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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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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I admit I considered this as self-criticism. The difference as I see it is that Gendlin and Wilber are so much into their own created mythologies that most of their references are to themselves. Yes, they reference others, but only as it relates to their own translation of their own work. And yes, even though I accept Bryant's notion that all of us suobjects translate everything per our unique suobstance, still it is a matter of degree. It seems some are much more self-referencing than others to the point of far more difficult access. And/or maybe it's just me and my preferences.

Yes, I can see that.  On the other hand, I think if you are wanting to articulate something new (perhaps more true in the case of Gendlin than Wilber), a certain degree of forging new terminological territory is necessary and helpful, and becomes easier once you learn the lingo.  Gendlin's referenced essay is not an introductory one, for a general audience, but is targeted more towards those who are already familiar with the new conceptual territory he and his fellow researchers are charting.  Much like we do here, I think.  So, I don't fault him for having developed a new way of talking.  But I do agree that sometimes jargon-heavy writings (including our own) can be eye- and mind-glazing for newcomers, and moderation in this area is generally a virtue.

So did you see any similarities to Bryant's endo-structure in one or more of Gendlin's different definitions of environment? I mean specific to Bryant's unique substance?

Good question -- one I was reflecting on this morning, as I read a bit of the article again.  I will go through the article again fully and then will respond.  (I did see his occurring and implying-into as being relevant to my notion of "generative (en)closure," and was also reflecting on that -- but that's a different inquiry.)  More soon.

Here's a link to many of Andy Clark's papers. I'll be exploring some of them forthcoming.

For example, this from "Beyond the flesh":

"Words are...the concrete objects that structure new spaces for basic forms of learning and reason.... Language is thus conceived as primarily a form of environmental structuring rather than as an information stream requiring translation into and out of various inner codes" (2-3).

I remember from somewhere (can't yet discern the source) that words themselves were not arbitrary but formed from environment interactions in conjunction with our embodied neuro-circuitry. Yes, there are many different words and languages, but that is due likely to regional environmental and local niche conditions within which such languages and dialects developed.

In Clark and Chalmers seminal paper "The extended mind" they are discussing something akin to Bryant's endo- and exo-relations on 7-9. An objection for brain-object coupled cognition is that when the brain is decoupled from the object it retains its own cognitive capacities. This might be considered Bryant's distinction of the substance from its contingent local manifestations, which can and do change (decouple). C&C don't deny the brain-body its own capacities. However a number of those internal capacities were in fact shaped by environmental and social forces along the way, even from the beginning.

This is one area that I haven't found explored much with Bryant, how a particular machine comes to be, how it cannot have its autonomy without such external influence. He grants that a machine is created in time, impermanent, always struggling to maintain its autonomy from dissolution, but its creation comes from its coupling with various environments. And perhaps more importantly, its translative abilities don't reside strictly in its once established endo-structure, since that structure itself is at all times coupled with other environmental systems and thus distributing that cognitive translation.

Recall Bryant had to qualify a distinction with Harman about a particular substance capacity to not enter into any exo-relations. He granted it might be theoretically possible but that in practice there are no examples. Other than perhaps neutrinos, and yet they do enter into relations with us since we can imagine or imply their existence by their affects.

I just want to take a moment to mark this milestone, the 1000th post! What an unprecedented achievement, not only for our forum but perhaps forums everywhere? Has another forum thread ever achieved a 1000th post? And we've had over 8200 views of this thread. Granted probably half of those have been mine, but still, quite an achievement.

One of the ways our brain/body has evolved is by using references to the environment in terms of spatial relations and locomotion (9). And this is none other than the image schemas (or schemata*) discussed above, which are formed by the coupling of our brains with environments and there from the beginning. As the Bible says: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God." Alleluia and Amen!

* The sound of schemata reminds me of stigmata, as in when a person's hands and/or feet bleed in the same places as the nails driven into Christ. Yes, image schemata are like that, as they bear the marks of the initial relationship to origin. And they bleed!

Wow, over a 1000 posts now.  Yes, that is something...  (It's nice the Ning forum setting can accommodate this; such a long thread would have imploded and turned into a black hole on Integral Life.)


This is one area that I haven't found explored much with Bryant, how a particular machine comes to be, how it cannot have its autonomy without such external influence. He grants that a machine is created in time, impermanent, always struggling to maintain its autonomy from dissolution, but its creation comes from its coupling with various environments. And perhaps more importantly, its translative abilities don't reside strictly in its once established endo-structure, since that structure itself is at all times coupled with other environmental systems and thus distributing that cognitive translation.


Yes, I agree this isn't much touched on in Bryant's work, that I've seen.  And a question such as this is one reason why I was struggling, very early on, with the seeming rejection of external relations in the constitution or "being" of objects (a central tenet of relationism and also of pratitya-samutpada).  I think Gendlin's notion of body-constituting is useful here, and could be wedded to a model which also defends the important points OOO makes about why objects must also be considered autonomous (or relatively autonomous, as I discussed in a previous post).  There must be an account of how this autonomy is achieved.  My initial thought is that we might tie this to "closure"* (autopoietic or allopoietic), but this needs to be worked out.  (A "which-comes-first" kind of question is likely to haunt this inquiry...)


* Organizational closure; an autopoietic object remains structurally open, allowing a flow-through of material, energy, information.

From another angle I'm reading Latour's chapter in The Speculative Turn. He talking about using prepositions to understand existence. He gets this from Wm. James and Souriau, this notion that prepositions are "neither an ontological domain, nor a region, territory, sphere, or material." They are that which "prepares the what follows" (308-9). Looking at the definition of preposition we find that they "typically express a spatial, temporal, or other relationship." Well, well, our image schemata again. And per Latour this prepositional approach heals the subject/object split, for it paves the way or prepares the position taken by any particular suobject in its autonomy. It's akin to our old friend khora in that way, as a pregnant womb that prepares for the birth of, or sets the stage for, duality.

Latour uses Souriau's term instauration to denote what is not idealism or realism, or even their in-between. Like the preposition it pre-positions both of them. "Instauration allows exchanges or gifts that are interesting in other ways, transactions with rather different types of being.... No being has substance. If it persists, it is because it is always restored" (311).

Continuing after that he discusses that there are multiple beings for any suobject. In Bryant's terms it enters into a variety of different local manifestations and with each one the suobject is part of that assemblage and hence a unique being. He seems to question that there is a distinct being of the suobject apart from its multiple instaurations, tracing this back to Aristotle's substance. Granted Bryant also criticizes Aristotle's One Substance, that each suobject, being constructed, has its unique substance. But it seems Latour is saying that since a suobject is never without relations of some kind, and that it has multiple substances depending in which local manifestations it participates, that there is no one unique substance apart from that. I'm not sure he's saying that so will need to read further.

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