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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Yes, I believe I brought up that essay a few pages ago in this thread (and then dropped the ball). From your description above, and from what I recall of what I read, I do believe Latour is saying that. His idea appears similar to the "multiple object" concept that Esbjorn-Hargens has adopted, where we conceive more of a series of overlapping assemblages than a wholly closed-off substance.
Yes, in this post. Perhaps I can help you pick up the fumble and we can both run with it now? Since you're including Latour in your next paper, yes?
Yes, good idea. I'll go back and look at that essay.
In the second mode, the thing, he says something interesting about thought akin to what I've said above. But the concepts are getting a bit thick and deep, so not sure how much akin it might be. Quoting Souriau:
"Let us take note that [thought] cannot be conceived as the product or result of the activity of a psychic being, itself conceived in a thingy fashion distinct from the assemblage of the thing....[this thought] is purely and simply liaison and communication.... In the final analysis, it is above all systematic cohesion, liaison, which is here essential and constitutive for the role of thought" (319-20).
I'm still making my way through Latour's essay. One (somewhat tangential) thought that occurs to me is that, if Integral Theory gives us a philosophy of pronouns, and folks like Nancy and Latour or Souriau give us philosophies of prepositions (Nancy's "with," or Souriau's modes), then we might begin to think that a truly "integral" approach would find ways to integrate philosophies appropriate to all the major parts of speech: OOO for nouns, perhaps, and process philosophy for verbs...
I also came up this IPE post culled from earlier in this thread. The Lingam succinctly and well states the mechanism of agency-in-communion, what I'm getting at here. Although it doesn't address the extended mind thesis, at least not directly. More later.
Finishing Latour's chapter in TST I am left unsatisfied as to what exactly constitutes a "second-order" integration of the plural modes. I get that his spectograph is akin to a kennilingual psychograph, taking into account the various lines, or in this case, modes. But with both Latour (at least in this chapter) and kennilingus, we must certainly do more than just compare and allow for each to have its own domain enactments. Granted kennilingus uses not just nonexclusion but unfoldment (and enfoldment) and enactment (see excerpt B) in his IMP. In the excerpt he says that unfoldment is one way to integrate paradigms in that some have more inclusive complexity than others, therefore are a qualitatively better paradigm overall.
But what if we take two equally infolded paradigms? They what second-order paradigm is the arbiter? Is there a holon of everything (assholon)? We know from IS that that arbiter is consciousness per se (CPS), the final arbiter of altitude in general for All. And we also know that CPS in kennlingus is interpreted-enacted through a Vedantic and Vedantic-influenced Vajrayanic metaphysical lens. But what about Latour, who doesn't buy into this kind of metaphysics. Yes, he is countenancing metaphysics in the article, even God, but I'm not getting a sense of his integration of the plural modes. Other than a metaphor about a musical composition as opposed to its elements-modes-notes.
And while I'm on Latour's independent modes, he said something on p. 331* that reminded me of our earlier discussion about the different systems in a human being suobstances in themselves requiring translation between each other.** But still, what integrates them into a systematic assemblage with its own endo-structure, as Bryant might say. And further, what integrates all systems into an inclusive frame called an integral philosophical meta-paradigm (IMP)?
Latour hints at this on 331 with "variation itself....difference differences even more differently." But aside from the music metaphor that is left hanging. Perhaps he is referencing something like differance, as I explored in this thread by comparing it to kennilingual CPS?
* Where Souriau talks of a human being composed of the independent modes of body, mind and spirit.
** P. 72: "In Luhmann's theory the 'human being' is not conceptualised as forming a systemic unity. Instead it has to be understood as a conglomerate of organic and psychic systems. The former consists of biochemical elements, the latter of thoughts. Both systems are operatively closed against each other: no system can contribute elements to the respectively other system. The systems are however structurally coupled; i.e. their respective structures are adjusted to each other in such a way as to allow mutual irritations" (9-10).
Another clue for our purposes is the discussion on p. 68 of this thread, referring to Edwards' IMP. Recall he said ( ) on the various lenses (modes):
"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" (my emphasis).
Here again, our bloody basic categories and/or image schemata (stigmata).
In trying to get a better handle on Latour I've turned to Harman's Prince of Networks. One thing that strikes me right off is that media(tors) are also actants (suobjects) with a 'mind' of their own:
"A mediator...always does new work of its own to shape the translation of forces from one point of reality to the next" (15).
I'm reminded of Edwards' mediator holons, like words. Rhetaphor indeed. Word? (Aka henna?)
At 16 Harman notes Latour is proud to be guilty of what DeLanda and Bhasksar criticize as 'actualism.' After all, it is in the 'act' that defines a actant. Or what I'm calling via Bryant the local manifestations of an actant at any given time. However this does not fall prey to Bryant's criticism that a actant is stuck with any given actualization, for per Latour this is every changing and in each new locally manifesting assemblange the actant is made anew, while still retaining its autonomy due to its irreducibility.
Oh, and Harman credits Latour as being the progenitor of OOO.
In a sense irreducibility is virtuality, for the relations in any given locally manifesting assemblage are not predetermined. Nor is an actant's identity, since it is open to the novel. This is getting at the bridge between autonomy on the one hand and extended mind in an assemblage on the other. It's not clear yet but forming as I'm linking* to this assemblage of notions.
* Or 'jacking in,' as it was called in Neuromancer.
Yes, the question of the nature of an "actant" is an important one (for its compatibility with OOO). I like the term, since it can nicely serve as a root term for "agent" in an enactive worldview. But while Harman does consider Latour a progenitor of OOO, he later argues (in PON) that Latour's actualism is insufficient, since it doesn't make a distinction between primary and secondary qualities or (a point important to Bryant, not Harman) even see a need for any hidden potency or potential. For Harman, it is important for objects to be able to exist, or to be possessed of qualities, independently of their relations (primary qualities). For both Harman and Bryant, without this extra something, then even though Latour says objects constantly change, he hasn't accounted for how (since, as they both argue, objects in a relationist framework would be exhaustively defined by present relations and would have no reason to change).
I've tried, perhaps without complete success, to argue that my Morissonian reading of the principle of irreduction allows for objects to escape this problem of being relationally exhausted and therefore inert: infinite reducibility = irreducibility, and therefore in-exhaustion.