martes, 18 de enero de 2011

Levi's Object Oriented Ontology - Virtual Structures and Local Manifestations


- Levi's Object Oriented Ontology -
Virtual Structures and Local Manifestations
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   Levi has posted here a really good answer to my post from Saturday, articulating how his own version of OOO might address some of the core issues raised by my inquiry. I think it is a good beginning for the purposes clarifying some of the specifics around some tightly knit questions about individuation and the like, in their metaphysics. I think Levi does very well in beginning by distinguishing between metaphysical and epistemological realism.


More fundamentally, I think it is imperative to distinguish three determinations about real objects: that they are (existential), how they are (qualitative), and how many they are (quantitative). Following Levi's presentation, Bhaskar's argues first that real objects qua partitions of the world must exist: scientific practice happens on the basis of manifestations, and objects are precisely the conditions for these local encounters. Bhaskar also allows us to know that objects should have an endogenous structure in order to condition the possibility scientific practice. As Levi acknowledges, this leaves as epistemologically inaccessible from certainty the unified qualitative identity of particular objects qua virtual wholes (how they are), and their numerical status (how many they are).

    Nothing here, it should be noted, yet explains that the world must be external to the field of the subject, however, but only that the world must be objectified, differentiated and structured in order for there to be scientific practice. This is not at all unlike Kant, who claims that causal necessity and the possibility of scientific practice can only actually obtain on condition of the categorical determination that differentiates the field of sensibility of space-time for the subject of representation. For Bhaskar the isolation of entities and can only occur because the world is externally so divided, insofar as there is an asymmetry   between an object and its powers, i.e. the object can be 'out of phase'. This will turn out to be problematic for the externalist thesis, as I shall indicate below. But let us move on.

Let us begin with the last of these points, addressing how the withdrawal thesis, which anchors a local manifestation to the real object, is to be justified through condition (1), i.e. that objects can be out of phase with their qualities. It is important to notice that this doesn't determine that by necessity every object will actually be out of phase with its qualities, and therefore that there must always be incongruence between the real object and the sensual counterpart, or between the potential virtual structure and its actual local manifestation. It rather determines that it can never be necessary that an object is fully actualized, i.e. that it locally manifests the entirety of its powers. The object may thus be out of phase, and this contingency explains both the possibility and interest of scientific investigation, since it an object were fully transparent at every time, no such inquiry would be required. Of course, there's a further unstated premise in Levi's account here, which states that an object may never manifest itself completely at any point in time: there are always aspects of it which remain withdrawn. It should be underlined that this specific point doesn't emerge in Bhaskar's argument, as presented by Levi in his post.

In passing, I wonder how much of Bhaskar’s account as presented in Levi's summary is endorsed by Graham. In any case, it is a very clear formulation to start the discussion! With respect to the connection between their two accounts, I would for example inquire about the following formulation:

“Within my framework, all local manifestations are acts or activities of objects or generative mechanisms. Here what we ordinarily refer to as properties or qualities are doings on the part of objects. The red of a billiard ball, for example, isn’t a quality that that billiard ball has or is.” 

   I preemptively anticipate here that an asymmetry is sketched between Graham and Levi’s accounts, insofar as for the former it would be strange to say the real parts/qualities of the object are something the object does but is not, insofar as for Graham there is a sensual object and sensual parts of the object. Of course, these do not belong to the real object which is its host, even if they do belong to the unified intentional real object which emerges from their relation. Alternatively, if Levi means that the acts of objects are what in Graham’s account correspond to the sensual objects/parts caused by their real counterparts, both accounts might be reconciled. But Levi would still need to say that the produced result, the actualized local manifestation, is an object in its own right, like Graham's sensual objects, which I think is not really his own position. But in this I digress. 


   My next observation resides particularly with respect to Levi's account on the apparent epistemological consequences that follow from these metaphysical theses. Particularly, the consequences that follow given the epistemic inaccessibility of how real objects / virtual structures must correspond to their real powers, as inferred through their local manifestations (quality); and how many real objects correspond to local manifestations(quantity). We are thereby to inquire about how local manifestations are suitable indexes to infer integral, real objects as their causal, virtual anchors. For example, the redness in the billiard ball is by implication the redness of a virtual power in a real, virtual object. This follows from the thesis that objects are structure and the world is differentiated, and the possible gap between an object's powers and its actual manifestations. But this doesn't yet help us in determining the qualitative identity of this virtual object as a whole, or indeed about whether the local manifestation corresponds to a virtual power in one virtual object or many.


