In my research today I came upon this interesting article, “Here comes everything: the promise of object-oriented ontology” by Timothy Morton. (New link, old one broken.) It is of interest not only to speculative realism but also to some recent discussions on Caputo's ontology, modes of apprehension of such, and quantum theory. The article is 27 pages of text so I've culled some excerpts, lengthy in themselves.

 

Excerpts:

 

Speculative realism...asserts the deep mystery of a Non-Nature....object-oriented ontology (OOO)...goes further than this, rejecting essentialist Matter.... OOO is a form of realism that asserts that real things exist--these things are objects, not just amorphous “Matter”.... OOO extends Husserl's and Heidegger's arguments that things have an irreducible dark side: no matter how many times we turn over a coin, we never see the other side as the other side--it will have to flip onto “this” side for us to see it, immediately producing another underside. Harman simply extends this irreducible darkness from subject–object relationships to object–object relationships.... Causation is thus vicarious in some sense, never direct. An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either.... We've become so used to hearing “object” in relation to “subject” that it takes some time to acclimatize to a view in which there are only objects, one of which is ourselves.

 

The notion of the “withdrawal” of objects extends my term strange stranger to non-living entities. Strange stranger names an uncanny, radically unpredictable quality of life forms. Life forms recede into strangeness the more we think about them, and whenever they encounter one another--the strangeness is irreducible....the uncanny essence of humans that Heidegger contemplates extends to nonhumans.... The more we know about a strange stranger, the more she (he, it) withdraws. Objects withdraw such that other objects never adequately capture but only (inadequately) “translate” them....This is what “irreducible” means.

 

Rhetoric is not simply ear candy for humans: indeed, a thorough reading of Plato, Aristotle and Longinus suggests that rhetoric is a technique for contacting the strange stranger....[it] amplifies imagination rather than trying to upstage it, and it revels in dislocation, not location.... Harman's imagery differs from ecophenomenological ecomimesis that confirms the localized position of a subject with privileged access to phenomena.... Harman's rhetoric produces an object-oriented sublime that breaks decisively with the Kantian taboo on noncorrelationist scientific speculation....ekphrasis is not about the reaction of the (human) subject, but about rhetorical modes as affective-contemplative techniques for summoning the alien.

 

The aesthetic, as we shall see, is the secret door through which OOO discovers a theory of what is called “subject”.... Melancholia is precisely a mode of intimacy with strange objects that can't be digested by the subject.... To lapse into Californian, OOO is so about the subject. There is no good reason to be squeamish about this. The more the ekphrasis zaps us, the more we fall back into the gravity well of melancholy. Sentience is out of phase with objects, at least if you have a nervous system. So melancholia is the default mode of subjectivity: an object-like coexistence with other objects and the otherness of objects--touching them, touching the untouchable, dwelling on the dark side one can never know, living in endless twilight shadows. If the reader has experienced grief she or he will recognize this state as an object-like entity that resides somewhere within the body, with an amortization schedule totally separated from other temporalities (in particular, the strict digital clock time of contemporary life). Through the heart of subjectivity rolls an object-like coexistence, none other than ecological coexistence--the ecological thought fully-fledged as dark ecology . The inward, withdrawn, operationally closed mood called melancholy is something we shake off at our peril in these dark ecological times.

 

Melancholy starts to tell us the truth about the withdrawn qualities of objects. OOO thus differs from theistic ecophilosophy that asserts, “There is a Nature.” It maintains no absolute distance between subject and object; it limits “subject” to no entity in particular. Žižek's suspicion of SR to do with the “feminine” self-absorption of objects: precisely what he doesn't like about Buddhism. Changing “self-absorption” to “withdrawal” or “operational closure” discloses what's threatening about Buddhism: an object-like entity at the core of what is called subjectivity. Like ecomimesis, Harman's passage affirms a real world beyond mentation. Unlike ecomimesis, this world doesn't surround a subject--it's a world without reference to a subject.

 

If OOO construes everything as objects, some may believe that it would have a hard time talking about subjects--indeed, Slavoj Žižek has already criticized SR in general along these lines. This subjectivity is profoundly ecological and it departs from normative Western ideas of the subject as transcendence. Thus we see off Nature and its correlate, the (human) subject. I argue that OOO enjoins us to drop Matter just as we must drop Nature, and that this means that it can save the appearance of the most coherent and testable physical theory we have, namely quantum theory.

