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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
It also occurs to me that academia confers legitimacy to texts, and without that blessing many invaluable texts are relegated to the margins at best. Ironically it is academia that has provided the environment for Bryant's text to be disseminated so widely. Granted if he weren't an academic his blog would still have some popularity merely via blogsphere dissemination. But something tells me that it would not generate anywhere near the hits it gets without being within academia, with all the audience that automatically commands. I.e., it has significant gravity (gravitas).
Yes, I definitely hope to get IPS some more exposure. (And, ummm, I need to be writing here more!).
Speaking of open access publishing, I came across the following text in my research for my current academic paper on an Integral grammar and appreciate how the author has differentiated and integrated the person-perspectives and the pronouns in his Triadic Quadratic Perspectivism: Awareness-in-Action, by Daniel O'Connor.
I skimmed the appendix on semiotics, but it is like kennilingus based on a metaphysics of presence. I.e., states of phenomenoloigcal consciousness and the I-I. He's relating this to the seed word AUM, and how all semiotics thereafter originate in this metaphysical base. This is not in line with your embodied cognitive linguistic approach to grammar.
I haven't read that appendix yet. I expect emphasizing the embodied cognitive linguistic approach -- instead of the Idealistic one emphasized by Lexi Neale in his own extension of AQAL, or possibly the similar approach by O'Connor -- I might be running against the current in Integral thought, but that won't stop me. :-) But regarding O'Connor's re-formulation of the quadrants and the pronouns/perspectives, I think he does make a good case that Wilber's approach is incomplete and has some inconsistencies (as Edwards also has argued). If you want to see what he's saying, just skim the section in part 1, starting on pg. 16, that deals with Wilber's model. Or you could skim the first appendix, on the Tri/Quad fallacy, but it is more dense and technical than the discussion in Part 1. His basic point is this: The quadrants (singular and plural of interior and exterior) should not be conflated with the pronouns. Any single pronoun or person-perspective is fully quadratic, when you consider its full grammatical forms: (I, Me, We, Us representing all four quads). As I recall, Edwards makes a similar argument. O'Connor has a good graphical representation, differentiating and then better integrating quads, perspectives, and pronouns.
Also recall our previous discussion here about Rosch, co-author with Varela and Thompson in The Embodied Mind. I used Rosch liberally as source for discussions on prototype theory, but she took a turn to Buddhist metaphysical realism (in L&J's definition) aka shentong, whereas L&J promote what they call embodied realism. Seems the same split is playing out above, an ancient debate in Buddhism I've documented time and again (like here and in the linked thread above, and in the OOO thread).
Speaking of the above debate, I've criticized Morton's shentong views in the thread. Just checking his blog, it appears he'll have two books out in 2013: Realist Magic and Hyperobjects. There's a lot of buzz on his blog about the latter and I'm looking forward to it. I'm guessing though that his shentong is going to metaphysicalize hyperobjects in ways I've already explored above. For example, from this post:
"Hyperobjects are nonlocal: they do not manifest at a specific time and place but rather are stretched out in such a way as to challenge the idea that a thing must occupy a specific place and time."
In the same post he notes HOs cannot be perceived directly and that they create their own time. Hence they do exist in a specific time and space, albeit self-generated, but the fact that we cannot perceive it is not evidence of its non-locality, only of our inability to locate it in our limited space-time frame of reference. His first claim to non-locality smacks of a shentong prejudice that implies some kind of transcendent realm and/or consciousness as foundation for the whole shebang. Granted my thesis is not evidenced by this comments in the referenced post on HOs but garnered from my criticisms in the thread on how he mixes his shentong with his OOO.
For example, see the extended discussion on hyperobjects that began on p. 81 and ran for several pages, nothing how Bryant and Morton differ on this. And my relating Morton's shentong to his view on HOs. E.g., the following post from p. 84:
“Morton and Bryant's views don't merge completely. So one question is this: Do hyperobjects not have boundaries that define their autonomy like smaller objects? Granted they are non-local in comparison to smaller, more local appearing objects. And yet examples like climate, class or capitalism still have their own boundaries. They still have a part-whole mereology, even if that mereology is strange, where the boundary defines the whole object within its endo-structure. So why is there an exception for Morton, with no boundary here?”
