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What does the philosophy of oil tell us about technology?

Thursday 30 November 2017, 15.00-16.00
School of Earth and Environment, room 10.125 (level 10)
Tere Vaden, BIOS Research Unit
Ecology and Technology Seminar Series (TECHSUS/SRI)

While the critical canon of 20th century thought contains detailed analyses on the role that technology, capitalism, mass society and so on have for modern existence, the essential role of energy has been in a (relative) blind spot – and this blind spot in itself is one of the most striking characteristics of modernity. A philosophy of oil, or nafthology (from the Greek naphtha, for oil), can inform thought on technology in at least two ways. First, in a very down-to-earth sense, technology does not work, but energy does. Without energy, technology is inert. This crude fact points to a corollary of the blind spot. Some of the credit for modern growth given to technology is misplaced. Second, as various schools of thought have pointed out, technology forms an interlinking network of goals and purposes. This background network disappears when technology ”works”, i.e., functions as intended. The network contains also the material and energetic supports and feedback loops that technology needs in order to keep functioning. It is largely due to some unique properties of fossil fuels, and especially of oil, that functioning modern technology is able to push these feedback loops into a blind spot.


Tere Vadén is a philosopher working with the multidisciplinary research unit that focuses on anticipation of socio-ecological transformations. He has published the books Rock the Boat: Localized Ethics, the Situated Self and Particularism in Contemporary Art (2003), Heidegger, Zizek and Revolution (2014) and Artistic research methods (2014). Recently he has been obsessed with the question of energy, co-authoring with Antti Salminen the book Energy and Experience (2015). Tere is also a long-time editor of the Finnish philosophical journal niin & näin and the managing director of the activist hedge fund and co-founder of Economic Space Agency, Inc.

This seminar is hosted by TECHSUS and SRI