All 4 entries tagged Manuel De Landa
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October 22, 2005
I have commented previously on how cognitive science has been dominated, and possibly limited, by a conception of the nature of cognitive tasks that reduced them to being classical problem solving activities. This 'problem solving' ranges from trivial pattern matching to complex strategy formation. In every case, the problem is well stated, along with the conditions that demonstrate the achievement of a solution. Cognitive science has of course existed to a great extent to support development in artificial intelligence, which has itself been skewed towards industrial and military applications (see De Landa's War in the Age of Intelligent Machines for an account of this relationship).
Coming as I do from a very different philosophical background, one that is more interested in artistic and literary creativity, it would be easy for me to dismiss cognitive science for its obsession with such trivia (even considering that the actual problem solving isn't that simple). However, Clark's extended cognition thesis fits neatly with accounts of artistic and literary creativity given by the likes of Deleuze and Guattari. Indeed I plan to explore these links in much more depth. I can see occassions in which it finds a line of escape from the 'cognitive task as problem solving' trap.
In chapter 10 of Being There, Clark describes a recognizable form of 'extended cognition', which he calls the "mangrove effect". The metaphor is this: a mangrove seeds itself in a shallow water, grows roots, traps other roots and particles, forms a network of roots with other mangroves that seed nearby (helped by the first mangrove), and eventually forms a more solid island within the sea. Clark argues that in some cases linguistic elements (both publicly spoken and internally contained) can work in this way. A word is uttered, not to fill a definite space or necessarily solve a well–defined problem, but rather to probe the cognitive and social environment, to see what connections form around it, or even to change the cognitive and social environment. This sounds much closer to the activities of musical and painterly composition described by Deleuze.
That is what Deleuze and Guattari would call "rhizomatic".
Most importantly, we should consider how this model of cognitive task frees us from a theoretical dependency upon a well integrated goal oriented super–subject. During the discussion following Clark's paper, the practical question of how to differentiate cognitive apparatus properly belonging to an agent from those belonging to the environment. I think he responded with an answer that relied upon the existence of such a super–subject (and its plans and goals). My alternative argument (which I think comes from Deleuze) would be that it isn't so much a well–integrated well organised super–subject that provides the drive for the cognitive task, but rather a dissonance producing chaotic attractor, speculatively dispersing fragments of sense into the world in order to simple make things happen. As Deleuze and Guattari say "the machine only works when it breaks down" (spot the double meaning).
So in fact, I argue, the cognitive tasks that drive the "mangrove effect" are closer to artistic creativity – composition, especially poetry. But this is not alien to Clark's thesis. In fact on page 208 he brilliantly identifies poetic composition as a form of thinking that exploits the "mangrove effect".
This leads onto Clark's more recent thoughts on other way in which thought is dependent upon an extended apparatus in a non–trivial way (that is to say, more than just as a means of cognitive off–loading, as in the case of simple note taking and note reading). Gestures and other rhythmic, haptic techniques were discussed. Someone asked if an exercise machine could ever form part of the extended cognitive apparatus (a musician would certainly say yes). Clark did talk briefly about non–linear couplings between mental and extended apparatus. A consideration of rhythmic apparatus could be drawn from there, leading into time and complexity.
At this point I remembered Cezanne's description of how his hands and the paintbrush and the canvas would merge together in the act of painting – what Deleuze called the "diagram" (see my entry on Cezanne Unlocking Sensation ). The act of painting for Cezanne, this merge between mental and external apparatus, rhymthically moving together, is a "mangrove effect". Cezanne:
Our art must shock nature into permanence, together with all the components and manifestations of change. Art must make nature eternal in our imagination.
July 04, 2005
My reading of Germinal Life has reached the third chapter, with Keith's call for a temporary and critical 'suspension' of Deleuze and Guattari's attempted equation 'ethics = ethology'. This suspension opens them up to an awkward but necessary critique.
And at the same time, I have been thinking more in the style of Manuel De Landa, applying his method of 'non-linear' history to the analysis of extremist and terrorist bodies. I am considering their emergence from pre-individual singularities on the machinic phylum to individuated and efficient learning machines. This raises some interesting issues concerning naive readings of the schizoanalytic project.
Consider this: are the various armed groups in Iraq benefiting from the continued presence of the US in a way that a naive schizoanalysis would praise? There were clearly many disparate splinters formed from the explosion of the Sadam Hussein regime of hierarchies, each itself a pre-individual singularity. And in response to the crudely striated tactics of the US military, are these otherwise unconnected singularities finding common currency, points of convergence, catalysts for the creation of their own internal consistency? As with the Nazis, I would say this is likely.
