Posts filed under ‘delanda’

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.

8 July 2009 at 1:03 am 2 comments

The Thermodynamics of Life

I finished reading an important book called Into the Cool:  Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life by Eric D. Schneider & Dorian Sagan.  This book introduces the emerging scientific field of “non-equilibrium thermodynamics” (NET) and, specifically, its sub-discipline they call “the thermodynamics of life” or “biothermodynamics” (i.e. the thermodynamics of biology).  One of its purposes is to correct  a neglect of the physical (that is, the “physics-al”) causes of life, neglect resulting from a primary focus on biological, genetic causes; because Darwin’s concept of natural selection cannot account for some instances of emergent complexity, the “missing link” in their view “is the energy flows studied by NET” (317).  They begin by showing how life-like processes exist even in non-living systems (what Manuel DeLanda has called “non-organic life”), and that the common denominator between such “non-organic life” and “organic life” is the energy flowing through these open systems:

NET systems organized to reduce ambient gradients and funnel their energy into our own growth, we are like nonliving NET systems that increase their complexity in areas of energy flux.  Just as the matter of life (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorous atoms)  has been found distributed throughout the universe, so the process of life (local pockets of increasing organization) is not unique.  We are connected to  other energy-flow systems that have functional organization (302).

After the cursory historical overview of classical thermodynamics and its history, Schneider and  Sagan introduce different physical phenomenon (BZ reactions, Benard cells, Taylor flow, whirlpools, etc.)–what he calls “physic’s own ‘organisms'”–before  launching into a star-to-ecosystem survey of how energy flow organizes organic life.  Evolution itself is invoked as central to this process:  “Selective advantage will go to those autocatalytic systems that best increase energy flow through their system, those that do so better than their competitors” (254).  Such behavior is so pervasive that one scientist, Stuart Kauffman, suggests that the phenomenon deserves to be called the fourth law of thermodynamics, for “the biosphere….is engaged in lawlike behavior of increasing complexity” (91).

All of this points to the growing realization that the origin and sustenance of life in the universe is not a super-natural phenomenon but completely natural.  In other words, “no God need apply”:

Although they may sometimes seem to be organized by an outside force, no ‘agent deliberating,’ as Aristotle put it over twenty centuries ago, is needed. . . . all complex structures and processes, including those of life, come naturally into being. (xvii, 6)

There were times in reading this book that I was reminded of Deleuze’s concept of the “abstract machine,” especially when the authors spoke of how living things link up with each other to exploit energy flows, as in this long passage worth quoting in full:

We, like all living beings, perpetuate ourselves and our communities but never with complete efficiency or total recycling.  We, from the cells within us to the organizations in which we as “individuals” function, are semi-independent thermodynamic systems.  Like all open complex systems, we require gradients.  But since we, like all the rest of life, are open centers of flow, not Platonic ideal forms, we link up in various ways.  Primates, birds, frogs, and aquatic mammals vocalize.  Organisms sense each other molecularly, for example, by smell. . . . Bacteria link up to propel each other, feed with and enter each other, and take in each others’ genes; this sometimes leads to new species.  Dense cell populations become multicellular organisms.  Evolution shows us a nature that routinely flouts taxonomists’ carefully drawn boundaries.  Drawing and shifting, organisms combine to use free energy in increasingly efficient and expansive ways. (146)

Ultimately, this is a book about energonomics (the concept of “managing energy flow”) insofar as it directs us–not only as individuals but also as nation-states–to emulate the wisdom of natural systems:  “To survive sustainably we need to live like climax ecosystems” (296), seeking “a steady state of minimal entropy production” (80).  Doing so will require that we learn the lessons this book has to offer:  the knowledge that life is a manifestation of the thermodynamics of energy flow, and as such should be lived with an awareness of all that this implies.  This book has many lessons and interesting details, so I will likely return to it in future posts.

