In my research today I came upon this interesting article, “Here comes everything: the promise of object-oriented ontology” by Timothy Morton. (New link, old one broken.) It is of interest not only to speculative realism but also to some recent discussions on Caputo's ontology, modes of apprehension of such, and quantum theory. The article is 27 pages of text so I've culled some excerpts, lengthy in themselves.




Speculative realism...asserts the deep mystery of a Non-Nature....object-oriented ontology (OOO)...goes further than this, rejecting essentialist Matter.... OOO is a form of realism that asserts that real things exist--these things are objects, not just amorphous “Matter”.... OOO extends Husserl's and Heidegger's arguments that things have an irreducible dark side: no matter how many times we turn over a coin, we never see the other side as the other side--it will have to flip onto “this” side for us to see it, immediately producing another underside. Harman simply extends this irreducible darkness from subject–object relationships to object–object relationships.... Causation is thus vicarious in some sense, never direct. An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either.... We've become so used to hearing “object” in relation to “subject” that it takes some time to acclimatize to a view in which there are only objects, one of which is ourselves.


The notion of the “withdrawal” of objects extends my term strange stranger to non-living entities. Strange stranger names an uncanny, radically unpredictable quality of life forms. Life forms recede into strangeness the more we think about them, and whenever they encounter one another--the strangeness is irreducible....the uncanny essence of humans that Heidegger contemplates extends to nonhumans.... The more we know about a strange stranger, the more she (he, it) withdraws. Objects withdraw such that other objects never adequately capture but only (inadequately) “translate” them....This is what “irreducible” means.


Rhetoric is not simply ear candy for humans: indeed, a thorough reading of Plato, Aristotle and Longinus suggests that rhetoric is a technique for contacting the strange stranger....[it] amplifies imagination rather than trying to upstage it, and it revels in dislocation, not location.... Harman's imagery differs from ecophenomenological ecomimesis that confirms the localized position of a subject with privileged access to phenomena.... Harman's rhetoric produces an object-oriented sublime that breaks decisively with the Kantian taboo on noncorrelationist scientific speculation....ekphrasis is not about the reaction of the (human) subject, but about rhetorical modes as affective-contemplative techniques for summoning the alien.


The aesthetic, as we shall see, is the secret door through which OOO discovers a theory of what is called “subject”.... Melancholia is precisely a mode of intimacy with strange objects that can't be digested by the subject.... To lapse into Californian, OOO is so about the subject. There is no good reason to be squeamish about this. The more the ekphrasis zaps us, the more we fall back into the gravity well of melancholy. Sentience is out of phase with objects, at least if you have a nervous system. So melancholia is the default mode of subjectivity: an object-like coexistence with other objects and the otherness of objects--touching them, touching the untouchable, dwelling on the dark side one can never know, living in endless twilight shadows. If the reader has experienced grief she or he will recognize this state as an object-like entity that resides somewhere within the body, with an amortization schedule totally separated from other temporalities (in particular, the strict digital clock time of contemporary life). Through the heart of subjectivity rolls an object-like coexistence, none other than ecological coexistence--the ecological thought fully-fledged as dark ecology . The inward, withdrawn, operationally closed mood called melancholy is something we shake off at our peril in these dark ecological times.


Melancholy starts to tell us the truth about the withdrawn qualities of objects. OOO thus differs from theistic ecophilosophy that asserts, “There is a Nature.” It maintains no absolute distance between subject and object; it limits “subject” to no entity in particular. Žižek's suspicion of SR to do with the “feminine” self-absorption of objects: precisely what he doesn't like about Buddhism. Changing “self-absorption” to “withdrawal” or “operational closure” discloses what's threatening about Buddhism: an object-like entity at the core of what is called subjectivity. Like ecomimesis, Harman's passage affirms a real world beyond mentation. Unlike ecomimesis, this world doesn't surround a subject--it's a world without reference to a subject.


If OOO construes everything as objects, some may believe that it would have a hard time talking about subjects--indeed, Slavoj Žižek has already criticized SR in general along these lines. This subjectivity is profoundly ecological and it departs from normative Western ideas of the subject as transcendence. Thus we see off Nature and its correlate, the (human) subject. I argue that OOO enjoins us to drop Matter just as we must drop Nature, and that this means that it can save the appearance of the most coherent and testable physical theory we have, namely quantum theory.


