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.

 

Excerpts:

 

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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.

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As for light being a uniform '(non)environment' in which all matter subsists, perhaps Grandy and Tom would agree. I'm not so sure of that myself.

Balder said: On another note, I'm thinking again about the link I made earlier between these OOO views and Grandy's treatment of light (of which you can find parallels in Zajonc, Levin, and elsewhere).  I wonder if Bryant ever discusses the nature or role of 'light' in his scheme.  I am wondering this because light, as currently understood in physics, seems to parallel some of Bryant's descriptions of 'substance' ('withdrawing,' inaccessible, unqualified, etc).  One reason I am thinking about this is because, while Bryant denies the existence of a singular 'environment' (similar to EH's ontological pluralist view, and with which I am also sympathetic), light nevertheless seems to be a 'something' 'in' which everything else 'is' -- light being 'outside' of time and space, with timespace domains unfolding from it.  This can't really qualify as an 'environment,' I suppose, since -- as environment -- it never appears; it always hides itself.  Everything is 'in' it, in a sense, but in its hiddenness and withdrawing/kenotic activity, it seems to differ in important ways from the conceptions of the single objective super-environment that Bryant and EH criticize, in their own ways.

 

It seems to me you are still reaching for some ur-substance, nonetheless. If you're going to radicalize ontology to objects all the way up and all the way down - ie at every scale, then musn't light be just another object/entity/process/substance? It brings to  mind - though I can't make any real connection - the way time is theorized by Derrida. More precisely, the way the past must always already be a presence in the now. There can never be a moment when this was not the case as the now needs a past to move into. Forgive this airy speculation, but there's some intrigue at the core of that, which, intuitively, I relate to the presence/absence of light. 

 

I also wonder about this withdrawn 'substance'. If withdrawn substance is common to all, why can't it be a common substance. That is, the same substance underlying all objects? A Deleuzian virtual field of potentialities. Or, is it that Bryant et al do conceive an underlying virtual field but figure ontology via   objects, which are, after all, the world's access/leverage/purchase upon itself? 

 

And what theurj says, too, if by that he means that 1. Light cannot be a container because it's been decided containers are a wash 2. Light is not the condition for all in the very simple sense that there are realms of absolute darkness in the world where objects exist - some of those objects alive.

 

theurj said: As for light being a uniform '(non)environment' in which all matter subsists, perhaps Grandy and Tom would agree. I'm not so sure of that myself.


I'm enjoying this discussion by the way. Apologies for my scant participation. I have some general comments to make regarding Bryant and Integral practices which can wait until all - myself included - feel we have a good grasp of OOO.

It seems to me you are still reaching for some ur-substance, nonetheless...

 

I wouldn't define my activity as "reaching for," but rather just speculating in the spirit of 'substance metaphysics' (which is a bit alien to me).  My preferred orientation up to this point has involved a rejection of substance as a basic category, but I am relating to OOO and Joel's work (and some of Tom's comments, too) as opportunities to reconsider my understanding of 'substance.'  I do agree that, should light prove to meet many of the criteria that Bryant sets out for 'substances' (and it definitely meets some of them, as I suggested, referencing this article in particular), then its characteristic wholeness and its transcendence of spacetime do appear to qualify it as a kind of ur-substance (though not a 'purely speculative' metaphysical one).

 

From Grandy: The Otherness of Light...

If Aristotle is right, we apprehend the world by the grace of some agency that does not show up on its own; further, this agency is a kind of open set that freely receives other things and only then registers its own existence.

 

Interesting: I had a very quick first glance at the referenced article = quite fascinating -  and stopped at the above. Two quick thoughts: I wonder how mereology would figure this, and secondly, if I'm understanding correctly the author is here saying that light only registers its own existence via things - aka objects? This my intended sense here: 

 

Or, is it that Bryant et al do conceive an underlying virtual field but figure ontology via  objects, which are, after all, the world's access/leverage/purchase upon itself? 

 

My point being that it is only through objects that other things in the world show up/'can be inferred'. Of course, what constitutes an object is a creative field in itself. And I mean that quite genuinely and with a positive spin. It is likely that much that others would call inferences Latour would call actants and Harman/Bryant objects. 


