10 min read
Is "God" A Hyperobject?

by William Thomas


     By definition. But no one writing about this bold new way of viewing “objects” as vast and amorphous as climate change, the Big Bang, machine intelligence or the internet wants to talk about the Prime Hyperobject pervading all others. Including ourselves. “Hyperobjects are scary. We sense something is happening, but we don’t know what it is,” says Stephen Muecke, a hyperobject himself who teaches Environmental Humanities at the U. of New South Wales. This isn’t just bafflegab. Even if we refuse to consider them, hyperobjects permeate our lives, sticking to us with effects and implications pervasive and profound enough to rock our world.   

     Elsewhere in Oz, Timothy Morton experienced this profundity first-hand while standing transfixed before a painting by contemporary Aboriginal artist Yukultji Napangati. It seemed to “surge toward me, locking onto my optic nerve and holding me in its force field,” he later wrote. Propelled into the Dreamtime by this “Aboriginal hyperobject,” Morton found it nearly “impossible to leave the painting.” 

     How did Morton know he had encountered a hyperobject? Because he’d coined the term. In 2008, after writing books on Romantic poetry and food, the son of a musician who played violin for the Beatles came up with a word for all the big things we need to think about but cannot grasp directly. Timothy Morton called them “hyperobjects.”   

     “Hyperobjects,” muses Muecke, “are vast objects. They exceed human apprehension, but we constantly notice their local manifestations. They challenge our assumptions of human mastery over things.” Does this sound like “God” to you? [It’s important to bracket this word with quote marks to remind ourselves that we’re talking about an abstraction – not a bewhiskered voyeur keeping score in the sky.]

          Sure, abstractions like “nature” or “marriage” or “God” can be helpful in dealing with a apples or spouses or the transcendent. But problems arise the moment we began to treat words as if they are the thing described. This is why even as we attempt to extricate ourselves and this planet from the self-reinforcing messes we’re making, we continue to deepen our spiritual dislocation while instigating fresh disasters, because we continue mistaking words as amorphous as “geoengineering”, “economics” and “defeating terrorism” for the illusions of human power and control.   


The problem with hyperobjects like war mentality and climate shift is that they are all-pervasive. As Muecke points out, “Everyone is affected by hyperobjects, even if they strive to deny their existence. Have you ever met ‘English’? No, but what you experience every day are groping attempts to make meaning with words’ using the pervasive properties of that hyperobject. 

     You can spot a hyperobject by its non-locality. This puzzling attribute derives from quantum theory, which has demonstrated through the contagiously contiguous properties of spin how hyperobjects can appear simultaneously at multiple locations, whether separated by inches or light years. So far there have been no arrests for breaking the speed limit of light.

     “There is a level of reality,” Muecke marches on, “that is superposed over, or subtends discrete particles” like you and me and you cat. Like all hyperobjects, “the multidimensional hyperobject” we call ‘God’, “pulses in and out of the limited confines of human perception. This adds further to the effect of diminishing human agency.” 

     So say sayonara to “the self-centeredness of humanity,” Muecke advises, as we humans are demoted from our self-awarded “exceptional status” back to being one object among others – like crows, whales and daffodils. Maybe just in time. 


Another property of hyperobjects is that “nothing is ever experienced directly” – only through its interactions with other objects. Give thanks for this reminder the next time you stub your toe. Then there’s the insight of “interobjectivity” – the “mesh” of connectivity “we inhabit and which inhabits us” the Buddha and Aboriginals talked about using other words.   Thousands of years later, Muecke suggests, we can finally junk “the cynical and artificial way that modern humans have imagined themselves critically distanced” from Nature, from each other, and from that all-pervasive Life force perhaps best thought of as ki or chi.

     Hyperobjects like climate shift are helpfully obliterating our false sense of separateness. Perhaps alluding to Timothy Morton’s plunge into the Dreamtime, Stephen Muecke reminds us: “Now we have to hesitate in front of what hyperobjects are placing right in front of us: that we are not in charge of the future anymore, because it might well be without us.” Don’t look now, he advises. But the world we once knew is already gone. When it comes to the unstoppable forces we’re still in the process of unleashing, the crazy weather we’re seeing is “a mere symptom of something huge, foreboding, and ungraspable in its entirety...” 

