I’m a terrible and inconsistent blogger, why not try and try again! Anyway, I’ve been reading through Deleuze’s Cinema volumes (and some commentaries on them) and have had been experiencing another one of those cliche “wow, I can’t believe I’ve not thought about this in this way before” moments. In a way, I feel fortunate to have first read Derrida, then Lacan, and now finally Deleuze. For Derrida, of course, we are usually talking about semiotics, the play of signs, differance, the trace, etc. Lacan extends semiotic logic (of the Sausserian variety) to the unconscious, and hence we can crudely say each gives us a way to think about the world. Deleuze is fascinating to me because he does not so much build on either semiotics or psychoanalysis (though he certainly works through these modes of thought) but returns to a seemingly more obvious and basic way of understanding the world via the image of thought. Deleuze is suspicious of essentialistisms whether they be linguistic or psychoanalytic, and sets out to demonstrate that images themselves carry their own logic that cannot be subsumed into other categories of thought, hence a philosophy of cinema itself. If we are always looking “behind” images we miss the importance of the images themselves.
I’ve already been speaking very crudely, and so I’ll continue to be indefensibly cursory. What I want to talk about is the historical development of what Deleuze calls the “movement image” in pre-war cinema to the so called “time image.” D.W. Griffith, infamous racist and undeniably prolific innovator, for Deleuze, stands as emblematic of the movement image which employs techniques such as montage to an kind of organic unity previously unrepresented in film. One can think of Birth of a Nation and think not only of its propagandizing racism, but the way in which wide shots, close ups, and montage are used to represent the supposed onward march of history, the unity of a people as they confront their enemies in order to restore harmony to their world; the life of individual parts depicted in the film depend on the harmony of the whole. Black people, in this case, are the disturbance that throws of the unity of the United States, and intolerance is posited as organic unity (Marrati 99). A point Deleuze draws out is not that the images derive from a narrative, as we tend to think, but precisely the opposite: narrative forms from the composition and sequence of images. When the filmmaker invokes a montage, as directors like Griffith and Eisenstein often do, they present us with a depiction of an organic, living entity, a people, and from our internalization of the wholeness of that entity, when it is disturbed we naturally want to see the balance restored, almost the way in which gradients function in physics to restore equilibrium. A video I found on YouTube demonstrates how this form of the “movement image” is in no way a bygone method of film making, with the narrator pointing out that Steven Spielberg is perhaps contemporary cinema’s greatest purveyor of these pre-war techniques (though not necessarily toward the same political ends, at least explicitly).
This video points out how we organize ourselves according to images, we use our senses to place ourselves within the images and flow with them. We always try to compare the way in which we see in film to how we see the world, by virtue of our expectations of how images flow from one another in our everyday experience, we want to see our experience reflected within the film, we play out visual narratives. As the narrator here puts it, with film we “see outside of our bodies that which had previously been
confined in our minds.” So with someone like Spielberg and his film Jurassic Park, we can start to see how this is the case. Spielberg presents the viewer with a miraculous discovery of nature, petrified DNA that unlocks wondrous scientific possibility. The first third of the film, both narratively and visually presents us with a beautiful, harmonious world even after dinosaurs have been created. We see them grazing in the fields, moving together peacefully and in diverse packs. From these images, we form a sense of normalcy, of equilibrium, which is only later disturbed. Never mind the fact that we never see images of creatures like Tyrannosaurus Rexs or Velociraptors, even if narratively we know of their existence, before the event that disturbs the balance of the world (this is a nod to how the images, not simply the narrative, are anterior to our understanding of the film). Hence we yearn for the return of the stability of the pre-disturbance world, the harmony that was stolen from our perception. So in Jurassic Park, it is
not just the narrative we are invested in, e.g. we want to see the children survive, we want to see Newman get eaten as punishment for his disruptive actions (like black people in Griffiths’ BOAN) etc, but our consciousness gets caught up in the motion itself and wants to complete the motions that have been presented to us (a harmonious world that reflects our understanding of how things should be) which means deleting whatever is a threat to our visual perception of organic unity. As Deleuze would say in his earlier work Difference and Repetition, we seek the return of the same, rather than the return of difference. We get caught up in bad “habits” of thought, always seeking to represent, categorize, expect one thing must always follow another thing, rather than fully realizing the rich virtuality and possibility of difference containing within immanent reality, without thinking difference. As historian Lewis Namier quips, the problem is that we are always “remembering the future.”
