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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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 seems to me that holons are more like non-units to me, or at the very least they seem like "holographic units" which are distinguished / distinguishable from all the ordinary playing cards e.g. if the "unit" belongs wholly to the domain of CR/SR/OOO, then an "Integral" orientation which is at once post-critical, post-speculative, etc. should come alongside the idea of holon.
This seems to make sense to me. In the end, to put all my cards on the table, I not-so-secretly think that IT is indeed capable of enfolding CR/SR/OOO - particularly due to considerations of non-duality and the obvious symptom of Bryant's knotted position - but the problem is that a heck of a lot of "dealing" and dialogue needs to be done first in order to show this. I'd hate, however, to turn this into a casino or a card playing industry.
Do Tibetan Buddhist monks even gamble? I'd think the deck would be loaded in favor of CR/SR/OOO, as speculative critique packs a certain blow, makes a certain cut, etc. that may be enough to allow it to win out despite my intuition - yet another reason why I think developing a certain ethos of non-violence to be key in these higher levels... that is, if we are still concerned with holding-to-Truth at the end of the day.
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.
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?
Reference in the 2nd paragraph is to the real/false reason thread, starting with this post and several following, where I then figure out what I didn't grok in the initial post. Comparing it though to Luhmann's elements via Bryant is a new twist that has emerged from my subconscious.
This also supports thoughts as holons and/or suobjects with substance, with image schema as endo-relational decomposable elements.
theurj, I think Sallis' work can contribute significantly here. I am still making my way through The Force of Imagination, but I think the work that follows this, The Logic of Imagination, is perhaps even more pertinent. (I am reading The Force first so I can be prepared to better follow The Logic...). In both books, Sallis is interested in a type of elemental philosophy, where imagination or 'image schemas' play an elemental role (he specifically references image schemas). Although I can't say this decisively yet, I think the ideas you've expressed above (the postmetaphysical reincarnation of archetypes, image schemas as endo-relational elements of thought, etc) are quite consonant with what Sallis is doing. To get a taste of his project, I recommend checking out this review of The Logic of Imagination.
Related to Joe's recent post on differance, also recall earlier in this thread how I compared differance with endo-relations, as it is the pre-position from which oppositions arise and through which they are irreducibly entailed. Related to this here's a quote from Issues in Cognitive Linguistics (Walter de Gruyter, 1999):
"The internal structure of image schemata is basic level structure in the sense that it is analyzable but not decomposable, i.e., its elements are inseparable from each other. This is so because they pertain to basic domains, which are not characterizable relative to other domains, but only to themselves. […] For any phenomenon to have a structure, at least two contrasted elements are needed. Since every image schema possesses two such elements […] it is obvious that they have an internal structure. However, it must also be obvious that these structures are irreducible basic gestalts. There is no OUT without IN" etc. (61).
Thanks for the reference Balder. I will check it out and report.
From the Sallis review:
"One can detect residues of Sallis' entire oeuvre, perhaps the clearest attempt to articulate a 'third kind' [the chora] begun in Chorology" reminiscent of my musings on Derrida's khora. Here's more that supports it.
"What is needed is a logic that addresses the originary openings in which things first come to show themselves, a logic of schemata, spacing, and imagining.[...] Sallis identifies several schemata (spatio-temporal determinations) such as simultaneity and spatial proximity that correspond to various logical categories. In each case the key feature is the yoking together of contradictory terms in a unity that neither destroys the terms nor cancels either of them."
Chapter 5 is on Schematicism, lending more support:
"Elementals are neither things nor properties thus "the law [traditional logic] that would govern the belonging of properties to things has no bearing" (151). Instead elementals provide jointures and horizons of things, disclosing their fundamental event-like nature. Thus the elementals and imagination share a special bond, as the imagination gathers and holds together the spatio-temporal dynamics of the elementals."
The 'excess' and the 'withdrawn' are also addressed in the review, two common themes in the thread.
Yes, exactly -- I thought you would find those sections of the review resonant with a number of the themes in this thread.
Sallis makes a link between imagination and the withdrawn (which, following Percy Bysshe Shelley, he sometimes calls the "secret strength of things"). The following excerpt is from the first book, The Force of Imagination. It is from the poetic prelude to the book, in which Sallis is meditating on a poem by Shelley to lay out some of his themes.
"Imagine being there.
Imagine both sensing and sensed. Imagine them together. Enact the sensing imaginally with such force as to bring forth what would -- if it were an instance of sensing and not of imagining -- be sensed, what would be sensed while also, decisively, exceeding sense.
Let each sense share in what is wondrous and monstrous there. Yoking each to what would be sensed, double this double across the entire range of human sensibility. And beyond.
Imagine, then, being there, listening in silence as the swift mountain stream bursts and raves over the rocks. Imagine being there in the valley over whose pines, crags, and caverns the fast cloud-shadows and sunbeams sail. Imagine hearing the chainless winds as they come to drink the odors of the giant brood of pines and to hear the old and solemn harmony of their mighty swinging. Imagine then training one's eyes on the towering summit as it rises above what cannot but seem the scene of some ancient devastation, now strewn with unearthly forms of ice and rock....
The song of the mountain conveys a teaching. It is a teaching concerning the power of the earth, the secret strength of things, and the force of imagination.
When the silent and solitary earth displays its naked countenance towering into heaven,
Far, far above, piercing the infinite sky,
the silence is in a sense -- to a certain kind of sense -- broken and the solitude breached. Then the earth's remoteness and power become all the more manifest, displayed precisely there in the towering peak. The power is not just that supposed once to have lifted earth itself into the heaven, once long ago, in a past so remote that, if one asks about it,
None can reply -- all seems eternal now.
There is no more than a hint of the ancient power, a mere trace of it borne by the countenance displayed there above:
Mont Blanc yet gleams on high: -- the power is there,
The still and solemn power of many sights,
And many sounds, and much of life and death.
Its power is held in reserve, not as if it were merely potential, but in the sense of remaining withheld from view, remote from those who, nestled in the valley below, gaze up at the lofty peak. The power there above goes unseen; it is withdrawn from all the senses and, while indeed attested, yieds only to imagination. The power is there, the power of sights unseen and sounds unheard, the power of driving snow, of howling winds, of deafening thunder and the blinding flash of lightning, all withdrawn there above where none can behold them. Yet while
... none beholds them there,
all who gaze upon the lofty peak will be drawn to imagine the sights and sounds that go unseen and unheard there.
Resounding in song, the poet directs his words back to the mountain:
The secret Strength of things
..., inhabits thee!
Its power is a strength reserved, held in secret, withheld from view, in its very display of its countenance. Yet such power, more manifest than ever in the towering peak, is the secret strength that belongs to all things, their power to keep themselves in reserve, unseen, in their very display of their countenance. It is this secret strength that allows them to remain always withdrawn to some extent from the gift of heaven,that lets them be sheltered from its excess of light, that articulates their very coming to l ight. If thought would attentively follow things as they come to light, it must be governed by this articulation, by the secret strength of things:
The secret Strength of things
Which governs thought, and to the infinte dome
Of Heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!
It is of this secret strength that mountain and earth, stars and sea, the most elemental things of nature, sing. Yet the secret is told only to imagination, capable, as it is, of celebrating what goes nonetheless unseen and unheard. Indeed the secret will always have been entrusted to those imaginings that can fill with song even those things that, like earth itself, remain silent and solitary. Thus the poem concludes:
And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
If to the human mind's imaginings
Silence and solitude were vacancy?"
Following Sallis, I am thinking of a 'spin' on Speculative Realism: Imaginative or Imaginal Realism.