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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Liked that quote. When you think about it, it is almost self-evident that existance is based on a void, or at least an unknowable something or other. Why is it self-evident? Because the word existence means to stand out. Out from WHAT? Who could possibly know. More like standing out from a formless void than any thing. Because all the "things" are by definition standing out, existing. Existence is based on a seemingly non-existing substratum or "plus one." That is what it surely is "standing" on. There seems no other way for the mind to percieve it. Is this one of Kan't an a-priori reasons? Standing out implies a Lying in or Resting in. What is it that is way, way, way "in" there -- from which all existing things or beings stand out from? It can only be the end of thought. Nothing at all.
"The last great breakthrough was quantum physics, and it compels us to...drop the assertion of ‘fully existing external reality’ as the basic premise of materialism—on the contrary, its premise is the ‘non-All’ of reality, its ontological incompleteness.... Materialism has nothing to do with the assertion of the inert density of matter; it is, on the contrary, a position which accepts the ultimate Void of reality—the consequence of its central thesis on the primordial multiplicity is that there is no ‘substantial reality’, that the only ‘substance’ of the multiplicity is Void" (406).
Could it be that all our thinking and writing here is really just one big koan to help us go deep enough or exhaust thought enough to have a mystical insight that reveals the true base of our thought? Our thoughts are just a way to bring us "all the way home" (see my little piggy reference in response to Layman's post).
Darrell R. Moneyhon said:
It could be that "object" is not the right English word. Actually "the THAT" is probably closer but loses the alliteration of OOO. I think they are observing the fact that every Something must also be Something Else. And this is a kind of enfolding of intuition (or at least the vanishing point toward intuition) into reason. Much of the time OOOers are simply reminding us that every "thing" and every "one" should be embraced as being more-than-we-know. This is not news. However it is easy to act and think like it isn't the case. And, yes, I think they would definitely put energy in the category of l'objet.
What about Aristotle's "potential?" Potential rests in things, awaiting actualization. That doesn't seem to be overmining because it is not saying the potential is MORE real than the actual, just different and able to augment the actual via growth. It doesn't seem to be undermining either because the actual is a destination of the potential. I of course got the potential-to-actual bug from my psychology schooling. Was it Eric Ericson who emphasized actualization, as in "self-actualized" person? Or Maslow? I think Erickson. Either way, it was out there in the shared thoughts as I was in school.
My "depth-dynamic" Christianity and spirituality that I am writing about now in a three book series called Christian Potentiality, starting with Christian Running (almost completed), and followed by Christians Thinking Like Energy, and then d2c: Depth-Dynamic Christianity, all posit a depth-unfolding model of reality in which potential rests in a deeper place within each object and can under certain circumstances become actualized at the surface realm.
There is a depth dimension or vertical axis of reality. Without positing the depth dimension there would be no coherent structure or stage where the actualization would play "out." In-to-out. Inside-out. And the further deep in, the less clearly individual the object is.
At the core of self is pure potentiality or possibility. When all things are possible then actualization has maximum "room to grow." The sky's the limit when all things are possible.
Potential narrows the possible down to the probable. While at base all things might be possible, in the unfolding into the actual, some things are much more likely than other things. The sky is not the limit, the potential of a tree is more like the limit. Under the best of conditions a tree can be huge and healthy. Under the worst, small and sickly. Probably though the tree will be about medium size because conditions tend to cluster around the mean. Regression toward the mean sort of thing. Finding optimal conditions to rise above average is the goal of actualizing potential.
The level of integration of inner, deeper, potentiality and outer, surface, actualities (actual conditions, actual resources, actual physical characteristics) is the main thing that determines the degree to which potentials are actualized. Where there is optimal integration of "in" and "out," then the external resources and processes are "grown," "attracted," "facilitated." When a person is potentiality-centered he or she tends to find, develop or even attract the actualities needed to actualize the potential.
Inside out creates a dynamic growth pattern. Outside in tends to create lack of growth and even deadening. The innevitability of entropy is only true from an outside in perspective of reality. The outside simply can't hold. It has insufficient "room for growth." The actual must collapse, sooner or later.
But from an inside out view of reality, exotropy (Kevin Kelly) could win the day. Order can emerge from a bunch of little, seemingly, chaotic, things. The poverty or weakness or vulnerability or unimpressiveness of the random little things prevents their actuality from suppressing their potential. Greater levels of depth are released under depleted external actualization situations.
Or under non-grasping of actual circumstances or achievements. The humbled and the humble have more room for actualizing potential. The humbled are the audience that Christ looked to for actualizing collective potentials. The humble are the audience that a "have" like the Buddha spoke to. If you do "have" don't hold onto it too tightly. Develop a humble non-grasping.
Either the humbled or the humble depth-related circumstance leads to more of an inside out flow, because there is less out there to block the flow. If you have nothing to lose (or care free attitude toward the things that could be lost) then "creative" solutions are your only real option.
