All 15 entries tagged Virtuality

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May 25, 2006

E–learning Research: a Deleuzian method for the evaluation of virtual learning environments

In what sense are virtual learning environments virtual and environmental? I argue that they really are environments, and as such the experience and behaviour of learners within them is subject to the same kinds of determining, enabling and limiting factors as in any other kind of environment. Furthermore, these learning environments each assemble discontinuous multiplicities (quantifiable indexable actualities) and continuous multiplicities (qualitative and immeasurable virtualities) in varying combinations, with differing results for the learner. Just as some environments may sustain certain types of life, different VLE systems encourage different types of learning behaviour. Each environment has its own regime due to the varying composition of virtual and actual. The Elab VLE (a loosely coupled CMS/Blogs/Forums web architecture), through a deliberate policy of managed diversity, is biased towards facilitating the virtual rather than over-determining the actual. The result is an environment that is at the same time cohesive and open and indeterministic. I consequently argue that it therefore offers an environment more suited to the kind of learners for which it is designed, and that VLEs of the type represented by WebCT are inappropriate for research based higher education.


A series of questions must be addressed:

  • What is an environment composed of?
  • What varies between different environments to create differing environmental regimes?
  • To what extent is a virtual learning environment (VLE) an environment?
  • How do VLEs vary, so as to create different regimes?
  • Are certain such regimes preferable to others?
Environments are composed of filters

Consider the life of a polar bear, out on the Arctic ice flows. A highly attuned brain guides its bodily actions in a constant and inescapable quest for connections. Unlike the human learner (perhaps), its search seems simple and deterministic: its goals are straightforwards, being dominated for the majority of the time with the need to connect with and exploit a source of protein, and on more rare occassions, with the need to mate. What parameters there are in this life are determined by the environment in which it is played out. What form does this determination take? In this case, the behaviour of the bear is largely a process of filtering and being filtered. The environment may seem to be a desert of uniform whiteness, but even in such a simple case the animal must filter out unnecessary inputs and options. Even the act of staying insulated from the cold is a process of filtration: absorbing heat whilst deflecting the cold wind. And in return, the environment filters the bear, along lines of movement, limiting and directing its behaviour. Within a short timescale, the behaviour patterns of individual bears are shaped by their immediate landscape, and the connection with other filtered flows (the flow of pack ice, the flow of prey). On a longer scale, evolution applies filters to the species, whilst ecological interactions change the criteria with which selection exterts its pressure (the interactions of populations of predator and prey).

In this way behaviour and geophysical processes connect through an environment that is the assemblage of all of these interoperating filters over time. This is more or less true of any environment. The physical built environment is well understood in these terms, but also consider how an online application with a variety of user accessible functions filters a pool of back–end functionality. In return, the end user filters out irrelevant or inaccessible functionality. Over time these functions may even die off through lack of interest or the application of an agile development process that in some ways copies evolution.

The case of the polar bear is presented above in a simplified manner. There are many complications and possible combinations of filters that offer other kinds of environmental regime. Reality presents a range of regimes and blends of regimes, many of which occur across widely differing regimes. For example, in his work on the 'extended cognition' model of cognition, Andy Clark proposes that a kind of mangrove effect may well be a significant assemblage in the generation of new ideas. Clark describes how a new mangrove swamp begins by a single plant floating in the water, with extended roots that may catch hold of both food and other plants. This kind speculative drift is another assemblage of filters that may be a viable regime in some environments. For example, in the online world we may use a blog to float a part–formed notion. Effective use of semantic tagging and discovery tools may attract further content to the idea, allowing it to grow. It may also allow it to connect to other complimentary ideas. Over time as the mangrove–idea grows, it attracts further connections and taps into greater pools of energy.

The mangrove is an example of a regime of filtration that the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari have called rhizomatic. There are many other regimes, many of which are diagrammed in their book A Thousand Plateaus. These regimes include arborescent assemblages, which operate by applying rules of exclusion that form hierarchical branches of filtration; a familiar model in both software design and social anthopology. Other regimes of importance include:

  • Gadgets, or filters that follow a reproducible and generalizable design;
  • Animal bodies (which are gadget–like, but less portable and generalizable);
  • Familial structures;
  • Mythologies;
  • Geological and sedimentary processes.

We therefore have the first of our tools for understanding the construction of environments: regimes of filtration. As has been demonstrated, the principle applies across environments, and in some cases we see regimes re–occurring in quite different settings.

Environments are composed of networks

A second and relatively rare aspect of some environments can best be understood through the behaviour of a more complex animal: the honey bee.

Karl von Frisch
Waggle dance, plume theory, filters

James Gould Cognitive map

some filters are symbolic or digital, redundancy
codings to promote autopoiesis through symbiosis
simulations to accelerate judgement
dissimulation to exploit weaknesses in the simulations of others
the relation between filters and networks is a matter of ecology

Environments are actual

quantification and index
registers of modification
the actual tends to impose limits on differentiation

Environments are virtual

signal can be quantified, the carrier (the assemblage of filters) is more complex and sensitive – a continuum
movement, freedom, creation
whole system evolves continually
different elements evolve at different speeds
differential speeds provide registers for understanding the different elements

Smooth and striated space

Emergent actuality

Instructional VLEs
Research VLEs

May 16, 2006

Research Notes: The double event, force and the will to power

Reading Ronald Bogue's Deleuze on Literature. In the first chapter he uses Nietzsche and Philosophy to show how literary texts are constituted from forces, of memory and forgetting, of continuity and differentiation.