Let's turn our attention to... far “down things” does OOO really go? Are these things made of some kind of substrate, some kind of unformed matter? Does “withdrawal” mean that objects are impenetrable in some non-figurative, nonhuman sense? Do objects have a spatial “inside”? Surely they might. But the principle of irreducibility must mean that this inside is radically unavailable. It's not simply a case of the right equipment passing through it, like a knife through butter. Even a knife through butter would not access the butter in all its essential butteriness. The proliferation of things that ecology talks about--from trees to nuclear power--do not compromise a holistic Nature. Nor yet are they comprised of some intrinsic, essential stuff. To dispatch Matter, we must explore the most rigorous and testable theory of physical Matter we know: quantum theory.


Unlike some thinkers who discovered OOO in spite of deconstruction, I backed into OOO through deconstruction. SR tends to mistake deconstruction for nominalism, subjectivism and Meillassoux's correlationism.... Contemporary physics concurs with a principle tenet of Lacan and Derrida: there's no “big Other,” no device, for instance, that could measure quantum phenomena without participating in these phenomena. All observations are inside the system, or as Derrida puts it, “There is nothing outside the text” (or, in Gayatri Spivak's alternative, which I prefer, “There is no outside-text”). Arkady Plotnitsky has traced the affinities between deconstruction and quantum physics. People commonly misconstrue “there is no-outside-text” as nominalism: we can only know things by their names. Far more drastically, the axiom means: (1) Any attempt to establish rigid boundaries between reality and information results in unsustainable paradoxes; (2) Language is radically nonhuman--even when humans use it. It would be a mistake to hold that (1) is correlationism. “There is no outsidetext” occurs in a passage in which Derrida is analyzing Rousseau's position on Nature, so it's worth pausing here since this issue is directly relevant to ecocriticism. Derrida tacks close to the text he’s analyzing, which is why he appeals to close readers in the first place. He is not making a sweeping generalization about reality. Derrida is only saying, “Given the kind of closed system textuality that Rousseau prescribes, there is no outside-text.” That is, Rousseau can’t go around making claims about nature, not because there is nothing out there, but because the way he models thinking sets textuality up as a black hole....[but] Derrida abstained from ontology: he considered it tainted by the generalization-disease. Unfortunately this defaults to various forms of antirealism. Derrida's is a sin of omission.... OOO shares one thing at least with deconstruction--refraining from assertions about some general essence or substance at the back of things that guarantees their existence.


OOO is troubling for materialisms that rely on any kind of substrate, whether it consists of discrete atoms or of a continuum.... Certain uncontroversial facts, demonstrable in highly repeatable experiments, shatter essentialist prejudices concerning Matter.... Quantum phenomena are not simply hard to access or only partially “translated” by minds and other objects. They are irreducibly withdrawn.


OOO is form of realism, not materialism. In this it shares affinities with quantum theory. Antirealism pits quantum theory against its opponents, since quantum theory supposedly shows reality is fuzzy or deeply correlated with perception and so forth. In fact, quantum theory is the only existing theory to establish firmly that things really do exist beyond our mind (or any mind). Quantum theory positively guarantees that real objects exist! Not only that--these objects exist beyond one another. Quantum theory does this by viewing phenomena as quanta, as discrete “units” as described in Unit Operations by OOO philosopher Ian Bogost. “Units” strongly resemble OOO “objects.” Thinking in terms of units counteracts problematic features of thinking in terms of systems. A kind of systems thinking posed significant problems for nineteenth-century physicists. Only consider the so-called black body radiation problem. Classical thermodynamics is essentially a systems approach that combines the energy of different waves to figure out the total energy of a system. The black box in question is a kind of oven. As the temperature in the oven increases, results given by summing the wave states according to classical theory become absurd, tending to infinity.


