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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
A more expanded version of the last reference is here, lower down in the comments.
Now I do like Morton's point about the vajra as an object with a substance. This for example from the wikipedia article on vajrayana:
"The Sanskrit term 'vajra' denoted the thunderbolt, a legendary weapon and divine attribute that was made from an adamantine, or indestructible, substance and which could therefore pierce and penetrate any obstacle or obfuscation.... As a secondary meaning, 'vajra' refers to this indestructible substance, and so is sometimes translated as 'adamantine' or diamond.'"
If Morton can put this in OOO terms so that the withdrawn substance or vajra is not of the type of essence criticized by the rangtongs, then I just might get along with this dzogchen luminosity, finally. Though the terms the wiki uses, like indestructible, is not like Bryant's objects. To be determined.
One thing these quotes make clear is that Bryant recognizes that Buddhist dependent origination / emptiness views are not an easy or obvious fit with OOO, which is my sense as well. I can tentatively go along with Morton's emptiness-inflected interpretation of withdrawal, but this appears to be rather different from how Harman (and perhaps Bryant also) are using the term. One note about Bryant's discussion of conditioned genesis: as I understand it, the fourfold vajra analysis Morton mentions (the Vajra Slivers) actually denies four theses: self-genesis, other-genesis, self-and-other-genesis, and acausal or spontaneous genesis.
Yes, Morton in link 1 (preceding page) notes that what Bryant calls conditioned genesis is a Theravadin (lowest level) concept and is itself a form of correlationism. He sees this as a type of the present-at-hand (Harman), which sounds a lot like Bryant's local manifestations. And both depict what is present, the actual. At the Dzogchen level (highest) there is no causation whatsoever, as there is "nothing behind the object." They are withdrawn/empty, Bryant's virtual substance.
An interesting-looking blog entry on Harman, his "occasionalist" model of causation, and its (contested) relation to Spinoza.
Tom, as you may know, earlier in this thread, I was trying to explore some of OOO's ideas in relation to Joel's model, since both advocate in their own ways for a "substance metaphysics" (something I have rejected until recently). I'm not sure if you're familiar with Joel's Principle of Absolute Reversal (say, Absolute Division = Indivisibility), but I'm thinking that might apply also to this notion of absolute correlation (Absolute Correlation = Non-Correlation) -- i.e., we can say both simultaneously.
I've been thinking this about Harman's object-oriented model, which essentially claims that the universe is jam-packed with nothing but "objects," uniquely emergent quanta (where every relation is also an object). It is ostensibly a universe of infinite division, of countless unique quanta. I have to think this through more fully, but it seems to me that a universe of nothing but infinitely proliferating withdrawn objects -- think of quadrillions of scrubbing bubbles erupting constantly! -- the picture that emerges is also one of a kind of wholeness or inseparability, since in Harman's model, any configuration of objects, any juxtaposition or relation of objects, becomes (or can become) another object. I'm not sure Harman would go along with this, but that seems to be an implication. However, this non-separability -- if I read his model this SpinbitZian way -- would not be a slag-like uniformity, but an ongoing blossoming of infinite particularity.
On a slight tangent, recall this post on the singular, the general and how both are viewed from Torbert's developmental, and Caputo's deconstructive, vantage. In this thread the singular could be translated into the irreducible substance of an object. And yet this singular substance also appears in contexts with other substances, some of which are more encompassing. And how do we relate objects in a more general frame while retaining a particular object's singularity? I prefer Torbert and Caputo's take as a more postformal approach than kennilingus, for example. And it seems in line with Balder's notion of infinite particularity implying a certain kind of wholeness (as does Bryant's mereology), but not an assholon.
