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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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 finally made it through "The other face of God" and this time it made sense. Somehow I got over my aversion for Lacan's graphs and it came together, in large part due to my wonderings above. I see the male side of the graph as a clear example of regressive US politics and the female side the progressive. Which of course relates to the One and the Many, and how the many is not an opposite to the one but more like the transcendental condition of opposition itself. It is the One that requires an Other outside itself to make an enemy of the One, that requires binarity. Whereas multitude accepts the remainder left over from such totalization, allows for the objet a in its heart rather than projecting it outward, which leads to acceptance and celebration of diversity. Fucken' (objet) a, man. Viva la differ(a)nce!
Looking back to p. 91 I mentioned Hegel After Derrida, and how Derrida included but transcended Hegel's ontotheology. But with a twist, an excess, remainder or displacement not accounted for in Hegel's totalizing sublation, “an originary contamination of pure identity and pure difference." We see this same process operating in Bryant's use of Lacan. It's not so much that the male side of the graph is eliminated but synthesized with the feminine side, which heretofore had been marginalized. We still have the master narratives but allow for that space or gap within them which withdraws. We allow for this “originary contamination” of the present and absent, male and female, not as a binary couple that are one in each or even one in all, but not two and not one due to the objet a or withdrawn core (khora).
Yes, Bryant's Borromean knot is an integral master narrative, so in that sense metaphysics. But it multiplies it with the excess remainders not in the type of ontotheologies of the One stuck in an imbalance of the male side of sexuation, always grasping for something it cannot ever achieve, always wanting more, as in the capitalist mode of production. We need to go to the next level with P2P, where we know when enough is enough, and how to spread the excess around without hoarding it for ourselves. There we understand we cannot ever arrive so we don't grasp as much and we give a lot more. We open our hearts to that core emptiness that is always conterminous with fullness, for in such giving there is always room for more giving. In this way we progress, not through some pre-given ontotheological pattern or Being, but through our own community enacted mores and ideals integrated via the fucken' objet a.
In Bryant's blog post "Critique as second-order observation" he once again brings up Spencer-Brown's law of form. Distinction is the condition for the possibility of observation, and with every distinction there is an unmarked space that is not visible to the distinction so made. And yet we can and do use second-order observer to "observe the observer" in this process of drawing distinctions, thus gaining a more comprehensive observation when we make visible the heretofore invisible assumptions upon which the first-order observation was made. While true that even the second-order observation also had to draw a distinction and thereby has its own invisible unmarked space, it nevertheless broadened the view of the previously hidden first-order invisible unmarked space.
So while there is no end in sight we still make progress in this process. And it it here that we need the spiral dynamics of evolving worldviews, both individual and collective, via developmental psychology. And it seems this sort of observational developmental process is missing from the likes of Bryant, even though it is incipiently implicit in this post. He grants a mereological progression of scale with his machines, but he is not familiar with Edwards' 3 types of holarchies. Bryant's might fit more into the ecological holarchy but the developmental holarchy is necessary to understand this re-iterative progression of second (and third, fourth etc.) observation, which only comes with human consciousness.
This is also missing in the work of Luhmann, on whom Bryant draws heavily. And the likes of Thompson and Varela, which point I was making in the last few posts in the Thompson thread. This sort of interative observational loop is the hallmark of reflective or narrative self consciousness, which is not the suobject of study with Thompson; he focuses on the present-centered core self and its benefits, not the benefits of the reflective observations of that developmental process which indeed provides the kind of 'integral' worldview context he intuits but does not explicitly state, given this gap.
This interative process of differance is, as I noted, the heart of the Borromean diagram. It is in the interplay of objet a with the 3 methodologies that produces not only change but progress through a spiral dynamical process. No, we never fully arrive at full consciousness of this unmarked, withdrawn or virtual ‘space’ (khora), for it too, being immanent and constructed, also develops and grows given development in the actually manifest domains. In a sense one expression of it is the cognitive unconscious of humans. We can never know it fully and yet we do make inroads and open it just a bit more with each advance. Hence I take Flanagan’s criticism of ‘consciousness’ (in the Thompson thread) as sometimes too focused on the marked space of what we are aware, and how we often mistake this for the unmarked space beyond its reach and thus confuse it with an ultimate and transcendent realm.
To assure myself I'm not completely off track I offer this excerpt from Zizek's "A place for a return to differance," Zizek being a close reader of Lacan.
"Objet a is therefore close to the Kantian transcendental object, since it stands for the unknown x, the noumenal core of the object beyond appearances, for what...can thus be defined as a pure parallax object.... More precisely, the object a is the very CAUSE of the parallax gap, that unfathomable X which forever eludes the symbolic grasp and thus causes the multiplicity of symbolic perspectives. The paradox is here a very precise one: it is at the very point at which a pure difference emerges—a difference which is no longer a difference between two positively existing objects, but a minimal difference which divides one and the same object from itself—that this difference 'as such' immediately coincides with an unfathomable object: in contrast to a mere difference between objects."
I started writing to you yesterday but didn't have time to finish. I agree with your reading of the 'a' in Bryant's map; I think it is intended to represent the excess that is not included in the map. Which feature I really like about his meta-map, since it puts a black hole right at the center -- a reminder that would benefit its Integral cousin's 'theory of everything.'
