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Deleuze and Cinema: The Political Significance of (Time) Images Part 3

So far I have been trying to keep to a certain trajectory. By following Deleuze’s tracing of the breakdown of the movement image, or images with meanings tied directly to sensory-motor perceptions, to the exposure of the true nature of time in the time image, we have hopefully now arrived at why this really matters. I ended my last post by saying that we must inhabit the radical “breaks” that the time image reveals (and I tried to describe) in order to choose, in Deleuze’s sense of eternal return, difference rather our normal mode of re-cognition and re-creation.

Ways in which we recognize the world, or see the world, might be a way of describing various “spiritual” groups. For example, mystics might be said to quite literally see the world in a way that highlights or brings forth the inherent mysteries that many of us miss or glaze over in our quotidian devotion to the status quo. William Connolly experiments with organizing people this way in his book Capitalism and Christianity, American Style (2008). Connolly observes that members of different creedal groups, whether they are straightforward capitalists and businessmen or conservative Christians, are drawn together despite creedal differences because they possess affinities of spirituality (40). For example, Connolly points out that an atheist who resents the world for containing no meaning or redemption shares a similar existential ethos of resentment and revenge with the conservative Christian who, even if unconsciously, resents God for making life unfair or making salvation difficult to attain, or generating so many rules that must be followed. These less than obvious groupings are what Connolly dubs a “resonance machine,” this particular machine Connolly calls the “evangelical-capitalist resonance machine” which is primarily operative in our current state of affairs. Connolly further elucidates:

Partners to the resonance machine in question have an existential orientation that encourages them to transfigure interest into greed, greed into anti-market ideology, anti-market ideology into market manipulation, market manipulation into state institutionalization of those operations, and the entire complex into policies that pull the security net away from ordinary workers, consumers, and retirees- some of  whom are then set up to translate new intensities of resentment and cynicism into participation in the machine (43). 

In regard to how this narrative continually plays out on our plane of immanence, one might say that we are living in the midst of a very long, bad movie (C2 115). The movie we live in, directed by global capitalism and neoliberalism, is repetitive and self-enclosed. This is precisely why Deleuze turns to film as a philosophical site of resistance.  As a philosopher committed to being open to life, Deleuze shows that cinema, as one of the most important events of modern life, gives us mode of “seeing” that is outside of the human subject and opens up new ways of seeing and interrupts the dominant way seeing and receiving data that continually bombards us.

Unlike everyday life, where we see things from a particular position grounded in our own subjectivity, cinema has the potential to temporarily liberate us from our limited embodied perspective. The organizing structure of our own perceptive consciousness can disrupted by cinema which contains the unique ability, via its use of background, sound, light, movement, and time, to create its own novel perspective that liberates us from the normal sequence of everyday life. While our brains normally organize subsequent images into a coherent whole in what we assume is a shared world with others, films can present images apart from this normal ordering sequence, as well as disrupt our sense of a shared perspective. Ideally, cinema might corrupt the everyday viewpoint that we are used to, and how we synthesize sense data into abstract “time” is disrupted. Images become singularities, dislodged from logical sequences, so that we can achieve a glimpse at time itself not as a linear construction, but an outward and infinitely divergent movement of becoming (again, as I tried to articulate in my last post). The time-image allows us to see that common sense perception is not all there is, history as a series of images and movement is not closed but open, things can always be otherwise than they are if only we see differently.

To this effect, I quote Deleuze at length from Cinema 2:

We see, and we more or less experience, a powerful organization of poverty and oppression. And we are precisely not without sensory-motor schemata for recognizing such things, for putting up with and approving of them and for behaving ourselves subsequently, taking into account our situation, our capabilities,and our taste. We have schemata for turning away when it is too unpleasant, for prompting resignation when it is terrible and for assimilating when it is too beautiful. It should be pointed out here that even metaphors are sensory-motor evasions, and furnish us with something to say when we no longer know what to do: they are specific specific schemata of an affective nature. Now this is what a cliche is. A cliche is a sensory-motor image of a thing. As Bergson says, we do not perceive the image or the thing in its entirety, we always perceive less of it, we perceive only what we are interested in perceiving, or rather what is in our interest to perceive, by virtue of economic interests, ideological beliefs and psychological demands. We therefore normally only perceive cliches. But, if our sensory-motor schemata jam or break, then a different type of image can appear: a pure optical-sound image, the whole image without metaphor, brings out the thing in itself, literally, in its excess of horror or beauty, in its radical or unjustifiable character, because it no longer has to be ‘justified,’ for better or worse…  The factory creature gets up, and we can no longer say ‘Well, people have to work…’ I thought I was seeing convicts: the factory is a prison, the school is a prison, literally, not metaphorically… On the contrary, it is necessary to discover the seperate elements and realtions that elude us at the heart of the unclear image: to show how and in what sense a school is a prison, housing estates are examples of prostitution, bankers are killers, photographs tricks- literally, without metaphor. (C2 20-21)

