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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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 came across an interesting blog exchange with Harman here.
Wow, lots there to chew on. For now I'll highlight this:
"And consider metaphor. As Max Black showed so nicely, you can’t rephrase a metaphor in literal terms. This doesn’t mean that a metaphor gives no knowledge. Of course it does. You just have to abandon the narrow sense of knowledge as 'correct propositions about the properties of things.'”
I'm reminded of L&J's real and false reason. We want an 'example' or a real, withdrawn object but this sets a correlationist presupposition that such can only be demonstrated within such a frame. Whereas it requires a "bastard reasoning," an aesthetic and metaphoric analogic or rhetoric to get a hint of such an object. Hence Cthulhu lies dormant in a dream world speaking to us in fleeting images rather than in a disengaged (disembodied?), Vulcan logic.
Balder: I came across an interesting blog exchange with Harman here.
I rather like this post from the same source. Cthulhu, however, thinks it's an amusing (because so transparent) attempt at ascesis via an anguished acceptance of it's very impossibility. No such luck.
Which raises another question for me: The exploration here of OOO seems to be going well enough. It would seem that Integral Post Metaphysics and OOO are highly compatible. I'm curious then what does Integral bring to the table? A basis in the insights and practices of spirit? In the existence and content of developmental stages beyond the personal. In matters of embodiment?
And while I'm on the topic, what is being integrated in Integral: body, mind, and spirit? the true the good and the beautiful? Or do these early Integral concepts have no currency and AQUAL is where it's at.
Is 'Integral Post Metaphysics' now a species of quasi-continental philosophy? Perhaps I'm having a Homer Simpson 'd'oh!' moment and finally seeing that Integral is not the creature my wildly projecting self took it to be. Indulge me, please: just what is particular to Integral if it ends up in the same place as OOO?
I do not think Integral ends up in the same place as OOO. There are some areas of (possible) overlap, as I noted above, and some areas where I think OOO could help Integral think more deeply about ontology, but Integral is about more than ontology, by definition.
More later. I'm off to Holosync right now!
(I'm glad you showed up, Dial. I have some questions about Harman's approach I would eventually like to run by you...)
Recall Morton's call of Cthulhu in the initial post of this thread:
“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.... Melancholia is precisely a mode of intimacy with strange objects that can't be digested by the subject...touching the untouchable, dwelling on the dark side one can never know, living in endless twilight shadows.”
According to this, the last line of Lovecraft's story says:
"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."
From Morton's 12/14/10 blog post, "Hyperobject earth as Cthulhu":
"Earth itself then is a non-Euclidean object, like the city of R'lyeh."
From the day before, "Hyperobjects, Cthulhu and you":
"That is, they're Gaussian (non-Euclidean), a term that Einstein wonderfully translates as a 'mollusk'-like space he calls a 'reference mollusk' (Relativity). It's how Einstein visualizes time and space as inside objects (like Harman does), rippling through them rather than containing them in an empty box."
Harman says in Prince of Networks* (re-press, 2009): “If someone took the gamble of an object-oriented theology, the omniscient God of monotheism might be abandoned in favor of something resembling Cthulhu” (214).
*Available as open source here.
On p. 151 of PON Harman begins his discussion of OOO. A couple of key excerpts:
“These [radical] approaches…are all trying to identify the single radix, the root of reality as a whole. By taking one side of any opposition as primary and the other as derivative, they resolve an apparent paradox by collapsing everything into one of two opposed terms…. By contrast with such radical gestures let’s use the phrase ‘conservative philosophy’ to refer to those doctrines that leave initial oppositions in place…but with the major drawback of not giving adequate explanation of how the two terms interrelate” (154).
“By contrast, the method of OOO is…polarized. Objects exist as autonomous units, but they also exist in conjunction with their qualities, accidents, relations, and moments without being reducible to these. To show how these terms can convert into one another is the alchemical mission of the OO thinker. The world is made up of a basic set of polarities—four of them, it turns out. They cannot be derived from a single, radical root, but neither do these exist as incorruptible elements untransmutable into one another” (156).
Good find (on the open source copy of PON), Theurj. And regarding the polarities he sees at the root of OOO, I'm glad to read that, since that confirms my sense of what OOO is doing (though Bryant appears to want to deny it). In The Quadruple Object, I am just getting into his fourfold model (of two intersecting polarities) -- real objects, real qualities, sensual objects, sensual qualities (with the tensions between them described, I believe, as time, space, essence, eidos).
Dial, good questions. To answer them in adequate depth, I think I'll need to reflect on them a bit (I've actually been doing just this -- exploring the interface of the two approaches -- and hope to write about it soon). But to answer briefly, and perhaps to speak just to the obvious for now, Integral is concerned equally with questions of ontology and epistemology, and it also aims to serve a sort of meta-paradigmatic and meta-metaphysical function, so its scope would be necessarily broader than a particular metaphysical approach such as OOO. In its purely descriptive / classificational function, Integral would "include" OOO in its catalogue of known, historically emergent ontological models. However, Integral thought also appears to have its own ontological and epistemological commitments, and in that sense it can't simply "include" OOO; rather, it is better viewed alongside it, and can enter into critical dialogue with it.
One of my reservations about OOO is its apparent subordination of relationship to an atomistic view (at least in some articulations of it). I am more sympathetic to a both/and approach, which can toggle equally between individualistic and relational views.
Speaking of OOO and AQAL, Morton addresses AQAL in this post. I will return to this -- for now, I just want to observe that I think he misreads the meaning of 'object' in AQAL. His list of objects (the Pope, flapjacks, etc) could also be classified as objects in AQAL-speak.
A couple of quick points. Yes, AQAL could classify such as holons. But If I'm not mistaken (and I might be, not keeping up with the kenndashians) kennilingus still adheres to the distinction between sentient and insentient holons. Not only does OOO challenge this form of correlationism but Edwards does so as well, with similar sounding arguments from his AQAL perspective. Morton gets at this bias in his comments. Also I'm reminded of Edwards' critique of how kennilingus reduces the objective quadrant to exterior material stuff without the same developmental complexity as interior 'objects.' Granted there are places in kennilingus that say the material is just as complex, with the higher categories of subtle and causal 'exterior' objects, but this contention is neither consistent or coherent as we've examined before in this forum (probably the old one at Gaia). Also granted with the 'zones' there is an inside and outside to both interior and exterior quadrants but again Edwards breaks down the inconsistency in that AQAL concept and offers a way forward within the AQAL system.