Energonomics and Morphogenesis
I recently read through a couple of essays by Manuel DeLanda, whose writing I find to be some of the most lucid in terms of explicating the difficult concepts and style of Gilles Deleuze. It might be that I find it clear because I’ve been reading about complexity theory and chaos theory since the early 1990s, and in this decade turned my attention toward the study of the physics of energy flows. So when DeLanda puts Deleuze’s work in the context of these scientific disciplines, I have a context in which to put his explications. It’s hard to describe the pleasure of actually comprehending these difficult concepts! I’m not sure I have a good enough grasp to lecture about them to an audience of college undergraduates, but I’m able to read through his essays pretty quickly, because I recognize the (un?)commonplaces of his arguments. Enough on this.
In the two essays that I read, he mentions energy a number of times, so I wanted to tie his concept of “morphogenesis” (the genesis of form) to my concept of energonomics, or “energy management.” The first essay is titled “Deleuze and the Genesis of Form” and explains how recent work in complexity theory and far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics demonstrates that “no God need apply” when it comes to the “spontaneous self-generation of form”: “the resources involved in the genesis of form are not transcendent but immanent to matter itself” (paragraph 2). The simplest example of this is a soap bubble: “The spherical form of a soap bubble. . . .emerges out of the interactions among its constituent molecules as these are constrained energetically to ‘seek’ the point at which surface tension is minimized.” He also notes how other geometrical forms emerge from this same process of minimizing energy (one might say “managing energy”): “if instead of molecules of soap we have the atomic components of an ordinary salt crystal, the form that emerges from minimizing energy (bonding energy in this case) is a cube” (paragraph 3). He points out how Deleuze, in invoking these areas of studies in his own philosophy, discusses more complex processes like embryogenesis, “the development of a fully differenciated organism starting from a single cell. In this case, the space of energetic possibilities is more elaborate, involving many topological forms governing complex spatio-temporal dynamisms” (paragraph 6).
I guess the point I want to make is how central energy flow is to DeLanda’s presentation. In fact, it is “material systems which are traversed by a strong flow of energy” that are crucial to many of Deleuze’s concepts, according to DeLanda (paragraph 7). He concludes:
Deleuze’s work is, from the beginning, concerned as much with physics and mathematics, as it is with art. But it seems to me, only when we understand the Deleuzian world of material and energetic flows, and the forms that emerge spontaneously in these flows, can we begin to ask, ‘what is a novel or a painting or a piece of music’ in this world? (last paragraph)
The other essay that reinforces this connection between energonomics and morphogenesis is titled “Uniformity and Variability: An Essay in the Philosophy of Matter.” Here DeLanda approaches the subject from the perspective of materials science and the lost skills of craftsmen who had intimate knowledge of the materials they used as dynamical systems. As he writes, “it is precisely this ability of matter and energy to self-organize that is of greatest significance to the philosopher” (paragraph 7). The reason this is significant is because the “emergence” of self-organized structures is a pattern that arises at all levels of aggregate behavior:
An even deeper philosophical insight is related to the fact that the dynamics of populations of dislocations [i.e. defects or imperfections in a material that cause cracks or fractures] are very closely related to the population dynamics of very different entities, such as molecules in a rhythmic chemical reaction, termites in a nest-building colony, and perhaps even human agents in a market. In other words, despite the great difference in the nature and behaviour of the components, a given population of interacting entities will tend to display similar collective behaviour as long as there is some feedback in the interactions between components (that is, the interactions must be non-linear) and as long as there is an intense enough flow of energy rushing through the system (that is, the population in question must operate far from thermodynamic equilibrium). (paragraph 10).
Matter-energy flow is deeply at the heart of DeLanda’s new “philosophy of matter” and Deleuze’s “neomaterialism.” My concept of “energonomics,” of “energy management,” provides a different way of viewing the phenomena of self-organization and emergent, spontaneous morphogenesis: it assumes that we as a species have some control over where energy flows and what develops as a result. The future, that is, is up to us; it is open-ended and a matter of creation, a creation no longer in the hands of a transcendent God but in our hands as co-creators of the unfolding universe.
Entry filed under: complexity theory, delanda, Deleuze, energonomics, philosophy. Tags: complexity theory, delanda, Deleuze, energy, energy flow, far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics, materials science, morphogenesis, philosophy, process theology.