"The best of bees. Marx writes that the best of bees is always worse than the worst of architects.51 That’s because the architect is imagining her or his building and the bee is just executing an algorithm."

"It has also been shown that bees build mental maps to find their way home—they aren’t just on autopilot.53 We are beginning to allow that nonhumans have minds. Creative experiments have shown that rats experience regret.54 The problem with disproof tactic (1), however, is that our poor scientist has to know roughly what she is looking for already before running the experiment, and this means that she is forever haunted by a deep problem that affects both science and humanities in the Anthropocene, the age of Hume: the age in which there is no objectified, obvious cause and effect churning away below phenomena like cogwheels. Cause and effect are inferences we make concerning statistical correlations in data."

"Cause and effect are “in front” of things, not behind them: in front ontologically rather than spatially.56 Which is to say that in order for there to be causality there must always already be objects. In this sense, weird as it is to say so given our tendency to snap back to mechanistic causal theories, causality in a post-Newtonian world has its rightful place in the aesthetic dimension."

"Confirmation bias” suggests that there are things over there and interpretations over here, and that those interpretations can therefore be biased. But this idea of objects over there and subjects over here is precisely what correlationism and its consequent hermeneutic circle are saying is illegal—it’s a metaphysical factoid that you’ve smuggled into your view pretheoretically. Never mind that Kant himself had smuggled in this view, which is the old Aristotelian—and I shall argue agricultural—picture of bland substances decorated with accidents.58 That’s exactly what we can’t assume things are like. It’s the kind of thing that gives rise to ideas that bees are just blind robots while architects are gravity-defying subjects. Heaven help us, we would never ever want to be denigrated to the status of a thing, because we all “know” in advance that things are lumps."

3 Answers 3


He's saying that cause and effect are interpretations or decorations of the laws of physics, not something prior to those laws. In other words we interpret physical laws as having causes and effects because it psychologically pleases us to do so - it's "aesthetic" to us.

Your quote also makes the second point that there is no true subject/object distinction, that we're all objects subject to the laws of physics and an architect is not fundamentally different in this way from a bee.

Morton uses the aesthetic nature of cause and effect to support this second point. He considers those (following Marx) who would say that bees are mere chains of cause and effect and architects are not. If the causes and effects are merely aesthetic, this distinction made by those following Marx goes away.

  • Thi thanks for the reply! I am bit confused regarding the point of view he is assuming. Would not this (saying that cause effect has an aesthetic nature) a strongly subjectivist position? While his intent would be to bring bee and human on the same objective plane?
    – user40208
    Mar 16, 2021 at 6:45
  • And last question, why not thinking that substances are decorated with accidents is a metaphysical factoid?
    – user40208
    Mar 16, 2021 at 7:11
  • @user40208 saying cause and effect are aesthetic is perhaps "subjectivist" but he's also implying that the laws of physics are fundamental and objective, they just don't require causation. I don't know about the "substances are decorated with accidents" thing
    – causative
    Mar 16, 2021 at 9:00

You might find this answer and discussion useful Is the idea of a causal chain physical (or even scientific)?

I would look to understanding the idea of 'salience landscapes' to understand this: we aren't infinitely free to choose how we group phenomena, and what we foreground; but, what kind of activities we consider good and useful and how we live will have big impacts - ie culture, and aesthetics.

Phenomena, through tactics like consilience and scientific methodology, should generally be able to be agreed on. But what patterns we find, how we group them, involve choices, that express implicitly ideas about how to live. This is not a limitation, recognising it is actually a liberation. A propagandist fantasy-land like Marx's theories were used to build must be avoided, by agreeing how to agree on phenomena. But we must also, recognise that much -most- of how we live is not similarly fixed, we are more free than we realise, or typically even wish to realise, to live differently.

My favourite examples of the power of aesthetic shifts are The Arts & Crafts Movement reacting against some of the negatives of industrialisation, and the wabi sabi aesthetic that has infused traditional Japanese culture. We have been sleep walking into a world where every town is the same, yet other ways to be are possible more than they ever have been.

Ironically in response to your quotation, I'd say that homogenisation is largely the result of simplistic capitalist algorithms. Another aesthetic peril to that, is seen in the confounding of unpopularity and originality in contemporary architecture. Manifestos, movements, are a way to bridge between individuals with ideas, and beauracracies that commission things, and we need to reinvent them.

Some additional relevant discussions:

How is Society shaped?

