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November 15, 2005

Research Notes: porous minds and cracked–up agents

Follow-up to Research Notes: how radical can extended cognition be? from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

I just found this in a text file whilst tidying up my laptop. It doesn't seem to have been published yet. There may be a reason why I abandoned it. But here it is anyway...

Section 10.6 of Andy Clark's book Being There is entitled with the question "Where does the mind stop and the world begin?". For philosophy this is a very significant question. For cognitive science and AI, much less so (its just a design issue). Why not just adopt the latter position? Would that be such a scandal?

Clark's answer to the question is both pragmatic and realistic, whilst promoting a proportionate, specific and sufficiently detailled investigation of real minds and environments. This is quite a contrast to the vague generalizations of some phenomenological models.

For someone with an AI/cog-sci background (that I in part share), the identification of a boundary (even a porous one) should only be significant when it could contribute to our understanding of the capabilities, limitations and developmental process of real cognitive processes. Our boundary marking conditions would have to be ones that really make a difference to the cognitive process itself. For example, one interesting boundary marking condition would be:

how replaceable or otherwise is a specific (internal or external) cognitive artefact? Could the individual agent simply swap the artefact with another similar or even totally different artefact? And to what extent would this change the character of the agent?

A related, equally important, but different question is:

how dependent is the development of an agent upon a specific artefact, such that it's abscence makes a significant difference to that agent?

This gets close to our understanding of what an agent actually is: it has a relatively consistent and pervasive character existing over time and to some extent surviving changes to the environment in which it exists. Whilst at the same time, its development and continuation is dependent upon the existence of key artefacts within that environment. It is as Clark says, closely coupled. Furthermore, the agent tends to influence the environment in which it exists so as to promote the continuation of these characteristics, so that an agent tends to be associated with an environment (reverse evolution), whilst the environment tends to promote certain characteristics in the agent and classes of agents (evolution).

This, to readers of recent dynamical systems theory (and the likes of Deleuze and Guattari), is quite an obvious model: 1) there are arangements of mechanisms that interact with and consume other mechanisms through processes of ordering, selection, managed preservation and controlled degradation; 2) these mechanisms have selective principles (the character traits) that are repetetively applied over time; 3) some of these repetitive mechanisms reproduce the conditions of their own production and reproduction; 4) and fewer still reproduce the conditions that make their own reproduction more likely, more desired by the environment in which they exist. Or in shore: they are desiring machines.

I would say that this is stating the obvious. Certainly there is a degree of convergence towards such a model in evolutionary biology. And I'm sure there will also be such a convergence in AI development. So why is it likely that philosophers will still consider it to be controversial? Why does it seem OK in biology, but radical when applied by, for example, the psychotherapist Felix Guattari, to the problem of fixing broken minds and bodies?

Thinking is selecting, is doing.

November 06, 2005

Research Notes: how radical can extended cognition be?

Follow-up to Research Notes: social–machinic thinking, the 'mangrove effect', the 'diagram', the 'rhizome' from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

How radical is the extended cognition thesis proposed by Andy Clark in Being There? Is his argument trivial or with huge consequences?

Page 215 sees both an indication of just how radical its implications might be, followed by a clause that is perhaps an attempt to avoid an engagement with a whole set of possibly esoteric philosophical issues.


Firstly, there are significant ethical implications of an argument that sees a persons mind being extended into the environment. Hurt that environment and you hurt the mind. This goes a little beyond the arguments of human rights lawyers, who could safely say that long term deprivation may affect the development and sustanance of the mind. Clark's argument clearly indicates that damaging the extended cognitive apparatus has an immediate and damaging effect on their mind.

If, for example, a human rights court assessing the actions of the regime at Guantanamo Bay were to accept that abuse of the Quran were a direct physical attack upon the minds of the inmates, then the range of crimes would be greater and more extreme.


The first point opens up a radical debate. The second is just as dramatic in closing one down. Clark makes a threefold differentiation:

  1. brains;
  2. minds;
  3. consciousness.