In some sense, as Deleuze argues, the less we recognize the more we see…. “there is no knowing how far a real image may lead” (21). One might think about the Wal Mart shopper, enticed by “Always Low Prices. Always,” who only chooses to see the surface level images presented to them, accepting that they flow from the narrative presented to them via the media and advertisements europa2which praise the benefits of exploitative capitalism by hiding its true nature, the images of its underside. In the marketplace we always find buffers that serve to keep many aspects of the world, or the image, apart from our consciousness (lest we question our habits and sensory-motor schemata that allow the system to function).  We cannot see the factory as a prison because it acts as nothing more than an abstract image in our minds or it is simply a piece of scenery we see on our way to our various destinations. In the film Europe 51, the wealthy protagonist only comes to see the factory, to reinhabit the image of the factory anew, by working within the factory which unlocks the images behind the images that we willfully accept in our desire to continue to not be disturbed.

For those who take part in the conservative resonance machines, what is shared is a tragic view of reality wherein time and movement are viewed as linear and there are no singularities, only products or commodities. In this way, conservative politics often seem to be grounded in a resentment that grows out of profound disappointment in the world. Time as serial and located within the subject is taken for granted, and I suggest the corollary of this acceptance is in fact a passivity in the face of exploitation and the resentment and revenge impulse that living in the midst of an unchallenged system of domination, i.e. capitalism, is created. Hence, as Connolly pointed out, victims often “translate new intensities of resentment and cynicism into participation in the machine.” Traditional theology, according to Deleuze, views God’s plan as the constitutive of the virtual and we, humanity, are here enacting the virtual “plan” in actuality. The script is written and we, as actors in God’s movie, are here to play it out. This is the conservative fallacy, and the fallacy that ideologically undergirds our inability to envision difference qua difference and being qua becoming. One Deleuze scholar Ronald Bogue, puts it thusly;

One mode of life, for example, is that of the ideologue, or the true believer, for whom the answers are already given and there is nothing to choose. Another is that of the  indifferent or uncertain, those who lack the capacity to choose or who never know    enough to be able to choose. A third is that of the fatalists and devotees of evil, those who make a single choice that commits them to an inevitable and unavoidable sequence of actions that afford no further choice. And finally, there is the mode of existence of those who choose to choose., those who affirm a life of continual choosing. The choice in this last mode of existence, in short, “has no other object than itself: I choose to choose, and  that means I exclude every choice made according to the mode of having no choice (Deleuze on Cinema 121)

We must choose to reject the bad movie we are stuck within. Traditional theology, according to Deleuze, views God’s plan as the constitutive of the virtual and we, humanity, are here enacting the virtual “plan” in actuality. The script is written and we, as actors in God’s movie, are here to play it out (and not simply those with supreme confidence in the sovereignty of God, that is more of a narrative faith in determinism, what Deleuze is getting at is a sensory-motor implicit fatalism, we associate certain A’s with their effect B, over and over, “e.g. ‘it’s just the way it is’). This is the conservative fallacy, and the fallacy that ideologically undergirds our inability to envision difference qua difference and being qua becoming. In choosing to choose, what we are doing is choosing multiplicity, choosing difference, and choosing becoming. The second “choose” in choosing to choose represents a multiplicity and contingency that opposes the fatalism of market capitalism and theologies of divine providence alike (which, we have seen, resonate together).

We must choose to choose, choose to continually inhabit the rarified image, cease the suppression of the illusion that we are seeing everything when we are seeing almost nothing. Here, the revolutionary potential of cinema might be realized as truly Catholic in the sense new “resonance machines” might be formed with Catholic, or universal, aspirations for reestablsihing the link between humanity and the world itself, not the cheap representations of the world passed off to us in the interest of our own exploitation, or the exploitation of the many at the hands of the few (who, one might argue, do see it all). This link, Deleuze claims, is always at stake. Deleuze harps on the notion of belief as a choice, one that is more necessary and at the same time more difficult than before (that is, prior models of belief, i.e. religious belief, or even atheism). “The less the world is,” Deleuze teaches, “the more it is the artist’s duty to believe and produce belief in a relation between man and the world, because the world is made by men [sic, of course]” (C2 171). Now, however, especially after the revolutionary potential of Christian faith seems to have passed, as we are trapped in the jaws of capitalism and a failed Enlightenment, we no longer believe in the world, “we do not believe in the events which happen to us, love, death, as if they only half concerned us” (171). Whether we are atheists or Christian, we must not resonate together as Connolly sees the evangelical-capitalist resonance machine, but “in our universal schizophrenia, we need reasons to believe in this world.” I can only imagine the despair of Deleuze if he were here as I write this and millions still debate Miley Cirus “twerking” (don’t ask me) at the VMA’s as America is on the verge of bombing Syria.