But forces would never enter into relation with each other if there were no dynamic element within forces that engendered relations. That element Nietzsche calls "will to power". The will to power "thus is added to force, but as the differential and genetic element, as the internal element of its production. Bogue, Deleuze on Literature, p.11

In the first instance, a force is a naked event, experienced as an absolute loss. But a force has two aspects:

  • Differential – quantity – dominant/dominated – discontinuous multiplicity – nothing shared – can be divided without changing.
  • Genetic – quality – affirmative/negative – feedback loops – continuous multiplicity – virtuality – that which changes in being divided or in adding novelty, must have been there, shared from the start – memory – hence genetic.

Bogue – interpretation concerns the differential, evaluation concerns the genetic.

August 02, 2005

Research Notes: virtuality, speed, necessity and cognition

Follow-up to Research Notes: Multiplicity, co–involution, Being abstract but not generalized from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

I am now reading Andy Clark's book Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again. This is a successful attempt to bring together strands in situated robotics (which I studied with Dave Cliff at Sussex), cognitive science, evolutionary and adaptive systems (from von Uexkull, also Deleuze and Guattari's inspiration), developmental psychology, and phenomenology.

The book contains many good observations and conjectures derived from all of these fields. But the guiding principle is that nature tends towards the simplest and most efficient solution. This is, in many cases, a devolved 'subsumption architecture' of the kind employed by the roboticist Rodney Brookes. In some cases however, a more complex solution emerges. An example of this may be simulations that act to provide "virtual feedback" within action loops:

…proprioceptive signals must travel back from bodily peripheries to the brain, and this takes time – too much time, in fact, for the signals to be used to generate very smooth reaching movements. To solve the problem, the brain may use a trick (widely used in industrial control systems) called motor emulation. p.23


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July 11, 2005

Research Notes: Artaud, the theatre and its Body without Organs

As a break from Deleuze and Guattari, and as input for a proposed research network on virtuality and performance, i've been reading the collection of essays by Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and its Double. This contains some fascinating schizoanalysis of theatre and its Body without Organs, biological life. Here's some killer lines from the essay on Theatre and the Plague:

Above all we must agree that stage acting is a delirium like the plague, and is communicable. p.18
…conditions must be found to give birth to a spectacle that can fascinate the mind. It is not just art. p.18
The plague takes dormant images, latent disorder and suddenly carries them to the point of the most extereme gestures. Theatre also takes gestures and develops them to the limit. Just like the plague, it reforges the links between what does and does not exist in material nature. p.18
For theatre can only happen the moment the inconcievable really begins, where poetry taking place on stage, nourishes and superheats created symbols. p.18
Like the plague, theatre is a crisis resolved either by death or cure. The plague is a superior disease because it is an absolute crisis after which there is nothing left except death or drastic putrification. In the same way, theatre is a disease because it is the final balance that cannot be obtained without destruction. It urges the mind to delirium which intensifies its energy. p.22

June 23, 2005

Deleuze, active memory, living germinally

Follow-up to Spirit and the virtuality of concepts and their personae from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

I'm now into the second chapter of Germinal Life, which turns its attention to Gilles Deleuze's early work Difference and Repetition. After a few difficult pages in which it is placed in relation to the a broad range of other thinkers (including interestingly Merleau-Ponty and Satre), this superb passage...

The aim of this new art of living is not to identify with the line, though madness and suicide always exist as a risk, since this would destroy all thinking and life. Rather, the task is to both 'cross the line' and make it endurable and workable; in short, this is the line of life cracked by death and concieved as germinal. The 'outside' is the line of life that links up random and arbitrary events in a creative mixture of chance and necessity. Ansell Pearson, 1999, p.85

…note the allusion to Jacques Monod's book…

A new thought of the outside, and a new way of living on the outside, involves drawing new figures of thought and mapping new diagrams, in short, an intensive and vital topology that folds the outside into the inside. The passion of the outside is the passion of germinal life, releasing the forces of life from entropic containment and opening them up for a time to come. ibid p.85

Or as I previously wrote, the virtual of active memory works on the singularity so that a "trait can be extracted, picked up and carried onwards….traits that give a sense of the possible, a future, a continuity, a return".

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June 21, 2005

The ethical character of Bergson's method of intuition

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.


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May 16, 2005

The guide and the explorer concept

Follow-up to Spirit and the virtuality of concepts and their personae from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Thinking about my lost friend, I realised something important about myself, and about one of the impulses that could be a powerful driver behind events in the world.

I discovered something in me that is much more powerful than I had expected – a trait that perhaps determines the choices that I make, my actions, the things and people that I value.

