Magonia as Hyperobject
The Organic Control Hypothesis and the Re-enchantment of the World
But it may be that with this anchoring of ontology in a single ascetic dualism, thousands of gods are released into the woods, unnoticed.
-- Graham Harman, Tool Being
For god, wanting to make the world as similar as possible to the most beautiful and most complete intelligible things, composed it as a single visible living being, which contains within itself all living beings of the same natural order.
— Plato, Timaeus
Beings, however, do not wish to be badly governed: 'To have many rulers is not good: let there be one ruler.'
— Aristotle, Metaphysics
. . . one is obliged to understand all motion, all ‘appearances,’ all ‘laws,’ only as symptoms of an inner event and to employ man as an analogy to this end.
— Nietzsche, The Will to Power
Could it be that our reaction to the reports, individually collectively, is as much a part of the UFO phenomenon as the objects themselves?
— Jacques Vallee, The Invisible College
In an earlier installment of this series, I pointed out that Jacques Vallee argues strongly against the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) as an explanation of the UFO phenomenon. The going alternative is the Utraterrestrial Hypothesis (UTH), according to which the ontological grounds of the UFO phenomenon are not provided by alien species visiting Earth from another planet, but another species or race of highly advanced intelligent beings that have long existed right here on earth. UTH has some advantages over ETH, but, so I argue, it suffers many of the same difficulties, i.e., it forces us either to defend evidentially expensive ancillary hypotheses or relegate UTH to unfalsifiable triviality by positing special powers on the part of the ultraterrestrials. In that same essay, I proposed my own explanatory framework, the Uber-Umwelt Uterrestrial Hypothesis (UUTH), as a friendly alternative to UTH, though with the benefit of a greatly reduced evidential expense. The Umwelt is the “environment” of relevance an organism creates for itself based on its limited perceptual capacities and survival strategies. The idea is that our (along with all organisms’) perceptual powers are not attuned to getting everything right, but only what is relevant to our particular needs and strategies. Thus, all perception leaves behind far more than it draws in, i.e., there is a vast Uber-Umwelt “out there” beyond our possible ken. This is a concept already well-credentialed in cognitive science, perceptual biology, and phenomenology, so UUTH possesses sufficient evidential credentials (independent of its introduction into UFology) to avoid the dilemma between triviality and evidential paucity. My proposal is to think of the ontological ground of the UFO phenomenon as something existing on the very edge of our Umwelt; a being mostly in our Uber-Umwelt with which we only have very occasional, and utterly uncanny, interactions.
In a follow-up to that essay, I furthered UUTH by adding the suggestion that the we consider the UFO phenomenon as a single hyperobject. A hyperobject is a being so vast in terms of space, temporality, and/or complexity as to be beyond the grasp of a “smaller” entity. In other words, hyperobjects exist mostly in the Uber-Umwelt, because their sheer magnitude (in the broadest sense) far outstrips our powers of comprehension. We only have access to hyperobjects along their “edges,” i.e., limited manifestations of the whole that offer us the distorted appearance of being distinct phenomena. Of course the parts of a hyperobject, at one level of analysis, can really be distinct things, though, at a higher level, they are manifestations of a greater unified whole (a substance) that is running things, e.g., tornados and snow storms as manifestations of the climate. One of the important points to consider regarding hyperobjects is that they can be hybrid substance composed by between something in our Uber-Umwelt and our own doings, e.g., the Anthropocene. Human activities might call into life hyperobjects that dwarf our own standing. On this view, anything with its own causal powers, identity conditions, and an influence on or control over its parts is a bona fide object, even if it was originally an artifact or caused “artificially,” e.g., Pizza Hut Inc. may have a life of its own that outruns our attempts to grasp or control it. Thus, we might be unknowing manifestations of some hyperobject operating in a “higher phase,” as Tim Morton puts it. That is, we are constituents of hyperobjects that originate in our own doings, though now they exert their own organic control on us and defy our abilities to understand them at their in depth, e.g., the Great Depression or all the plastic in the world might be such hyperobjects. The suggestion that THE UFO may actually be a hyperobject to which we have unwittingly contributed does much to explain, for example, the sharp uptick in manifestations of THE UFO following the Second World War: our poking around in the skies (and eventually outer-space) and utterly novel technological interventions in nature (most significantly the atom bomb) led to more frequent or qualitatively different interactions with something (someone?) in the Uber-Umwelt, and that interaction has taken on a hyperobjective life of its own.
