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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
So again it comes to a clarification of terms that have specific meanings depending on context, that there is no final context wherein a word is one, final meaning. So when you imply that what I say suggests "in theory reduction could go on and on and never arrive at the final, absolute, last reduction" I have to ask, in whose theory in what context? What we do in communication, as Bryant says (as does Derrida) is to translate based on the assumed meanings we have of words based on certain contexts, some of which are unconscious (withdrawn). We might even mean the same or similar thing but sometimes the words and contexts make agreement difficult to ascertain, as in this case.
I guess I"m just not buying the premise or PAR, for example, perhaps due to my own limitations/meanings/context, at least in part. Whereas when you define infinity as indefinite, unbounded and irreducible openness, that seems to be a similarity to what I'm saying. Unbounded reduciblity not so much. And as I said above, this doesn't mean I'm accepting one side of a dichotomy but rather trying to convey something trans that with words usually associated with such binary opposition. Hence neologisms like differance and prabsence and ash-holon seem necessary.
I hear you. I've been thinking we likely have a more similar view on this than has been apparent in this exchange. To ferret out where the miscommunication (or disagreement) might be cropping up, I've pulled a few quotes from our recent posts:
Balder: Do you think objects are, in principle, ever finally reducible to something or other (beyond which no further reduction is possible)?
Theurj: Don't know. If they remain in a sense open, an unbounded wholeness as it were united and split by differance, can we ever arrive at a final resting place?
I read this to be saying that you weren't positive, but you doubted that reduction could ever lead to a final resting place. Did I misunderstand you?
Theurj: Unbounded reduciblity not so much.
If you believe that we will likely never arrive at a final reduction (resting place) in our analyses of "objects," how is this different from unbounded reducibility?
I'm still not getting it. When I say that there is no final resting place I am not indicating that this means infinite reduction but rather irreduction from the start. An object cannot be reduced to the sum of its parts or to it relations to other objects or to anything or process. This irreduction is singular yet an object cannot exist without relations, both endo and exo. Due to this ongoing struggle for finite existence it is hence never fixed or at rest, no final resting place. It is not some general, abstract, disembodied or absolute principle but an embodied, finite being in the world.
It may be me that is not getting it, but I think the back and forth will be worthwhile. If an object is irreducible from the start, and this is not related to its open-ended accommodation of indefinite reduction, then is this akin to an atomic understanding of objects?
Is this akin to an atomic understanding of objects?
No, that is a definite, final resting place. Objects, while singular, are indefinite (open) in that they exceed any one definition or context, hence plural actualizations. This also applies to the difference between a theory of everything and a theory for anything (this thread). The latter doesn't require the "necessity" of a disembodied, general, abstract absolute, since an object (ash-holon or khoron) is not an extreme atom opposing an extreme ideal. The concrete object's singular plurality (or plural singularity, aka prabsence) is "in the middle." As Kosok said, it "transcends the categorical logic of given identity upon which it is based." Said extremes are "but two aspects or sides of a singular boundary relation," our object. Or suobject, as I've called them before. Or intersobjects. Kosok is big on intersubjectivity, same difference. Henna?
I guess I shouldn't be surprised by your unceasing and insufferable ability to distort what I say to fit your preconceived prejudices. I in no way "rendered objects absolute" and took great pains not to do so. It is your own continuing inability to accept definitions of terms other than what you presuppose them to be and then project your terms upon quite careful definitions to the contrary. You keep saying this or that "by necessity." It is only necessary to your own very limited and bohring definitions which prevent you from truly listening to anyone who might challenge your rigid religious fanaticism. It seems to be characteristic of you theory of everything types.
I hope you two, if you are interested, can talk your disagreements through and arrive at a better understanding of your respective positions. (Tom and I have also butted heads and gotten stuck at times.) I value both of your perspectives and hope you can find a way through this present semantic and conceptual thicket. If not, I'll just try to participate in separate discussions with you in parallel, rather than all at once.
To the extent that object-oriented philosophy attempts to explain everything in terms of its object notion -- everything in existence is a withdrawing object -- isn't it also a kind of theory of everything? Also, while it argues against the overmining or undermining of objects by various forms of "reductive explanation" -- which might privilege atomic or perspectival or evental/processual accounts -- it also ends up being a kind of under- or overmining, reductive approach in itself, in that everything encountered is converted to, and explained and treated as, its preferred category: object.
At least, that's how it appears to me this morning, pre-coffee. :-) In this case, I don't say this to reject OOO outright; I have learned from, and sometimes been pleasantly challenged by, my engagement with these thinkers so far. And I like and appreciate Harman's beginning steps towards articulating a kind of methodological pluralism. But the object-only (or -first) language feels a bit cramping to me, by itself. Which is why I've been reflecting on ways to do some kind of Frankensteinian or Borg-like grafting of OOO, or rather a few OOO ideas, onto the Edwards/AQAL beast.... :-)
Have either of you looked at Bonnie's map of various philosophical streams, which she linked in her blog post here? In it, she places Wilber and Speculative Realism/OOO at opposite ends of the spectrum from each other, and she also critiques a paradoxical approach as a sort of dead end outgrowth of late Mental stage thinking (without much to tell us about the world itself). Not surprisingly, process onto-logics is the biggest, highest reaching flower in this garden...
I'm not sure if my saying anything here will be helpful, but just in case: As I read Ed, while he uses the word "in-between," I don't think he's positing an actual third "in-between" category, but trying to find a way of languaging a post-categorical approach of holding both polarities at once (an "in-between" or "both/and" posture, not a new thing). Ed likes to coin new hybrid terms, which -- as I read them -- are intended to suggest or point to, not so much a new or "third thing," but a nondual understanding (of the polar terms) -- akin, perhaps, to your neologistic reference to the post-categorical self-apprehension as "part-whole self-thing."
