Bernard d'Espagnat offers a good treatment of nonlocality as it pertains to physics, in his 2006 On Physics and Philosophy. What I'm interested is whether nonlocality has been observed and discussed elsewhere. For example, in The Political Illusion, sociologist Jacques Ellul observes:

But to pretend that justice and truth are given their due is only a raid and a form of hypocrisy. Those who claim to do justice by condemning a man to death deserve the same accusation of hypocrisy that Jesus leveled at the Pharisees. What we find here is an ideological construct that man builds to justify his acts: these acts are useful so that society can function and survive. Bruckerberger's argument was: If we pardon murderers, our society is done for. It is useful for the survival of a group to eliminate the nonconformists, the fools, the anarchists, the maladjusted, the criminals; and it is legitimate that the group should react in this fashion through its judges, its soldiers, its political men. It is the very role of politics to make this reaction more easily possible, for it is under such conditions that no one individual or group has to bear the responsibility. (90)

Would it be valid to say that responsibility has been nonlocalized? The terms herd mentality and bandwagon effect seem close to what I'm describing; the budding field(s) of ecological psychology could also be construed as a recognition of nonlocality in society. Finally, the idea that individuals are "socially constructed" (e.g. social constructionism, George Herbert Mead) seems connected.

I want to know if there has been any focused, philosophical treatment which covers the concepts I have attempted to sketch out. N.B. I am vaguely aware of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's philosophy of "interpenetration" and "all in ᴏɴᴇ" and "ᴏɴᴇ in all", but I am not aware of it developing much.

I just started reading David Bohm's Causality and Chance in Modern Physics and came across the following, which made me think that holism may be an important, related term:

    Indeed, when this interpretation is extended to field theories,[7] not only the inter-relationships of the parts, but also their very existence is sen to flow out of the law of the whole. There is therefore nothing left of the classical scheme, in which the whole is derived from pre-existent parts related in pre-determined ways. Rather, what we have is reminiscent of the relationship of whole and parts in an organism, in which each organ grows and sustains itself in a way that depends crucially on the whole. (xi)

Does this exist only on the quantum level, or might there be more nonlocality on day-to-day scales which we generally do not see—perhaps due to a model of causation which comes from the mechanical philosophy?

  • 1
    Strictly on the quantum mechanical side, Michael Redhead's book Incompleteness, Nonlocality and Realism is a classic and still well worth reading. Whether nonlocality in QM has any consequences for the big wide world is highly speculative.
    – Bumble
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 2:27

1 Answer 1


Quine's discovery that every observation is theory laden, led him to adopt confirmation holism. I guess you could describe this as being a form of "epistemic non locality" in the sense that no observation is independent of a theory, and presumably of other observations which were used in constructing the theory. In particular, this quote from the SEP article on Quine, implies a "non locality" similar to the one described in the first quote of your question.

In particular, Quine claims that holism shows that most of our sentences are not justified by the relation of the individual sentence, considered in isolation, to experience. Almost always, what matters is the relation to experience of some larger chunk of theory (and, in principle, although perhaps never in practice, of the theory as a whole). This means that the correctness of a given claim is almost never settled simply by gathering empirical evidence.

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