Film is not simply a matter of light projected on a screen, as Clayton Crockett argues, it is a kind of simulation of our brain itself, our brain is also a screen so it is not surprise that film is capable of affecting us in the profound, diverse ways that it does. Just as we said earlier that the key is to look at images themselves and not the hidden linguistic signs (images are signs, just not lingusitic)or psychology behind them, so too the brain itself is a screen because there is nothing behind it. Crockett defines a brain broadly following Deleuze when he says “we need just a little order to protect us from chaos” (WIP 201). A brain thus “names that minimal order… we use to represent the minimal degree of organization required for being (Religion, Politics, and the Earth
121). The complexity and self-organization of reality itself is a brain, following Hegel in a manner of spirit, or thought, returning to itself by “positing itself outside of itself and then affirming the identity in difference between spirit and what it is not, substance becomes subject, becomes conscious of itself” (RPE 118). Crucially, then the “screen,” or consciousness in the form of a brain, is what “distinguishes something from chaos, makes something be” (RPE 122). Accordingly, chaos does not exist without a “screen,” chaos, Crockett explains, is only possibility, determination comes only with a screen, with some kind of ordering principle. Nature then, and its physical laws, is something like a giant “screen.” Recall how the narrator in the youtube clip observes that with film we “see outside our bodies” what was previously confined to the inside of our minds- in this sense, cinema represents a kind of externalized brain, or location of perception and organization, that not only mimics the way we see, but can change the way we see by creating new ways of not only conceiving of movement, but also time.
If this is the case, we can see the importance of creating new kinds of film, and I’ll get to that in my next post regarding what Deleuze calls the “time-image.” With the shift from the movement image to the time image, coinciding with World War 2 and having much to do with it, faith in “history,” or the unimpeded progress of mankind (sic) is disabused. No longer, after such global trauma, is organic unity and decisive action assumed. The way in which the world was assumed to be a the height of modernity becomes unrecognizable, and it is exactly when these recognitions fail (and Deleuze is always troubling recognition) that the structure of the “natural” and social habits of perception break down (Maratti 59). Rather than perception being directly tied to individual or collective action or movement, i.e. faith in history, our illusions of representation and recognition fail us and we are left with a demand for “increased thought, even if thought begins by undoing the system of actions, perceptions, and affections on which the cinema had been fed up to that point” (C1 206). Time begins to present itself, that is to say the diffractive, nonlinear, virtual, preganant nature of time that allows us to reconsider all that is, when faith in history is lost. Old conceptions of history give way to concepts like the “event” and continual becoming and the eternal return of difference. We need new imaginations and new ways of seeing, which will have to do with recognizing (re-cognizing, thinking the same again and again) less so that we can see more, as Deleuze argues. These are concepts that the time image deals with, and I’ll write about soon.
I got to chat with Kevin about his big idea, philosophy, how science has been compromised by capitalism in some respects, and what it might take to test his theory, among other things. If anyone has further questions and is interested in discussing what is presented here, I know Kevin loves to answer questions, so please comment.
Me: So this is obviously pretty informal, my goal is just to ask questions that I have that clarify your theory in a way that I can explain it for friends who aren’t into science, although I have to say after going through the chapter a few times it gets clearer with each subsequent read.
KM: Excellent. That is the one thing most important to me. Fire away.
Me: Well just on a personal note of curiosity, how did you get into this work? Someone told me you don’t do this for a living?
KM: No. My training is architecture and I worked on projects around the globe. I’ve always maintained an intense interest in science and math. Einstein is a passion for me.
Me: Pretty incredible. And you have training in religion?
KM: Yes, I have studied at PSR GTU Berkeley with Bishop John Shelby Spong, who goes by Jack.