He also talks about "self", and seems to be referring to the totalized singularity of the collection of factors that make a person individuated. That, I think, is closely tied to what he wold call "consciousness", but the issue is not properly explored.

His argument clearly shows that minds are more than brains, being extended out from the brain into the environment (or perhaps coming in from the environment and parasitising the brain). But he is careful to say that there is something called consciousness that is not extended into the environment. Individual consciousness, my attentional experience, is packaged back inside the individual. It is philosophically safer to say that there is still something, some inelliminable feature of being human, that is not dissipated out into the apparatus of extended cognition.

The clause avoids some very difficult philsoophical ground, but only at the risk of begging a very big question. This clause has the following effects:

  1. a separate set of apparatus must be implicated in consciousness;
  2. this apparatus cannot be reducible to, dependent upon, and part of the environment, as being such would again make it porous and subject to an extended cognition argument.

Obviously the second of these points is hugely controversial, and heading towards the kind of mind/body separation that Clark set out to dispel. But I would say that it is essential to Clark's attempt to keep some kind of separation between subject and object (individual and world). Without some kind of absolutely non-porous subjectivity, his thesis gets increasingly radical. The supposition of an individual consciousness, for example, provides some limitation to the damage that extended cognition could do to our established legal and ethical assumptions.

How to escape from this? Phenomenology leading out from Kant has recourse to time. In fact once can see the predominately spatial way in which much of the extended cognition debate is framed. We have a bounded, territorialized layout of minds and environments. One could argue that consciousness is the experience of this layout in time. The link between "self" and "consciousness" seems to rely upon this, with time, history, evolution and its experience from a specific perspective being the individuating feature:

…the flow of reason and thoughts, and the temporal evolution of ideas and attitudes, are determined and explained by the intimate, complex, continued interplay of brain, body and world. p.217

We could investigate how the environment/mind relationship unfolds differently to an individual consciousness. A kind of "pure time", a "duration", could be the inelliminable fact of consciousness. But what are the origins and effects in the world of this pure time? It can't be an organizing super subject, because that would be subject and hence porous to the world it organizes. As you can see from the passage given above, Clark does actually acknowledge that the experience of being a singualrity in time is the result of a complex dynamical coupling.

There's another possibility. Rather than being an organizer, a Kantian transcendental rationale, perhaps it is exactly the opposite, a hesitation at the core of conscsiousness, the force that holds the folds of time open and inelliminable. A chaotic attractor at the core of being in the world?

My argument is that the "chaotic attractor" of consciousness, and its temporal incarnations, is in fact crucial to perception and cognition. It is the drive behind inquisitiveness and the dynamical engagement of minds and environment. Far from being outside of cognitive science, it will prove to be the key.

But perhaps to obtain this key we have to accept that our ethical and legal assumptions need to be re-thought?

If you are interested in this entry, then please contact me by email.

July 13, 2005

Research Notes: Multiplicity, co–involution, Being abstract but not generalized

Follow-up to Research Notes: Singularity/continuum, a multiplicitous event from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

More clarification of Deleuze's post-Kantian theory of multiplicitous singularities.

"They say: look at chaos, death and by implication life, right in the eyes, get to know each individual chaos, each death and each life on its own terms."

There's no need for a generalized chaos or passage into chaos (death) in this theory. Every passage into chaos is singular, belonging to an individual or perspective, but the specific chaosmos into which it moves (and from which it is generated) is shared by individuals, deteritorializing together with relative degrees of seperation and involution. The singularity, the perspective, is therefore multiple.

In The Fold Deleuze is concerned with a second dimension (level) to these sensii communis. A superfold that traverses across the individual passages into a shared chaos, formed by the non-linear inter-relations between individuals passing into and out of a shared chaosmos. Or to be more precise, there is an iterative series of levels, from pre-individual singularities, connected up transversally by individuals, and the individuals connected up in other ways such as a socius and capitalist axiomatics.