     That’s a striking description for the Old Testament “God” wreaking havoc in Gaza over a nonexistent land title superstitious Zionists cite as an excuse for killing kids. Don’t shoot! While violence has always attended the creation and maintenance of religious clichés, when dealing with the workings of hyperobjects, our opinions don’t really matter. From gods to gold, comments Stephen Muecke, “If we own up to hypocrisy, rather than imagining that cynicism and critique will bring about change, we acknowledge that we inhabit chronic failure, not a world where we once achieved mastery or one day will.”


“Theisms posit a single God and thus undermine the plurality of objects,” writes Sam Mickey. Denying the all-in-one, one-in-all insights of mystic toe-stubbers since the beginning of indigenous thought, today’s fractious theisms “still connote… a difference between transcendent deities and their immanent manifestations.” As a result, the higher we stack religious texts, the further away from “God” we go. For no matter how many tracts are typed or pulpits pounded, all hyperobjects maintain a hidden side. They are said to be “withdrawn” – an insurmountable hurdle when attempting to pontificate about “God”. “Letting go of pretensions to mastery” – abandoning the “fictional position of safety away from ‘the world’” within and without us, Muecke writes, is the first step toward our liberation.

     This impenetrable veil of the always-hidden “leads to mystery,” Stephen Muecke says. It also entices us toward the transcendent, a grin-inducing irony for the nonbeliever who invented this new language. Swallowed and subsumed by hyperobjects, we find ourselves at once inside and outside of them – a handy way for thinking about climate shift and nuclear war. Or an untouchable, unquotable God. En route to the divine within and without, we are forced to acknowledge Timothy Morton’s “sparkling unicity” of things.


Confronted by looming ecologic, economic, civilizational and planetary collapse, it might prove helpful to dip deeper into the 6 Attributes of Hyperobjects: 

VISCOUS: Hyperobjects like ricocheting greenhouse effects or “God” adhere to the objects they touch. The more we try to resist such hyperobjects, the more glued to them we become. Atheists encounter this problem when they deny even the possibility of the sacred daily manifested in the word living and dying around them. 

MOLTEN: Hyperobjects are so all-encompassing, they totally refute “the idea that spacetime is fixed, concrete, and consistent,” Morton writes. Change is the only constant. Buddhists have known this for thousands of years. 

NONLOCAL: Animists have been reverently respecting this world for much longer. Animists claim that hyperobjects like trees, bees and all other living beings are expressions of the divine. But Morton sees hyperobjects so massively distributed throughout time and space, their “totality cannot be realized in any particular local manifestation.” Even the most melodious robin is not all there is to “God”. 

PHASED: “Hyperobjects occupy a higher dimensional space than other entities can normally perceive,” writes Ursula K. Heise in her critique of Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects: Philosophy And Ecology After The End Of The World. But hyperobjects would be apparent, she posits, to “an observer with a higher multidimensional view.” Disembodied spirits perhaps? Ultra-advanced AI? Stay tuned. You may be crossing over shortly. 

INTEROBJECTIVE: “Hyperobjects are formed by relations between more than one object,” Heise relatesThis means that the hyperobject called “God” can only be formed by its relation to all other hyperobjects in Creation. Is this why the Prime Hyperobject created an entire universe of hyperobjects, to become apparent to itself? Should Descartes have declaimed instead, “I make, therefore I am?” Now we’re getting somewhere valuable – someplace far from the glib and grandiose pronouncements about hyperobjects as ultimately unknowable as the forces unleased at Alamogordo. Or the constantly encountered life force we call “God”.


In Hyperobjects: Philosophy And Ecology After The End Of The World, Timothy Morton lays out his mind-expanding concept on the very first page: "Things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans." Is he speaking of the God he does not believe in? Also: A hyperobject is “something that can be in more than one place at once.” 

     A Catholic nun would find these words familiar. The self-proclaimed speculative realists in our midst might be Tibetan monks in disguise when they assert that hyperobjects (as Ursula K. Heise writes), “are real and independent of human thought and that human knowledge cannot completely grasp their essence.” 

     Or when Timothy Morton writes, “The more data we have about hyperobjects the less we know about them [and] the more we realize we can never truly know them” – he could be talking about you-know-what. Morton rolls on… “The reality is that hyperobjects were already here… slowly but surely we understood what they were already saying. They contacted us." Read that again in the singular, substituting “God” for “hyperobjects”. Interesting, neh?

