On Extimacy: An Recent Excerpt from the Manifesto Manuscript

So, I’ve been spending a lot of time editing the ‘Networkologies – A Manifesto’ lately to get some sections to some colleagues. Here’s one section I recently wrote while editing, which I think nicely gives a sense of where my thoughts are these days. It also give some insight into how things develop a bit from the section published in Speculations.

The tone in the excerpt below is quite different from that published in Speculations. The section in Speculations lays out foundations, almost axiomatically, while a section like the excerpt below shows more of how the networkological approach can draw out the metatphysical impliciations of, for example, complex systems theory.

This section is in this sense in between the more axiomatic opening sections and the more in depth examinations of the later sections, and thus has a hybrid feel to it. It comes right after the sections which describe in great detail and with precise definition what is meant by matter, mind, potential, and complexity, and then works to sew these together in the synthesis you see below.

In the final manuscript, this section appears towards the end of the first section on matrixology, so some explication of key terms may be helpful. Matrix is what the networkological endeavor calls that ‘of which mind and matter are merely aspects’, such that matrixology is the investigation of the appearances of matrix in the world. Mind is conceived of here as the ‘processing’ which occurs ‘in dimensional privacy’ whereby any matter processes that which affects it. In contrast to organisms which can consciously perceive the world, non-living matter can only be affected by it. Affection is conceived of in a manner somewhere between Whiteheadian prehension and Deleuzian affection. What’s important for reading the excerpt below, however, is to understand that all matter has mind, even if mind is not conscious. Also, the term extension is used here in the sense used by Whitehead, just as meta-stability is used in the sense employed by Stengers, Prigogene, and Simondon.

Towards the end of the section, where I talk about how complex systems decide between options, and I start using political metaphors, and speaking of universal and particular, I’m most certainly dialoguing with Hegelian and Laclauian conceptions of the political, but at the level of matter. However, I do not mention these thinkers here by name. In fact, I only mention thinkers by name when necessary in the manifesto, in order to make it as readible as possible as a stand-alone document, and to leave extended debates on the relations between terms and the philosophical tradition to future works. That way, I can focus on articulating the system in the most streamlined fashion possible.

I added a few paragraph breaks in the section below for ease of reading, but for any who have already checked out the section published in Speculations, the actual layout looks much more like this.

Anyway, I’m curious for any and all input, via email or comments, as this very much remains a work in progress. Thanks in advance!

*          *          *

Extimacy. According to Jacques Lacan, the term extimacy, a compound of exterior and intimacy, describes the manner in which that which is outside of us can in fact be our most intimate core.[i] Networkological relationalism takes this insight and applies it to the world as a whole. Mind is the extimacy of matter by means of contraction, for mind describes the manner in which a matter processes that which is around and outside of and beyond it by means of what is within it and included in it. Conversely, matter is the extimacy of mind by means of expansion, for it is only because matter is extended over space and time, takes up space, cannot always be layered on top of each other, and is otherwise extended, that mind is embodied, expanded over all that is, requires affection, perception, and other forms of grasping to understand its emplacement in matter. Matter is the manner in which mind is thrown outside of itself, just as mind is the manner in which matter is thrown into itself, and this throwing is what is meant by extimacy, for there is nothing more intimate to the structure of matter than mind, nor of mind to matter, at least, other than the structure that extimately intertwines them both. Mind is the manner in which feedback allows matter to systematize and emerge differently from itself as self-differing, just as matter is nothing more than than the memory of this mind, its ability to resist the pure transparency of mind to itself, to occupy space obdurately, to hold form, for matter is what allows matrix to be its own obstacle, just mind is that which allows this obstacle to matter. And potential, latent in all matrix as self-differing yet-to-be in the process of its emergence, is in fact that extimacy of what is, as a whole and as a part, unto itself.

Extimacy is also crucial to the manner in which mind and matter intertwine dynamically as systems. Metastable energetic conditions, required for complexity to develop in dynamic systems, are those in which energy and matter develop relations which are extimate to each other, in that systems allow for matter to channel energy rather than be overwhelmed or deconstructed due to lack of it. Within complex systems, feedback is what allows for order to exist within chaos, for the form which a complex system takes is itself an emergent property excreted by the relational feedback network which allows the system to maintain itself within changing external and internal conditions.