Both ETH and standard versions of UTH posit explanatory entities that are more or less comfortably placed in our default Goldilocks Ontology of proverbial mid-sized dried goods: technologically advanced visitors from other planets or elusive earthlings wielding the same implements are concrete particulars of the sort we are used to dealing with. That is, ETH and UTH treat the ontological ground of the UFO phenomenon as though it were the kind of thing we are used to managing within our Umwelt, even if its powers and qualities greatly outstrip those of the humdrum beings that ordinarily concern us. It makes sense that we would tend toward such explanations, since our Umwelt is the anchor point of all of our sense-making activities. Nevertheless, we should not trust ourselves too readily in this regard. The fact that there is an Umwelt of things that make sense to us (through our particular strategies for perceptual and cognitive selectivity) entails there is always an even greater Uber-Umwelt that far surpasses our ordinary perceiving and thinking. Thus, whenever we encounter something truly uncanny along with a tendency to package it among the mid-sized dried goods of our comfortable consensus ontology, we should be wary that we are likely simplifying or caricaturing things almost to the point of distortion. That’s just how we get around in the world! Notice, however, by taking The UFO as a hyperobject, we are admitting as much, i.e., we are accounting for the fact that this being is something that operates almost entirely in our Uber-Umwelt, and therefore we are guarding ourselves (though not infallibly) against our natural tendency to “cut things down to our size.” This ontological humility is one of the prime virtues of the UUTH that I am trying to motivate.
With all those considerations in place (albeit tenuously!), I want to return to Vallee’s own preferred explanatory proposal for the UFO phenomenon, the Control Hypothesis (CH). In what follows, I will attempt to synthesize Vallee’s CH with the UUTH, using the notion of the hyperobject as the key point in the maneuver. In short, by taking Vallee’s Magonia as a hyperobject (maybe even a hyperobject of which humans have always been oblivious constituents), we are able to provide a broad explanation along the lines that Vallee has in mind with his original CH. Moreover, I will argue that the this suggestion allows for an even smoother synthesis for those looking to connect the UFO phenomenon with the broader phenomena of what Jeff Kripal calls Super Nature.
Vallee introduces the control system hypothesis by first reiterating that “when we speak of UFO sightings as instances of space visitations we are looking at the phenomenon on the wrong level” (Vallee, The Invisible College, p. 195). Rather than thinking we are “dealing with successive waves of visitations from space," Vallee suggests we “are dealing with a control system” (The Invisible College, p. 195). Notice already that Vallee is drawing our attention away from mid-sized dried goods and toward objects constituted as larger systematic wholes. He draws this proposal out in a bit more detail as follows:
I propose the hypothesis that there is a control system for human consciousness. I have not determined whether it is natural or spontaneous; whether it is explainable in terms of genetics, of social psychology, or ordinary phenomena — or if it is artificial in nature, and under the power of some superhuman will. It may be entirely determined by laws that we have not yet discovered. (The Invisible College, p. 196)
The proposal is motivated by Vallee’s observation that the UFO phenomenon seems to be fraught with contradictory or incoherent elements: every intimation of “higher wisdom will soon be brought to nought by their insane incoherence or their calculated fallacy, even if they are couched in the higher language of tensor calculus” (The Invisible College, p. 200). In other words, the information experiencers gleam from the UFO phenomenon oscillates between the profoundly insightful and the infantile; the empirically undeniable and the utterly delusional; the rigorously scientific and phantasmagoric; the hopeful promise of a utopian future and the darkest portents of armageddon. The point, for Vallee, is not to reconcile all these prima facie contradictory claims. He doesn’t think the meaning is to be found in the explicit information conveyed in these communications. There is a sort of “meta-logic” operating behind the contradictions, but it does does not smooth out these tensions. The absurdity is the message, because the point of reference for these locutions does does not reside in our comfortable Umwelt. Vallee sees in this dialectic of reason and the absurd the same pattern employed by classical, behaviorist conditioning, which operates by a “schedule of reinforcement” combining “periodicity with unpredictability” (The Invisible College, p. 199, author’s emphasis). In other words, Vallee argues, based on his vast analysis of the actual cases, that the UFO phenomenon gives every appearance as to be training us (just as B.F. Skinner famously trained pigeons and monkeys using operant conditioning) for the sake of some end that lies beyond our ken, in the Uber-Umwelt.
