"Magic numbers": Accelerating technological enchantments, re-animating nature, and producing scientific evidence in high-energy physics.
Paper short abstract:
While particles move, digital media and abstract mathematical tools generate an enchanted cosmology. Based on long-term ethnographic research, the paper investigates the mobilization of animistic imaginaries and enchanted technologies in everyday knowledge production of high-energy physics at CERN.
Paper long abstract:
Since the differentiation between modern science, witchcraft and magic (Tylor 1871, Frazer 1922), physics has been declared stronghold of rationalist science, serving as gatekeeper of modern dualisms (Latour 1993). Already through the detection of quantum mechanics, and its inherent "spooky action at a distance" (Einstein/Podolsky/Rosen 1935), as well as its proximity to ´"quantum mysticism" (Zyga 2009, Wigner 1961), physical knowledge has been chased by its revenants, belief and disbelief. Exposing itself to trials of pareidolia (Guthrie 1993) by a wider public, it has repeatedly saved itself by obeying Popper's logic of falsification (1935). With the ongoing mathematical development of theoretical physics in the second half of the 20th century, and the in silico translation of experimental physics on the subatomic level, the discipline has become open to esoteric and animistic perceptions of enchanted nature. Drawing on extensive ethnographic material collected at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), I am arguing that physicists re-negotiate the domains of agency and materiality, medium and substance, by testing the so called standard model with the help of media technologies. Physicists are studying the inanimate matter of an inadvertently animated cosmos through research practice (De Castro 2004, Ingold 2006). Taking examples of everyday research and coding practices, I am showing how physicists turn their mundane tools (Lemmonier 2012) into technologies of enchantment (Gell 1992). As witnesses and creators of a world that is coming into being, they choose animist conceptions as heuristic instruments (Borck 2014).
Mobile materials and technologies of enchantment