According to Dr. Sperry, subjective experience is the result of the the brain being an emergent entity. In other words, “Mind is viewed as an emergent property of the brain, generated from and dependent upon neural activity, but nonetheless separate from it”(University of Pennsylvania, 2015). In order to understand how the mind can be the result of the brain as an emergent entity, it will be instructive to acquire better understanding of the relevance of Deleuze’s metaphysics to complexity theory.
Complexity theory assists in studying the emergence of functional structures. In order to understand this, as Protevi notes, it is important to understand three closely interrelated concepts:
1) Behavior, patterns, thresholds and changes in the system being modeled.
2) Phase space, attractors, trajectory and bifurcators in the dynamical model.
3) Manifold, singularity and function in the mathematics used to construct the model.
Now to define some of the terms. “Phase space” refers to “an imaginary space with as many dimensions as ‘intresting’ variables of a system; the choice of variables obviously depends on the interests of the modeller”(Protevi, 2005). Using a manifold by means of the phase space allows us to represent the range of beavior of which the system is capable (Protevi, 2005).
Next we will define the term “attractor.” An attractor is a certain kind of trajectory that is mapped within a phase space. We can use a point in the phase space to represent whatever the system is capable of doing, or, to use the technical language of complexity theory, “as many values as dimensions or ‘degrees of freedom'”(Protevi, 2005). The attractor refers to the trajectory revealed by tracking the system across time and observing the behavior in terms of this trajectory. It is this trajectory that is known as the “attractor,” specifically when “these simulations [tracking the time across time] show the tractories following a particular configuration”(Protevi, 2005). These attractors thus refer to patterns of behavior within the system.
Kinds of attractors(Protevi, 2005):
1) Point (stable or steady-state systems)
2) Loop (oscillating systems)
3) Strange/fractal (turbulent or ‘chaotic’ systems).
It is important to understand what is meant by “chaos” here, in the technical language of complexity theory, as opposed to its colloquial usage. It does not mean “random,” or lacking in attractorrs. Instead, “the models of what are now called chaotic systems do have attractors, albeit fractal ones. Although the behaviour of chaotic systems is unpredictable in quantitative detail it is sometimes predictable in the long run or ‘qualitatively'”(Protevi, 2005).
Next, it is important to understand the term “singularity.” This term refers to a point in the phase space model in which a threshold is reach that issues in a qualitative change in the behavior of the system. “Basins of attraction” refers to the “normal behaviour of the system in one or another of its behaviour patterns”(Protevi, 2005). While not an attractor itself, the purpose of the singularity is precisely to mark out that point at which attractors are generated.
There are zones of sensitivity at which an otherwise significant change in the behavior of an attractor issues in a qualitative change in the behavior of the attractor; the so-called “butterfly effect.” The basins of attraction in the backdrop of attractors thus become radically unpredictable, and susceptible to “chance.” It ought to be noted, however, that this is a purely epistemological indeterminacy rather than a metaphysical one. That is, the systems are no less deterministic for their unpredictability.
The attractor must be understood in terms of its ability to keep fluctuations of sufficiently mild intensity from disrupting the pattern represented by the attractor. Systems that are able to survive continual fluctuations are known as “stable” systems. These fluctuations can be corrected for sufficiently in order to preserve the system in attractors. Remember in our previous article in which we referred to Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the “sign.” For D&G, the “sign” is not a signifier. Signs go beyond chains of signifiers (unlike, for example, the later Wittgenstein, Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler or Jacques Lacan). It can be instantiated in any of the material realm, whether it be physical, social, psychological, biological and so on. It is within the context of complexity theory that these “signs” can be best articulated for the purposes of science:
“Since internal system resources translate the sense of events into terms significant to that system, external events are merely ‘triggers’: they trigger a pre-patterned response”(Proteevi, 2005). It is precisely these changes to which systems respond that D&G refer to as “signs.” A system is able to survive signs below a certain threshold, but some signs or changes in intensity of fluctuations are so intense that the system becomes either radically altered or even destroyed. At other times, intense signs will not necessarily destroy the system but force it to learn and adopt new patterns in order to adapt to the presence of a new sign. The term “diachronic emergence” is used by Protevi to refer to disruptions in an attractor’s behavior that result in a truly new creation of a system; a term they consider synonymous with “evolution.””(Protevi, 2005).
