elverstessjohnson

Hyperobject

..the more data we have about hyperobjects, the less we know about them

In what follows, some brief extracts are taken from the transcript of a social dreaming event at which 16 climate artists, scientists and researchers convened; activists whose involvement faces them daily with the threats of climate change (Manley & Hollway, 2019).

The social dreaming matrix format is designed to reach a cultural unconscious that is at best thinly represented in available discourses. For this, it has relied on a psychoanalytically-informed psychosocial approach. These extracts, however, are selected to illustrate key features of climate change as a ‘hyperobject’, following the work of Timothy Morton, Humanities scholar and ecophilosopher. The idea is to see if the theory of hyperobjects can contribute a further dimension within a psychosocial approach.

I dreamt all night and I kept waking up trying to hold on to the dreams. I couldn’t grab them. I couldn’t get back to it. Like being in a river and scooping up water, I couldn’t hold on to the dreams. Like water pouring through my fingers. And I would do it again and they were turned into elvers, and then wriggled through my fingers. […] All I remember is this trying to hold the water, gather the water as it went through my fingers.

Morton’s main contention is the impossible-to-grasp quality of climate change. Hyperobjects have an extension in time and space that makes them historically beyond the range of human cognition; they ‘massively outscale us’ (2013, p.12). Global warming (as Morton calls it) is paradoxically a highly abstract concept, not possible to pin down anywhere, yet at the same time it is “right here in my social and experiential space” (2013, p.27). It has a viscous quality: it sticks to everything.

The slippery nature of climate change became a recognisable thread during the Matrix, repeatedly drawing on the image of water and elvers (baby eels). The theme grew to include the elusiveness of numbers:

It has become widely recognised that the vast collection of scientific knowledge about climate change, which already many years ago established the actuality of the threat, has not succeeded in making climate realities accessible to most people. Morton grasps this paradox in the telling claim, “the more data we have about hyperobjects, the less we know about them” (2013, p.180).

I was doing a Sudoku with elvers, and I was trying to arrange them in numbers and they kept moving. I couldn’t get them to stop where they were meant to be. Trying to hold it back all the time […] not matching up like it was meant to be…

Introducing artworks into the Social Dreaming event, and the experience of a containing space among like-minded others, enabled multiply-condensed imagery, which under normal circumstances cannot be brought to thought. These conditions helped to make sense of the awful experience of a hyperobject that is interconnectedly everywhere, outscaling human capacity to know, that science cannot hold, that sticks to everything, yet is non-local.

References

Manley, J. and Hollway, W. (2019). Social dreaming, art and climate change. In Hoggett, P. et al. Climate psychology: on indifference to disaster. London: Palgrave.

Morton, T. (2013). Hyperobjects: philosophy and ecology after the end of the world. University of Minnesota Press.

Morton, T. (2010; 2012 in paperback). The ecological thought. Harvard University Press.

Pictured above: “Swimming with the eels” a photograph by Tess Johnson, Maine.

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