 

Let's turn our attention to... things....how far “down things” does OOO really go? Are these things made of some kind of substrate, some kind of unformed matter? Does “withdrawal” mean that objects are impenetrable in some non-figurative, nonhuman sense? Do objects have a spatial “inside”? Surely they might. But the principle of irreducibility must mean that this inside is radically unavailable. It's not simply a case of the right equipment passing through it, like a knife through butter. Even a knife through butter would not access the butter in all its essential butteriness. The proliferation of things that ecology talks about--from trees to nuclear power--do not compromise a holistic Nature. Nor yet are they comprised of some intrinsic, essential stuff. To dispatch Matter, we must explore the most rigorous and testable theory of physical Matter we know: quantum theory.

 

Unlike some thinkers who discovered OOO in spite of deconstruction, I backed into OOO through deconstruction. SR tends to mistake deconstruction for nominalism, subjectivism and Meillassoux's correlationism.... Contemporary physics concurs with a principle tenet of Lacan and Derrida: there's no “big Other,” no device, for instance, that could measure quantum phenomena without participating in these phenomena. All observations are inside the system, or as Derrida puts it, “There is nothing outside the text” (or, in Gayatri Spivak's alternative, which I prefer, “There is no outside-text”). Arkady Plotnitsky has traced the affinities between deconstruction and quantum physics. People commonly misconstrue “there is no-outside-text” as nominalism: we can only know things by their names. Far more drastically, the axiom means: (1) Any attempt to establish rigid boundaries between reality and information results in unsustainable paradoxes; (2) Language is radically nonhuman--even when humans use it. It would be a mistake to hold that (1) is correlationism. “There is no outsidetext” occurs in a passage in which Derrida is analyzing Rousseau's position on Nature, so it's worth pausing here since this issue is directly relevant to ecocriticism. Derrida tacks close to the text he’s analyzing, which is why he appeals to close readers in the first place. He is not making a sweeping generalization about reality. Derrida is only saying, “Given the kind of closed system textuality that Rousseau prescribes, there is no outside-text.” That is, Rousseau can’t go around making claims about nature, not because there is nothing out there, but because the way he models thinking sets textuality up as a black hole....[but] Derrida abstained from ontology: he considered it tainted by the generalization-disease. Unfortunately this defaults to various forms of antirealism. Derrida's is a sin of omission.... OOO shares one thing at least with deconstruction--refraining from assertions about some general essence or substance at the back of things that guarantees their existence.

 

OOO is troubling for materialisms that rely on any kind of substrate, whether it consists of discrete atoms or of a continuum.... Certain uncontroversial facts, demonstrable in highly repeatable experiments, shatter essentialist prejudices concerning Matter.... Quantum phenomena are not simply hard to access or only partially “translated” by minds and other objects. They are irreducibly withdrawn.

 

OOO is form of realism, not materialism. In this it shares affinities with quantum theory. Antirealism pits quantum theory against its opponents, since quantum theory supposedly shows reality is fuzzy or deeply correlated with perception and so forth. In fact, quantum theory is the only existing theory to establish firmly that things really do exist beyond our mind (or any mind). Quantum theory positively guarantees that real objects exist! Not only that--these objects exist beyond one another. Quantum theory does this by viewing phenomena as quanta, as discrete “units” as described in Unit Operations by OOO philosopher Ian Bogost. “Units” strongly resemble OOO “objects.” Thinking in terms of units counteracts problematic features of thinking in terms of systems. A kind of systems thinking posed significant problems for nineteenth-century physicists. Only consider the so-called black body radiation problem. Classical thermodynamics is essentially a systems approach that combines the energy of different waves to figure out the total energy of a system. The black box in question is a kind of oven. As the temperature in the oven increases, results given by summing the wave states according to classical theory become absurd, tending to infinity.

