I was having dinner with a friend in china town last night, trying to explain Ontography and Ontology to her when a plate of dumplings thudded, ungracefully, onto the table. The restaurant was a testament to the rule ‘two negatives make a positive’. Bad service, bad atmosphere, great, great place to eat.
Their arrival was great news for me. I wouldn’t say my little Ontology lecture was going well: the class was restless, and the professor was flustered. But salvation had landed: dumplings and soy sauce would be my sugar and water – they’d make it a lot easier to ask my friend to profoundly redefine her conception of things, people and our own importance.
What are these dumplings? I asked.
Food, came her answer.
No, I replied, that’s not what they are, that’s what they are to us. I dropped a dumpling in adjacent bowl of soy sauce.
I started to narrate the result: The soy sauce moves around the bowl to accommodate the object it’s now sharing space with, and the dumpling’s soft flesh begins to absorb the sauce. They’re interacting. To the soy sauce, the dumpling isn’t food. But the units still have an affect on one another.
Do you see them ‘taking notice’ of one another? I ask, to borrow a particularly effective phrase from Adrian.
My friend, being a great sport, eagerly following along.
The thing is, the units use one another as readily as we use them! I conclude.
But what does this actually mean for us? my friend asked, keen on the concept, but eager to discover how this idea actually plays out in our day-to-day operations.
It means we gotta change the way we look at the whole world! I say, gearing up to explain how I’d try to live-out Ontology.
So I ask: How do we currently relate to the world around us? Imagine a thread running from each object in this room back to you. What could occur along the thread: between you and the object? Right now, whatever a thing does for us is what we use construct its meaning. Ontology urges us to cut that thread. It ought to instead run between each individual unit in the room. There should be no core unit at which every thread terminates – not us, not anything. In this dark restaurant Ontology would ask us to observe the thread running between the cold water and the glass, the glass and the scuffed table, the table and the tiled floor, the floor and the rubber soles of our shoes, and the thread that runs from our soft socks to our warmed feet.
This might be a laboured metaphor, but it’s what I came up with that night, and it got the message across to my mate. It was probably more helpful to me – I reckon I learn best through teaching others. With each iteration, my explanation of Ontology becomes clearer, as does my own understanding.