Monday, May 7, 2012

Being & becoming, virtual & actual, & whatnot

Following is some ongoing dialogue between Balder and me at the end of the IPS OOO thread:

Balder: If you have any thoughts on this, what is the OOO orientation towards the metaphysical question of Being?  Can "being" for OOO be described, as it is in metaphysics, as both immanent and transcendent: immanent because every thing or object is (in whatever spatiotemporal frame it manifests), and transcendent because being-as-substance is withdrawn and mysterious and ever eludes our (direct) knowing?  For instance, Shankara says that everyone can say of themselves "I am Brahman" simply because they exist, but Brahman cannot be known (is always mystery, withdrawn from apprehension).  Does OOO mirror this, but only on a localized or individualized level (everything is equally substance but there is no one underlying super-substance)?

theurj: First, I can only comment on Bryant's OOO, onticology, as that's the only one I've spent any appreciable time investigating. Second, it depends on how we define such terms and being and transcendence, and Bryant has excelled at being very specific with his definitions. It seems you framed being as immanence or local manifestations in Bryant's terms, what an object is, or how it presences. Whereas its transcendent part is the withdrawn and not directly knowable. But Bryant defines the withdrawn as "virtual proper being," so being is not limited to local manifestations. Even virtual proper being though is not transcendent in the ontotheological sense but rather is always produced and immanent. The "transcendent" for Bryant is not in oppositional relation with the immanent but rather the "transcendental" is immanent with no transcendent as such.* But when you this is limited to "only on a localized or individualized level" that is misleading. Although all objectiles are individual they don't have to be local, e.g., hyperobjects. Such individuality though, local or non, does preclude there being an assholon.

* Returning to a previous point, we don't have to accept the frame that there must be in "integration" or inclusion of a concept like the transcendent, as it belongs to a bygone, metaphysical lifeworld.

Balder: I actually asked you these questions based on something I was reading in Polydoxy.  I'm thinking of replacing the section in my paper on Faber's essay with a discussion of a different essay, and in reading it, the question I posed to you above occurred to me.  The author is discussing both "the divine" and "reality" in terms of three concepts: ground, contingency, and relation.  He points to Shankara's Brahman, but also to certain Western theological concepts, as focusing primarily on the divine as "ground."  In his discussion, he seems to suggest that we can and should still retain the notion of ground (say, as Being), but that ground should be understood in relation to contingency (non-necessity, particularity) and relation (inter-dependence).  He uses Christian ideas on particularity to articulate the former, and rangtong (Madhyamaka) discussions of emptiness to illustrate the latter.  He says that, without contingency and relation, ground becomes a split-off, immutable, transcendent, ontotheological Other.  But if held alongside the other two, then ground is (ironically) grounded, so to speak.

Concerning how I was framing "being" in my question to you, no, I actually did not mean to limit being to local manifestations per se, since "transcendent" is an aspect of the definition of being.  Rather, what I meant was that the transcendence of being was never found or posited apart from local manifestations, as I understand Bryant's formulation.  (Where transcendence, here, is understood as the withdrawn being of objects -- Bryant's virtual proper being).

What still isn't quite clear to me in Bryant's model is whether the withdrawn aspect of an object is inherently and universally withdrawn, and therefore a kind of constant inner kernel that exists without reference to anything else, or whether the withdrawn aspect of being is relational, meaning that aspects of an object may be "withdrawn" for some objects encountering it but "actual" for different types of objects encountering it.  This would suggest that the same "thing" could be virtual/potential and actual at the same "time" (if you, say, imaginatively hold two spatiotemporal frames together, taking a third person perspective on two very different observer-objects encountering the object in question).  What do you think?
theurj: Bryant is quite clear that his virtual proper being (VPB) is not "a kind of inner kernel that exists without reference to anything else." In fact he clearly criticizes Deleuze for this. VPB though is not unlimited given its individually constructed nature (endo-relations). Granted its available possible actual manifestations are greatly expanded given its changing exo-relations but it is not some kind of universal and unlimited soup.

However this does not mean that VPB being is available or actual for "different types of objects encountering" an object, since VPB, at least in its totality, never becomes actual. I can see how one object, limited as it is by its current actual manifestation, might not see some aspects of another object's actual manifestation. And while yet a third object with a broader perception might see (or create) other actual manifestations of the first object unavailable to the second. But no object, never having a God's eye view, will ever see into the totality of another's VPB, let alone an object seeing that for itself.

I don't know if that answers your question because I'm not sure I quite understand it.

Balder: In a sense, I'm attempting to (loosely) apply a kind of Madhyamika analysis to this question.  If the virtual proper being is an exclusive and inherent property of an object, and if the VPB of any object is always equally withdrawn from all other objects, then it becomes a kind of hidden (and immutable) kernel.  In other words, if the VPB of an object is the object's alone, it becomes a kind of "withdrawn constant."  This doesn't seem quite right, either in Bryant's framework or outside of it. 

When we say that the VPB never becomes actual in its totality for any other object, this suggests (to me) one of two things: either 1) that there is a deep part of the VPB that eludes all objects equally, or 2) that what is "virtual" and what is "actual" depends, in part, on who or what is encountering and engaging with the object in question.  (Here, I see "actual" as related to "enactment": what is actual depends on, or is an expression of, the intersuobjective enactment).  The former envisions the VPB as a kind of thing-in-itself: even if the VPB is constructed (out of endo-relations), it is a "thing-in-itself" with reference to any other objects, in that it is equally withdrawn from all other objects (and is only ever self-referencing).  The latter envisions VPB more in interdependent processual or relational terms: enactment involves creative interplay of virtuality/actuality together, but there is no virtual-in-itself or actual-in-itself.

