Metastability Process and Individuation
An introduction to Gilbert Simondon’s thought
To engage with Gilbert Simondon’s philosophy of individuation, we need to momentarily break out of the artificial separations upon which much of our habitual thinking is based and set our mind and body in motion. Simondon encourages us to think in terms of relation and exchange, in terms of resonance and amplification, across all systems of this planet.
We will enter into a dance, a mingling, and intertwining of forces.
A dance in which the dancers’ minds are beginning to spin not only around their own axis but all other axes, engaging in the generative processes and rich field of potentialities at the root of everything.
In a dance, opposing forces do not cancel each other out but rather create points of excess in their encounter (tipping points if you will), that enable the emergence of novelty. While moving their bodies through space, the dancers are passing from one force field to another, creating new possibilities along their path. Suddenly, the dancers fall out of step with each other, breaking their rhythm. Rather than stopping, they merge with the preceding step, gliding into another movement pattern. At the intervals between what the dancers intend and what really occurs, within the tension between these actions, an impulse of virtuality runs from one actualization to another. Flows of intensities unfold throughout time in the specific now — creating a fragile and temporary horizon of choreography within the accelerated and hyper-energized space of the dance floor. Dancing is a relational conversation.
Just like in a dance, Simondon encourages us to think in terms of relation and exchange, in terms of resonance and amplification between nature, humans, and technology. His ‘philosophy of individuation’ is one of process, relationality, and genuine engagement. Simondon is inspired by the spontaneous creativity of nature we encounter in our own lives. Ideas of Anaximander’s ‘Apeiron’ (the ‘infinite,’ or ‘unlimited,’), Baruch de Spinoza’s ‘Immanence’, and Henri Bergson’s ‘Indeterminacy’ are synthesized with 20th-century discoveries of thermodynamics and quantum physics. He draws the line of division not between natural and artificial, but rather between Preindividuated and Individuated.
“the becoming of the being […] as it doubles itself and falls out of step with itself in the process of individuating.”
(p.301 Individuation in Light of Notions of Form and Information)
In this dynamic system of morphology, the Preindividual, an indeterminate reservoir of potential energy (or Apeiron), becomes partially ordered (dephased) and actualized. Individuation is an ongoing process that is never complete, a system that emerges from an energetic realm of potentials, stressing the superfluousness of any transcendental referential system and highlighting the rich immanent power of nature. In moving away from discussing what things ‘are’, Simondon considers how they come to be and what futures they entail, replacing the idea of a general ontology with that of ontogenesis.
Simondon’s ontogenesis conceptualizes living beings as existing within a spectrum, where the human-animal difference is one of degree (like temperature), not of kind (like form). It accommodates a diverse variety of current and future personhood in his symbiotic way of thinking, extending across physical, biological, social, and even technological milieus. With seeing reality as an individuation spectrum, Simondon argues for breaking with the tradition of western thought in order to overcome the divide between nature and technè, nature and artifice, and consequently nature and culture. As Simondon describes in his ‘mechanology,’ techno-human assemblages are amalgamations all the way down, individuating in the encounter with one another. Technology is not only shaped by human hands but, in turn, also shapes us, as Lewis Mumford reminds us in his idea of the “mega-machine”.
IN-FORMATION & TRANSDUCTION
Simondon considers ‘being’ not as a substance, matter, or shape but as a system in tension, oversaturated and about to spill over at any moment to create novel individuations. Instead of stability and instability, Simondon invokes the concept of metastability, denoting a temporary and fragile moment of stability susceptible to changing conditions. Like the process of crystalization where a structural germ (a singularity) breaks the metastable state of the supersaturated mother liquid, which then topologically and temporally restructures itself to form a crystal.
In the place of pre-existent or pre-formed individuated terms, like in the substantialist scheme and the hylomorphic scheme (form-matter dualism) and classical theories of form such as the Gestalttheorie,
Simondon radically focuses on ‘in-formation’ a dynamic process of continuous creation of new dimensions within a system, establishing links and communication paths between its disparate parts.
