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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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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p. 3: The shift away from "passive, mental shaping" to "instrumental shaping" is akin to Bryant's objects enacting their actualities in exo-relations with other objects. And which does not need reference a human object aka 'mental' shaping, thereby avoiding an epistemic fallacy. Granted some kind of observation is needed, that is, an experimental (experiential) context within which an object interacts with another object, thus creating an instrumental shaping.

p. 4: The ontological is not ontotheological in that a priories are not transcendent but constructed (built), and they can and do change depending on "mode of activity," much akin to Bryant's not only changing exo- but endo-relations, the 'virtual' side of an object.

pp. 10-11: This is related to my prior criticisms of set theory and the MHC, which presupposes a universal de-contextualization. Hence Commons even relates the MHC to ideal Platonic forms. Bitbol explains that we must remove this 'constraint' and contextualize through transcendental deductions. He then goes into a incomprehensible (to me) discussion of how set theory etc. is still useful if limited, and how it can be organized into some kind of meta-math, but it was over my head. If any math-heads can elucidate please do.

p. 18: All of this math and deduction though can only describe an object under very limited and specific experimental conditions, akin to Bryant's exo-relations. But the object's virtual substance cannot be accounted for, let alone its actuality in toto.

p. 22: This reiterates Bryant's (and Morton's) notions that we cannot get outside our limited 'awareness' to some totality or assholon, always requiring some sort of context within which to relate or respond. Granted we can speculate about transcendental conditions but it leaves a lot open, not only in the future but in the past and present as well, given virtuality.

Also recall Bryant's blog post here. While refuting transcendent ethical principles he nonetheless asserts an ethics specific to particular 'regimes of attraction.' He also cites Bennett's use of Dewey on this (recall Putnum's use of Dewey on pluralists a priories). Bryant though realizes this could be cause to call relativism. He says just because there are no absolute values doesn't mean we cannot say what are better or worse values based on health/pathology and preservation/destruction. He admits that this might be sneaking a transcendent in the back door.

I'd argue that it is not transcendent but immanent because it is based on material embodiment, which comes before abstract principles. It is only when abstract principles are divorced from their embodiment that we get the kind of abstract, ideal and ontotheological universals. So one issue is, can we have such universal principles that are embodied and thus not ontotheologial? Might it be something like Bitbol's meta-math that provides a quasi-universal to organize set theories? Or like some kind of integral meta-theory that does the same for theories? This might also be a sort of embodied transcendental, in that the body (and its health and survival) is the necessary presupposition for abstract universals?

I am reminded of a discussion in Polydoxy which seems relevant: the notion of Spirit as prosthesis

theurj said:

Dial, yes it's sort of like 'enlightenment' etc. as an unattainable goal, and useful in that regard. What differentiates it from enlightenment though is that the latter is set in a metaphysical context, replete with gurus and the whole shebang of concomitant traditional practices not conducive to democracy, equal rights, etc. (See Joseph's recent video post.) The psychoanalytic 'cure' eliminates a lot of that, unless of course one practices 'transpersonal' psychology, which smuggles in a lot of the traditional baggage, including metaphysically interpreted states of consciousness. There are significant practical, political implications and outcomes to one's chosen 'unconditional,' as Bryant is constantly harping on.

I have yet to listen to the Boon recording. Note though that Morton, a shentong Buddhist, is trying to reconcile that Buddhism with his OOO. There may be many points of reconciliation but recall some of my earlier comments that some of the metaphysical aspects of shentong seem not so compatible, and how Morton himself must go through some rather disfiguring yogic contortions to try to make it so. For example, see p. 3 of the Batchelor thread and following.

Betcher, quoting Bruns: "God does not generate love in us, but rather, our loving generates God" (72). Which is consistent with God as a conceptual prosthesis, one generated by our embodiment and connected to the abstract universal principle. But a principle that is not a source from some ideal universal that works its way down into embodiment. Which is what I was talking about in my last post. This is how we can have a universal that is not transcendent but transcendental.

