Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
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.
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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Another thing strikes me about the telosiacs: they always place themselves on the leading edge of evolution. If there was no teleos they couldn't rationalize their special place in leading the way for the rest of us schmucks. This is another thing to learn from OOO, it's narcissism-reducing response to such not just anthoropomorphism but cream-of-the crop frothy egde-ism.
I also find it interesting that the kennilinguist evolutionists in general favor some version of capitalism while the likes of OOOers like Bryant favor democracy.
Also McIntosh (and kennilinguists generally) uses holonics to rationalize his dialectic. But as we've seen with Bryant, while he too accepts mereology is it of a different variety.
This relates to something I've been intending to discuss in relation to Cohen's new book, which I've been reading. I won't discuss it in detail here, other than to note that it, too, sounds the "we're the leading edge of the universe" note. There are actually aspects of his book I appreciate, but I do not see justification in it for the mounds of (seemingly uncritical) praise and unqualified endorsement of it from many in the "evolutionary spirituality" field, including McIntosh. It has made me think, something's really wrong here.
I have appreciated the observation by folks such as Sagan, Berry, Swimme, Primack, and others, that there is cause for wonder and awe, when we realize that we do represent a seemingly rare occasion where the universe has become aware of itself: where not only self-awareness has emerged, but more recently, a capacity to look back at the whole evolutionary sweep, from the scattering clouds of hydrogen atoms to the birth of galaxies to the emergence of life in all its forms, including us. This emergent view is nowhere near total or exhaustive -- likely still just a dim glimmer, and of course still open to revision -- but there nevertheless has been an explosion in empirical knowledge about the physical universe (its present scope, its distant origins, its evolutionary or developmental journey) in relation to which we can rightly stand in awe. These are momentous, possibly culture-defining discoveries (if folks like Swimme and Primack are right). To acknowledge and appreciate this, or even to wonderingly proclaim that we are an example of the universe "becoming aware of itself," is one thing; but to move from there to proclaiming that the evolution of the whole universe has therefore led, purposefully and intentionally, to one's present worldview, to one's present cultural and spiritual agenda, is quite another. That's going too far, in my view, and that's what I see a number of folks in the Integral and Evolutionary crowds doing.
Concerning using holonics to justify the Integral dialectic, yes, I agree -- that seems to be problematic, if only because the holonic (transcend-and-include) view is partial and incomplete. I agree that OOO is offering a new way to think about mereology. I'm not entirely on board with the OOO approach yet, but I appreciate the creative thinking they are doing in this area. And Bonnie's onto-logics looks like a good corrective, too, to Integral's over-reliance on holonics, with her emphasis on a range of different generative processes or 'mechanisms,' beyond the transcend-and-include variety (which is the Integral mainstay).
Which of course is an invaluable OOO criticism leveled against correlationism, of which such ironic narcissism running rampantly amok is but one symptom. (Poetic rhetoric, that.)
I agree. Though, ideally, at least, I think Integral has the philosophical resources to deal with the correlationism charge, given that it at least acknowledges the Myth of the Framework as being as problematic as the Myth of the Given. In practice, however, there has been more focus on the Myth of the Given, and in that regard, Integral thought does appear to mirror correlationist thought to some degree.
I say, "to some degree," because, as I understand the argument against correlationism, one of the problems of correlationism is apparently its insistence that a world without men, without humans, is unthinkable. OOO ontology, as Bryant says, wants to posit a world where humans are beings among beings, not the Monarchs of Being. An Integral, enactive, post-metaphysical approach, as I understand it, does not have an issue with imagining a "world without men." It is not species-centric*. But it does suggest that "worlds" (defined as fields of meaningful distinctions or possibilities for interaction) ex-ist only for sentient beings (here, imagining even atoms as sentient beings, to the extent that atoms are able in some way to register, respond to, and interact with objects and forces outside of themselves; the idea is not that atoms think about, or have emotional responses to, the world).
