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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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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What still isn't quite clear to me in Bryant's model is whether the withdrawn aspect of an object is inherently and universally withdrawn, and therefore a kind of constant inner kernel that exists without reference to anything else, or whether the withdrawn aspect of being is relational, meaning that aspects of an object may be "withdrawn" for some objects encountering it but "actual" for different types of objects encountering it. 

theurj would have a better idea of what Bryant argues for, but I'm sure it's definitely not the former. The latter is what seems viable to my mind.

This would suggest that the same "thing" could be virtual/potential and actual at the same "time" (if you, say, imaginatively hold two spatiotemporal frames together, taking a third person perspective on two very different observer-objects encountering the object in question).  

And all three - object, and the two individuals encountering the object in motion/on-going enactment. The question then remains just what is the nature of the world they share? What are the relations that hold entities together. I'm guessing it is a sphere of sorts, just not the inert and fully manifest spatial thing we tend to think of when we think of either a 'sphere' or  a 'container'.

In any case, I'm interrupting a more precise conversation, please continue... 

Thanks, Dial, for jumping in; and thanks, Ed, for your reflections.  In a sense, I'm attempting to (loosely) apply a kind of Madhyamika analysis to this question.  If the virtual proper being is an exclusive and inherent property of an object, and if the VPB of any object is always equally withdrawn from all other objects, then it becomes a kind of hidden (and immutable) kernel.  In other words, if the VPB of an object is the object's alone, it becomes a kind of "withdrawn constant."  This doesn't seem quite right, either in Bryant's framework or outside of it. 

When we say that the VPB never becomes actual in its totality for any other object, this suggests (to me) one of two things: either 1) that there is a deep part of the VPB that eludes all objects equally, or 2) that what is "virtual" and what is "actual" depends, in part, on who or what is encountering and engaging with the object in question.  (Here, I see "actual" as related to "enactment": what is actual depends on, or is an expression of, the intersuobjective enactment).  The former envisions the VPB as a kind of thing-in-itself: even if the VPB is constructed (out of endo-relations), it is a "thing-in-itself" with reference to any other objects, in that it is equally withdrawn from all other objects (and is only ever self-referencing).  The latter envisions VPB more in interdependent processual or relational terms: enactment involves creative interplay of virtuality/actuality together, but there is no virtual-in-itself or actual-in-itself.

According to the latter, endo-relations cannot be wholly separated from exo-relations, then, such that we can say that an object simply consists of endo-relations.  Is there any final set of endo-relations that completely and exclusively defines an object-in-itself, such that its virtual proper withdrawn "core" is the same for all?  I'm skeptical...

There might be other ways of looking at this, too, but I wanted to start here. 

Concerning your thoughts on spheres, Dial, yes, I like that -- at least I think it's worth exploring in relation to Sloterdijk's formulation...

It seems VPB is unique to each individual object, much as is e.g. DNA for humans. But that is not to say that VPB can exist in itself. I'd agree that it seems more like your notion of interdependence, no inherent existence yet certainly constructed (aka conventional) existence. Which is of course akin to rangtong Madhyamaka if we define emptiness in those terms without some essence. I don't see Bryant asserting that endo-relations can exist without exo-relations. Even though he allows for dark objects recall his recent blog post that says dark, dim, bright etc. refer not to (actual) properties or (virtual) powers of objects but the degree of their relations.

As to your creative interplay of virtual/actual where it depends on who or what is engaging the object via enactment I'm not so sure. Can there not be a VPB that eludes all other objects simply because its potential cannot be exhausted by its current exo-relations? It seems such a VPB allows for the open possibilities of as yet un-actualized exo-relations, which might then transform an object's own endo-relations, and hence expand on what heretofore did not exist? Bryant discussed this is another blog post referenced above, noting that at least auto-poeitic objects have this capacity for its VPB to change and evolve depending on feedback loops with the environment.

Continuing from the last post, Bryant says here of autopoietic objects, reminiscent of enacted perspectivalism:

"While we do grasp stimuli of the world under conditions of operational closure, we can attempt to suspend our blind spots and closure by engaging in second-order observation. Rather than simply receiving stimuli and working them over according to our own internal structure or operational closure, we can attempt to engage in second-order observation. Second-order observation consists in observing how other observers observe....and use this to modify his own ways of interacting with them."

