I am working on two long-term research projects.
A Cognitive Cultural Study of Electronic Medical Records Systems
The first project explores one particularly resonant interstice between medical and digital humanities—electronic medical record (EMR) systems. Specifically, its goal is to explore the narratological and ontological valences of one prominent EMR software system that is used by over 67% of HIMSS Stage 7 US hospitals and that, according to its vendor, has captured upwards of 40% of the US population’s medical information. The project will offer an account of how healthcare practitioners, IT technicians, and patients imagine themselves interacting with the world and each other through the medium of an EMR system understood as a shared language grounded in our thinking bodies. For the next six months, I will be conducting fieldwork at a healthcare provider network in Portland, Oregon, which is implementing an EMR system in many of its hospitals. I anticipate that the project will not only make an important contribution to medical humanities, but also shape debates on the applicability of cognitive cultural studies to the analysis of technoscientific discourses in general, as well as on the public understanding of healthcare IT.
A Cognitive Poetics of Quantum Mechanics
The second project explores the role that embodied cognition plays in a selection of prominent solutions to the measurement problem within quantum mechanics, by articulating a cognitive poetics of Ψ (psi). In a nutshell, the measurement problem contends with the extent to which, as physicist Brian Greene puts it, the “act of measurement is deeply enmeshed in creating the very reality it is measuring.” Within the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics, Ψ is the symbol that denotes a wavefunction—a probability distribution that, in one basic scenario, quantifies the likelihood of measuring an electron’s position or momentum as it orbits the nucleus of a hydrogen atom. I call the project a cognitive poetics because it is, at its core, an account of how participants in discussions of the measurement problem, whether physicists, philosophers, or literary scholars, imagine themselves interacting with the world—on both micro- or macroscopic scales—through the medium of a shared language grounded in our thinking bodies.
Ultimately, a book based on this research will argue that determining the boundary between a quantum mechanical system and its epistemological frame is fundamentally irresolvable. This is due, in large part, to the limitations inherent to scientific theories understood as objective representations of reality, in that they ultimately depend upon the embodied meaning systems that circumscribe them. I anticipate that the book will not only make an important contribution to debates on the measurement problem in quantum mechanics, but also shape debates on the applicability of cognitive cultural studies to the analysis of “hard” scientific discourses in general, as well as on the public understanding of quantum theory as a contemporary exemplar of scientific theorizing.
The editor of a series on “Meaning Systems” at Fordham University Press has expressed interest in the book. I also have several essays in progress on this body of research. The first, entitled, “The Work of Imagining Subatomic Particles in Early Quantum Mechanics,” appears in Configurations 19.3 (2011). It explores the relationship between what I call “imaginative work” and Max Planck’s discovery at the turn of the twentieth century of the “quantum of action,” which Niels Bohr subsequently used to model the orbits of electrons within the hydrogen atom. A second essay, on what I call the “imaginative parataxis” of Buddhism and quantum theory in contemporary nonfiction works such as The Tao of Physics and The Quantum and the Lotus, will appear in a collection on Buddhism and twentieth-century Anglo-American literature, due out from Bloomsbury Press in December of 2013. A third essay, “Toward a Cognitive Poetics of the ‘Hard’ Sciences,” defines the new field of interdisciplinary literary criticism described above and explores its epistemological implications.