I’ll make these questions brief as I haven’t eaten yet today, am coming down with a cold, and am generally worn out. The model of objects I’ve been working with recently has basically focused on very simple physical objects where the attractors inhabiting the virtual dimension of the object are relatively fixed. Here I think it’s important, however, to distinguish between what, for lack of a better word, might be called recursive objects and non-recursive objects (if someone has a better term for what I’m trying to get at, let me know). When I refer to recursive objects, I have in mind objects whose outputs evoked by inputs (i.e., local manifestations) have the peculiar property of, in turn, functioning as inputs for subsequent states of the object. In addition to the outputs of these objects functioning as inputs for new objects within the endo-relational structure of the object, these objects are historical in the sense that not only do they have a past, they reflexively relate to that past. Thus all objects have a past, no matter how brief that past might be, but not all objects reflexively relate to that past such that that past can function as an input for subsequent states of the object.

I can think of no better representation for this sort of object than Bergson’s famous “cone of memory” from Matter and Memory (depicted to the left above). The point of Bergson’s cone of memory can’t really be represented in a diagram, because what the cone expresses is not simply that there’s a past that trails out behind an object, but that the object perpetually relates to different strata of that past. In the diagram above “S” can be taken to represented the most contracted point of time or the specious present (what I would call the most instantaneous of local manifestations). The cone itself represents the past.

read on!

Within the cone it will be noted that there are different rings, planes, plateaus, or levels (A-B, A’-B’, A”-B”, etc). These might be thought of as “fields” of the past for a particular object. Thus, for example, when an object such as myself hears a particular song like REM’s Its the End of the World as We Know It or smells a particular perfume, it is not simply, as Hume would have it, that associations to other particular things in the past (though this happens too), but rather a plateau of the past (say A’-B’) is contracted into the present. Like layers of celluloid film superimposed over one another, that entire strata of the past is contracted with the present.

In many instances this contraction or superimposition might be unconscious. Thus, for example, when my sister (she’s two years younger than me) and I both visit my parents in their home at the same time, we often end up fighting like cats and dogs. Yet this does not occur when she visits me here in Texas or when I visit her in Ohio. Why this difference? One plausible explanation is that like Proust’s famous madeleine cake, something about this context leads to the contraction of a strata or plateau of the past into the present, leading to the actualization of our childhood patterns, affects, conflicts, etc. with one another and our parents. This is not like an echo in a train tunnel. The point to keep in mind here is that just as we don’t note that two images have been superimposed on one another in the celluloid overlays, when my sister and I are fighting we don’t register these fights as reenactments of the past. The fights revolve around conflicts in the present– usually very stupid things –and around things that pertain to us now. They seem utterly convincing. Yet nonetheless this virtual dimension or strata that has been contracted over the past functions as an organizing space for these conflicts. The case is similar with the REM song. Suddenly, in an inexplicable fashion, when hearing this song all sorts of affects come to inhabit my being-in-the-world which seem to be related to nothing I am currently experiencing or dealing with. What is happening here, I suspect, is the actualization of a plane of the past pertaining to the first time I heard this song in junior highschool.

Clearly these objects relate to the past in a way fundamentally different from that of other objects. While it is certainly true that a particular rock may have undergone such and such an interaction in its remote past and that this interaction selected subsequent trajectories of the becoming of the rock, it strikes me as unlikely that rocks can contract plateaus of the past in the present in this way. No, this relationship to the past seems unique to living objects, social systems, and perhaps certain technologies. Additionally DNA seems to be structured in this way and perhaps ecosystems are as well.

Now if objects that maintain a relationship to their past are of particular interest in the context of questions about the individuation of objects within the framework of onticology, then this is because systems such as this are evolving systems or systems that are capable of developing new attractors or powers. These types of objects are learning objects. We can clearly see that the ever-expanding cone of memory resulting from the growth of experiment generate new attractors or powers. In learning a particular mathematics my power of acting is increased. There’s a new attractor that inhabits my being. However, interestingly, it is not simply that the growth of experience (the formation of new traces and plateaus of in the past) generates new attractors in these systems, but rather the activity of thought, and its equivalents for social systems (perhaps communication?) and certain technological objects, itself generates new powers or attractors within an object. These would be reflexive and endogenous transformations in the endo-relational structure of an object. Here we might think of an artist who, through her experimentation, develops a new style or power of producing. In this case, the new power or attractor is a mutation or transformation brought about by the object itself and by the object acting on itself.

So I suppose the question I’m asking myself here is that if objects are individuated not by their local manifestations but by their powers or attractors, is an object that evolves or develops a new attractor or power the same individual or not? There’s an important sense in which we might be inclined to say that the person that has learned mathematics is still the same substance and that New York as a village and New York as a sprawling metropolis is perhaps the same substance (or maybe not, the verdict is out for me). A third possibility would be that these sorts of objects remain the same substance within limits despite developing new attractors, but that there are threshold points where either so many attractors are lost or the structure or constellation of attractors is so transformed (as in Cronenberg’s The Fly) that there is a genuinely new substance that has come into existence. For these systems, then, memory or the past would be a crucial component in the individuation of the entity or in what makes the entity this entity.

Okay, I guess the post wasn’t short after all.