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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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 it* strikes me that perhaps Lakoff's embodied basic categories are akin to Bryant's endo-structural organization. Both provide the frame through which a suobject interprets or translates its environment or perturbations therefrom. While each suobject's basic categories are unique by some infinitesimal amount they are still mostly similar (99.9%?) to other bodies in the same type, like humans. Lakoff also makes clear that our basic categories do not exist in the outer world, that they are unique to humanity in its translative capacity, that they do not provide a 1-to-1 representation of the world as it is. Granted it's close enough to respond to the world and not only survive but thrive. But still, like endo-relations they are inside, not outside.
However the outside still gets inside in both systems, or at least affects the inside, for we must engage successfully in exo-relations to survive. And it is here where our inside-outside boundary becomes more porous than insular. With extended cognition, something not explored by Lakoff that I can see, it appears that even our basic categories might indeed exist in the environment. Or something very much like them that then becomes translated through our biological neurostructure. Here Bryant is instructive in that any suobject has this self-defining endo-structure which translates its environment, so any suobject has its own version of basic categories.
So I'm suggesting that the basic categories themselves are an inherent structure to the material world, not in some Platonic ideal type but as inherent to embodiment of any kind by the very nature of a difference that makes a difference. Ideas then are not involuted from above but generated and evolved from below out of embodied basic structures. Granted it appears ideas require a more complex biological base to materialize, but perhaps this will also be so with machines some day. The point however is that once ideas are generated they too become embodied suobstances with a life of their own which get communicated via signs and infect others of like mind. Again this will be translated uniquely to the degree of maybe 0.1%, but 99.9% of that idea will remain intact across the individual boundary.
I'm struggling to communicate this but I think I got the general idea out before it evaporated. I'll clarify more as it articulates further in my own extended mind as further broadcasts from Sirius are translated therein .
* The suobstantive idea in itself, that is.
I did a Google search on "basic categories" and "endo-relations" and the only results were 2 posts in this thread. One is the recent entry directly above, the other is this one and a few following, where I was on to a similar notion. Seems I'm the only one on the internet exploring this relation. Imagine that, an original enquiry without precedent. Seems I really am picking up signals from Sirius. Or something.
Bryant has a couple new blog entries on relationism and the question of "which differences make a difference" which are interesting and worth engaging here. He makes a better critique of relationism and an absolutistic position on "internal relatedness" than I've come across previously (in these OOO circles). He doesn't directly say this, but I think what he is saying is generally compatible with my own sense of this, which is that not all differences, and not all relations, are created equal. In my view, we can say an entity is indeed constitutionally (genealogically) related / relational, if by that we mean to include historical or "generative" relations (such as when we say that, in being formed in part by the products of stars -- the various chemical elements -- that we are related to stars; or in having beta-carotene molecules in our eyes, we are related to some of the first cellular beings that learned how to catch photons; and so on, out to many kosmic elements), but this does not mean that an entity's substance is constituted (i.e., wholly determined and exhausted) by any present temporal relations. A being cannot really "cut" its historical/genealogical relations to the kosmos; it is composed of elements which have emerged out of that deep time context, and that is not something that can be renounced (even if you begin to replace organic parts with synthetic parts, since those parts too have emerged out of the same kosmic evolutionary processes). But, due to the autopoietic or allopoietic closure of an object (in its organization), it is indeed relatively independent of present relations, such that we can say that a being's substance is not wholly determined and exhausted by its present-time relations to other objects or systems or forces (though its integrity can be critically affected by the removal of those systems or forces, such as the removal of the atmosphere or from access to food). I'm thinking (vaguely) here of light cones, as if every object is its own "cone" of time. Perhaps we can say it is not separable from that deep-time cone, but it is separable from, or relatively independent of, other deep-time cones. Just thinking aloud (TSK plays with this "cone" idea, talking about cones of time and cones of knowledge; TSK also suggests that objects and events are radically alongside one another, never fully touching -- to the point of "pure identification" or "pure relation" to all other things)...
I’ve cited this article before but it’s relevant here as well: “We are live creatures” by Johnson and Roher (in Body, Language and Mind). A couple of excerpts with commentary to follow:
The patterns of human-environment interaction are described as “image schemas that ground meaning in our embodiment and yet are not internal representations of an external reality. This leads to an account of an emergent rationality that is embodied, social and creative” (21) (my bolding).