A few additional (summary) thoughts on OOO and holism (directed to Theurj, Tom, Dial, or anyone interested in providing feedback):
As we've been discussing, OOO offers a critique of holism, which is implicit in its commitment to substance and to the withdrawn nature of objects (i.e., their withdrawal from total presence or total apprehension by other objects, which relates, I believe, in part to Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle). In 'contacting' or relating to or encountering another object, it will always exceed that immediate relation; it never is fully present to any such encounter, but always has a withdrawn, hidden, or indeterminate dimension to it that is untapped by said encounter. Therefore, there is never any 'whole' that is wholly transparent and fully present (without any trace of absence or withdrawal).
A related idea is that objects have their own autonomy -- that, while they may usually be found within a given context, they are in principle detachable from that context and may enter into different relations. I do not accept the suggestion made by some OOO thinkers that objects in theory may detach from and exist outside of all relations whatsoever (Bryant's "dark objects"), but I do see value in acknowledging an "excess" to objects -- that objects exceed absolute determination by local exo-relations and may detach from them and enter into new relations. The question is, how to understand this 'excess,' this elusion of over-determination by (or reduction to) local exo-relations?
One of my concerns about the OOO model, or at least some formulations of it, is that it doesn't seem to take adequate account of non-locality. It seems to see all objects as strictly local, and as existing in strictly local relations. Morton, by contrast to the other OOO writers, does seem to acknowledge non-locality (which is, as far as I can tell, an irrefutable quantum fact, not 'just' a theoretical artifact). But, in any event, I think non-locality does point to a deep-level non-separability or wholeness that needs to be acknowledged by OOO to have an adequate account of "objects."
On the other hand, it is not clear that non-locality implies total access or total presence of one object or particular to another. I think this is perhaps where OOO's critique of holism, or at least certain common models of holism, comes in. It denies that particulars, as particulars, ever fully 'present' themselves to each other or relate to each other; there is always an 'excess' in any encounter which escapes presence and exceeds present relation, and therefore there is never any fully self-present, wholly self-transparent "whole". Non-separability may be implied in the infinite profusion of objects, but wholeness in this case is an active absence, demonstrated only through flowering particularlity and the play of presence/absence.
P.S. I wrote this before seeing your latest post, Theurj. I will follow the link and re-read the Torbert/Caputo post now.
While Morton accepts the non-locality of hyberobjects I don't think he correlates this with a "deep-level non-separability or wholeness." I don't have time at present to provide quotes but will find them when I can.
Are you sure he's only associating non-locality with hyper-objects? I think he recognizes it in quantum objects, also, which I don't believe he would consider to be hyper-objects.
Here's a (long) quote from the opening article of this thread:
"Now consider nonlocality. In ecosystems, things are contiguous and
symbiotic. In nonlocality, things directly are other things. Alain Aspect,
Einstein's student David Bohm, Anton Zeilinger and others have shown that the
Eisntein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox concerning quantum theory is an empirical
fact.55 Einstein, Rosen and Podolsky argued that if quantum theory were
telling us something true about the Universe, then you would be able to
entangle particles.56 You could then send one particle some information (make
it spin a certain way), and the other would instantaneously appear to have
received the same information. This works to an arbitrary distance--two
yards, two miles, the other side of the galaxy. Zeilinger has demonstrated
nonlocal phenomena using entangled particles on either side of Vienna,
between two Canary Islands, and between orbiting satellites.57 To explain
nonlocality you could abolish the speed of light, but this troubles
physicists. Or you could say that there aren't really two particles, just one
auto-affective process. It sounds mad but other options are more so--it
involves time travel and telepathy. Nonlocality means something is profoundly
wrong with atomism.58 Moreover, objects have blurred boundaries at scales
considerably larger than we used to think. Photosynthesizing molecules in
chloroplasts, the symbiotic bacteria that make plants green, put photons into
coherence. When it enters the molecule a photon occupies many positions at
once.59 In some deep sense there's no (single, firm, separate) photon as such.
In early 2010 physicists established quantum coherence in an object visible
to the naked eye: a tiny fork vibrating and not vibrating simultaneously.60 If
biology discovers how entangled life forms are, quantum entanglement opens a
more profound interconnectedness.
