Comments on “Boundaries, objects, and connections”


typekit and Madhyamika

Regarding boundaries… If I disable scripts on your page (with the NoScript plugin), the text font (although maybe not so elegant) is much more readable to me. Perhaps a side-effect of an anti-aliased emulation typekit blocked script…. By the way I’m using Firefox 19.0, I thought you may like to know it.

And a (completely un-related) question:

For what I read here and the little bit I know about Buddhist philosophy, I would say that your concept of ‘participation’ is much closer to the Madhyamika Svatantrika view than other schools (including the Madhyamika Prasangika). Isn’t it? Since you come from a Dzochen school, it’s very probable that I’m completely wrong. If so, I’d thank a little clarification on the matter (for dummies, please or at least for dummies with a little knowledge about Buddhism)

And yes, this kind of technical questions fit much better in your Reinventing Tantra site, but in this case, it arises much more clearly on this post… hope you don’t mind.

Best wishes

Typefaces and Madhyamaka

Thank you very much for the typeface feedback! Is it just the blue chunky headline face that is an issue, or also the body text face? (Replacing the illegible headline face is on my short list…)

I’ve found it increasingly difficult to say how this site relates to any version of Madhyamaka. Mostly I’ve come to think that Madhayamaka is sufficiently broken that working out the details isn’t worth while.

As you say, though, I’m most influenced by Nyingma/Dzogchen interpretations of Madhyamaka, which go back to Shantarakshita, and are definitely not Prasangika. My recollection is that “Svatantrika” is mostly an imaginary straw-man opponent for Prasangika, and doesn’t really correspond to anything that existed in Tibet at least. So the Nyingma/Dzogchen version isn’t Svatantrika either.

More importantly, it’s also not Yogacara/Cittamatra, although some Gelukpa opponents have claimed it is. Yogacara is monist/idealist in the sense I’m arguing against here. Or, at least, that’s the standard Nyingma view—there are defenders of Yogacara who say it isn’t.

All these Buddhist metaphysical systems are so confused and confusing and just plain wrong that I now think they’re probably best left on the scrapheap of history. On the other hand, that’s definitely not what I thought as recently as three years ago, and they’ve definitely heavily influenced my own thinking, so…


Hi David

Thank you for your clarifications. I was talking about the body text font. Without the script, it looks thinner, with sharper edges and bigger (font size). Less elegant for sure, but much more clearer and easier to read on screen, specially when you have to spend a lot of time in front of it (due to the amount of text and the interesting subject). If you want, I could send you screen shots, to compare (providing there’s some way to attach images in the contact form).

I’m not as much interested myself in metaphysical systems as I’m in text fonts, but since many books and masters rely heavily on some of them (explicity or not) I found useful to identify at least the basis so you can place easier where they come from and if it worths you time and mental effort.

Best wishes

Body text

Aha! I just discovered that I had (long ago) adjusted the size for the site in my browser (also Firefox 19, as it happens). I agree that it’s too small. I did the design three years ago, when screens were smaller than they are now, and it’s time to increase it.

When you turn off typekit, are you still seeing the skolar font (a slab-serif font), or are you getting the fallback font (Georgia)?

What operating system are you using? When I use NoScript to block typekit (on Mac OS), I get smearier text. This may be an OS rendering issue, maybe combined with a design flaw in the typekit script?

Thank you so much for your help with this! I tried to create a distinctive design for the site that in some ways reflects the content, but usability has to trump my (questionable) aesthetics.

Fonts & systems

Hi David

I’ve tried it in both Windows XP and GNU/Linux (Debian Etch) and if I disable typekit I get the Georgia font, but other users may get something different, since Georgia is a common font, but not as common as others. Since I don’t have the skolar font in neither of them, I guess that’s when typekit comes in. As for the error in MacOs, maybe you don’t have the Georgia font installed, so with typekit disabled the fallback falls.

My personal option is to use the most common and cross-platforms fonts possible and use CSS and not relying on scripts for layout.

