the family resemblance between quantum physics and Eastern wisdom identified by Niels Bohr, this article brings insights from Buddhism and Daoism to the task of enhancing our understanding of the significance of Alexander Wendt’s argument for a quantum-based social science. Five areas of overlap between his argument and Eastern wisdom are explored: vitalism and the idea that life goes “all the way down”; the dependence of consciousness on both subjectivity and relationality; the ethical significance of language; the notion of “changing the past”; and the importance of leaders. The family resemblances between Wendt’s perspective and those available in Daoism and Buddhism are remarkable.
ONE WORLD OR MANY? Robert Jervis ABSTRACT: It is conventional wisdom that the laws of physics that govern our everyday world are different from those that explain the smallest particles and forces. Alexander Wendt argues that, to the contrary, quantum theory in fact can apply to the larger-scale world, and to human behavior as well. An alluring possibility to be sure, but we may need multiple theories of different types to explain diverse human behavior and behavioral patterns. Theories, furthermore, can be self-confirming or self-denying. In quantum theory, classical physics, and social life, uncertainty looms large and political leaders in particular face multiple choices in dealing with it, including whether attempts to reduce uncertainty will change the world to their detriment. In these efforts, they often conflate estimates of likelihood with judgments of confidence and incorrectly assume that an estimate that an event is unlikely is flawed if the event actually occurs.
WENDT’S CHALLENGE TO SOCIAL SCIENCE: QUANTUM PHYSICS, CONSCIOUSNESS, AND SOCIETY Sven Steinmo ABSTRACT: Alexander Wendt’s Quantum Mind and Social Science challenges social scientists to replace contemporary understandings of the individual and society with concepts better suited to quantum reality. This would mean replacing reductionist materialism with notions of consciousness as probabilistic, not strictly determined; and substituting, for individualistic models of society, new ones that acknowledged our connectedness to each other “at a distance,” i.e., without mediation by mechanisms modeled on Newtonian physics. His challenge is welcome, for in both respects, Wendt would have us replace ways of thinking that have long been inadequate to explain empirical reality.
SCHRÖDINGER’S CAT AND THE DOG THAT DIDN’T BARK: WHY QUANTUM MECHANICS IS (PROBABLY) IRRELEVANT TO THE SOCIAL SCIENCES David Waldner ABSTRACT: Alexander Wendt’s Quantum Mind and Social Science reopens the question of the relevance of quantum mechanics to the social sciences. In response, I argue that due to “quantum decoherence,” the macroscopic world filters out quantum effects. Moreover, quantum decoherence makes it unlikely that the theory of quantum brains, on which Wendt relies, is true. Finally, while quantum decision theory is a potentially revolutionary field, it has not clearly accounted for alleged anomalies in classical understandings of decision making. However, the logic of quantum decoherence can motivate a new approach to the structure-agent problem.
THE INTERDEPENDENCE OF INTRA- AND INTER-SUBJECTIVITY IN CONSTRUCTIVIST INSTITUTIONALISM Colin Hay ABSTRACT: Oscar Larsson’s sympathetic critique of constructivist institutionalism calls for a clarification of my understanding of subjectivity, inter-subjectivity, and their mutual interdependence. That interdependence lies at the heart of any genuinely constructivist approach, just as the interdependence of structure and agency lies at the heart of any genuinely institutionalist approach. As such, I reject the charge of subjectivism just as I would that of voluntarism. Building on the social ontology of Berger and Luckmann, we can distinguish between subjectivity and intra-subjectivity and proceed to show how the latter implies a notion of inter-subjectivity. An example of the social construction of a political crisis shows that social facts are made and remade through a fusion of inter- and intra-subjectivities.
THEORIZING IDEAS AND DISCOURSE IN POLITICAL SCIENCE: INTERSUBJECTIVITY, NEO-INSTITUTIONALISMS, AND THE POWER OF IDEAS Vivien A. Schmidt ABSTRACT: Oscar Larsson’s (2015) essay condemns discursive institutionalism for the “sin” of subjectivism. In reality, however, discursive institutionalism emphasizes the intersubjective nature of ideas through its theorization of agents’ “background ideational abilities” and “foreground discursive abilities.” It also avoids relativism by means of Wittgenstein’s distinction between experiences of everyday life and pictures of the world. Contrary to Larsson, what truly separates post-structuralism from discursive institutionalism is the respective approaches’ theorization of the relationship of power to ideas, with discursive institutionalists mainly focused on persuasive power through ideas, while post-structuralists focus on the structural power in ideas or on coercive power over ideas.