Humanism, Object-oriented Ontology, and What’s Other

David Breeden
Sep 26 · 3 min read
Photo by Vadym Lebedych on Unsplash

Homo Sapiens has been creating gods for some time now — probably something on the order of 200,000 years. And I suspect that the other varieties of Homo — Rudolfensis, Habilis, Gautengensis, Erectus, Ergaster, Antecessor, Heidelbergensis, Tsaichangensis, Luzonensis, and on — also created worldviews that contained some version of gods.

For example, ritualized burial — often interpreted by anthropoligists as a religous practice — appears to have begun something on the order of 300,000 years ago, well before Homo Sapiens.

The primates that we now classify as human most likely did that most religious of things — they told stories about situations that they had not experienced. Situations such as the survival of their loved ones into a life after physical death. Stories that made sense of what appeared to be senseless.

They most likely also considered the reality around them — wind, rocks, trees, non-human animals — as conscious. Everything made sense and had sense.

Nowadays we call this Panpsychicism.

Anyone who has spent much time around children knows that younger children see surrounding objects — from a cat to a tree to a box of Wheaties — as animated with consciousness and will.

Let me quickly point out that though this trait is characteristic of children, it is not a childish trait. In the West, philosophers and scientists have long poo-pooed the idea, but it’s not . . . well, poo.

It’s kind of a simple if/then proposition: if the trees have will and consciousness, don’t they have rights as well? Isn’t the earth and the wind just as “human” as I am?

Therefore . . . how do we justify using and killing them?

Carl Jung may be leaping for joy, because nowadays a Western philosophical version of Panpsychism has emerged under the name Object-oriented Ontology. Triple O, as it’s called among the terminally hip, views “non-human objects” as beings in the same catagory as humans. “The other” isn’t “other” anymore.

Yes, exactly the assumption of most humans for most of the time human beings have walked the planet.

Remember that old conundrum: if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

(This has been a question since at least the early 1700s.)

Clearly, part of the challenge is defining “nobody” and “sound.”

Let’s say “nobody” is any conscious animal with eardrums. But what about snakes? Worms? Amoebas? OK. Let’s say “any organism that can sense . . .”

Oh, yeah. I forgot to define “sound.” Is “sound” only what hits an eardrum? Or is sound the waves produced by an event?

Don’t the waves caused by the tree crashing down occur with or without an eardrum to pick them up?

Don’t those waves wash over rocks? What are we claiming if we claim that rocks don’t “hear”?

This question concerning the tree has floated around in Western philosophy so long because Western philosophy has so often counted on (human) perception to define what’s “real.”

Object-oriented ontology and a movement called “speculative realism” is reversing the “othering” of . . . just about everything.

And with the non-human animals dying and the seas rising, it’s about time we figure out how to respect them again.

Humanism Now

#Humanism is a grass-roots, global movement of #Freethinkers and free thinkers.

David Breeden

Written by

Poet, translator, Senior Minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a Humanist congregation. Amazon author's page

Humanism Now

#Humanism is a grass-roots, global movement of #Freethinkers and free thinkers.

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