Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Inside Out of OOO

As the first of four theses of a flat ontology, Levi Bryant says that object oriented ontology "rejects any ontology of transcendence or presence that privileges one sort of entity as the origin of all others and as fully present to itself." So what does this mean for philosophy in general and for higher education in particular?

For philosophy, object oriented ontology makes two key claims, as Bryant details them:
First, humans are not at the center of being, but are among beings. Second, objects are not a pole opposing a subject, but exist in their own right, regardless of whether any other object or human relates to them. Humans, far from constituting a category called “subject” that is opposed to “object”, are themselves one type of object among many. (249)
Hence the title of Bryant's book: The Democracy of Objects. Humans are first and foremost objects among other objects. Do not think that humans are just objects, as that pejorative and diminutive just does not do justice to what Bryant means by the term object. Do not think that Bryant is trying to eliminate the human. He isn't. Humans are full-fledged objects with all the rights pertaining thereunto, and those rights are considerable. First, objects define themselves from the inside out, their substance being the generative powers and capabilities at their core. When speaking of the "virtual proper being" of objects, a concept he develops from Deleuze's study of the virtual, Bryant says:
The virtual consists of the volcanic powers coiled within an object. It is that substantiality, that structure and those singularities that endure as the object undergoes qualitative transformations at the level of local manifestations. (95)
To my mind, this defining from the inside out is most significant, and I envision it most easily in the case of DNA, those "volcanic powers coiled within" each cell of my body and which kickstarted me some 65 years ago and have informed me ever since. My DNA is "that structure and those singularities that endure" as I have undergone "qualitative transformations at the level of local manifestations", or my DNA is the energy, information, and organization source that endured as I grew up, matured, and created a life—or became the object I am today.

I differ from Bryant and his flavor of OOO by including my ecosystem. I am comfortable starting any definition of myself with the DNA coiled within my cells, but I don't want to limit my definition to my DNA. For me, any useful definition of me as an object must include the unpacking of my DNA along a particular arc through a particular environment. Bryant distinguishes the "volcanic powers" within from the "qualitative transformations at the level of local manifestations", which I'm comfortable with, but then he seems to limit the definition of an object to its withdrawn interior. I reject that as I don't know of any object that exists independently of an ecosystem; thus, defining an object independently of its ecosystem seems ultimately pointless to me. Defining ONLY from the inside out is as problematic for me as defining ONLY from the outside in, which is what all dictionaries do.

My reading of Edgar Morin's concept of complexity convinces me that I can understand an object only if I understand the exchange of matter, energy, information, and organization between that object and the objects in its surround. Yes, an object (even a rock) has inherent, internal powers that are necessary for defining that rock, but they are not sufficient.

I think this concept of the withdrawn object may be a show-stopper for me.

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