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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Namaste, Layman Troll!
Does this not mean that one cannot suggest that essences of things cannot be pointed to as already meaning what "differences" mean?
If my strikethrough above is an appropriate edit of your sentence, then yes, that is how I understand what he means. But he doesn't indicate, in the video, what his understanding of 'withdrawal' is.
IF there was a cosmic expansion event then it may or may not be amenable to multiplicity in the ordinary sense.
Yes, I agree it's possible that the expansion event that led to our universe was a unique or anomalous one. But your point above still suggests a 'reality' of some sort (rather than an absolute void or absence) that pre-existed that particular expansion event. My stronger philosophical commitment is to avoiding positing a beginning to being; how its ongoingness manifests is an open question (whether that involves multiple big bangs or something else).
Yes, certainly my remarks should also be construed as forbidding the unthinkable any access to thought (cognitive nihilism) in the form of a postulated beginning-to-being.
I join you in being open to the varieties of Bang theory on top of that philosophical commitment.
From long ago in the thread there was a link to some of Wilber's works. I opened that version of SES and searched for subsistence. The following is from footnote 360 (p. 809), which is sounding a lot like what I'm intuiting lately. And which sounds like a version of virtual proper being and local manifestation. I'm coming full circle. More later as I contemplate this further.
"The totality of all manifestation at any time—the All—subsists in the low causal, as the sum total of the consequent and primordial nature of Spirit (in roughly Whitehead's sense), and this Totality is the manifest omega pull on each individual and finite thing: as such, it is ever-receding: each new moment has a new total horizon that can never be reached or fulfilled, because the moment of fulfillment itself creates a new whole of which the previous whole is now a part: cascading whole/parts all the way up, holons endlessly self-transcending and thus never finally self-fulfilled: rushing forward ceaselessly in time attempting to find the timeless.
"And the final Omega, the ultimate and unmanifest Omega, the causal Formless, is the magnet on the other side of the horizon, which never itself enters the world of Form as a singularity or as a totality (or any other phenomenal event), and thus is never found at all in any version of manifestation, even though all manifestation will rest nowhere short of this infinite Emptiness.Thus, from any angle, there is no ultimate Omega to be found in the world of Form. There is no Perfection in the manifest world. Were the world of Form to find Perfection and utter fulfillment, there would be nothing else for it to do and nowhere else for it to go: nothing further to want, to desire, to seek, to find: the entire world would cease its search, stop its drive, end its very movement: would become without motion, time, or space: would become the Formless. But the Formless is already there, on the other side of the horizon, which is to say, the Formless is already there as the deepest depth of this and every moment.This Deepest Depth is the desire of all Form, which cannot itself be reached in the world of Form, but rather as the Emptiness of each and every Form: when all Forms are seen to be always already Formless, then dawns the Nondual empty Ground that is the Suchness and the Thusness of each and every display. The entire world of Form is always already Perfectly Empty, always already in the ever-present Condition of all conditions, always already the ultimate Omega that is not the goal of each and every thing but the Suchness of each and every thing: just this. The search is always already over, and Forms continue their eternal play as a gesture of the Divine, not seeking Spirit but expressing Spirit in their every move and motion."
I'm still critical of the traditional metaphysical framing. And have yet to see any change in more recent works like Integral Spirituality, which I've criticized at length. Still, aspects of the above can be framed within OOO, and add something to it per my recent ruminations. If we see our known universe as an immanent, material hyperobject instead of an ontotheological ground it makes sense to see the endo-structural autonomy of the universe as a "pull on each individual and finite thing," with those things as its local manifestations. As I said above, no thing can escape differance. I also appreciate Wilber's version of iteration, in that "each new moment has a new total horizon that can never be reached and fulfilled." His Omega doesn't have to be the be All and end All but can be more like the virtual eternal hyperobject, always at least partly withdrawn, never entering into local manifestation in its entirety. It "is already there...as the deepest depth of this and every moment.... Not the goal of each and every thing but the[ir] Suchness."
Now a major OOO concern which I share is how to articulate this groundless ground without turning it into the kind of metaphysical substratum no longer acceptable. I think what I'm suggesting goes a long way toward that. It's a kind of re-framing of the emptiness of emptiness doctrine, since differance is the anarchic foundation or transcendental condition for this universe, and yet itself remains withdrawn from the metaphysics of presence despite being present in every manifest suobject.
Interesting, Ed. I'll be back to comment further on this tomorrow. In the meantime, I wonder if you've seen the diagram Morton recently posted on his blog?
Thanks, I'll have to ponder on that diagram. Speaking of Morton, see this interview of him by Coffield. On the hyperobject global warming:
"Global warming is the mother of the tornado. It's a necessary condition for the tornado. Something you can't feel becomes more substantial than a tornado tearing through your neighborhood!"
All the more so for differance. On the mesh:
"Meshes contain gaps, as well as connections: They are full of holes and not-holes. Meshes are, thus, inconsistent, paradoxical objects made of presence and absence." Differance again.
On aesthetics and mesh:
"The aesthetic dimension is the causal dimension, which in turn means that it is also the mesh, the vast nonlocal web that floats 'in front of' objects (ontologically, not physically 'in front of)."
I discussed this 'in front of' previously. Combine that with the following on expanding the definition of hyperobjects to war or class when he said:
"I don't very much wish to police how we think about hyperobjects."
So why not expand it to the known physical universe? Like I've said, we can do so without arriving at the universe of all universes. Yes, we walk a fine metaphysical line by doing so, but that's no reason not to go hyper on hyperobjects.
Bryant is here discussing capitalism as a hyperobject. Some points of interest:
"In the language of my machine-oriented ontology or onticology, we would say that we only ever encounter local manifestations of hyperobjects, local events or appearances of hyperobjects, and never the hyperobject as such. Hyperobjects as such are purely virtual or withdrawn. They can’t be directly touched. And what’s worse, contrary to Locke’s principle of individuation whereby an individual is individuated by virtue of its location in a particular place and at a particular time, hyperobjects are without a site or place....how do we target something that is non-local and that is incorporeal?"
All of which reminds me of previous discussions of DeLanda’s reading of Deleuze’s virtuality. For example, starting here with a link to his book Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. Some reminders:
Reply by theurj on March 29, 2012 at 11:14pm
“Unlike essences which are always abstract and general entities, multiplicities are concrete universals....[and] is typically divergent....unlike essences, which as abstract general entities coexist side by side sharply distinguished from one another, concrete universals must be thought as meshed together in a continuum. This further blurs the identities of multiplicities, creating zones of indiscernibility where they blend into each other, forming a continuous immanent space very different from a reservoir of eternal archetypes" (22-3).
Reply by theurj on March 30, 2012 at 7:54am
As he said earlier, he uses the science of dynamic systems. From this he explores how undifferentiated, intensive capacities give rise to differentiated, extensive forms. As but one example he uses embryogenesis. When an extensive form is completed we get an idea similar to Bryant's withdrawal. He says:
"But the basic idea is that is that once a process of individuation is completed, the intensive factors that defined this process disappear or become hidden underneath the extensive and qualitative properties of the final product" (59).
Reply by theurj on March 30, 2012 at 9:34am
Here's more on the virtual, similar to the withdrawn. (Bryant discusses the differences between the concepts in TDOO, particularly chapter 3.*)
"An individual may be characterized by a fixed number definite properties (extensive and qualitative) and yet possess an indefinite number of capacities to affect and be affected by other individuals.... Deleuze, in fact, always gives a two-fold definition of the virtual (and the intensive), using both singularities (unactualized tendencies) and and what he calls affects (unactualized capacities to affect and be affected)" (62).
* For example: "Another way of understanding the concept of virtual singularities or attractors is in terms of Spinoza's concept of affect....[which] links the concept of affect to the capacities of an object.... Tthese affects consist of both an entity's 'receptivity' to other entities and the various capacities an entity has to act" (3.4).