Does postmodernism in art criticism collapse into relativism? What's its merit?

Architectural Philosophy

  • 1
    I Found the idea of salience landscape very elegant. In this video (1h 22min) Harman uses causality as possible explanation of how two objects could exchange metaphor jokes. youtu.be/6GHiV4tuRt8 I found it hilarious, and beyond its philosophical validity, i guess this concept if rightly developed,it opens up a huge set of possibility. I will comment on your message regarding, which is for me a safer ground than philosophy. I will do in the main answers since I realised I wrote too much!
    – user40208
    Apr 2, 2021 at 18:48

I will comment on your message regarding, which is for me a safer ground than philosophy.

Sorry for the very long answer i hope you won't bother anyway to read it and tell me what you think, if you have any comments.

As to your finding a way on "how to agree on phenomena" I totally agree. There was a moment (early 1900) where an objective language was formulated by the neue sachlichkeit movement (Tessenow, Muthesius....) in order to find a common language based on universal values as opposed to the strong Eclecticism of those years. In a way those brave early modernist were on similar position of the arts and crafts movement, but with a strong difference regarding the possibility of incorporating in a total manner the use of technologies in order to produce pure machine made artwork, this developed in the bauhaus, where the machine was considered just a tool.There were then even more hardcore people like Loos who even believed in the total distinction of art and craft ( with architecture belonging to the latter) or other like Behrens who had a more expressionist approach, so the panorama was quite wide. In synthesis the arts and crafts were still let's say believing in the symbolic nature of an architectural artifact, while the new objectivity guys were more for an architectural language which was per se non-representational, and for that as base was chosen classical architecture. Was this choice scientifically based? Probably not, but what is sure is that the systematic purification from any ornament became very soon quite dangerous, mainly as Adorno stated in the 60's simply because to cut it short, the absence of style became it-self style.



In practice over the years Rationalist architecture for its characteristic "economy of means" too easily was exploited by capitalistic processes, with its "cold and cruel" aesthetic, in a way betraying the initial democratic intention. Today there are still architects working with the rationalist agenda, like Lacaton and Vassal and atelier Kempe Thill, mainly in the real of social housing, achieving in my view amazing results. The former recently won a very important prize, in which the jury recognised that "The modernist hopes and dreams to improve the lives of many are reinvigorated through their work that responds to the climatic and ecological emergencies of our time, as well as social urgencies, particularly in the realm of urban housing" and more "The architects have expressed that buildings are beautiful when people feel well in them, when the light inside is beautiful and the air is pleasant, and when there is an easy flow between the interior and exterior.".


Here i am not stating that all architecture should look like that, and I agree with you that regulation ( modernist invisible hand) and algorithms are in a way leaving us with apparently a lower set of possible choices, when instead the set is much bigger. If you think for example how much robotics could be used within the modernist agenda to produce much more interesting results, when the conditions allow it. The work of Gramazio and Kohler on the robot as an artisan/co-creator it is emblematic, and it surely open more questions regarding the society in which we want to leave, regarding for example ethics and the value of subjectivity. So what i mean is that in the end it is possible to go beyond the biases that are (or we) set, and explore new possibilities.


If we start questioning deeply the built environment in which we live, we can see easily that certain biases are deeply entwined with the failures of our economic system. The inability to incorporate entropy in our system of thought, resulting in the impossibility of including negative externalities in our production system, influences any type of architecture in which we live. Probably the most inconsistent would be indeed Rationalist architecture. So in this case the question would be, how would look an architecture of true economic mean, which is able to incorporate the true impact on the environment of our production ? A possible answer is maybe in the Green Corner building by Hanne Holtrop, where the facade elements are directly casted on site in the ground, creating a wonderfully detailed facade with very minimal use of formwork. https://www.thenationalnews.com/arts-culture/art/the-green-corner-how-bahrain-s-latest-cultural-landmark-is-preserving-regional-heritage-1.1170090

Such complexity oriented approach, I am not sure could be feasible, if it would be possible, it would require us to think in a radically new scale, spatially and temporally. It will surely be hard, but as you stated a manifesto could really help, and maybe the time is mature enough.

Regarding your concern toward contemporary architecture, I think we should be really careful there. As demonstrated by some researches this type of critics are in some extent linked to some alt right extremist positions, which in turn could really poison the discussion. The whole nostalgia movement, with the reproposition of old scheme i think it should be watched very critically.


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