Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tempus Fugit: Should We Think About the World?

It’s a simple statement, but it clicked:
If the last fifty years in particular have witnessed a constant, slow increase in admissions of validity among worldly things, then OOO could be understood to propose: let's just take that pattern for granted and get it over with all at once.
And what I thought, immediately, was: but that’s how the intellectual world works, in the large. Everything is worthy of attention, though not everything gets it. Resources—time, attention, infrastructure of all kinds—are limited. But, in the intellectual world at large, has anything received more scrutiny than quarks and quasars?

But Ian Bogost, that’s who wrote that statement, wasn’t talking about the intellectual world at large. As the reference to OOO (object-oriented ontology) indicates, he is talking about philosophy: what do philosophers study? And, for the most part, philosophers in the 20th Century have studied human beings, their minds mostly, and their language, and even their society. Yes, the philosophy of science looms large, but it’s not about bosons and bats, it’s about how scientists think, or should think, about bosons and bats.

And so Bogost’s observation is well-taken. Why shouldn’t philosophers think about everything, and not just about the human? While I have my doubts about whether object-oriented ontology is itself a big intellectual thing, I’m more favorable to the view that there is a big intellectual thing among us, and there has been for some time—like global warming, it crept up on us before we gave it official welcome. And that big intellectual thing is re-drawing the boundaries, vectors, and destinations of inquiry. OOO is certainly playing a role in that process. Whatever’s provoked the seas, OOO’s certainly riding the waves.

Which is what Bogost said, more or less, back in June of this year:
Things are changing in philosophy, and that change is terrifying to some and liberating to others—perhaps it should be both. This conflict, if that's really what it is, is evidence of something big. We can fear it, or we can scoff at it, or we can make accusations about it. Or we can work, in whatever our medium.
Time flies.

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