About cross-platforms issues, here’s a good article althought it centers on the Linux side and it’s a bit old, I think it’s still mostly valid and provides useful information. I’ve written myself a post about this (in Spanish, I’m afraid) but at the end I’ve copied an equivalency table between Linux and Windows fonts that maybe useful. In short, to indicate the font in CSS, you make a list with first the desired font in the target system (better a common one) in quotation marks, then the equivalent font in the other system, then the fallback font in the target system and so on. Finally, you put a generic type (without quotation marks) for the case that everything else fails. For example:

font-family: “Verdana”, “DejaVu Sans”, “Arial”, “Nimbus Sans L”, sans-serif;

Verdana and Arial are common Windows fonts while DejaVu Sans and Nimbus Sans L are the equivalents on Linux, sans-serif is the generic type.

Hope that helps.


Rayyaghul's picture

Hello David,

I have sent some of your writing to Tim Morton - specifically your post elsewhere on charnel ground - but I wondered if you’ve encountered his writing on objects and object oriented ontology?

I’m also really interested in participation as discussed in your Boomeritis post. I hadn’t come across the monism/dualism problem explained so clearly before. I share an office with a monist and he finds it hard to understand why I can hold both monist and dualist views. I can’t explain it articulately enough but it makes total sense to me. I usually say something about how one needs a bit of both and he says but that’s impossible.

Can’t wait for your book to come out.

Tim Morton and object-oriented ontology

Hi, thank you very much for this!

I had seen Tim Morton mentioned in overview articles on OOO, but didn’t know anything about his work specifically. Thank you for pointing it out! I’ve just started reading about him, starting with the wikipedia article, and then poking about a bit in his blog.

Graham Harman’s version of OOO seems to be hard-core dualist, in that he thinks objects of all sizes “really exist” independent of observers. If so, that seems somewhat mistaken to me.

From what I’ve read of Tim Morton’s so far, it would seem that he points out that many “objects” have extremely vague “boundaries” and are highly dispersed. That’s one of my central points also (“nebulosity”), and seems to go against the spirit of Harman’s approach?

There’s also a “dark” connection, which may be interesting…

Are there other similarities or connections you’ve noticed, which I ought to learn more about? (Thanks!)

Glad you’ve found the monism/dualism discussion interesting. I have a whole lot more to say about that; getting time to write has been a challenge, so it’s been slow coming.

The approach I take tries to side-step metaphysics/ontology entirely. I’ll argue (in a commentary on the main text) that existence is entirely beside the point. Mereological nihilists argue that pots don’t exist; dualists insist that they really truly do. But it isn’t really existence that they are arguing about (even though that’s the way they couch the discussion). It’s properties such as objective separability that are at issue; and those get confused with existence, which is why metaphysical arguments never converge.

So, I’d agree (with Harman) that asters and asteroids and astrolabes exist, but would insist that they are not separate from their surrounds (as it seems Morton points out) other than by a collaborative imputation.

(That’s probably totally unclear, since I haven’t written up the necessary conceptual machinery yet! That’s what I’m supposed to work on next.)

Tim Morton and object-oriented ontology

Rayya's picture

Hi David,

Tim Morton is a Dzogchen practitioner so that is possibly why he has taken OOO in a different direction to Harman but I think it gave him a way of exploring the ideas within a Western philosophical frame and also link it to aesthetics. But I certainly can’t speak for him and don’t know him personally though he is similarly willing to engage with readers as you are.

I have read The Ecological Thought and there are a couple of quotes from there which is what I connected to your posts.

“If everything is interconnected what exactly are these things that are connected?”

“We can’t tell for sure that there are specific entities out there. Yet you can surely tell a hawk from a daffodil.”

I can’t give you page numbers as I read it on a Kindle.

But one of the things that appealed to me was his pointing that you cannot tell anything meaningful about objects by breaking them down into components because all you get are more objects. I also listened to a lot of his lectures on YouTube.

I’m currently reading Realist Magic which is free online here.

Here is a quote from the chapter Things in The Mirror are Closer than they Appear.
“Realist Magic is an exploration of causality from the point of view of object-oriented ontology. I argue that causality is wholly an aesthetic phenomenon. Aesthetic events are not limited to interactions between humans or between humans and painted canvases or between humans and sentences in dramas. They happen when a saw bites into a fresh piece of plywood. They happen when a worm oozes out of some wet soil. They happen when a massive object emits gravity waves. When you make or study art you are not exploring some kind of candy on the surface of a machine. You are making or studying causality. The aesthetic dimension is the causal dimension. It still astonishes me to write this, and I wonder whether having read this book you will cease to be astonished or not.”

I would love to hear a conversation between you two!

Monism ?

