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Manuel De Landa. Dualities of Meaning in Gilles Deleuze. 2009 1/8

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Tell Us Where You Are:. Preview Your Review. Hird - - Ethics and the Environment 18 1 World History: The Basics. Peter N. Stearns - - Routledge. Shapes of Philosophical History. Frank Edward Manuel - - Stanford, Calif. The Interpretation of History. Joseph Reese Strayer ed. Michael T. Leviton eds. Imprisoned by History: Aspects of Historicized Life. Martin L. Davies - - Routledge. Philosophy of History. Matthew Lauzon - - Cornell University Press. Lessons of History. Manuel DeLanda, writer and artist, lives in New York. Although the set of equations with which Hamilton was able to unify all the different fields of classical physics mechanics, optics, and the elementary theory of electromagnetism did contain a variable for time, this variable played only an extrinsic role: once the equations were defined for a specific instant, both the past and the future were completely determined, and could be obtained mechanically by simply integrating the equations.

To be sure, this static, timeless picture of reality did not go unchallenged within science, since thermodynamics had already introduced an arrow of time which conflicted with the symmetric conception of classical mechanics, where the past and the future were interchangeable.

A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History

Nevertheless, as the history of statistical mechanics makes it clear, much scientific effort has been spent in our century to reconcile time asymmetry at the level of large aggregates with the still accepted time symmetry at the level of individual interactions. Thus, it would become the task of philosophers and social scientists to attempt to reconceptualize the world in order to give time and history a creative role, with the vision of an open future that this implies.

Although there have been a variety of strategies to achieve this open future, here I would like to concentrate on two contrasting approaches. The first is perhaps best illustrated by the intellectual movement that is today known as "social constructivism", but which roots lie in linguistic and anthropological theories which go back to the turn of the century. At the risk of oversimplifying, we may say that the core of this approach is a neo- Kantian theory of perception, in which individual experience is completely structured by the interplay of concepts and representations, but one in which Kant's transcendental concepts of space and time have been replaced by the conventional concepts of a given culture.

The guiding image of this strategy may be said to be "each culture lives in its own world", an image central to many theoretical approaches in this century, from the cultural relativism of Margaret Mead and Franz Boas, to the linguistic relativism of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Worf, to the epistemological relativism of Thomas Khun's theory of scientific paradigms. Although these influential schools of thought deserve a more careful characterization, this few remarks will suffice for my purpose here.

If indeed every culture and subculture inhabits its own conceptually constructed reality, then the world and the future become open again. Far from being completely given in the past, the future is now unbound, the world itself becoming a text open to innumerable interpretations. The problem is now, of course, that we have made the world open at the expense of giving up its objectivity, in other words, the world becomes open only through human intervention. For some this relativism may not seem like a problem, particularly when the only alternative is believed to be a realism based on a correspondence theory of truth, a realism deeply committed to essentialism and rationalism.


Clearly, if the idea of material objects independent of human experience is based on a conception of their genesis in terms of preexisting essences, then we are back in a closed world where all possibilities have been defined in advance by those essences. Similarly, if the world is pictured as a fixed set of beings to which our theories correspond like a reflection or a snapshot, then that world would be hardly capable of an open becoming. Yet, the work of philosopher Gilles Deleuze makes it clear that a belief in the autonomous existence of the world does not have to based on essentialist or rationalist views.

It will be the task of this essay to make a case for what we may call Deleuze's "neo-realist" approach, an approach involving a theory of the genesis of form that does away with essences, as well as a theory of epistemology that does not rely on a view of truth as a faithful reflection of a static world of beings.

It is traditional since Kant to distinguish between the world as it appears to us humans, that is, the world of phenomena or appearances, and those aspects of the world existing by themselves and referred to as "nuomena". Deleuze writes: "Difference is not diversity. Diversity is given, but difference is that by which the given is given Difference is not phenomenon but the nuomenon closest to the phenomenon Every phenomenon refers to an inequality by which it is conditioned Everything which happens and everything which appears is correlated with orders of differences: differences of level, temperature, pressure, tension, potential, difference of intensity".

Thousand Years of Nonlinear History

First of all, it is clear that for Deleuze nuomena are not as they were for Kant beyond human knowledge. On the other hand, that which is beyond what is given to us in experience is not a being but a becoming, a difference-driven process by which the given is given. Let me illustrate this idea with a familiar example from thermodynamics. If one creates a container separated into two compartments, and one fills one compartment with cold air and the other with hot air, one thereby creates a system embodying a difference in intensity, the intensity in this case being temperature. If one then opens a small hole in the wall dividing the compartments, the intensity difference causes the onset of a spontaneous flow of air from one side to the other.

It is in this sense that intensity differences are morphogenetic, giving rise to the phenomena of experience, even if in this case the phenomenon that emerges is too simple. The main idea, however, is much more general: many phenomena, in geology, meteorology, biology and even economics and sociology, emerge spontaneously from the interplay of intensity differences. Indeed, one can build an entire theory of the genesis of form of geological, biological or cultural forms on the basis of processes of becoming driven by intensity differences.

Unlike essentialism, where matter is viewed as an inert receptacle for forms that come from the outside transcendental essences , here matter is seen as possessing its own immanent, intensive resources for the generation of form from within. Deleuze refers to the essentialist model of morphogenesis as the "hylomorphic schema". However, in the page following the quote above, Deleuze argues that, despite this important insight, nineteenth century thermodynamics cannot provide the foundation he needs for a philosophy of form.

Because that branch of physics became obsessed with the final equilibrium forms, at the expense of the difference-driven morphogenetic process which gives rise to those forms. In other words, intensive differences are subordinated to the extensive structures structures extended in space-time they give rise to.


But as Deleuze argues, most of the important philosophical insights can only be grasped during the process of morphogenesis, that is, before the final form is actualized, before the difference disappears. This shortcoming of nineteenth century thermodynamics, to overlook the role of the intensive and stress only the extensive, to concentrate on the equilibrium form that emerges only once the original difference has been canceled, has today been repaired in the latest version of this branch of physics, appropriately labeled "far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics".

Although Deleuze does not explicitly refer to this new branch of science, it is clear that far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics meets all the objections which he raises against its nineteenth century counterpart. In particular, the systems studied in this new discipline are continuously traversed by a strong flow of energy and matter, a flow that maintains these differences and keeps them from canceling themselves, that is, a flow which does not allow the intensive process to become hidden underneath the extensive results. It is only in these far-from-equilibrium conditions, only in this singular zone of intensity, that difference-driven morphogenesis comes into its own, and that matter becomes an active material agent, one which does not need form to come and impose itself from the outside.

Although many constructivists declare themselves "anti-essentialist", they share with essentialism a view of matter as an inert material, except that they do not view the form of material entities as coming from a Platonic heaven, or from the mind of God, but from the minds of humans or from cultural conventions expressed linguistically.

The world is amorphous, and we cut it out into forms using language. Nothing could be further from Deleuzian thought than this linguistic relativism which does not break with the hylomorphic schema.

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For him, the extensive boundaries of individual entities do not exist only in human experience, drawn by the interplay of concepts, but are real, the product of definite, objective processes of individuation. Thus, the extensive boundaries that define living creatures their skin, but also the folds the define their internal tissues and organs are the result of complex processes of individuation or actualization during embryogenesis. As Deleuze writes: "How does actualization ocurr in things themselves? Beneath the actual qualities and extensities [of things themselves] there are spatio-temporal dynamisms.

They must be surveyed in every domain, even though they are ordinarily hidden by the constituted qualities and extensities.