How can ontology think nonlocality? The Copenhagen Interpretation of
quantum theory spearheaded by Bohr holds that though quantum theory is a
powerfully accurate heuristic tool, peering underneath it is absurd because
quantum phenomena are “irreducibly inaccessible to us” (Plotnitsky, Reading
Bohr 35). Bohr argued that our measurement is “indivisible” with what is
measured (35). The refusal to get ontological is already ontological:
Newtonian atomism, with its granular view of Matter, is left substantially
alone. Matters were less settled at Copenhagen than the victors' spin
portrayed.61 Bohm, Basil Hiley, Zeilinger, Antony Valentini and others proceed
along lines established by De Broglie: an “ontological interpretation” that
takes Bohr's “indivisibility” to pertain to objects beyond (human)
cognition.62 Bohm postulated an “implicate order” in which particles are
manifestations of some deeper process, like waves on the ocean (IO 246–77).
Just as ocean waves subside, particles fold back into the implicate order.
“Particles” are abstractions of a Leibnizian reality in which everything is
enfolded in everything else. The ontological interpretation is bad for holism
as well as atomism. Holism requires some kind of top-level object consisting
of parts that are separate from the whole and hence replaceable (21): another
modulation of mechanism, holist protestations notwithstanding. According to
the Bohmian view, you aren't part of a larger whole. Everything is enfolded
in everything as “flowing movement” (14). Unlike the Copenhagen
Interpretation, the ontological interpretation is noncorrelationist:
particles withdraw from one another, not because humans are observing them in
certain ways, but because the implicate order is withdrawn from itself. A
hyperobject if ever there was one: an auto-affective ocean turning its dark
pages. This whole might be strictly unanalyzable: the implicate order has an
irreducible dark side because it's made of “objects wrapped in objects
wrapped in objects” (GM 83). Here I'm not arguing that OOO must be Bohmian.
I'm arguing that a viable interpretation of quantum theory is itself objectoriented.
There is a kind of organicism here, a nonessentialist organicism
that mitigates against the fashion for mechanistic explanations in biology
(neo-Darwinism) and the humanities (some forms of posthumanism and
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. Electrons come and go,
change into other particles, radiate energy. An electron is real. Yet in the
act of becoming or un-becoming an electron, it's a statistical performance:
“quantum theory requires us to give up the idea that the electron, or any
other object has, by itself, any intrinsic properties at all. Instead, each
object should be regarded as something containing only incompletely defined
potentialities that are developed when an object interacts with an
appropriate system” (QT 139). This approaches Harman's image of the
withdrawn-ness of objects as a “subterranean creature” (TB 129–33 (133)).
Thus the “something deeper” from which the electron unfolds is also
withdrawn. If they lack such a hidden essence, objects must be spatially
external to one another like machine parts. This legitimates
instrumentalization, which reduces objects to other objects. If objects
literally relate externally (if the hidden “interior” is spatiotemporal),
then little distinguishes OOO from mechanism. If objects are strangely
strange all the way down, OOO can't be a form of mechanism. We can't predict
the future state of reality even in principle, because we can't anticipate
the position of every particle. Not only because this would take too long (it
would) or break the speed of light; not only because of complementarity (QT
158–61), but for a more fundamental reason, very much not to do with
epistemology or correlationism: there are no particles as such, no Matter as
such, only discretely quantized objects. If this is the case at the most fine
grained level we currently know, how much more so at higher scales, the
scales on which evolution, biology and ecology happen. Ecological thought
must be realism, but it doesn't have to be materialism or mechanism.
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.63 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."
A few excerpts of the above with specific reference to the quantum:
"Holism requires some kind of top-level object consisting of parts that are separate from the whole and hence replaceable....According to the Bohmian view, you aren't part of a larger whole.... A hyperobject if ever there was one."