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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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... 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.

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Are you American by any chance Joe? It seems you cannot see beyond its borders. Have you seen that the northern European countries are the happiest (and here) and the most democratic, and both related to their democratic socialism. Indeed, this form of socialism is the next step toward a kind of communism, but not the kind pilloried by US regressives.

Have you read Christian Arnsperger? He's an integrally-informed economist that was all the rage for a time with the kennilinguists, his essay "integral economics" appearing at I did a thread on him here, which also has a link to his website, Eco-Transitions. I've also referenced him extensively in the progressive economics thread. He is also of the opinion that several transition steps are necessary to move out of capitalism, but move out of it we must. Following are a few samples of his comments from the above threads:

From this post:

"It might—to take a hard and sensitive issue—show us that along certain lines of moral or psychodynamic development, Soviet Russia in the 1960s, or Cuba in the 1970s, was clearly superior to the United States of the 2000s in the sense that, for instance, Soviets and Cubans had developed a more communal attitude in some sectors of social life (though by no means in all…) and also that communist principles implied that basic social provisions, lodging, health care, etc., were to be provided freely to all citizens, regardless of their ability to purchase these things on markets—something the less evolved US mentality makes unthinkable.”

From this post:

"Along some lines of moral or psychodynamic development, Sweden in the early 1980s was clearly superior to the United States of the late 2000s. For principles implied that  basic social provisions, housing, health care, etc., were to be provided freely to all citizens, regardless of their ability to purchase these things on markets—something the less evolved U.S. mentality makes unthinkable” (4).

I'd add that applies to Sweden today as well, from the looks of their happy democratic socialism.

From this post:

"I propose the implementation of three kinds of ethos. First, an ethics of willful simplicity, a return towards a much more frugal conviviality ... The second ethos: a radical democratization of our institutions, including our economic institutions, proceeding to the democratization of companies ... And third: an ethos of profound equalitarianism, going so far as 'a universal allocation,' that is, an unconditional base income paid to all citizens."

From this post:

"The general idea is that we must recreate a critical conviviality. Each person must personally conquer his autonomy; each person must do the work of de-conditioning himself; perform a self-critique of his own complicity with the system. That occurs through an anchoring in the locality and in power-sharing, in an ethos that I call neither communist nor communitarian, but rather a 'communalist' ethos that leads to willful simplicity and radical democratization that result in a relocalization of the economy."

See the referenced links and his blog for much more. Perhaps we can see why his bromance with the Lingam was short-lived, since he is not a conscious capitalist.

I'd also suggest that Rifkin is making this transition happen as well and further suggest his latest book The Third Industrial Revolution for the details, discussed in this IPS thread.


Thank you for sharing this.  I'm not against socialism, and in some ways I see it's inevitability, but I just can't see a healthy form of socialism emerging until a much more significant portion of the population moves from Amber & Orange to Green and Teal. 

Capitalism is an enormous collective complex, and depotentizing it is going to take time, energy or both.  As I wrote earlier, in the USA at least, the myth of the individual hero and the consequential worship of celebrity may have to reach their logical extremes and burn out before the center of gravity shifts enough to bring in these transitional phases.  This could mean another great recession or depression or some global catastrophe.

My greatest concern is for this transitional period.  There's no guarantee that Capitalism is going to be immediately replaced by socialism.  The result could also be a form of corporate feudalism with a tiny wealthy class possessing most of the wealth and power and the rest subsisting at a minimal level while being fed a diet of collective complexes to keep them pacified and distracted.

We can see the elements of this already:

Dream: Your vote counts.

Reality:  Elections that don't make any difference because all "choices" are either superficial flavors of the same doctrine OR if someone different does get into office, their efforts are nullified by intrenched processes and procedures which are under the control of corporate interests.

Dream:  The Dream of individual success and accomplishment (you too can make it!) while being fed continuous images of celebrity and "winners" on such shows as "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," and "America's Got Talent," "The Voice," various reality and game shows, etc...

