… They do not dictate how they are to be questioned, but they are a respondent in the authentic sense only insofar as the person framing the question has undertaken the means to “prepare” them to answer.
This is from Thinking with Whitehead: A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts by Isabelle Stengers (2011):
… In physics, forces and fields, which are vectorial, designate the interdependent character of a reality, in which everything that occurs refers to something else. As for energy, it is a scalar quantity, and is required by measurement: every act of measure implies an exchange of energy. In the correspondences Whitehead is suggesting here, physics, confronted by diverse experimental situations and the power and constraints of mathematics, has therefore created a distinction that can be generalized. In this generalization, what physics characterizes as an individual, defined as localizable by the role it plays in energetic exchanges, will designate “individuals qua feeling their world,” or concrescence qua taking a determinate position with regard to what it has received or, more precisely, coming into existence qua this taking of position, and therefore inseparable from what has become “their” world.
… The problem dominating the concrescence is the actualization of the quantum in solido. [Whitehead, Process and Reality]
With this description of a “quantum” that is indivisible and yet extensive, in the sense that, as we shall see, it atomizes an extension that it presupposes and confirms, Whitehead has raised to a metaphysical power the characterization William James proposed of the specious present (a characterization that had interested Niels Bohr to the highest degree). The specious present is always evaluated from the viewpoint of its completion — it will have been of such-and-such a thickness — since every characterization “during” this interval would constitute an interference that would force the present to topple into the past. To express it in a way that evokes relativity: concrescence in the formal sense, as long as it is not completed, as long as it has not produced its own position, corresponds to an “elsewhere.” It does not belong to the past of any other entity, and no other quantity can take it into account.
… Physical time does not matter only to our objective descriptions of the world. The latter are always social, always presupposing a twofold endurance. As Bergson said, we must wait for the sugar to melt, and this waiting implies the continuity of an articulating relation, presupposing the endurance of Bergson, who waits, and that of what he calls “sugar,” which is capable of existing in a crystalline form or of testifying to its liquid existence by the sugary taste taken on by tea. Yet these descriptions require an important cosmological feature: the fact of a solidarity between the world and ourselves in the unison of “at the same time.”
[ … ]
… formalism has, in fact, exacerbated the hiatus between vectorial and scalar, by opposing the continuity of a “functional reality” to the discrete character of measurements, and introducing the need for a “choice” of measurement. It has, in other words, given measurement a “decisive role,” indicating a completely new articulation between the scalar qualities issuing from this measurement, and the “vectorial reality” with regard to which measurement is carried out. And to say “decisive role” is obviously to open up the possibility of conceiving an actuality whose value might not be the ratification of a previously settled choice. To risk this possibility, however, one must, of course, be situated as close as possible to physico-mathematical technical innovation, that is, as far as possible from controversies over the interpretation of formalism.
In fact, the very possibility of attributing a “decisive role” to measurement is associated with the introduction of the new physico-mathematical notion of an “operator.” Paying due attention to this notion guarantees us against any untimely intrusion of speculation, for the relevance of operators has today been generalized to all physico-mathematical laws.
… Whereas the formulation of the usual physical laws defined their object as inseparably uniting the two features necessary to satisfy physicists — observable (scalar) definition and functional (vectorial) definition — the intervention of the notion of operator in the formulation of these laws presupposes that these two features be treated separately. Scalar quantities, defining possible observations, are henceforth relative to the action of an operator on a function, which means that the “functional being” to which measurement as an operant question is addressed is not defined “in itself” in the terms of an answer. The general character of the hiatus that Whitehead emphasized is thus inscribed within the formalism itself. The “physical reality” introduced by the language of operators is no longer what is to be described “in itself,” but what “answers” the operant question.
… The answer obtained must be capable of being authenticated; that is, must not be able to be disqualified as an “artifact,” qua produced by an operation incapable of defining what it is addressing as the “reason” for its result. In other words, what “answers” must be a “respondent,” in the sense of “guarantor” of the question’s relevance. What the physicists have created is thus their own way to distinguish between a “good” and a “bad” question.
[ … ]
… the world is not what answers to the subject, nor the respondent for what the subject “knows”; it is that which, vectorially, “operates” what the subject is to feel.
… in quantum mechanics it is impossible to make all the questions that can be raised, all the physical quantities that can be measured, converge toward a being that would be guarantor for the relevance of them all. This is why, in quantum mechanics, operators are not just one mode of representation among others but a necessity. Physicists are forced to admit not only that there is no answer without a question, but also that no question is the “right one,” independently of the means they have taken (preparation) to be able to receive a determinate answer to this question and not to another one.
The “agreement” between physics and metaphysics, if it is to be renewed, will not concern only operators, which mark the taking-into-account within the very syntax of the physical theory of the hiatus that had inspired Whitehead. It will require the abandonment of the “initial datum,” because this datum had the power of proposing, if not of imposing, its perspective on the entity that appropriates it, and because, in terms of knowledge, it is precisely this power that quantum entities lack. They do not dictate how they are to be questioned, but they are a respondent in the authentic sense only insofar as the person framing the question has undertaken the means to “prepare” them to answer.
… The conceptual transformation that witnesses the disappearance of the initial datum as the source and explanation of relevant novelty may be interpreted as granting to relevance the meaning it receives in some of our most important experiences: when a gesture, a question, a suggestion give rise to their respondent without having “deserved” it. Not the frustrated insistence of the “You ought to understand,” but the true miracle, celebrated by the concord of two voices — Okay, now I understand / now you understand — in the most radical absence of guarantees that this concord designates something that is “the same.” What was to be understood did not preexist the understanding, and belongs only to the person who understands.
… the “correlated universe” is not unified, but may be characterized by a multiplicity of “correlations,” relations that are “non-localizable,” for they are not defined between terms but rather by repercussions and repercussions of repercussions: a reciprocal immanence that entangles harmonies and dissonances, convergences and divergences, captures and diversions. Each element refers to others and is a reference for others, but each time in a way that is particular, possibly qualified only by the type of pattern or the “defining characteristic” that designates a “social fact.”
… [analogously, in language] the “usages” are not cases among which one has to choose, like the various possibilities of translation presented by a dictionary. Instead, they should evoke what these possibilities are made to bring about, the perplexed and undivided nebula whence the choice emerges: “this is the word that fits.”