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 An object is profoundly “withdrawn”--we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either....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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Very true, theurj.  I'm not sure he would agree with it, if he encountered it, but from where I sit, that sort of understanding would deepen and improve his project.  As it stands, I think he falls pretty flat whenever he ventures into theological territory.  (This recent post of his deserves a fuller response, in a forum like this.  Maybe tomorrow ... )

Lacking anywhere else logical to share this tidbit, Joel shared a link on FB today to an interesting-looking new book on water.  I think there are maybe some OOO lessons here.

On Bryant's last post, this prior post on Edwards contains some useful context. Some excerpts:

"In chapter 7.5 [of Edwards's dissertation] he discusses 4 types of holon relations: intra, inter, systemic and intersystemic. Intra shows the dynamics of a single holon (which could be an individual or a group). Inter shows how holons relate. Systemic shows the relationship between holons and the holarchy in which they are embedded. Intersystemic shows relationships between holarchies. Intra is typical of developmentalists. Inter is used by communication and mediation focuses, generally pomo. Systemic is where dynamic systems come in. And intersystemic shows relationships of the first 3."

I've noted this before but it seems that the kennilinguists focus much more on intra and thus get into altitude sickness. Whereas Bryant is much more systemic and misses some of the intra developmental aspects. Or from anther angle kennilingus is more into the developmental holarchy and Bryant the ecological holarchy. Like from this post earlier in this thread:

"It might be useful to also look at Edwards' dissertation. In chapter 6 for example he notes 3 kinds of holarchies which have different topographies and dynamics: developmental, governance and ecological (131). This might not only explain the differences between Wilber and Bryant's holarchies but also how to integrate them.

And the post following:

"In this ILR article Edwards goes into more detail on these 3 holarchical lenses, how they differ and are similar, how they can be confused, and how they can be integrated in a wider embrace. It seems kennilingus might focus more on developmental holarchies, while Bryant more on the ecological? Although the governance has to do with autopoeisis and self organization, so this could be a mix for Bryant.

And recall this thread on religion and politics, making a case for the developmental trajectory of religion. Following is the introductory paragraph. See the entire thread for more elucidation.

In modern democracy we must maintain the separation of church and state, which is of course the rallying cry of atheists everywhere. And for good cause, since fundamental religion would remove the democratic ideal and reinstate a theocracy based not on equality but divine right ruled by a religious caste. On the other hand we've thrown out the baby with the bathwater altogether and consequently our political economy is lacking in the kinds of basic human decency necessary to overcome the inhuman forms of treatment endemic to what we're seeing expressed in budget proposals all across the US; the rich get richer and more powerful which the middle class and the poor bear the brunt of ever-shrinking leftover pie crumbs. To reinject human value back into politics then religion must obviously be of a different kind, we might even say of a postmetaphysical kind, that is bereft of all those things we have grown beyond but still retains our connection with something larger that instills within us humane values toward each other.

Bryant has a recent post called "Axioms for a dark ontology." I agree with many of them, like these (at least partially):

"There is no supernatural causation of any kind, nor any genuinely mystical experiences (e.g. astrology and merging with the totality of things) so anything that posits deep meanings, supernatural causes, purposes, and so on ought to be treated with disdain and ignored. Nonetheless, people do have 'mystical experiences.'  They just aren’t caused in the way they suppose and are perfectly ordinary natural/neurological events (the oneness with everything that certain epileptics describe after a seizure resulting from all their neurons more or less firing at once).  Buddhist meditation is therefore a good psycho-neurological therapy."

"Dark ontologists experience wonder, awe, and a reverence for things precisely because everything is an accident and meaningless and therefore irreplaceable.  There’s nothing 'spiritual' about this, unless one wishes to abuse language and, indeed, spirituality often dulls our ability to experience wonder at things such as the existence of life despite its improbability because it thinks there’s a designer behind these things."

On this one though I disagree firmly.

"There will never be a progressive form of spirituality as any discussion of the divine is always recouped as a justification for various forms of oppression (e.g., fundamentalists enlisting Hawking’s and Einstein’s statements about God for their own cause).  As a result, moderate believers are often worse than fundamentalists as they enable these dynamics of power."

As to the first claim, I've recontexualized mystical states in the states thread. As to the second and third, I don't accept that all 'spirituality' dulls us from awe/wonder, or that there cannot be a postmetaphysical spirituality. I wouldn't spend so much time here if I thought otherwise. But indeed such a spirituality requires a major reworking, a daunting task to which I've invested quite a few words, pages and volumes in the forum and my blog.

