Daily Thought: Zero Person Reality

Because Graham Harman’s work is usually mangled by his enemies to the point of derision I’ve often wondered why he strikes such a bitter note in many current thinkers on speculative realism. One aspect that many confuse with Harman’s stance is vitalism and panpsychism which he spends quite a bit of time refuting or at least showing that his stance is like but not like those who buy into such a naïve system. I was rereading an essay he has in David Skirbina’s collection where Graham Harman emphasizes this difference:

“…any ontology in which things are reducible to a listing of attributes, I hold that the being of things is never commensurate with descriptions of any sort. Objects, in a broad sense including trees, protons, animals, cinder blocks, nations, humans, and fictional characters, are never exhausted by any possible manifestation. Hence, objects must be granted a zero-person reality that can only be translated into descriptive terms of the first- or third-person kind. Here we have yet another variant of the forgotten occasionalist problem, since human consciousness is stripped of its purported ability to exhaust apples and stars with third-person descriptions, and even of its purported ability to drink its own self dry by means of direct first-person awareness.” (Mind that Abides, p. 269).

This notion of zero-person reality seems very useful to me. Most battles over the notion of consciousness usually come down to description, one that will either reduce discussions down to naturalizing the mind; or, others in moving into a complete break, a dualist transcending of nature/consciousness. Harman seems to move beyond either reducing the one to the other, or in transcending and cutting them permanently. How? By this notion of objects becoming in their relations part of a third object, situated on the interior of this other. So that instead of the occasionalist answer in which God is the third object that brings the two into relation, Harman instead secularizes it by the invention of a new medium: the third object which is neither God or part of either the natural or idealist perspective of first or third person descriptive processes, but rather a neutral medium at zero point intensity. Such a notion is liberating in that it moves beyond the problem of first or third person description and representation, and therefore moves out of the dilemma of consciousness altogether. Of course it opens up another can or worms, but that can be dealt with and Harman in his essay works through that. Still quite interesting.

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