A Phenomenological Ontology for Physics: Merleau-Ponty and QBism

  • Michel BitbolEmail author
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 429)


Few researchers of the past made sense of the collapse of representations in the quantum domain, and looked for a new process of sense-making below the level of representations: the level of the phenomenology of perception and action; the level of the elaboration of knowledge out of experience. But some recent philosophical readings of quantum physics all point in this direction. They all recognize the fact that the quantum revolution is a revolution in our conception of knowledge.

In these recent readings of quantum physics (such as QBism), quantum states are primarily generators of probabilistic valuations. Accordingly, they should not be seen as statements about what is the case, but as statements about what each agent can reasonably expect to be the case.

Three features of such non-interpretational, non-committal approaches to quantum physics strongly evoke the phenomenological epistemology. These are: (1) their deliberately first-person stance; (2) their suspension of judgment about a presumably external domain of objects, and subsequent redirection of attention towards the activity of constituting these objects; (3) their perception-like conception of quantum knowledge.

But beyond phenomenological epistemology, these new approaches of quantum physics also make implicit use of a phenomenological ontology. Chris Fuch’s participatory realism thus formulates a non-external variety of realism for one who is deeply immersed in reality. But participatory realism strongly resembles Merleau-Ponty’s endo-ontology, which is a phenomenological ontology for one who deeply participates in Being.

This remarkable analogy is supported by Merleau-Ponty himself. Indeed, 50 years before QBism, Merleau-Ponty acknowledged the strong kinship between the status of quantum mechanics and his phenomenology of embodiment. He did so in two texts that remained unpublished until after his death: Visible and invisible, and the Lectures on Nature. The final part of this article is then devoted to a study of Merleau-Ponty’s conception of quantum physics.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Archives Husserl, CNRS/ENSParisFrance

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