By seeing the energy in the black box as discrete quanta (“units”), the correct result is obtained. Max Planck's discovery of this approach gave birth to quantum theory. Now consider perception, for the sake of which antirealism usually cites quantum theory. What does quantum theory show about our mental interactions with things? Perceptual, sensual phenomena such as hardness and brilliance are at bottom quantum mechanical effects. I can't put my hand through this table because it is statistically beyond unlikely that the quanta at the tip of my finger could bust through the resistance wells in the quanta on the table's surface. That's what solidity is. It's an averagely correct experience of an aggregate of discrete quanta. This statistical quality, far from being a problem, is the first time humans have been able to formalize supposedly experiential phenomena such as solidity. What some people find disturbing about quantum theory (once in a gajillion times I can put my finger through the table) is precisely evidence for the reality of things. (This is a version of an argument in Meillassoux, AF 82–5).


Quantum theory specifies that quanta withdraw from one another, including the quanta with which we measure them. In other words quanta really are discrete, and one mark of this discreteness is the constant (mis)translation of one quantum by another. Thus when you set up quanta to measure the position of a quantum, its momentum withdraws, and vice versa. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle states that when an “observer”--not a subject per se, but a measuring device involving photons or electrons (or whatever)--makes an observation, at least one aspect of the observed is occluded (QT 99–115). Observation is as much part of the Universe of objects as the observable, not some ontologically different state (say of a subject). More generally, what Niels Bohr called complementarity ensures that no quantum has total access to any other quantum. Just as a focusing lens makes one object appear sharper while others appear blurrier, one quantum variable comes into sharp definition at the expense of others (QT 158–61). This isn't about how a human knows an object, but how a photon interacts with a photosensitive molecule. Some phenomena are irreducibly undecidable, both wavelike and particle-like. The way an electron encounters the nucleus of an atom involves a dark side. Objects withdraw from each other at a profound physical level. OOO is deeply congruent with the most profound, accurate and testable theory of physical reality available. Again, it would be better to say it the other way around: quantum theory works because it's object-oriented.


Probing the quantum world, then, is a form of auto-affection. Bohr argued that quantum phenomena don't simply concatenate themselves with their measuring devices. They're identical to it: the equipment and the phenomena form an indivisible whole (QT 139–40, 177). This “quantum coherence” applies close to absolute zero, where particles become the “same” thing.


Implication and explication suggest Matter being enfolded and unfolded from something deeper. Even if it were the case that OOO should defer to physics, in the terms set by physics itself objects aren't made “of” any one thing in particular. Just as there is no top level, there may be no bottom level that is not an (substantial, formed) object.


To this extent, “object” (as a totally positive entity) is a false immediacy. Positive assertions about objects fail because objects have a shadowy dark side, a mysterious interiority like the je ne sais quoi of Kantian beauty. Is this nothing at all? Is there a path from the carnival of things to a bleak nothingness? Nihilism, believing that you have no beliefs, maintains that things emerge from an impenetrable mystery. Nihilism, the cool kids' religion, shuns the inconveniences of intimacy. We have objects--they have us--under our skin. They are our skin. OOO can't be a form of nihilism. It's the opposite view (relationism) that tends towards nihilism. Relationism holds that objects are nothing more than the sum of their relations with other objects. This begs the question of what an object is, since the definition implies a potential infinite regress: what are the “other objects”? Why, nothing more than the sum of their relations with other objects--and so on ad obscurum. At least OOO takes a shot at saying what objects are: they withdraw. This doesn't mean that they don't relate at all. It simply means that how they appear has a shadowy, illusory, magical, “strangely strange” quality. It also means they can't be reduced to one another. OOO holds that strangeness is impossible if objects are reducible to their relations. Since relationism is hamstrung by its reluctance to posit anything, it tends towards obscurantism. Relationism is stuck in a Euthyphronic dilemma: objects consist of relations between other objects—and what are those objects? An object as such is never defined. So while ecological criticism appears to celebrate interconnectedness, it must in the end pay attention to what precisely is interconnected with what.


This radical finitude includes a strange irreducible openness.

Views: 22394

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

This is great "in-depth" thought about "objects." It opens up a space in my mind (as if it weren't already "spacey" enough!). My personal/functional stance is to see objects as "placeless." That includes me. I am, but not here, there, or any particular place. I'm talking of course about the essence of "me," the me I find it most beneficial to identify with, capital s Self who is spiritual. 

