Hyperobjects

Timothy Morton introduces the concept of hyperobjects, which are entities massively distributed in time and space relative to humans. These entities include vast phenomena such as global warming, black holes, and radioactive materials. Morton identifies five primary characteristics of hyperobjects: viscosity, nonlocality, temporal undulation, phasing, and interobjectivity. These properties challenge traditional human-centered perspectives and call for a new philosophical and ecological understanding of reality (Morton, 2013, p. 1).

Characteristics of Hyperobjects #

Viscosity #

Hyperobjects “stick” to beings that interact with them, making it impossible to escape their influence. This concept underscores the inescapable nature of hyperobjects, as humans are intrinsically linked to phenomena like global warming through everyday actions and decisions (Morton, 2013, p. 27). Morton describes this as a situation where “every subject is formed at the expense of some viscous, slightly poisoned substance” (Morton, 2013, p. 31). He elaborates that “the more we fight phenomenological sincerity with our reason, the more glued we figure out we are,” which encapsulates the pervasive and unavoidable nature of hyperobjects (Morton, 2013, p. 36).

Nonlocality #

The effects of hyperobjects are not confined to a single location. Any local manifestation of a hyperobject is merely a part of its broader existence, which can span across vast distances and timescales. Morton explains that hyperobjects “are not localizable in the way entities in our immediate experience are,” making them fundamentally different from objects that we can easily comprehend and control (Morton, 2013, p. 38).

Temporal Undulation #

Hyperobjects have temporalities that differ significantly from human scales. They can persist far beyond human lifespans, causing long-term impacts that are difficult to perceive and comprehend fully. Morton uses the example of radioactive materials to illustrate this point, noting that “the more you try to get rid of them, the more you realize you can’t get rid of them” (Morton, 2013, p. 55).

Phasing #

Hyperobjects can phase in and out of human perception, making them intermittently visible and emphasizing the limitations of human sensory and cognitive capacities. Morton describes phasing as a quality where “hyperobjects are also very uncanny. Some days, global warming fails to heat me up. It is strangely cool or violently stormy” (Morton, 2013, p. 69). This variability contributes to the difficulty in fully grasping the nature of hyperobjects.

Interobjectivity #

Hyperobjects manifest their effects through the interrelationships between various entities. They are detectable within a network of interactions rather than through direct observation. Morton argues that hyperobjects “force us to rethink what we mean by object” and that they exhibit a form of existence that is “ontologically prior to our conceptual probing” (Morton, 2013, p. 81).

    The End of the World and Modernity #

    Morton argues that hyperobjects have brought about the end of the world—not in the literal sense of planetary destruction, but in the conceptual sense. The traditional notion of a stable, anthropocentric world is obsolete. The idea of the end of the world, often employed in environmental discourse, is less effective than acknowledging that the world has already ended with the advent of the Anthropocene and hyperobjects such as global warming and nuclear radiation (Morton, 2013, p. 99).

    This shift marks the end of modernity, characterized by human-centered thinking and technological progress. Hyperobjects disrupt this paradigm by revealing the limits of human control and knowledge. The realization that humans are not the central agents of meaning and value introduces a profound existential and philosophical crisis (Morton, 2013, p. 134).

    Ecological Awareness and Ethics #

    Morton proposes that the awareness of hyperobjects necessitates a new ecological and ethical stance. This ecological thought rejects the notion of humans being embedded within a system or being the ultimate arbiters of significance. Instead, it embraces an irreductionist perspective where humans and nonhumans are part of a complex, interrelated mesh (Morton, 2013, p. 159).

    Morton criticizes the dominant ideological mode of cynicism, which maintains a distance from the objects of critique. He suggests that in the age of hyperobjects, this distance is untenable. The pervasive presence and influence of hyperobjects demand a more sincere engagement with ecological and ethical issues. This sincerity is paradoxically infused with irony, as it acknowledges the limitations and entanglements inherent in human existence (Morton, 2013, p. 160).

    References #

    • Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
    • Morton, Timothy. The Ecological Thought. Harvard University Press, 2010.
    • Morton, Timothy. Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence. Columbia University Press, 2016.
    • Morton, Timothy. Being Ecological. MIT Press, 2018.