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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
This is an interesting blog post by Bryant. He discusses how his onticology is a hybrid of realism and idealism, depending on the definition.
I enjoyed this post by Bryant. It was clarifying for me, in some ways, but I guess also a mild let-down: what he articulates as the OOO anthro-de-centrizing of Kant (and Bogost's alien phenomenology) is very close to how I've thought about postmetaphysical enaction all along (so the mild let-down has to do with a feeling of "old news"). Kantian anthropocentrism seems like a non-problem to me, or a problem already dealt with by others prior to OOO. Not that OOO doesn't contribute anything new, of course; but one of the central problems he is addressing is not one that registers as a significant one to me (because it has already been addressed). This isn't to say, though, that Bryant doesn't address this lucidly and usefully in his own way; I think he does.
Concerning his strict materialism: to the degree that it replicates a Newtonian view of atomistic objects floating in a void, only relating when they encounter each other by locally bumping into each other or exchanging signals, I don't think this takes the present state of physics fully enough into account. I definitely appreciate the concerns about non-locality appearing to involve or imply the kind of 'direct' or privileged access that OOO critiques, but I don't think that necessarily has to follow. Although this is a bit of a tangent, I mention it by way of analogy: the therapist Judith Blackstone talks about a state of consciousness which is more space- or field-like, pervasive of objects, and even claims to be able to feel other people's feelings from within their bodies (rather than just noticing countertransferential feelings in her own), but she simultaneously affirms an intersubjectivist view, arguing that her experience of these things, while non-local in a sense (in that it exceeds the boundaries of what we normally think a body should be able to feel), is nevertheless not "direct" in the sense that OOO critiques. The others' feelings are still being 'translated' by her, co-constructed or co-enacted, and therefore she doesn't claim authoritative knowledge of others' feelings; only a subtler transcorporeal mediated contactfulness.
While each object is unique it nevertheless has immense similarity to others in its class. Human bodies, e.g., are far more alike to each other than they are unique, uniqueness accounting perhaps for less than 1% compared to the similarities. (Just my uninformed estimate.) Therefore of course we can get inside another's body and mind since we are resonating with mostly the same emotion or language-thought. Granted as individuals we're going to have slightly different 'translations' of love, e.g., given our personal and cultural histories. But we pretty much share this thing called love and know it when we feel it not just in ourselves but in another.
Bryant includes this notion in 'extended mind' and also 'second-order observation.' In both one can imagine what something is like for another. And if they share the same type of body (human) that imagining is far more accurate and akin as to be virtually synonymous, while not exactly so. This still retains an individual's uniqueness, as well as a hidden reserve that is not only not available to another but to oneself. It also pertains to the 'field' kind of knowing, in that any individual suobject is always in relation with others in an extended field and hence shares the same space-time. This is so even if there is that hidden reserve that is not 'relating,' as most of the suobject is doing so most all of the time.
I can relate the above to partner dancing. Through the physical and emotional connection between partners we can feel into and through each other. We connect to the music which moves us in individual ways but we nonetheless communicate that continuously to each other and create a partnered 'field' that is our particular dance. Which of course includes the particular song, as well as the other dancers around us, those watching, etc. The degree to which this happens of course depends on the technical, connection and communication skills of the partners. But when they feel into each other the dance expresses it beautifully and the audience feels it too, feels that aesthetic and emotional matrix they are creating, and it is shared by the field. Same for good art or film, how it connects us all the almost the same feelings and thoughts when we experience it together. There is indeed something universal about it as well as particular. Qualifying, of course, what is universal here is the same type of body, not some ideal, unchanging form.
In my short but intense participation with Commons' Yahoo forum* I always appreciated Otto Laske's perspective, since he generally questioned the rigidity of developmental paradigms while simultaneously supporting them. So I'm pleased to see Laske has a piece in the August issue of ILR here. The following is a brief excerpt consonant with this thread.
"In a nutshell: I am saying that concepts, ordinarily considered only as tools for constructing the social and physical world, or even only as tools for 'getting things done,' and worse, as external labels for 'things,' are actually life-determining and –directing entities."
* Documented in this thread, which continued to explore the issues raised therein.
After reading the piece I find that I'm just not interested any longer in the exploration of levels or phases of development. What that means about me in terms of those levels I do not know. And more importantly, I do not care.
