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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
You're right that her understanding (and reworking) of Bohr is different than yours.
I know this comes as a shock for you but Bohr is not the be-all and end-all of Ultimate Reality. Or even, heresy of all heresies, of QM.
I had been intending to ask you what, if any, relation you saw between OOO's withdrawal and Bohr's non-visualizability, or OOO's notion that any encounter with or knowing of something is never exhaustive and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle -- but it looks like this post (below) already goes at least part of the way towards an answer.
Because you have argued in the past for particularity, essence, isness, relationship or relatedness, etc, I'm a little surprised to hear you say that "what" goes out the window in a quantum worldview as a totally useless concept. (This sounds a bit like the "overmining" of objects that Harman complains about*). Is there any"thing" to which the word "real" would be applied in this worldview, if not to particles or waves or objects or selves? Is this view an a-realism or non-realism, or is the word "real" just applied to something else?
* If one says there is "only relatedness down there," is that to render relationship absolute? And if so, does that then not lead to the same sort of contradictions you pointed out above for those who look for absolute particularity? Does it make sense to speak of "relation" with no "what" to be related?
Ah! Yes, metaphysical.
There's a different way to think of this hiddenness stuff. Consider a basic polarity, like particular-general. If I try to find an example of pure particularity, I can't. Same holds for an attempt to find pure-generality. Perform this experiment to see if your results are the same.
From this experiment, one could say that pure particularity is always partly hidden. This is the OOO response, which I personally don't like because it lands in immediate contradiction. I'm using a word---particularity---which corresponds to nothing in my experience.
A different response is to say that any conceptualization is fundamentally contradictory, that to say particular is to also say general such that "what" is being spoken of is not the "what" of a mind that seeks, through infinite regress, absolute particularity or absolute generality. "Whatness" disappears as a non-useful construct.
This is the move Bohr made (which btw Barad doesn't really understand). Instead, then, of a universe of objects, there is no objecthood within that conceptual space. That space is itself negated and replaced with a non-conceptual understanding that jettisons ideas like "objects" as in any manner existing. For Bohr, there are no particles, just as there are no waves. Particle and wave are like particular and general: they cannot be found, are unevidenced. Quantum physicists like Bohr, Heisenberg, Planck, Dürr, Zeilinger, etc therefore do not conceive of "objects" like particles as existent, or real.
I think for myself if you haven't noticed. I rarely quote people.
And then you proceed to extensively quote Zellinger. Funny.
What is hidden in the hiddenness about which you speak?
We've been discussing just this in the many pages of this thread, which you've obviously missed. Or ignored. Or distorted through your self-renowned original (i.e., Bohrg assimilation), hegemonic, monistic, ontotheological religious conversion.
Hi, Tom, what you say is reminiscent of the "correlationism" that OOO critiques. I don't say this as a personal criticism of you, since I believe my own integral/enactive view would also be criticized by OOO as correlationist; but I bring it up because I'd be interested to hear your defense of correlationism (against an OOO critic). Since correlationism holds that we can't talk about thinking or being apart from each other, but only the correlation of thinking and being (or Zeilinger's information and reality?), correlationism has often been considered anti-realist, so I'm interested also to hear what you mean by realism when you describe your own view as nonconceptual realism.
Concerning the meaninglessness of what questions, and the non-existence of objects, does such a view impact your understanding of the UR quadrant in Integral Theory? Should that quadrant be dropped, or do you have a particular way of interpreting its place in the ecology of knowledge (or being)?
Bruce: Is there any"thing" to which the word "real" would be applied in this worldview, if not to particles or waves or objects or selves?
Tom: No, there's no thing per se. I've written volumously on thingness from many angles. From the quantum angle, quantum physics is an event physics, or a happening physics. It follows traces of events.
I wrote "any'thing'" because I wanted to highlight that I didn't mean an object- or thing-view necessarily. If quantum phyhsics is an event physics, are events, then, the "what" of physics, the "reality" that physics investigates?
More from Barad's referenced paper:
"Quantum entanglements are not the intertwining of two (or more) states/entities/events, but a calling into question of the very nature of two-ness, and ultimately of one-ness as well" (251).
"Agential cuts – intra-actions – don’t produce (absolute) separation, they engage in agential separability – differentiating and entangling (that’s one move, not successive processes).... Entanglements are not a name for the interconnectedness of all being as one, but rather specific material relations of the ongoing differentiating of the world" (265).
