Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Is Object Oriented Ontology and Speculative Realism the answer? [and if so, what is the question?]

Over the last few years I have read some books in the new philosophical school of thought called Object Oriented Ontology or Speculative Realism. I have read Graham Harman and others, the most recent books are Levi Bryant's "Onto-Cartography: an ontology of machines and media" and Tristan Garcia's "Form and Object: a treatise on things". I am still intrigued with this new form of philosophical realism and, in some cases, materialism. In many ways it feels fresh and inspiring as an attempt to get away from philosophy that seems to have left the world of 'reality' and things behind.

The basic idea behind all these new attempts seems to be a willingness to return to reality as we experience it as humans in a very direct way, that is, as a world composed of things that make up our reality. It is also an attempt to build some form of objective approach to reality that distance itself from intricate and elaborate ideas of subjectivism and phenomenology. Overall I am in favor of this adventure and I have also really enjoyed reading some of these books, but I am now starting to doubt that this approach is leading to something 'useful', that is, to some philosophical ideas that will be possible to use as a foundation in more everyday research endeavors. Tristam Garcia's book is an example of beautiful philosophy, but it is an intellectual exercise so removed from everyday thinking and practice (and language) that it ends up as intellectual art (which is not necessary bad, I truly enjoy reading it) or maybe some would argue as true philosophy. The most promising ideas I have found so far is in Levi Bryant's "Onto-Cartography". Bryant offers a set of ideas that are basic in the sense of foundational at the same time as they also seem 'usable' in the sense of creating a way of thinking that can influence everyday research practices.

I am far from sure about my thoughts about this philosophical development though. It needs more work and thinking and I assume testing. Just to be clear, I am not looking for a philosophy that is 'useful' in a concrete way. (The popularity of Latour's Actor Network Theory a few years back led to some awful examples where people tried to apply it.) But I do think that real research becomes better if it is at least inspired by and rest upon some foundational philosophical stance.


jonathan partlow said...

I also have been studying this in great detail but differ in my opinion.

To me it seems that by understanding and being aware of the way humans are in the world and are able to make the distinctions between what is so (the reality) and the stories that we (as humans) add to what is so, then we can uncompact the non-reality from the reality.

What I have discovered in this research is that "humans being: in the world act automatically and naturally based on the stories created of what is so. In a constructed reality.

As for usefulness in design this is everything. As a designer different questions then arise... no longer is it sufficient to do design for the product or the action but instead it becomes about the holistic experience and designing for the occurring.

The "experience" is no longer viewed in a broad stroke ambiguous way - like something happens, we react, something happens etc. - it instead recognizes and designs for the occurring; as in we are not clean slates and but are born into a world and carry with us stories and when something happens - it occurs a certain way - we make up a story about it and we act (naturally and automatically) based on that occurring - the experience then is not "what happens" or the object but the stories we create about these.

The usefulness is profound as we are aware that we can (and do) change the occurring after the fact and thus the experience changes although everything else remains the same.

This idea of designing in this way changes everyting from the approach to the metrics by which we judge design.

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