Monday, 7 November 2011

Last Systems Session - summary

Thanks to all participants for a lively discussion at last week’s seminar discussion. I was particularly pleased that there are quite a few disciplinary positions represented around the table including philosophy, art history, art practice, information studies and so on; this should lead to rich discussions as the seminar develops over the coming months.

At this session we outlined some of the main issues that seemed to be at stake in the discussion. This included some key terms. It was agreed, then, that these would form the central themes for our future conversations around the Prince and the Wolf. This means that we will be able to move away from the central text (and read and talk around the topic) whilst also keeping our focus on the main text.

The main topics that we teased out are listed below. And it was agreed that we would discuss Object/ Relation at the next session (Nov. 23rd). If anyone has comments and suggestions such as those for further reading, then here is the place to post them.

Object/ Relation

Object/ Aggregate


Disciplinary and Discursive Issues: (i) The reception of Speculative Realism in other disciplines (ii) Historical precedents

Metaphysics and Realism

Infinite Regress

Potentiality and Change



Metaphor and Translation


  1. I'm a bit late but here are some comments regarding object-oriented programming (OOP). Again, the similarity between OOP and object-oriented philosophy/ontology is, in my mind, purely coincidental.

    OOP is a paradigm for programming. Like any other paradigm for computer programming (e.g., functional programming, logic programming), it seeks to make the task of constructing software easier for the user (i.e., the programmer). It does this by abstraction and reuse.

    Before OOP, when you wanted to "write" a program you would write a lot of functions. So you might write a function to "draw a circle". Or you might write a function that "calculates my salary for the week." etc.

    With the OOP paradigm, you now think of everything as objects and you pass those objects "messages". If you have circle object those messages might be "draw" or "what is your radius?" So now, instead of thinking of writing functions, you now think of objects and how you "tell" them what to do. Objects can do things and have attributes (e.g., radius).

    There is also the concept of class versus object. That is you have a class for circle, and you create "instantiations" of the circle. These instantiations are the objects.

    So imagine that you are starting to create a drawing program. Now, you want to have it draw circles. The good thing about OOP is that it implies a way to distribute other people's classes. Bob might have developed his own circle. And now you can easily use it instead of reinventing the wheel. So, basically import Bob's circle class. And now you can create objects from that class.

    Another key idea is inheritance. For example, You may create a class called rectangle. But you might develop a "subclass" that "inherits" the features of class rectangle. After all, a square is just a rectangle with width = height. So instead of writing square from scratch you take the rectangle class with all its attributes and just create a subclass called square.

    Anyways this is just a VERY simplistic way of understanding OOP. Wikipedia has a decent article. Basically, OOP is used because it provides a way to structure your programs in an "intuitive" way. Once you start thinking in a OOP (that everything is an object), programming starts becoming easier. For example, even numbers can be objects. You can ask a number how many digits do you have, are you an irrational number, etc. OOP also makes it easier to use other people's code and thus save you time.

    OOP is perhaps *the* paradigm for programming now. Java, Ruby, Python, etc. all use OOP to some degree (some are more "pure" to the concept than others).

  2. Hi guys, the paper (citation below) I was talking about can be found at here. Thanks for another stimulating discussion.

    Callon, M. (1996). Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of Saint Brieuc Bay. In J. Law (Ed.), Power, Action and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge? (pp. 67–78). London, UK: Routledge.


  3. Good to meet everyone last week.

    I think Latour's serial re-description is - once again - the logical end for the postmodern frame. If there is no logical end then there is only the logic of the ‘eternal return’. Harman’s spirited defense of the ‘object’ and our capacity to know, experience or understand it, while admirable is destined to fail. Wittgenstein explored the reason for this failure and concluded that ‘language is inadequate’ every other thinker is a footnote to this conclusion. However, mathematics and the mathematical sciences do not suffer the same inadequacies and they continue to make inroads into explaining the nature of reality. Unfortunately, most of us don’t understand it because we don’t have access to that knowledge, so we make things up. We speculate.

    In Latour we have the social scientist, which freely admits he is not a professional philosopher but recognizes the necessity to describe the world as he finds it. Like all good sociologists that is what they do – describe! In Harman we have the old school philosopher who admits that he cannot give up the metaphysical ghost of ontology. Neither of them is mad, rather on a closer reading they reveal their latent humanism. In both Latour and Harman we have the ethical imperative at work. With Harman we have the hope of the soul and the identity of the individual and from this we can build the framework of Human Rights. It is no coincidence that Hannah Arendt was a student of Heidegger’s. And with Latour we can re-describe the deconstructionist’s argument against hierarchy and with that re-describe the emancipatory narrative of gender, race and class. While neither thinker can meaningfully interrogate reality and real objects. Both can create objects of meaning. My job as I see it is to make a choice. On reflection I like them both and find utility in both. But not for the reasons they would probably choose.

    Finally I would speculate that there is fractal logic at work in our cognitive processes that enables us to understand both complexity and simplicity and Latour is on to something. I would speculate that there is a simple fractal based on relationships and it can be found in - “f (x) is a function of 'X'”

    thanks again - take care and looking forward to seeing you again.


  4. It occurred to me that Harman and Latour could be used as follows: In Harman we have a justification for the rights of property and the law of contract. And market capitalism can be justified in the Latour. Not sure what the implications are in this? That aside I would still argue that Harman and Latour allows for the creation of meaningful objects - And for the artist this has utility?