Skinner’s methodological behaviorism has fallen out of favor among psychologists and philosophers of mind since Vallee first published the Invisible College, but I don’t think he has committed his hypothesis to a shared fate with that particular psychological theory. In fact, after distancing himself from the typical stances of physicists or psychologists, Vallee identifies his approach as a descriptive phenomenology according to which “we will review what is experienced by the witnesses; we will observe what they do as a result of these experiences; and we will attempt to correlate them within a total framework” (Invisible College, p. 3). Phenomenology as a philosophical discipline comes in many varieties, but one of its most important variants takes our lived-world, what Edmund Husserl originally called the Lebenswelt or lifeworld, as the primary point of focus for investigation. The idea is that understanding something is not only to catalogue its properties as quantified in some abstract system (physics), but to ask after its meaning as a clue to its being — or at least that is the closest we can get to its being. These phenomenologists argue that everything we say and do only has intelligibility against the background of an unspoken, and maybe unspeakable, lifeworld of practical meaning and significance. There are elements of our Umwelt, necessary to our understanding of anything, which we cannot literally put down on paper. As Hubert Dreyfus puts it, “most of what we experience must remain in the background so that something can be perceived in the foreground” (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, 240). We have an understanding of or contact with reality which is implicit in our practices and activities, and those implicit meanings are the key to our having a grip on the world. We can only get a sense of this lifeworld by a careful analysis of what we do and reading between the lines of what say. Our lifeworld is what gives us primary contact with reality, not our explicit abstract theories. Thus, understanding something is not fully achieved by considering it in terms of science (physical properties) or introspective psychology (consciousness), but also in terms of what our unstated practices and activities reveal.We have as much to learn about the world by excavating the implicit meanings of what we say about it and how we treat it, as we do in our explicit theorizing. We might say that the phenomenologist is looking for signs of what things may be in the Uber-Umwelt by drawing our attention to what lies implicit and unstated in our Umwelt. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the influential French phenomenologist, makes these point as follows:
Phenomenology is the study of essences, and it holds that all problems amount to defining essences, such as the essence of perception or the essence of consciousness. And yet phenomenology is also a philosophy the places essences back within existence and thinks that the only way to understand man and the world is by beginning from their “facticity.” Although it is a transcendental philosophy that suspends the affirmations of the natural attitude in order to understand them, it is also a philosophy for which the world is always “already there” prior to reflection — like an alien presence — and whose entire effort is to rediscover this naive contact with the world in order to finally raise it to “exact science,” but it is also an account of “lived” space, “lived” time, and the “lived” world. (Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, XX)
Thus, when Vallee proposes a careful analysis of the effects of UFO experiences on our behavior and guiding attitudes, he is not indulging a crass behavioristic reductionism. Rather, Vallee is acting as a phenomenologist, who takes the phenomenon’s effect on the lifeworld of the experiencer (and subsequently its effect on our lifeworld in general) as a clue (however ambiguous and opaque) to its being. In short, by asking what the meaning of the UFO phenomenon is to us, we take a first step toward understanding what it is, because our primary contact to its essence (like all essences) is actually the unstated meanings in our practices and implicit attitudes.