Protevi relates this “diachronic emergence” or “creativity in the production of new patterns and thresholds of behaviour” to what Deleuze refers to as an “event”(Protevi, 2005).;The event, Protevi points out, is not merely a trigger that begins a new sequence of patterns, however. We must instead understand that
“the virtual is the realm of patterns and thresholds, that is, those multiplicities, Ideas, or abstract machines that structure the intensive morphogenetic processes that produce actual systems and their behaviours. A behaviour pattern, or a threshold at which a behaviour pattern is triggered, needs to be ontologically distinguished…from behaviour, just as singularities are distinguished from ordinary points on the graph of the function. Thus patterns and thresholds are virtual, while behaviour is actual. An event, in creating new patterns and thresholds, restructures the virtual”(Protev i, 2005).
Let us return to the example of weather used previously in this series. Weather is chaotic, on the one hand, but one can still lay out weather patterns. It is too complex to understand in all its details, but general climate patterns can be measured and predicted on a macro-level. Even if the flap of a butterfly wing (as referred to before) produces a hurricane, Protevi notes, we can still roughly predict the number of hurricanes that will occur per year, such that the general climate will not be radically effected by the butterfly flap (although the hurricane generated from it might certainly effect the humans subject to that hurricane).
While diachronic emergence refers to the generation of novel systems, synchronic emergence refers to “focused systematic behaviour through constraining the action of component parts”(Protevi, 2005). Put simply, as Protevi notes, it is the idea of “order out of chaos.” The relation of part to whole within the context of studies on synchronic emergence has produced an immense amount of literature surrounding questions of reductionism (reductionistic vs. non-reductionistic physicalism, for example), supervenience, and so on. One of the major debates within the study of synchronic emergence, as we saw before, is that of the question of epistemological emergence vs. ontological emergence. Sometimes what we thought was real ontological emergence was merely epistemological emergence, as when J.S. Mill saw ontological emergence in the combination of two chemical substances to form a fundamentally new one, only to have this position repudiated by more sensitive instruments in the history of science. We are thus “not any closer to ebing able to claim ‘ontological emergence’ or emergence as a real feature of the world”(Protevi, 2005). Instead of this, those who reject emergentism argue that we are subject to “merely ‘epistemological emergence’ or simply markers or our (temporary) ignorance”(Protevi, 2005). Thus, “Mill proposed water as emergent: H2O does not act like the ‘combination’ of hydrogen and oxygen. But quantum mechanics has shown ways to explain water’s properties on the basis of the properties of hydrogen and oxygen”(Protevi, 2005).
Importantly, Protevi thinks that Deleuze’s metaphysics suggests that ontological emergence is a reality. He argues this on the ground that attractors “represent the functioning of nonlinear feedback loops” and that “Such attractors would entail a reduction in the amount of the state space available to the system, and hence indicate the possibility of focused behaviour achieved through the constraint of components”(Protevi, 2005). This ought to be understood within the discussion of causation. For example, efficient cause is understood by Aristotle to be the chip blows in the material which constitutes the statue. Final cause is the end state of the object’s development. The sculptor has intention, but biological organisms do not.They are self-organizing. Their end state, immanent to the system itself, rather than imposed by a transcendent entity, is what causes their development.
