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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
When I read on this forum about numerous contemporary theorists, it seems that I keep seeing ideas coming up that are very similar to those expressed from the 1920s through the 1970s by the radical empiricists that were influenced by James and Bergson and Whitehead: Henry Nelson Wieman, Bernard Meland, and Bernard Loomer. Yet it seems those folks and their ideas were mostly ignored. I don't know if it is because they were ahead of their time, or because of their Christian affiliation, or maybe its just my own perspective that needs to be adjusted. And likely I am missing a lot of more subtle differences, as there are many gaps in my knowledge of philosophers and philosophy.
Anyway, these empiricists also strongly emphasized what I see Kaipayil to be emphasizing here: 1) "retaining Kant's assertion that “philosophical conclusions should be based on empirical facts” and on “concrete human experience” , 2) rejecting the nullification of metaphysics by Kant, and 3) "recognize the relations as constitutive of being and most especially the human being, not only of his ‘character’ but also of his biological existence."
Here is Bernard Meland, from his last book Fallible Forms & Symbols (1976):
“Much of the meaning we appear to find in life, we bring to it, as Kant observed, through our own forms of sensibility and understanding. But, as James and Bergson were later to remark, countering the stance of Kant and Hume in one basic respect, the nexus of relationships that forms our existence is not projected, it is given. We do not create these relationships; we experience them, being given with existence…thus I am led empirically to speak of God as the Ultimate Efficacy within relationships.”
And in 1978, Bernard Loomer wrote an essay titled "The Future of Process Philosophy": "In some place or other Charles Hartshorne generously credits me with possibly having baptized this mode of thought with the name of 'process philosophy'... As a shorthand form of designation it is popular and convenient - and misleading. It suggests that the defining characteristic of this outlook consists in the ultimacy of becoming in contrast to the classical primacy of being. But the ultimacy of becoming is only half of the story. With equal appropriateness this metaphysical viewpoint may be chracterized as a 'relational' mode of thought. Except for the cumbersome quality of the phrase, the more adequate name should be 'process-relational philosophy.'"
Bryant's latest post on his Borromean theory.
Bryant on some definitions from this FB post:
"Object-oriented ontology refers to any philosophy that holds being is composed of discrete entities. Leibniz is an OOO, as is Whitehead. Spinoza is not. Object-oriented philosophy (OOP) is Graham Harman's ontology. I'm OOO but not OOP. Speculative Realism (SR) is the new realisms and materialisms. All OOO and OOP are SR, but not all SRs are OOOs or OOPs. For example, Meillassoux, Brassier, and Grant are neither OOO or OOP."
OOO object orientation involves the foundational given of discrete entities.
Object orientation is an orientation based on discrete entities.
What does it mean to be "discrete" in order to qualify as OOO?
Does it suffice if each entity has a name that differs from other entities?
Or must the physical substance of the entity end at a point in space not commingled with another entity?
Is there any aspect of being anywhere that defies discrete spatial location? Can something be discrete while occupying the same space as another entity?
Is "being" a discrete entity?
Is the "idea" of being a discrete entity?
How are we "knowing" any of this? And, can we identify the grounding metaphors that we are slipping into the mix?
Knots: for an interactivist ontology. Levi Bryant's talk for Umeå universitet on Wednesday the 27th.
The broadcast of above talk here.
In this Bryant blog post he notes that genuine transformation requires structural change, not just changing the content within the current structure. In that sense conscious capitalism is the latter because it still adheres to the capitalist structure of master/servant, leader/follower, boss/laborer, rich/poor and all the other unbalanced, dichotomous, dominator hierarchies inherent to this sort of metaphysics.
On his FB page, Levi wrote: "It is not that objects are withdrawn, but rather that each thing is infinite in what it can do and therefore can never be mastered in a list of qualities, properties, or dispositions."
My response: "One way I've attempted to (re)frame the 'withdrawal' of objects also appeals to infinity. Relating this to the notion of the principle of irreduction, if we understand reduction in terms of the tracing of relations or potentials for relation, then the irreducibility of an object is found precisely in and as its infinite reducibility: there is no 'bottom' we can find to an object, no final 'reduction,' and therefore it is, in an important sense, inexhaustible. Its 'withdrawal' is really better understood as an 'excess.' In Bhaskar's terms, this is the coincidence of dialectical universality and concrete particularity."
From this Bryant FB post:
"Put a bit differently, perhaps it could be said that a philosophy is not so much a representation or picture of the world as a map of virtual or potential actions or ways of doing things, and also a response to actions. The Platonist lives and acts in the world in an entirely different way from the Aristotlean and also has a different set of aims. The debate between, say, Badiou and Deleuze is thoroughly uninteresting and is purely academic. There's nothing more dreary than those who discuss philosophy as if what matters is whether you fall under the banner, the tribe, of Deleuzians or Derrideans or Lacanians, etc; as if what matters is these labels and texts. There's nothing more irritating and depressing that a philosophical discussion that takes the form of an abstract debate about whether or sides with Descartes's dualism or Spinoza's parallelism.