Delueze urges us to go beyond mere ideological criticism. Ideology is certainly what significantly undergirds our sensory-motor schemata, but it is our perception of the world that, most fundamentally, determines our belief. Through theorizing time in this way, and pointing to media such as cinema that might help us see differently, see again, see differently, in order to realize the vast potential of this world so we might believe, that is the legacy of Deleuze’s corpus. Traditional forms of representation (which are rarely truly “art”) ally themselves with the conspiracy to hide this fact that inspires authentic belief, instead inducing an all too complicit ennui.

Cinema might help us regain the certain “Catholic” aspirations that we now seem to lack. Deleuze quite rightly observes that today, “the people are missing.” Cinema, and art in general, must not address a people that we presuppose are already there, but “contributing to the invention of a people” (C2 217).  Clayton Crockett articulates the project as “The invention of a people today involves a construction of a time-image, a new way to think, to directly short-circuit the clichés, deceptions, and manipulations of the State” (Crockett 183) Whether or not we agree with Deleuze that Christianity and perhaps religion in general has lost its revolutionary character (though for better or worse, the events of the Arab Spring might give Deleuze pause), we need reasons and apparatuses that help us believe in this world, to create a people that can oppose neoliberal regimes that eviscerate the common human being. And again, it may not be a simple matter of giving peoples more information (the failure of Wikileaks and other organization to produce arguably any substantial change helps demonstrate this) or a more inspiring message to hear, but quite literally helping them to see differently in order to overcome. The creation of the time-image, for Deleuze, was the cinematic attempt to create images that could not be so easily hijacked for sinister political purposes due to their ambivalent nature. We would do well to think again about how to create new time images that due not fit the current aesthetic model of politics as usual. Art for art’s sake is not impervious to subversion, so it must continually renew itself to stay ahead of a kind of sterilizing aestheticization.

The hope is to begin to cultivate positive “resonance machines” that can operate across creedal differences  not on the frequency of resentment and greed but genuine belief in the world and a commitment to seeing again the cliches of our world in order to break them apart and begin anew. Connolly shows us how such resonances are possible, that indeed respect difference to the point of radical plurality, yet Connolly and Deleuze both help us rehabilitate a kind of “spirituality” that can be identified that is open to be shared which does not so much transcend particularity but work within it. Religion may or may not be a source of this spirituality in the future, but it has never been more important to seek it, or better yet create it.


Deleuze and Cinema: The Political Significance of Images (Part 1)

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

The perfect organic harmony of "nature."

The perfect organic harmony of “nature.”

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

The natural organization of white society

The natural organization of white society

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.”

The "disturbance"

The original “disturbance,” although at this point ironically the T Rex is restoring balance

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

Well, here it's black people rather than giant lizards, but you get the point

Well, here it’s black people rather than giant lizards, but you get the point…. they must be driven away to restore the normalcy of intolerance

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.

The New Materialist Radical Energy Proposal, Part 2: Interview With Kevin Mequet

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?

200px-Difference_and_RepetitionKM: Exactly. That’s what led us to read Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition together.

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?

Multiple Storms In a Bottle as temperature/ density gradients� (borrowed from Kevin's powerpoint presentation on the subject)

Multiple Storms In a Bottle as temperature/ density gradients (borrowed from Kevin’s powerpoint presentation on the subject)

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

Gradient reduction

Gradient reduction

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?

Me: Indeed

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

KM: Yes

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.

Me: Meaning?

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.

The New Materialist Radical Energy Proposal, Part 1

In chapter 7 of “Religion, Politics and the Earth,” Clayton Crockett and Jeff Robbins consult the work of Kevin Mequet, an architect from Arkansas with a deep and passionate love of physics who has developed his own radical proposal for nuclear energy. After showing in the previous chapter (ch. 6) the utter unsustainability of not only carbon and hydrocarbon sources of energy, but also traditional thermal nuclear alternative that have not yielded nearly the efficiency people expected, the authors here show us a sketch of what we might turn to moving forward. I highly recommend Tad Delay’s post on this problem before proceeding. The basic concept for this proposal is “physics beyond heat.” The language in the book is a bit technical sometimes so I was able to talk to Kevin myself to ask him a few clarifying questions and to hear about the project more from his perspective. First I’ll outline some basic concepts of the theory, frame the conversation, and in my next post will contain the interview.