Spirit as prosthesis is specifically used as a metaphor, one embodied in the artifact of a 'crutch.' I prefer the more general metaphor of 'tool' though, as this expands our embodied, embedded and enactive interactions with/in the contexts and hyperobjects in which we participate. In this sense then concepts are indeed useful, expanding tools as long as we keep the transcendental deduction's origin down below* instead of up above. Or as Betcher says, "openness to the intercorporeal field" (72).

* They got one thing in common, the fire down below.

Morton's 5/25/12 blog post is a quote from one of his shentong teachers:

"Imagine you were living in a house on the top of a mountain which was itself at the top of the whole world. Suddenly the entire structure of the house, which limited your view, just falls away and you can see all around you, both outside and inside. But there is not any 'thing' to see; what happens has no ordinary reference whatsoever; it is total, complete, unprecedented, perfect seeing. This is how it feels when Rigpa is directly revealed." --Sogyal Rinpoche

Again we see the 'house' as obstruction, with rigpa as all of those transcendent adjectives.

This blog post by Michael of Archive Fire blog might shed some light on Morton's shentong Buddhism, but in an unexpected way. Therein he is discussing the difference between absolute and relative conceptions of the withdrawn. He places Harman and Morton in the absolute withdrawn camp, with he and Bryant in the relative camp. Where it gets interesting is that the absolute camp is conflating the epistemic with the ontological. He contends that the epistemic is based on abstract conceptions, whereas our ontological relation to the world is based on direct, yet limited, bodily (structural) interaction.

He further develops these ideas in this post. Focusing on Harman he notes that his withdrawn is based in large part on Husserl's phenomenology of intentionality with Heidegger's cognitive-epistemic apprehension of Being which "serves to con-fuse perspective with proximity and qualitative experience with causal indirection." My translation, given the recent posts above, is that a sort of abstract (epistemic) universal, divorced from bodily interaction, is imposing upon the body a transcendent uniformity (conformity).

I made a similar case with Morton's shentong Buddhist view, which asserts a direct contact with reality (phenomenology) but via a transcendent state of consciousness that sees bodily ('house) construction as obstruction. Which ironically, as I've stated countless times before, is itself a result of an abstract, Cartesian, dualistic, formal operation (the house). It's similar to Husserl's intentional phenomenology with the same confusions. In other words, an epistemic confusion with the ontological. Hence we have Morton's shentong going along with Harman on this absolute withdrawal business.

For those unfamiliar with our previous discussions, see the Batchelor thread on Buddhism, which contains links to prior threads and sources as well. For postmetaphysical approaches to states of consciousness more generally, see this thread, also with links to previous threads and sources.

For example, from p. 1 of the states thread a base state was described, tonic attention. It is a "condition for" contents in consciousness, akin to the embodied transcendental discussed above. And it can be honed and developed through meditative discipline. I've made the case that it requires the 'witness' of abstract formal thought for this development. The latter allows us to observe the contents of consciousness and slowly, methodically, let them unwind back to this base state.

However the flip side of formal operations is that it is metaphysical in that it is stuck in binary thought. So while this 'tool' is necessary to transform the raw baseline state into a meditative state, the same tool interprets it as an abstract, transcendent universal as source of the universe, as well as conflating consciousness per se into that same source. But the research in the referenced thread shows the source is this early brain state awareness, which is then expanded upon by emergent processes, where it becomes more than what it originally was.

To me this was also Gebser's mistake. He was right in that there is this 'ever-present' awareness of source, and that we must return to it in a sense to get beyond binary deficient rationality. And that in so doing an awareness would emerge that would integrate the previous state-stages. And yet one can see he still maintains a sort of deficient rationality in interpreting this Source metaphysically as universal source rather than an immanent, contextual and historical specific regime of attraction particular to human beings. He did not have the benefit of such neuroscientific research or the pomo de/re movement, let alone onticology, that give us these developments. Integral-aperspectival yes, but not as he imagined. universal source rather than an immanent, contextual and historical specific regime of attraction particular to human beings.