 

By seeing the energy in the black box as discrete quanta (“units”), the correct result is obtained. Max Planck's discovery of this approach gave birth to quantum theory. Now consider perception, for the sake of which antirealism usually cites quantum theory. What does quantum theory show about our mental interactions with things? Perceptual, sensual phenomena such as hardness and brilliance are at bottom quantum mechanical effects. I can't put my hand through this table because it is statistically beyond unlikely that the quanta at the tip of my finger could bust through the resistance wells in the quanta on the table's surface. That's what solidity is. It's an averagely correct experience of an aggregate of discrete quanta. This statistical quality, far from being a problem, is the first time humans have been able to formalize supposedly experiential phenomena such as solidity. What some people find disturbing about quantum theory (once in a gajillion times I can put my finger through the table) is precisely evidence for the reality of things. (This is a version of an argument in Meillassoux, AF 82–5).

 

Quantum theory specifies that quanta withdraw from one another, including the quanta with which we measure them. In other words quanta really are discrete, and one mark of this discreteness is the constant (mis)translation of one quantum by another. Thus when you set up quanta to measure the position of a quantum, its momentum withdraws, and vice versa. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle states that when an “observer”--not a subject per se, but a measuring device involving photons or electrons (or whatever)--makes an observation, at least one aspect of the observed is occluded (QT 99–115). Observation is as much part of the Universe of objects as the observable, not some ontologically different state (say of a subject). More generally, what Niels Bohr called complementarity ensures that no quantum has total access to any other quantum. Just as a focusing lens makes one object appear sharper while others appear blurrier, one quantum variable comes into sharp definition at the expense of others (QT 158–61). This isn't about how a human knows an object, but how a photon interacts with a photosensitive molecule. Some phenomena are irreducibly undecidable, both wavelike and particle-like. The way an electron encounters the nucleus of an atom involves a dark side. Objects withdraw from each other at a profound physical level. OOO is deeply congruent with the most profound, accurate and testable theory of physical reality available. Again, it would be better to say it the other way around: quantum theory works because it's object-oriented.

 

Probing the quantum world, then, is a form of auto-affection. Bohr argued that quantum phenomena don't simply concatenate themselves with their measuring devices. They're identical to it: the equipment and the phenomena form an indivisible whole (QT 139–40, 177). This “quantum coherence” applies close to absolute zero, where particles become the “same” thing.

 

Implication and explication suggest Matter being enfolded and unfolded from something deeper. Even if it were the case that OOO should defer to physics, in the terms set by physics itself objects aren't made “of” any one thing in particular. Just as there is no top level, there may be no bottom level that is not an (substantial, formed) object.

 

To this extent, “object” (as a totally positive entity) is a false immediacy. Positive assertions about objects fail because objects have a shadowy dark side, a mysterious interiority like the je ne sais quoi of Kantian beauty. Is this nothing at all? Is there a path from the carnival of things to a bleak nothingness? Nihilism, believing that you have no beliefs, maintains that things emerge from an impenetrable mystery. Nihilism, the cool kids' religion, shuns the inconveniences of intimacy. We have objects--they have us--under our skin. They are our skin. OOO can't be a form of nihilism. It's the opposite view (relationism) that tends towards nihilism. Relationism holds that objects are nothing more than the sum of their relations with other objects. This begs the question of what an object is, since the definition implies a potential infinite regress: what are the “other objects”? Why, nothing more than the sum of their relations with other objects--and so on ad obscurum. At least OOO takes a shot at saying what objects are: they withdraw. This doesn't mean that they don't relate at all. It simply means that how they appear has a shadowy, illusory, magical, “strangely strange” quality. It also means they can't be reduced to one another. OOO holds that strangeness is impossible if objects are reducible to their relations. Since relationism is hamstrung by its reluctance to posit anything, it tends towards obscurantism. Relationism is stuck in a Euthyphronic dilemma: objects consist of relations between other objects—and what are those objects? An object as such is never defined. So while ecological criticism appears to celebrate interconnectedness, it must in the end pay attention to what precisely is interconnected with what.

 

This radical finitude includes a strange irreducible openness.