To borrow aspects of Integral ontological pluralism we might say that objects enact light in all its various gradations/frequencies?

I haven't read the article, so I could well be well off.  I'd love to know how OOO in its various flavors (Bryant/Harman/Morton/Joy et al) theorizes light.

I think you'll need to go further into the article than the first couple paragraphs to get a sense for what Grandy is saying.  Here are a few relevant paragraphs:

 

In this essay, I affirm that light is "other" in two interrelated ways. First, it is other in the sense that it is unfamiliar and inscrutable; second, that inscrutability arises from light's capacity to receive and announce other things while retreating from view as an independent entity. Thus, revelatory otherness (the light-mediated manifestation of the other) is grounded in the inscrutable action of light. A similar dynamic, albeit one underlining otherness rather than light, has been proposed by Emmanuel Levinas. My intent is to thematize light with Levinasian otherness. For maximum effect, this means that the classical scientific notion of light must yield to Albert Einstein's relativistic reformulation. In Einsteinian physics, light inhabits a domain that is off-limits to material reality, and so when light breaks into material reality, it does so in a "relationless" way. That is, light cannot be scaled into or made commensurate with the familiar space and time metric of material reality. For Levinas, otherness is also refractory to reduction to the familiar. Given that light presents otherness to our view, it would seem to follow that here we have a single package: the inscrutability of light informs the inscrutability or otherness of the outside world...

 

One may specify a point at which physical light merges into otherness by attending to a fundamental difficulty that would seem to foreclose any apprehension of the latter: how does the other bridge into our experience when its very saliency is strangeness and apartness? Would not an absolute other lie beyond both comprehension and experience? Any answer to this question inevitably seeks for a way to make "the infinite distance of the Stranger" traversable, the end-result being a collapse of the normally distinct categories of finiteness and infinity--though, for Levinas, not a collapse of the other into the familiarity of sameness. For those dubious of this "self-challenging double movement" (Davis 38), light, particularly as it is rendered by modern physics, offers a striking retort. Nowhere are infinity and finiteness more mutually implicated. When the finite velocity of light is found to be incommensurable with the finite space-time metric of the material world, infinity suggests itself, and this suggestion becomes more pronounced as the inquiry ensues. The picture that emerges points back to the question of otherness with its concern for an underlying metric to mediate the relation between the ego and the other.

 

In the case of light, there is no underlying metric. When Einstein dismissed the luminiferous (light-bearing) ether, he freed light from the universal substratum that putatively supported its motion through space and thereby made its behavior intelligible in terms of relation. Absent that substratum, the mind naturally reaches for something--some other constancy--to set light's motion in relation to. But by making the motion itself constant (immune to variant readings), Einstein turned light into a completely auto-referential phenomenon: it is its own metric and one that cannot be coordinated with or related to the space-time metric of the material world. Despite that, light opens the world to view, thereby affording us vision of something other than itself...

 

Inasmuch as light enables apprehension of the other, we should not assume separate, though analogous, processes. Light reveals otherness, throws it so cleanly and seamlessly into our experience as to cover or re-veil its own action. That revelation, I submit, is the basis for the infinite though traversable distance between the same and the other: light, in one stroke, gives and takes away the distance; it functions simultaneously as a principle of separation and of unification. It gives us expanse, and thereby a sense of apartness, but only by coupling us to things across space-time intervals. That coupling is immediate (unmediated), not actually a passage across space-time but a nullification of the same owing to light's autonomy from the space-time regime. Thereby the hegemonic frame of everyday reality is broken so that infinity replaces totality. The world, normally hedged-in and fully complete by its very being, undergoes renewal as openness and un-self-containment....

I will give this more thought when time permits. I gather light's ability to both join and sunder, place and 'other'. I find myself slightly out of sympathy with the mystic deconstructionist tones to be frank, but that's of no real matter.