Thus, Vallee argues that we miss the point by focusing too much on UFOs as particular entities, for “they are the means through which man’s concepts are being rearranged. All we can do is trace their effects on humans” (The Invisible College, p. 200). UFOs, in the proverbial nuts and bolts sense, are just one of an array of phenomena, e.g., fairies, elves, apparitions, and all the other earlier denizens of Vallee’s Magonia, serving the higher-level reality that is running this control system. In short, for Vallee, the important ontological question is not about the UFO per se (as the concrete, nuts and bolts entity that confronts us), any more than the question is about the fairies per se. These entities (real though they may be) are merely the means to some higher-level end, and Vallee is attuned to the biases of the Goldilocks Ontology. The worry is what is behind the control system of which these beings are manifestations, and we can only start to understand that by considering how these encounters are altering our lifeworld. For Vallee, UFOs “are constructed as physical craft (a fact which has long appeared to me undeniable) and as psychic devices, whose exact properties remain to be defined” (The Invisible College, p 202, author’s emphasis). If the UFOs are psychic devices, then the real question is not about the devices or machines themselves, but what they serve as such equipment. Here is how Vallee makes the same point elsewhere:
Indeed it may be that its manifestations are not spacecraft in the ordinary “nuts ‘n bolts” sense. The UFOs are physical manifestations that cannot be understood apart from their psychic and symbolic reality. What we see here is not an alien invasion. It is a control system that acts on humans and uses humans. However, we still need to discover the source of this manifestation. (Vallee, Messengers of Deception, pp. 236-237)
UFOs are the means to some end, and their operation in a control system is the only clue we have as to what operates them (and to what end). Vallee is not doubting the concrete reality of the manifesting entities, but only their priority in explaining the phenomenon. The fact that these beings manifest systematically in ways that suggest a mechanism of psychological control implies that there is a higher-order being grounding that system, and that is the object of our questioning of the UFO. The question concerning the UFO is the interrogation of the ontological ground of the manifestations of the control system, and we our only clue to answering that question comes by observing the effects of the UFO on us.
Part of what so strongly suggests the notion of control is a movement toward equilibrium that Vallee finds in the oscillations of the the phenomenon:
The thermostat is a mechanism that stabilizes the relationship between our body temperature requirements and the changing weather outside. Similarly, UFOs may serve to stabilize the relationship between man’s consciousness needs and the evolving complexities of the world which he must understand. (The Invisible College, p. 2)
We have seen that the control system operates like a thermostat. It progresses by oscillations, drawing from the antagonism of fire and ice, warm and cold, evil and good, all myths for the feeble minds of men, equally bound by higher laws. For hot and cold are only relative to a mean, two appearances of a single fact, the motion of molecules. Few people have grasped both the physics and the beauty of this. (The Invisible College, p. 200).
The control system is maintaining a sort of homeostasis, just as an organism maintains its identity through a balancing act between opposites. Interestingly, the control system operating through the UFO phenomenon (and broader Magonia) maintains its identity by way of a sort of metabolism (or at least that is what I am proposing) by dictating a homeostasis of human consciousness: “I suggest that it is a human belief that is being controlled and conditioned” (The Invisible College, p. 201, author’s emphasis). In other words, the control system does this homeostatic work by conditioning human consciousness through the introduction of myths (appearances and rumors of fairies, elves, apparitions, UFOs) into the collective human psyche:
Human life is ruled by imagination and myth; these obey strict laws and they, too, are governed by control systems, although admittedly not of the hardware type. If UFOs are having an action at that level it will be almost impossible to detct it by conventional means. (The Invisible College, p. 199)
What I do mean is that mythology rules at a level of our social reality over which normal political and intellectual action has no real power. At that level, time frames are long, of the order of a century, and evolution is slow and sure. Mass media, which are designed to give split-second images of transient (the noisier the better), miss the signal entirely. A society with an attention space of ten minutes (the interval between TV commercials) can have no concept of events that have begun when my grandfather was not yet born and will wend after my grandson dies. But there are such long-term changes and they may be deliberate. They dominate the destiny of civilizations. Myths define the set of things scholars, politicians, and scientists can think about. They are operated upon by symbols, and the language these symbols form constitutes a complete system. This system is meta-logical, but not metaphysical. It violates no law because it is the substance of which laws are made. (The Invisible College, pp. 201-202)
The idea here is that human endeavors are mostly regulated by our shared mythological background, something we can certainly see as one of the most important insights of Jung’s work. Thus, the most effective way to regulate human behavior on the broadest possible scale would be through cycles of mythologization and de-mythologization, and this is what Vallee sees in the control system behavior of the UFO and broader Magonia. We are regulated, over very long stretches of time, by the mythological/de-mythological triggering of archetypes in our collective unconscious. As I have been hinting, I believe we do well to adopt an organic model for our speculations regarding the ontology of the control system. One that model, mythology is a sort of suite of hormones that are introduced to regulate and guide the cells (human beings) in some organic system: various hormones are released under varying conditions to keep the system on track. In the way an organism overall is exerting control over the cells through the secretion of regulatory hormones, the control system maintains homeostasis by the “release” of mythological/de-mythological ideas.