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I'm reviewing Chapter 5 again, and am seeing more clearly here that Bryant is defining 'substance' as an object's endo-relations, which at this point is not at all objectionable to me (and I don't really see how this is significantly different from or contrary to a holonic, autopoietically informed relational view, i.e. an Integral mereology).  To be consistent, in a holonic view, there can be no 'smallest' (foundational, atomic) holon, nor can there be a single 'super-holon' that encompasses all holons.  Both the imagined base-level objects or the ultimate super-object would be non-holons (since the former would not contain any constitutive smaller units, and the latter would not be included within anything else -- e.g., neither would be a part-whole).  Thus, there is no single-entity foundationalism, nor can there be a final 'over-mastering' super-entity (ass-holon, in Theurj's language).  Bryant's -- and OOO's -- emphases on the (relative) system-independence and closure of objects (agency), and on the tendency of objects to 'withdraw' from any totalizing embrace or identification or apprehension, are I think important and useful reminders (not fully recognized or developed in IT to date).  The transcendental deduction of the necessity of objects is also significant for IT, to the extent that it has sometimes leaned more heavily in the direction of an epistemic-first orientation.  But as I said above, I do not think the 'features' of objects identified by OOO are fundamentally at odds (or even very different from) an autopoietically informed holonic model, which presumably is the guiding 'ontic' orientation of Integral Theory.  In SpinbitZ, Joel makes the case that Integral Theory veers towards epistemic absolutism when Wilber sometimes states that ultimately "All is perspective," and argues that Integral should not be ontic-shy about also asserting, as Wilber also sometimes does, that embodiment and boundary are fundamental to perspectives -- e.g., that perspectives are always embodied.  Such a move honors both epistemology (perspective) and ontology (holon) equally and non-reductively.


As I mentioned to Dial in a previous post, regarding the relational vs. object-oriented views, my thought was that autopoietic closure is itself a sufficient difference that makes a difference with regard to the concern that objects not be seen as being solely constituted by their (exo-)relations, and thus I don't see (at this point) why OOO should identify itself oppositionally with relational views (since OOO still defines substance relationally, as the endo-relations of an object).  When substance is defined as endo-relations (as Bryant does in Ch. 5), Bryant's non-relationality of objects is still a form of relatedness. 


I expect there may be some objection by OOO folks to the use of the word 'holon' instead of, or over, 'object.'  But since Bryant sometimes defines object as 'unit,' then the 'wholeness' or 'integrity' implicit in the term 'holon' should not be objectionable on its face.  I also think if there is the rejection of any notion of 'wholeness' or integrity altogether, then the 'there is no world' thesis would also eat objects alive: there would be no objects either, no 'units.' 


What do you think?  Am I missing something here?

Yes, I've commented a few times upstream on the embodied (i.e., structured) nature of objects. So in the sense that they have a structure, with elements within that structure in relation, they are not completely without relation (in the virtual). The difference seems to be that they are not defined by their exo-relations with other objects, for those actualizations change depending on the context. It's also not that the structure, or the endo-relations, of an object doesn't change; it is not a timeless or changeless 'essence.' And it is also not that an object can exist without being in an enviornoment without some sort of relational exchange, for the elements of its structure are not manufactured from within out of nothingness or even its structure. Even autopoetic objects, which do actively maintain and change its endo-relations, don't create the elements of its structure which must come from an environment. It's just that its structural, virtual 'substance' is always more that its actual manifestations.

And contrary to Bhaskar (in Bonnie's thread) there is no 'one world' environment that unifies it all, no big (ass)whole. See Bryant above on this is several posts, and where he disagrees also with DeLanda and Deleuze. And yet it seems there are whole objects in themselves as structural units, whole in that sense.

This is great - very clear and succint pair of posts. Thank you both. Does raise the question why the opposition from/to relationists. It also brings me, as above in my comments regarding Bryant as a thinker, to a feeling of anti-climax and the irreducible - it would seem - issue of thought as totalizing the non-totalizable. This has always been my issue with Wilber's thought, though there's a great deal more pretention in that instance, I feel. I suspect that OOO, friends and 'enemies' will provide greater reflexive nous than Wilber. I very much hope, that is to say...

Given the occupy movement and the protests, and my own personal situation within it, I was struck by the profundity of this statement from chapter 5.2:

"A subject might very well know that he is getting a raw deal, that the political and social system within which he is enmeshed functions in such a way as to disproportionately benefit the wealthy and powerful, diminishing his wages, quality of life, benefits, and so on. However, such a subject must also eat, especially if he has a family, and must therefore have a job. In order to have a job, such a subject must have a place to live so as to eat, rest and be presentable, must have transportation, very likely requires a phone, etc., etc., etc. As a consequence, such a subject finds himself trapped within a regime of attraction and a form of employment that, while unsavory, is required for his existence. Taking action against such a system might very well amount to cutting off the very branch the person is sitting on to sustain his own existence. In this connection, I suspect that people are far more aware of the manner in which the cards are stacked against them by the broader social system."

