02 November 2006

Slime Molds... Again! They're Back and This Time in Color Computer Simulated Form

Some Thursday night silliness when I should be working: I came across a slime mold simulator here. It allows you to discern the emergence of different patterns based on the number of cells in the environment and the rate at which the pheromones released by the cells evaporate. Play around with it a bit and see how collective formations are correlated with rates of evaporation. For my previous discussion of the intriguing properties of slime molds, you can go here.

Now in the spirit of such silliness, compare the ridiculous with the sublime, by comparing this to what Badiou has to say about intensity in his most recent work. Hallward expresses the drift of Badiou's work very nicely in Badiou: A Subject to Truth. I quote at length:
...Badiou insists, that 'a being qua being is, itself, absolutely unrelated. It is a fundamental characteristic of the purely multiple, as thought in the framework of a theory of sets. There are only multiplicities, nothing else. None of these are, by themselves, linked to any other. In a theory of sets, even functions should be thought as pure multiplicities, which is why we identify them with their graph... Which excludes that there be, strictly speaking, a being of relation. Being, thought as such, in purely generic fasion, is subtracted from all relation" (Court traite, 192). What Badiou calls "the world of appearances" or phemomena, by contrast, "is always given as solid, related, consistent. It is a world of relation and cohesion, in which we have our points of reference and our habits, a world in which being is, in sum, captive of being there." (Through Badiou's current work, "appearing" seems to obey quasi-Kantian rules of intelligibility, compatibility, and coherence.) The goal now is to understand "how it is possible that any situation of being is both pure multiplicity on the border of inconsistency, and instrinsic, solid relation of its appearing" (CT, 200). Whereas the pure being of being is inconsistent-- and thus wildly anarchic, disordered, free...-- the appearing of being is itself a certain ordering of being (Logiques des mondes, chapt. 1, pg. 2). We might say that the shifting of Badiou's attention from the being of being to the appearing of being already implies a shift in priorities that bring him closer to Deleuze than ever before: from now on, the ultimate reference to ontological inconsistency or "chaos" will always be mediated by the exploration of precise ontic strata or "complexity," in roughly the sense made current by complexity theory.

What does Badiou mean by "appearing," exactly? He proposes to "call the appearing of a being that which, of a being, is linked to the constraint of a local or situated exposition of its multiple being, that is, it's "being there." Appearing appears here neither in Heidegger's phenomenological sense nor as a function of time, space, or the constituent subject. It appears as an "intrinsic determination of being" (CT, 191-92), a direct consequence of the impossibility of any totalization (or all-inclusive set) of being. In the absence of any Whole, "appearing is that which ties or reties a being to its site. The essence of appearing is relation."

