Academic journal article et Cetera

Black Holes as a Metaphysical Science

Academic journal article et Cetera

Black Holes as a Metaphysical Science

Article excerpt

In a brilliantly mischievous interview with Spiegel, Italian author and theorist Umberto Eco argued that human fear of the infinite (which is to say, of death) is assuaged by lists, a gesture of imposing order on that which extends forever, beyond human knowing (Beyer and Gorris, 2009). Science fiction is also a means of imposing order-via narrative-on the infinite, of projecting possible futures in order to come to terms with and critique the present. Perhaps no trope of science fiction is as invested in coping with infinitude as the black hole, which I will read as moments where science fiction sequesters its own attempts at explanation and conjecture, naming an unknown thing or process or phenomenon as fundamentally inexplicable, as literally beyond the known.

Black holes are certainly confrontations with the infinite and with death (wormholes, arguably, are more of an evasion-I'll draw on examples of both in this short paper) and fear surrounds them. To be sure, this is a fear that exceeds fiction; see Overbye (2008) for an account of fears surrounding the Hadron collider's ability to generate miniature black holes. Within its fictional context, this fear is more than an extreme version of astrophobia (a fear of space), because it is also trypophobia, a fear of holes, of endless depth, of infinitude, which returns us, according to Eco, to lists. In this brief piece, I offer my own list of science fiction and trypophobia to consider the black hole as a caesura, a gap in what we know, even in what we say we know within the bounds of fiction. More than merely a confrontation with death, black holes and wormholes are also confrontations with narrative, articulating the boundaries of the explicable. This is partly because black holes themselves remain scientifically mysterious, although it's beyond the scope of this brief paper to address in depth what is known of either black holes or wormholes as physical phenomena [see Perkowitz (2015) for an explanation of black holes and wormholes].

In any case, I'm more interested in the metaphysics of these holes. Classicist, poet, and artist Anne Carson has written on metaphysical silence as instances where narrative stops itself. Drawing on the testimony of Joan of Arc, classical translations from the poet (and psychotic) Friedrich Hölderlin, and art by Francis Bacon and Rembrandt, Carson presents metaphysical silences as those terms that are "untranslatable," a "word that goes silent in transit" (para. 3). For Carson, these words, terms, and images are part of a resistance to conventional narrative, and insistence on leaving certain things unspoken and unspeakable. In science fiction, black holes and wormholes offer a lens for thinking about our relationship to technology and imagining the future in terms of metaphysical silence. Or perhaps, as portals of silence and transit, black holes and wormholes are instances of metatechnological silences, gaps that articulate what science fiction refuses to imagine, to translate visions of the future.

Here is a brief (and scattered) list of some of the uses of black holes in science fiction movies, video games, television, and novels: In Galaxy Quest and Event Horizon, black holes become a means of travel, yet outcomes are typically dark, anguished. Black holes are frequently leveraged as openings to other worlds, as in the television shows Battlestar Galáctica and Star Trek: Deep Space 9, as well as the films Stargate and Interstellar. In these cases, black holes enable space travel that set up confrontations between a world at home and a world away, a heterotopic mirror (Foucault, 1986) of confrontations with otherness, folding in on themselves, confronting people and ships and planets with altered versions of themselves. Black holes sometimes become weapons, as in the use of handheld devices to generate black holes in Thor 2 and Orion 2. Most often, wormholes are about transport (typically between black holes), as in the video game EVE Online and the television show Babylon 5, as well as the games Portal and Portal 2, in which wormhole guns allow for immediate traversal of distance. …

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