Notice, homeostasis is maintained not for the sake of the regulated entities, but in the service of the higher order entity they compose, e.g., the homeostasis of the organs is done in the service of the stable identity of the organ system, and organ systems are maintained for the sake of the organism. All of this is to say that CH implies that something operating through the control system maintains its identity (regulatory homeostasis) and exerts influence (control) over its elements, i.e., the control system appears to be the activity of a bona fide, substantial object. That is, we have good grounds to conclude that there is something, a single unity, operating through the control system, in the same way that Harman argues that the Civil War and Dutch East India Company were their own things. There is something over and above the UFOs, which is to say that Magonia is an object. Notice that, even though I find it almost indispensable, talk of an object behind the control system is distorting. My proposal is not that there is some separate entity that runs the control system in the way a I drive my car. Rather, the idea is that the control system is its own thing, doing its own thing. There is no separate entity running an organism; the organic system is the being running the things that compose it.
Moveover, as Vallee points out in the long passage I quote above, Magonia operates on a scale that outstrips our impatient human comprehension, showing up in uncanny ways, which is to say that the control system is a hyperobject. I think we can see hints at such a view in remarks like this:
. . . such sightings have been made in earlier times; similar effects have been described; even the UFO “occupants” appear identical to the denizens of medieval Magonia. This suggests a reality of mind, beyond whatever technology is activating UFO energy. I continue to regard this phenomenon as a manifestation of a reality that is larger and more complex than a simple visit by interplanetary travelers: the reality of Magonia. (Messengers of Deception, p. 236)
I might caution the otherwise epistemically fastidious Vallee regarding a too-quick jump toward positing “a reality of mind” behind the operation of the control system. An organism can mindlessly maintain its homeostasis. Moreover, the supposition that we are guided into that homeostatic dynamic by a manipulation of our cognitive dispositions does not alone entail that the hyperobject moving that process is itself operating by higher-order cognitive dispositions understood by an analogy with our own subjectivity.We might rightly say that "Pizza Hut Inc. has taken on a mind of its own," but this is not meant indicate that the corporation is literally a conscious subject (a center of feelings, thoughts, etc. understood in terms of such human experiences), but only that it is doing its own thing, i.e., it's out of our control and operating by its own principles. I would prefer to temper Vallee's claim to "Magonia is a hyperobect that has a life and trajectory of its own." Magonia is doing its own thing, but it does that by manipulating us cognitively. Maybe Magonia is cognitive, but that is something for which we would need an additional line of argumentation, and the risk of anthropocentrism in these matters is grave. (In fact, getting over our anthropocentric obsessions might be what we most need to learn from the phenomenon.) On this view, we (and much in our world) are constituents of Magonia, which maintains itself by regulating our cognitive function (and the behaviors that follow thereupon), but beyond that we don’t get insights into the inner life of this hyperobjective entity.
