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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Re-reading a section of Latours chapter in TST reminded me of a connection I made between prepositions as linguistic extensions of image schema, and thus a candidate for a metalinguistic organizing principle. Latour said:
"At the beginning of this presentation, I cited the sentences where Souriau was linking his project with that of James on prepositions as things we experience directly even though the first kind of empiricism has always denied it. ‘Here we would be in a world where the or rather, or the because of, the for, and above all the and then, and thus, would be true existences'" (331).
Latour or Souriau don't relate prepositions to image schema; I did that. But we can see the implication of prepositions via image schema "as things we experience directly."
Also in that section Latour goes into how philosophers get attached to a particular mode when in fact there are multiple modes. Latour noted that there must be a way to "enchain" the modes, i.e., integrate them. He suggests "variation itself.... difference differs even more differently" (331). I referenced this earlier in the thread as differance, and how later in the thread this is the withdrawn endo-relational structure of our known pluriverse.
Balder: This might be relevant for your paper in progress?
Sean shared with me a recent interview with Latour that was just published. I wish I had known about this when I was working on my paper! (I will also link to it on the thread I start for Latour’s work.) I’m posting it here because of your recent comments about differance.
JT: So your innovation was to apply such a perspective to the sciences: more mediation as a good thing, along with this ‘hiatus’, which calls for constant renewal and remaking. And of course this is how you described networks in general, long before AIME: in Irreductions (in Latour, 1988), in particular, you emphasized that this constant process of maintaining, and adding, is not artificial: this is what being is. In AIME, you call this ‘l’être-en-tant-qu’autre’, but for a long time, this is how you’ve said all sorts of things – every sort of thing – exists. And you’ve connected it to Deleuze, and Péguy, and what Philippe Montebello (2003) calls ‘l’autre métaphysique’. But you also argue that this is not particular to the mode of existence you call ‘Networks’, or even to another mode, ‘Reproduction’ – the term you use in AIME to describe the work of collective entities, or societies as Whitehead (1976) calls them, in persisting in being.
BL: No, no! All of them are like that, not just networks. But it was only later that I realized that networks are just one of the modes, a meta-mode – a mode that is very good at multiplying connections, but not for listening to differences. The differences had to be found instead in the mode that I am calling the ‘prepositions’, or the antecedents. In this sense, what I’m doing is very much akin to Austin: a sort of ontological form of speech act theory. If you could ontologize speech act theory, you would get the concept of modes of existence.
On page 68 of the thread, I noted that Latour’s plurimodal approach struck me as a version, or the beginnings of a version, of IMP. In what he says below, I think he confirms this (Sean notes he touches on the Big 3 here), but I think it’s interesting that he’s also questioning the modern notion of domains (on which Integral also relies) and is arguing for more of a braiding or a knotting of modes…
JT: So how is what you’re proposing – defining what belongs to science, what belongs to religion, what belongs to fiction or art – how is that different first of all, from the work of ‘purifying’ objects from subjects that was so important in your negative definition of the Moderns? And also, if it is different, how do you go about doing it?
BL: Well, that’s exactly what the inquiry is all about. All situations are mixed, that’s what you realize every time. In every situation, if you begin to do a network analysis, you will realize that, to the surprise of the people trying to make a purified domain. Babbage, for instance, is simultaneously a theologian, a politician, a scientist, etc. That’s why we have never been modern, because we have never lived in these separated domains. But the fact that there are heterogeneous connections doesn’t mean that you cannot ‘color’ these connections. There are little bits and pieces, which give a different tone. So if you had said to Babbage with his machine: ‘You have written a beautiful novel about what the future of calculation will be’, he would be angry, even though he was indeed doing this, in a way; and Babbage’s anger would have to be registered. But not by saying ‘You’re just doing science’, which he obviously is not, but by saying, ‘OK, in this cosmogram that you are building, there are a few segments that had to be attached by a connectedness that is, for lack of a better term, scientific. Why? And why are you at the same time fighting for your rights by writing a patent, etc. If it’s all about science, why do you care?’ Ah: He has a few lines here that seem to be interested in transporting a connectedness and a type of association which we would call legal. The portrayal of associations is important, and has to be done every time, because it’s always heterogeneous and multimodal. But you don’t hear the harmonics between all these modes if you describe all of them by saying, well, Babbage is simultaneously doing science, politics, religion. No! He’s not simultaneously doing science, politics, religion, because the association is much more refined than that, and it’s very important that this part of a network and this little bit of association be scientific, and not legal, and not fictional, etc. So, that’s why I compare it to going from a black and white to a color vision of an activity. It’s good to see in color. I mean, you could have black and white, but it would be a pity because there are colors which count a lot for these guys and they want to be able to distinguish them: this is red and not yellow. And if we are not able to register these contrasts, our accounts of what happened to these networks will be limited.
… And if you don’t have a vocabulary to describe and register those colors, those differences, people will fall back on the old language of domains, and say, ‘let’s not mix science with politics, etc., etc.’ Science studies has been very good at unfolding the diversity of the associations, but as long as there is not a successor to the notion of domains, we’re stuck, because people will always fall back on this language. And they’re right: because what they want is a way to register, to hear these distinctions, which are there... It’s like having a nose with a very great ability to distinguish small differences and being speechless when you have to describe them. So my outlandish interpretation is to say that the Moderns have been able to detect all these values, but they have never actually spent any time determining what they were. And they enshrined them into domains: this is science, this is religion, this is law. Luhmann made his systems out of these things, in an argument that does not hold up to a single inquiry – but that was because he didn’t have another vocabulary. So they’re right, those who say there is something missing when you say there are no domains: there are, but the question is how do you register them. Science in its official version is very badly registered with this subject/object dichotomy. Nothing is justifiable and solidly established with the subject/object divide, because reference chains have nothing to do with that. That’s where the diplomacy comes in.