Not even Sam Harris is anti-spirituality, so Bryant if off the deep end on this one.


Having just watched "Life of Pi" again with friends last evening, I have to say that Bryant's "Dark Ontology" (if actually believed) would be just another adaptive psychosis - another attempt to create cohesive meaning.

Regarding the movie, was Pi really on board the lifeboat with those animals or was he alone?  We get to choose the story we want to believe.  If Pi himself really experienced things as his tiger story described, then it's possible that he was experiencing an adaptive psychosis - the mind's ability to create emergent meaning in order to maintain psychological cohesion and thus physical survival.  Call it a creative illness, a healing fiction, an emergent paradigm, an adaptive psychosis, a necessary autonomous complex, or a "generative enclosure,"  We can't judge them by UR (truth) or even UL (sincerity) validity claims alone. 

So these competing ontological, philosophical, and spiritual worldviews would also have LL and LR quadrant validity claims.  Is the story or explanation meaningful to one's culture and/or is it adaptive to one's environment?  For some folks a metaphysical universe fits, and for others a rational-atheistic universe fits better.  One person's "oppression" is another persons' preservation of the sacred, meaningful, and valued.


Attempted to post this on Larval Subjects (not sure if it took):

(Added a few additional comments from my above posting)

Having just watched "Life of Pi" again with friends last evening, I have to say that religion is an adaptive psychosis - another attempt to create cohesive meaning.

Regarding the movie, was Pi really on board the lifeboat with those animals or was he alone?  We get to choose the story we want to believe.  If Pi himself really experienced things as his tiger story described, then it's possible that he was experiencing an adaptive psychosis - the mind's ability to create emergent meaning in order to maintain psychological cohesion and thus physical survival.  Call it a creative illness, a healing fiction, an emergent paradigm, an adaptive psychosis, a necessary autonomous complex, or a "generative enclosure,"  We can't judge them by Integral theory's (AQAL) UR (truth) or even UL (sincerity) validity claims alone.

So these competing ontological, philosophical, and spiritual worldviews would also have LL and LR quadrant validity claims.  Is the story or explanation meaningful to one's culture and/or is it adaptive to one's environment?  For some folks a metaphysical universe fits, and for others a rational-atheistic universe fits better.  One person's "oppression" is another persons' preservation of the sacred, meaningful, and valued.

However, as a kind of mass-psychosis these worldviews must be taken seriously.  Deconstructing religion as myth or story is fine for those of us who already stand outside of orthodox religion, but for those still in the psychosis, these meta-explanations are not effective at de-potentizing the collective complex or psychosis.   To reach the psychotic, one must be willing (like Hermes, Hercules, Odysseus, Aeneas, or Dante) to enter their special world and engage with them seriously.   

"Invited by a friend to meet the great man, [Marie Louise von-Franz]  was so disconcerted when Jung mentioned a patient who lived on the moon that the brash young woman piped up and said surely he meant the woman acted ''as if'' she lived on the moon. When Jung replied that no, the woman really did live on the moon, Miss Franz, she later recalled, ''went away thinking that either he was crazy or I was.''

That was before she came to appreciate that to Jung dreams, like myths, fantasies and fairy tales are as real as the world itself -- and that a problem exists when somebody has trouble telling the two levels of reality apart."

I hope that gets posted, Joe.  (I don't think he'll understand the AQAL references, but that could open a conversation...)


Bryant has posted a follow-up blog with a few more "tenets" for his manifesto.  Here are three that caught my attention:


26.  Given that all minds have a neurological substrate, we can no longer speak in generic or general terms about human minds as neurological structures are diverse in our species.  This is also attested to by the developmental plasticity of the brain.

30.  Religions are not beliefs but are political institutions that exert power in the world in various ways and that organize people in various ways.  As a consequence, discussions of religion at the level of belief and whether or not those beliefs are true often miss the fact that religions are sociological entities.

31.  Theology seldom contributes anything to our understanding of religion and often muddies the water by presenting a rationalized version of popular belief and religion.  The claims of theologians are seldom reflective of what the population believes.  As a consequence, we have more to learn about religion from the ethnographer and the sociologist of religion than we do from the theologian who is generally what Deleuze called a State Thinker, even in his most progressive moment.