It could be said that an abstracted Being is shared by each level, and between the levels. This being the plane of consistency or immanence. Is this just their virtuality, their shared principle or movement?


If you have something interesting to contribute to this, please contact me

March 12, 2005

Rhythm, in chaosmosis

Follow-up to Expression, content, assymetrical synthesis of the sensible from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Some notes on rhythm.

From chaos, Milieus and Rhythms are born.
Transcoding or transduction is the manner in which one milieu serves as the basis for another, or conversely is established atop another milieu, dissipates in it or is constituted in it.

See the entry on Expression for the mechanics of this.

The milieus are open to chaos, which threatens them with exhaustion or intrusion. Rhythm is the milieus' answer to chaos. What chaos and rhythm have in common is the in-between – between two milieus, rhythm chaos or the chaosmos

Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.313

An attendant figure, passing of into chaos or the inexplicable, and back again repeatedly. Losing sense, reforming it seperately, and then reconnecting. Asymetrical synthesis of the sensible.

Noise against visual imagination, and the refrain (or how Leibniz would like cinema)

Against noise

Faced with white noise, a void, extreme intensity or excessive speed of modulation, a refrain offers some relief. It is an expression, but one that operates in a tightly closed loop. In the case of a typical human refrain, a song, the singer sings the refrain back to themself. Its content is the human organic form, deterritorialized into the simple, familiar and predictable form of the song. It may continue at great length with little effect on either the singer or the song, until exhaustion sends them to sleep. It is in this way a closing-down, a retreat into simplicity and predictability, away from the world (into the baroque house, for which the harmony and melody of the song build the impenetrable facade): an expression yes, but only just. Almost zero.

The refrain is a desperate defence, a second-level immune response to the failure of the visual imagination. A defence against the penetrating incursion of the sonorous plane, passing through the blockade of the visual imagination. To understand this, first consider how that sonorous plane penetrates and defeats visual defences, how it passes through the image (Bacon's screaming pope).

The defensive imagination

The image, which can be re-presented instantly and switched at will, provides an effective and impenetrable barrier to the exterior, as with the portrait, the image of the ascending head, or the church steeple in Kafka. Deleuze and Guattari argue that these images act not as simple memories, reactivating the past, but rather as means for handling the encounter with uncertainty or the future, finding strength in a certain relation to at least ine object that may be assimilated (the end of the desire):

…it acts as a childhood block, and not as a childhood memory, strengthening desire instead of cramping it, displacing it in time, deterritorializing it, proliferating its connections, linking it to other intensities.

The image acts as a block in both senses: a block as an element or screen that can be placed upon a new territory and onto which connections can be territorialized or projected, carrying away desire into a concentratory dispositif; a block to the chaotic and disruptive effects of that proliferation of connections, a delay, a spacing-out. Its power as such lies in four aspects:

  1. the speed with which the image can be conjured, with all of its points present almost imediately – how all that is needed is a few suggestive points, lines and colours;
  2. how it is constantly rescanned and reconfirmed in perception;
  3. how an image can appear solid and enclosing, blocking out and constituting an exterior;
  4. how the image creates an expansive but delimited territory of co-ordinates, in which expression or a procedure of desire (deterritorialization and reterritorialization) may play (the baroque house).
The scream cuts across and penetrates the image

In Kafka, Deleuze and Guattari say of the image (portrait or figuration):

But that's not important. What's important is the light music, or, more precisely, the pure and intense sound emanating from the steeple and the castle tower: "a bell began to ring merilly up there, a bell that for at least a second made his heart palpitate for its tone was menacing, too, as if it threatened him with the fulfillment of his vague desire. This great bell soon died away, however, and its place was taken by a feeble, monotonous little twinkle." Kafka D&G p.4