30 November 2008 at 6:27 pm 3 comments

Deleuze’s difficult style

In reading Deleuzian Interrogations I was happy to see an acknowledgment of how difficult Deleuze’s writing is. DeLanda writes/says the following:

I think the main obstacle to engaging with Deleuze directly is the style. He writes as if he deliberately wanted to be misunderstood, or at least that’s the way it impacts someone who, like me, is trained mostly in Anglo-American analytical philosophy. (I suppose that if one is used to struggle with Continental authors one may get a different impression). He changes terminology in every book (so that the virtual dimension becomes a ‘plane of consistency’ in one, a ‘body without organs’ in another, a ‘machinic phylum’ in another and so on) and never ever gives explicit definitions (or hides them well). I suppose that was an attempt on his part of preventing a given terminology to solidify too soon, to keep things fluid and heterogeneous. Fine. But I cannot deal with that and hardly expect complexity theorists to put up with it either. (19-20)

Wow! DeLanda can’t deal with it. I don’t feel so alone anymore! I always found it difficult but never wrote him off as so many others do (as they do with Lacan and Derrida as well). After struggling for 15 years or so with all of these difficult, shifting concepts, I have had the benefit of recent books that help a great deal with putting Deleuze into plain English: Peter Hallward’s Out of This World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, Todd May’s Gilles Deleuze: An Introduction, and everything by DeLanda has been incredibly helpful, and I highly recommend these to those struggling with the primary texts of Deleuze.

In the same interview, Protevi also comments:

Once you get past their style (and yes, it is less daunting for someone like me who came up through the ranks reading Heidegger and Derrida, but the ontological shift, from post-phenomenology to materialism, is wrenching!), there are indeed lots of reasons why the Deleuze and complexity theory connection is so interesting. (21)

I have had the same experience as he has, having cracked my theoretical teeth on deconstruction as presented through many of the professors I had while working toward my M.A. & Ph.D. degrees at the University of Florida from 1986-1994 (including one of Derrida’s translators, John Leavey)–though I have to say that some of Deleuze’s work is the most challenging reading I’ve ever done. Even Derrida strives to make sense–and does most of the time, despite his resorting to “puncepts.” One thing is for sure: it makes reading anything else a piece of cake…

I have also experienced this “wrenching ontological shift” that Protevi speaks of as well, and didn’t realize it until I read some of the explanatory works listed above.

26 April 2008 at 9:14 pm 2 comments

e=mc squared + information

I was reading Deleuzian Interrogations: A Conversation with Manuel DeLanda, John Protevi, and Torkild Thanem and bumped into this interesting quote:

Delanda:  “I cannot imagine a materialist philosophy which is not also realist. On the other hand, someone who believes that god and the devil exist independently of our minds is also a realist but clearly not a materialist. The only problem with the term ‘materialism’ is that not only matter but also energy and physical information are needed to account for self-organizing phenomena and the processes which fabricate physical entities” (3).

This reminded me of a book I read titled The Bit and the Pendulum: From Quantum Computing to M Theory–The New Physics of Information which left me with the same impression that DeLanda emphasizes here. As author Tom Siegfried writes, “Many scientists now conceive of information as something real, as real as space, time, energy, and matter” (7).    Siegfried speaks of how the study of biology benefits from this perspective as one example of how this new field is changing the sciences:

Information’s reality has reshaped the way biologists study and understand cells, the brain, and the mind. Cells are not merely vats of chemicals that turn food into energy, but sophisticated computers, translating messages from the outside world into the proper biological responses. True, the brain runs on currents of electrical energy through circuits of cellular wires. But the messages in those currents can be appreciated only by understanding the information they represent” (9)

This notion that “information is the foundation of reality” (59) made me consider creating a new neologism to capture this new sense of reality:  “infonomics” — the “management of information.”  Whatever word we use–whether it’s infonomics or energonomics–this book suggests that information must become part of what we consider when we speak of managing energy.