Regarding the first, I am reminded of a frequent statement of Wilber about mind -- which I will mangle here, since I don't remember it exactly.  Something about the mind being the only entity the plural of which does not exist.  As Bryant suggests, the understanding of mind as neurally instantiated (together with neural substrate itself exhibiting plasticity) poses a significant challenge to that notion -- unless you posit mind as a brain-independent, non-local field of some sort.


Regarding the second and third points, there's more to be said than I have time for now, but the second point fails IMO because it presents this as an either/or situation.  In Wilber's terms, this is a quadrant-absolutist approach, here emphasizing LR to the exclusion (or near-exclusion) of the other quadrants.  This wouldn't even be consistent with the multi-dimensionality of Bryant's own neo-Lacanian alethetics, so it seems perhaps his clear thinking goes out the window a bit when he tries to "think religion."  And his third point, about theologians not having much to teach about religion and simply "rationalizing" popular belief, doesn't seem to take account of stages of development, nor of the possibility that there is a circulation of meaning and influence both across stages and across quadrants, meaning theology doesn't happen in a vacuum and can't be sealed off from "real religion," since it can (and often does, albeit sometimes slowly) feed back in to and inform popular religion, religious institutions and structures, etc.

And one more brief response:


1, There is no meaning to existence or anything in the universe.  Life is an accident and has no divine significance (though it’s obviously important to the living).

2.Nonetheless, many living beings give meaning to the universe.  It’s just not inscribed in the things themselves.

I understand him to be saying here that there is not a single, objective meaning to the universe.  I accept this.  And yet, I think you could say that meaning is inscribed in the things themselves, in the sense that all beings trade in meaning, in meanings-for, and that this meaning-for is a real part of the universe, with real effects on the unfolding and development of beings in the universe.  In that sense, while I have -- at any point -- a withdrawn core that is inaccessible to myself or other beings (from an OOO point of view), I can also say that what I am and what I further become is inseparable from the various and multiple meanings-for that have informed all the actions, all the deep history, constitutive of, and contributive to, my own being.

In this way, you could just as easily say that the universe is indeed meaning-full, as much as it is meaningless.

Earlier in the thread* I questioned that thoughts were non-substantial elements instead of fully substantial suobjects in themselves. Granted we can 'think' prior to language but language certainly extends that process per the embodied mind thesis. I also brought in the extended mind thesis to support my speculations. Along that line I just discovered this article over at Integral Options, "The embodied mind extended." It's nice when 'science' in some ways confirms my theoretical musings. The abstract:

"The extended mind view and the embodied-grounded view of cognition and language are typically considered as rather independent perspectives. In this paper we propose a possible integration of the two views and support it proposing the idea of 'Words As social Tools' (WAT). In this respect, we will propose that words, also due to their social and public character, can be conceived as quasi-external devices that extend our cognition. Moreover, words function like tools in that they enlarge the bodily space of action thus modifying our sense of body. To support our proposal, we review the relevant literature on tool-use and on words as tools and report recent evidence indicating that word use leads to an extension of space close to the body. In addition, we outline a model of the neural processes that may underpin bodily space extension via word use and may reflect possible effects on cognition of the use of words as external means. We also discuss how reconciling the two perspectives can help to overcome the limitations they encounter if considered independently."

* Like here and following.

For example, the following excerpt seems to lend support to my notion that image schema through language are extended into the environment and are not just part of our internal, interpretive apparatus. (Note: EG = embodied-grounded, EM = extended mind.)

"Not only tools but words as well can be considered as physical things. They are expressed through our bodies, be they spoken or written, and once pronounced or written they have a material and public existence, similarly to tools.... Now consider the relationship between words and body according to EG theories and the relationship between words and mind according to the EM view. EG theorists demonstrated that comprehending words activates the motor system. EM theorists propose that, as tools extend our body schema, 'language extends our capacities for thought and therefore can be treated as extending our mind schema' . In fact, it has been shown that language modifies cognition, for example influencing perception and categorization, in a flexible manner. But so far nobody has shown that word use might recode our bodily space with respect to objects, as it happens for physical tools. Notice that the parallel between words and tools is not only abstract and metaphorical; in contrast, we formulate the precise prediction, to be tested experimentally, that both words and physical tools have a specific effect on cognition, i.e., that their use determines an expansion of the bodily space representations. Demonstrating this would imply to apply the notion of incorporation to the 'ethereal' domain of language. At the same time, it could help reconcile the EG and the EM view."

Also see this post et seq on the topic earlier in the thread.

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

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