In this post from the previous page I noted Bryant’s levels in the 3 domains. I was later mistaken that he doesn’t include holarchy per se, but it seems he is unaware of the finer distinctions as in the MHC, for example. I think the cross (paradigmatic?) pollination between them would do both good, but that job is apparently up to us since they don’t appear on talking terms.
The MHC needs a black hole and onticology needs levels refinement. The former would change its Platonic assumptions and refine its postformal levels. The latter would allow for human correlational teleos and more explicit postformal levels exposition, thereby possibly opening to the evolutionary advance of P2P socio-economic models like Rifkin, as but one example. And both would benefit from some form of contemplative practice, which gives at least some partial 1st-person access to the withdrawn, thereby also promoting an interative observation of the observer up and down (and round and round) the spiral staircase.
It's a dirty job but someone has to do it. And for free apparently.
Recall what L&J said in PF, from this post:
“There is much to be said for traditional philosophical reflection and phenomenological analysis. They can makes us aware of many aspects of consciousness and, to a limited extent, can enlarge our capacities for conscious awareness. Phenomenological reflection even allows us to examine many of the background prereflective structures that lie beneath our conscious experience. But neither method can adequately explore the cognitive unconscious—the realm of thought that is completely and irrevocably inaccessible to direct conscious introspection” (12).
We can get to know our black holes a bit better and admit the limitation.
As to a kennilingual black hole--in stark distinction from the Kennilingam--I at least give him credit for trying to include the notion of the Causal in this thread. And to those from whom he got it. It too though just needs a postmeta de/re lubrication per above and it will functionally fit--slip and slide--quite nicely into said hole of dark and foreboding origin.
Also see this post and following in another thread, also relevant in this one. I'm going to paste over here the discussion so far:
Reply by Balder:
Bonnitta posted this very interesting essay by Latour on FB yesterday: The Compositionist Manifesto. It draws on Avatar for some of its imagery so I'm posting it here. It's a timely read for me since the topic of my talk in Berkeley this coming week (Magic Circles, Generative (En)closures, and Kosmic Foam) presents a similar view (via the Sloterdijkian metaphor of foam).
Reply by theurj:
Just reading the first couple of pages his notion of manifesto reminds me of what I wrote recently on the current Congressional Progressive Caucus budget. It is indeed a manifesto in Latour's terms, something that gives vision and hope to what we can and ultimately will become, even if we're not there at present.
Reply by theurj:
On p. 474 Latour said:
"Compositionism takes up the task of searching for universality but without believing that this universality is already there, waiting to be unveiled and discovered."
This was after him talking about progress. And it is here that I find some reservation with Bryant on teleos. We can see that by taking account of the compositional nature of suobjects, their dependent origination as it were, we enact universals without assuming they were a priori Platonist forms.
Same with teleos and progress; it may not be inherent to the world, but by virtue of understanding the compositional nature of it we can shift it into (enact) a progressive teleos that may not have been there from the outset. And by we I mean humans, given we have evolved to a point of self-consciousness, not to be confused with the prehensive sort of translation inherent to all structures, sentient or not. So in that sense this is indeed a developmental correlationist position and a necessary one if we are to actually progress into a fair and equitable society.
We certainly need the speculative realist and object-oriented ontology critique of a modernist universalism associated with correlationism. But then we must recognize humanity's unequal mereological place in the scheme of things and take hold of that responsibility with purpose and progress in mind.
Reply by theurj:
Granted Bryant has recently questioned correlationism per se in this post. He advocates a form of pan-correlationism in that all suojects translate their worlds. But this goes beyond anthropocentric translation. And elsewhere he has noted that all suobject equally exist, but do not exist equally, accounting for the notion of suobjects of more inclusive mereological scale. So the next obvious conclusion is that it is the responsibility of anthropos, with this knowledge, to move forward and progress. Without humanity, at least its more enlightened progressives, we are in very real danger of catastrophic destruction via climate change, possibly even to the planet for millennia if not forever. Hence a return to this sort of correlationism and its enacted teleos might indeed be thwarted if we get obsessed with its modernist manifestations.
A couple of other points on Bryant's correlationalist post linked in the last paragraph above. Even though he admits correlationallism in that all machines have at least partial access to the thing in itself (TII), still the TII cannot be reduced to that access, even if we add up all such accesses (itself an impossible task). In that sense the TII subsists and is not dependent on another machines access to it. In that regard recall this discussion on how kennilingus approaches subsistence, the TII, the Causal, and access.
Another point is Bryant realizes we cannot just lump all human access into one universal access. It depends on all sorts of factors, from gender, class, education, work, tech etc. While kennilingus might not emphasize these differences enough it does include, even if lopsided, cognitive and other stages based on empirical observation and testing. And it is in this regard that OOOers can refine their own notions of how humanity can increase its access to the TII, while still not claiming to total access via some nirodha state equivalent to the withdrawn Causal TII.
And to reiterate, having progressed beyond a modernist anthropic correlationism we can return to a more evolved anthropic access, for it is only through that sort of access that we can remedy the devastation created by a less evolved anthropos on the environment. It is questionable that the damage we've done can fix itself at this point, unless by fix we mean such dramatic climate change that humanity and most forms of complex life are eliminated. Earth may survive but it may never give birth to these life forms again.
I forgot to link to the kennlingus discussion on subsistence, so here it is.