What is an object?

Below is basically a re-explanation of Harman philosophy, which he describes pretty plainly in this video.

Graham Harman is a popular philosopher who is the final boss when it comes to defending the idea of Object-Oriented Ontology. He coined the term, after all.

Object-Oriented Ontology, or OOO (pronounced triple-oh), is a philosophy that answers the question “if a tree fell in the woods and no one was around to hear it, did it make any sound?” with a very blunt, “yes.”

For Graham the world is composed of objects. And a tree does not need a human subject to exist and make noise when it falls down. An object is something that invariably does exist the world; it can affect the world on its own. Which is a bit vague, but in comparison to other philosophies, is a bold statement.

Graham qualifies his objects as things that cannot be “undermined” or “overmined”. These are terms he has made up. “Undermining” is the act of describing or explaining an object as a list of properties and attributes of what is it and what it does. Undermining an apple would be to call it a fruit, which is red, and which is sweet. Underminers tend to be hardcore scientists who like to boil things down to their elements.

“Overmining” is the opposite. It’s the description of an object in pure relation to other objects. For instance, an apple would only exist in relation to other fruits, and in relation to the farmer that tends to it, and in relation to the social, political, and economic system that allows such apple to exist. In the world of an overminer, the only things that exist are events, power, language, and relationships.

For Graham, the problem with undermining is that it doesn’t take into account emergence. It cannot see something greater than the sum of its parts. Conversely, the problem with overmining is that it doesn’t account for change in systems. If every object were in perfect relation to one another, then there would be no change at all and everything would be in gridlock.

Is the world an object?

Graham thinks undermining and overmining are important concepts. For instance, one would use undermining to determine that the Morning Star and Evening Star are in fact the same object: the planet Venus. They are the same object because both stars are composed of the same stuff. On the other hand, overmining is useful when debunking myths. He gives the example of the witch hunts. With overmining one could deduce that spooky “happenings” are not tied to the nefarious witches but are in fact just coincidental events. But when it comes to defining what an object is, overmining and undermining alone do not get to the core of it.

So, an object is in between undermining and overmining. An object is both emergent and ever changing, yet it can still be defined as something that is not just bits and bytes, and is not something just part of a system. It’s a fuzzy area, ironically going against what we colloquially think of an object: hard, solid, definite.

Graham also adds that it is not just humans which are enacting the thought process of undermining and overmining — every object is underming and overmining other objects. Any and all objects are semi-active agents — and not active just towards humans, but active towards all objects, of which humans are a variant.

I like this idea that an object is something that cannot be undermined or overmined. It’s object-ness is defined by it’s inability to be anything bigger or smaller. I also like the idea that people are objects in this object-filled universe. People are not special “subjects” with a special idea of the world. Just like every other object in the world we interact with other objects.

In other words, phenomena like “experience” and “consciousness” are not unique attributes or unique systems of humans. Every objects contains in it an experience and a style of consciousness.

This is the part of this theory which is called “flat ontology”, which basically redistributes the historical ontological dominance of people and spreads it evenly across everything in the universe. I generally like this OOO way of thinking. To say everything carries the same weight is a bit revolutionary, like saying the Sun does not revolve around the Earth! The Earth, like the human subject, is not at the center. We are a part of the world, and indeed powerful objects in it, but nevertheless not at the center.




A student of Media Ecology. More work at https://www.instagram.com/tywensnotes/

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tywen kelly

tywen kelly

A student of Media Ecology. More work at https://www.instagram.com/tywensnotes/

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