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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Bryant's post relates to my last statements in the Obama reelection thread. For those that can take multiple perspectives like Obama it doesn't serve the public good to compromise with those with such limited views on poverty like the above, for example. Yes, we can try to understand from where such a limited perspective arises and compassionately sympathize with that person. We might try to enlarge the other's perspective to see what has heretofore been invisible. But the solution to poverty in not in compromising with that sort of perspective as it is, or the policies that are derived therefrom. We can see what policies are promoted from the "makers versus takers" perspective by just looking at the Ryan budget plan. Plans like that need to be defeated, not negotiated.
Interviewer: Is this deterioration of the world house or the all-embracing sphere into foam bubble an image of entropy?
S: On the contrary, in modernity far more complexity is established than was possible under the classical notion of unity. We must not forget that metaphysics is the realm of strong simplifications, and thus has a consolatory effect. The structure of foam is incompatible with a monospherical mindset; the whole can no longer be portrayed as a large round whole. Let me use an anecdote to indicate the immense change: In his memoirs, Albert Speer recollects that the designs for the giganto-manic new Reich Chancellery in Berlin originally envisaged a swastika crowning the dome, which was to be over 290 meters high. One summer’s day in 1939 Hitler then said: “The crown of the largest building in the world must be the eagle on the globe.” This remark should be taken as attesting to the brutalist restoration of imperial monocentric thinking—as if Hitler had for a moment intervened in the agony of classical metaphysics. By contrast, around 1920, in his reflections on the fundamentals of theoretical biology [Theoretische Biologie], Jakob von Uexküll had already affirmed: “It was an error to believe that the human world constituted a shared stage for all living creatures. Each living creature has its own special stage that is just as real as the special stage the humans have. . . . This insight offers us a completely new view of the universe as something that does not consist of a single soap bubble which we have blown up so large as to go well beyond our horizons and assume infinite proportions, and is instead made up of millions of closely demarcated soap bubbles that overlap and intersect everywhere.”
Recall the image I used to use for our IPS header:
I discovered this at the P2P Foundation blog, a video on Wikispeed, which manufactures an automobile using object-oriented programming. It's not directly related to OOO but perhaps somehow?
Slot's ideas are akin to Bryant's, and contra the epistemic fallacy of anthropocentric consciousness per se (CPS) the Lingam uses as the unified assholon of everything. Humans have an experience of unity consciousness that they assume is the foundation of the universe. Hence CPS is the ultimate measure of altitude in any kosmic address per kennilingus, not just for human consciousness. That kind of anthro-mono-multiperspectivalism is a incipient shadow of the much more comprehensive agendas of the bubblelicious.
Even accepting that human brain anatomy and consciousness is the most complex structure known, and partially accepting developmental psychological research into stages of enaction like the MHC, the key point of contention remains to be how such stages are formulated, as well as just what (meta)paradigms enact those stages. I've argued that the likes of integral pluralists like Bryant (and others) are indeed indicative of those mereological stages, with the likes of kenninligus and the MHC itself being just more complex formal operations due to the very way mereology itself is approached. See this now classic thread for one pre-OOO discussion on the topic, as well as the entirety of this now voluminous and highly informative thread.
I'm reminded on the following from Protevi in The Speculative Turn on mereology, which is also akin to my latest tangent in the Rifkin thread:
"DG operationalize the notion of affect as the ability of bodies to form ‘assemblages’ with other bodies, that is, to form emergent functional structures that conserve the heterogeneity of their components. For DG, then, ‘affect’ is physiological, psychological, and machinic: it imbricates the social and the somatic in forming a ‘body politic’ which feels its power or potential to act increasing or decreasing as it encounters other bodies politic and forms assemblages with them (or indeed fails to do so). In this notion of assemblage as emergent functional structure, that is, a dispersed system that enables focused behaviour at the system level as it constrains component action, we find parallels with novel positions in contemporary cognitive science (the ‘embodied’ or ‘extended’ mind schools), which maintain that cognition operates in loops among brain, body, and environment. In noting this parallel, we should note that DG emphasizes the affective dimension of assemblages, while the embodied-embedded school focuses on cognition" (394).
Recall I've complained about the kind of set theory used by Commons et al to justify their MHC. And by using a strange mereology we get a different paradigmatic enactment. So I found this wiki article on mereology interesting. A few excerpts:
"Stanisław Leśniewski rejected set theory, a stance that has come to be known as nominalism. For a long time, nearly all philosophers and mathematicians avoided mereology, seeing it as tantamount to a rejection of set theory.... Much early work on mereology was motivated by a suspicion that set theory was ontologically suspect.... Once it became clear that mereology is not tantamount to a denial of set theory, mereology became largely accepted as a useful tool for formal ontology and metaphysics."
And the following from the SEP entry:
"All the theories examined above...appear to assume that parthood is a perfectly determinate relation: given any two entities x and y, there is always an objective, determinate fact of the matter as to whether or not x is part of y. However, in some cases this seems problematic. Perhaps there is no room for indeterminacy in the idealized mereology of space and time as such; but when it comes to the mereology of ordinary spatio-temporal particulars (for instance) the picture looks different. Think of objects such as clouds, forests, heaps of sand. What exactly are their constitutive parts? What are the mereological boundaries of a desert, a river, a mountain? Some stuff is positively part of Mount Everest and some stuff is positively not part of it, but there is borderline stuff whose mereological relationship to Everest seems indeterminate. Even living organisms may, on closer look, give rise to indeterminacy issues.... And what goes for material bodies goes for everything. What are the mereological boundaries of a neighborhood, a college, a social organization? What about the boundaries of events such as promenades, concerts, wars? What about the extensions of such ordinary concepts as baldness, wisdom, personhood? These worries are of no little import, and it might be thought that some of the principles discussed above would have to be revisited accordingly—not because of their ontological import but because of their classical, bivalent presuppositions."
Realist Magic, coming soon.
I got a kick out of Layman Pascal's Christmas Tree for this year.
Cthulhu will devour his soul too, despite the entreaty. He'll get a chuckle out of it nonetheless.
"Recall that at the start of his introduction Latour gave us an account of an encounter, between the industrialist and the climate scientist; legislating between claims was the central issue. But also recall that this legislation will not be accomplished by an appeal to language games or speech acts (though it might include these). Rather, Latour now argues, this legislation will be attempted through metaphysics and ontological pluralism. To put it differently, it is being over language that is at stake for Latour. Here we might ask: Isn’t the appeal to metaphysics — to ontotheology, more precisely — what caused so much trouble in the past, before the advent of critical philosophy and the glorious decapitation of speculative philosophy? Wasn’t confusing beings with a single Being — White Men, God, Selfish Genes, Atoms, whatever — the whole problem with the violent nature of metaphysics to begin with? Maybe, but this is not what Latour means by 'metaphysics.'”