Vallee himself entertains two theses regarding the ontology of the control system:
This theory admits of two interesting variants: (i) an alien intelligence, possibly earth-based, could be training us toward a new type of behavior. It could be representing the Vistor Phenomenon of Whitley Striber or some form of “super nature,” possibly along the lines of a Gaia hypothesis. (ii) Alternatively, in a Jungian interpretation of the same theme, the human collective unconscious could be projecting ahead of itself the imagery which is necessary for our own long-term survival beyond the unprecedented crises of the twentieth century. (Vallee, Revelations, p. 254)
Taking Magonia as an organic hyperobject allows us to accommodate and synthesize both of Vallee’s variants of CH. On the one hand, if Magonia is a single hyperobject maintaining itself through the cognitive regulation of humans, we are in similar territory as the Gaia hypothesis or super nature, though I think we might do well to revisit Plato's notion of a world soul in the Timaeus, according to which the universe is a compositional hierarchy of living things. On the other hand, as we have discussed above, Magonia operates by the manipulation of the human collective unconscious (our broadest lifeworld). On this proposal, the world soul (Magonia) maintains itself via projecting for us mythological images and ideas. Now, Magonia is not strictly acting for “our own long-term” interests, but its own: Magonia is maintaining its homeostasis through mythological control exercised over us. Notice, however, that under my hypothesis, we have a constitutive relation to Magonia, i.e., we are part of what composes it as a hyperobject with a life of its own. Thus, the line between our interests and those of Magonia is not entirely clear. Do the interests of the organs run contrary to those of the organ system? In any event, we can see that the proposal of Magonia as an organic hyperobject allows us to see the UFO phenomenon in a sense as the human collective unconscious projecting out in front of us, because on this model the collective unconscious is maintained by a hyperobject we partly compose.
There are many possibilities for how we might interpret our relations to Magonia the Hyperobject. As I have suggested before, on this model, it is possible that Magonia is something we have unwittingly brought into being by our interactions with the environment, much like we may have brought the Anthropocene or climate change as hyperobjects into being by our interactions with the environment. That would make sense of the steep uptick of UFO reports that has happened in the last three-quarters of a century. We might, however, entertain that we have always been constituents of Magonia, but our more recent forays into the skies, atomic warfare, and host of other technological game-changers have caused the uber-organism to release something of an immune response; Magonia is adjusting itself, trying to restore homeostasis, after some of its constituents have over-stepped their role in the organic whole. Magonia does this by honing our lifeworld in a direction necessary for its equilibrium. This hypothesis would explain both why there have always between occasional adjustments by Magonia (the cycles of mythologizaton/de-mythologization) and why the homeostatic efforts seem to have increased in the last several decades.
That is all rank speculation, and I can do little more to motivate any of those hypotheses. Attempts to get to what is in the Uber-Umwelt are always suspect. What I do find significant, however, is that this approach to the UFO phenomenon begins to move us toward a sort of re-enchantment of nature. By enchantment, I do not mean the disposition to believe that there is a fairy in every hedgerow. As I have pointed out elsewhere, Plato and Aristotle are pretty dismissive of that sort of talk, but they certainly have an enchanted view of nature. On their view, the natural world is an interlocking system of hierarchies, wherein each cosmic level is “moved” cognitively by the rational desirability of the next higher level of the cosmos. That is, Plato and Aristotle (though they differ in the details, and there are important differences between their views and what I am pushing in this essay) saw the cosmos as a system of embedded cognitive control systems (divinities), terminating in a single unifying being, i.,e., Plato’s The Good and Aristotle’s The God. For the Platonic-Aristotelian school, the cosmos is enchanted in the sense that all levels of being are “desirous” of the next level above, and they are therefore directed by that level. To understand nature, for these Greeks, requires us to take into account this quasi-conscious aspect of everything which is the moving principle of the universe as a whole. The cosmos is not indifferent, but contemplative and desirous. Each level of intelligibility doesn't necessarily have the interests of its constituents "in mind," but its own as it moves toward the next higher level. Nevertheless, the doings of each divinity serve the balance of the cosmic whole. Of course, all of that is hard to swallow for those of us who have been reared in the mechanistic obsessions of the Enlightenment, but the UFO understood through the lens of CH (at least as I have developed it here) goes some way toward suggesting that Plato and Aristotle may not have been as far wrong as their early modern critics thought. If we are indeed constituents of a hyperobject guiding us by cognitive suggestion, then we have some support for a revised version of Platonic-Aristotelian cosmology.