Me: So how did you get to know Clayton and Jeff and get linked up with the project?
KM: I moved to Conway to provide long-term care for my Mom. She had a medical incident in 2005 that threatened her live. So serendipity brought me back to AR. Clayton had just moved the year before to UCA. He and my Mom bonded over the Kerry campaign 2004.
I was searching for a project to occupy myself with I saw Roscoe Bartlett’s presentation on Hubbert and peak oil in 2006. I talked to Clayton about it and it turned out he was studying it too. Clayton heard a presentation on Spong and the Easter Moment where I used Heidegger in an intriguing way. We hit it off.
Me: was there a moment where you realized that traditional approaches were never going to work? Was there a catalyst of sorts that launched you out the box in order to think in such a novel way?
Me: Could you say a little bit about what philosophy has to offer the “hard” sciences? One thing about the chapter in the book is the linking of a continental philosopher with physics. Analytic philosophy seems to be the handmaiden of “science,” but rarely to you see someone like Deleuze talked about in the same breath as physics.
KM: That is the primary problem. Deleuze’s synthesis is not appreciated generally. Analytics presents a problem. It becomes a circular vortex of confirmation/disconfirmation bias shutting off new innovative thinking. I liken it to my experience at CommArts Boulder. First a good idea must be visualized then the execution must follow. Most people just jump to execution and cut off critical thinking.
Me: So the kind of creativity that comes with Deleuze’s view of philosophy, i.e. the creation of “concepts” that he talks about in “What is Philosophy” might be missing in other disciplines? A more positivistic view does seem to shut off innovation…
KM: Right, it’s self-reinforcing leading one further astray.
Philosophers are reading him analytically and missing him completely. Mathematicians and physicists can’t read his philosophy. With the exception of Manuel DeLanda who is an architect too, not coincidentally, I think.
Me: Could you say more about what they are missing?
KM: What they’re missing is what Dick Feynman said of Einstein. He did his greatest work when he was visualizing the problem first then working the math.
ME: Ok. So now to the theory. The chapter says that 19th century thermodynamics was only concerned with a specialized circumstance of equilibrium thermodynamics that lead to a steady state of heat. Could you clarify for those of us who were in remedial physics what equilibrium thermodynamics are?
KM: Deleuze visualizes the limitations of Platonic/Aristotlean dogma and proposed new ideas. Then those ideas could have an effect of influencing math and physics if they would listen. That’s a big problem. In the laboratory mechanical engineers were interested in making better steam engines. So early physicists were universalizing that work in inappropriate ways that led to the false conclusions of ‘disorder’ and heat death. Earth systems and the universe are diverse processes of energy flow far from equilibrium or steady state or death.
Me: So scientists were lead astray it seems via capitalism, more efficient engines for transportation and commerce and that lead the entire discipline away from seeing earth systems in an appropriate way?
KM: Exactly so, Bo. The key insight is that all systems tend from a gradient to reduce it by the most efficient means. This is what the Principle of Least Action is all about. Spontaneous structure formation to most efficiently degrade gradients. Self-organization and Nature Abhors a Gradient.
Me: Can we get back to Deleuze? What do you mean that he figured this out in 1968? You mean when in D&R he talked about the world as an “egg”?
KM: Sort of. The chapter #5 Asymmetrical Synthesis of the Sensible is not understood or appreciated to the degree it should be. He did all the non-equilibrium thermodynamics above in the chapter but well before the nomenclature and work existed.
Me; So about the two major problems you attempt to solve in this chapter. Essentially, ferromagnetic materials need a magnetic driver to be paramagnetized, or made magnetic, above the curie temperature?
KM: Well, yes, but with caveats of course. There are serious caveats because the fields or material physics, condensed matter physics and quantum state physics, are evolving as we speak.
Ferromagnetism is the property of an element to become conventionally magnetized and retain that magnetism. I just want to be careful here because it sounds like science fiction and could be dismissed as such.
Me: Why is the earth’s core and mantle paramagnetized and ordered, not jumbled and what is the natural process that does this?
KM: This is where the storm in a bottle experiment is helpful. This is my favorite one because it communicates across disciplines and generations.