 Levi seems perfectly at ease with accepting this result. He claims that indeed we have no resources to attain certainty about the qualitative identity of virtual structures, or about the integrity in the real counterparts to the local manifestations we perceive. So, against such a model, construing knowledge around certainty appears an incommensurable demand for thought.

   Yet I think my worries are here not so much about certainty as a condition for knowledge, but about the possibility of degrees of adequation. If there are no epistemic criteria to distinguish which descriptions/perceptions/actions might be better suited to coin their real counterparts than any others, then it seems we are delivered back into a form of correlationist agnosticism about the real, where the latter is thinkable, perhaps even as the necessary anchor for our experience, but never known in its ontic specificity. Therefore, the virtual powers we take to be manifested in actuality might correspond to anything our verbal stock of terms and descriptions might want to stipulate is in the 'great outdoors'. There might be a theory about how experience or experimentation  isolates objects in a way that restricts the scope of individuation of virtual structures on the basis of the powers manifested and thus coined as potencies in their real hosts, but this is a tricky issue for OOO given the irreductionist thesis. I'm not sure Bhaskar's scientific realism here can help Levi anymore than Kripke's naturalism can assuage Graham. 

I would consequently take issue with the following claim:

“As we saw in the previous section, experiment involves situating entities in controlled and isolated settings. If this is to be possible, it follows that the world must come in chunks. The entities of the world must be differentiated or independent. Were this not the case, then it would not be possible to isolate entities so as to conduct controlled experiments on them.”

      Bhaskar’s argument is probably here more sophisticated than what Levi has schematically presented, so I give him the benefit of doubt. However, while the world is said to come in chunks, this is only insofar as the local manifestations we witness in experience must entail virtual counterparts as their hosts, and since experience is salient with respect to a multitude of such manifestations, by implication the world must be likewise exhibiting structural complexity.

Nothing yet tells us about how local manifestations become anchored on real objects qua unified virtual structures, however, so that it could be said that there are many chunks qua virtual objects, rather than a singular, stratified, and partitioned virtual object which produces the entirety of local manifestations as locally actualized. This is a real problem, insofar as the ontology of objects presumes to distinguish itself from the processualist thesis by claiming that multiple individuals subsist, and not follow from the single apeiron,  the Deleuzean virtual of multiplicities in perplication, or whatever else. The problem is that without epistemic criteria to determine how local manifestations can be tethered to real objects, either in quality or in quantity, it becomes impossible to justify the claim that the world is composed of many real objects. For all we know, local manifestations might all follow from the singular substantial field, which would reduce it to something akin the Deleuzean differential intensive spatium.This would be in perfect coincidence to the thesis of out-of-phasing, differentiation and structure. The appeal to a hierarchical structuration of the world in emergence does not assuage this worry therefore, insofar as it is perfectly possible to imagine the multitude of local manifestations as emerging from a singular substance, or a problematic field of singular differential points in the Idea, prior to intensive individuation.

 The claims about the necessary transitivity of real objects are likewise unhelpful in this regard, insofar as nothing precludes the idea that what is independent of mind/society/language/experience might be one thing rather than many, or even a non-unified purely differential field of pure potentialities ala Deleuze’s spatium.


   Unlike Graham’s brand of OOO, however, we must notice that Levi’s account entails that the local manifestations of objects can be qualitatively mapped onto their virtual potentialities, while for the former there is a severe ontological gap separating real objects/parts which remain intractable as such from their sensual doubles. In Levi’s case, the local manifestations of real objects can be perfectly said to correspond to a real ‘virtual power’, even if it is impossible still to specify what exactly the real object(s) which is manifested is.  Thus, Levi can claim that:

“The foregoing makes no claims as to whether it is atoms, subatomic particles, organisms, stars, baseballs, etc., that exist. These are questions for actual inquiry and cannot be answered a priori.” 