Reality:  The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class keeps shrinking in the largest transfer of wealth in history.

Once the middle class has been decimated and just a relative few have the vast majority of the money, the rich can simply shift their assets into protected investments while continuing to promote conditions resulting in the  devaluation of the paper money.  After seeing their savings and purchasing power become worthless, at some point the common people will be screaming to be shifted over to some new kind of currency.   Putting the wage earners on a new kind of currency or compensation paradigm would then put them into a sandbox where a new ethos could be introduced under titles such as "simplicity" and "radical democratization."

In other words, what we could end up with could be a faux democracy and a faux socialism.   In this scenario, we would only have democracy and socialism inside of some given "sandbox," where the parameters of that sandbox would be determined by a post-capitalist ruling class (a new aristocracy or philosopher kings).


I agree with your concerns, and that this is going to take time, probably a century or two. Except that healthy green/teal is already manifesting in the social democracies of northern Europe, and they will lead by example since they are winning the most happy and democratic awards. And at least Germany is leading the way by committing to implementing Rifkin's 3rd industrial revolution. Check out the references in that thread for the progress already made. Rifkin also says to watch China, who are also getting with the program. If the rest of the world get behind this the US will inevitably join in.

And yes, they will try to fit it into their capitalist 'sandbox.' But let's face it, the US and its system are in serious decline and others like those mentioned will rise to take over eventually. And/or the US masses will rise up and demand it, the beginning signs already seen in the Wisconsin mass demonstrations and the Occupy movement. That will just grow more intense.I wouldn't be surprised if this led to revolution instead of just peaceful transition, but I don't want to incite it lest my data be mined and I end up in Gitmo or worse.

This latest posting from Bryant is pretty good!

...Just as there were debates between the various rationalists as we can see in the case of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz who vehemently disagreed with one another, there are all sorts of different versions of OOO.  The sole criteria for being an object-oriented ontologist lies in holding that the universe is composed of units.  However, different object-oriented ontologists theorize those units differently.  Some argue that units are completely withdrawn from all relations (Harman).  Others argue that units only exist in relation to one another (Whitehead, Bennett).  Some argue that units have a fixed and withdrawn essence (Harman, Morton).  Others argue that units are processes and events and that they only exist and “have” an identity through continuing these operations or processes (me, Whitehead, Deleuze).  Some argue that units are characterized by absolute actuality (Harman, Whitehead), others argue that every unit is split between potentiality, power, or capacity on the one hand, and actuality on the other hand (me, Deleuze, Bhaskar, DeLanda, Aristotle, etc).  I could go on, but you get the idea.  There isn’t one OOO, so there isn’t going to be an “OOO take” on the subject....

Consequently, in writing about OOO and the subject, I can only speak for myself.  I think the first thing to get is that for OOO, the term “object” is not something opposed to a subject.  The language here is misleading, which is why some of us try to use terms other than “object”, such as “unit”, “machine”, “actual occasion”, “actant”, and so on.

So how about using the word "holon" as well?

Also, the way Bryant describes it, the "Lacanian Subject" sounds a lot like a complex.

Bryant is my personal favorite of the OOO crowd, despite my occasional disagreements. My term for the machine is suobject (SWAB-ject).

We've also considered using holon earlier in this thread. But holons are by definition always part/wholes. And when we discussed elements of an endo-structure per Bryant they are not substances and/or part/wholes. Which opens another line of inquiry that I'm still working on in my subconscious, how to correlate such elements in the endo-structure with basic structures which are included but transcended instead of transcended and replaced like transitional structures. As Balder suggested back there, this would require different kinds of holons, but holon would not fit if elements are as described.

In my recent paper, I argued for the OOO-ian 'object' as a more basic or general term than holon, since object can emcompass (and object-oriented principles can be applied) not only to holons but to artifacts and other 'things' that escape the holon definition.  Layman, in his feedback, disagreed with this, but I am still sticking with it for now.