Suffering or intentional austerity tends to make you withdraw into potentiality because that's all that's left. I observed this during my marathon. As my normal, go-to, resources were gradually depleted I found odd, creative, "ways" to keep on running. I described that unfolding of divergent/odd/unexpected "ways to run" in the essay (A Whole Marathon) I submitted to Layman for the Integral Anthology project.
The Depth and Wholeness section of about wholeness shows the emerging depth-dynamic line of thought. Unlike Layman and Wilber, and more like Bohm and Hiley, I believe there is an actual depth to "deep." I take at face value the fact that the quantum properties or functions were found when looking actually, physically, deep into things. If the journey starts that way, I would be silly to assume that actual depth has nothing to do with entangled and highly interactive and interchangeble realities. Getting actual depth and actual surface integrated creates a whole greater than the sum of deep and surface. The "plus one" might actually be "plus 0" as a person centers deeper. 0 x 1 is more than 1. There is somehow, illogically, paradoxically, a "plus" factor to (what appears to be 0). But 0 is probably the gateway to -1, -2, -3, etc. as suggested by some of the Kemmit (? Not Kermit the frog!) letter arrangements: RA (where R = a negative value of -18 (did I count the letters right?) and A = a positive number value of +1. RA is stacked with deep potential or possibility that may even treat actuality as a sand castle or toy. The "other side" (the deep inside) rules when the energy is formated in that manner. MAAT = -13, -1 /+1, +20 which is stacked slightly toward the actual but fairly balanced between the mirror reality frequencies of depth and the surface frequencies.
Darrell R. Moneyhon said:
Bruce and/or theurj, Do the OOOers see a depth/vertical and surface/horizontal axes of reality? Or only one or the other? If both a vertical and horizontal dimension to reality, then how do they account for interactions between the two? Can an object participate in multiple dimensions of total reality? For that matter, to the OOOers is there any "reality" outside of each object? Or a universe of withdrawn energies or stuff? How does the OOO perspective get past solopsism? A bunch of black boxes? Only strangers? What is a relationship according to an OOOer?
If they honor the "reality" of potential being able to become actual, then it seems like their philosophy has some real functional value. A view like that allows us room for growth. And existance without growth is not standing out; it is sitting on our ass atrophying and waiting for entropy to come. Entropy has its place (antithesis, out with the old), but I can't see it as the goal of my existence. Synthesis is the song behind the words of my philosophical thought. I want to think about things that help us all grow. Otherwise it's a complete waste of time. Philosophy must be functional, a plus to human well-being. If OOO allows for growth, then I'll consider "buying" it. So far I can't quite wrap my mind around their belief, but that is just my limitation -- not theirs.
OOO advocates for a 'flat ontology,' but this does not mean lack of depth; it means a rejection of various reductionist arguments (which would grant reality to atoms or other deeper substances, for instance, and consider everything else just to be an 'appearance' of this really real stuff). Each object or holon embodies both surface and depth (suggested by Bhaskar's 'stratified ontology'); for Bhaskar, each object ultimately enfolds the potential of all other objects (which he calls the nondual co-presence of objects or beings). Bryant doesn't seem to accept this level of relatedness, although he may eventually be led in this direction, since he generally follows Whitehead in his own ontological modeling. Regarding relationship, the concept of withdrawal in OOO is related to the autopoietic model of cognition: information is not simply 'passed' intact from being to being, rather, each being's contact and experience with other beings is both mediated and generated by that being's unique structure and potential. In other words, an 'enactive' approach.
Yes, both OOO and CR say something similar: a universe of becoming and development necessitates the acknowledgement of withdrawal, of enfolded (unactualized) potential. Empiricism alone is insufficient because it deals primarily in 'constant conjunctions of events' and tends to ignore hidden depth-mechanisms.
Darrell R. Moneyhon said:
Pure potential is what I would call a "causal factor". The "more" that anything is a way of saying that its essential structure is open-ended. Like the numbers of pi. But there is also a "subtle" potential in terms of the flavors, energies and qualities which any entity could unfold from itself while remaining true to itself.
Both Space & Time are also causal factors. That means they always already exist. Not the proto-material fluid which we sometimes call "space" but rather the dynamic of locate-ability. It is this dynamic which, when interacting with human consciousness, gives us the sensations of expansion, depth, horizontality, verticality, etc. And it applies equally (but differently) in all quadrants. So there is as much literal depth in consciousness and culture as in the material universe. Therefore I (and presumably Wilber) agree that there is an actual depth to "deep". It is just important, in philosophy, to nuance the style and location of this depth.
My position is that "virtually within" is no less within. Just as my position is that approximately is more reliable, more certain than "certainly".
And, like Balder, my reading of OOO is that it is agnostic about verticality. Some of the accept it, some of them don't. However, my Bible of Metatheory would suggest than anyone seeing into the worldspaces of OOO will tend, over time, to all see the dynamic depth of things and need to start working that into their philosophy.