But since placing things in space is so much an ingrained habit, the depth dimension of reality becomes an effective "way in" (one of Layman's phrases that I was exposed to in about wholeness, and which highly resonates with me) for me to approximate or achieve an integrated, whole, spiritual state (and stage, if I apply it and let it transform me over time). I "trust" that the watery, overlapping, characteristics which the quantum theorists seem to give the quantum function or dimension/realm is relatively placeless and pointing the way to yet deeper reality beyond space and time. I am comfortable with thinking of that reality as Universal Mind, since my one mind (assuming it is a less clear reflection of big m Mind) can transcend space and time. I can remember things from long ago and dream future events which more or less come to pass, and sometimes come to pass in more exact ways which suggest pre-cognition. I can think about things near and far. Recall the Moody Blues song with the lyric:"thinking is the best way to travel." 

So going "deep" is a "door" to the mind itself, which I trust is part of Mind. If quantum entanglement is a myth, it is one that works for me to have a seemingly seamless connection to information and energies from "beyond." I can at least pretend that I am a bigger being in this way, and then "walk around with a big (soul)!" It's important to let the soul/quanta be big instead of the head. To confuse regular thinking-like-matter thought with soul-informed placeless thought is a common error that Wilber and others address. Our UL truth can get rather narcistic and big headed if we let it. This is a conflation of a surface and deeper reality. The head (regular rational thought) is rather "surface-centric" or surface-centered. To translate deep-centered consciousness in "head" terms can over-inflate the head-baloon! 

This that you said: ..."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." ...

seems to be barking up the same d2s (depth-dynamic spirituality) tree that I am barking up of late. 

Thanks for playing in this sandbox with me. I am mentally gearing up for The Pergram. My quantum mechanic experiment with my oldest son's recreational adult soccer game was a play acting of someting the "Programers" would actually do in our proposed metaphysical novel. Also my developing ideas about "Integral Resourceism" as inserted into the Anthology essay I submitted are practicing the main idea that I hope we can showcase in the novel. I want to show a pretend large-scale application of Integral Resourceism. The main advantage is the inclusion of deeper subjective realities (UL) as legitimate resources to be considered. Also the transcendance of ownership. Functional use of resources trumps private ownership. If we collectively can arrange a computer program-like "governement" that meets human needs by allocating resources in an optimal way, then who on earth needs to "own" anything? It would be a new modern way to act like God owns everything instead of us owning things. Also points our minds to the truth of functionality implied in Buddhism's non-grasping. To be a verb-form "being" is more actualizing of potential than to act like self and reality is a noun. I am a conduit or windsock of cosmic energy. Some of the channeling seems to meet my needs. Others can help me form systems that blow a little helpful breezes my way also. When I trust the flow I can let go of owning or trapping "things." I can let "objects" fly in a relatively placeless reality. After all the real me has all the time in the world to grow and infinite room to grow. 

Would most OOOers reject the vertical/horizontal pattern as expressed in the Christian symbol of the cross? Basically a plus symbol with the horizontal axis elevated slightly, or a times symbol (x) slightly rotated to make it upright. Not that the content is related to this discussion but here is a poem I wrote many years ago that emphasizes the intersection of vertical (spiritual) and horizontal (worldly). It shows how the Christ I imagine (which is the me I imagine) at some point quites playing the game and makes a new one that is better for all parties involved.

The Intersection

I had a vision of 40 cars and 12 trucks

stopping suddenly, unexpectedly,

for no apparent reason,

at a busy intersection.

And people got out of their vehicles,

and shook hands, and introduced themselves,

and told life stories and love stories.

Christ was listening.

Then tires screeched all around them.

Irate drivers got out and cursed,

and made angry gestures

toward the story tellers.

Fists were shaken at the sky.

Christ was watching.

Then the law enforcers came in droves,

and interrupted the stories,

and read the peaceful people their rights,

and charged them all with endangering others,

and hauled them away in 7 patty wagons.

But Christ forgave them -

each and every one of the officers.