DeLanda points to how the term “materialism” falls short of capturing all that comes into play in the triad of energy-matter-information flows.  He draws attention to this phenomenon in his own book A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History when he concludes that

the flows of materials whose history we described involved more than just matter-energy. They also included *information*, understood not in static terms as mere physical patterns (measured in bits) but in dynamic terms, as patterns capable of self-replication and catalysis (259-60).

25 April 2008 at 5:30 pm Leave a comment

Energy as Divine

Though I never intended to, I have started to read Deleuze and Guattari’s The Anti-Oedipus. After my previous post (see “A Philosophy of [Energy] Flows”), I picked it up and read the following:

If what we term libido is the connective ‘labor’ of desiring-production, it should be said that a part of this energy is transformed into the energy of disjunctive inscription (Numen). A transformation of energy. But why call this new form of energy divine, why label it Numen, in view of all the ambiguities caused by a problem of the unconscious that is only apparently religious? The body without organs is not God, quite the contrary. But the energy that sweeps through it is divine, when it attracts to itself the entire process of production and serves as its miraculate, enchanted surface, inscribing it in each and every one of its disjunctions. Hence the strange relationship that Schreber has with God. To anyone who asks: ‘Do you believe in God?’ we should reply in strictly Kantian or Schreberian terms: ‘Of course, but only as the master of the disjunctive syllogism, or as its a priori principle (God defined as *Omnitudo realitatis*, from which all secondary realities are derived by a process of division).’

Now of course that’s a mouthful/headful, and I couldn’t begin to tell you what is meant here by “miraculate” and “disjunctive inscription.” However, with reading like this I latch onto the pieces that I can grasp and hold on for dear life. They follow this passage with the following: “Hence the sole thing that is divine is the nature of an energy of disjunctions” (13).

It never occurred to me when I began this process of investigating energy flow that I would end up returning to my philosopher(s)-of-choice (kind of like a “drug of choice”). Before I finish with this passage, I have to mention the part of Manuel Delanda’s A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History which makes the concept of the BwO (“Body without Organs”) as clear as I’ve ever understood it to be, tying it in as he does to these notions of (energy) flow:

Since what truly defines the real world (according to this way of viewing things) are neither uniform strata nor variable meshworks but the unformed and unstructured flows from which these two derive, it will also be useful to have a label to refer to this special state of matter-energy information, to this flowing reality animated from within by self-organizing processes constituting a veritable *nonorganic life*: the Body without Organs (BwO). . . . The label itself is, of course, immaterial and insignificant. We could as well refer to this cauldron of nonorganic life by a different name. (Elsewhere, for instance, we called it the ‘machinic phylum.’) Unlike the name, however, the referent of the label is of extreme importance, since the flows of lava, biomass, genes, memes, norms, money (and other ‘stuff’) are the source of just about every stable structure that we cherish and value (or, on the contrary, that oppresses or enslaves us). (260-61)

In fact, a little bit later Delanda summarizes his book, more or less, as an attempt “to describe Western history in the last one thousand years as a series of processes occurring in the BwO. . . .” (262).

4 October 2007 at 7:45 pm Leave a comment

A Philosophy of (Energy) Flows

I attended my first Meetup last week, the Lowell Philosophy Meetup, and I brought a copy of A Thousand Plateaus:  Capitalism and Schizophrenia.  One of the other two guys who attended asked about the title, and I stumbled through an explanation.  Because I didn’t know quite how to respond, I dug in to some of the secondary sources and guidebooks I have to see what they had to say and found a few interesting quotes regarding energy flows.  This one, from the “Capitalism” entry in the Deleuze Dictionary, says that

Deleuze and Guattari [D&G] insist any given social formation restricts or structures social movements or flows. They claim that these flows are not just the flows of money and commodities familiar to economists, but can be seen at a variety of levels: the movements of people and traffic in a city, the flows of words that are bound up in language, the flows of genetic code between generations of plants, and even the flow of matter itself (the movement of the ocean, electrons moving in metals, and so forth).  Thus, D&G’s political thought begins with the premises that nature itself, the Whole of existence, is at once a matter of flows, and that any society must structure these flows in order to subsist. . . . D&G call this process of restriction, or structuring, ‘coding’. They conceive coding as at once restrictive and necessary. . . . Both Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus include lengthy analyses of different kinds of societies and the ways in which they code flows.