What do you think?
* Panikkar's cosmotheandric approach is more problematically correlationist than the Integral project
Just a passing thought: Wilber uses the word, exist, with an emphasis on its etymology -- to ex-ist or "stand forth." Therefore, the word includes an implicit '-for' within it: that which ex-ists is that which stands-forth-for. Ex-istence, then, would be relational, and this could be contrasted with another quality of objects, which OOO emphasizes -- that of a polar movement, to 'withdraw,' to 'stand-back' and be hidden-from. To my knowledge, Bryant doesn't use the word 'exist' as the polar opposite of withdrawal; rather, he describes withdrawal as a characteristic of existent objects. But it might be useful to make this polar distinction, since an emphasis on withdrawal does seem to call for a recognition of 'standing-forth-for' as well.
Remember this post from p. 11 of this thread, from chapter 2.2 of TDOO:
“Substances are not defined by contraries or opposites, but simply are what they are. This, of course, is not to suggest that substances do not come into being or that they cannot pass out of being, only that they do not admit of opposed or contrary terms. An individual ncane toad does not have an opposite. Rather, if there is contrariety, it exists only in the domain of qualities. Later, when discussing local manifestation and virtual proper being we will see that there is reason to doubt that contrariety is a genuine ontological category. Insofar as substances are not constituted by their relations, insofar as relations are not internal to their terms, it follows that substances cannot be dialectical in either the relational sense or the sense of contrariety. Contrariety, if it exists, exists at the level of qualities, not substances. It is only through an erasure of substances, through a reduction of substances to their qualities, through the gesture of actualism as discussed in the last chapter, that it can be supposed that substance is dialectical.”
It appears that an object doesn't "exist for," at least in totality. And its substance is not to be considered in contrast with, or complimentary to, its actualizations, since it is only on the level of the actual that complimentarity comes into being. In a way substance is like khora, as the condition for complimentarity but itself not a participant. In a way it's like Kennilingam's contention that the causal doesn't enter into the relative realm of complimentarity and hence is not a compliment to the relative realm but its 'cause.' Except that there are differences between khora and the causal realm (recall this thread). Also recall early on in the thread, Bryant's article on Derrida.
I remember that claim, but honestly, I'm not convinced. Withdraw is a term that certainly admits of an opposite, though he may try to contest that. And that opposite, as I see it, is stand out, stand forth ... i.e., ex-ist. Admittedly, my observation above was prompted more by reading Harman than by reading Bryant, but Bryant seems to follow Harman to a large degree. Harman defines objects as fundamentally split (between that which withdraws and that which becomes actualized, between absence and presence). The polar relationship I'm talking about is between dimensions, or types of activities, of substance, so I see this as unrelated to the question of whether any particular substance has an opposite (like a toad, or a tree). There's a polarity at the heart of the definition of substance itself.
Re: my comment above that objects are, in part, objects-for, I am not saying objects are exhausted by that -for; I was going along with the OOO contention that objects exceed any given -for relationship. I just was observing that the etymology of exist -- to stand forth -- implies a -for. That's either something OOO can take on board, or they should perhaps be careful about using that term when describing substances.
Ed: In a way substance is like khora, as the condition for complimentarity but itself not a participant.
It seems Bryant is very slippery in his definition of substance, not really clearly defining it. He seems to want it to function like the khora, but then he defines it in terms of endo-relations. I am not sure this is coherent.
As to the term 'withdraw,' you're right that as a sign it is defined by its contextual and differential relation with other terms so in that sense it a compliment. But recall in Bryant's Derrida article the sign nonetheless retains a unique substance that is anterior to its differential relations. But again, even the term anterior suggests a differential relation to posterior when it seems Bryant's point, like Derrida's, is that differance is the condition for differential relation. Differance is not absence in opposition to presence. Derrida created the term differance to represent that condition for, that groundless ground in mystic-speak. That Bryant hasn't created a new term, that he is using existing terms like withdrawn differently, might be a drawback and here he might learn from Derrida. (Or me with my suobjects or intersobjects, but I'm not of much account on the philosophical stage.)
