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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
I'm not defending OOO or claiming there are no qualitative distinctions between blowing up a computer or an animal. I'm just saying that at the very least anthropomorphism and correlationism seems inherent in the complexity = higher value formula. Saying that is not equivalent to saying we should blow up animals or kill Republicans, the latter indeed being lower life forms which despite my distaste deserve to live (on a reservation perhaps?).
Maybe this would be better on the Murray thread. I'll put it here for now and will copy it over there if I decide to add more.
Just to be clear -- in asking my question about blowing up animals and computers, I was not saying that you personally were suggesting there would be no qualitative difference between the two; I was trying (in agreement with you) to give an example of why the complexity argument alone may be insufficient.
But regarding anthropocentrism and correlationism, I don't think the complexity = higher value formula is inherently or necessarily anthropocentric, just as I don't think Integral (postmetaphysical-enactive) thought is correlationist in the sense that OOO critiques. Yes, the complexity of the human brain would put humans at the top of the pile among earth creatures, but only in one measure of value that Integral employs. And even by that measure, humans would not necessarily have the highest value in the universe; rather, we should expect that there are even more evolved beings out there whose value, by this logic, would trump ours, at least with regard to their intrinsic (as opposed to Ground or extrinsic) value.
I do not mean to suggest there is nothing to critique in Wilber's model of value, but he does, at least, attempt to articulate a value system which is not simply anthropocentric. There are many objects in nature (atoms, molecules, various single-celled beings, etc) which have greater extrinsic value than human beings, such that, if it came down to a choice between preserving humans (who were doing something that was about to negatively and irreversibly impact these extrinsically more valuable holons or objects) or destroying humans and preserving the integrity of these objects, extrinsic value would likely trump intrinsic value and humans would have to be stopped or even destroyed.
While we might want to critically explore Wilber's distinctions and forms of value (which he admits are not exhaustive), I think a move such as he has made -- articulating several forms of valuation which can and must be held in tension -- is preferable to a simple 'flattening' of the value of all objects in the interest of a 'democracy of objects.' As I mentioned above, I haven't come across much yet in OOO literature that would provide resources for making such ethical distinctions*. If I were to imagine a wedding between OOO and Integral, perhaps Bryant's and/or Harman's approach might provide a way to conceive of Integral's "Ground value" of objects in a secular form, but IMO this would need to be complemented by other forms of valuation, if we are to avoid the problematic "flattening" of value I mentioned in several previous posts.
* Would you agree that OOO doesn't offer much in this regard? Or have I missed something?
Just in terms of the linked posts above from chapters 5 and 6, my impression is that he acknowledges emergent properties in more complex objects. And that while retaining the autonomy of the 'smaller' objects within a larger object he nonetheless acknowledges that while all objects exist equally they do not equally exist. Meaning the 'larger' ones obviously have to coordinate more relations and hence have more value to more objects. So I do get a sense that like Kennilingam he differentiates ground or extrinsic value from intrinsic value. And like you note it depends on the context whether one of these values is more important. That Bryant doesn't spell out an ethics based on this, at least in this book that I can tell, only means that that was not the focus on this book and such an ethics might be forthcoming.
"Recall that within the framework of object-oriented ontology objects do not need to be simple in order to be objects. A simple entity would be an entity that can be decomposed no further. For OOO, by contrast, all objects are aggregates; which is to say that they are objects composed of other objects. As Harman puts it in Guerrilla Metaphysics, objects can equally be thought as both networks of relations and as wholes or entities in their own right. As networks of relations, objects are composed of relations among other objects. As wholes they are unities in their own right. Within the framework of OOO this gives rise to curious paradoxes pertaining to mereology.
"There is an intrinsic worth to all such entities that grants them some minimal status as moral subjects....the question of whether or not collective entities like ant colonies, species, ecosystems, the Catholic church, governments, groups, etc., have the [same] sort of intrinsic moral worth.... This is where, I think, things become really interesting as we here encounter the conundrums that arise with respect to OOO’s mereology.
