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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
I'm not sure of the last article's date but it does raise a few questions on the relation to Bryant's work. For example, Morton's "the particle doesn't truly exist" seems to contradict Bryant's firm statement in the absolute singularity of the smaller-scale object. It is but an implicated relation to the hyperobject, the latter being "really only one substance modulated in different ways." Bryant is particularly (pun intended) critical of that sort of monistic goo. Hence you also get Bryant's disagreement about non-locality being 'in time,' whereas for Morton it transcends time with simultaneous communication across space-time since they really aren't two distinct particles but of one thing.
Also they'd appear to disagree about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. There is no doubt for Bryant that an assemblage does indeed display properties and qualities not contained in its parts. And more so, it's substance is more than those parts. Granted he'd agree with Morton that it is not an assholon totality, but they are emergent wholes nonetheless.
Morton seems able to accept this for the undivided whole universe, itself utterly singular. But not its constituent parts? And no hyperobjects outside the universe? No other universes? At the same time Morton asserts that this singular universe is not One but is in its parts. Again, it might be the One but it is singular, meaning a one. And as a one it has boundaries, temporary as they may be. Hence time-bound differance does indeed apply to the universe and its parts.
For example, from Bryant's hyperobjects paper:
"Objects [including hyperobjects] are built out of other objects, they are emergent from other objects, yet also take on an internal structure of their own that renders them independent from or irreducible to the objects out of which they are built....larger scale objects have powers and capacities that can nowhere be found in the smaller scale objects composing the object" (92).
And from this Bryant post:
"Hyperobjects, like all objects, are internally differentiated or structured while remaining a unity."
"Remember, that according to objectological mereology that the parts of a larger scale object are themselves independent objects in their own right. This entails that they are withdrawn from the larger scale object to which they belong. In Harman’s terminology, larger scale objects only ever encounter smaller scale objects that compose them obtusely."
And this Bryant post. Granted it's over 2 years old and he and Morton have ironed out some of these differences. But I'm not up on all either have written since then and these same tensions are evident in what I've cited above. Excerpt:
"On the surface of things it seems that my position and Morton’s are quite far apart. After all, Morton is the author of The Ecological Thought which argues for the interdependence of all things, whereas us object-oriented ontologists argue that objects are withdrawn from all relations. Morton and I are currently working through these differences."
As I've said before, I think it is something of an exaggeration to define objects as withdrawn from all relations, for a number of reasons we've discussed before. OOO makes a good case that a radically relational (relation-only) view runs into trouble, since it becomes difficult to account for change, among other things. But OOO also admits that a view of radical withdrawal would at least seem to make the interaction of objects impossible, and sets its task out to show how interrelationship is still possible. (And Buddhism would argue, in the mirror-image of OOO, that island-like, wholly self-sufficient and self-existing objects also would never change). So, as I've said from the very first pages of this thread (though my insight into this has been shifting and growing through this time), I think siding either for total relational determination or total withdrawal from all relations is a dead end and not workable. While OOO, which leans towards withdrawal, needs to do work to show how interrelationship is nevertheless possible, I think a similar approach can be taken for the relationist camp: to show how, even though objects are to some degree interdependently arising, they nevertheless do so in a way that avoids relational determinism and allows for change. While I need to work this through more rigorously, my sense is that we can perhaps find this in what I've called (en)closure or the rounding of particularity. Wherever we find a "whole object" which is a unit with internal relations, we find an instance of relational closure. This closure is at once emergence (of a particularity) and withdrawal (from direct contact with other emergent objects).
What do you think? Where does this land with you?
My sense is that is precisely what Bryant is doing. And he is working through this as well, expanding on it with each blog post and interactive dialog. His relationship with Morton is but one example, how the latter's hyperobjects have changed Bryant's view (and vice versa).
Don't give it all away to him! :-) We're doing work here, too. And he may even be reading.
(When he still says phrases like "withdrawn from all relation," that to me suggests he is falling short, at least, of what I want, and am trying, to articulate here.)
Concerning Morton, in saying "particles do not truly exist," but only the implicate order, he is committing the undermining fallacy (in Harman's language). I think I've mentioned David Abram in this context, as well. While his argument is more aesthetic, affective, and ethical, rather than strictly philosophical or logical, he makes the same point: we lose something essential when we erase the reality of this-world objects in preference for quantum reality or whatever.
