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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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.
Tis the season, probably their baby was grounded. And/or Don Juan was nearby...
We do have a group of American Indians who work immediately next door to us (doing both social and shamanic work), so maybe a Pomo Indian equivalent to Don Juan was behind this (and is doubled over laughing right now)...
Great to see you reading Ramey's book Balder. His talk of philosophy as 'mathesis' is what I'd always imagined as the goal of an Integral Metaphysics. Participatory, embodied and traversing virtual and actual bodies.
Also see DeLanda's contribution to the new Speculations IV. We see many of this themes reiterated: transparency of one's ontological commitments; the virtual as well as the actual; experimental interventions to elicit the virtual into actuality; immanence instead of aprioi essence; emergence with semi-autonomous levels/layers which thus require they own methodologies; know-that and know-how; signification and significance. A good brief overview if one is not familiar with his work.
And Gratton's article is nice. He takes Meillassoux and Harman to task as being pre-critical Platonists adhering to timeless essences!* He uses many of the same arguments against his targets as Bryant uses about time from Derrida in "Time of the object". Of note is that he doesn't go after Bryant on this because Bryant, as I said, has already made a similar case for time, but he didn't use it to denounce his brethren speculative realists like Gratton.
* For Meillassoux and Badiou he goes after set theory in a similar way that I went after the MHC. Recall my explicit evidence from Common's own pen as to its Platonic roots.
In Bryant's Speculations IV article he's discussing the signifier, signified and the referent, wherein the first two are constructed and do not represent an inherent property or meaning to the referent. Those who argue to the contrary are coming from a metaphysical essentialism.
Recall my experience with the hermetic perennial tradition has it that words conjure the thing itself, and thus the magic and control of heavenly language over the world, thereby explicitly demonstrating this kind of metaphysics. It's that same form of magical thinking that permeates essentialist accounts where classes of people are the natural order of things. While we're off performing Egyptian rituals virtually unchanged from the master-slave society in which they inhered is ludicrous. And that the priest class was most guilty of this practice is not lost, since they controlled access to Reality and the afterlife. This form of power relation is inherent to the rituals themselves and often mask the power hungry control of those that seek these 'modern' expressions of magical practice. Thank God (tongue in cheek metaphor for human evolution) constructivism came along to advance human rights and denounce this atrocity.
And of course this is not limited to magic-mythic cultures like the Egyptians of that time. This form of essentialism is alive and well in contemporary models of hierarchical complexity, both in having Platonic ideals and in reifying Aristotelian categories as inherent to the things themselves. (See this thread for more.) Which of course carry over into kennlingus developmental models, complete with the same kind of power relations of hero-king at the top of the hierachy with subservient classes following. It's the same kind of metaphysics involved, including an unabashed promotion of capitalism, the epitome of such a metaphysics as Marx so aptly pointed out.
Back to Bryant. He argues that speculative realism, in attacking correlationism, risks underming all of the important political advances of contructivism and thereby inadvertently reinforcing the kind of realism that sees such essentialist inherent categories. You even seen this form of attack from the kennlinguists in calling out constructivism as a mean green relativism. And yet he continues that there needs to be something added to typical constructivism, a form of realism that accounts for the non-constructed aspects of the real. Hence the speculation about the Real in its own domain apart from the Symbolic and the Imaginary in Bryant's terms. But his Real maintains a non-essentialist flair while kennlingus embraces it whole-heartedly.
Bryant's real has to do with science and its grasp of the material. Granted science itself can veer into scientism, or reducing everything to its domain. Nonetheless it must be considered and its scientism reduced via the kind of science we see in pomo complexity, which takes account of the other domains as well as the virtual side of the real. I'm thinking here of DeLanda more on the science side, and Latour more on the study of science in broader contexts. And it is here that Bryant brings in his Borromean knot to 'tie' these domains together while allowing them their own paradigmatic methodologies. He'd also add four sub-domains into the mix for understanding our political structures: geopolitics, infrapolitics, thermopolitics and chronopolitics. See the article for more on that.
