In physics, thermodynamics (from the Greek θερμη, therme, meaning “heat” and δυναμις, dynamis, meaning “power”) is the study of the conversion of heat energy into different forms of energy (in particular, mechanical, chemical, and electrical energy); different energy conversions into heat energy; and its relation to macroscopic variables such as temperature, pressure, and volume. Its underpinnings, based upon statistical predictions of the collective motion of particles from their microscopic behavior, is the field of statistical thermodynamics, a branch of statistical mechanics. Roughly, heat means “energy in transit” and dynamics relates to “movement”; thus, in essence thermodynamics studies the movement of energy and how energy instills movement. Historically, thermodynamics developed out of need to increase the efficiency of early steam engines. Typical thermodynamic system, showing input from a heat source (boiler) on the left and output to a heat sink (condenser) on the right. Work is extracted, in this case by a series of pistons.

The starting point for most thermodynamic considerations are the laws of thermodynamics, which postulate that energy can be exchanged between physical systems as heat or work. They also postulate the existence of a quantity named entropy, which can be defined for any system. In thermodynamics, interactions between large ensembles of objects are studied and categorized. Central to this are the concepts of system and surroundings. A system is composed of particles, whose average motions define its properties, which in turn are related to one another through equations of state. Properties can be combined to express internal energy and thermodynamic potentials, which are useful for determining conditions for equilibrium and spontaneous processes.

With these tools, thermodynamics describes how systems respond to changes in their surroundings.

From Wikipedia.

When the Ontic Principle, Latour’s Principle, the Principle of Irreduction, and the Hegemonic Fallacy are taken together, they can be understood as making the case for the introduction of something like thermodynamics into ontology. The Ontic Principle states that there is no difference that does not make a difference. Latour’s Principle states that there is no transportation without translation. The Principle of Irreduction states that nothing is either reducible or irreducible to anything else. And finally the Hegemonic Fallacy states that it is illicit to reduce all difference to one difference that makes all the difference or one difference that makes the most important difference. While the thermodynamic dimension of the Ontic Principle does not exhaust the signification of this principle, it nonetheless captures one important aspect that follows from this principle. Insofar as, ontologically, there is no difference that does not make a difference, it follows that difference requires work both for the entity making the difference and the entity upon which the difference is made. Both of these differences are involved in the interactive process of those objectiles entering into an assemblage with one another.

read on!

speeding_trainIt is from this first principle that the Latour’s Principle follows. If there is no transportation without translation, then this is because differences from one assemblage or objectile to another assemblage or objectile are never conveyed or transmitted without work or labor. This is what is meant when it is claimed that no entity is ever merely a vehicle for another entity or difference. A pure vehicle would be an entity that exhausted itself in being nothing more than a transport for a difference from another entity. This would be transport that perfectly obeyed Newton’s first law of motion, perpetuating motion without limit by virtue of this motion being conveyed in an absolutely smooth space, or, what amounts to the same thing, a vacuum. Here the vehicle of a difference would contribute no difference of its own, but rather would be nothing but the carrier of this other difference. The Ontic Principle deductively excludes the possibility of pure vehicles, for if it is ontologically the case that there is no difference that does not make a difference, then it follows that a vehicle, being an entity, must contribute a difference of its own in functioning as a vehicle for another difference. It is for this reason that any transportation of difference from one entity to another involves the translation of difference. Just as the translation of a text from one language to another involves a weaving of differences between the origin-language and the object-language such that the translation differs from the original and resonates in new and different ways, the transport of difference from one assemblage to another involves a process of translation wherein the first difference is woven together with the differences populating the second assemblage producing a result that is not a simple copy or repetition of the first.

galap_revisitIt is here that we encounter the signification of the Principle of Irreduction. The Principle of Irreduction, or the claim that nothing is either reducible or irreducible to anything else, does not assert that we shouldn’t engage in the enterprise of tracing relations of dependency between one type of an entity and another type of entity. For example, gold and its atomic make-up. But is instead an injunction to attend to work and the differences contributed by entities. In this respect, these three principles taken together follow Darwin’s Copernican Revolution. Over and above Darwin’s contributions to biology, Darwin’s most significant contribution to thought can be found in his injunction to follow the small differences. Where prior to Darwin– and here I am simplifying the history of biology to a scandalous degree –small differences in individuals of the same species were seen as contributing no difference insofar as all real difference is inscribed in species-being, Darwin argues that species-being is instead an epiphenomenon and that small differences are where all the action is. The individual, for Darwin, is not simply a pure vehicle for species-being, but is rather a carrier of the differences that make a difference. Where Aristotle would declare that individual difference is monstrous or irrelevant, Darwin, by contrast, saw differences borne by the individual as the source of genesis. If Aristotle could say that a two-headed chicken was a monster, then this was because he implicitly held that the individual is a vehicle of the species and that the differences inscribed in the species are eternal.

