As philosophy and rhetoric moves out of epistemology and into ontology, one of the main nodes of correlating and collaborating will center around how to understand the radical and often incommensurable differences between worldviews. If the differences are to be understood as more than just an epiphenomenon of epistemology or perspective or prehension or some combination of the three, then ontological investigations need to account for this. Perhaps prehension is one answer, though that suggests some imaginary point at which we might understand the diverse natures of differing prehensions of the objective world.
Another, arguably much more debateable approach might be closer to what physicists call the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics as described by Everett’s reading of Schrödinger’s equations. Karen Barad has, I think come closest to pondering the implications of such an approach in terms necessary for humanities traditions such as philosophy and rhetoric, though I am not sure her agential realism quite releases the ontological imperialism of Western science.
Simply put, what if the explanation for multiple interpretations for reality was not because of perspective, standpoint, prehension, or epistemic relativism, but because there were as many equally valid worlds as there were interpretations? What might this mean for philosophy and rhetoric and other avenues of humanistic inquiry? It sounds like lunacy (see my earlier post) and quite deranged given the universal and imperial epistemic claims of European science and philosophy. Yet, non-Western and non-European thinkers like Eduardo Glissant have argued that postcolonial identities are multiple, shifting, and diverse and that their “double” nature allows them to engage with seemingly contradictory views on the same matter. Rather than a universality in which diverse people make interpretations and forge knowlege, Glissant posits a diversality, multiple worlds that in Linda Alcoff’s (2007) estimation “make sense of the existence of many worlds as well as… make visible their interrelatrionality and connectedness” (98).
Surely, we react, there must be just one world and we each take our own portion of it. But let’s not reject a theory that has some support not only from within philosophy but also, analogously, from physics. What if our communication problems were not so much a matter of episteme or doxa, but a matter of reaching across different worlds? Can we imagine two interlocutors who each inhabit not just their own epistemology, but their own ontology? What if in that moment of encounter two worlds met, each with their own physics and metaphysics? Would it be similar to if aliens touched upon the earth and attempted to explain their interstellar travel? What if their entire history of physics differed from our own, as it likely would? What if the very thing which led them to interstellar travel contradicted our basic ontological assumptions?
I think Glissant and Alcoff point us in this direction. Rather than initiating a move to define and reduce and make universal the insights combined, I think we might consider the possibility that different aspects of a given rhetorical situation play by different physical and metaphysical rules. Such diversality ripples through human and non-human interactions, cascading through elements as they collaborate, conflict, harmonize and disrupt. Such cascades invent new opportunities, new availabilities, and pose unique problems. These might even initiate changes among the worlds in interaction, or even worlds more remotely connected. But many worlds provides some explanatory power without succumbing to radical rejections of truth.