     Unlike Graham, there is no qualitative abyss which renders the local manifestation by necessity distinct from its host reality, part or object, i.e. they could be balls, baseballs, and Roger Rabbit. This is not to say that the local manifestation is identical to the virtual power it actualizes, but only that it can be said to be congruent with a qualitative determination, as described by our singular terms. Thus unlike Harman, for whom our singular terms and comportments cannot but fail to adequately target the real counterparts or counterobjects behind sensual comportments, Levi’s local manifestations correspond to real powers, without being able to specify the virtual unities to which they correspond. This is the case even though real powers, as Levi claims, are “nothing like their powers”; they are still the manifestation of these specific powers: the distinction is here thus strictly speaking modal, i.e. there is nothing qualitative differentiating virtual powers from actualized local manifestations. It is important to notice the import of this reading.

    So when Kant said that being is not a real predicate, like Heidegger explains, he does not mean that a real chair is identical to an actual chair, insofar as identity is irreducible to quality. He meant that as far as their qualities were concerned they were indistinguishable, only their positioning in a world rendered them distinct. Similarly, for Levi, local manifestations don't bear less or more properties than the virtual powers they actualize, they simply manifest locally these same powers as triggered by a perturbation in the world.



I should specify at this point why the rest of Bhaskar's list of conditions for objects is still problematic under these lights, however. As I see it, neither differentiation, nor structure, nor stratification clarifies numerically why we should advocate a plurality of objects rather than one, nor qualitatively how they must be so.


Differentiation only tells us we can isolate realities to locally manifest themselves, but never what or how they are nor how many they must be. Thus we see redness and roundness in an object we call "billiard ball", but nothing tells us how we exactly we individuate this object. We isolate ‘things’, but nothing is as of yet said about how criteria for differentiation in scientific practice allows for real individuation, to assuage these concerns. I'm sure for Bhaskar scientific experimentation plays a clearer role here: we toy with what is before us, and with time we can map the features or powers an object may exhibit as a whole. Thus the proper name we endow the object with is simply to signify the set of those powers observed by and through experimentation. This, however, seems to solicit the thesis that it science's experimental activity which approximately clarifies and gains putative authority in isolating the powers of objects, and determining their identities, which would make the determination of entities relative to constructions in scientific practice. But of course for Levi this needn't be so restricted: a sculptor may know about the powers of clay more than a molecular biologist. Yet nothing still tells us how we determine that a certain set of powers suffices to constitute a virtual totality in the form of an object. As we will see in the end, Levi's argument here will be to argue for the peculiar powers of particular objects, which remain irreducible to their parts or partitions.

It is also strange at this juncture that Levi mentions that we isolate ‘things’ rather than local manifestations: what makes the differentiation of chunks in the world pertain to objects rather than local manifestations qua subjective appearances, say, or sensual objects and their parts, as in Graham’s brand of OOO? It is also not specified why exactly the differentiation must entail the reality of external objects rather than being individuated by the subjective psyche within a sensible field which might be fully ocnstituted by the mind (as in dreams), or whatever else. We don’t quite know yet why or how isolation entails externalism, i.e. how even those entities which appear to subsist outside their relations can be said to be necessary as such outside their manifestation to the perceiver/thinker. The answer to this, apparently, is that the implication of a virtual structure foreign to the manifestation is what implies the externality of any entity as locally manifested.  But this foreignness to manifestation doesn't entail externality to thought, but merely externality to the individuation apparent in the manifestation.

    It is important to note that as far as potentialities in the virtual being of the object may be ‘out of phase’, there is no argument for the causal correspondence of what is individuated as a local manifestation to a single virtual potentiality, and not just virtual object qua whole. Thus, just like in Harman’s case a sensual object/part was undetermined in its numerical correspondence to its anchoring real object(s)/part(s), for Levi a local manifestation cannot be straightforwardly said to be the manifestation of a single power, unless we specify how our descriptions of manifestations are anchored on virtual powers in a one-to-one correspondence. This would entail that we know that what gives itself as a single local manifestation is qualitatively and quantitatively the same as its virtual power, unlike Graham's account for which this if left open. But this stipulated congruence is as of yet to be explained or accounted for. We can let this go for now.

