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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
I may be missing a subtle point that has caught Bryant's attention, but in Adam Robbert's explication of Chapter 3 of AIME, I do not detect the 'object-erasing correlationism' that Bryant criticizes. It appears Latour is associating the object-in-itself with the (autopoietic) mode of reproduction, of self-maintenance. What do you think?
I note also that the theme of this chapter (mediation) has strong resonance with Layman Pascal's metaphysics of adjacency, Morrison's interface philosophy, and aspects of Sloterdijk as well (all of which I would identify as prepositional approaches).
Reading Robbert's translation reminds me of course of image schema (IS) and/or basic categories, which arise 'in the middle of things.' Recall this post on how they relate and integrate the metaphysical extremes of the general and particular. This relates to Latour's 'gaps' or 'discontinuities' between the map and the territory, IS being closer to the Real and prepositions being closer to the map (Symbolic) and its interpretation (Imaginary). The IS and prepositions are thus the mediators that allow access to the Real and the other domains respectively, for they are both in and of this gap or bridge. No mediation, no access as he says.
Robbert also deals with Latour's so-called lack of the thing-itself according to Bryant in that he is accounting for how a suobject maintains itself via another gap. The mode of Repetition sounds a lot like Derrida's iteration of always already and not yet. Reference as a mode then applies to the other gap discussed above. Together they allow for autonomous maintenance and communication (translation) with another(s). It seems IS bridge the first gap and prepositions the second?
Also recall my criticism of Bryant on his too strict division between in/outside with the withdrawn and the actual. And how I came to see that IS-prepositions can maintain this divide between the autonomy of a suobject and its communions because its boundary not only separates but connects a la mutual entailment instead of dichotomous and metaphysical dualism or representationalism. And of which I even accused Bryant in its more subtle form.
Yes, definitely some interesting affinities as well with your reflections on IS, beginning 'in the middle,' etc. I like your suggestions about the possible relations and roles of ISs and prepositions but need to reflect on this more. Chapter 2 of AIME, which is being discussed here, introduces "prepositions" both as a mode of existence [PRE] and also, it seems, as 'condition for existence.' I have only read the introduction and chapter one, but I have the full text on order and will comment more on it when I receive it.
(Concerning the [REP] mode, I believe Latour identifies the mode formally as "Reproduction," but relates such ongoing 'production' immediately to the concepts of repetition or iteration. Apparently there is a subsequent chapter which introduces the mode of 'habit' [HAB], which Latour identifies with 'black boxes' and ties to individuation; more on that when I get there.)
Also recall this post and following, where Knox recontextualized archetypes via image schema. And I provided an example of how the Lingam sees archetypes as metaphysical whereas IS are actual prototypes more akin to Jung. This was followed by the neuroscientific explanation for nondual attention, that pre-rational state that seems to dissolve our separate self sense but only dissolves our rational self. There is still pre-rational ipseity involved, i.e., autonomy and communion, via our friends the basic categories of IS, providing the embodied and mediated access to this nondual state.
Hmm, Museque says that perhaps there is a meditative praxis to be had invoking prepositions to activate primordial IS and thus induce nondual states. The prepositions then could bridge back up to egoic rationality and thus integrate such states. This would be the methodology or practice part (how) in addition to the phenomenological (who) and neurological (what) aspects.
Nice. You may recall that on the recent "Sophia Speaks" thread, Neelesh mentioned practicing meditating on several of the grammatical elements at once and finding it very fruitful for him. I had also planned, with Mark Schmanko, to introduce some meditations on the grammatical elements in a workshop we were putting together. So ... yes! Very interested in this.
Doh! Sometimes I'm Homer Simpson. It occurs to me all of the above are already part of my ILP. I did a brief explanation here (and following posts) how I applied tai chi practice as meditative method to my philosophical method, and which of course both create phenomenological states of awareness. Now my current practice is partner dance, which is all about connection, leverage, compression, space-time and so on. And it most definitely induces meditative states. And the same philosophical principles apply as previously stated in the links and per this forum using the IS in my postmeta theory of differance. I overlook the obvious sometimes since I'm so embedded therein.
From Morton's Modern Magic, chapter 3:
“A majority of post-postmodern thinking is a regression, not a progression. It represents a desperate attempt to construct a 'new and improved' version of the good old Nature that Derrida and others erased. This time it’s autopoietic, processual, lava-lampy. I call it lava lamp materialism. […] So if we follow the attitude this thinking implies, it turns out that there is one entity in the Universe that isn’t entangled: consciousness. And I, the lava-lamp materialist, can judge it, from outside of itself … Lava-lamp materialism keeps returning to the square one of Cartesian dualism. And in the end, it’s just a form of atomism.”
What do you think of this statement? I agree with part of it, but I don't think an autopoietic understanding implies a lava lamp universe with an unentangled, outside-standing consciousness (the dualistic "philosophy of consciousness" or "mirror of nature" model). The concept of withdrawal can be quite intimately related to the notion of autopoiesis, as I believe Bryant has shown.
As you know I'm a Bryant fan so agree. I'm not sure but I don't think he's directing this at Bryant. From the surrounding context it appears he directs this more at the process/relational folks but didn't name them.
My focus in the quote was to the kennilingus philosophy of consciousness (per se), ironically contained in Integral Spirituality, where with the other side of his mouth he criticizes the philosophy of consciousness.
Morton's Hyperobjects is out, with the intro readable here.
I am more than a bit disappointed that he's chosen to not publish open source again. Seems his popularity has induced a regression back to the capitalist meme. I suppose it's not that surprising since as I've criticized his notion of hyperobjects earlier in the thread* as consistent with the sort of dualistic metaphysics inherent to American capitalism and formal operations, all that talk of dialetheia notwithstanding.
* Like here as but one example.
Also see this post where I accuse Priest with all his fancy contradictory math-logic of the same thing.