2003 D. Moneyhon

What is the name of that movie that showed how a deeper glimpse and response was achieve in tragidies of an intersection collision nature? Was it called Collision? In the 90s I think. A great movie showing how extremes and loss/suffering can reveal something "deeper," more spiritual, in people. A little Shiva-like (Hindu goddess that seems to represent Hegel's "antithesis" function in the dialectal process). Ripping away our surface-centric tendencies to reveal a real "human" in there somewhere. The gross sexual imposition policeman turns out to heroically save the same victim. Are we "bad?" Sinful? Not at the core. We have potential to be good, even if it doesn't look like it here at the surface. That's why, IMO, Christianity emphasizes forgiveness and not judging others. At the base of those values is the seeing of potential (which does seem often "withdrawn" or "deeper") as more actual than we normally see it. You can't really be a real Christian (or spiritual person?) unless you see and appreciate and actualize this "withdrawn" aspect of objects, including the objects called you and me. This is the insight that will be shared in my Christian Potentiality three book series, culminating in d2c (depth-dynamic christianity).

Balder said:

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. 

Liked this:  for Bhaskar, each object ultimately enfolds the potential of all other objects (which he calls the nondual co-presence of objects or beings).

Seems similar to some of my thoughts about how systems continue to unpack things (in a discussion about "qauntum quads" in my unfinished, and temporarily tabled, Your Third Nature). Also fits the wide=deep theory. A system is broad and field-like and especially capable of drawing out certain potentials "withdrawn" in the objects they (the systems) interact with. 

If you think of a system as just another object, it does as Bhaskar says, in the sense that the objects "enfold" the potential of that system. 

We enfold or internalize the potential of capitalism. Unfortunately the potential it unpacks is a dead end street that blocks greater potentials. A new system for us to enfold or internalize is needed (and soon) in order to, in turn, draw out our "better angels." 

Balder said:

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. 

If they are consistent, then most OOOers would have to admit that the "christian symbol of the cross"

is always more than they think it is.  And if this symbol is used to suggest that further horizontal and vertical potentials are implied by every "thing"... then what's not to like?

Recently at FB Bryant said this:

"Should I be pleased or dismayed that an information theory engineer just confirmed my ontology by teaching me about the mathematics of eigen functions?"

Joseph replied: "Eigen functions have to do with isomorphic mappings between spaces or domains. Sound familiar?"

Sure does, like the Rift or Fold I've long harped on. A picture from the wiki:

This book looks interesting.

This looks to be the first 77 pages.

It is apparently the whole, short book.

Very cool - thanks!

Another find tonight:  Lovecraft, Speculative Realism, and Silly Nihilism

Amazon recommended this book to me today and it looks interesting:  The Universe of Things, by Steven Shaviro.

Indeed it does. I've always appreciated Shaviro's take. Btw, for those not familiar with him here's his blog and here's his homepage. I found on his homepage a link to his book Doom Patrols, a

"theoretical fiction about postmodernism. A theoretical fiction, because I treat discursive ideas and arguments in a way analogous to how a novelist treats characters and events. About postmodernism, because the term seems unavoidable in recent discussions of contemporary culture. Postmodernism is not a theoretical option or a stylistic choice; it is the very air we breathe. We are postmodern whether we like it or not, and whether we are aware of it or not. For this very reason, the word postmodernism isn't explicitly defined anywhere in my text. Its meaning is its use: or better, its multiple and contradictory uses, as these emerge gradually in the course of the book."

In this relatively recent blog, Bryant circles around some perspectives (pun intended) that we've floated in this thread, I believe:  he argues that a critique of correlationism might be construed, not as advocacy for a perspectiveless real, but as a pluralization and radicalization of perspectivism...a perspectival realism.  Not too far a stretch, here, from Wilber's integral postmetaphysics...

Reply to Discussion


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

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

Notice to Visitors

At the moment, this site is at full membership capacity and we are not admitting new members.  We are still getting new membership applications, however, so I am considering upgrading to the next level, which will allow for more members to join.  In the meantime, all discussions are open for viewing and we hope you will read and enjoy the content here.

© 2024   Created by Balder.   Powered by

Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service