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




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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


This radical finitude includes a strange irreducible openness.

Views: 22265

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Oh, no worries, Ed.  I knew these moves were in the works for you, but didn't know they were so close.  Best of luck, friend, with your transition to a new, and hopefully more fulfilling living situation and vocation.

Bonnie linked to this blog post on her Magellan Course:  an Ontology of Organism (OoO) rather than OOO.

We held a Speculative Realism/Object-oriented philosophy panel discussion last spring at the California Institute of Integral Studies. You can find the recordings of each of the panelists here:

I'm not sure if its been discussed in this thread yet, but Harman has a 4-fold ontology that may have more than superficial similarities to Wilber's AQAL model. See this post:

I think Speculative Realism might be a fruitful dialogue partner for integral theory; this would lead to interesting tensions in several places. Not only does SR represent a return to (post-Kantian) metaphysics, it draws our attention away from human consciousness and its correlates to focus again on the world itself in all its strangeness. I have reservations about its potentially nihilistic/eliminativist tendencies (see the work of Ray Brassier, for example), but I think there is something important integral philosophy can learn from SR's anthrodecentrism even if it doesn't follow it all the way to a "flat" ontology. 

Very cool, Matthew; thanks.  I will check those talks out.  Concerning Harman, yes, I just finished reading The Quadruple Object a few weeks ago, and had mentioned on this thread that his neo-Heideggerian fourfold object model -- particularly his discussion of its extensions at the end of the book -- provides for interesting points of contact with Integral, since it too is a kind of integral methodological pluralism.  I also do not follow OOO or Speculative Realism all the way in their conclusions, but I do think the work being done by these philosophers is interesting and worthy of further engagement and exploration by Integral theorists.  As you may know, Bhaskar's work is also coming into communication with Integral; there was a recent AQAL / Meta-Reality conference, and Sean Esbjorn-Hargens is working to create an organization which conjointly explores and furthers the work of Wilber, Bhaskar, and Morin.

P.S. I'm laughing over here!  I just realized the Footnotes to Plato blog is yours!

Some interesting musings between Michael and Adam at Archive Fire.

Two interesting-looking OOO-related blog posts, the first looking at OOO in light of quantum principles (here), the second providing a list of the key terms of onticology (here).

Hahaha, yes, I was wondering what you would think of his (epistemological) rendering of Bohr...

A quote by Jack Petranker from the TSK class I attended today:  "Certainty and substance are qualities of appearance alongside other qualities.  Appearance without substance means there is the appearance of substance.  Which opens the 'space possibilities' of things."

I found an interesting conversation between Protevi, DeLanda and Thanem about Deleuze. They also discuss the “science wars” and how philosophy is an interdisciplinary meta-endeavor, but I'll leave you to read that on your own. Here are some excerpts relevant to this thread, the last of particular interest to you mereological non-assholonians:


Deleuze’s main contribution to philosophy, it seems to me, is to have rescued realism (as an ontological stance) from the oblivion in which it has been for a century or more. In some philosophical circles to say that the world exists independently of our minds is tantamount to a capital crime. Non-realist philosophers (from positivists to phenomenologists) have created a straw man to kick around: the naive realist, who thinks we have unmediated access to the external world and who holds a correspondence theory of truth. So the key move here was to create a viable alternative form of realism to deprive non-realists of that easy way out. Similarly, when it comes to defend the autonomy of non-human entities (atoms, molecules, cells, species) the crucial manoeuvre is to account for their mind-independent identity without bringing essences into the picture.... The identity of any real entity must be accounted for by a process, the process that produced that entity.

I cannot imagine a materialist philosophy which is not also realist. On the other hand, someone who believes that god and the devil exist independently of our minds is also a realist but clearly not a materialist. The only problem with the term 'materialism' is that not only matter but also energy and
physical information are needed to account for self-organizing phenomena and the processes which fabricate physical entities. Also, some forms of materialism may imply reductionism (of the mind to matter, for example) and that is not at all implied by the term 'realism.'


I’d certainly agree that fitting materialism into the contrast of realism and idealism is important. I’d also say that while materialism is often contrasted with idealism, you could also say that the foil for Deleuze and Guattari’s materialism is dualism, specifically a spiritualist dualism. So their materialism is a monism (another way of putting this is to say they demand immanence rather than transcendence). Spiritualist dualisms have, because of an impoverished concept of matter as chaotic or passive, too hastily had recourse to a 'hylomorphic' schema in which an organized transcendent agent is responsible for all production. The problem is how to account for the ordered and creative nature of bodies and assemblages, for if matter is chaotic, it can’t account for order, but if it’s passive, it can’t account for creativity. Deleuze and Guattari’s materialism avoids the forced choice of matter’s chaos or spirit’s
transcendent ordering by calling attention to the self-ordering potentials of matter itself, as outlined in the researches of complexity theory (as Manuel point out above, you have expand the sense of 'matter' to include the energy and information of 'material systems'). Deleuze and Guattari can thus account for
order and creativity in the world without the heavy ontological price of a dualism or the unacceptable phenomenal price of the denial of creativity as illusory, as in 'God’s eye view' spiritualist transcendent determinism.