“Being is both structure and energy”
(p. 238 Individuation in Light of Notions of Form and Information)
This process which Simondon refers to as transduction stands in stark contrast to deduction and induction. While deduction and induction demand general rules, transduction addresses singularity and particularity and focuses on the real in its nuanced specificity and eruptive spontaneity. Deduction necessitates an external principle. Induction makes generalizations by retaining the common characteristics of all the terms in the field. Transduction however is a process from within by which the various forces move out of step with each other, generating a “disparation”, a problem, which is resolved through temporary structuring. Structuring applies never just to a single entity but always to an environment (milieu) in which this entity is embedded in. And as the force of individuation moves through the milieu areas remain only partially transformed, leaving behind tensions that enable ever new transformations. In this rippling effect, energetic predispositions for ever new individuations prevail, suspended between structure and energy.
Every individual is always imbued with an unspent and unresolved residue of potential energy that persists within the individual, waiting to be actualized, or as Simondon puts it, transductions’ still to come’ (transductions à venir). Therefore, the Individuated is always comprised of the aggregation of all previous individuations (temporary structures), plus the remainder of non-individuated pre-individual potential (tension). Pre-individual potential can always be reactivated to produce an ever-changing plethora of individuals: physical, biological, psychic, technological, and collective. The individual is an effect, not a cause of individuation. No individual is neither autonomous nor permanent. Any individual can only emerge in intrinsic articulation with an associated milieu, an individual-milieu dyad.
In contrast to physical individuation, which resonates and is exclusively restructured by its milieu, as a crystal, vital individuation modifies itself from within. It is rich with an internal resonance that takes place not only at the borders of its engagement with its milieu. Life is its own intrinsic force of individuation. Simondon calls life “ the theater of individuation” because its manifold transductive modes of individuation never stop.
The intrinsic and yet planetary forces of life are so strong that it has shaped our planet into what it is today.
“ the milieu having been deprived of the individual it no longer is, and the individual no longer possessing the wider dimensions of the milieu. It is no doubt true that such a view of individuation is valid for the living being when it is considered as an absolute origin, but it is matched by a perpetual individuation, like the crystal or molecule, but is a veritable theater of individuation.”
(p.304–5 Individuation in Light of Notions of Form and Information)
As Gilles Deleuze reminds us: “A philosophical idea, a philosophical concept, is always a thickness, a volume. One can take it at one level, then at another, and still at another one; that is not contradictory.”
Simondon’s philosophy has significantly influenced thinkers like Gilles Deleuze, Brain Massumi, Muriel Combes, Isabelle Stengers, and Bruno Latour, and many more. What might we take from the encounter with the thickness of Simondon’s thought?
Maybe what we can learn from Simondons philosophy is the open-minded and yet deeply grounded attitude that any action on this interconnected planet is always but an augmentation — a speeding up or slowing down, a tinkering with, an improvisation on the scheme — of a rich field of forces. Every interaction fosters and seeds transformations (individuations) to come, opening up ever new topological spaces and times, revealing not only unpredictable futures but also unsuspected pasts — that had been there but may have gone unnoticed.
-Paulo de Assis, Gilbert Simondon’s Transduction as radical immanence in performance, 2017
-Gilbert Simondon, Individuation in Light of Notions of Form and Information, trans.Taylor Adkins, 2020
-Gilbert Simondon, On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, trans.Cecile Malaspina and John Rogove, 2016
-Gilbert Simondon, The Genesis of the Individual, trans. Jonathan Crary & Sanford Kwinter, Incorporations, 1992, p. 297–319
-Muriel Combes, Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual, 2013 Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.
-Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory. New York NY: Martino Fine Books, 2011
-Gilles Deleuze, G. 1995. Difference and Repetition. Tran. Paul Patton. New York NY: Columbia University Press.