"What's interesting is the question of what difference these positions make, of how we'd live differently. For example, how would Spinozist parallelism lead me to think of something as mundane as diet differently? These names, rather, are sign-posts, intensive points, responding not to other philosophies-- though that too --but to problems in the world. What names denote are ways of living, forms of action, ways of perceiving. To be a Cartesian, for example, is not to pursue certainty or struggle with mind/body dualism, or attempt to prove the existence of God. No, to be a Cartesian is to let forth a scream of horror in response to the blood of the Thirty Years War and how it was inspired by an epistemological problem; namely, the indeterminacy of the indetermination of scripture that led to dozens of different religious sects all convinced they had the truth and that if we did not live as they demanded, more plague and famine would be sent. It was to let forth a scream of horror at the treatment of Galileo and Bruno and to express hope at the possibility of a way that peaceful consensus might be reached. Epistemology during this period wasn't some arid speculation, but was a form of politics in a world gone mad."
Some snips with comments from Bryant's blog post "the material unconscious." It highlights how kennilingus, while giving lip service to the right quadrants' influence, is still rather individual-interior heavy and lacks the sort of in-depth analysis Bryant brings.
"What we take to be our own agency, our own free choice, instead turns out in so many instances to be the agency of these things or machines acting upon us. To be sure, I choose which hallway to walk through, but what I don’t choose– to paraphrase Zizek –is the form of choice dictated by hallways, or roads, or paths, themselves. These things lie before me as so many choices already chosen within which I might make my choices. I live in a world where my being is mediated– where it is afforded and constrained –in an endless variety of ways."
"The material unconscious plunges us into an eccentric orbit where our action, agency, cognition, ways of relating to one another, and desires are organized from without; all the while creating the misrecognition of these things as our own. [...] To know the material unconscious one must think not like a Brandomian or a phenomenologist, but rather like a ecologist, designer, or architect. Indeed, another name for architecture and design is ecology. The designers and architects are the great cartographers of the material unconscious; they even produce much of it."
This is why the ecological consciousness Rifkin talks about arises from our participation in the neo-Commons. It is directly from our interactions with the internet of things that changes us from the outside rather than having individual-interior cognitive models to which things must anthropocentrically conform.
"Recognizing that the material unconscious mediates our agency is not a defeatist thought, but is the first step towards developing real agency; an agency that is not merely the order of thought. We must develop a politics of things; a politics that involves building, designing, and constructing and not merely legislating and persuading."
Hence real agency gets involved in a "politics of things" like the neo-Commons infrastructure and practice, which inculcates and enacts this ecological consciousness from such encounter. It is the emerging actual next wave for humanity and techno-organically grown, not in some integrally-informed 'think' tank.
I like that phrase, "the material unconscious." I also agree that Wilberian AQAL thinking tends to emphasize the Upper Left quadrant, and that we would profit from putting more attention on developing a more wholistic approach to the right hand quadrants of materiality. In the Lower Right quadrant, for example, we need to pay attention to the energy and ecology that makes possible our techno-economic structures.
Alfred North Whitehead, who lived from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century (1861-1947), noted in his first book on philosophy in 1926 the "fatal" effects of Cartesian thinking with the rise of the industrial period. I see some parallels here also to what Gebser later referred to as the deficient phase of the mental-rational structure. Some excerpts from Science and the Modern Mind:
"The doctrine of minds, as independent substances, leads directly not merely to private worlds of experience, but also to private worlds of morals."
"Also the assumption of the bare value-lessness of mere matter led to a lack of reverence in the treatment of natural or artistic beauty...
The two evils are: one, the ignoration of the true relation of each organism to its environment; and the other, the habit of ignoring the intrinsic worth of the environment which must be allowed its weight in any consideration of final ends."
I would say that "environment" here means the natural environment, but also the built environment, and the socio-cultural environment.
And so I would agree with Rifkin that we need to develop our ecological consciousness, and with you about getting more involved with a "politics of things."
The tools for this that I personally find to be very valuable, that I think really make a great balance to the left hand emphasis of integral, is permaculture (hence my Integral Permaculture blog), and the great potential of PatternDynamics (which grew out of both integral and permaculture thinking).
I'm bringing Toby Hemenway to town next week, excited about what he offers in his new book, The Permaculture City: Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban, and Town Resilience. He's now emphasizing the application of this materially oriented whole-systems design approach to our social systems. He describes permaculture as a decision making tool.
Back to Bryant's post, I'm reminded also of this David Whyte poem.
We shape our self
to fit this world
and by the world
are shaped again.
and the invisible
in common cause,
I am thinking of the way
the intangible air
passed at speed
round a shaped wing
holds our weight.
So may we, in this life
to those elements
we have yet to see
and look for the true
shape of our own self,
by forming it well
to the great
intangibles about us.
-- David Whyte
from The House of Belonging
©1996 Many Rivers Press
Written for the presentation of The Collier Trophy to The Boeing Company
marking the introduction of the new 777 passenger jet.
Have you read Mark Edwards three-part series The Depth of the Exteriors at Integral World?