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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
If you look at Joel's discussion of this in SpinbitZ, you'll see he's specifically using the (interpenetrating) yin/yang diagram to do so. If you look towards the end of his text, where he's discussing interface biology and the emergence of meaning out of evolutionary embodiment, you'll see he also starts "in the middle" (embodiment) in building this model.
Perhaps so but we've apparently come to different conclusions.
The premise of the principle of absolute reversal (PAR) assumes as "given the identity of opposites" (Spinbitz 118). Aka a metaphysics of identity and presence.
A concrete example from tai chi within an individual body performing the exercise is that any body part, say the leg, can be (either mostly or partly but not completely) substantial while the other is insubstantial. When one shifts the weight the formerly substantial leg now become insubstantial and vice versa. But substantiality did not change into its opposite, the leg did. That is, the principle of substantiality does not change into its opposite but it remains as it is in relation to insubstantiality, not entirely identical to it but not entirely different from it due to its ongoing and inescapable, dynamic relation.
Another example would be Bryant's object, which is in relational exchange with its environment but it does not become its environment (or another object) at any extreme pole of objectness, or vice versa. Per the first example, we might say that the substance of substantiality (and insubstantiality) remains inviolate as autonomous principle but its actualization via exo-relations in a pair of legs manifests as relational exchange.
That doesn't seem quite right, just thinking out loud. More contemplation of the Infinite One is required...
Tom, if you have the patience (with me), would you perhaps state that in a different way, or expand on it a little? I don't quite follow you. I'm asking, not because I wish to defend OOO (I don't), but because I want to understand your critique. I'm not sure what you're saying, for instance, when you say that objects, for Harman and Latour, are each made of the self-same stuff. In my understanding, most of the OOO crowd would deny that objects are made of the self-same stuff, so I want to know what you're getting at.
Theurj, when you say, not entirely identical, what do you mean? Part of it is identical? (I'm asking this also to get some clarity for myself, since I'm finding myself feeling muddier these days, the more I probe into this stuff, rather than clearer.)
Beyond this, relative to the general point I wanted to make (about the principle of irreduction): do you think objects are, in principle, ever finally reducible to something or other (beyond which no further reduction is possible)?
I'm finding myself feeling muddier these days.
I relate to this, as OOO generally and Bryant more specifically have opened me up to some of my previous recalcitrant assumptions. Hence the obvious and clumsy struggling of my last post.
When you say, not entirely identical, what do you mean? Part of it is identical?
Good question, as it depends on what I mean by identical in my context, which is different that what I perceive it means in the context of a metaphysics of identity. In the context of differance it means that one pole is like its opposite in that it is in an inseparable relation, identified within the same relation. And yet it is also irreducible in its difference, not identical is the sense of being entirely the same, for then there is no difference.
As to my last post, another thought is that the differentiating of sub- an insubstantial in my example might make those more like sensual qualities in Harman's terms. The real objects might be the legs, in that the left leg remains a left leg in itself, and whether it becomes sub- or insubstantial depends on its contextual relation, in this case the shifting of weight. Not sure though if that exo-relation is as sensuous object or quality in Harman's terms. Still not clear, just more murky mud welling up from the dark recesses, which can happen when one opens.
Do you think objects are, in principle, ever finally reducible to something or other (beyond which no further reduction is possible)?
Don't know. If they remain in a sense open, an unbounded wholeness as it were united and split by differance, can we ever arrive at a final resting place?
"The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death." Time, Pink Floyd
This is a fine example of trying to fit what is concrete and singular into a general, abstract box, subsuming it into general principle in toto. Objects as defined by Bryant do not fit into this box as their boundaries are open (in some ways, closed in others); they do not have an object essence like this. This was part of Bryant's critique using Cantor and sets (in the wholeness thread), and his chapter on mereology in TDOO. A certain kind of hierarchical and nesting reasoning simply must subsume parts into a total and general category. And they must sit and stay there like good dogs. But objects are feral beasts and don't obey such commands from masters of the universe. And they will devour you Whole.
Theurj: In the context of differance it means that one pole is like its opposite in that it is in an inseparable relation, identified within the same relation. And yet it is also irreducible in its difference, not identical is the sense of being entirely the same, for then there is no difference.
Is this inseparability a kind of wholeness in relation?
Theurj: Don't know. If they remain in a sense open, an unbounded wholeness as it were united and split by differance, can we ever arrive at a final resting place?
If they are not -- if we can never arrive at a final resting place in our reduction, meaning objects are indefinitely and possibly unendingly or infinitely reducible -- then doesn't this suggest that they are also irreducible (by the very fact of their being never finally reducible)?
Is this inseparability a kind of wholeness in relation?
Seems so, sort of, yet indefinite or never arriving at a final Whole.
Doesn't this suggest that they are also irreducible (by the very fact of their being never finally reducible)?
I think that was my implication, that objects are irreducible because we never arrive at a final whole or part. More specifically per Bryant, an object, even though it has a singular autonomy, is still related and depends on its environment for its existence. They are irreducible to each other but still exist in "the relation," itself not closed. And such relation is specific to each object, hence there is no One environment. "The environment does not exist." Same with information.
I think that was my implication, that objects are irreducible because we never arrive at a final whole or part.
This is Joel's principle, or at least how I read Joel's principle (and was the point I was trying to make): the indefinite (never final) reducibility of objects leads to acknowledgement of their irreducibility. While I can relate this to a kind of withdrawnness, it seems (to me) to be a somewhat different way of understanding it than I find in Harman, for instance. I could just as easily say, it seems to me, that this irreducibility is like Bortoft's presencing of the (non-counterfeit, non-container-like) whole in the part, an unbounded wholeness. What do you think?
I guess what I'm not understanding is the premise that what I'm talking about is infinite reduction, that since there is no final whole or part there is an infinite regress of continuing reduction. Whereas what I'm saying is that any particular part (or whole for that matter, holon as it were), is itself irreducible to any other part or whole or relation while still participating in them. I don't see not having a final resting place as an infinite reduction but rather a finite irreduction.
Again though it depends on definition of terms, for there is an apparent dichotomy or opposition to the terms finite/infinite, reduction/irreduction. But recall that khora, like Bonnie's Core, is anterior or pre- such binary terms, the ground from which such opposition depends, so it doesn't help to try to fit finite irreduction into those boxes. Differance is not sameness or difference, finite or infinite, but more like the basic category (metaphor) in the middle that holds them together.
I like Bortoft's idea of the indefinite and unbounded whole presencing in the part, as long as the part retains the withdrawn indefiniteness from the whole. The active absence, as it were. Or as I called it elsewhere, the prabsence (said with a French accent on the second syllable) as ash-holon.
Whereas what I'm saying is that any particular part (or whole for that matter, holon as it were), is itself irreducible to any other part or whole or relation while still participating in them. I don't see not having a final resting place as an infinite reduction but rather a finite irreduction.
Why is it irreducible, in your view?
By infinite, I am meaning indefinite, open, not an endless series of numbers. When you say there is never a final resting place, that suggests that, at least in theory, reduction could go on and on and never arrive at the final, absolute, last reduction. It doesn't mean that you do do that, or that you have to do that in order to have one quality or principle transform into something else. As I understand it, it means that, if there is no final reduction or division in principle possible, then that is tantamount to saying that the object is irreducible (and its irreducibility is precisely in its open-ended or unbounded reducibility).