Me: And I see how the “nature abhors a gradient” / principle of least action plays here.
KM: The interior of the earth is not static like an experiment in the lab. Just like equilibrium thermodynamics in the lab isn’t what’s happening in the world.
Me: So the mantle/core materials are in motion just dozens of storms in a bottle?
KM: Right. Huge siphon structures organizing the magnetic moments.
and entropy is much different at that scale than in a lab. The nuclear element decay chains are heating the materials and paramagnetizing them too. First, during planet formation in the solar nebular phase there’s a transition from heat/collision agglomeration into gravity well formation and accretion.
Me: What causes the transition?
KM: For the inner rocky, or ‘geo,’ planets, the first one to get to the gravity accretion phase sucks up the lion’s-share of heavy elements in the solar nebular disc
Accumulation of materials related to volume of that accumulation.
Our contention is that Earth reached that transition first and gobbled up the majority share of fertile/fissile materials in the so-called terrestrial zone. We talk about this in the book.
During formation most of the heat is generated by collision and gravity well compression. Lots of heat but very little from the nuclear decay chains. That happens later.
Earth was spinning much faster and closer to sun during this phase. When a crust began forming 500 million years later that blanket began insulating the heat inside trapping it. It’s at this time the siphons begin forming, the decay chains start interacting and internal heating transfers from majority compression to minority compression — majority nuclear decay chain interactions.
Today compression/insulation accounts for 48% of heating. Nuclear decay chain interactions 52%, the rotation of Earth keeps the siphons spinning
Me: Ah like the bottle experiment…
KM: Just like the boy rotating the bottles a bit at right angle to the vertical axis of rotation of the syphon, yes!
Me: ok, we have lots of these huge siphons creating about half the heat?
KM: While all this is happening the materials are also paramagnetized by the same interactions — side and VERY important benefit.
Me: paramagnetized by the siphons, not the compression/insulation?
KM: The siphons don’t create the heat. They are resultant from the heat/density gradients.
The siphons self-organize the paramagnetism into a coherent global dipole effect that evolves over time. Vast time.
Me: Ok, so compression/insulation creates all the incredible heat, but incredibly powerful siphons are formed to correct the gradients that such compression causes? And if the siphons are organizing the paramagnetism, what is it again that is responsible for its
creation in the first place?
KM: Perfect. You now have the exact chicken-&-egg scenario. Hard to distinguish what happened first. Coincident happenings. Interrelated and interdependent
Me: ok. so curie temperature means the core is way too hot for magnetism, but somehow, the material was paramagnetized around the time of these siphons form…
KM: Ferromagnetism, yes.
Me: which are a product of the heat and the abhorrence of gradients created by all of that heat and pressure
KM: Yeah. That’s right. But they have been evolving. Remember the pole reversals?
KM: I have an animated pole reversal in the ppx to illustrate. And images of computer modeled siphons too.
It might be possible to engineer my generator to take advantage of the pole reversal as an alternating current format.
Me: Ok but this brings us to radioelectromagnetism which doesn’t behave like electromagnetism and produces the paramagnetism?
KM: Yes. Exactly right.
Me: Ok, so that would be the second problem, the natural process that electrifies the magnetohydrodynamic materials. Without the siphons the paramagnetism would cancel out — not global magnetic dipole
Me: So the mistake is thinking all of this in terms of electricity and not the magnetism given off by certain nuclear events?
KM: Yes. Fissile/Fissionable/Fission elements are spontaneously unstable, only U235 and Pu239.Fertile materials are almost but not quite unstable. All other nuclear elements and isotopes. There can be no electricity in the interior of the earth because of the heat. And iron is very poor piezoelectric material. Piezoelectricity is the property of an element to carry an electric current.
KM: Meaning another process is at work that doesn’t behave like electromagnetism. That’s what Feynman & Gell-Mann’s Theory of the Fermi Interaction is all about. Substitute electromagnetism for radioelectromagnetism. Clayton wouldn’t let me get that technical in the book! Every nuclear interaction produces a pack of ‘strange’ magnetism > paramagnetism, by nuclear decay means.