Whereas the image acts to concentrate, focus and strengthen the desire within a delimited space, sound is said to interfere with order, connecting with 'vague' or minor expressions that are not oriented towards the reconstitution of the territory of the image. Unlike vision, sound leaks through spatial structures, resonates throughout the body, and concentrates into the ears. Its passage through the meat and chambers of the bodily organs overrides their functions: the stomach now is equivalent to a double bass in terms of resonation – suddenly the voice, the location of human sound, is displaced by a more animal sonic body (think whales):

It's curios how the intrusion of sound often occurs in Kafka…Music always seems caught up in an indivisible becoming-child or becoming-animal, a sonorous block that opposes the visual memory. Kafka D&G p.4–5

The cinema is the place for experiencing this effect. (It is the baroque house of The Fold.) The cinema is constructed as a radical interplay of the sonorous and visual planes. Visual imagination is territorialized upon the screen or perceptual block, both cutting out the exterior, offering a concentration of light and colour, whilst spatializing and slowing down (into the narrative of the film, which is spatial not temporal). But at the same time, sound penetrates the body in deep surround-sound rumbles and piercing dolby screams.


Of course any sensible movie director knows not to leave the audience immersed for too long at the point of this schizophrenic collision of visual and audio fields. As the scream fades away into the night, a more familiar pattern of notes rises from low down in the auditorium, as if from the galloping hooves that carry us safely from the scene of brutality. Sing the refrain back to the world, which doesn't expect it, doesn't ask for it. But the refrain sure makes us feel more easy sleeping at night. Sing yourself to sleep.

February 01, 2005

The attendant figure, deterrritorialization, sensus communis

The figure, as a site of habitual sensation, simultaneously dissipates into a chaosmic and unknowable field, whilst defining itself through its engineering agency from that field, which in this return movement stands as a material structure, habitat or frame. The field, being dense with connections, is that space in which the slightest of movements has a massive and irreversible effect. Habit or the organ has no definite sense in the field, has no role in reproduction, hence the necessity to become a 'body without organs' when passing into the field – zero intensity, zero effect, zero feedback, guaranteeing that a return from the field to the figure in repetition, but renewed from the outside.

But how does one reach zero intensity? – how to pass through chaos and back, surviving in some recognisable form? – how do you make yourself such a body without organs? On fleeing from the habitat, from the aparatus of capture, they say that it is necessary to pick-up in an itinerent fashion "weapons" with which to encounter chaos. The weapon is, in fact, that which draws the diagram: some other thing deterritorializing at the same time against which marks can be cut: the painters brush and colours. As they say, 'you never deterritorialize alone'. The friend of the painter is the canvas, brush, colour, texture. And the attendant figure? As Deleuze says of Bacon, not an observer, a counter-point, but a figurative companion standing as a diagram in the deterritorialization through chaos and back. A sensus communis even.

November 27, 2004

The engineering in science, the experimentation in philosophy and art

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

"Experimental method does sometimes manipulate things" – no, it always manipulates things. Tell me of an experiment that doesn't involve the manipulation of a variable and the recording of the effect of that manipulation. Even in the case of experiments that seek to be purely the observation of 'natural events', those events are manipulated such that variables may be isolated and their relationships, as events occur, quantified. So every form of experiment is engineered, constructed, manufactured. And for every experiment, there is possibly an alternative configuration, a different engineering solution.

"Some of the most famous experiments in modern physics are gedankenexperiment – thought experiments – that don't actually require any prodding of stuff at all." – it depends on what you think that stuff is. A thought experiment considers a possible world in which variable A is somehow related to variable B. Some mechanism is posited that explains how the variables interact. Again the whole thing is engineered, this time as a simulated set of variables and functives. However, those simulated objects must still be constituted as mathematical, computational or conceptual objects so that they may be manipulated. For the thought experiment to have any 'scientific validity' that engineering must hold up to scrutiny, must work, in the same way as any engineered structure must work.

