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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
One can also see Mark Edwards' metatheory in his Ph.D. dissertation at this link. Chapter 8.4 details the inadequacies of the AQAL model.
I'm not saying is AQAL model is without flaws, of course. Only that I'm appreciating a number of good contact points in the 20 tenets for/with the systems-influenced onticology of Bryant, for instance. More on that when I have time to do some actual writing. (And perhaps your post was in response to previous posts on meta-theory rather than my recent mention of the 20 tenets; I'm not looking at the 20 tenets, at this point, for their role in/as meta-theory, but for their relation to efforts by Bryant and Harman and others to philosophically define "objects.")
I agree that we can find useful correspondence with the 20 tenets and strange mereology. The latter though is fully immanent. It might also be transcendental as we've explored, but not transcendent in Wilber's sense. See for example footnote 26 to Excerpt A where he says:
"Are there any forms that were laid down as 'memory' in the involutionary sequence and which therefore show up as timelessly given forms that are present at the very start of evolution itself and operative at every point of evolution's unfolding? As involutionary givens, we have already postulated Eros/Agape and the morphogenetic tilt of manifestation. Are there any others?... Whitehead believed so: eternal objects, for example.... Certain physical laws described by mathematics.... A list of 20 proposed involutionary givens [tenets] can be found in chapter 2 of SES."
It might be useful to also look at Edwards' dissertation. In chapter 6 for example he notes 3 kinds of holarchies which have different topographies and dynamics: developmental, governance and ecological (131). This might not only explain the differences between Wilber and Bryant's holarchies but also how to integrate them.
In this ILR article Edwards goes into more detail on these 3 holarchical lenses, how they differ and are similar, how they can be confused, and how they can be integrated in a wider embrace. It seems kennilingus might focus more on developmental holarchies, while Bryant more on the ecological? Although the governance has to do with autopoeisis and self organization, so this could be a mix for Bryant.
In this ILR discussion with Kupers she addresses Edwards' three holarchies and comments on the ecological holarchy, noting something I've criticized in kennilingus: It
"allow[s] us to view the recursive and interdependent nature of apparent oppositions, dilemmas and paradoxes.... Therefore, I see as one main problem with the conventional AQAL scheme—though being parsimonious— that it is not complex and flexible nor specific and relational enough for approaching interrelated phenomena and events. These relational events require subsets of adequate perspectives and seeing the 'in-between.'"
Edwards thinks metatheorizing is indeed cross-paradigmatic:
"Meta-theorising moves beyond the recognition of plurality and consciously develops meta-paradigmatic positions."
Granted terms are mixed and matched with Commons' terms but what Edwards describes and enacts is an entirely novel field call metatheory. His extensive research also provides ample examples of those who have been working in the field for some time, and far exceeding (though including) kennilingus. I also like this:
"You’ll also notice that each of these categories of lenses has a particular pattern or form of expression. We have the holarchical, bipolar, cyclical, relational, standpoint and multiparadigm lens categories providing a total of 24 explanatory lenses. Investigating the relationships within and between these lenses is in itself a special branch of metatheorising. (It might be called 'The morphology of metatheory'). For example, there are various forms of confusion and conflation that exist between particular categories of lenses and I see these being committed over and over again. Holarchical lenses are often reduced to bipolar ones. Phases in the transition process lens are often confused with those of the developmental holarchy. Developmentalistis typically leave out relational lenses and post-modernists do the opposite. There are many ways in which these lens categories are conflated, confused and mixed or simply neglected. Showing that these lenses can be placed within morphological categories it might help to understand how some of these confusions can occur."
I'd be interested to see Bryant investigate Edwards and vice-versa. Especially in terms of morphology, or as Bryant calls it, topography.
And from the same link in the last post, this statement which indicates not only the window-frame metaphor used by Bryant, but that the frames humans use are inherent to a "morphological fault line in the Kosmos." Here he gets at some of the realist ontology of Bryant. Though for humans their particular windows are inherent to their particular embodiment, but windows per se can be more broadly construed to any object via onticology. Perhaps Windows 10.1?
"These lens categories tap into some basic relationships that exist in the human experience of reality. Consequently, they show up within every attempt to understand, explain, or get some handle on the complexity that exists within and around us and between us and through us. I see them as coming out of some kind of morphological fault line in the Kosmos, windows that we create and which we are drawn to look through, proclivities that we innately possess as sentient beings who act and imagine."
Latour also has an interesting chapter in The Speculative Turn which deals with a variant of IMP -- what he calls plurimodality. Philosophy here consists in building a spectrograph, a means of 'registering' various modes of being and 'enchaining' them in various assemblages (again, none of which -- a common theme -- can be taken as a final One or Totality). The generative pivots for this approach are prepositions as concrete realities -- a philosophy of the preposition. This reminds me, of course, of Nancy's emphasis on being as "with" -- but it also puts me in mind of my old language experiment, where in my primarily verbal grammar prepositions leapt forward with new force and import.
I've yet to read this chapter, but Edwards does much more than Bryant in terms of the study and integration of the various windows. And understanding the specifics of what each window sees and hides. Whereas the insights of Bryant's onticology add something not found in Edwards. It would be a fruitful relationship.
Check out this game (which my son was playing)!
Working on research for my OOO/Integral paper (and also possible ITC presentation proposal), I've started looking at knot theory for possible hybrid-model inspirations. This bit on hyperbolic invariants is suggestive for thinking about (and maybe graphically representing) a postmetaphysical-enactive understanding (or perhaps an alien phenomenology a la Bogost/Bryant).
Inside view from a Borromean ring: