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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.

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A timely new blog entry by Bryant: The Whole, the One, and Totality.

Sometimes I wonder if he reads this forum and/or my blog. And/or perhaps what we've said is just an obvious logical extension of what he and other OOOers have already said. Some points from the post akin to my recent ruminations:

"Everything is actual.  This is the meaning of totality."

"It is difference that is primary, not identity defined by forms, essences, or concepts.  No two entities are ever exactly alike and no thing ever exactly repeats by virtue of the infinity of atoms.  For this reason, no whole forms a totality because every whole is only a local arrangement of atoms that actualizes some possible combinations and not others.  As a result, every whole is an open and creative whole. There is no combination that could totalize the combinatorial possibilities."

"In cosmology, for example, we learn that natural laws themselves were formed in the initial, infinitesimal seconds of the big bang...and that there are good reasons to suppose that there are universes with very different physical laws."

"Theological orientations perpetually strive to transform logoi (contingent and open pluralism) into logos (theological necessitarianism)."

Also see his post yesterday on naturalism. In one part he talks about memes, also discussed earlier in this thread is similar fashion*:

"There are a number of problems with meme theory, but one thing I think it does underline well is that there are replicators besides genes– cultural units –that contribute every bit as much to why humans are as they are and these replicators have 'aims' other than biological reproduction and survival.  Here, for example, we might think of soldiers facing almost certain death as they storm the beach at Normandy.  They are acting on behalf of memes not genes."

This would apply to class or capitalism as a hyperobject/meme.

He also discussed Andy Clark and the extended mind, also discussed earlier in the thread. Although I made the connection with Clark and assemblage-hyperobjects like thought (ideology) memes that I have yet to read in Bryant. Which doesn't mean he hasn't addressed it, just that I haven't seen it yet. I haven't read everything he's written.*

* Like this post and what precedes and follows.

Seek and ye shall find. Here's a Bryant post from '09 on semiotics and memes. It makes some of my same points, but does not address my previous questions above on how this squares with endo-relations and thoughts as elements of endo-structure. It does relate to extended mind and his more recent posts on incorporeal machines though, since the '09 post notes memes can be replicated (reiterated) in various media while retaining much of its own substance. And how the media will in turn affect how that memetic substance will be translated and changed.

Is this easy to follow? It's quite difficult to articulate.

I've been meaning to respond to this.  Yes, I follow you here -- and I think your point that the endo-structural relations and/or elements change is in alignment both with general autopoietic theory, and with Bryant's claim that difference itself differs -- but I am not clear whether you are wanting to confine "differance" only to the interior of our particular hyperobjective cosmos.  It would seem that in simply positing other such emergent hyperobjects (a multiverse hypothesis), differance must be operative in that larger (if still speculative and non-empirical) context.  What do you think?  Should objects stop forming, from particles to clouds, stars, etc, "differance" would "die," but as long as objects and hyperobjects are forming (including other Big Bang inflations -- bubbleverses) then differance spans even these universal hyperobjects.

Thinking of Bryant's (Platonic-seeming) notion of incorporeal hyperobjects (appearing in a number of bodies simultaneously), I am wondering whether he discusses this in relation to something like species.  Is a species an incorporeal hyperobject?  Sheldrake, of course, suggests this in his own way, positing a morphogenetic field which is both "developing" and "non-local" (operative in and through multiple bodies at once).  Changes in one or a limited number of "local" members of a species can, in his view, feed into and alter the morphogenetic field, which in turn can exert non-local influence on other members of the species, effecting similar changes in them as well...

I don't know whether there are other universes besides our own. I'm guessing there are, and they may or not be subject to differance. I'm leaving that open and agreeing with Bryant that they might not. I am asserting though that the endo-structure of our known universe displays differance and subsequently every smaller suobject aligns within that parameter.