With that said, I do agree, as I said in my post above, that OOO does appear to be a theory of everything, with its universal application and extension of its object terminology.
Yes, I understand the notion of the asymmetry of duals; we've discussed that many times. Bortoft's counterfeit whole is counterfeit because it treats whole as symmetric, or as on an equal relation with, part (i.e., countable alongside other parts). Bryant suggests that set theory up-ends or reverses this asymmetry, showing that the parts are "greater than" the whole, but it seems to me that it only does this for whole conceived as super-container, as we were discussing on the other thread.
I won't try to speak further for Ed's view, since I think he can speak for himself better than I ever could.
I hope you two, if you are interested, can talk your disagreements through.
I can't see that happening at this point. Like the Advaita video to which I referred, it seems a hopeless endeavor due to religious fanaticism.
To the extent that object-oriented philosophy attempts to explain everything in terms of its object notion -- everything in existence is a withdrawing object -- isn't it also a kind of theory of everything?... OOO does appear to be a theory of everything, with its universal application and extension of its object terminology.... I've been reflecting on ways to do some kind of Frankensteinian or Borg-like grafting of OOO, or rather a few OOO ideas, onto the Edwards/AQAL beast.
I'm relatively new to OOO so cannot speak for it. What I do know of it, mostly through Bryant, I will reiterate that while it is an ontological theory it seems to me more like a theory for anything rather than of everything. I linked to a prior discussion and I don't have anything to add to that. OOO's focus is objects but objects are not everything, as it leaves a lot of room for an “environment,” which is always more complex than any object and in which the latter is embedded. Granted he doesn't say much about this and here I prefer to shift to the pragmatists and the cogscipragos. So I too take what I learn from OOO and am grafting from various sources including Edwards and Wilber.
Besides, withdrawal itself as excess is open-ended so is not an “object.” I've spent a lot of time discussing that so will let that previous work speak for itself. Bryant also says a lot about it and in so doing also leaves his ontology open to more than objects, but I'll let his work speak for that and it does so quite well.
Have either of you looked at Bonnie's map... Not surprisingly, process onto-logics is the biggest, highest reaching flower in this garden...
I saw that and have gone round and round with her before and don't see that much has changed, so I find no need to repeat myself in that loop. I guess we must all choose our engagements, or pick our battles as the metaphor goes.
Theurj: What I do know of it, mostly through Bryant, I will reiterate that while it is an ontological theory it seems to me more like a theory for anything rather than of everything. I linked to a prior discussion and I don't have anything to add to that.
Do you mean the TOE and TFA thread? If so, yes, I recall that thread, but I would still be interested in hearing your thoughts on specifically why you see OOO as more TFA than TOE. Here's a bit of expansion on what I was saying yesterday (using some quotes from the TOE and TFA thread)....
Edwards: When the AQAL model is only ever presented in terms of a TOE application it becomes very easy for it to be reified into a type of spatial-temporal map of reality. To borrow a distinction pointed out by Clifford Geertz (1993), the AQAL model is too often seen as a structural model of reality, rather than as an interpretive model for reality....
I believe we can read his comments here as contrasting ontological or epistemological approaches. Is OOO primarily a structural model of reality (ontological) or an interpretive model for organizing perceptions of reality (epistemological)?
Edwards: Holons are too often seen as constitutive categorical entities from which reality is composed. They are assumed to be somehow inhabiting and evolving within the Four Quadrants developmental space rather than as points of reference identified through the use of the AQAL model itself.
It seems Edwards' primarily epistemological reading of holons, and his rejection of their conception as (quasi-)objective whatsits that populate the cosmos, is at odds with OOO's approach, which does focus a great deal on the structure of reality itself: as composed of objects within objects within objects, and groupings or collectives of objects, which are described as particular units or entities which exhibit various domestic/endo- and foreign/exo- patterns of relation, and which can be organized into various types of objects.
It also seems Edwards' position here would likely be critiqued as correlationist by OOO thinkers. What do you think?
Edwards: A holon is an arbitrary reference point [my emphasis] that helps us to read the unfolding nature of holarchic reality through applying the tenets of Integral theory. It is arbitrary because the delineation of any coherent and useful boundary (where coherency and utility are defined through the balancing of objective, subjective, scientific and cultural knowledge) will result in [my emphasis] a holon. Any thing, process, experience, system, entity, event, or any combination thereof, can be seen as holonic, as long as a boundary can be drawn around that "any thing" within an holarchic context.
I suspect this also would likely be rejected as correlationist, since it defines holon as an arbitrarily delineated appearance-for (i.e., as appearing or ex-isting relative to the perceiver's frame) rather than attempting to describe what things are objectively in themselves (i.e., objects). I think we could read OOO in this Edwardsian way -- OOO gives us a particular and potentially illuminating interpretive lens which allows us to organize and encounter reality in a particular way, the practice of which may have certain useful theoretical, social, and personal consequences -- but I'm less certain that Edwards' view would fly in the OOOniverse.
Theurj: Holons aren't an apriori part of the structure of the universe apart from the brain that perceives them, just as math is not. Holons and math are not involutionary but evolutionary givens firmly grounded in the body and its interactions with the environment.
Are you comfortable saying this about "objects" as well?
While normally I'd thrive on trying to answer such questions I'm about to leave my current job, pack my meager belongings and move to NM. I'm stressed out with all that and need my energies for that focus, so might take a hiatus until things settle before I try to tackle such high-energy philosophy.