Me: And scientists missed that before because of theories of electromagnetism and not radioelectromagnetism? The connection between nuclear decay and magnetism was overlooked?
KM: Radioelectromagnetism is mine if things go well. I give full credit to Feynman/Gell-Mann! Exactly right. Overlooked. For 55 years.
Me: so these nuclear decays are always happening in the materials of the earth’s mantle and core? Because they’re so hot? Or does it have to do with the gradient
KM: They decay chains are making the heat and density gradient.
Me: Gotcha. So what kind of resources would be necessary to create the kind of model you talk about at the end of the chapter? What are the practical ways forward?
KM: A few labs with robotic manipulation for crafting radio armatures. A couple of year to prototype test the idea. Need to get buy-in from a couple of universities and entrepreneurs, push both directions. Strangely enough, the very thermal nuclear powerplants we’ve been building for more than 60 years, now approaching decommissioning would make excellent candidates for testing and eventually manufacturing these very generators. Don’t forget. When the fertile elements are converted the unit needs to be refurbished to put the new fissile elements into new fertile-converting generators. One can easily see the benefits of pursuing this technology. We can clean up the previous technology’s mess as we introduce an improved way to generate electricity going forward.
With their new book, Clayton Crockett and Jeff Robbins have written a novel manifesto wedding together sometimes disparate philosophical theories and even distinct disciplines. In Religion, Politics, and the Earth: The New Materialism, the authors demonstrate exactly why I think theology is the most important academic discipline today. Not because I think that theology should be the “queen of the sciences” once again like medieval and Radical Orthodox folks thought, but rather theology has come to the point of self-emptying in ways which lead it to be able to think trans-disciplinarily unlike many other disciplines. The kind of “secular theology” that Crockett and Robbins engage in is not confessional or dogmatic, it is not concerned with theology qua theology per se, but approximately Tillichian in the sense of thinking “ultimate concern,” which for us now has mostly to do with global warming, the energy crisis, and the financial crisis.
In respect to these three broad but immanent concerns, the book is split into topical chapters- digital culture, religion, politics, art, ethics, energy and a radical proposal for a new energy source, “becoming a brain,” logic, and “the event.” Each of these chapters alone is a topic that elicits endless scholarship, but The New Materialism is laudable for taking scholarship regarding these topics in new directions. The kind of holistic and robust thinking on display is certainly more than a case of a couple of theologians overstepping their professional bounds, it is rather the birthing of a new way of thinking through which these diverse topics may be processed. Now we turn to the central and novel claim of this short book.
Underlying and supporting the analysis of this book is a claim about Being. Rather than “being” as a kind of substance (Spinoza), as narratives “about being” (Lyotard), as language (structuralists), as mental states, as time (Heidegger), or even as mathematics (Badiou), “New” in “New Materialism” signifies a kind of nondualism that seeks to exceed Materialist critiques and overcome transcendent idealism. Being, the most foundational currency of the universe, the authors argue, is simply “energy.” Specifically, the universe is all about energy transformation. This kind of materialism sets out to be truly materialist, but also non-atomistic, as well as resonate with the concepts of “life” and “spirit.” We should remember that matter is simply a kind of stored energy, but how is energy also able to be described as life?