"In cases such as these, how do we navigate the conflict between the ant and the larger scale entity, the ant colony, to which the ant belongs? This is not a remote or idle question pertaining merely to ants and nonhuman natural entities, but pertains to relations between humans and nonhuman social entities as well. Presumably, by Sandler’s criteria, nonhuman entities like the Catholic church, corporations, nations, clubs, etc., are moral subjects insofar as they are teleological or have ends of their own. Yet the ends of these larger scale entities can be at odds with the ends of the persons that belong these larger scale entities as parts. This would be the case, for example, with a larger scale hyperobject like capitalism. When we begin taking into account the mereological relations between these entities we discover that it’s not enough to simply claim that if an entity is teleological, if an entity has ends, we should have moral regard for that entity and not unnecessarily interfere in the functioning of that entity. A virtue for a corporation, a way of acting that is conducive to its ends, can be quite different and opposed to a virtue for a worker and the ends of a worker. There is no pre-established harmony here. Here then we get a whole set of ethical riddles– and my intention here is only to pose the question or problem, not solve it –pertaining to these entities and conflicts that arise among these entities. Having ends, I think, is not enough for determining when interference and destruction is warranted."
Good find, Ed. From what he says there, it doesn't seem like his ideas are significantly out of step with Integral -- though we'll have to wait to see where else he goes with this.
I note with some interest that in one of his blogs, he seems to acknowledge that the flat model of withdrawn, non-related objects is not adequate in itself to inform an ethical model; to do that, he has to appeal to relationships. He also acknowledges that objects have intrinsic worth, but appeals primarily to external relations in his discussion of ethics. This latter is what Wilber means by extrinsic value: the relative value objects have for each other. I wonder if he would grant relativity in intrinsic value as well (and if so, on what basis), or if, for him, intrinsic value is the same as Wilber's Ground value (equal for all).
My sense is that indeed Bryant's intrinsic value is akin to ground value, if not identical, and deals with our singular autonomy. In the blog post on eudaimonia we see a distinction between real and false reason that is rearing its head again in the Murray thread. Real reason is embodied, not only individually through agency but ethically through social relationships (communion). But unlike this polarity of individual and community there is no polarity between real and false reason. Said polarity exists in real reason but becomes dysfunctional duality in false reason.
This is an interesting post by Bryant called "A-theism, an-archism and the end of analysis." Excerpts:
"I think there are ways of thinking the divine and supernatural that are, paradoxically, perfectly consistent with a-theism."
"Many variants of Buddhism, I think, fit with what I call a-theism."
"Theism is the belief in an absolute and transcendent ground that conditions without itself being conditioned.
"A thoroughgoing a-theism...is a form of thought that strives to reject all forms of theism or transcendence, whether in the domain of ontology, epistemology, ethics, or politics. It is for this reason, necessarily an-archic. It is a position that rejects any ultimate or absolute grounds, any unconditioned grounds that condition all else.
"The ultimate truth of this a-theism and an-archism is the contingency of everything."
Which is the difference I'm trying to articulate in the Murray thread, that khora is not like consciousness per se, not an ultimate ground. As I quoted in the "what 'is' the differance?" thread:
"“He does not stake out the ground of a higher principle but concedes a certain an-arche at the bottom of our principles. Derrida is not denying that we have 'principles' or 'truth'.... He is just reinscribing our truth and principles in the an-arche of differance, attaching to them a co-efficient of 'contingency.'"
"Theism is the belief in an absolute and transcendent ground that conditions without itself being conditioned."
"...the transcendent, as I use the term, does not mean “to go beyond”, but rather refers to the postulation of any entity that is unconditioned and that conditions other things without itself being conditioned by other things."
Is this tantamount to Bryant saying that there is or can be no such transcendent ground (without necessarily limiting the signified as a "thing" or "entity") but only a belief in a transcendent ground?
I don't know. Why don't you ask the horse himself (Bryant)? Go to the blog post linked above. He takes comments and frequently responds to questions. If you do and he answers please post here.
Ok, I have asked this in the comments section (awaiting moderation) and will post any answer here.
In the meantime, with regard my question, any thoughts from others?