OOO Conference

•November 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’m packed and ready to fly out tomorrow and attend the Metaphysics and Things conference at Claremont. It’s an exciting prospect to finally make one of these WRP conferences as I’ve meant to for the last couple of years, but not had the means. Having the discussion center around OOO is icing on the cake. If I had known earlier, I may have tried to make the conference at UCLA, but I don’t think I have time. The good news is that it will be streaming live.

As an appetizer, Harman and Shaviro have given a preview of the disagreement which will be discussed at their panel. It should be an exciting talk, as the conflict between Harman’s withdrawn objects and Shaviro’s emphasis on external relations is a problem I’m attempting to work through myself.


Events and Objects

•November 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The previous post brings to mind the fact that I want to preserve Whitehead’s idea that the fundamental units of reality are occasions (moments). This commitment gets me into a bit of trouble, I think, as it comes across as a bit Platonic. It may sound as though I’m saying that material things are, in some sense, less real than the events in which they participate. However, I think the tension between the abstractness of temporal moments and the objective components of reality can be bridged by reading “fundamental units of reality” in the right way.

To be a “fundamental unit” is to have priority in the sense of measurement. The event is prior to the object insofar as we only interact with objects in moments of experience. For us to do anything with them, ignore them, or learn anything about them, there have the be circumstances in which we find ourselves acting among one another. So, my ability to examine objects requires that they be in motion. The tension arises in this last statement. If the experience of objects requires the activity of those objects, it seems I need objects to experience an event. This is true as well.

I see a way out through considering the nature of objects relative to our experience. Our experience of objects in moments of experience sees their functions particular to the situation being observed. In this relationship, the event is what it is. Given the relevant period of experience, the relations are as they are; we see some, we miss others. The incomplete view of objects is due to the fact that the object is not wholly present in the event. By this, I don’t mean that the whole table I have my feet on isn’t under my feet, but that it only exhibits certain possible relations in the moment where I’m experiencing my feet on it. Hence, we never fully experience objects, only the aspects of them relevant to our understanding in a particular moment. I take this absence of objects in our experience to mean that we can’t start with objects as fundamental units because they are not unified to begin with. The nature of experience means we have to begin our observation and understanding in terms of the moments where experience occurs.

That said, I don’t want to deny the existence of material or immaterial objects and their presence in everyday life. I would rather have us understand objects differently, namely, as consistent patterns of relations maintained and evolving over time. Thus, when we talk about the objective table that I have my feet on, its claim to being an “object” is it’s position, form, material, etc, i.e. the consistent bundle of things that looks brown, has four legs, and that I can put my feet on. The permanent entity that I understand as an object, is the set of properties experienced as consistent over a duration of time.

While we can pragmatically say that the “objects” we experience are real, our access to them and their permanence is due to the event character of reality. They only are as they are in the moments where they exhibit what they are capable of. So, while we do exist in a world of objects, their activity in events is fundamental to understanding reality.

Levi on “Theoretical Monism” and Social Theory

•November 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The site is becoming much more link dump than actual depository of ideas, which I’ll try to rectify. In the meantime, I’d like to post Levi Bryant’s most recent post since I think he gives one of the better examples I’ve seen of an explanation of what an object-oriented explanation of social change looks like. You can read it here.

The difference Levi draws between theoretical monism and pluralism (which I may have to borrow), correctly captures the bricolage quality that should overcome a lot of the pitfalls of closed structures (reductive? hegemonic? hierarchical?) that rely on a singular, static master concept for their explanation. This is one of the common threads in Latour’s critique of the “sociology of the social”, Whitehead’s “fallacy of misplaced concreteness”, Parsons’ critique of Positivism/Idealism, and Marx’s critique of Political Economy. In each case, we have a conceptual agent that does all the work in the order of things without itself being explained.* We may as well have recourse to “God”. Flat Ontology’s position that all entities are agents in reality activates material and immaterial conditions to create an action situation that is active in the truest sense. Instead of an instance of action between subject and an object, we have an interaction of multiple agents that initiates a variety of processes that are identified by their significance to the observer.