Doing some research tonight, I came across a curious little blog called The Chinese Challenge. The video at the top of most entries is odd and hard to follow, but the articles are interesting. A sort of Derrida-like (and Derrida- and Merleau-Ponty-influenced) de/reconstruction of Chinese writing and philosophy, from what I can gather from a few of the entries. This will deserve more exploration when I have the time.
As much as I appreciate the recent work by Damasio and others on the neuroscience of meditation (in the posts above this one in the states thread), they are all focused on human self-consciousness. Well, at least for the narrative self. Other animals share perhaps at least a proto-self, or certainly a mind as Damasio defines it. But how far down does it go? While he/they aren't anthropocentric they still seem correlationist at least in terms of what we might call biological sentience.
So Bryant's post on agency takes this outside biology, even outside corporeal entities. But he still describes it as having self-direction. There are degrees of agency but the key characteristic is some form of self-direction. A rock doesn't have it but a bacteria does. And so do incorporeal machines like corporations and governments. While he didn't specifically say it in the post, it seems the difference is between autopoieitic and allopoieitic machines, since he did say a rock doesn't have it because it requires an outside force to move it. So do all autopoieitic machines require sentience, or mind, since they have some sort of self-direction?
Another interesting twist is that an allopoieitic machine can be a subject, even if it isn't an agent. This goes back to his work in TDOO, that any machine will respond and translate based on its structure. But he is defining it differently in this post and apparently in his new book. Check it out to see. It is getting curiouser and curiouser.
A minor issue, but I've been thinking about the relation between Wilber's notion of subsistence and OOO's withdrawal. Wilber typically uses subsistence to discuss the pre-human existence (subsistence) of particular humanly enacted objects (such as atoms, or bacteria, or whatever). But his notion could be extended, consistently, to apply to all objects for all other objects: when an animal discovers a new thing, and learns to incorporate it into its world as a regular 'referent,' this new thing isn't created whole-cloth, but can be said to have, in some sense, subsisted prior to the animal's discovery of it. But the way Wilber uses subsist, it is still closely related to perspectival enactment: so, what he is saying appears to be that the potential for the enactment of this type of being was latently present, or implicit, prior to the actual enactment. Would subsist be more of an epistemological term than an ontological one? (When Wilber uses ex-ist, he is also using this in an epistemological way: ex-ist means to 'stand out for' or 'appear to/for').
I think Wilber would likely say that he does not want to fully differentiate epistemology and ontology, seeing them now as inseparable (like spacetime rather than space and time). But granting this, I think Morrison's point, which I discussed in my translineage paper, is an important one here: ontology and epistemology, as -ologies, are both part of the real field of the epistemic. So, yes, they are inseparable, but they are both epistemic manifestations, distinct from the ontic. In transcendentally deducing the nature of objects, I think OOO is trying to speak to / from the ontic.
So, withdrawal seems to refer more to the ontic nature of substance, which 'plays out' on the level of the epistemic (and can explain or 'hold' subsistence, without being an identical term to subsistence).
What do you think?
Yes, I'd agree but I came at it from a different angle, the metaphysics of presence, of which one expression is the tenet of a direct experience with the causal. I argued that this was in fact one pole of the epistemic fallacy here. So in that way Wilber's epistem-ontology distinction is still caught in the epistemic realm.
Wilber lays out his ontology as subsistence via the causal in this post. I commented thereafter that it superficially appears to be akin to Bryant's virtual withdrawn in distinction with local manifestations. But as you say it really doesn't get at the ontic because Wilber's causal realm is completely withdrawn from ever entering the manifest realm, always subsisting it and ne'er the twain shall meet. In many posts and threads I've continually criticized this as duality, which is one of the philosophical definitions of the metaphysics of presence. Whereas for Bryant the ontic withdrawn, while never completely entering the manifest, is still immanent and constructed nonetheless.