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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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... far “down things” does OOO really go? Are these things made of some kind of substrate, some kind of unformed matter? Does “withdrawal” mean that objects are impenetrable in some non-figurative, nonhuman sense? Do objects have a spatial “inside”? Surely they might. But the principle of irreducibility must mean that this inside is radically unavailable. It's not simply a case of the right equipment passing through it, like a knife through butter. Even a knife through butter would not access the butter in all its essential butteriness. The proliferation of things that ecology talks about--from trees to nuclear power--do not compromise a holistic Nature. Nor yet are they comprised of some intrinsic, essential stuff. To dispatch Matter, we must explore the most rigorous and testable theory of physical Matter we know: quantum theory.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


This radical finitude includes a strange irreducible openness.

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Here's a snip of Bryant's 4/26/12 post called "What is a world?":

"Tim seems to conceive world as a container that entities are in. For me, by contrast, the world is anything but a container. Ultimately there are no containers, there are just relations between entities. And as a consequence, in the framework of my ontology, a world is nothing but a network of relations between structurally coupled entities. These relations take work to be maintained (they always threaten to fall apart; and this can be a good thing) and they take time to happen and be forged. They aren’t given. For this reason, worlds can both grow through new entities coming to be related and worlds can decay and disappear as a result of relations and interactions breaking down, entities disappearing and so on. Worlds are ecologies, with the caveat that ecologies are not containers but rather entities or units interacting with one another.

"The universe (and already we’re speaking poorly with the definite article) is a pluriverse.... There isn’t one spatio-temporal matrix in which all entities co-exist,* but rather a plurality of cartographies."

* This one is especially interesting for all you bohrgs.

 "The universe (and already we’re speaking poorly with the definite article) is a pluriverse.... There isn’t one spatio-temporal matrix in which all entities co-exist,* but rather a plurality of cartographies."

Count me in for this view. I wonder, though, what sort of manifest (and unmanifest) field is it that Bryant conceives of as being all of reality. If there is not an empty container that precedes the creation of ever more objects what is the overall form of all that is? 

I would lean towards a spectrum of manifest/unmanifest from the ever more subtle at one end to the ever more 'gross' at the other. This spectrum consisting of waves of ever thickening manifestations circling out from and back into subtle emanations in the expansion/contraction of life/death. Most subtle of all, the still point of the causal at one end, while at the other/leading edge of being..? 

What is the relationship of what is to the lack of that 'what is' before it came into existence? I can only imagine it as a thickening of what is, an ongoing enriching of already existing energetic forms. A constant blooming, contracting and expanding as death and life, yet all the while growing in density, complexity and fullness. 

Does the structuring up of reality as conceived of by Levi Bryant have a vanishing point out of which all emerges? And if not, how does it all work? Where does it all come from this flat ontology of what is?

Just musing..


I suggest asking him in that blog post. He accepts comments and generally answers them. If you do and he responds, please let us know.

Bryant's post today on a materialist oriented ontology (MOO) finds kinship with Bennett's and Bogost's MOO, and further differentiates with Harman. He also calls it body oriented ontology (BOO), which sounds a lot like holon oriented (HOO). For example, "Bogost’s claim that all units are simultaneously units and systems," akin to how we've defined holons. Another interesting neologism he coins is objectiles. We also see the difference between immutable present awareness with his withdrawn virtual, as the latter is not only not present (actual) but also not immutable. And immanent, not transcendent. Transcendentally immanent, as we saw above, but there is no inclusion of the transcendent so defined as immutable (aka onto-theological).

Also, regarding his types of objects (dark, dim, bright, vogue), "these determinations are not features of objects but of the degree of relatedness enjoyed by a thing." Interesting.

And his emphasis on objects is to counter the anthropomophic epistemic fallacy we've discussed previously (as well as the metaphysics of presence above).

"My reason for beginning with things is two-fold:  First, I believe now, more than ever, we need to attend to the role that nonhuman things play in assemblages, the gravity they enact, and how they organize relations within assemblages.... Second, I begin with objects because I think that if we begin with the thesis that 'things are related,' we won’t attend to what things are related in these assemblages because we’ll already have assumed that the relations are there.  We won’t do what Michael and I have  called 'cartography.'"

Continuing the last post Bryant, contra Bennett, refutes holism, which implies "that everything is related to everything else." We saw this with Klein in this post (Batchelor thread) when she said "all things that are immutably related to it," meaning both reality and the awareness that apprehends it. He again goes into a constant theme about the political implications of such holism, and that we've also discussed ad nauseum, e.g. with inclusivism as but one example.