It would seem that the ethology leads to an ethics in which al-Qaeda might be valorized. Clearly there is something wrong, something out-of-order with this. Perhaps it is the same imprecision and confusion of differences that leads to the problem described by Keith in Germinal Life:
the various 'becomings' that characterize 'evolution', and serve to make it nongenealogical and nonfiliative, cannot be treated as if they were all the same, so that, for example, we could move simply but far too quickly, from talking about the transversal movement of the 'C' virus that is connected to both baboon DNA and the DNA of certain domestic cats, so talking about the 'becoming-baboon in the cat', to talking about the becoming molecular-dog of a human being, as if they were of an equivalent order. p.188-189
De Landa's free use of 'abstract machines' made me nervous. But what principle can there be to guide us as to the required level of detail, of specificity?
The answer from Deleuze and Guattari, and which I think Keith is about to give in the next section, is that understanding each deterritorialization's relationship to its own specific Body without Organs, and its passage into the possible constitution of an abstract machine, is the way to understand the appropriateness of that abstract machine to the specific case.
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June 21, 2005
I have just read and greatly enjoyed Manuel De Landa's A Thousand Years of Non-linear History. In fact, i'm so excited by its approach to creating dynamical models of the world, that i'm using it all the time with a wide range of applications. De Landa takes the ethological approach of Deleuze and Guattari, considering how stratified bodies (organic and inorganic) are built up and eroded by the emergent and self-organising expression of network effects (including geological, biological, social and economic netwoks). So here's a few conjectures based on this...
The Nazi's emerged through a meshwork of radical individuals on the periphery of a range of disciplines: mystical, military, medical, commercial, beaurocratic, artistic and the media. Their individual ideas were not particularly innovative, being mostly concerned with the intensification and purification of existing processes. However, it was their intense and fundamental will to application regardless of cost that marked them out in an otherwise consolidating and cautious climate. The meshwork of these diverse forces was consequently drawn together by the combination of their shared peripheral status along and a powerful belief in the necessity (ethical) and certainty (metaphysical, historical) of the foundation of a new world from the traits (in need of purification and authentication) that they could see all around.
Such peripheral forces exist within any large and relatively homogeneous body of individuals. They are the product of its genetic drift, deviations necessary for the existence of adaptive potential. In some cases, selection and replication mechanisms may form that act to single out, purify and intensify traits within the ceaseless drift. And it is not unusual for a small set of such deviations from sometimes very different bodies to become associated through their co-identification as 'outsiders', despite the fact that they may be concerned with quite different traits. An increase in the mobility of such diverse radical agents is often a catalyst for this co-identification. This was certainly a factor in the emergence of the Nazis, with the increase of mobility and resulting inter-connectivity during and following WWI.
But they don't often grow into the kind of wildly abberant monster that was the Nazis. What then might have been the extra condition that catalysed the transformation of the Nazis from fringe to global threat? One way of answering this would be to look at the 'network effects' internal to the Nazi meshwork. De Landa discusses several 'abstract machines' that exploit network effects in different ways. For example, the 'group and grid' model proposed by the anthropologist Mary Douglas. The 'grid' refers to organisations that maintain their identity through an intensity of centralized regulation (typically propogated through hierarchies). The 'group' on the other hand, operates through an intensity of group allegiance (typically propogted through memes, propaganda etc). Most organisations exist with a mix of both group and grid. However, at the extremes, there are some groups that are highly grid structured, having little opportunity to propogate memes (due to external controls). And there are other organisations that have no grid, and propogate via indirect means (memes). We can take this a step further by arguing that any organisation that is able to master all of the combinations, and switch between them as required, will be able to maintain its consistency regardless of external controls.
My conjecture is that the Nazis crystallized around the collapse of a state hierarchy. As the hierarchy collapsed and became less rigid and certain, access to key elements of its operative functions opened up. In response, the Nazis occupied positions of power within the fragmenting hierarchies, and thus formed their own internal grid based hierarchies from them. This resulted in 'immune responses' from the grided hieracrchies of the official organisations that they parasitised, which responded by attacking the emergent grid of the Nazis, who in turn were forced to return to their meme based 'group' roots, until they were again able to consolidate their control of (or just replace) the state hierarchies. This symbiotic relationship continued throughout the 1930's, with the Nazi party gaining increased mastery of the trick of switching modes of operation.
In a very real sense, the Nazis were subjected to a learning process as they were forced between each mode of operation. Perhaps the lesson that should be learnt from this is:
During a time of rapid change and collapsing hierarchies, the auto-immune response of the state to the evolution of networks may actually provide the ideal learning experience for extremist organisations.
It may well be that in response to the expansion of the internet, capitalism and the release of its sedentary populations, China is providing just such a learning experience for a new generation of extremists.
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De Landa's A Thousand Years of Non-linear History left me with a sense that Deleuze and Guattari have the most effective and exciting practical approach to creating active and dynamical models of the world. But that book is one of examples underpinned with a few key concepts. It aims to show how far those concepts can be taken. I suspect that it intentionally leaves unsatisfied philosophical challeneges. A niche that Keith Ansell Pearson's Germinal Life: The Difference and Repetition of Deleuze fills more than adequately. Here's my thoughts on reading the first chapter.
