Object-Oriented Ontology and Philosophic Concepts for Design Research

This explainer video was presented as part of a mid-project presentation on research findings on the topic of object-oriented philosophy concepts that could be understood and applied within design contexts. It is a complex area of investigation, however this video received high praise from both supervisors and student cohort that it clearly articulated the philosophic ideas I was uncovering.

As my research was conducted in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic I made the subject of the virus front and centre of this explainer video. It made the philosophical concepts immediately applicable to a global phenomena which we all were (are) experiencing, and seeking to understand in new ways. Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects are a philosophical concept influenced by Graham Harman’s Object Oriented Ontology (OOO), is a great idea to begin understanding these massively distributed systems that span space and time, beyond the normal scales that humans deal with.

As this section of the site is for ‘Portfolio’ work I will simply leave the video below for viewing. I will include a part of the completed research under the ‘Research’ section of this site in the coming days.

Below is a transcript of the video above.

Frame 1: COVID-19 is a Hyperobject

Frame2-3: What is a hyperobject? A hyperobject is a concept from Timothy Morton, which acknowledges the existence of a single entity, which, is made up of interacting objects, it is massive in space and time, and it is ‘sticky’. It sticks to other objects that interact with it. With the COVID-19 pandemic it sticks to individuals, cities and nations in the form of infection, outbreaks, and lock-downs. However, the local manifestation of a hyperobject is not the hyperobject itself but a symptom of it.

Frame 4-5: The attitude that objects must be considered equally as objects despite their differing affects on other entities, is the idea at the heart of OOO’s flat ontology.

Frame 6-7: It is important to recognise the agency of nonexistent objects as well. This idea enables deeper understanding of entire systems. This has aspects of ‘sense-making’ approaches. Christian Madsbjerg’s ‘Sensemaking’, offers a case study of a supermarket chain, which struggled to recognise the impact of the intentional objects of the shopper’s passion for healthy cooking, and the desire to acquire social currency through social platforms.

Frame 8: So, what is an object? In OOO, objects are all kinds of things: houses, chairs, Sherlock Holmes, alien spaceships, and unicorns.

Frame 9: Thoughts are objects too. We have all witnessed unreal nonexistent objects impacting our world just as much as real existent things; the effect of fake news on election and referendum results, and the role of alternative facts in a post truth world, and the concerning rise of conspiracy theories (flat earth, anti-vaxxers, the origins of COVID-19).

Frame 10: In OOO our perception and interaction with objects (including nonexistent or indeterminate objects) are viewed through the Quadruple Object concept.

Frame 11: An apple for instance has its own being which we cannot access directly but we can allude to, an apple has real qualities which we cannot experience directly but we intuit their existence, and the apple has sensual qualities which we may judge the apple by. All together this gives us the sensual apple that we perceive.

Frame 12: When the quadruple object concept is applied to a system, it is theorised that it will reveal inherent inequalities within that system; for instance groups or other species that can and cannot access certain aspects of the system.

Frame 13: In a design context, this diagram shows a simplistic concept of how the role of design may play out when laid over the quadruple object concept. Art and speculative practice can allude to the being of the object, design research separates sensual and real qualities to understand the eidos of the object, design practice understands the context from real qualities and applies it to sensual qualities.

There are many questions and concepts to explore and understand…

…This exploration has only begun…