 

edit: nor, am I convinced that the unveiling/veiled quality of light isn't contained in any and all objects as conceived by Harman. It might be that light is an especially explicit manifestation of that very dynamic. That is interesting and might serve to place light as significant. (It is, without doubt)

 

The excerpt below does bring to mind one of the aspects of the Levi Bryant version of OOO which puzzles me greatly but which I can ground in my own experience nonetheless. This, the notion he has of the purely positive. Of it being possible that things can exist in the world purely without relation. A sound that sounds with no other sounds in existence, still exists, just as it is. This to me is incoherent and reveals the fundamentally relational caste of my mind. Yet, despite that, I find in my own being in the world that a purely positive attitude/intention, pure unto itself, so to speak, does indeed, do exactly that. And, further, like light, opens the world to view ( ie - is an opening to a world set in motion). Perhaps Bryant's pure positivity, my purely 'positive' intention, - really  none other than attention, itself - and light are valences of the same. 

 

I shall read more of this light article to learn more.

 

In the case of light, there is no underlying metric. When Einstein dismissed the luminiferous (light-bearing) ether, he freed light from the universal substratum that putatively supported its motion through space and thereby made its behavior intelligible in terms of relation. Absent that substratum, the mind naturally reaches for something--some other constancy--to set light's motion in relation to. But by making the motion itself constant (immune to variant readings), Einstein turned light into a completely auto-referential phenomenon: it is its own metric and one that cannot be coordinated with or related to the space-time metric of the material world. Despite that, light opens the world to view, thereby affording us vision of something other than itself...

 

 

Yes, we're thinking alike, Thomas. Although you're post appears previous to mine above, I was actually responding to Balder and didn't see your comment until I had posted.

 

Thomas said:

Here's an experiment: try to differentiate any of what I said above from either awareness or God.  Also note that light is not physical in the sense we typically mean by physical.  It is metaphysical.

 

Which seems rather similar to this. (edit - save that OOO might place the qualities of light in all objects - and light just another object within a universally flat ontology - very unsure about that, but..)

 

Dial said:

Perhaps Bryant's pure positivity, my purely 'positive' intention, - really  none other than attention, itself - and light are valences of the same. 

 

I suspect, however, Thomas, that as much as you and I agree, I would very soon be asking you to talk of attention and being in the world as well as physics and light. And you would be ignoring those requests :)

...nor, am I convinced that the unveiling/veiled quality of light isn't contained in any and all objects as conceived by Harman. It might be that light is an especially explicit manifestation of that very dynamic.

 

This was actually my speculative suggestion -- that there appears to be an overlap between the OOO conception of "object" and these descriptions of the nature and activity of light.

Ah, that's interesting. We seem to coming back to 'the world is made of light' rather than the world is revealed/hidden by light/absence of light. Or are they the same? I haven't had a chance to read that article in full, just yet, so will reserve further comment, for now. 

Balder said:

...nor, am I convinced that the unveiling/veiled quality of light isn't contained in any and all objects as conceived by Harman. It might be that light is an especially explicit manifestation of that very dynamic.

 

This was actually my speculative suggestion -- that there appears to be an overlap between the OOO conception of "object" and these descriptions of the nature and activity of light.

I'm wondering if light is a 'local manifestation'* of an object in its relationship with other objects (exo-relations) rather than being itself an object, in Bryant's terms. Light requires an object as a source, like the sun. Or in our specific, physical and 'universal' sense, the big bang. Light also is not omnipresent, for it cannot pass through matter (like neutrinos can) but only rather reflect off matter thereby creating 'effects,' and there are obviously places where there is no light. An interesting question might be, can there be any light without an object as source?

 

I realize some have argued that light is the source of the universe, but it that accepted scientific fact? Is light in itself hot and dense like the singularity (object) that is reputed to be our universal source? Or perhaps light is the object of which hot and dense are only qualities? If so, as an object we can observe its 'infinite phase space,' and it obviously has a 'finite structure of powers,' e.g, limitations like the above and its velocity. Just some speculations.

 

* Granted it seems odd to say light's universal reach is 'local' given the vast distances it has traveled through time since the 'origin.' But that's a relative matter to our local size and time. Nonetheless, the big bang theory places the origin of our universe at a specific time in space, about 13.7 billion years ago, when it was a dense and very hot 'object.' **

 

** If the qualities of being dense and very hot are attributed to our universal source, I'm wondering if Pam Anderson is the origin of the universe?

Duh, in general light's qualities are not hot and dense, for most 'universal' light is quite diffuse instead of dense and does not generate much, if any, heat. Again making me wonder if light is a by-product, quality or manifestation of an object.

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