Just to try and get this clear, you believe it's impossible to be both universal source and immanent, contextual and historically specific to human beings? That is to say, impossible that each only exists 'through' the other? Or is that exactly what you are saying?

The transcendental (not transcendent) condition for abstract human universals is the body and brain. In that sense only is the human body-brain a 'universal' source, but only related to humans. So no, the abstract, disembodied universal (aka ideal forms) are not the source that then involves into bodies. However, another point I made above is that abstract universals* can and do have some downward influence on our body-brains, and actually modify them, within limitation. This is what 'tools' can do, even that tool God. "You're such a tool, God."

* But again, even these are not some kind of unchanging essence, given their immanent origin. These too change over time and place. Even (especially) God (light, life, the universe and everything).

However, another point I made above is that abstract universals* can and do have some downward influence on our body-brains, and actually modify them, within limitation.

That's one half of the equation in my mind. In an immanent, ontologically flat world made up of objects all the way up and all the way down, body-brains - objects different in 'degree' but not in kind, from all other objects -  also influence abstract universals. Or, is it rather, that the  object that is emergent from body-brain-abstract universals taken together, conditions all within as constituent objects. In this conception abstract universals and body-brains are just two of the many promiscuous data points within a field of creatively flexing, pulsing, contracting and expanding, materia.

More to the point in my mind, is how does one express the relationship between mind-body-universals - or class thereof - when the very currency of the world is immanence - aka embodiment, aka assemblages. To my mind it's really not possible by means other than realized embodied expression. That is to say, it can't be propositional but must be expressive, rhetorical, performative, resonant.

You're clearly on a bit of a roll here, so please continue. I just wanted to register some doubt from the peanut gallery. You're going to have to post a link to some of that salsa, to really satisfy me, I'm afraid.

I'm not sure I understand you. For example: "You're going to have to post a link to some of that salsa, to really satisfy me, I'm afraid." Salsa?

Even if we accept a flat ontology of just objects as Bryant defines them (suobjects), that still leaves open not only different emergent levels or degrees of emergence but specific differences in the way a singular object emerges. So for example the object of abstract universals are particular to the way the human body-mind emerges (granting even differences within particular individual human body-minds). I.e., a hurricane or climate change do not appear to generate abstract universals in this way.

Another way of looking at it is through the integral theory of Mark Edwards. Although he uses holons as interpretative lenses we can adapt the holon concept to fit the object concept, yet still see how a human object interprets other objects through its own human regime of attraction. Edwards uses different holarchical (emergent) lenses: developmental, ecological, governance. This shows how different objects might express different regimes of attraction. For example in this interview:  "Ecological holarchies (which Koestler was more interested in) use the criteria of maturation/growth and size/spatial inclusion respectively to define their levels." So our hyperobject of climate change, for example, might be 'bigger" in space-time but probably doesn't "think" about abstract universals as does a human. And in this interview he shows how using an ecological holarchy defuses the kind of anthropocentrism (epistemic fallacy) inherent to a merely human developmental holarchy, which can happen with their abstract universals.

You also ask about the relationship of different objects and Edwards again offers a more nuanced approach that perhaps from which Bryant can learn. Recall Bryant, using Harman, thinks the relationships between objects are themselves objects. Edwards too has mediating holons that define this "space between" objects. (Also see this.) And here I think we get other sources and nuances not used in Bryant, like Vygotsky and the CHAT theories. Granted his mediating holons focus on the space between human objects and other human and non-human objects, hence there is a lot of talk of human artifacts to accomplish this, like language. And here Bryant uses nuances not in Edwards, so a cross-fertilization between them would be useful. I do think though that 'language' can be, and is, construed more broadly with Edwards so that it can be non- to non-human interaction.

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