Let us now examine our situation in terms of Deleuze’s distinction between the intensive and extensive. “Extensive” refers to units of quantitative measurements, such as the weight of the brain, voltage of a resting membrane potential, etc. These differences are intrinsically divisible. Intensity, however, is not divisible. When we speak of intensity, we speak of a property which, if divided, causes a qualitative, rather than quantitative, change. For example, change in the speed of the reuptake of serotonin from a synapse by a presynaptic neuron may result in the intensive difference of happiness, sadness, irritability, etc. Now intensive differences are not innate to all neurotransmitter reuptake speed, intensive differences may arise once a certain speed is reached. The purpose of an SSRI, for example, is to so slow down or inhibit the reuptake of serotonin as to produce intensive changes in mood. The system that is the brain will qualitatively change in a holistic manner once the reuptake speed of the neurotransmitter reaches a certain state of extensive difference. Likewise, the system of a chow chow’s brain undergoes a qualitative shift once the speed of Fezzy’s hand reaches a certain speed against its rear end, insofar as it will exhibit the affect of sadness.
The term “singularity” is used of the point at which the individuation of an entity issues from a pre-individual aggregate of matter. Matter contains potential forms or functions. Given the right impetus or meeting of forces, they may individuate into something new. There will come a point, for example, at which the trauma which Fezzy habitually experiences, may come to constitute a personality disorder, perhaps observable through certain neurobiological abnormalities. Certain differential relations among heterogeneous components must come to constitute a certain set of preconditions for certain actualizations or states of affairs to come about. When certain rates of change among extensive entities reached a certain state, intensive changes begin to take place, which, in an individual subjective, may come to constitute a personality disorder in a manner similar to the Idea of a hurricane formation. Certain processes of air and water movement occur, which are initiated by pressure and temperature differences, and a hurricane results once these extensive processes reach certain points of singularity.
Singular points may be virtual to each personality disorder, but in each instantiation of a specific personality disorder, they may have the same virtual moment of singularity. For example, a certain degree of damage to the orbitofrontal cortex may be virtual for each and every instantiation of antisocial personality disorder. The actual science is considerably more complicated than this, of course. The singularities virtual for each individuation or actualization of personality disorders is likely a great deal less precise than the temperature at which each individuation or actualization of water evaporates.
The singularity at which antisocial personality emerges in a specific individuation or actualization may not have a precise, quantitatively measurable singularity, but it is clearly a construct which is useful for many different predictions. Once the concepts in an individual subject’s mind (“I am angry at the world,” “I don’t care about other peoples’ feelings,” “I am entitled to what I want regardless of the consequences”), perhaps a certain degree of atrophy among connections between certain modules of the brain, certain neurotransmitter levels and levels of neuroactive steroids, all issuing in a set of behavioral patterns which becomes diagnosable as antisocial personality disorder once the behavioral patterns meet a certain score on a technically reliable and valid assessment, provided the individual is such and such an age, etc.
To translate the language of Deleuze and Guattari into the language of complexity theory, as John Protevi has done, one can think of the human subject as an emergent system, a diachronic construction, and the use, for example, of a personality disorder, as something which focuses on synchronic behavior insofar as the synchronic look at the system exhibits a certain systematic behavior pattern. The patterns are known as “attractors.” The thresholds at which extensive rates of change or becoming is of sufficient intensity to produce a new behavior or individuation is known as a “bifurcator.” Protevi, as noted before, is attracted to complexity theory because it provides a model according to which systems self-organize, as opposed to the hylomorphic model, according to which structure or coherent organization or patterns only results from something being imposed from on high.
Thus, Fezzy, prior to exhibiting the traits of antisocial personality disorder, has a distinct, comparatively healthy attractor. So does his brother Frigate. In fact, since they are genetic twins, their personalities exhibit a great deal more similarity than is normally found between two individuals, even of family numbers, in the human race. However, they come into contact with radically different forces which affect them in totally different ways. Their attractors morph into distinct adult personalities of very difference substance once they reach certain bifurcators.
The various variables examined (blood sugar as a result of certain diets and patterns of exercise, genetics, cultures, internalized self-image, family life, etc.) all constitute components of what in complexity theory is known as a “phase space.” These are the “interesting” variables of the system which are relevant to whatever phenomenon we are looking for. The phase space possesses certain attractors, or patterns of behavior or trajectories, and these attractors reach certain bifurcators, or transformative moments in phase space, when subject to certain forces. Singularity means something similar to bifurcator: it is the threshold at which point a qualitative change in the system occurs. Likewise, we have basis of attraction, which, the reader recalls, refers to the ordinary or typical behavior of a system in its behavior pattern.
So Fezzy reaches a point of singularity or bifurcator, for example, when he is punished such that his the short allele of his serotonin transporter gene, as well as the MAOA-L variant, jointly trigger pathological behavior, itself exacerbated by excessive sugar consumption, imprisonment and alcohol abuse. At certain points in these unfavorable circumstances, bifurcators or singularities are reached, resulting in new basins of attraction, which come to constitute totally unique and distinct attractors.
When Deleuze refers to the “virtual,” he refers to what in complexity theory we would refer to as the sum total of the realm of all patterns and thresholds at which new patterns are generated. These thresholds can also be referred to as “Ideas” or “abstract machines” or “multiplicities.” The virtual is the layout, so to speak, of all possible patterns, thresholds, basins of attraction, attractors, etc. It is the whole picture.