Regarding terms, substances obviously exist, for they can come into and go out of existence as he says. His substances then are not eternal forms or causal realms. But do they exist for relations? Again we come to the question of whether they can exist without relations and somewhere above I concluded from Bryant they cannot. In that sense I agree with you. Again I refer to the non-concept differance. Can it, like a kennilingus causal realm, exist without ever coming into actual form? Can it remain forever withdrawn, without relations itself? Would it exist (subsist?) even if there were no humans to call it differance? Apparently so. But like you Bryant has not convinced me either that his substance is on this same order, given its necessary reliance on relations for its existence.
In Bryant's Derrida article it seems his dark objects come close to khora. He says:
"Like ghosts in a room that produce no effects on anything else whatsoever, dark objects would exist and be entirely real without actualizing any qualities or producing any effects on other objects....but there is no way to demonstrate that they do exist insofar as they are thoroughly withdrawn without a trace at the level of the actual.”
And it is here that Derrida indeed finds a trace through his actual, transcendental deduction.
Theurj: Differance is not absence in opposition to presence. Derrida created the term differance to represent that condition for, that groundless ground in mystic-speak.
I understand; I wasn't saying that. Differance describes the dance or play of presence and absence. From this perspective, withdrawn then seems to correlate with absence, which is why I was suggesting, as another term for presence, the word ex-ist (in its literal etymological reading, to 'stand out' or 'stand forth'). To talk about objects 'existing' without being present-for (or enacted by) particular sentient beings or other objects, then we might use a term like 'subsist,' which is where I was going to go with my thoughts above. This is the term Wilber uses for non- or pre-enacted entities.
I found this link which provides a bunch of Wilber's works free, probably not legally. In the link for Integral Spirituality I found this passage on p. 291, the only reference on subsistence:
"And since 'enter consciousness' and 'exist' are essentially identical in the post/modern world, then we can safely say that whatever eco-systems are, they can only be found in a turquoise world.*
* "This is not subjective idealism, nor does this stop us from saying that ecosystems had some sort of existence in magenta and earlier times. Just as the rejection of the myth of the given still allows for what are called “intrinsic features” of sensory experience, we can say that if ecosystems did not ex-ist or stand forth in the magenta worldspace, they nonetheless “subsisted” in it, or were present as intrinsic features of the Kosmos not cognized by magenta. But the point that still removes this from the myth of the given is that the intrinsic features themselves are not pregiven but are simply the products of the highest level of consciousness making the claim. In other words, intrinsic features themselves are interpretive and con-structed. Those intrinsic features are then retro-read into earlier times—which is fine, they are just not intrinsic features of a pregiven world, but intrinsic features of a turquoise worldspace (which will, of course, be largely rejected by indigo, whose own intrinsic features will be rejected by violet, and so on). In other words, these are not intrinsically intrinsic features, but interpretively intrinsic features. The point is that whatever is actually “intrinsic” to the Kosmos changes with each new worldspace; and thus both what ex-ists and what sub-sists are con-structions of consciousness. In this example, we are simply pointing out that ecosystems do not ex-ist in the magenta worldspace and cannot be found anywhere in its phenomenology."
Is this not correlationist?
Yes, it seems so. I wasn't suggesting we have to follow Wilber's account in all details; I was just recommending using that word, subsist. I think it could be useful within an OOO framework to differentiate between ex-istence (if we acknowledge the etymological meaning of ex-ist) and withdrawal or subsistence, correlating them with the play of presence and absence.
However, reading Wilber's passage again, I find myself backtracking, in that I am actually still sympathetic to it to some degree. The 'speculative' component of speculative realism does seem to acknowledge that what is being described is, to some extent, the product of careful, creative, mature thought, and not simply a naked revelation of the given.