Yet while an object can transform, grow, develop, this process "will never be complete." So it is in this sense that the VPB of an object is forever withdrawn, not because it already has a fixed infinite storehouse, but because its being is open to the not yet created (or enacted).

I don't see Bryant asserting that endo-relations can exist without exo-relations. Even though he allows for dark objects recall his recent blog post that says dark, dim, bright etc. refer not to (actual) properties or (virtual) powers of objects but the degree of their relations.

Does he use the phrase, degree of relation?  If so, that's interesting, because that's what I would have suggested to him: his types of objects more likely exhibit degrees of active relation, rather than any being wholly detached from all exo-relations.  (FYI, from my current computer, I can't view his blog, which is why I asked that question).

As to your creative interplay of virtual/actual where it depends on who or what is engaging the object via enactment I'm not so sure. Can there not be a VPB that eludes all other objects simply because its potential cannot be exhausted by its current exo-relations? It seems such a VPB allows for the open possibilities of as yet un-actualized exo-relations, which might then transform an object's own endo-relations, and hence expand on what heretofore did not exist? Bryant discussed this is another blog post referenced above, noting that at least auto-poeitic objects have this capacity for its VPB to change and evolve depending on feedback loops with the environment.

Yes, that makes sense to me.  (I have a niggling doubt about part of it, but I'll need to wait till the niggle shows its head more before I comment further on that part).  In general, yes, I agree that, if we accept that changing exo-relations call forth, or enact, potentials of an object that might not have been manifest the moment before, then it is possible (even likely) that an object's potential is never fully exhausted by any particular situation*.  However, I see this as a confirmation of, rather than an exception to, what I was saying about the creative interplay of virtual/actual.  Because it is still the case that the VPB (or withdrawn) is not inherently the VPB (or withdrawn), but rather is an expression, one could say, of the present structural coupling of the object with its "environment."

If what qualifies as VPB or the withdrawn is situational, then it would seem (also) to follow that the "same" part or potential of an object could be VPB and actual "at once," if the object were being (enactively) interacted with by different sorts of objects or beings.  Objects "inhabit" more than one situation simultaneously.

Yet while an object can transform, grow, develop, this process "will never be complete." So it is in this sense that the VPB of an object is forever withdrawn, not because it already has a fixed infinite storehouse, but because its being is open to the not yet created (or enacted).

Do you think "withdrawn" is the best word to describe this state of affairs?

*As I write this, I'm recalling the "Science as if Situation Mattered" essay; I'll have to peak at it again to see if it has anything relevant to contribute here.

For now here are some quotes from Bryant's post of 5/5/12 on MOO:

"I distinguish between dark, dim, bright, and rogue objects.  These determinations are not features of objects but of the degree of relatedness enjoyed by a thing."

"Objects are split between their virtual half and their actual half or what I refer to as their 'virtual proper being' and their 'local manifestations.'  The virtual proper being of an object consists of that object’s powers are capacities.... These powers or capacities are not fixed once and for all, but rather objects can acquire new capacities and lose capacities they once had.... The local manifestations of an object are the way in which these powers are exercised under determinate circumstances in the form of actions and properties."

"My entire distinction between 'virtual proper being' and 'local manifestation' is designed to draw attention to what happens when objects relate.  A local manifestation is local because, in part, it occurs as a result of these absolute singular and specific relations to these other objects."

"Objects are therefore characterized by perpetual becoming or unfolding in the order of time.  For me there isn’t a choice that we have to make between being and becoming.  Rather being is becoming and becoming is being.  The being of an object is the becoming of that object."

"Matter as I conceive it is lively and energetic and full of surprises.  It is not the brute and passive matter of Descartes, Galileo, and Newton."

"For me the only way in which entities can relate is through some material-energetic transmission.  There is no 'action at a distance.'"

Objects "inhabit" more than one situation simultaneously.

Yes, I've made that point repeatedly with my notion of the shared space of holons, which can share space with a multitude of others. Like a word, and how the different contexts will change the meaning of said word. Word?