The form of a vortex of water, for example, describes the manner in which the molecules of water and air involved feedback with each other in regard to their environment, and in relation to the flows of forces and energy involved. Within such systems, the input of the smallest molecule is balanced off that of the entire system, for one molecule out of place can lead to a cascade of collapses within the micro-systems which maintain that of the whole. Only networks of feedback at every level of scale allow for the simplest vortex to maintain itself for a brief period of time, for it is only by means of the balance between input from the outside world and from within the vortex itself that the vortex is able to adapt to both the world outside and within it in order to maintain its formal balance between both its interior and exterior matters and energies. And in fact, such a vortex is little more than the concrete form such networks of feedback takes within the world.

Here we see the manner in which matter is dynamically extimate in mind, and vice-versa, a relation which mirrors that between relation and emergence. For within a complex dynamic system like a vortex, each part is no longer simply itself, but also part of a whole, just as both are part of a large context, and in this manner, the whole, parts, and context are extimate within each other, even as each exceeds each other. Extimacy is always a condition of excess, of excess which is mutually intertwined, for this is the manner in which the imbalance within what is is able to maintain itself as a dynamic system continually extimate to itself.

Within yet more complex systems, such as self-sustaining, self-repairing systems, it is the ability of the whole to exist in feedback with its parts and its outsides which allows the system to tend to and repair its own boundaries, and work to maintain a meta-stable relation to the world. In even more complex systems, such as conscious minds, the system itself is able to reflect on its own workings, and by means of attention, raise even the most minute concern to that which pre-occupies the entire organism. Such a function is simply an extension of the sensitivity to minute perturbations, both internal and external, that we see at work in a vortex. For within a vortex, it is the tension, spread between all its parts and the whole, in relation to shifts in both interior and exterior context, and between various levels of scale, which allows small perturbations to alter the whole, thereby creating conditions of feedback not merely between parts, but between parts, whole, and context, so that the vortex can maintain itself while morphing despite, within, and through changing conditions.

Complex systems exist, to quote a cliché in the field of complex systems studies, ‘at the edge of chaos,’ for it is only when a dynamic system remains at the cusp of many alternatives that small scale perturbations at low levels of scale are able to resonate up chains of feedback and decide for the system as a whole. For it is in this manner that local solutions can help the whole, and multiple approaches can be tried out in miniature to see what works. In this manner, matter ‘crowdsources,’ it searches for alternatives and possibility by means of its own built in search algorithm, one which prefigures evolutionary search in biological organisms, and which is truly the evolution of matter itself. For as many small scale perturbations resonate up a system at the cusp of a decision in response to a change in its context, they resonate with the system as a whole, and the system as a whole, in a sense, votes, comes to a decision, one which is the most democratic when the entire system operates within a mode of feedback which is metastable in its very form, and in which no single part, nor the whole, controls the system as a whole. When any one perturbation ‘wins’ such a vote, it represents in that moment the system as such, it incarnates its systematicity, it is both itself and the system as a whole, and represents the event of the system’s emergence from itself and surroundings, its systeming. For in that moment, any of the parts of the system could in theory be that which represents the whole, decides for the whole, and it is in this sense that the whole does not overdetermine its parts, nor the universal the particular, but part and whole are truly extimate to each other at every level of scale.

Only complex systems function in this manner, can surprise us, can choose between alternatives, and in this process, can emerge from themselves and their world and bring newness into the world in a manner which can endure. Machinic systems choose in name only, for the follow a predetermined course, but complex systems search between alternatives and vote by means of distributed resonant reentry. Complexity indicates the manner in which freedom and the new can enter and grow within the world. In this sense, we can say that the more complex a system, the more it is maximally distributed and extimate to itself at every level of scale, allowing neither parts nor wholes to determine the manner in which the parts nor wholes operate, the more that system maximizes its potential for freedom in regard to itself and the world at every level of scale. Democracy may exist in this manner even at the level of the simplest matrixal entities, and all forms of democracy at higher levels of complexity are echoes of the form thereof existent at simpler levels of scale. The more dynamically extimate and radically distributed a system is, the more it is able to develop greater degrees of complexity, and with this, freedom to choose its own path, rather than be bound by the dictates of the matrix that surrounds it and came before it. This choice, this freedom, exists by means of feedback, meta-stable tension, and the distribution thereof at multiple levels of scale. This is precisely what is meant by complexity, which is the source of freedom within what is, as well as the ability of this freedom to increase.


~ by chris on September 13, 2010.

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