I think it probably means "overkill" -- a topic that has just been explored and debated too much, or with disproportionate intensity in Integral circles. I don't think it means that development is an unimportant factor in life, just that you're (understandably) sick and tired of discussing it!
I mentioned above that I was looking a bit into knot theory to get inspiration for some OOO-II hybrid models. Recently, I've been thinking also about my notion of "generative (en)closure" and wondering how that might be related to knot theory. For instance, a generative (en)closure can be seen as a kind of Uexkullian ethological "bubble" (or vice versa), which of course relates to the "alien phenomenology" of Bogost that I mentioned above. In the previous post, I mentioned that graphic representations of hyperbolic invariants, which show the "inside" of a borromean ring or knot, might be a suggestive way to evoke various alien phenomenologies. But I'm also thinking that wild knots, which are knots which tend towards infinity (fractal), might be used to represent ethological spaces (bubbles) or generative (en)closures. Doing Uexkull's experiment, of walking along and imaginatively evoking different overlapping bubble-worlds of different species, I was struck by the "openness" of each such space (room for potentially endless number of object-interactions, distinctions, etc) and began to think of each such space as a wild knot:
And here's a 4 Quadrant "wild fractal knot":
Furthermore, relating this to my interest in Slot's spheres, this page suggests a relation between tame knots, spheres, and wild knots. Not sure I follow all of this, but I feel there's something worthwhile here to keep exploring.
I thought with the quote I selected that he'd go toward something like Bryant's objects but not so much. A couple of points I appreciated though.
"Context-bound thinking, although it is able to describe a 'big picture' of things, does not manage to perceive the space or gap between things it describes in terms of their structure."
"While C[ontext] and P[rocess] are 'opposites,' they also mutually and intrinsically define each other and the whole they are part of."
"Thinking in terms of R[elationship] thought forms is a combination of being part of a totality and finding this totality to be in motion, with the result that my being a part of a larger whole constantly changes its meaning for me."
"Making use of process thought forms, I can begin to see related things as being 'the other' of each other. I am unpacking what I sense is negativity, otherness."
These are themes we've explored at length in the forum.
"I also begin to become aware of 'constitutive”'relationships that logically precede me and into which [I] 'am being entered.'"
Here is where he approaches something like my first quote, something like a hyperobject or cultural meme, an object in itself to which we are but a part and which shapes and controls us in ways we are not in the least aware. (Unless of course we are INTEGRAL!) But he never follows this trail.
"Thinking/living in terms of transformational systems (T)....we are nearing the point where, through thinking, one can integrate multiple, mutually interdependent, perspectives, not just in breadth (as in integral thinking), but in depth. This means that we discard all formalistic thinking, even thinking 'in quadrants.'"
Another theme of the forum, that many aspects of kennililngus are themselves quite formal and in little boxes that are catologed but not interrelated. Which of course I find more than a bit ironic, since he too is really into putting things in little boxes with his charts.
On practical wisdom: "There is no practical wisdom in general, there is only the idiosyncratic wisdom of a particular person." And here we finally get to a suobject's distinctive individuality, despite its relationships. But again, he doesn't go there. He compares it to the "familiar stranger" but I much prefer Morton's strange stranger on this one. I'd even suggest that onticology is a step beyond (or outside?) what he has documented.
Your knotty pics Balder are all indicative of tying or weaving together various elements, which is a theme in the Laske material I provided and generally absent from kennilingus. Edwards does a much better job at not only the dynamics of the space between suobjects but their internal interrelationships as well. As does Bryant from his onticological base.
One example is from this post on Edwards' media(tor) holons, earlier in the thread.
A recent (and recurring) theme in the thread has been that of transcendence. Bryant's recent post on this is instructive. He sees it as a system that sets itself apart from the world. This does not necessarily have to be supernatural but deals more with identification, an in-group that excludes and/or persecutes an other through a boundary logic. Boundaries per se are not the problem so much as that they are too rigid and distinct. For Bryant boundaries can be see more as both/and inside and outside. He ties this to ego formation, for it tends to make such rigid discriminations, at least at first. So he has wondered for some time how we can form healthy identifications without the violence inherent to rigid boundary-making. And it is here that the space between comes in, how boundaries are maintained yet traversed.