There is a sort of optimism in the Platonic-Aristotelian picture. That is, though they are polytheists in a sense (each level of intelligibility in the living cosmos is a divinity), Plato and Aristotle believe that there is an ultimate penthouse suite, i.e., a single unifying divinity (The Good or The God) that guides all the lower “floors” of the cosmic building by its sheer nobility and beauty. The Good/The God is the source of all the downward cognitive signals that regulate the entire interlocking system of hierarchies of cognitive/desirous beings composing the living cosmos. The Good/The God, for Plato and Aristotle, is the mind (or even brain) of the the organism that is the universe, and this cosmic mind unites all of the lower deities into a coherent and ultimately perfected system of intelligibility. The universe operates for the sake of what is The Best. There is nothing in Vallee’s CH that would require such a happy ending. It is difficult, however, when we think about it, to take seriously that there could be a a building without a top-floor. But, of course, that could just be another case of our bumping into the limits of our own sense-making capacities. Be that as it may, Vallee and the Greeks seem to share a cosmological view that involves an enchanted universe, while they recognize that the show isn’t being put on simply for our sake. Maybe the UFO phenomenon is the reminder that will disabuse us of the humanistic pretensions that have long plagued us. This goading toward species-wide humility does not, however, necessarily entail a nihilistic form of anti-humanism: whatever Mangonia’s intentions, it takes us as worth managing (talking to!). We can only come to surety on these points, if we can at all, by a continued vigilance in our observations of the effects of the phenomenon on our lifeworld.
If you have not had the occasion to read the two prior essays in this sequence, I encourage you to do so before taking up this installment. In order to understand the following, it is very important to have a good grasp on the notions of the Umwelt/Uber-Umwelt, the hyperobject, and the basics of ontology that I introduce in those earlier works.
Of course I’m moving irresponsibly quickly here. To see this point made in the full detail it deserves, have a crack at Husserl’s The Crisis of European Sciences and the first division of Heidegger’s Being and Time (both for the philosophically ambitious) and Dreyfus and Taylor, Retrieving Realism.
I should note too that even though Vallee evokes the phenomenological method in The Invisible College, it is Diana Pasulka’s explicit casting of Vallee’s work in Heideggarian terms in American Cosmic that did the most to bring this field inquiry into the space of academics in the humanities.
There is a Hegelian analysis begging to be done here, but I will leave that aside for a future inquiry!
Do not mistake this claim for what Harman calls the overmining fallacy of presuming that an object, let a lone a hyperobject, is no more than its effects on us. Magonia has a life of its own, far outstripping our contact with it.
Graham Harman offers a very helpful differentiation between his object oriented ontology (OOO), according to which objects (including Morton’s hyperobjects) have a sort of life of their own, and panpsychism, according to which fundamental, non-living objects are literally conscious subjectivities, in The Quadruple Object. Notice that panpsychism often operates according to an undermining fallacy and an anthropocentric/humanist bias, both of which are contrary to the main thrust of Harman’s argument. Part of the point of OOO is to quit seeing human subjectivity as the model for everything, i.e., getting over our humanistic obsessions that have caused us so much trouble. Objects (and more of them than the Goldilocks Ontology would care to recognize) get on just fine in the Uber-Umwelt without us. I offer a related criticism of panpsychism in a three-part series in this Substack. It may be that that the revelation of the vacuity of our humanistic narcissism is the central insight we can take away from the phenomenon. Please note that I am not claiming that Vallee is a panpsychist, but only that OOO critique is helpful in our discussion. Moreover, I see Vallee as sharing much of the anti-humanist spirt of Harman’s OOO.
Given when Vallee wrote these remarks in Revelations, I take it that his mention of “super nature” is only accidentally related to Jeff Kripal’s later development of a notion of Super Nature. I do, however, think there is a very rich resonance of thinking here!
Though maybe there isn’t a lot of revision required, as Plato goes out of his way in the Timaeus to claim that the cosmology presented there is a “likely myth.” That is, Plato is not committed to the details of his cosmological story per se, but only the general model of a universe that is run based on a cognitive/desirous relations among lower-to-higher-levels of being. Plato was much more careful in his attempts to speculate about the Uber-Umwelt than he is typically given credit for. We might say, adopting an important distinction from the phenomenological idiom, that Plato’s project is ontological (bearing on the broadest structures of experience as clues to the structure of being) and not ontical (taking a stance on one particular interpretation of those structures). In any event, you might understand what I’m doing here as an appropriation of the Plato-Aristotelian project to a OOO metaphysics for the purposes of a general theory of Magonia. That sort of appropriation is not entirely novel, even if has been done for the sake of very different philosophical interests in the past. See Harman’s “Aristotle with a Twist.”