This sounds much more like OOO in many ways, especially Morton's quantum ideas, as well as the ideas in the religious difference thread.
Also recall Desilet's notions on QM, similar to Barad's. One example:
"This law of contamination presents the circumstance of superposition—superposition of continuity (irreducible dependence) and discontinuity (irreducible separation)."
Also in his idea of not one, not two, echoing Barad's questioning of the "very nature of two-ness, and ultimately of one-ness as well."
You make some good points Tom, always have. Some with which I agree, others not. I'm tempted to take the time to have that discussion but every time I've done so in the past I've regretted it due to your adamantine intransigence from a purist Bohrg view. A purism which, not incidentally, doesn't support the kind of complimentarity you champion. I don't see that that's changed any so I will just let it be.
Zeilinger: ...in physics we cannot talk about reality independent of what can be said about reality.
Correlationist: ...in philosophy we cannot talk about being (reality) apart from what can be thought or expressed about being.
Tom: If a correlationist says "we can't talk about thinking or being apart from each other," what possibly could be meant by being or by thinking? If one asserts we cannot get out of thinking to being, one must have a workable idea of what thinking and being are to say that. One is here assuming what being is to say we have no access to it. That's a contradiction, both externalized and denied.
How is Zeilinger not committing the same error you've identified for (OOO's target), correlationism?
Tom: We still can speak "objectively," that is, communicatively in a way that allows replication of "objective" (reliable) results, but the speaking never collapses the basic contradiction that that about which we speak is both speaker and that of which the speaker speaks.
Is this a manner of saying that we cannot speak about anything without also speaking about ourselves?
Tom: In answering the question what, there are two basic responses: correlationism or OOO: mind or objects. Changing those ors to ands gets a little closer to what I'm expressing. Observer and observed.
I also would say that both/and, rather than either/or, is the understanding that makes sense to me. But I'm not sure that saying "what" necessarily entails following only an either/or path. Does complementarity involve dropping "what" altogether, or is an evental contradictory identity the quantum "what"? I ask because you say this:
Tom: ...the question what becomes meaningless because explicating what necessarily collapses the duality of what matter is posited to be.
Here, you appear still to be positing a what, i.e., "what matter is posited to be" (contradictorily identical, complementary).
One reason I ask this is because I still have questions (and doubts) about Bohr's notion of the absolute (and final?) non-visualizability of the (quantum) world. As you know, Joel has argued, here and elsewhere, that this non-visualizability might more properly be seen as a property of Quantum Theory, not the quantum world (Joel believing that complexity science provides a new understanding, not present in Bohr's time, which allows for modeling a nondual, immanent-causal, post-classical ontology.) What do you think of this?
Speaking of Joel's work, his union of Spinoza and Leibniz in SpinbitZ also provides an interesting way to think through some of the issues we've been discussing here. I'm not familiar with Barad, but I was reading (and perhaps misreading) Barad's dis/continuity, not as an assertion of absolute or final discontinuity, but a both/and vision of wholeness and difference.
This Edwards' quote from the religious difference thread seems apt here:
“Integration in the metatheory building context does not mean to create one super-theory but rather to bring many different viewpoints together so that their strengths and weaknesses can be recognized....Rather that simply reproducing dominant theoretical ideologies, metatheory undermines them through this reflexive raising of consciousness about the relationships between theories. And this is, in fact, why several metatheorists have argued that postmodernism is itself a metatheoretical enterprise” (13-15).
From Harman's book, The Quadruple Object (which I'm posting here for general reference, and in response to the discussion on the religious difference thread rather than the recent discussion on this one):
"The Polarities in Objects
The philosophy presented in this book is not just a philosophy of objects, but of polarizations as well. Along with the real objects that exist on their own in the wilderness, there are the sensual objects discovered by Husserl that exist only in captivity: only inside the experience of some other entity. But along with objects there are also qualities, and the strange fact is that objects both have and do not have these qualities. This system of asymmetries, with two kinds of objects and two kinds of qualities, is what led to the proposal of a fourfold structure. Those who are unwilling to accept this structure must deny one or more of the polarities it displays. And given that there are two basic axes of the fourfold, there are also two major ways of rejecting it. First, there is the usual maneuver of denying the existence of anything outside thought, as found in the Philosophy of Access rejected above. Here there is no counterpoint between light and shadow, because only what is given is called real. Second, there is the empiricist claim that the object is nothing over and above its qualities, so that everything is only a bundle of directly given traits. If we put these two together as is generally done, what we end up with is a world where only one of the four poles exists: namely, sensual qualities. Meanwhile, scientific naturalists disdain the qualia in consciousness and try to debunk the delusions of the pathetic human mind in favor of some real substratum. And this turns out to be nothing but qualities, not a unity over and above them. In short, scientific naturalism (as is found in Brassier's position) rerecognizes real qualities as all that truly exists. But even these turn out to be only relatively different from sensual qualities, since they are entirely commensurable with some form of human access: namely, scientific knowledge. As a third option we can consider phenomenology, for which sensual objects are what primarily exists, since there are no real objects for Husserl outside a possible observing consciousness, and the eidetic and sensual qualities of an object are always derivative of it. That leaves us with the fourth option of a philosophy that accepts real objects as the only primary reality. This is the position endorsed by most classical realisms, for which unified substances are the root of everything else.
