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Fractal Objects

by on January 31, 2013

By far, the most engaging aspect of the second half of Harman’s book is his discussion of a more basic reality, whose progeny are time, space, essence, and eidos. The addition of essence and eidos to the now familiar Kantian a priori truly challenges my view of the universe. (Or, I should say, it rocks my world).These concepts are defined as tensions between the elements of the fourfold structure. That is, time is the tension between a sensual object and its sensual qualities, space is the tension between a real object and its sensual qualities, essence is the tension between real objects and their real qualities, and eidos is the tension between a sensual object and real qualities.

I’m equally confounded by the momentary releases of these tensions which correspond as follows:
Time releases to confrontation,
Space releases to allure,
Eidos releases to theory, &
Essence releases to causation.
Harman spends a mere two pages defining these terms, so I might be justified in letting the terms stand for themselves in summary (admittedly, a total cop-out).

Perhaps most useful to my own work, apart from the above brain wrinkling reformulation of reality, are the host of revelations in Chapter 8, especially “infinite regress” I can hardly address panpsychism right now, because of the way my keyboard is eyeing me.

By infinite regress, Harman means that since objects must have pieces, and since said pieces are also objects, it must objects all the way down. It is therefore, as we discussed last class, a matter for perspective to decide what is an object. For example, I experience the sensual qualities of my keyboard. I am a real person perceiving a sensual keyboard. Yet, if I were a neutron, even in the same geographic area in which I now sit, I would perceive a particle of the keyboard as a sensual object, because of scale.

This understanding of infinite regress brings three things to mind:
One: the theory of relativity, in that measurements is perspectival (or relative). I only perceive objects as objects because of my perspective.
Two: Marsall McLuhan’s argument that the content of one media is always another media. For McLuhan, the “human” seems to be the bottom. For Harman: No bottom.
Three: fractals, mathematical sets that display self-similarity at any scale. This is not quite the same as infinite regress, in that it may not be necessary for the objective parts of an object to be similar to the object itself, but fractals make nice pictures.

A final thought from McLuhan:
If, for McLuhan the “message” is the change brought about in scale [which is spatial] or pace [which is temporal], how do we reconfigure our understanding of “the message” to include the new categories of essence and eidos? This question will preoccupy my thoughts this weekend.

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From → Quadruple Object

2 Comments
  1. 7sshare permalink

    I also was intrigued by the discussion of time, space, essence, and eidos, and also was confused by the discussion of confrontation, allure, theory, and causation. I understand that they are the release of the tensions, but I would have liked some concrete examples (if such are possible).

    And also was captivated by the infinite regress discussion. I like your evocation of quantum physics in the theory of relativity here. I would like to know how the quadruple object theory stands up to quantum physics.

    “…the theory of relativity, in that measurements is perspectival (or relative). I only perceive objects as objects because of my perspective.” This is what I hold to be true, and would really seem to problematize Harman’s argument. I just don’t think that objects exist at all. Zen Buddhism offers an interesting twist on this problem of our relation to objects. For Zen thinkers (I hesitate to call them thinkers…) for Zen practitioners, the whole idea that there is an observer doing the observing is an illusion created by language. “Human experience is determined as much by the nature of the mind and the structure of its senses as by the external objects whose presence the mind reveals” (Watts, The Way of Zen). As I understand it, in Zen there is no you, no object, only relation. This is part of the Zen insistence on collapsing everything into the here and now. And so, Harman, I just don’t buy it, you are still priveleging the human perspective.

  2. traviswmatteson permalink

    I take your point that Harman seems to privilege the human perspective. Speculative realism often seems fraught with a tendency, perhaps only among its readers, to anthropomorphize. To circumvent this, speculative philosophers seem to resort to something like defamiliarization in order to shake their potential followers out of bad humanistic habits. Hence terms like “weird,” “alien,” “centaur,” etc. Ultimately, though, there’s only so much defamiliarization Harman et al. can do for their readers who cannot accept their fundamental belief that objects exist. In practice, I certainly live as is objects exist, but I’m not sure I can speak with the same conviction as you have above. I look forward to discussing this further in class.

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