image81We can see this sort of Aristotleanism at work in the Barthes of Mythologies or the Lacan of The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious. When Barthes reduces wrestling to a semiotic sign system re-enacting certain narrative structures, he forgets other differences such as the sweat of the wrestlers, the roar of the crowd, the tension of muscles, the hardness of the floor of the ring, the elasticity of the ropes, and so on. When Lacan reduces the two doors to the signifiers “Ladies” and “Gentlemen”, he forgets that these doors are made of wood, that they have rooms behind them, that they must be pushed open, etc. The point here is that the differences [Ladies/Gentleman], or that the narratives embodied by wrestlers do not make a difference, but that other differences become invisible when these differences are treated as the only difference that makes a difference. Nor is the point that it is not often useful to enact certain reductions, ignoring other differences, when engaging in this sort of analysis. Of course such reductions can be useful and revealing. The point is that when we engage in these reductions, we often lose sight of the other differences, treating these differences as the only difference that makes a difference, and thereby leading ourselves into theoretical deadends due to the paucity of our analysis. A simple point.

This point can be illustrated by reference to the humanities in academia, often one of the worst offenders where the Hegemonic Fallacy is concerned. Often we see the triumph of a particular form of thought as resulting from ideas and the plausibility or strength of these ideas, treating this triumph as a matter of superior argumentation. Clearly ideas make a difference and therefore contribute a difference; however this naive and simplistic model of the dominance of ideas forgets Latour’s Principle or the work involved in the transportation of ideas. What is here forgotten is that ideas only triumph when they are transported and that transportation requires a number of agencies that are non-philosophical in nature. First, the triumph of an idea requires devoted vehicles for these ideas to be transported. If Naomi Klein is to be believed, while Marxists and Keynesians were sitting happily on their laurels in the academy, Friedmanians or Chicago school economists were busily creating vehicles for their economic claims, positioning various people at different levels of government, capturing the ear of politicians, enacting their policies as experiments in other [mostly Third World] countries, and so on. Where the Marxists and Keynesians, thought, perhaps, that the issue was one of intellectual debate within the walls of the academy, the Friedmanians understood that the real triumph of ideas lies in viral replication: Repetition among politicians, the media, journals, etc. These “vehicles” of Friedman, of course, were his students. Likewise, in the triumph of ideas there are journals that transmit these ideas, review boards that function as the gatekeepers of these ideas, academic departments that devote themselves to the teaching of these ideas, dissertation directors that say no to particular lines of inquiry while fostering others, interpersonal linkages that land others positions and opportunities for publication, and so on.

duchamp_fountainAnd at each level of transportation, with each transmission, there is a process of translation or resistance (irreduction), where the transportation of the idea from one node in the assemblage to another becomes slightly different and takes on a life of its own. While compelling argument plays a powerful role in the triumph of ideas, these extra-ideological factors (in the original sense of the term “ideology”) play a key role in the transmission of ideas. Where a position based on rather weak argument initially seems strange and absurd, it becomes plausible and even natural or obvious simply because it has been able to successfully replicate itself. Indeed, who can doubt that part of the seductiveness of Friedman’s economic thought had little to do with the soundness of his arguments– premised as they were on abstract axiomatic models –and everything to do with extra-philosophical factors such as sheer avarice and ressentiment over government regulation, taxation, and intervention? Yet they triumphed all the same to such a degree that even now it’s difficult for our world leaders to even begin conceiving of alternatives. If, then, there is a conclusion that follows from this thesis at the level of social analysis it is that we make a grave mistake by restricting ourselves to the discursive and the cultural in our analysis. For in doing so we miss all the subterranean networks that make the discursive and the cultural possible in the first place in much the same way that telephone wires and satellites become invisible when we talk on the phone or use our computer. By ignoring the dimension of how connections are made and how differences are transported we miss not only some of our best opportunities for engagement, but also create a distorted and inefficacious model of practice.