This is where the concept of “Being a brain” comes into play. While our brains are physical, organic, material organs, they are “created by energetic becoming and in turn serve as a basis for further comlexification” (119). Here, “self-emergent complexety” allows us to blur the boundaries between the organic and the inorganic. “Brain” then comes to symbolize not simply the organic brains that we all have, but that which stands in for complex, energetic, emerging systems. Simply put, “brains” are “being” insofar as being is understood not as a static thing, but as energy, which is always becoming. Brains are adaptive, complex, and emergent systems of neurons. High level intelligence and consciousness, as emergent properties, demonstrate the uniqueness of being as becoming/energy. The authors also invoke the work of Catherine Malabou to show that our brains are plastic, which is the brain’s ability to be the “creator or receiver of form, but also an ability to exceed or annihilate forms” (119). The theory of neural plasticity that Malabou argues for, invoking the latest in neuroscience research, shows that the brain is not simply an object of history, but it makes it — it possesses a form of freedom. The basic idea then is that by showing that being is energy, not only can we overcome the dualism of matter and spirit (Hegelian or otherwise) but the earth can be understood an entirely new way –as becoming a brain. In a dialectical process, “thought returns to itself” as thought emerges from the complex emergent systems and energy forces (not least of which in the human brain) and then, lo and behold, thought is actually returning to itself (the earth) in immanent fashion as thought is realized as energy (being) and what remains is energy transformation. The authors point out that energy is also electromagnetic, and the consequences of this have been largely ignored by thermodynamic-centered physics, which I will talk about at length in my next post which will be with Kevin Mequet who has a radical proposal for a new energy source based on these insights.
If this technicality can be held in mind, one might see how “new materialist” readings of things like “religion” and “politics” might be highly relevant. One begins to see energy as the interlacing principle of reality. If energy is what there is, it is not surprising that global wars are fought over energy sources
(thermodynamic and weak sources, nonetheless) and that there is a direct tie between global economic capitalistic growth and energy (oil) supply. If we are coming up against our current energy limits, that is to say economic limits, we begin to see how closely energy is tied to money, which (naturally) brings one to religion, which the authors conclude at one point is “about money.” This is to say that “religion remains resonant as the contemporary form of life” (32). The “spiritual” (read: energy?) power of money leads us toward certain ethical and political obligations (which have their own chapters) and that the role of money in religion is certainly not unique to religion. Money has a funny way of contributing to ideological apparatuses, which is to say that unlike the classic materialist critique of religion as “false consciousness,” the New Materialism, following Žižek, sees false consciousness everywhere which makes religion, or at least Žižek’s Christianity, still a false consciousness, and yet one that has the potential to help us disavow our illusions and false assurances –theological or neoliberal.
As energy is a kind of “undecideable,” neither spirit nor matter yet both, we begin to see the New Materialist critique let concepts shine as both/and entities with the virtual capacity for radical change. For example, religion is false consciousness and potential revealer of dangerous ideology, art has become largely a capitalist commodity but also harbors revolutionary potential, and digital culture, the subject of chapter one, demonstrates that Facebook and Twitter are a way of corportizing people’s lives. Facebook and Twitter in a sense represent the “Roman road” scenario- they can be used to conquer or spread knowledge and opportunity; they might provide a conduit for an uncontrollable flow of information that empowers people such as in Iran in the spring of 2009. We have fallen prey to thinking of “being” either as simply atomistic matter or as spiritual/ideal, but it is energy that synthesizes the two in order to truly harness its power and understand its potential. So too with the concepts in The New Materialism, it is in understanding the nature of energy and its foundation in everything that we can see new ways forward.
I have not touched on some important aspects of the book; the chapters on art, ethics, logic, and the event. Nonetheless, as I’m sure some ambiguities and even misunderstandings in my reading of the book make clear, connecting all of the dots is not always easy. While I reiterate my commendation of Crockett and Robbins for thinking in this manner through a plethora of topics, one can only feel that if the project were acutely focused, a more precise vision of “The New Materialism” might emerge. What one might hope for in a more narrow version of New Materialism is also more easily derived practical applicability. What is one to do with these concepts? This is not such an easy question to answer. Nonetheless, I believe the value here is experimenting with a new, vital way of thinking, and undoing our mistaken patterns of thinking. My hope is that this project is only the tip of the iceberg for New Materialist thought, that we see both this method and some of its concrete proposals fleshed out in the coming years, as well as an expansion of the conversation outside of radical theological circles (Which is also to say outside of Christian theological circles. I agree with Anthony Paul Smith’s review insofar is there is some worry of an overemphasis of Christianity in this work, as there is in Žižek).
In a couple days, I’ll be posting an interview with Kevin Mequet, whose ideas inspired the chapters in the book on energy. He has a radical proposal for rethinking nuclear energy for anyone interested in further demonstration of the implications of many of the ideas discussed here.