I agree, we are contributing in this P2P knowledge generation and adding our own individual and collective twists. And it does seem at times Bryant is reading and responding, but to date he has not given us any credit for it that I'm aware. I also agree that when Bryant says "withdrawn from all relation" I'm not buying that either and it taints his otherwise excellent work.* This goes for when he occasionally says that of differance as well, as if it were just the withdrawn side of things. And when he seems to dichotomize virtual proper being as just an inside and local manifestations as just an outside, as I criticized above (like here).
I'll remind other readers of this thread distinguishing Kennilingam's metaphysical (dual) nondualism with Derrida's mutually entailing nondualism. And this thread doing the same with the Lingam's brand of shentong Buddhism and a more rangtong inflected variety. Also see this recent post (et seq) on reincarnation in the Cloud Atlas thread.** I see traces of shentong in Morton's "particles to not truly exist" and his undivided universal goo as an example of alayavijnana. Also the more general Buddhist notion of emptiness of inherent existence, if taken to the extreme that since nothing has an independent inherent existence that therefore nothing has an individual existence or autonomy. Bryant somewhere rightfully questioned that sort of Buddhist interdependence in Morton (can't find the cite at present***).
* It seems this is a vestigial holdover from Harman's hefty influence.
** If I may be so bold as to suggest that I appear to be the only one at present making this connection to an onticologically inflected interpretation of reincarnation. It is surely implied in Bryant's latest ideas about incorporeal and potentially eternal hyperobjects, but I added the Buddhist reincarnation twist.
Reading over the IPE post (which references our IPS discussions) and its links and comments, I highlight Balder's comments on Morton's Buddhist 4-fold analysis where Balder aptly noted that the Vajra Slivers are refuting the 4-fold, not supporting it like Morton. Hence it is indeed the Prasangika tetralemma, whereas Morton sees that as only the lower Buddhist analysis (rangtong). The higher is his shentong version which indeed reifies a lot. His arguments against rangtong as being only the present-at-hand have been dispatched quite nicely earlier in this thread with a recontextualized rangtong including onticology.
This is the 1111th reply to the thread. As such it numerologically indicates the 4-fold nature of unity. What? Just being silly... (Which word comes from selig, meaning blessed.)
Bryant's recent post on posthumanism is interesting. I'm recalling Balder's previous suggestion on an integral grammatology. Here Bryant is focusing on that aspect of his work to do with perspectival phenomenology. Some excerpts:
"As I understand it, a position is posthumanist when it no longer privileges human ways of encountering and evaluating the world, instead attempting to explore how other entities encounter the world. Thus, the first point to note is that posthumanism is not the rejection or eradication of human perspectives on the world, but is a pluralization of perspectives.... Posthumanism goes one step further in arguing that animals, microorganisms, institutions, corporations, rocks, stars, computer programs, cameras, etc., also have their phenomenologies or ways of apprehending the world. I think this is a point that is often missed about OOO. OOO is as much a theory of perspectives, a radicalization of phenomenology, as it is a theory of entities. While the various strains of OOO differ amongst themselves, they all share this thesis in common. There is a phenomenology for, not of, every type of entity that exists."
"Phenomenology-for is a phenomenological practice that attempts to observe the manner in which another entity experiences the world. Where phenomenology-of adopts the first person perspective of how I experience the world, where phenomenology-of begins from the unity of that first person perspective on the world and what things are in the world for me, phenomenology-for begins from the disunity of a world fractured into a plurality of perspectives and attempts to enter into the perspectives of these other entities. In Luhmannian terms, it attempts to 'observe the other observer' or 'observe how another observer observes the world'. It begins not from the standpoint of the sameness of experience, but from the standpoint of the difference of experience."
This one applying the theory to a social situation is spot on:
"The problem is not markedly different from that of understanding the experience of another person. Take the example of a wealthy person who denounces poor people as being lazy moochers who simply haven’t tried to improve their condition. Such a person is practicing 'phenomenology-of', evaluating the poor person from the standpoint of their own experience and trying to explain the behavior of the poor person based on the sorts of things that would motivate them. They reflect little understanding of poverty. They are blissfully unaware of the opportunities that they had because of where they are in the social field, of the infrastructure they enjoy that gives them opportunity, the education they were fortunate enough to receive, etc., etc., etc. All of this is invisible to them because, as Heidegger taught us, it is so close it is not seen at all. As a consequence, the wealthy person assumes that the poor person has all these things. However, we can imagine the wealthy person practicing something like alien phenomenology or second-order observation, thereby developing an appreciation of how the world of poverty inhibits opportunity. Prior to developing this understanding, the wealthy person behaves like the person with vision who berates a blind person for not seeing a sign."