And here's the final twist: are physical experiments and scientific thought experiments different in kind, or only by degree? In the former case, a model is applied to the physical world in order to see if something is missing or inaccurate. The model predicts what will happen. Even when we are just seeking to gather empirical data, we apply a model, assuming that the things that we are measuring are the things that we think them to be and not some figment of our imagination (consider if the sense data that we are tracking turns out not to belong to the object that we assume it to be part of, and in fact is just there by coincidence). In the case of thought experiments, we are again looking to see if the relationships that we posit can be seen to necessarily result in the effect that we posit as the result of the interactions – or is there something missing from our model? Perhaps the only difference between scientific thought experiments, which I am calling simulations, and physical experiments, is that the former deals with a restricted and less complex environment.

Notice the shift of terminology there, from talking of scientific thought experiments to referring to them as simulations. At the moment i'm reading the section of What Is Philosophy? (Deleuze and Guattari) that deals with the difference between science and philosophy. Science we are told is concerned with functions and variable. Philosophy is the realm of concepts, which are quite different. I'm still working on this, but it seems that the key difference is that functions and variables represent reversibles, and concepts are irreversible. Anyhow, D&G seem to reserve the term 'thought experiment' for a mode of experimentation that works with concepts, and is therefore the domain of philosophy. This implies that they see a commonality between experimentation in science (be it physical or simulated) and experimentation in philosophy (with concepts):

To be sure, there is as much experimentation in the form of thought experiment in philosophy as there is in science, and being close to chaos, the experience can be overwhelming in both. What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari 1994, p. 127

The different modes of experimentation are defined by their relationship with chaos. In the case of philosophy, the aim is to pass through chaos such that an impossible world is actualised, a formerly inconcievable state is reached. In the case of science, experimentation posits a set of possible states that can be interchanged for each other through the operation of a function along variables. The model opens itself to chaos through its application, and on the discovery of missing elements, assimilates them back into the model as further possibilities, as further variables. In this way science progresses, whereas philosophy differentiates.

But in reality science and philosophy are mixed. Scientific models can suddenly breakdown upon their engagement with chaos. And creation (or differentiation, its pseudonymn in D&G) then occurs:

But there is also as much creation in science as there is in philosophy or the arts. ibid p.127

The tendency of science, it could be said, is to sometimes creatively fictionalise the sense of progression by reinventing its model in a new but familiar form. Philosophy, of course, also suffers from this delusion, and must itself be more prepared to abandon the concept of progress. Art, the third of the trinity of disciplines, suffers from a related delusion, in this case the idea that it proceeds without experimentation, simply through a sensus communis of good taste experienced as genius:

There is no creation without experiment. ibid p.127

November 14, 2004


A state of affairs or "derivative" function depends on such a relation: an operation of depontentialization has been carried out that makes possible the comparison of distinct powers starting from which a thing or a body may well develop. WiP p.122

Depontialization introduces a sufficient degree of redundancy, such that small intensive variations do not result in large qualitiative modifications.

a state of affairs does not actualize a chaotic virtual without taking from it a potential that is distributed in the system of coordinates. WiP p.122

By "state of affairs" Deleuze and Guattari are refering to the functive or complex assemblage of variables, the slowing down of matter.

Potential implies an actualisation not passing through chaos, but rather bounded and determinate in outcome such that the variable object remains qualitatively same through intensive variation. The variation remains reversible. It is subject to probability.

November 13, 2004


…the unhistorical vapour that has nothing to do with the eternal, the becoming without which nothing would come about in history but that does not merge with history? WiP? p. 112

The actual is the trajectory through chaos, the virtual, and out again. Not present as a loci, and lost in the determination of the loci. The intensive cartography, rising and falling.

…distinuished from every present: the Intensive or Untimely, not an instant but a becoming. Again, is this not what Foucault called the Actual? ...The Actual is not what we are but, rather, what we become, what we are in the process of becoming - that is to say, the Other, our becoming-other. WiP p.112

Present being the loci. The actual is always already somewhere else.