Hey David,

My thoroughly un-technical understanding of philosophical monism is a bit different from what you describe here. What I get from Gilles Deleuze’s (the continental philospher who I would guess you would find the most similarity with) reading of Spinoza’s substance monism is not that everything literally is one thing, only that it’s all on the same level, i.e. immanent as opposed to transcendent. This monism doesn’t deny the exist or individuality of objects; in fact, it gives an explicit account of their genesis or ‘individuation’ without recourse to anything stinking of essentialism or dualism. You might term this ‘materialism’.

This may be a case of me simply misunderstanding Monism writ large vs. “monism with respect to ____”, but I thought it might be worth asking you about it.

Also, if you haven’t read Deleuze or his commentators, you might find yourself an unlikely ally, especially as interpreted by his more scientifically oriented American friends like DeLanda, Protevi, and Shaviro. They’re working toward a version of realism coherent with modern science which is not as patently silly as OOO :)

Glad to see you’re back at it,

Which monism?

Hi Jonah,

Thank you very much for this!

Yes, it’s a case of “monism with respect to…”. In general, “monism” means “a claim that there is only one thing where someone else claims there are two or more.” From context, it should usually be clear which claim is involved.

In English language philosophy, “monism” most often means any claim that mind and physical reality are together one thing, whereas “dualism” is a claim that they are separate things. Mind/body monism can be any of three main claims, namely Idealism (the physical world is really mind in disguise), materialism (the mind is really the physical world in disguise), or neutral monism (they are both really some mysterious third thing). (Spinoza is counted as a neutral monist.)

I don’t find the mind/body problem interesting, because I don’t think any progress is likely. There’s no source of new evidence, and without that it’s just arguing in circles. (I wrote about that recently in “A philosophical zombie.”)

In Indian philosophy, “monism” and “dualism” are typically claims about the relationship between self and other, or among physical objects in general, rather than mind and matter. I’m using the words in something closer to the Indian sense (cf. this Wikipedia bit, pointing out a relationship with eternalism and nihilism, my other main categories here).

The European Idealism of the 1800s tended to be monist in both senses. The main claim was Idealist, that matter was really mind, but it also often included the claim that everyone is God, which is another name for The Entire Universe. People like Eckhart Tolle and Ken Wilber are recycling that stuff now.

Thank you for recommending Deleuze! He’s been on my list of “People I Really Ought To Read” for his social critique. I didn’t know that he had also written on metaphysics and epistemology, but just now read about that in his Wiki entry. Alas, there are so many more things to read than there is time for!

I’ve just been googling DeLanda, Protevi, and Shaviro, whom I’d never heard of. Thanks for the mention; they look interesting too.



Rayya's picture

Jonas: “They’re working toward a version of realism coherent with modern science which is not as patently silly as OOO :)”

Why on earth would philosophy worry about whether or not it is coherent with modern science? Isn’t a realism coherent with modern science just science?

And Morton is patently not anti-science.


Right, sorry if I was unclear. What I was trying to say was that OOO claims as a strength–or I think that it does–how compatible with science it is. My point then was that, if you happened to be looking for a philosophical realism that played nice with science, while both OOO and some of the Deleuzeian interpretations would fit the bill, you might find the latter a bit richer. But, maybe you wouldn’t–I’m guessing you haven’t?

Appearance and Reality

“All is one” is false as a claim about apparent objects, but it isn’t about apparent objects.

The commonsense view of identity tries to combine two incompatible ideas. One is that what appears to differs, specific that I cannot be you and you cannot be me. The other is that you are just the same person as the squalling baby you once were, despite the apparent differences. We hold people to one standard, things to another.

Claims that apparently identical things actually are identical are obvious and barely worth making. The interesting claims relate to identity despite apparent difference. It’s not interesting that a diamond is a diamond, it is interesting that diamond is in a sense the same as coal. We already reject “appears different, is different” in the case of our personal identity: nondualism invites a further step in that direction.

Apperances are appearances of something. Identity despite appearances means multiple appearances of the same non apparent reality. The claim of oneness of is a claim of oneness in reality; it is not apparent. Appearances do not form an intellectually satisfying system; explanations, whether scientific, or mystical propose something unseen behind appearances to explain them.