I can say that Rifkin is addressing all of these concerns with his next wave socio-economics in real time with real governments. That he is not at all addressed by Bryant is therefore all the more curious, since it would add practical support to his own theses, and avoid critiques such as mine that he himself is guilty of the kind of academic posturing he so vehemently opposes.
In light of my last post, see Rifkin's 'real' infrastructure program.
From this post in the Rifkin thread:
Here's a review of the book* by Bruce Gibb in the June 2010 issue of Integral Leadership Review from an SDi perspective. An excerpt:
"One might conclude that Rifkin’s COG is at green because the values he espouses and the demons he denounces are typically those of a person at green. At the same time, however, since his articulation of these values are in the service of global turquoise, one could argue that his COG is at the turquoise level. I conclude the latter....
"His enumeration of the life conditions that support turquoise empathetic emergence will be a challenge to those who only think of turquoise mainly in terms of spiritual consciousness."
Bruce Gibb, PhD, an organizational psychologist, has been in private practice since 1973.... Since 2001 he has been studying and applying SDi concepts of cultural evolution in his practice.
* The Empathic Civilization.
I argue in the Rifkin thread that he is P2P and I see that as most definitely not green. For those not familiar with P2P see Bauwens' website generally and more particularly his essay "P2P and human evolution." An excerpt of the latter:
"For me, P2P is nothing less that the most likely next civilisational stage."
"So in my view, it is a mix, there is a kind of center of gravity, which draws together green/yellow/turquoise types, while making it uninteresting for orange 'capitalist' types, and difficult to adhere to for blue 'fundamentalist' types.... Life is clearly more complex than any totalizing system's efforts to bring it into neat categories.... The difficulty in clearly identifying P2P in that [developmental] scheme, is also a warning against any 'psychological reductionisms', as practiced in the SD system."
As an aside, Rifkin is featured prominently and often at the P2P site.
"Ateljevic lays out a program for an integrated 'transmodern' approach to a scholarship of hope and caring. This perspective comes from Ateljevic's notion of 'the synchronized phenomenon of emerging higher collective consciousness' as expressed in the...'relational global consciousness of biosphere politics' of Rifkin.... She seeks to provide a coordinating language that connects these signs of an emerging paradigm shift that might well constitute ‘the new renaissance' of human history" (8).
By all means email Bauwens with your concerns. He's always been responsive to critique. Plus that paper is several years old and no doubt he's modified his views since then. If you do correspond with him I'd be interested to know the result. You might also find more updated articles at his website, particularly the issue of intellectual property (like here). There are some resource pages like here. Also here's an old Gaia IPS discussion of his essay "the next Buddha will be a collective." P2P is not just Bauwens but a huge societal movement that's been going on for some time. His site has articles by hundreds (thousands?) of people working in the movement that have dealt with your questions. Bottom line: it is the next wave in human evolution and it's here/now. And pretty much ignored by the kennlingus conscious capitalists.
"Once their 'property' gets virtualized (either by themselves or a hacker) they've going to have an increasingly difficult time getting compensation for it. Not a problem for hobbyists, but for those whose primary income derives from such labor, it's going to be tough to make a living. In the meantime, their output WILL BE commodified by the 'vector' class who will profit."
I'm reminded of earlier in this thread, where Bryant commented on how when one publishes open source from the start, like he's done with The Speculative Turn, he's still making a decent profit on sales and providing the information for free to those who choose not to pay. He even said that open source was increasing his sales! From that post:
"From a sales angle, however, I’ve been surprised to discover that open access publishing actually seems to increase sales. The Speculative Turn has been a wild success. It crashed Re.Press’s server the night it was released, and has hovered around the 40-60 thousand sales rank on Amazon consistently since it was released a year ago. This is extraordinary for an academic text, especially given that anyone can access it for free."