In the rest of 5.2 we get an answer to Dial's question, then why the anti-corelationist stance? The correlationist stance, by virtue of its own structure, cannot see the invisible presuppositions that maintain it. One of these is the epistemic fallacy, explored in Bonnie's thread and highlighted by one of Bhaskar's criticisms of integral theory. This plays out in the anthropocentric gaze which objectifies non-human substances, much like women were ( and are still) objectified as sex objects instead of autonomous beings in themselves. In so doing it closes the possibilities inherent in said objects, like social systems, for example, from their own developmental trajectory and thus changing the type of insidious regime of attraction seen in the last quote. Bryant sees this shift of emphasis to the object as making visible those prior invisible regimes so that we can effect the kinds of societal changes necessary to challenge the current regime, much like we are seeing in the Occupy movement. We are in the midst of regime change, and the 'object' doing it is this new social movement led by the 99%, heretofore invisible to the current capitalist regime.

I think Dial was talking about relationists, rather than correlationists; I'm not sure they're identical.  In any event, I'll read 5.2 later; I agree with the challenge to anthropocentrism in correlationism.

Bryant sees this shift of emphasis to the object as making visible those prior invisible regimes so that we can effect the kinds of societal changes necessary to challenge the current regime, much like we are seeing in the Occupy movement. We are in the midst of regime change, and the 'object' doing it is this new social movement led by the 99%, heretofore invisible to the current capitalist regime.

 

Right, and this his marrying of Ranciere into OOO - an attractive coupling. 

 

Balder, however, is correct, I was referring to the ongoing discussion regarding whether it is relations or objects that predominate; which should be the point of departure. Here's Steven Shaviro's notes on Harman and Latour in discussion on this matter. And here's a page that has both the audio of this discussion as well as much else - including Harman talking on de Landa. A juicy page, indeed.

theurj said..

Given the occupy movement and the protests, and my own personal situation within it, I was struck by the profundity of this statement from chapter 5.2:

"A subject might very well know that he is getting a raw deal, that the political and social system within which he is enmeshed functions in such a way as to disproportionately benefit the wealthy and powerful, diminishing his wages, quality of life, benefits, and so on. However, such a subject must also eat, especially if he has a family, and must therefore have a job. In order to have a job, such a subject must have a place to live so as to eat, rest and be presentable, must have transportation, very likely requires a phone, etc., etc., etc. As a consequence, such a subject finds himself trapped within a regime of attraction and a form of employment that, while unsavory, is required for his existence. Taking action against such a system might very well amount to cutting off the very branch the person is sitting on to sustain his own existence. In this connection, I suspect that people are far more aware of the manner in which the cards are stacked against them by the broader social system."

 

Right, although, we don't need OOO to tell us this, surely? And it still remains that people must act, and do act, in a variety of ways despite apparent regimes of attraction. I say 'apparent' advisedly.  

 

Here's some more Bryant with relevance both to this post and to the matter of relations versus objects. The first section reiterates your own posting of Bryant and I include it for second paragraph context and flow.

 

Our social world is a regime of attraction that structures our local manifestations in a variety of ways. The Appalachian living in utter poverty in a trailer park exists in a regime of attraction populated by other people, the availability of food and education, the availability of jobs, access to key technologies like the internet that have become indispensible, ideological fictions such as the idea that language capacity is reflective of intelligence and ability, and so on. These elements in the person’s regime of attraction function in a manner similar to gravity, guiding them throughout the world in particular ways just as the gravitational bending of space-time causes a satellite to orbit the earth in a particular way, leading them to locally manifest or develop in particular ways, and so on. These relations are external to such a person, but nonetheless preside over their local manifestations in key ways, making it difficult to escape their orbit....