Reply by theurj on March 30, 2012 at 9:57am
More from TDOO on DeLanda:
"The attractors of a substance....are the generative mechanisms within an object that preside over the events or qualities of which the object is capable. However, while serving as the condition of these events or qualities, these attractors are not themselves qualitative or events. As DeLanda puts it, 'attractors are never actualized, since no point of a trajectory [of an object] ever reaches the attractor itself.' As such, the attractors or singularities inhabiting the endo-structure of an object are radically withdrawn. They are that which serves as the condition for the actual dimension of an object, for the local manifestations of an object, but are never themselves found on the actual side of an object" (3.3).
Reply by theurj on March 31, 2012 at 10:21am
In TDOO Bryant criticizes Deleuze's virtual, which "seems to consist of a single continuum, such that there is only one virtual, one substance, that is then partitioned into apparently distinct entities" (3.2). Whereas DeLanda's reconstruction of Deleuze in ISVP says: "This virtual continuum cannot be conceived as a single, homogenous space, but rather as a heterogeneous space made out of a population of multiplicities, each with a topological space of its own" (69).
And yet what I'm suggesting is that the hyperobject universe does indeed have a singular endo-structural autonomy, something I've previously fought. Granted that endo-structure is indeed multiplicity as DeLanda defines it, which is also how I see differance. It is a universal in both Bryant and DeLanda and yet they cannot accept universals... Yes, each suobject has an indivdual topological space, but it is within a larger topological space of a hyperobject. Bryant has not trouble seeing individual endo-spaces being dominanted by hyperobjects like class or capitalism, so what about the Big Kahuna Hyperobject? Multiplicity of differance itself?
To my way of looking, at least three spaces are required (in addition to the indiscernible element of all distinctions) -- roughly analogous to the gross, subtle & causal of the Integralist.
Deleuze, with his Nietzschean interest in vital energy and aesthetics, gives us the term "virtual". I connect that the the "subtle realm" in which one characteristic flavor-energy takes many flowing forms.
Conversely, the notion of a heterogeneous topological space of differential multiplicities is more like the transparent structural im/possibility demanded by a coherent understanding of the causal realm. We would expect that the basic identificational scaffolding of all patterns and fields can be conceived as hyberobjects in such a domain. But it most likely takes personal "mystical" experience in order to understand the need for a hyperobject-of-hyperobjects.
Or, more accurately, it takes something personal to reduce the cautious antipathy which a theorist might shy away from the most general possible function of Differential Multiplicity Itself -- the Causal God who himself IS the boundary of the unthinkable. Here we almost become Cartesian again...
In Morton's talk Hyperobjects 4.0 he calls Cthulhu a hyperobject (7:15).
From Morton's article, "Materialism expanded and remixed":
"What these phenomena [climate, hyperobjects, nonlocality] have in common is interconnectedness. Each phenomenon makes us think deeply about how absolutely everything is absolutely related to absolutely everything else.... What emerges in its place is the outlines of what elsewhere I am calling the mesh:a total interconnectivity" (4).
"Recent results from gravity wave detectors have revealed a suspiciously regular pattern emanating from the cosmic background radiation, as if at some level reality were pixilated—made up of regular little 'dots' of information: exactly the kind of information you'd expect to see if you really were a projection of an actual hologram.... In truth, then, we are 'in' something (if 'in' has any meaning here) that has no center or edge. We are certainly not pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that's larger than all of us put together. This kind of view, known as holism, means that there is a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
"You are not part of a larger whole: you are that whole, directly. This means that there is, again, no background against which our thinking makes sense. This is it, folks. The holographic view, or implicate order, is not a view of oneness or harmony—there's nothing to become one, nothing to harmonize. Since the whole is undivided, there is nothing to compare it with: it is utterly singular, which means that it can never violently express itself as One, as the One (Derrida, Archive Fever). Everything is enfolded in everything, which means that at this level (if 'level' is the right word here),everything is 'flowing movement' as Bohm says" (10-11).
"Deconstruction is not claiming that nothing means anything; deconstruction is claiming that meaning only arises because of a play of difference, not because of some intrinsic meaning. The sub-quantum level that Bohm hypothesizes is very much this play of difference" (13).