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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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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Yes, I read that, but there is still a kind of wholeness in Bohm's view.  He regularly used the word holomovement, not just flowing movement; he further talks about "unbounded wholeness."  In any event, I'm not quite sure why you're taking exception to what I said above*, since I was saying that non-locality seems to imply some kind of wholeness (Morton agrees; he says, "This whole might be strictly unanalyzable"), without requiring acceptance of reality as assholon (to use your term).  I see Morton as critiquing what I referred to above as "certain common models of holism," but not as rejecting any kind of wholeness; he couldn't do that at the same time as he advocates for a Bohmian model.  (Personally, I'm not saying we have to adopt a Bohmian approach either; I'm just saying that non-locality, among other things, suggests that we can't banish "wholeness" altogether, and that OOO needs to better account for this).


On another note, Morton's comments above could potentially be seen to be in conflict with Bryant's, to the extent that Bryant's endo-relations are understood as strictly spatiotemporal (local).



* Rereading your post, I now realize that you might not have been taking exception to what I was saying, but just critiquing certain types of quantum holism...

I need to think on -- or read a bit more of -- Morton's critique of holism.  At present, I see him rejecting the idea of a hegemonic super-whole (the assholon), but not wholeness as a strange kind of non-separability and co-implication / -explication of objects.  I see his reference to Harman's "objects wrapped in objects wrapped in objects" as relating to the kind of non-separability implied in Harman's model that I mentioned a couple posts ago.

It depends on what we mean by nonlocality. Varela talked about this in our thread on him. For example what we assume to be in individual's personal consciousness is actually distributed throughout the individual's body as well as in his culture and environment. So it is nonlocal in this way. But he stops short of some of the so-called implications of some interpretations of quantum nonlocality when he says on p.1 of the thread:

“Let me add that this emergence and nonlocality has nothing to do with the current hype about quantum mechanics and the brain. That stuff is perhaps an interesting hypothesis to entertain, but it has no scientific evidence behind it.”

Granted he is here specifically referring to the Perose-Hammeroff model of quantum consciousness, not the type of quantum nonlocality where a particle in one location 'responds' to another in a distant location. The latter seems feasible as a large environment, like a hyperobject, is interconnected like Indra's net. It's in the interpretations of this phenomena though where we start to veer into perhaps interesting but unsupported hypotheses. And such interpretations are not empirical 'facts' even though the phenomena appear to be.

For example, this paper explores quantum nonlocality using the many-worlds interpretation and he says:

“The mystery of quantum nonlocality lies in trying to understand how particle two changes
'instantaneously' in response to what has happened in the location of particle one. There is no mystery. There is no quantum nonlocality. Particle two doesn't know what has happened to particle one when its spin is measured. State transitions are nice and local in quantum mechanics” (2).

And this statement from the SEP entry on quantum nonlocality:

“Yet, the question of whether the EPR/B correlations imply non-locality and the exact nature of this non-locality is a matter of ongoing controversy..... It may be possible to account for the EPR/B experiment (and more generally for all other quantum phenomena) without postulating any non-local influences.”

It goes on to note that while these other possibilities question nonlocality, to date there has been no experimental validation. Time will tell. However, it also highlights that even if nonlocality is accepted that its exact nature, and its interpretation, is an ongoing controversy, not 'fact.'

I don't think Varela's quote is particularly relevant to this discussion, since, as you note, he was mainly challenging Penrose and Hameroff's model of quantum consciousness.  When he said that the hypothesis was interesting to entertain but has no experimental evidence behind it, I'm pretty sure he meant the Penrose-Hameroff hypothesis, not nonlocality, which indeed has a lot of experimental evidence behind it (while the non-factorizable models for the EPR/B experiment so far have none).


Further, related to OOO, did you notice that the first objection to nonlocality is a mental/correlationist one?  So, that would not be compatible with OOO.  The others might be (though some require belief in backwards causation in time, or in a model which postulates the infinite splitting off of parallel worlds) -- but in any event, most of these alternative explanations for EPR/B experimental results do not appear to be strong contenders at this point (seeming "conspiratorial," "ad hoc," and thus far lacking any empirical support, as the article says).


Regarding your suggestion that nonlocality can be explained as an effect of the Indra's Net-like interconnectivity of hyperobjects, it depends on what you mean by interconnection.  If you just mean something like a spider's web, as in Bryant's discussion of Buddhist ideas, I don't think such interconnectivity is sufficient, since effects across such a net should not be able to propagate at superluminal speed.


I am not saying here that non-locality is unquestionable, of course.  Only that it is a pretty well demonstrated aspect of quantum phenomena and should be at least be attended or responded to by OOO philosophers (as Morton is attempting).

What is relevant with the Varela reference is that he too posits nonlocality, in that consciousness, for example, is distributed, not local to an individual's brain or personal awareness. But by this he doesn't mean some of the more far out theories of nonlocality like Penrose-Hammeroff. The comparison was just to show that some of the interpretations of nonlocal phenomenon from empirical tests might be more attached to ideological commitments than inherent in the data per se. Hence we get the Copenhagen Interpretation, which itself is not an agreed-upon doctrine by all. Even Bohr had his own philosophical interpretation of the quantum data, which if we accept Tom's interpretation of Bohr's interpretation it is quite attached to a kind of holism not amenable to the likes of Morton, for example. And earlier we learned that Tom thinks Morton grossly distorts QM according to his/Bohr's view.