As for elements ... I believe I mentioned that, in one of the books I am reading -- Sallis' Force of Imagination --, Sallis describes how imaginal elements have a withdrawn side as much as mountains and stones do.  I need to return to that to see how much of what he is saying is relevant to the OOO discussion of elements...


theurj said:

We've also considered using holon earlier in this thread. But holons are by definition always part/wholes. And when we discussed elements of an endo-structure per Bryant they are not substances and/or part/wholes. Which opens another line of inquiry that I'm still working on in my subconscious, how to correlate such elements in the endo-structure with basic structures which are included but transcended instead of transcended and replaced like transitional structures. As Balder suggested back there, this would require different kinds of holons, but holon would not fit if elements are as described.

Salty Dave, as I indicated with my "like" on Facebook, I quite enjoyed this blog entry.  I confess to not being able to follow it fully, not being familiar with a number of your sources and references, but I relate well to the wanderer and wilderness themes -- and do believe, here at IPS, that a number of us indeed are attempting to wander that still-uncharted wilderness zone between IT and CR/SR/OOO...

inthesaltmine said:

For me, of course, the object is like the alchemical "salt-point" within the body, like a conceptual salt crystal whose structure is seen as though on a molecular, vibratory level. I'd like to believe we are all operating somewhere in-between IT and CR/SR/OOO, saying roughly the same things albeit in our own personal languages.

See here:

I also think IT is capable of enfolding CR/SR/OOO -- that, in fact, it already is more encompassing in the scope of its concern and the reach of its vision.  But that is not to say that IT out-guns CR/SR/OOO in all fields (to use the warlike, Wyatt Earpy-ish language just for fun).  It seems likely to me that extended exposure to and engagement with CR/SR/OOO will likely result in IT's growth and refinement (and possibly reformulation, in some areas). 

It seems fair, from one perspective, to call a holon a non-unit.  On the other hand, when you consider how Fuller conceives of 'unit' (as already first a multiplicity); or how Harman conceives of objects infinitely enfolding other objects like nested dolls; or how Nancy's being singular plural posits the plurisingularity of all units, which I've argued elsewhere is akin to Wilber's tetra-enaction; or how Wilber AQAL-ly upgrades Whitehead's atomicity (the many become one and are increased by one); then there may not be such a gap between 'unit' and 'holon.'

"Can you provide a link to that page in this thread where this was discussed?"

It starts on p. 71 and goes on for a few pages.

"From reading these posts, it looks like the term 'element' is referring to  the functional arrangement of a holon's internals."

Partly. Seems also that elements for human holons are thoughts, as communications are the elements for social holons. At least according to Luhmann and Varela, and how Bryant uses them. That adds another twist. Both Balder and I question that thoughts are elements and not holons or substances, which discussion ensued from the initial posts.

Recall this post in another thread, linking to another thread, where I brought up image schema. Also recall my reference to Nunez article “What is mathematics” earlier in this thread.  Nunez notes something of interest discussed in this thread, elements in an endo-structure that are not holons because they are not decomposable. He said: “The spatial relations in a given language decompose into conceptual primitives (image schemas) that appear to be universal” (10). Image schemas are decomposable primitives, the bottom ‘turtle’ of embodiment that do not go on in infinite regress. Granted they are not ‘thoughts’ proper like the decomposable elements of Luhmann or Bryant but are thought’s elements! 

Also recall from this thread that image schemas, when viewed in any given hierarchy, are in the middle. Unlike hierarchies which have a fundamental smallest thing and/or a fundamental largest thing, the actual fundamental thing is smack dab in the middle. So this turns the typical Aristotelian or Platonic hierarchy (and kennlinguist holarchy) not upside down but inside out. Try to image a graphic depiction of that sort of holarchy! One not nested set inside another, but where the inside becomes the outside ad infinitum? Remember this gif?

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

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