Deleuze holds that these Ideas are ontologically distinct, as per his emphasis that emergence must issue in authentic, ontologically distinct entities rather than emergence merely referring to epistemological indeterminacy. Thus, the virtual refers to all the thresholds at which Fezzy might come to enter into new basins of attraction as a result of his distinct diet, traumas he might have encountered, compounded by alcohol and/or amphetamines he may have encountered, points at which certain neurotransmitter patterns are reached, and so on. It ought to be recognized, of course, that for Deleuze, the distinction between synchronic and diachronic is purely pragmatic; all of reality is in a state of continual flux.
It ought to be obvious that throughout this process, everything, and potentially anything, becomes a source of the “unconscious.” Deleuze and Guattari are hostile to the Freudian notion that the unconscious specifically a domain that acts as a stage solely for Oedipal dramas. Instead, the self, constituted as a psychophysical matrix, is utterly porous, continually pervaded by all sorts of forces. It is a site or nexus of the biological, the psychological, the social, the historical, the material, the political, and virtually any other sort of force one can think of.
John Protevi begins to articulate what a Deleuzian cognitive science might look like.
For John Protevi, Gilles Deleuze’s essay on Lucretius provides a helpful step in articulating what he refers to as “4EA cognition”; so-called because it provides a model of cognition which is “embodied, embedded, enactive, extended, affective.” The purpose of mobilizing Deleuze in such a way is to overcome an approach to the mind according to which the brain is a physical symbol system like a computer. This “computationalism,” as Protevi explains it, “sees cognition as rule-bound manipulation of discrete symbols in a serial or von Neumann architecture, which passes through a CPU (central processing unit).” This is opposed to the approach in philosophy of mind known as connectionism, according to which the brain, though still a “computer,” has an “allegedly more biologically realistic architecture: parallel distributed processing. In connectionism’s so-called neural nets, cognition is the change in network properties; that is, the strength and number of connections.”
Like Deleuze, these thinkers break with a model of the mind understood as “self-identical, representationalist, isolated, and spiritualist.” Dynamical systems theory replaces a computational metaphor, and neurodynamical processes are studied as “integration or resolution of distributed/differential neural systems.” This is similar to Deleuze’s understanding of identities as “emergent from fields of differences.” Deleuze and the connectionists both likewise break with the model of the mind according to which it is a physical symbol machine which engages in “sensory input / processing of representations / motor output.” In this respect, it is a profoundly anti-representationalist model. The human subject is not a transcendent subject in an isolated brain, but has its being “in distributed systems of brain – body – world.” Deleuze and the connectionists both insist that cognition is purely biological rather than resulting from immaterial or purely mental properties.
Protevi summarizes: “Altogether, then, the 4EA schools resonate with Deleuze in seeing cognition as immanent to extended / distributed / differential bio-environmental systems in which “real experience” is the non-representational direction of action via the integration / resolution of differential fields. They thus are naturalist in fighting the myths of the self-identical, representationalist, isolated, and spiritualist subject.” He believes that Deleuze can assist the phenomenological 4EA thinkers, such as Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, by decentering the self and removing it from a model in which the self is understood as indivisible and unitary rather than the result of numerous interacting forces.
Protevi aligns himself with Brian Massumi and Manual Delanda is interpreting Deleuze in terms of dynamical systems theory, which uses mathematical models of physical systems. “In these models a multi-dimensional manifold is constructed, with as many dimensions as variables of the system to be modeled; this manifold represents the state space of the system, that is, its domain or range of possible behaviors.” Dynamical systems methods are frequently used to map and explain neurodynamics, Protevi notes, articulating a model in which the brain generates “wave patterns out of a chaotic background…In any one act (perception, iamgination, memory, etc.) the brain functions via the “collapse of chaos,” that is, the formation of a “resonant cell assembly of coherent wave patterns.”
As Protevi points out, neurodynamics provides us with a model of the brain in which
“nervous system activity is a dynamic system with massive internal feedback phenomena, thus constituting an “autonomous” and hence “sense-making” system in Varela’s terminology. Sense-making proceeds along three lines: sensibility as openness, signification as valuing, and direction as orientation of action. The neurological correlates of sense-making show neural firing patterns, blending sensory input with internal system messages, emerging from a chaotic bacground in which subliminal patterns “compete” with each other for dominance. Once it has emerged victorious from this chaotic competition and established itself, what Varela 1995 calls a “resonant cell assembly” (RCA) forms a determinate pattern of brain activity that can be modeled as a basin of attraction. Over time, the repetition of a number of such patterns provides a virtually available response repertoire for the person.”
Protevi elaborates on how this would look practically:
“In navigating the world, a person continually forms intentions, that is, leans towards things in outreaching behavior, as the brain settles into patterns. Once in a pattern, the system constrains the path of future firings, as long as the pattern or resonant cell assembly lasts. (Some intentions entail long strings of firing patterns, yielding coherent complex behavior, as in the intention to play a game of basketball). Sensory input continually feeds into the system along the way, either reinforcing the settling into a pattern, or shocking the brain out of a pattern into a chaotic zone in which other patterns strive to determine the behavior of the organism (= Freeman’s “unlearning” or Varela’s “breakdown” or DG’s “BwO”). The neurological correlate of a decision is precisely the brain’s falling into one pattern or another, a falling that is modeled as the settling into a basin of attraction that will constrain neural firing in a pattern. there is no linear causal chain of input, processing, and output. Instead there is continually looping as sensory information feeds into an ongoing dynamic system, altering or reinforcing pattern formation, in model terms, the trajectory of the system waves its way in and out of a continually changing attractor landscape whose layout depends upon the recent and remote past of the nervous system.”