Another good source for material on nebulosity is Quine’s Word and Object:

Insofar as it is left unsettled how far down the spectrum toward yellow or up toward blue a thing can be and still count as green, ‘green’ is vague. Insofar as it is left unsettled where to withhold ‘muddy water’ in favor of ‘wet mud’, ‘water’ and ‘mud’ are vague. Insofar as it is left unsettled how far from the summit of Mount Rainier one can be and still count as on Mount Rainier, ‘Mount Rainier’ is vague. Thus vagueness affects not only general terms but singular terms as well. A singular term naming a physical object can be vague in point of the boundaries of that object in space-time, while a general term can be vague in point of the marginal hangers-on of its extension.

… Good purposes are often served by not tampering with vagueness. Vagueness is not incompatible with precision. As Richards has remarked, a painter with a limited palette can achieve more precise representations by thinning and combining his colors than a mosaic worker can achieve with his limited variety of tiles, and the skillful superimposing of vagueness has similar advantages over the fitting together of precise technical terms.

…Vagueness is of the essence of the first phase of word learning. Stimulations eliciting a verbal response, say ‘red’, are best depicted as forming not a neatly bounded class but a distribution about a central norm. The nearer in quality space a stimulation lies to those for which the response ‘red’ was directly reinforced, the more probably or firmly it will elicit the response. Such a norm will not be a mere point in quality space; it will sprawl freely, rather, in the dimensions that do not matter to redness. …The effect of society’s rewards and penalties is a phonetic clustering about a phonetic norm ‘red’ on the part of the subject’s responses to stimulations clustering about a chromatic norm of redness.

Yeah at what point do several

John's picture

Yeah at what point do several parts come together to make a thing. When they are bonded together somehow. Does the type of bond matter ?
For instance, my desk is a bunch of wood and metal bonded together by screws, glue. Is it a desk before the glue is dry and the parts can still move ?
But many of the objects on my desk have some dirt or grease which bonds, in a super fragile way, things like cups, keyboard mouse etc. to the desk’s surface. Do they therefore form one contiguous object ? The compudeskupouse ?

Bela Lugosi's desk, undesk undesk undesk

Peter's picture

I have a desk, assembled from flatpack. I recently moved houses, and to move the desk it was necessary to disassemble it and then reassemble it. In a sense there was a time where I had no desk; a mere collection of desk components, suitable for making exactly one desk. In another sense, if at the end of the process I had ended up with no desk, despite making a bone fide effort to have one, and I’d tried complaining that the removals people had lost my desk, I’d expect to be taken seriously, and would be annoyed if they tried claiming I’d never given them a desk to move, no desk ever went into their van, or anything else like that - and I’d expect a judge or jury to be annoyed too.

I suppose parts make a thing when they move as one; however “moving as one” is itself vague, depending on what forces are applied, and various human motives cause some things to move as one - like my desk/collection-of-desk-components-suitable-for-exactly-one-desk. If we imagine the universe as thoughts in the mind of God, or as a gigantic computer simulation, God or the computer have no need for our puny human notions of “desks” or “objects”, we however find it hard to get by without them. But we do seem to get by with having multiple mutually conflicting notions of deskhood, and slide so naturally to the ones that suit the situation that we hardly notice we’re doing it. I suppose that in cases where some collection of parts constitutes as desk under some notion of deskhood, but not under others, then you might call it undesk, although it would only count as an eldritch horror if you’re doing a very specific sort of philosophy in a very specific sort of way.

I’m impressed that you

John's picture

I’m impressed that you intuited I would get the cultural reference though perhaps, all things being linked, the cultural forces that produce the problem of deskhood also produces goth pop, and such was inevitable.

Oh yes I see your point, and I don’t think there is any dictionary entry under ‘desk’ that defines it as a collection of parts with potential deskhood - even though Argos might be claiming to sell ‘desks’ using some slippery ontological salesmanship.

And in the mind of god, all things being linked in all ways across all times, the desk could be assembled, not assembled, in potentia, One with all things and empty of any essential nature…. all in the same non-moment of eternity!

Perhaps, even

I’d vaguely hoped someone

Peter's picture

I’d vaguely hoped someone would get it, although I’m the sort of person who can never resist a pun. It seemed kind of on theme here. In the gigantic chart that explains absolutely everything there’s a whole row for vampires, in particular as symbolising incoherence, elsewhere David has a whole site about them, there’s analysis of various pop culture phenomena.

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