An actual pathway (becoming) is a form. In virtuality all possible (in relation to the past) forms are considered. A form is as much its relation/consideration of other forms, of incompossible and compossible.

Eq. Nietzsche: inactual, untimely, – What is Philosophy? p 111–112


Chaos is defined as:

a virtual, containing all possible particles and drawing out all possible forms WiP p.118

…indicating that a virtuality contains an incompossible set of forms (actualities).

Chaos as the most virtual of virtualities?


Chaos is defined not so much by its disorder as by the infinite speed with which every form taking shape in it vanishes. It is a void that is not a nothingness but a virtual, containing all possible particles and drawing out all possible forms, which spring up only to disappear immediately, without consistency or reference, without consequence. Chaos is an infinite speed of birth and disappearance. WiP p.118

Chaos is a stage in the passage of the actual through the virtual to determine the present. Chaos is present, more or less, in every becoming.

Without consequence.

Chaos unlocking sensation in the artistic process

November 09, 2004


philosophy was something Greek although brought by immigrants. The birth of philosophy required an encounter between the Greek milieu and the plane of immanance of thought. It required the conjunction of two very different movements of deterritorialization, the relative and the absolute, the first already at work in immanence. Absolute deterritorialization on the plane of thought had to be aligned or directly connected with the relative deterritorialization of Greek society. Deleuze, What Is Philosophy?, p.93
Chaos is an infinte speed of birth and disappearance. Now philosophy wants to know how to retain infinite speeds while gaining consistency, by giving the virtual a consistency specific to it. What is Philosophy? p.118

…conceptual experimentation without limit but with a principle of consistency, direction, becoming something.

The philosophical sieve, as plane of immanance that cuts through chaos, selects infinite movements of thought and is filled with concepts formed like consistent particles going as fast as thought. What is Philosophy? p.118

October 04, 2004

Klee and the superiority of painting

Follow-up to Klee and the separation of painting and music from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Deleuze's claim that there is some kind of superiority of music over painting is perhaps a direct challenge to Klee's well known claim:

Polyphonic painting is superior to music in so far as the temporal element has more of a spatial quality. The sense of simultanaeity emerges in an enriched form. With his choice of an over-sized horizontal format, Delaunay endeavoured to accentuate the temporal dimension of the picture in the manner of a fugue. Painting and Music, Hajo Duchting, 1997, p.28

I suspect that Deleuze sees music as a more powerful, more free-ranging deterritorializing force, and hence calls it superior. For the very same reason, painting being more specific, itself closer to catastrophe, Klee sees it as superior.

August 18, 2004

Van Gogh and painterly diagrams

Van Gogh's technique was also to apply a diagram to the figure in order to divert it from purposiveness into an unlocking of sensation. You can see in this work just how, as Deleuze says, for the painter the hand becomes a second eye and the canvas becomes a second mind.

The painter sees the figure. Seeing in this case is just the repetition of singular affects on the complex assemblage of planes of the mind. The eyes and their movement overlay a rhythmic action on this repetition of affects. Secondarily, the painter diverts this rhythm (of movement and light) to the hands, which have corresponding ways of moving, characteristic means of applying paint (and other painterly movements). This is what Deleuze calls the diagram. Van Gogh developed new diagrams of his own, of his own hands, which you can see clearly in this painting. With the application of sensation through the diagram and through the material of the painting, the canvas is built up into zones, lines, contours, planes, thicknesses, colours etc. At this point the painting faces a great danger, as described by Cezanne, the danger of becoming chaotic, of the sensations on the canvas failing to form a balanced and self-sustaining resonance: chaos. Adding new sensations to the canvas inevitably pushes it towards chaos. The greatness of the painter, as you can see in Van Gogh, is the ability to push the canvas towards this catastrophe, only to rescue it and restore the balance and resonances.

In this way, as Kant would have agreed, the adventure of painting is an adventure of the kind experienced in thought itself, an engagement with catastrophe and a subsequent return.