     If a hyperobject like “God” senses other hyperobjects, as the new philosophers claim, do it “care” whether Miriam goes out with us, or we get that raise? Trick question. For ourselves, “God” and all other hyperobjects in this universe there is no “other”, not a hair or harangue of separation.   Never mind bogus religious conflicts. Forget any notion of some ultimate entity “over yonder," Heise writes and the Gnostics taught. If there is no division between our life and all the hyperobjects we contain that also contain us… the Prime Originating Hyperobject is diminished or enhanced by how we conduct the incomprehensible gift of our lives. The Really Good News is that we can let go of contentious beliefs and just be with what is. As Morton implies, hyperobjects teach that any deity we care to posit is ultimately “vast and unknowable.” Thank God.


Why does this discussion matter? Because in grappling with the elusive notion of “God,” I can share Timothy Morton’s relief: “Oh, now I have a term for this thing I’ve been trying to grasp!” For half-a-century I’ve studied philosophy and theology under instructors ranging from Baptists to Jesuits. 

     Yet, nowhere have I heard the concept of “God” as well-defined and scientifically elucidated as this description by this atheist: “I can’t see it. I can’t touch it. But I know it exists, and I know I’m part of it. I should care about it.” At 3:17 PM on January 19, 2015, Timothy Morton welcomed us to a brave new Age of Asymmetry, where we find ourselves “sandwiched between” self-reinforcing human reason and hyperobjects. His essay “Introducing The Idea Of ‘Hyperobjects’” an subsequent books and commentaries are not just word games. The conceptual framework offered by hyperobjects is the key to our liberation from the competing hallucinations distractingly called “God”.

     But not plutonium. The deadliest and most persistent human creation qualifies as a hyperobject because it “decays for 24,100 years before it’s totally safe.” One of Fukushima’s wrecked reactors released gobs of this stuff. Our outworn beliefs concerning an ancient Sky God must likewise decay before they can be “totally safe”. But whether dealing with Pu-239, spreading oceanic dead zones or the reverberating power of the Big Bang, “We are obliged to do something” about hyperobjects, Morton insists. “Because we can think them.” 

     Morton is referring to another overarching and contentious issue. “Thinking of global warming as a hyperobject is really helpful,” he suggests. “For starters, the concept of hyperobjects gives us a single word to describe something… you cannot see or touch, yet we are obliged to do so, since global warming affects us all.” Now reread this paragraph substituting “God” for “global warming.”   


Religious zealots can put down their guns. As Morton mentions, you don’t have to defend what can be pointed to yet cannot be defined. In a similar context, “I can touch the weather. But I can’t touch climate.” Repurposing his next notion: We can’t directly see “God” because “it’s not only really widespread and really really long-lasting; it’s also super high-dimensional. It’s not just 3-D. It’s an incredibly complex entity that you have to map in what they [the speculative realists] call a high-dimensional-phase space: a space that plots all the states of a system.” 

     While you’re digesting that mouthful, the gap Kant inconveniently pointed to between what a thing is and how it appears “is a transcendental gap,” Timothy Morton says. “Hyperobjects force us to confront this truth of modern science and philosophy.” Bridging this gap with any statistical correlations we can make concerning hyperobjects “are better than bald statements… that you just have to believe or face the consequences.” 

     Hyperobjects are comedians. Or least they are “funny.” Morton contends. “On the one hand, we have all this incredible data about them. On the other hand, we can’t experience them directly.” Does this sound like “God” to you?


“I am barely able to understand this stuff...but OMG! It's one "Aha!" moment after another,” writes Sonja Wells on Amazon after tackling – and being tackled by – Timothy’s Moton’s $75 tome. Also posting on Amazon, J. Kraewski express the hope that “this new perspective on the supremely alien nature of the familiar world around us… may form the foundation for understanding a future world where we are not the only sentient objects.” This is an excellent prescription for approaching the world right now. As contemporary philosopher adnd feminist theoretician Rosi Braidotti reminds us, “Life is passing and we do not own it, we just inhabit it, not unlike a time-share location.” Along with many, many other beings we are all just passing through… Each other. In his essay on “Global Warming And Other Hyperobjects”, a vignette by Stephen Muecke begs to be reconfigured with someone asserting that God (instead of climate change) “really exists.” 

     “Oh, yeah?” asks a skeptical friend. “Show me this “God”. Where is “he” exactly? In the sky? All I see is clouds, chemtrails and that bird that just pooped on your head.”