JT: You present AIME as preparing for a new form of diplomacy. This is where you’re going to take someone who is a lawyer, or an artist, or a scientist, and take a project of theirs, or an object of theirs, and apply your definition to it, and ask them, for the scientist for example: ‘Does this work for you? Do you agree that this element, this strand, is the color of science, but this strand, is also economic, and this strand is technical, and this strand is aesthetic? And what exactly is crucial about this one strand which defines you, the science strand, which to you is the fundamental definition?’ I’d like to hear more about how you plan to operationalize the next part of the project.
Theurj: Balder: This might be relevant for your paper in progress?
Yes, I think so. I like your ideas on this. Are you thinking of this as something that could be referenced in the preposition section of the paper, or elsewhere?
Yes, in the section dealing with Latour. Let's continue Latour discussion in his new thread.
Cool, will do. Thanks for starting the Latour thread! I have just been waiting for the time to do so...
This weekend, I picked up the book, Force of Imagination, by John Sallis, as something of possible relevance to my paper. The book is really beautifully written and evocative so far. I'm commenting on it here because Sallis addresses, in the opening pages, a topic we explored a bit earlier on this thread -- namely, the status of thought or the imaginal in relation to "withdrawn objects." In particular, he discusses the capacity of objects to hide from perception, to withdraw; this is their "secret strength." In relation this, he takes up the common phenomenological depiction of the image as 'flat,' merely frontal, wholly intentional, without any such hidden depth or secret strength, without the capacity to exceed perception and to surprise as ordinary objects can surprise. I remember we talked about this some in relation to Bryant's depiction of thought as an element of an object's endostructure rather than an object itself (which withdraws). I don't know much about Sallis' argument yet, but he critiques such a notion as an impoverished account of imagination and seems to argue for the capacity of the imaginal to similarly withdraw, exceed, surprise. He also notes that it is via the imagination that we come to appreciate withdrawal at all... More on this later, once I've read more. (And I may start an independent thread on his work).
Not only does the gravity of mass change the direction of light but now it also changes its speed!
Bryant's last 2 blog posts remind me of prior discussions with kela on privileged access. In this one:
"Phenomenology is constitutively unable to think the real of the body.... While phenomenology can certainly describe how we experience our bodies, it never manages to get at the fundamental opacity of body and affect. The body, as real, is not something given to consciousness or lived experience. Put differently, our bodies are something we never experience. At most, we experience the effects of our bodies, never our bodies as such."
And this one:
"We never have direct experience of our bodies and the causes of our affective states.... You can’t experience the organic causes of anything taking place in your body and never have. Organic causes can only be understood in the natural attitude and from a third person perspective that correlates the descriptions of people with what’s chemically, and through the use of brain scans being detected in bodies. No one has ever experienced their brain.
"At best, it can give us a “pataphysics” of our bodies, never an ontological ground of embodied experience. Descriptive analysis can only take us so far and certainly not give us reliable knowledge of causes where our bodies are concerned because our real bodies are withdrawn from us. If we uncritically accept the descriptions of phenomenological approaches and semiological approaches, we risk misconstruing all sorts of issues. Oddly only a third person approach coupled with first person descriptions can give us any insight into the real body."
Which of course reminds me of the Thompson thread, which focus is the combination of 1st and 3rd person methods. I still think though Thompson relies too much on phenomenology, as if it can provide accurate access to the real, even though he said this:
"But whereas the Advaitin takes this minimal selfhood to be a transcendental witness consciousness, I think itʼs open to us to maintain that it is my embodied self or bodily subjectivity, or what phenomenologists would call my pre-personal lived body. In this way, I think we can remove the Advaita conception of dreamless sleep from its native metaphysical framework and graft it onto a naturalist conception of the embodied mind."
I commented later on:
I think the above de/re also handles the epistemic fallacy because what is being accessed is a tonic attention that is fully embodied and thereby limited by that embodied constraint. Such a consciousness without an object doesn't lay claim to access to the reality of All, or even access to all of our personal cognitive unconscious or collective unconscious. It's just accessing that embodied part of our natural awareness available to us by virtue of having the body and brain we do, with all its limitations.
From L&J's Philosophy in the Flesh:
"The phenomenological person, who through introspection alone can discover everything there is to know about the nature of mind and experience, is a fiction. Although we can have a theory of a vast, rapidly and automatically operating cognitive unconscious, we have no direct conscious access to its operation and therefore to most of our thought" (5).
“There is much to be said for traditional philosophical reflection and phenomenological analysis. They can makes us aware of many aspects of consciousness and, to a limited extent, can enlarge our capacities for conscious awareness. Phenomenological reflection even allows us to examine many of the background prereflective structures that lie beneath our conscious experience. But neither method can adequately explore the cognitive unconscious—the realm of thought that is completely and irrevocably inaccessible to direct conscious introspection” (12).
Bryant has a post on God and mytho-poetic thought. Therein he just cannot grok how the likes Caputo can see religion as poetic interpretation because the vast majority of folks interpret the myths literally. As much as I'm sick of the over-emphasis on levels in kennilingus, aka altitude sickness, Bryant really needs a healthy dose of developmental psychology here. And the thing is, it fits right in with his own mereology of assemblages of increasingly complex scale.