Now, after the earliest pre-Socratic philosophers considered various physical elements as the possible root constituents of the universe, Empedocles united these elements into a system in which air, earth, fire, and water were all on equal footing, mixed by love and hate. Returning to the playing card terminology utilized earlier, this book offers an analogous system to that of Empedocles: one in which spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds are mixed by fission and fusion. The obvious difference is that the four terms of the quadruple object are not physical elements, but rather objects and qualities of every possible size, with armies and stadiums counting as "spades" (i.e. real objects) no less than droplets of water would. Instead of embracing the reductive positions of the correlationist, the naturalist, the phenomenologist, or the classical realist, object-oriented philosophy gathers the grains of truth found in all four.
Expanding the Theory
One of the obvious virtues of this philosophy of the fourfold object is its relative democratization of the various forms of knowledge. Hardcore reductionists easily scoff at such "soft" disciplines as sociology, art history, and music theory, assuming that these are mere human epiphenomena grafted onto a bulky stratum of real physical being. But if philosophy speaks of objects, and of their qualities and relations, then what holds true for neutrons will also hold true for governments and football teams: all of these things will be objects, and all will retain a certain identity even as their relations with other things shift from one moment to the next. A neutron exceeds its current effects on the environment, but so does the Mubarak government in Egypt. Now, the complaint might be heard that a neutron is more real than Popeye or unicorns. And here I would agree. But the real question is whether our concept of a neutron is more real than our concepts of Popeye and unicorns, and the answer here is obviously in the negative: all three of these are sensual objects, not real ones. But it is important to note that we are not just equating a physical realm with a human one. It is not just that armies, governments, and songs have a certain reality independent of the tinier strata from which they emerge. It is also the case that there are levels within the physical realm. Our goal is not just to say that the humanities are irreducible to physics, but that geology and chemistry are irreducible to physics as well. Each domain has its realities, which are not reducible to where they came from. Object-oriented philosophy does not reduce, and hence offers no finger-wagging lectures to the humanities on behalf of science. Nor does it offer such lectures on behalf of postmodernist theories of a science constituted by the discursive practice of power.
When Freud established his principle that a dream is the symbolic fulfillment of a wish, he offered an intriguing theory of dreams. But he went much further than this. Freud's general model of desires blocked by obstacles and translated into indirect satisfaction also opened the way to theories of all human reality: slips of the tongue, forgetting objects at the home of a friend, obsessional neurosis, hysteria, psychosis, cultural realities, the death-drive, sexual difference, and even the psyches of children and animals. Regardless of how one views Freud, there is no denying the vast scope of psychoanalysis. In certain respects the theory of the quadruple object is even more ambitious. Like a paper lantern, the fourfold model sheds a milky and flickering light not just on the human sphere, but on inanimate causation as well. Everything both inside and outside the mind is an object that both has and does not have qualities. For this reason the theme of the polarized relations between objects and qualities, split by fission and united by fusion, claims the universal subject matter that philosophy demands without arbitrarily reducing some zones of the world to others. If the quadruple object mapped in these pages is a justified model, then the four tensions, three radiations, and three junctions of ontography give us a powerful map of the cosmos from which further conclusions can easily be drawn."
Actually Harman above relates to both threads, in that it offers a meta-theory of various theories, not reducing any one into the other, or subsuming any into one "super theoretical ideology." Yet nonetheless he finds this type of integration (that Edwards mentions) a "universal" of sorts, but not an ontheological One or totalizing Whole. I also appreciate his polarities, reminiscent of "complimentarity," at least the kind envisioned by the likes of Barad or Desilet, "split by fission and united by fusion."