Do you think "withdrawn" is the best word to describe this state of affairs?

As is my wont I'd prefer a neologism,* but common terms with time-worn definitions often must be used but in different ways. As long as the new definition is clarified it is appropriate, and Bryant is clear in his new definition, distinguishing it, for example, with Heidegger and Harman. Also take the two words that make up withdrawn: with and drawn, both implying the co-existent nature of drawing boundaries with another object, and how those boundaries are negotiated yet still maintained.

* Bryant's objectile is good, sort of like a projectile.

Btw, the last quote two up indicates that Bryant is open to material-energetic communication between objects non-locally, which communication is limited by the speed of light. It also depends on the context as to what local and non-local means. For example, a hyperobject like climate is a local manifestation to a "larger" object, yet non-local to some of its much smaller members. To paraphrase an old adage: Think locally, act globally.

I think one of the points about non-locality is not that something actually is exchanged -- materially, energetically -- faster than the speed of light, but that the idea that everything is only related in such a way that external exchanges through some medium is the only way for objects to contact each other -- outside to outside, or outside linked to outside through an interconnecting "chain" or transmission (over distances) -- is itself incorrect.  Interestingly, one of the current theories is that the light-speed limit might only apply to the actual, not to the potential/virtual.

I guess that depends on how the potential/virtual is defined. As Bryant's virtual is still constructed of matter-energy, even so-called non-local objects, it would seem not to allow superluminality. And I'm guessing that other, more metaphysical definitions of the virtual would of course allow such an event. To which current theory do you refer?

Perhaps you're thinking of this post quoting DeLanda from the complexity and pomo thread?

"This virtual form of time, involving the idea of absolute simultaneity, would seem to violate the laws of relativity. In relativistic physics two events cease to be simultaneous the moment they become separated in space, the dislocation in time becoming all the more evident the larger the separating distance....[but] in virtual space there are no metric distances, only ordinal distances that join rather than separate events.... Unlike a transcendent heaven inhabited by pure beings without becoming (unchanging essences or laws with a permanent identity) the virtual needs to be populated exclusively by pure becomings without being. Unlike actual becomings which have at most an intensive form of temporality (bundles of sequential processes occurring in parallel) a pure becoming must be characterized by a parallelism without any trace of sequentiality, or even directionality. Deleuze finds inspiration for this conception of time in phase transitions, or more exactly, in the critical events defining unactualized transitions. When seen as a pure becoming, a critical point of of temperature of 0 degrees C, for example, marks neither a melting nor a freezing of water, both of which are actual becomings...occurring as the critical threshold is crossed in a definite direction. A pure becoming, on the other hand, would involve both directions at once, a melting-freezing event which never actually occurs, but is 'always forthcoming and already past'.... Unlike actual time which is asymmetric relative to the direction of relative pasts and futures, a pure becoming would imply a temporality which is perfectly symmetric in this respect, the direction of the arrow of time emerging as a broken symmetry only as the virtual is actualized."

Keep in mind though that for DeLanda and Deleuze this is due completely to immanence, meaning bodies of some sort.

And note that Bryant is opposed to DeLanda (and Deleuze) on issues such as the above. For example, he says in TDOO: "[Deleuze's] suggestion here is that the virtual seems to consist of a single continuum, such that there is only one virtual, one substance, that is then partitioned into apparently distinct entities" (3.2). This kind of virtual would ostensibly allow for "absolute simultaneity." He also criticizes Spinoza for this, btw, which influence is obviously appreciable in Morrison's notions.

I was referring to the second philosophical option listed in this section of a Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Bell's Theorem.

Concerning the choice between an ontology which includes non-locality or excludes it, I'm not sure that necessarily is a choice between more or less metaphysical options.  I definitely understand and am sympathetic to the concern that admitting non-locality in this way could seem to provide "justification" for a return to ontotheological thinking.  You already know the concerns I have with that, especially re: my writings on inclusivism.  But perhaps that can be mitigated (if not altogether avoided). Doesn't Derrida say that ontotheology can't be done away with altogether, but that his differance both exceeds and inscribes ontotheology?

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