If we remember from high school science class, the second law of thermodynamics, or entropy, is the movement of a system from order to disorder. In this process, more energy is lost in heat conversion than used for actual work. Today, because we burning so much inefficient fuel, heat is “literally burning up the planet” as nation states and corporations fail to make significant changes in energy policy (102).  To begin to think otherwise, the authors claim that we need to begin to take Einstein very seriously, specifically the concept of “physics beyond heat.”

As Ilya Prigogine recognized in the 19th century, thermodynamics was only concerned with a specialized circumstance of equilibrium thermodynamics that lead to a steady state of heat. (103) The obvious problem is that we don’t live in that equilibrium most of the time. In other words, the study of thermodynamics was concerned with rare circumstances, not a common one. 21st century thermodynamics, then, are about non-equilibrium rather than equilibrium states. For this, the authors turn to the earth’s magnetic field- which by all standard physical accounts should not exist- as the key for understanding energy in the future.

In short, the reason our magnetic field should not exist by most accounts is that within the earth, iron and other metals in the mantle and core are too hot for electricity to be conducted.  “Magnetohydrodynamics” is the term that describes the interaction between electricity and magnetism that we’ll be looking at.

One problem is that “ferromagnetic” materials (such as iron) need a magnetic driver to be paramagnetized above the Curie temperature, so what is that driver? Normally according to standard models “all the tiny magnetic moments would cancel each other out rendering a global dipole magnetic effect implausible” (104).  In other words, if material in the mantle and core is paramagnetized, how is it not 220px-Geodynamo_Between_Reversalsjumbled but rather sustained and consistent? The second problem is what naturally occurring process could make produce a magnetic field to begin with?

The mistaken assumption is that the question of the earth’s magnetic field has to do with heat. According to Mequet, it is not crucial that metals are hot in this process; we need to look beyond heat, first to salt tectonic studies.

The key claim here is that heat and density can be thought of interchangeably (105). Density gradients among dissimilar materials produce similar results to thermal gradients (though physics has only been thinking in thermal terms). Quoting Eric Schneider and Dorion Sagan, the authors cite the oft cited but perhaps not adequately investigated claim that “Nature abhors a gradient” (105). It can be said that naturally occurring organized structures emerge to abolish gradients.

This, then, is how magnetohydrodynamic materials produce a global magnetic dipole field where molecules self organize (principle of least action efficiently degrades the gradient). Every dipole degrades itself and reverses, and we know this has happened to the earth- our magnetic field has weakened 20% in last 40 years alone.

So we have motion, a magnetic driver, answer to first question, but not yet a theory of the magnetic field generation itself. For this problem, the authors turn to the theory of Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann. “Every time a fissile nuclear atom fissions, it sends out one or two neutrons, a few subatomic particles including one antineutrino, two halves of the nucleus… and on spontaneous magnetic moment.” This explains driver of the magnetic field… “ Magnetohydrodynamic fluids are being continually paramagnetized by fissile nuclear decay chain interactions. Fertile and ffissile nuclear elements are thoroughly entrained in the iron/silicate mantle/core matrix materials like yeast leavening flour in bread dough.” Fertile elements are converted fissile ones. We’ll come back to that later in our conversation with Kevin.

Lastly, a connection is made between this athermal theory of nuclear energy and the work of philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who “provides

"It's going to take these assholes a long time to catch up."

“It’s going to take these assholes a long time to catch up.”

the philosophical methodology for inspiring a creative leap.” In particular, Deleuze’s radical claim in Difference and Repetition that “the world is an egg” (107). The authors here do not take Deleuze to be speaking metaphorically- rather, the earth’s core is made up of different hemispheres, which, due to their specific arrangement, and spun clockwise and counterclockwise to each other, creating a nuclear generator that ultimately produces the earth’s magnetic field. The “bubble” of magnetism produced by the generation of an electro-magnetic field is the condition of life on this planet that protects us all – like the shell of an egg. In this way, Deleuze provides the concept that allows us to conceptualize the earth itself in a new way, unlocking new energy potentials. For Deleuze, this is what philosophy is, as he and Guattari argue in What is Philosophy? It is the creation of concepts for the purpose of solving problems that we face in the present. If Crockett, Robbins, and Mequet are on to something with their energy proposal, this is exactly how philosophy and concept creation can be used to open new creative doors even in the hard sciences. Even if this theory doesn’t pan out, as the authors admit it very well could not, we desperately need outside voices like that of Deleuze and geniuses like Kevin to synthesize different forms of thought into coherent and new proposals.

Review: Religion, Politics, and the Earth: The New Materialism

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 Robbins2disciplines. 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 brain_plasticitysystems 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.


Not that GDP growth is necessarily a good thing…

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 Jesus_templeto 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 Materialismit 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.