In this ontology all that exists in the actual world is singular individual entities (individual atoms, cells, organisms, persons, organizations, cities and so on) whose main difference from each other is spatio-temporal scale. There are no totalities, such as 'society as a whole,' but a nested set of singular (unique, historically contingent) beings nested within one another like a Russian Doll. Between one entity and the larger one the relationship is one of parts to whole (not one of membership in a general category). This link is machine-like: lower scale entities form the working parts of a larger scale whole, a whole which emerges (and needs to be continuously maintained) by the interactions between the parts. Thus, interacting persons yield institutional organizations; interacting organizations yield cities; interacting cities organize the space in which nation states emerge and so on. This changes the very way in which the problem of agency and structure is posed, since the term 'structure' illegitimately conflates several scales and deprives organizations and cities of causal agency.

In this ontology all that exists in the actual world is singular individual entities (individual atoms, cells, organisms, persons, organizations, cities and so on) whose main difference from each other is spatio-temporal scale. There are no totalities, such as 'society as a whole,' but a nested set of singular (unique, historically contingent) beings nested within one another like a Russian Doll. Between one entity and the larger one the relationship is one of parts to whole (not one of membership in a general category). This link is machine-like: lower scale entities form the working parts of a larger scale whole, a whole which emerges (and needs to be continuously maintained) by the interactions between the parts. Thus, interacting persons yield institutional organizations; interacting organizations yield cities; interacting cities organize the space in which nation states emerge and so on. This changes the very way in which the problem of agency and structure is posed, since the term 'structure' illegitimately conflates several scales and deprives organizations and cities of causal agency.

Reading this out of context (I haven't read the full discussion yet), I might be misunderstanding it or missing some of what he is saying, but this seems to be describing a fully local, atomistic, mechanistic, and apparently linear ontology.  This does not seem like any kind of "advance" to me.  I have a few thoughts in relation to this: one, if he challenges the idea of "society as a whole," then I'm not sure how he can also speak of singular entities such as organizations, cities, etc, within which (he seems to suggest) smaller constitutive entities would function in a machine-like way as parts to a whole.  In other words, he seems to be allowing for organizations-as-a-whole, cities-as-a-whole, etc, so why not societies?  Two, as I've mentioned before, I think a modern ontology (and cosmology) needs to account (somehow) for nonlocality, which would be simply precluded in a strictly local, atomistic world.  Three, in saying that this ontology contains only singular individual entities, I wonder what becomes of non-entitative realities, such as relations, generative processes, activities, knowing, etc.  I know that Harman and Bryant both argue that relations themselves are objects, and Bryant says objects are their processes, but 'object' and 'process' are not strictly synonymous (although, I'd agree, they might nevertheless be regarded as inseparable).  Four, I posted a link to an excerpt the other day from a book by Jean-Luc Nancy: Being Singular Plural.  I looked him up on the web based on something Harman had said, and then discovered with some pleasure that he also features prominently in several essays in Polydoxy.  One of his claims, which relates directly to the above description by Delanda, is that a singular being is a contradiction in terms.  His claim doesn't totally refute the ontology Delanda described above, but it complicates it (complication = co-implication): there is never just One; one is always more-than-one, a plurisingularity (as Keller puts it).  In Nancy's account (which is an elaboration of Derrida's notions of spacing and differance), the essence of being is 'with' or 'co'.  Cogito ergo cum.  (I'll have to find the quote later, but he rejects the notion of a totally independent, withdrawn entity, existing without any relation to anything else in existence).

I cannot speak for DeLanda or Protevi but can acknowledge that both are much more erudite than I, as well as much better philosophers. My 2 cents: What I took from those comments didn't indicate any kind of atomistic or linear ontology. There was acknowledgment of various kinds of singular wholes, which by their own definition are also plural and thereby relational. I also saw that the comments were in the context of systems theory so there is also generative process involved, a la Bryant. I took the comment about "society as a whole" as more a reference to an assholon, much like Morton says there is no environment as a totality. And I don't think Bryant asserts a totally withdrawn entity without any relation, not sure about Harman.

Ilya Prigogine has come up in some recent posts so I'm re-reading his (along with Isabelle Stengers) classic Order Out of Chaos (Bantam 1984). The following passage for me accurately describes the excess that is always withdrawn from any particular actualization, in Bryant's terms.

“Thus there is an irreducible multiplicity of representations for a system.... Bohr always emphasized the novelty of the positive choice introduced through measurement.... [he] expressed this idea through the principle of complementarity.... No single theoretical language articulating the variables to which a well-defined value can be attributed can exhaust the physical content of a system..... The irreducible plurality of perspectives on the same reality expresses the impossibility of a divine point of view from which the whole of reality is visible.... Music, for example, has not been been exhausted by any of its realizations, by any style or composition, from Bach to Schonberg” (225).

Reply to Discussion


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

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

Notice to Visitors

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

© 2024   Created by Balder.   Powered by

Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service