OOO for dummies (like me)

I’ve been scampering and doing a troll-like stumble,  following along with Tim Morton‘s logorrheic flights for some time now, and gotten twinks of excitement about things like Speculative Realism and Object Oriented Ontology (OOO).  Of course I have no thorough (or even scanty) background in this stuff or its antecedents, but it gets me tweaked, nonetheless.

So I was happy when I found an all-access kiddie primer on OOO on Ian Bogost‘s web site:

So, I thought I’d try to work on a simple, short, comprehensible explanation of object-oriented ontology so I don’t find myself in this bind in the future. My goal is to assume zero knowledge whatsoever about the history of philosophy or its current trends, even if that means massive oversimplification. I’ve also hoped to offer a characterization of the overall approach of OOO rather than any one position within it. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Ontology is the philosophical study of existence. Object-oriented ontology (“OOO” for short) puts things at the center of this study. Its proponents contend that nothing has special status, but that everything exists equally—plumbers, DVD players, cotton, bonobos, sandstone, and Harry Potter, for example. In particular, OOO rejects the claims that human experience rests at the center of philosophy, and that things can be understood by how they appear to us. In place of science alone, OOO uses speculation to characterize how objects exist and interact.

This is tentative, and I’m posting it here to seek feedback and discussion, not to declare myself victorious. So, have at it.

Update: Here’s an alternate version, crafted based on some of the excellent discussion below. I’m sure I’ll go through a few of these before finding the right one.

Ontology is the philosophical study of existence. Object-oriented ontology (“OOO” for short) puts things at the center of this study. Its proponents contend that nothing has special status, but that everything exists equally—plumbers, cotton, bonobos, DVD players, and sandstone, for example. In contemporary thought, things are usually taken either as the aggregation of ever smaller bits (scientific naturalism) or as constructions of human behavior and society (social relativism). OOO steers a path between the two, drawing attention to things at all scales (from atoms to alpacas, bits to blinis), and pondering their nature and relations with one another as much with ourselves.

“Imagine what we know.”

The subject line is Percy Shelley’s. This part of an  essay by Tim Morton, “Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!” included in  the exhibit/site RETHINK — Contemporary Art & Climate Change (2009). Among other provocative chunks and challenges:

Along with figuring out what implications science has for society and so on, humanists should be asking scientists to do things for us. We should create websites that list experiments we need. My top suggestion would be exploring the question, “Is consciousness intentional?” Negative results would provide a reason not to hurt life forms. If consciousness were not some high up bonus prize for being elaborately wired, but low down, a default mode that came bundled with the software, then worms are conscious in every meaningful sense. A worm could become a Buddha, as a worm. Or what if consciousness were profoundly intersubjective? (Another blow to individualism.)


The injunction to act now is based on preserving a Nature that never existed: this has real effects that may result in more powerful catastrophe as we tilt at non-existent windmills. I’m not saying let’s not look after animals because they’re not really natural. I’m trying to find a reason to look after all beings precisely because they’re not natural.


Ecological coexistence consists of what I call strange strangers. These beings are ineradicably, irreducibly strange, strange in their strangeness, strange all the way down, surprisingly surprising. I can’t in good faith use the word animal anymore, and “nonhumans” won’t work either—we are strange strangers too. “Life forms” sounds nice, but some of these strangers aren’t strictly alive. In order to have DNA, you have to have RNA. In order to have RNA, you need ribosomes. And in order to have ribosomes, you need DNA … So there must have been a paradoxical “pre-living life,” such as Sol Spiegelman’s RNA World, in which RNA type molecules coexist with a non-organic replicator such as a certain silicate crystal—yes, maybe your great times x grandmother really was a silicon chip. A virus is a macromolecular crystal that tells RNA to make copies of it. If a virus is alive, in any meaningful sense, then so is a computer virus. The more we know about strange strangers, the stranger they become. Are they alive? What is life? Are they intelligent? What is intelligence? Are they people? Are we people?

(Complete essay here.)

Book Review – The Turquoise Ledge – By Leslie Marmon Silko –

…in the Tucson Mountains, pack rats make a home in the copy machine, a rattlesnake hides under the chaise longue, spiders are welcome and the appearance of a grasshopper is seen as a sign from Lord Chapulin, the Grasshopper Being.

Silko’s menagerie includes mastiffs, parrots, macaws, bees, hummingbirds and various other creatures. None of them are really pets: she gives them respect, not coddling. In fact, much of the book describes how she tends to the animals that live in and around her home, as well as how she attempts to help them ward off predators. While she can’t do much to protect them from the biggest menace, man, Silko’s understanding of nature’s balance brings her comfort. When she sees evidence of fresh destruction by a neighbor, she calms herself by imagining him being smashed under a boulder.

via Book Review – The Turquoise Ledge – By Leslie Marmon Silko –

The Author of the Acacia Seeds, Ursula K. Le Guin

Link to the short story, The Author of the Acacia Seeds, Ursula K. Le Guin.

This was warmly transcribed and posted by a Matt Webb in 2008 who stated:

My favourite short story is The Author of the Acacia Seeds and Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s a story of language, translation, and understanding things in terms of themselves, and – like all of Le Guin’s best – progressively takes me so far outside myself that I can glimpse what it would be like to live non-sequentially, sideways to time, or without action and with only response. Le Guin helps me understand how historically contingent I am (personally and socially) , which helps me accept the points of views of others, human and non-human. Anyway, it’s a story which can be read into endlessly, and also beautiful: It helps me see meaning in broader scales and configurations than those to which I am accustomed. (Le Guin’s Always Coming Home is in my top 5 books.)

I’ve wanted to share it with friends, but short stories are inconvenient to pass round because you have to lend the whole book. So I’ve transcribed the story and put it online. I hope many more people read Le Guin because of it. Read The Author of the Acacia Seeds.

via Matt Webb

The Contemporary Condition: Fragile

“I don’t for a second buy into the story, promoted both by deep greens and by the right, that Mother Earth will just brush us off and recover. Faith in an all-powerful deity is precisely a way to ignore hyperobjects. Some people commented on my previous post on hyperobjects, wondering whether God could be considered as one. No. It is precisely when we start to notice hyperobjects that the idea of some transcendental beyond, inhabited by an all-powerful being, starts to melt, and we humans break loose from our island of certainty to float on the ocean of science.How arrogant of us to think that we had reached the end of history in 1989. And how brittle of us. Little did we want to know how this posturing was actually a symptom of our own fragility. The good news is that we are at the beginning of history, like an exhausted newborn, stunned and breathing heavily outside the womb of concepts such as Nature and Progress.”

– Timothy Morton from the blog, The Contemporary Condition


My cousin Pejk Malinowski sent me this poem last night by Robert Creeley. I am smitten.


The thing comes
of itself

(Look up
to see
the cat & the squirrel,
the one
torn, a red thing,
& the other
somehow immaculate)

– Robert Creeley