There were many reasons why my friend was so great. But one thing, at least right now, stands out from the rest. The world was to her a constant source of wonderment, of fascination. She had the kind of mind and attitude to the world that is increasingly rare. Disturbingly rare. She had a way of just experiencing things as they were, and of always seeing something bright and sparkling. Certainly she was someone who had grown up in a world without special effects, in a world from which Hollywood was barred. And then in England, being an alien (in fact she said that she felt foreign everywhere), so much was genuinely new and strange. But her inquisitiveness was never just the effect of a lack of belonging, of always being abroad. It was a powerful and genuine trait in her way of living. A way that could exist anywhere, that could connect with anyone.

This to me is the most important trait in others. It is something that attracts me to people: my wife the infant school teacher, Ted the travel writer, Gilles and Felix the philosophers, Kate who writes strange songs from all kinds of odd sources, and Mari the adventurer. And perhaps it is why I like foreigners in England more than I like the English, even more than the eccentric English (and their fake difference). Deliberately leaving one's own culture, the place of mundane sense. What an amazing thing to do.

So why am I still here, in England, in Coventry? Strangely, even as a child, I would fantasise about aliens and ghosts. Not in a menacing or confrontational way, but rather as friends. I still often wonder what it would be like if some historical figure were to be sitting next to me now, looking in amazement as I explain the glowing moving screen covered in text and images in front of us. Or how it would be to tell Thesiger about the Iraq war, or T.E. Lawrence about modern sports bikes. I have these strange ideas all the time. You see the trait that I value in others is the wonderment and openness of the traveller, the explorer. But what I like myself is to be the guide, to be the one who leads the other to those experiences. Now I know that one thing that I have lost with my friend is someone who really appreciated me for doing that. But I've lost even more. This concept of being 'the guide' also implies a care and a knowledge of the place through which the guiding is happening. I have lost any reason to care about, to know what is valuable, in my world.

So the concept that I have discovered is this. The pairing of guide and explorer is a powerful one. But not in the obvious way. It is the guide and their territory that benefits, that makes sense and value by bringing the explorer into it. Maybe it is this 'guide' that drives adventure, exploration, deterritorialization.

Spirit and the virtuality of concepts and their personae

I am making some progress at last, and feeling a small sense of recovery. Deleuze does make sense from where I am.

I will start with a simple fact: my friend has gone, and that has left me feeling that something immeasurable is missing. It is an overwhelming sensation. Disorientation. There is no way in which that can be repaired. She is irreplaceable. That is why she was so valuable, as a totality. Vividly and quite obviously a unique person.

But out of that singularity, traits can be extracted, picked up and carried onwards. That is what a vivid and unique person offers. There is something about them that makes a difference, and carries on making a difference. It is very much part of them, but at the same time is powerful enough to continue, to travel, to live on. These traits are the virtuality within the ever disappearing present, persisting beyond its immediate and constant passing and differentiation. Memory, an active memory. Or what before Nietzsche we called a soul or a spirit. They are traits that give a sense of the possible, a future, a continuity, a return.

As Deleuze would say, a trait can be taken up by a concept. It is as such the tool or weapon that is carried to guarantee survival, to re-orientate after the event, to regenerate, to carry the person onwards as a conceptual personae. Irreducible to a simple procedure or rule, a concept nonetheless carries (expresses) an arrangement (content) that sees the repetition of a local equilibrious state from a far from equilibrium event. A return.

So at least I have an idea, a concept out of which a future can grow. Some possibility of survival.

November 14, 2004


Science approaches chaos in a completely different, almost opposite way: it relinquishes the infinite, infinite speed, in order to gain a reference able to actualize the virtual.
In the case of science it is like a freeze-frame. It is a fantastic slowing down, and it is by slowing down that matter, as well as the scientific thought able to penetrate it with propositions, is actualized. A function is a Slow-motion. WiP p.118
it is a complex variable that depends on a relation between at least two independent variables. WiP p.122

November 13, 2004

Forms and relations in virtuality and actuality

Follow-up to Actual from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

This seems to be the key concept that needs working on…

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.

Aion, chronos, reversibility, irreversibility and the event should make some sense of this.


…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

November 06, 2004


Follow-up to Deleuze and Guattari on the (relative) superiority of English Imperialism from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Habit! Of course the important concept in understanding Deleuze and Guattari's ethics (derived from Spinoza). Habit and habitat. The quote continues…

The English nomadize over the old Greek earth, broken up, fractalized, and extended to the universe…
…a concept is acquired by pitching one's tent, by inhabiting it, by contracting a habit. In the trinity Founding-Building-Inhabiting, the French build and the Germans lay foundations, but the English inhabit. For them a tent is all that is needed. They develop an extraordinary conception of habit: habits are taken on by contemplating and by contracting that which is contemplated. Habit is creative....We are all contemplations, and therefore habits. I is a habit. Wherever there are habits there are concepts, and habits are developed and given up on the plane of immanence of radical experience: they are "conventions". That is why English philosophy is a free and wild creation of concepts.

Habit, a creative nomadic dwelling with the concept.

Contemplation is the positing of a virtual field of incompossibles. Actuality is a path through that virtuality. A habit is the repetition of an actuality, a path through the virtual.