Happily, hyperobjects defy rationality. Sure, you can point to “global oil reserves” – many people do. But the numbers are squirrely and refuse to fit inside your head. Nor is it necessary to insist some kind of tangible proof for “God” – a blog, say, or a YouTube posted from the Other Side.

     Why? Because all hyperobjects are already right here, “infiltrating every aspect of existence,” writes Stephen Muecke. Just like global warming. Never mind the Anthropocene. Pointing to our ongoing destruction of “our” home planet only reinforces our alienated self-centeredness. Instead, consider that this mashup of intertwined lives – this “meshing and crisscrossing that we inhabit and which inhabits us” – might be a better way of talking about all Creation, of which we are only a part. We are not in control, and never were. What a profound, existential relief!     

     “Sometimes it's good to have new words for these things, to remind you of how mind-blowing they are,” Morton continues in “Hyperobjects And The End of Common Sense”. You want to talk about “God”? This explorer is more concerned with the mundane. As Morton admits, “Most mornings I can't even find the coffee grinder.” So while we might deny the existence of a fairy tale entity who perversely takes everybody’s side in war, hyperobjects remain as real as “Pu 239 aglow with radioactivity.” We ignore their immutable properties at our peril.  


Also and to recap…  

     What if “God” actually exists? Perhaps, as some kind of ultimate AI. Or more possibly, an emergent intelligence becoming aware of itself through all this complexity?

     “You’re Only Human. That’s The Problem,” chimes in Alexander Nazaryan. Like the “210 million gallons of oil, the amount deposited in the Gulf of Mexico by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010”, and the 100,000 or so species hurled into extinction each year by our burgeoning numbers – “God” is a concept “so large that it passes quickly from the astounding to the incomprehensible, before collapsing into irrelevancy.”   

     Especially for folks distracted by an increasingly dystopian world of our own devising. “It's very hard,” narrates Nazaryan, “to worry about something you can't understand.
Paleolithic paintings in Lascaux, France 10-15,000 BC


The Anthropocene, Morton claims, is, animism “under erasure.” This is not working out very well. Because only an animistic perspective that recognizes the sacredness of all living things could help save us from ourselves by recognizing that we are so pervasively interwoven with Earth’s myriad ecologies, our misguided attempts to separate humans from nonhumans are becoming untenably superfluous.   

     Remember, always that no matter what we say about Nature, nachos or the mind of Trump, the words we use remain abstractions, while the things alluded to remain withdrawn – never fully present. If this isn’t a prescription for proceeding with caution, just keep your foot on the gas. That sign ripping past reads: DANGER! CLIFF EDGE! 100 FEET BEHIND YOU!


“Hyperobjects render our age hypocritical, weak, and lame,” Mickey continues. “Hypocritical insofar as inside and outside have imploded, leaving no meta-position from which one can criticize or evaluate a hyperobject (even the staunchest climate activist emits CO2); weak because we cannot feel hyperobjects themselves but only their small-scale or local effects (we see rain but no climate, blogs but no Internet); lame because all objects are fragile and vulnerable, extremely sensitive to the vertiginous turbulence of the Anthropocene.” [my italics

     These realizations can only lead to irony, which “becomes a gesture of total sincerity, recognizing oneself as a strange stranger intimately enmeshed with other strange strangers far beyond comprehension and control,” Mickey writes.   So is religion irrelevant today? Our brief look at hyperobjects suggest that the question itself is irrelevant. Like all hyperobjects, “religions” exist. Like it or not, whether “true” or dangerously false, their dogma and dictates interpenetrate every person, every culture. Even atheists fervently believe in what they do not believe.   

     We can either get “all het up” about this. Or chill. Because even teetering here, “At The End Of The World” writes Clayton Crockett, “reason cannot critique religion.” What might help is employing our evolving notions of the transcendent as a “supplement to ethics,” Crockett suggests – moral addendums corresponding variously to the all-important question: “What should we do?” One thing we would be well advised to do is heed John D. Caputo’s call for a reinterpretation of the root word, religio: a re-binding “to the unbound.” If we can find ways to reconnect with the ultimately unknowable Prime Hyperobject to which all hyperobjects were originally bound, the compulsion underlying this very attempt “suggests an originary purpose or meaning to existence.” “Originary” is not a typo. It’s another name for the Original Hyperobject. 

     Another name for “God”.

Photo Captions:

Hyperobjects in the Third landscape on Behance -behance.net

Hyperobjects By Timothy Morton societyandspace.org