Thought it is an intrinsic determination of being that it be there (that it appear), nevertheless it is not exactly pure being qua being as such that appears: what appears of pure being is a particular quality of being, namely existence [hence Badiou draws a distinction between being and existence, as I alluded to in a previous post on whether Badiou's ontology is genuinely consistent with materialism]. Thanks to the equation of ontology and set theory [this is not accurate, Badiou equates ontology with mathematics, not set theory alone], pure being qua being is essentially a matter of quantity and univocal determination: something either is or is not (with no intermediary degree). Existence, by contrast, is precisely a "quality" of being, a matter of intensity and degree. Something is if it belongs to a situation, but it exists (in that situation) always more or less, depending on how clearly or brightly it appears in that situation (L'etre-la: mathematique du transcendental, 3-5). We might say, for instance, and very crudely, that while a great many things belong to the American situation, that situation is arranged such that certain characteristic things (free speech, pioneers, private property, baseball, freeways, fast food, mobile homes, self-made men, and so on) appear or exist more intensely than other, dubiously "un-American," things (unassimilated immigrants, socialists, opponents of the National Rifle Association, etc.). (296-7, my italics)
I have quoted this passage at length as it provides a nice summary of Badiou's most recent work for those who are not familiar with his project with regard to appearing. As I have said, I have reservations about his account of being-qua-being as pure multiplicity without relation as I don't see how it is possible to make a transition from such pure multiplicities to being-there or related being. As Deleuze puts it,
It is strange that aesthetics (as the science of the sensible) could be founded on what can be represented in the sensible. True, the inverse procedure is not much better, consisting of the attempt to withdraw the pure sensible from representation and to determine it as that which remains once representation is removed (a contradictory flux, for example, or a rhapsody of sensation. Empiricism truly becomes transcendental, and aesthetics an apodictic discipline [!], only when we apprehends directly in the sensible that which can only be sensed, the very being of the sensible: difference, potential difference and difference in intensity as the reason behind qualitative diversity. (DR, 56-7)
So long as we conceive the transcendental field as pure chaos-- as Badiou apparently does with his inconsistent multiplicities --we are unable to account for how anything could emerge at all. Deleuze makes a similar point about chaos in The Logic of Sense that I need to track down, taking great care to caution against equating the transcendental field or immanence with chaos. As Hegel might have put it, that which reason draws asunder, it is powerless to put back together. There must be something at work within being or the transcendental field that renders emergence possible... Something that is not yet a being, but something also that is not pure disorder. Nonetheless, Badiou's thought of being as pure inconsistent multiplicity without relation is a provactive conceptual beginning point or axiom of thought (like Parmenides' beginning), inviting us to surrender the residual assumptions of substance metaphysics that might inhabit our thought. Here I'm in agreement with Hegel in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, that philosophy only genuinely begins when we start from the notion, freeing ourselves from common sense empirical requirements. This is very different from saying that philosophy should be rationalist or non-empiricist in a more rigorous sense. Rather, the point is that the world of "everydayness" is already a world of recognition, resemblance, representation and that the (un)ground must be sought prior to this field. Moreover, I have also expressed reservations about the descriptive nature of Badiou's enterprise regarding the processes presiding over appearing or being-there, or the manner in which he fails to give us an causal mechanism by which these complex related organisms emerge. Deleuze does a far better job with regard to these issues. All the same, I think there's a lot to be gained by thinking the two systems together.

What interests me in the passage above is Badiou's conceptualization of existence in a situation, appearing, or being-there in terms of degrees of intensity. Clearly intensity here is being conceived very differently here by Badiou than by Deleuze, as for Deleuze intensity is an energetic factor presiding over actualization, whereas for Badiou it pertains to presence in a situation. Indeed, Deleuze's account of intensity works nicely with the slime mold, as there's an inverse ratio between the rate at which the pheromones evaporate (i.e., the temperature of the environment) and the emergence of slime mold colonies. Thus we have both uses of intensity at work in the example of slime molds: On the one hand, the emergence of slime mold colonies relates to Badiou's use of the term "intensity", where slime molds become more apparent, are more there, in a situation. On the other hand, shifts in temperature or Deleuzian intensive factors preside over this production of individuated slime mold colonies.

The questions I have been raising recently with regard to the formation of collectives and the materiality of communications pertain precisely to these issues. Here Hallward's examples from the American situation at the end of the cited passage are entirely apropos. What, for instance, would it take to make socialists more apparent in the American situation? What are the intensive factors in Deleuze's sense that contribute to a production of such collectives? Why do group formations suddenly pop in and out of existence? I am not suggesting that there is one answer to this question-- we would have to look at the group formations in question, or at their specific material and semiotic conditions for emergence and continued existence. Nonetheless, the slime mold provides a nice analogy to the formation of collectives. Okay, so I know that I'm working with very facile analogies here, but I find that privileged examples are fruitful in rhizomatically generating connections between disparate phenomena. Here, again, Hegel is useful, as he demonstrates the manner in which the universal must always be thought through the particular.

Perhaps the ultimate absurdity of these posts about slime molds is that I've been getting all sorts of web traffic from people researching slime molds.

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