“The fundamental assumption of the Pragmatists’ naturalistic approach is that everything we attribute to ‘mind’…has emerged (and continues to develop) as part of a process in which an organism seeks to survive, grow and flourish within different kinds of situations” (21-2).
More from the article later. For now note that image schemas are not merely internal translations of an outside event like endo-relations: they are just as much outside the organism as within it. It seems endo-relations can be loosely called a suobject’s ‘mind’ in that it is what translates the outside stimulus into its own terms. But with image schemas (IS) there is no strictly inside translating an outside. ISs are in the specific and particular inner-outer assemblage or coupling.
In my recent JITP paper, I appealed to an essay by Gendlin, Implicit Precision, in my discussion of generative (en)closures. In particular, I appealed to his discussion of body-constitution -- his discussion of which is relevant, I think, to my recent post just above, as well as to your own present inquiry into mind, image schemas, endo-relations, etc. I'm just sharing the link now and will comment more later.
(Initial thought is that something like this process view, which describes the generation of objects -- body-constitution -- can contribute to the articulation of forms of relationality in OOO, and can be held alongside and used in conjunction with OOO's 'unit operations'... contributing to Bryant's increasing efforts to include process accounts in his machine-oriented view).
I'm wondering if Bryant's view is a sort of representationalism. Granted the most criticized version of it that J&R discuss is the kind that sees a disembodied conceptualization representing an outside object. Bryant at least asserts that this translation process is strictly material or embodied. And he too rails against the representationalism inherent to metaphysics. Still, we have this inside translating an outside and representing it to itself via sensuous objects. Whereas image schemas are not such a thing, residing in the extended space-time of the inner-outer assemblage.
I'm also recalling one of Bryant's posts that claimed that formal reasoning arose with writing. (Can't find it off-hand.) This not only allowed a much broader transmission vehicle for ideas but was the very vehicle for reason or abstract thinking itself. And such thinking is indeed a social construct. Yes, it requires as part of its assemblage human minds with brains developed enough to add on this capacity via this new vehicle. But again, the ideas shared through writing were created by the assemblage, not internal elements locked within certain more highly evolved humanoid endo-structure.
On p. 34 of WALC they discuss mirror neurons, which facilitate and activate the same image schemata in one humanoid observing another doing some activity. That is, the first one doesn't have to do the same act but nonetheless its system is activated by a sort of sympathetic resonance. The same is true of thoughts and ideas transmitted through writing. Given humans share a highly similar structure thoughts and feelings are shared and activated from without. And given the similarities of our human embodiment those thoughts and feelings are much more alike than they are different, so that we can say for practical purposes that the thoughts or feelings so received are virtually as they were transmitted from outside.
"Recent research on primates suggest that it is the distinctively human socio-cultural environment...that facilitates the cross-modal cognitive capabilities underlying language and abstract reason.... We tend to off-load much of our cognition onto the environment we create.... We make cognitive artifacts to help us engage in complex cognitive actions and...we distribute cognition among members of a social organization" (45).
"Having challenged the 'inner mind' versus 'outer body' split, we must not then proceed to replace it with another equally problematic dichotomy -- that between the 'individual' and the 'social.' We must recognize the cognition does not take place only within the brain and body of a single individual, but instead is partly constituted by social interactions and relations" (43).
Yes, Gendlin's article addresses many of my recent concerns. But damn that guy's writing style is a jargon-laden circle. Reminds me of the Lingam in that way. Still, he gets at the organism-environment behavioral patterns I'm calling image schemas. And that these patterns, like with J&R, arise within a field of behavioral possibilities, i.e., how an organism can make use of its environment. I appreciate his distinguishing the different kinds of 'environment,' and I thought his third definition might approach Bryant's endo-relations. But it did not. In fact the different definitions got a bit muddled for me, given that by the time he got there we were in full circle-jerk jargon.*
* I like that expression, "circle-jerk jargon." Has a lyrical quality. I'm going to have to re-use that.
He does use a lot of jargon, but isn't this criticism a little ironic, coming from you, since you have created a "glossary" thread to keep track of your growing list of newly-created words? Perhaps you see in him a "You+" that you would like to avoid...?