“The final cause or end state channels development; the infant does not intend to grow into an adult. It’s this notion of channelling which is the key to understanding systematic constraint and focused behavior in synchronic emergent functional structures. In other words, synchronic emergence is a misnomer; there’s always a coming into being of functional structures which needs to be conceptualized”(Protevi, 2005)
So synchronic emergence thus refers to order out of chaos.One of the most important elements of the system which constitutes an instance of synchronic emergence is the mechanism of the negative feedback loop by which synchronic emergence maintains itself. Negative feedback mechanisms f unction to put constraints of behavior, thereby “producing patterns of behaviour modelled by basins of attraction, and these constraints produce focused syste-wide behaviour.”(Proveti, 2005).
But how to we understand how this negative feedback mechanism which characterizes synchronic emergence? Protevi notes that one of the technical terms used to describe this self-organization or self-constitution of synchronic emergence is that of “entrainment.” He notes that Deleuze refers this as a “quasi-cause.” What makes Deleuze distinct is that he sees this phenomenon as having an ontologically distinct status, rather than merely being a question of mere quantitative difference. Thus, he carries on the project started by the British emergentists of the 19th and early 20th century. As Protevi notes:
“the patterns defined by a layout of singularities in a manifold should be called virtual multiplicities, because they structure many spatio-temporally distinct intensive morphogenetic processes t hat result in widely different actual products. It’s the quasi-causal action of these multiply realizable (in Deleuze’s terms, differencially actualisable) patterns, patterns which channel behaviour and which are modelled in basins of attraction, which must be distinguished from the efficient, billiard ball, causality of negative feedback loops operating in intensive states of actual systems”(Protevi, 2005).
It is this phenomenon, as Protevi notes, which Deleuze understands as a kind of reformed notion of final causality, which is understood “as efficient causality emanating from a reified totality”(Protevi, 2005).
One of the core elements of the concept of emergence has to do with relatively simpler entities uniting in such a way that they come to form fundamentally novel entities. The brain, various other organs, the body, and social systems are all examples of these. John Protevi is particularly interested in using Deleuze’s metaphysics to explore the constitution of the human subject in terms of complexity theory. Particularly important for Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of emergence is the modularity of the human subject. In other words, the mind consists of multiple relatively independent but intimately related units (take the various lobes of the brain, the two hemispheres, various gyri and sulci, and so on).
Viewed from one level, there is a unity that persists across time. On the other hand, cells are continually dying and being reborn such that we are constituted from quite different material than we were years ago. Viewed from a more macro perspective, individual humans die but this does not necessarily compromise or cause the dissolution of the social bodies of which they were a part. They are simply replaced by others, if their deaths are not so traumatic to the community as to result in its dissolution. Protevi refers to the concept of “heterochrony,” by which he refers to this tendency of diachronic systems of emergence to remain relatively stable in one sense, but continually differentiating internally, in another sense.
Let us move on to Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the assemblage. Assemblages are not mere couplings of entities, but units that come to constitute a self-organization that is ontologically novel, and distinct form its individual components, yet still dependent upon these components. Protevi notes that Deleuze and Guattari
“show how social machines intersect technological lineages in producing ‘machinic phyla’, or groups of assemblages defined by their affects: what they can do and what they can undergo. Thus the horse – man – stirrup assemblage of the steppe nomads also produces a bio-social-technical functional unit that is no simple aggregate. These assemblages are territorialized: the triggers of self-organizing behaviour are embedded systematically in a territory. The territoriral assemblage interweaves a machinic assemblage of bodies and a collective assemblage of enunciation so that behaviour patterns are reliably triggered given the utterance of ‘order words’…DG thus enable us to construct a concept of ‘political physiology’ which studies the way interlocking intensive processes articulate the patterns, thresholds, and triggers of emergent bodies…”(Protevi, 2005).
University of Pennsylvania. (2015, February 2). How ‘spontaneous’ social norms emerge. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150202160701.htm
Protevi, John. “Deleuze, Guattari, and Emergence.” A Journal of Modern Critical Theory, 29.2 (July 2006): 19-39.