Does Bryant say that other universes might not be subject to differance?  I think he -- like Swimme and other cosmologists -- readily admits that universes might contain different laws, but I didn't get the impression that that would entail that difference would not be operative.  If there are distinct laws, though different from our own, it seems difference is still operative.  (Especially if you follow Bryant's suggestion that "to be = to differ," which claim runs deeper than the various forms that being might take in different universes [where strong or weak nuclear forces might have different strengths, for instance, or where the expansion rate of a big bang event might have been slower or faster, resulting in different possibilities for object-formation, etc]).


I missed your reference to species on the previous page, so I will go look now.

I was speculating that differance is one of our universal laws but might or not be operative in other universes. As to whether differance grounds the laws of alternate universes is a step I haven't taken but it may well be the case. I'm not sure if Bryant is suggesting that or not.

I erased that part of my previous post about DeLanda and species. The post on p. 83 did not include it. I found the post on species here and it didn't address my point; to the contrary it seems to contradict it.

An interesting twist to our recent ruminations on species can be found in this 10/29/12 Bryant post on ecological populations.

"An ecological orientation focuses not in discrete, individual entities, but rather looks at the existence of these entities in a network of relations to other entities defined by interdependencies, feedback loops, and hierarchical relations between what is dominant and subordinate within that ecology.  In other words, the fact that something exists is not, within an ecological framework, as important as how that thing is situated in a network of interdependencies to other entities and questions of how much influence that type of entity exercises."

He then frames this in an ecology of ideas, using the term species for categories like phenomenology and deconstruction. He uses this to explore ecologies of dominance within academia, one species versus another vying for dominance. But I'd like to direct it back to our discussion of hyperobjects. For it is in these species-hyperobjects where their own endo-structural substance dominates the individual suobjects within it. Recall the example that differance is part of the endo-structural substance of our physical universe, and no individual suobject can step outside of differance.

Again we have no problem with smaller species like humanoid directing the general manifestation of its embodiment. Granted each human body displays uniqueness, but nonetheless it is still much more alike as a species despite individual differences. And the humanoid substance of species itself can and does change over time, as does the universal substance of differance itself. Still, the species hyperobject at any scale still rules for the most part in most individual circumstances.

I came upon this blog post by Bill Benzon called "Texts, traces and hyperobjects." It has similarities to my recent musings. An excerpt:

"The text must be that strange object: the collectivity of traces in many brains of many people over many places and many times. And so the text grows over time, and changes, and yet always the same itself. The text. And that, I believe, implies that what Tim Morton calls a hyperobject – widely distributed in time and space."

Here are some excerpts from Morton's response in Speculations to a review of his book The Ecological Thought:

"The entire Universe is what in chapter 3 I call a hyperobject, massively distributed in spacetime.... Hyperobjects are a good way to understand my concept of mesh.... In this sense the idea is Spinozan—there is really only one substance, modulated in different ways.... I believe I was careful to say that the mesh doesn’t exist apart from the entities that directly are it."

I've referenced Morton's essay before, "Materialism expanded and remixed." A few edited excerpts relevant to my latest tangent.

"The 'particle' doesn't truly exist—it's only an abstraction of a deeper reality that Bohm calls the
implicate order, 'implicate' in the sense that everything is folded into everything else. We are not really observing two particles—we are seeing an unfolding of the implicate order, which in a sense is 'one' thing in that it's undivided, but not a thing or 'one' in a more precise sense, since for 'one' to exist there must always be an other."

"Bohm argues that this must be the case with reality as such—every piece of it enfolds information about the whole. Bohm means the hologram to stand metaphorically for something far less reified... Nonlocality means that 'Here' and 'there' are superficial labels. Thus 'myself,' located here and now in spacetime, is a rather abstract generalization.... 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. This holistic whole remains separate from its parts in some sense.... 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."

"Meaninginfulness multiplies in Derridean thinking—it doesn't wither and die. Deconstruction discovers all kinds of entities appearing between or beyond or within existing metaphysical categories. Deconstruction is not destruction.... 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."

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