 Structure likewise only tells us that there must be endogenous powers in the world of scientific practice for experimentation, but not how these structures are unified into concrete realities. It must also be said it is not explained why objects must have structures qua stable duration of a collection of powers, rather than a perpetually changing, totally differenc/tiated field of pure potentialities as static Ideal multiplicities specified by singular points and organized relations (without objective individuality), and which become enveloped by intensive contractions which then give objects, like Deleuze says. I don’t think here Levi has forced the ‘goo-theorists’ into having to provide a justification, since they explain the emergence of stable objects through intensive individuation. At least those of a Deleuzean orientation! But I should stay out of that debate anyway, since it’s not really my point of contention.  Hierarchy and intransitivity I mentioned above, and should need to further discussion for now.

Levi is too smart and knows too well these insufficiencies, so he delivers his own argument for the epistemic necessity of integral objects:

      “It could be that the computer is merely a collection of objects and not an object in its own right. I don’t claim certainty. Many philosophers, influenced– probably unconsciously –by a Cartesian tradition seem to treat certainty as a model of knowledge… When I make the claim that, for example, the Coca-Cola Corporation is an object, I am making both a very strange claim and one that ought to be defended with reasons. Here my argument is that the Coca-Cola Corporation both possesses powers and is interacted with by other entities in ways that are irreducible to any of its parts. The Coca-Cola Corporation is capable of doing things that its parts are not capable of doing. Likewise in the case of the computer. I believe the computer is itself an object, that it can’t be reduced to a mere aggregate, because it has powers and is capable of doing things that its parts are not capable of doing.”

    This is promising and interesting indeed! I’d like to know, nevertheless, how we are to exactly construe powers or potentialities. Given Levi’s account of hierarchy in objects, it must follow that entities within others have distinct powers from the higher end objective ‘genuses’:

“Higher scale entities have an autonomy, independence, or existence of their own characterized by their own generative powers. They cannot exist without the lower scale entities, nor do these higher order powers contradict the powers of the lower scale entities, but they are autonomous entities in their own right, irreducible to these lower scale entities”

     Of course, one can almost trivially say that my keyboard “S” key has powers that my computer as a whole does not have: i.e. its paint can be erased, it can be pressed to target a virtual ‘S’ on my screen, etc. But half of my S key surely also has powers that my S key doesn’t have! It can fit on smaller gaps, it has increased capacity to exert pressure against other surfaces, it can serve as an outline shape for a cubic drawing half the size of the square rendered by its double, etc. Needless to say, the same seems to apply to most partitions I can think of, and using standard like Quine examples we can get all sorts of funny scenarios. Not to mention Frege! Superman could surely do things Clark Kent couldn’t! Maybe this had to do with the psychological effect dressing up as a superhero has on the real bodily host, but this all remains rather fuzzy, since potentialities are never specified as distinctively physical, or indeed as pertaining to any descriptive domain for their individuation. So surely Levi cannot straightforwardly say that both Kent and Superman are local manifestations of the same real object, insofar as the latter is the same ‘embodied’ structure, in the sense of a physically extended body. Maybe Bhaskar could, but i'm not sure about Levi. And surely we don’t yet have a suitable index to distinguish even approximately (not with certainty) how certain qualities may resemble real counterparts or not.

As argued above, the structure attributed to the entity does little help assuage these worries, and that the numerical/qualitative withdrawal of real/virtual objects remain lingering in OOO as a dangerous resemblance to the correlationist thesis in which the in-itself is thinkable, but unknowable. Indeed, in Levi’s brand of OOO, the existence of withdrawing realities is entailed by the admittance of differentiation for practice, as well as the other features Levi mentions. But I think there are still questions to be raised, many of which I’m sure Levi’s justifiably anticipated Democracy of Objects will deliver! Thanks to Levi for the time, courtesy, and attention.

1 comentario:

Earthwizard dijo...

Nicely put... and, yes, we await Levi's new book!

Hopefully it will help alleviate many of the theoretical aspects underlying OOO and explain his position on Virtuality and how it differs from many of Harman's ideas.