He also calls it body oriented ontology (BOO)...

I don't think Bryant would be reading little ol' folks like us and lifting ideas, but with his use of this term, and with his recent more direct equation of (autopoietic) operational closure with his "withdrawn" (which is exactly what I'd argued before), does make me wonder....

Oh, FYI, also, in a more recent draft of my paper (the one Wilber read), I included a quote by Bryant on the epistemic fallacy and argued that, while Wilber's statement that "everything, before it is anything else, is a perspective," could indeed be taken as an example of the epistemic fallacy, the fallacy could be avoided by simultaneously taking the metaphysical step of transcendentally deducing a holon-oriented ontology.  Wilber stopped at this section and told me he agreed with this.

Continuing the last post Bryant, contra Bennett, refutes holism, which implies "that everything is related to everything else."

I understand (and definitely appreciate) the inclusivism-suspicious critique of holism, and so I do not mean to firmly or completely resist Bryant's thoughts in this area -- I respect both his interest in relations and his care not to have everything subsumed in or under some kind of hegemonic super-object (or assholon) -- but I wonder how this idea squares with current understandings in physics, i.e. that every particle in the universe is non-locally entangled to some degree; or that the energy-value of every particle in the universe must be slightly different from all others, so when any particle changes its energy value, all other particles simultaneously must shift theirs.  To the extent that I understand this notion, there is a kind of all-relatedness involved in this, but it is an all-relation in/through all-difference.

I don't think Bryant would be reading little ol' folks like us.

I wouldn't be too sure about that. Michael of Archive Fire blog occasionally reads my blog, and he is in dialogue with Bryant. So you never know.

In a more recent draft of my paper (the one Wilber read)...

So is it approved for publication and if so, when? Will you provide us a copy to read?

But I wonder how this idea squares with current understandings in physics, i.e. that every particle in the universe is non-locally entangled to some degree...

Bryant doesn't buy this, and I'm guessing that view, though quite popular and possibly predominant, is not the only or final, absolute view. Morrison noted before that the predominant quantum view has yet to catch up with the predominant complexity view. And the latter has yet to catch up with the likes of Prigogine's complexity of dynamic systems, much akin to Bryant's notions, and he too refutes the likes of simultaneity and superliminal speed. QM might get there, some day, when it goes post-Bohr, who himself formulated his theories long before the insights of de/re pomo.

So is it approved for publication and if so, when? Will you provide us a copy to read?

I think it is mostly approved (Wilber congratulated me on it and appeared to give a thumbs up), but I still have to put in final corrections and submit it for one more review.  I can share a copy with anyone who asks for it but can't post it online for public access (at least for now).

Bryant doesn't buy this, and I'm guessing that view, though quite popular and possibly predominant, is not the only or final, absolute view. Morrison noted before that the predominant quantum view has yet to catch up with the predominant complexity view.

True, Morrison does critique Bohr and dominant quantum theoretical forumlations, but he does accept non-locality.  Non-local entanglement or 'immediate correlation' of particles is a well-demonstrated empirical finding, so this is something that can't simply be rejected on philosophical grounds alone.  Rather, I think it is necessary to come up with workable interpretations.  Even non-locality which is understood without appeals to superluminality challenges the Newtonian atomistic view that objects only interact (or can relate) locally, i.e. billiard-ball or monad bumping into contiguous billiard ball or monad.  (And there is also the other current notion about the relation-via-difference of particle energy values that I mentioned above).  Can Bryant's model explain either?

Recall the complexity and pomo thread, where DeLanda, among others, investigates the science of dynamic systems. I'll be more specific when I refresh my memory.* In general, Bryant discussed hyperobjects, which are non-local. And how local manifestations are in fact caught up in the effects of say the hyperobject of global warming. An extreme example being if the atmosphere heats too much we all die. I think he did a good job of accounting for it in the referenced post. So it's no so much the empirical finding of nonlocality but the ontotheological overlay that comes with it, up to an including a universe that has the same interrelated matrix for all.

* Now I'm recalling something DeLanda said about objects having their own temporal-spatial matrix that is not directly related to objects of different sizes, up to what Bryant would call a hyperobject. Recall the latter's statement upstream: "There isn’t one spatio-temporal matrix in which all entities co-exist."

Yes, of course, the notion that not all objects exist in one spatio-temporal matrix is exactly Einstein's thesis.  But it seems non-locality can violate, in some sense, temporal boundedness.

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