This quote reminded me a lot of Manuel Delanda’s book A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, which is a history of some of these very topics (it’s broken up into three sections on geological, biological, and linguistic history) and which views reality as “a single matter-energy undergoing phase transitions of various kinds. . . . Rocks and winds, germs and words, are all different manifestations of this dynamic material reality, or, in other words, they all represent the different ways in which this single matter-energy expresses itself” (I *love* that quote!).

The other source I saw a reference to flows of energy was the old Ronald Bogue classic Deleuze and Guattari, which was one of the first explanatory books on these two difficult thinkers.  My first time through it, about 15 years ago, I really struggled with it, but I get it much more now (perhaps because I’ve read a handful of these types of texts since then, many of which are much easier to take in).  In talking about the concept of the “desiring-machine” as introduced in The Anti-Oedipus, Bogue writes:

Every machine ‘is related to a continual material flow (hyle [Greek:  matter]) that it cuts into’ , and ‘each associative flow must be seen as ideal, an endless flux’ (AO 36) or universal continuum of unceasing production.  A flow of milk between a breast machine and a mouth machine, or a flow of words between a mouth machine and an ear machine, the fluxes that pass through machines may be actual flows of physical matter, flows of energy, or flows of information (in a very loosely cybernetic sense). (91)

Todd May’s introduction (Gilles Deleuze:  An Introduction) has an excellent and clear explanation of Deleuze’s concept of the machine:

One way to approach D&G’s politics is to see them as offering a new political ontology. . . In the collaborative work D&G perform together, they offer a variety of starting places, a variety of concepts that are agile enough to insert at different political levels. One of the concepts they rely on the most is that of the machine. . . .The machine is a concept that can be situated at the level of the individual, the society, the state, the pre-individual, among groups and between people, and across these various realms. It is a concept that offers ontological mobility, and thus can capture what overspills the dogmatic image of political thought. (121-22)

The phrase “ontological mobility” really nails it I think.  In fact, it’s fair to say that Deleuze’s is an ontology of mobility.

23 September 2007 at 9:07 pm 3 comments

“Energy Bursts” of the Solid Earth

I’m researching “sedimentology” at the moment for an essay on the theme of “straits” and came across an article about the future for “sedimentary geology.”  I’m trying to find out about the geology of straits and am culling the data mine that is the internet.  I came across this expert article, which speaks of prediction as an important part of the natural sciences these days (what with drilling for oil, natural gas, and, soon enough, fresh water).  Here, the author mentions the kinds of prediction in time such geologists pursue:

Predicting oceanic and atmospheric climate constitutes the principal task in the time domain. Prediction in time also includes catastrophic changes related to ‘‘energy bursts’’ of the solid Earth, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or landslides.

I never thought of earthquakes, landslides, and eruptions as “energy bursts,” but it makes sense in terms of potential energies captured and awaiting release.

The notion of sedimentarity is interesting from a Deleuzian perspective insofar as his philosophy (developed in conjunction with Guattari) invokes “stratification vs. destratification” as a major concept, as well as the “molecular” vs. the “molar.”  Manuel DeLanda in his excellent explications of Deleuze suggests that such geologic behavior constitutes a form of “non-organic life” that is simply another manifestation of matter-energy flows; as he writes, “reality is a single matter-energy undergoing phase transitions of various kinds. . . ” (A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History 21).

3 July 2007 at 8:24 pm Leave a comment

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