For example, in the process of making coffee this morning, depending on what we want to know we can study the brewing process as:

1) The process of water working its way through the beans
2) The process of the machine heating water and expelling it through beans into a carafe that it keeps warm
3) The process of my pouring water to set up the machine and powering it as a moment between my waking up and getting in the shower
4)The process of me conducting a ritual that symbolically and chemically prepares me for my work process.

In each case, the certain features of the overall process come to the fore or go into relief depending on the significance to the observer. This feature of the event is due to the its arising through the interaction of multiple material and immaterial entities. Our explanation is a means of capturing the event through a paying attention to certain entities that tell us what we want to know. The excluded factors do not become inactive, they simply fall into the background.

This form of explanation, and theory of how it comes about, is superior insofar as it accounts for the explanatory power of our different understandings of events through different disciplines, while capturing the fact that our explanations are always partial, something is always missing in the final equation. In addition, it provides a way for overcoming this gulf in explanation through multiplying the significant agents in one’s own frame of reference or by combining multiple frames (interdisciplinary research?). With regard to this, Levi combines the idea of separating ourselves from master-concepts with utilizing multiple frameworks or authors. This synthesis should enlarge the frame of reference both in massiveness of scale and diversity of entities in play. Something that, I think, gives as satisfying of an explanation as you would get in a “totalizing theory”, but in a way that generates further expansion rather than coming across as reductionist.

More significant for me is that presenting reality as active has the potential for shifting our disposition towards our situations for action. This is something I see working itself out in Whitehead’s work. Seeing the universe as process is not only more adequate to reality but, in being so, draws us to treat entities surrounding us differently. Thinking of the world as active process seems to bring along with it a greater concern with others (though not necessarily positive) that is generated by widening the scope of our situations and removing the “object-ness” of objects. We tend to treat animate things much more carefully than the inanimate. . . sometimes.

I’m excited to see where Levi’s new project on ontology and political philosophy is going. These recent discussions point in some promising directions for OOO and social theory that take advantage of a lot of the positions we’re untangling ourselves from.

*Reading Marx traditionally yields the same result, I think. Reference to the Substructure/Superstructure, or “the material conditions of production” as ultimate misses the rationale for the extensive discussions of Capital. Marx goes into so much detail not to emphasize the material “in toto” but the particular material and social practices that generate Capital as a process, not an ideology, etc.

levi on philosophuy, OOO, and hyper objects

•November 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Though I still occupy more tje place of a student/historian than what I would call a philosopher, these are tje conversations that I think will assist me in generating my own novel ideas.

  • Whitehead and College Football

    •October 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

    An example to demonstrate that the fallacy of misplaced concreteness occurs in everyday evaluation:

    The BCS is a textbook case. Presuming that the best team in the country is the team that will win head to head versus other teams, we are claiming that statistical superiority is indicative of actual superiority. We take a quantitative description where a qualitative description is necessary.

    The polls should be more indicative of qualitative difference but the changes in the poll show that rank takes precedence over performance and character.

    Example : LSU being ranked 9th is taken to mean they are better than all but the 9 teams ranked higher than them. Given how they have played, our experience shows that they haven’t really played as a dominant team. Rather, it seems that they advance in the polls based on the strength of their ranking, I.e. If they were 12 and a team falls out of the top, they move up because they are at least 12th best.

    Boise State dropping after a win is a counter-example. But I think it’s an outlying case.

    Iain Thomson interview

    •October 12, 2010 • 3 Comments

    Prof. Thompson articulates a lot of my views on the goals of teaching than I can. The interview does make me wonder if it is as novel as it is treated to teach Intro as a major figure course?

    Object Oriented Space-Time

    •October 5, 2010 • Leave a Comment

    More interesting work coming from Levi. This time, it’s a preliminary formulation of the implications of OOO for our understanding of time, space, and proximity.