 

 

The key is not to reify and naturalize either these regimes of attraction nor the independence of smaller scale objects. The problem with neoliberalism is that it conceives us as constitutively free, ignoring regimes of attraction in which we exercise our freedom and action. It fails to recognize the “social gravity” that leads us to orbit in the world in particular ways. The problem with much leftist politics is that it paradoxically reifies relations, treating them as constitutive, rather than recognizing that they are external and contingent. The concept of regime of attraction draws our attention to those contingent external relations that draw us into particularly hard to escape social orbits, leading us to investigate the mechanisms by which these regimes function and allowing us to begin devising strategies to break the strength of those orbits. Just as rocket engineers must devise all sorts of strategies and techniques for escaping the gravity of the earth, political theorists must learn to be creative like engineers, refusing to merely critique regimes of attraction (i.e., analyze their mechanisms), and take up the mantle of developing “technologies” that might allow us to break with these regimes. Critique is an element, but it is not enough.

 

Hmm, creative like engineers... maybe, although, I can't help thinking of Corbusier's attempts at social engineering. I've mentioned Jane Jacobs here and her findings that what people really like about a city is variety, unpredictability (within reason, naturally), visual stimulus, and so forth. This perhaps the achilles of Bryant? I'll shut up about this for now, however, unless directly asked to comment. I've made enough vague comments along the same line, and not only have I got  a huge amount to learn from him (Bryant), I should be coming up with my own *alternative if I'm finding his wanting.

*Or tweaks of his, more likely.

I'm reminded of Mark Edwards' 3-part critique of AQAL in "The Depth of the Exteriors" at Integral World. His 'exteriors' are roughly similar to 'objects' and he redeems them from what he sees at AQAL's ontological reduction.

On the other hand, I've been buying his thesis that holons are interpretative lens, which I'm beginning to see is part of the correlationist and epistemic fallacy. Granted Bryant notes that an object can only 'translate' another object base on its organizational limitations, i.e., interpret it. But as a holon itself said object is 'real' and not just an interpretation, so holons are both monadic substance and relational interpretation.

Related to the link on Harman and Latour's interaction, Latour sees both as necessary without emphasizing either. But more importantly he notes that the object to interpret another via relation needs an 'intermediary.' And here Edwards again becomes a resource by noting that there are intermediary holons like artifacts that bridge this gap. Recall above the reference to the relationship between two objects being itself a third object. You'll find much support for this in the linked Edwards' essay, but in kennilingus so more easily translated and digested in 'integralist' terms.

As to creatively engineering a new socio-economic structure, we've explored what's wrong with kennlingus in terms of going along with the dominant capitalist regime (here) as well as alternative regimes of attraction (like here, here and here).

 

Theurj:  On the other hand, I've been buying his thesis that holons are interpretative lens, which I'm beginning to see is part of the correlationist and epistemic fallacy.


Yes, same here.  I was thinking about this exactly when I wrote my post yesterday -- that, informed by OOO (and also in line with Joel's argument in SpinbitZ), Integral's holonics could be read as an ontic category rather than an Edwardsian epistemic one.  However, keeping Bonnie's table in mind, Integral ontology should perhaps embrace a more diverse ontology than simply "holonics" (looking, for example, at her "members" column).  Taking something like this on board would be in line, for example, with the emphasis on ontological pluralism in Sean's recent ecological, or my postmetaphysical spiritual, writings.  As I noted in my recent post to Bonnie, I can see such distinctions as implicit in certain recent "turns" and emphases in my own thinking, but as not having been well-thought-out or developed yet.  Interesting.  I'm going to reflect on this further.

The following excerpt from the end of chapter 3.3 reminds me of some of the above comments regarding ‘light.’ Granted some think light is beyond structure, space and time altogether. Bryant has another twist, though not with specific reference to light per se.

“We can also discern that a number of objects have some very peculiar properties with respect to space and time. It is fairly common to argue that objects are individuated by occupying a particular position in space and at a particular time. This, for example, was Locke's position. However, if it is true that it is the organization or structure, not the parts, that determine whether or not something is an object, it follows that objects can be discontinuous across time and can be vastly spread out across space…. At the level of object-oriented and onticological mereology, we cannot work from the premise that location in time and space is sufficient to individuate an object, nor that objects exist only at a particular scale such as the mid-range objects that tend to populate the world of our daily existence. Rather, entities exist at a range of different scales, from the unimaginably small to the unimaginably large, each characterized by their own duration and spatiality. Here a tremendous amount of work remains to be done in thinking these spatial and temporal structures.”

Regarding Bryant's comments on differently scaled objects, recall this video by Morton on "hyper-objects".

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