As to what I mean by Indra's net, it was Morton that used that image in one of the posts above, given his shentong predisposition. Granted he later said it was a lower level interpretation, even correlationist. And yet he still admits a kind of holism but not sure exactly how so yet, were he might agree or not with Bryant's mereology. Point being I too can grant, like you said in an earlier post, that there is some kind of continuum, but given the withdrawn nature of objects we would not have access to such a totality. And it doesn't seem the OOOers, even Morton, are willing to grant such a continuum, for Morton doesn't even grant an environment.

Morton's wiki entry is instructive:

"Closely related to dark ecology is Morton's concept of the 'mesh'. Defining the ecological thought as 'the thinking of interconnectedness,' Morton thus uses 'mesh' to refer to the interconnectedness of all living and non-living things, consisting of 'infinite connections and infinitesimal differences'.... The mesh has no central position that privileges any one form of being over others, and thereby erases definitive interior and exterior boundaries of beings."

"In The Ecological Thought, Morton introduced the concept of hyperobjects to describe objects that are so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend spatiotemporal specificity, such as global warming, styrofoam, and radioactive plutonium. He has subsequently enumerated five characteristics of hyperobjects:

"Nonlocal: Hyperobjects are massively distributed in time and space to the extent that their totality cannot be realized in any particular local manifestation....nonlocality describes the manner in which a hyperobject becomes more substantial than the local manifestations they produce."

From Morton's 10/18/11 blog:

"Now I believe that there is a mesh, that it's totally interconnected (as before)--even that it's nonlocal and nontemporal in some sense. Yet the mesh floats ontologically 'in front' of the strange stranger(s), rather than subtending it/them/her. This works if we think of causation has happening in, even equivalent to, the aesthetic dimension, which is how it must work if we have withdrawn objects..."

Another post on nonlocality.

A few more relevant Morton thoughts:


Morton: "Mind you, it’s incontestable that the quantum universe is much more like something living than like a machine. It’s a profoundly ecological view, a kind of super-mesh in my terms (I’ll explain the mesh in a moment). In quantum theory the very existence of an entity such as an electron depends upon the environment around it—and so on around a massive mulberry bush without center or edge. From this point of view, even protoplasm is mechanical. The snot is located in spacetime, while quantum phenomena can’t be isolated in this manner. Quantum phenomena are entangled with the equipment that observes them (at that level, they are the same thing), whereas snot does its thing no matter what you’re using to measure it. If you really want something like a vitalist view you should go down towards the Planck length.

What is the case is much more like standing waves than little balls or even blobby balls. The new scanning tunneling micrographs of atoms display nice shiny eggs in rows, presumably because nanotech is about to make lots of money selling versions of them. I like the older field ion micrographs because they reveal a world of ripples and blobs. I know that there’s a wave–particle duality, sure, but it’s heuristically very helpful, at least, to unthink ping-pong balls via waves. Think of nonlocality, which is now uncontroversially a fact of our Universe. It doesn’t make sense from a ping-pong point of view. But it does make sense if, Spinoza-fashion, reality is one thing, modulated in a wavelike way. You can easily imagine two pieces of the same ripple glinting in the sunlight. On the other hand, two particles doing the same thing while arbitrarily far apart sounds suspiciously like a miracle.

Now, going up several scales to the level of life forms, we discover what I’m calling the mesh, which is simply the fact that life forms and non-life forms are entangled with each other inextricably, because of the nature of life forms themselves. I find this idea more persuasive at this level than vitalism, because it doesn’t depend on locating some ghostly source of “life.” The proximity, even at times identity, of the nonhuman with my humanness (and of everything in everything) is incontestable. For example, I drive around using crushed dinosaur parts as fuel. Most of the iron in the Earth’s crust is distributed bacterial waste, as is the oxygen. I am typing this because the mitochondria in my cells give me energy. They are bacterial symbionts hiding from their own global catastrophe, the one called oxygen. You are reading this because erv-3, a virus in your mom’s dna caused her not to spontaneously abort you because it coded for immunosuppressive properties of the placental barrier. And so on."

From "another post" link above, the commenter quoting Morton:

"For example, in relation to nonlocality you say, 'nonlocality. This is definitely metaphorical and not literal, at least as far as we know, since real nonlocality, which is a quantum phenomenon, only occurs (we think) at very small scales.'”

Morton responded to this commenter in this post. But honestly it sounds like jibberish to me. This is where I prefer Bryant's clear writing style. Morton is so obtuse here under the guise of aesthetic rhetoric that his tropes have no traction, for me.

However the clear statement quoted in the opening of this post admits that quantum nonlocality isn't applicable on the macro scale, a point e made here. And said point discusses how we might use the quantum as metaphor for macro objects, like Morton is doing. But to mistake it for an ontological reality? L&J have something to say about that, as e notes.

In this post Bryant too is frustrated with Morton's diffuse rhetoric. "Tim frustrates the hell out of me.... It literally drives me up the wall." Therein Bryant also admits that his objects are spatio-temporal (local), and Morton's hyperobjects may be nonlocal. But like e notes, perhaps the realm of the mid-range object (classical physics) is not the realm of the very small or big, and perhaps they have their own enacted paradigms and rules, or the principle of nonexclusion in kennilingus. More of a plural polydoxy than a universal law of holism. Sort of like Balder's IMP. Or perhaps like L&J said in e's thread, different theories and empirical results might be "locally optimal but globally incommensurate?"

And another thing I wondering about, not being a scientist. Can we extrapolate the nonlocality of the very small quantum level (hypoobjects) to the very large cosmic level, like Morton's hyperobjects? Just because they are both not in the 'normal' range of human perception is not reason enough to confuse them, sort of a pre-trans fallacy? And/or category error?

However Morton's point with which I agree: "Unlike the Copenhagen Interpretation, the ontological interpretation is noncorrelationist."

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