According to the latter, endo-relations cannot be wholly separated from exo-relations, then, such that we can say that an object simply consists of endo-relations.  Is there any final set of endo-relations that completely and exclusively defines an object-in-itself, such that its virtual proper withdrawn "core" is the same for all?  I'm skeptical...

There might be other ways of looking at this, too, but I wanted to start here.

theurj: It seems VPB is unique to each individual object, much as is e.g. DNA for humans. But that is not to say that VPB can exist in itself. I'd agree that it seems more like your notion of interdependence, no inherent existence yet certainly constructed (aka conventional) existence. Which is of course akin to rangtong Madhyamaka if we define emptiness in those terms without some essence. I don't see Bryant asserting that endo-relations can exist without exo-relations. Even though he allows for dark objects recall his recent blog post that says dark, dim, bright etc. refer not to (actual) properties or (virtual) powers of objects but the degree of their relations.

As to your creative interplay of virtual/actual where it depends on who or what is engaging the object via enactment I'm not so sure. Can there not be a VPB that eludes all other objects simply because its potential cannot be exhausted by its current exo-relations? It seems such a VPB allows for the open possibilities of as yet un-actualized exo-relations, which might then transform an object's own endo-relations, and hence expand on what heretofore did not exist? Bryant discussed this is another blog post referenced above, noting that at least auto-poeitic objects have this capacity for its VPB to change and evolve depending on feedback loops with the environment.

Bryant says here of autopoietic objects, reminiscent of enacted perspectivalism:

"While we do grasp stimuli of the world under conditions of operational closure, we can attempt to suspend our blind spots and closure by engaging in second-order observation. Rather than simply receiving stimuli and working them over according to our own internal structure or operational closure, we can attempt to engage in second-order observation. Second-order observation consists in observing how other observers observe....and use this to modify his own ways of interacting with them."

Yet while an object can transform, grow, develop, this process "will never be complete." So it is in this sense that the VPB of an object is forever withdrawn, not because it already has a fixed infinite storehouse, but because its being is open to the not yet created (or enacted).

Balder: Does he use the phrase, degree of relation?  If so, that's interesting, because that's what I would have suggested to him: his types of objects more likely exhibit degrees of active relation, rather than any being wholly detached from all exo-relations.  (FYI, from my current computer, I can't view his blog, which is why I asked that question).

Yes, that makes sense to me [re: creative interplay of virtual/actual].  (I have a niggling doubt about part of it, but I'll need to wait till the niggle shows its head more before I comment further on that part).  In general, yes, I agree that, if we accept that changing exo-relations call forth, or enact, potentials of an object that might not have been manifest the moment before, then it is possible (even likely) that an object's potential is never fully exhausted by any particular situation*.  However, I see this as a confirmation of, rather than an exception to, what I was saying about the creative interplay of virtual/actual.  Because it is still the case that the VPB (or withdrawn) is not inherently the VPB (or withdrawn), but rather is an expression, one could say, of the present structural coupling of the object with its "environment."

If what qualifies as VPB or the withdrawn is situational, then it would seem (also) to follow that the "same" part or potential of an object could be VPB and actual "at once," if the object were being (enactively) interacted with by different sorts of objects or beings.  Objects "inhabit" more than one situation simultaneously.

Do you think "withdrawn" is the best word to describe this state of affairs?

*As I write this, I'm recalling the "Science as if Situation Mattered" essay; I'll have to peak at it again to see if it has anything relevant to contribute here.

theurj:  A few quotes for reference from Bryant's post of 5/5/12 on MOO:

"I distinguish between dark, dim, bright, and rogue objects.  These determinations are not features of objects but of the degree of relatedness enjoyed by a thing."

"My entire distinction between 'virtual proper being' and 'local manifestation' is designed to draw attention to what happens when objects relate.  A local manifestation is local because, in part, it occurs as a result of these absolute singular and specific relations to these other objects."

"Objects are therefore characterized by perpetual becoming or unfolding in the order of time.  For me there isn’t a choice that we have to make between being and becoming.  Rather being is becoming and becoming is being.  The being of an object is the becoming of that object."

"For me the only way in which entities can relate is through some material-energetic transmission.  There is no 'action at a distance.'"

theurj: As to "objects inhabiting more than one situation simultaneously," yes, I've made that point repeatedly with my notion of the shared space of holons, which can share space with a multitude of others. Like a word, and how the different contexts will change the meaning of said word. Word?

As to "withdrawn" being the best word, as is my wont I'd prefer a neologism,* but common terms with time-worn definitions often must be used but in different ways. As long as the new definition is clarified it is appropriate, and Bryant is clear in his new definition, distinguishing it, for example, with Heidegger and Harman. Also take the two words that make up withdrawn: with and drawn, both implying the co-existent nature of drawing boundaries with another object, and how those boundaries are negotiated yet still maintained.

* Bryant's objectile is good, sort of like a projectile.

Per above Bryant is open to material-energetic communication between objects non-locally, which communication is limited by the speed of light. It also depends on the context as to what local and non-local means. For example, a hyperobject like climate is a local manifestation to a "larger" object, yet non-local to some of its much smaller members. To paraphrase an old adage: Think locally, act globally.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.