The 'ethical' character of this method of philosophy resides, therefore, in the cultivation of a 'sympathetic communication' that it seeks to establish between the human and the rest of living matter. Ansell Pearson, Germinal Life, 1999, p.33
Keith's emphasis on the 'ethical' dimension of Bergson's method of intuition is very significant (and he notes, few others have made this link). The significance for me follows from the idea that the ethical dimension requires a consideration of something beyond any singular act or entity (as the sufficient reason of the act), but which does not assume any kind of totality or finality. I'm not usually interested in talk of Being (with a capital 'B'), although it is often more effective than counting sheep. But there is something in this angle on it that has made me take it much more seriously. And that something is in the negative ethical implications of thinking becoming without Being.
The argument seems to demonstrate how a concept of Being is an essential precursor to an encounter with duration, the key concept invented by Bergson. These encounters with duration connect us with the temporal problematics that (it is claimed) drives all activity and differentiation: real time or the asymmetrical synthesis of the sensible – that is, the sufficient reason behind the richness of the world.
Importantly, the encounter with duration is not singular and purely metaphysical, to be done in one philosophical-historic-eschatological event (it's not Hegel). Rather it is a pedagogical method that must be re-applied, with the aim of leading us away from conceptual confusions ('badly analyzed composites'), along lines that differentiate but at the same time follow virtual tendencies, to an understanding and acceptance of specific differences in kind – for example, to apprehend historical singularities (as De Landa does so brilliantly).
Even more importantly, we should recognize the active nature of this method. It takes us away from a passive relation between a subject and an object. It is an act of perception, intelligence and consciousness, but one that is always an active operation on and in the world. Keith provides a great sample on this from Bergson:
to percieve consists in condensing enourmous periods of an infinitely diluted existence into a few more differentiated moments of an intenser life, and in this summing up a very long history. To percieve means to immobilize Matter and Memory p.208 cited in _Ansell Pearson, Germinal Life, 1999, p.34
The method of intuition is therefore both a means of leading us to a comprehension of differences in kind and at the same time through its immanence to the world in which it perceives, actively creates new differences in kind. It is a method that places thought absolutely in the world. We should always remember that the return of thought and philosophy [in]to the world is really what Deleuzianisms (or neo-Bergsonisms) are about
But this then raises the big question: why philosophy? – why this tendency towards conceptual activity and the apprehension of differences in kind? – wht this method of intuition? The answer to this varies slightly but importantly between Bergson and Deleuze (but the principle is the same). Philosophy is the perception of nature, or nature’s own perception (later Deleuze will see perception as a property existing beyond the human). Differentiation is never a simple or ontologically foundational act, but rather is already complex. How the world differs from itself is not reducible to a mechanism or dialectic. In each case the actual mode of its differentiation is that which is indeterminate in its differentiation (the radical difference). If it were otherwise, nature would never differ from itself. There could be no asymmetry, no drive to overcome and reconnect, no real time, no elan vital, no life. The indeterminacy introduced by this radical difference is essential:
The crucial element that Bergson wishes to grant to life is not a mysterious force but rather a principle of 'indetermination'. It is this indetermination, and with it the capacity for novel adaption, that he sees as being 'engrafted' onto the necessity of physical forces, so as making possible a 'creative', as opposed to a purely mechanistic or deterministic, evolution. ibid p.48
But at this point we risk losing any connecting principle between the differentiations. Does radical difference leave us with an absolute becoming? In what sense is there anything to differentiate from? The world has lost itself, cannot perceive itself, is inert and lifeless. In Bergson’s terms, the elan vital is gone. Saving us from this undifferentiated becoming, we have the ‘ethical’ turn. It is an ethics that seeks to posit some principle of reconnection beyond the differentiation. Some exchange and interlocking between the differences. Some expression that carries content across between the two differentiated worlds. A principle assumed in both sides (but not itself outside of the world) that acts as a virtuality in which the differentiation is played out: a Being that they assume.
The important point to realise is that it is on the virtual plane that unification is to be sought. The 'whole' is 'pure virtuality'. Moreover, differentiation is only an actualization to the extent that it preseupposes a unity, which is the primordial virtual totality that differentiates itself according to lines of divergence but which still subsists in its unity and totality in each line. ibid p.67
For me this is where Being gets interesting: being virtual. For a virtuality always has a technics, the coding and decoding mechanisms of intelligence. As Keith indicates, a technology is the solution to indeterminacy, a virtuality that operates in parallel to real time. At this point technology, ethics, philosophy and metaphysics conjoin. And most importantly for me, creativity is shown to be underpinned with technology.
The next question is this: to what extent is this virtuality contained within and maintainable by an organism, an internally differentiating germ? And to what extent is it always reliant upon a third term, an externally constituted and relatively autonomus viral plane cutting transversally across? Both are true to an extent in different specific situations. Here Deleuze discovers an ethology of such types of differentiation: abstract machines. From an ethics to an ethology.
And I will coninue reading Germinal Life.
If you have something interesting to contribute to this, please contact me