I want to flag this issue for further analysis in the future, but one of the key features of more “advanced” units, objects, or systems is the dimension of memory. In Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence I already drew a lot of attention to this, but I’m not quite sure that I fully drew out the implications of systems that have the capacity for memory. In many respects, memory changes everything. The reason for this is that memory fundamentally transforms the causal circuit. Here we should think of memory as a scale with many gradations, ranging from simple organisms that have genetic memory to more complex systems such as psychic systems, social systems, and perhaps certain forms of artificial life and computers that have recollective memory.
If memory as a virtual dimension of a being is so important, then this is because it transforms the nature of the causal circuit both between entities and between one moment and another (and here it’s important that I define “moments” not as the smallest possible units of time, but rather as the smallest possible units within which an object can complete an operation, e.g., moments differ for entities such as the US congress and individual human minds). If memory so fundamentally transforms the functioning of a system, then this is because the immediate past no longer holds sovereignty over what takes place in the present. Rather, we get a threefold relation between present, immediate past moment, and the broader past that follows the system. Compare a simple allopoietic system like a rock and an autopoietic system like a bacterium. In the case of the rock the events that it currently enjoys in its ongoing self-reproduction will be a function of the event that immediately preceded the current event. We will get one phase of the rock passing into the next.
However, in the case of an autopoietic unit or system like a bacterium the event that immediately precedes its current state will not necessarily be determinative because it carries with it a genetic “memory” that, under certain conditions, can be reactivated in response to the immediately preceding event and in relation to the present. The consequence is that unlike perturbations of rocks where we get a one-to-one correlation between preceding event and outcome, an intervening term is introduced that can produce a surprising result in relation to the immediately preceding event. In the case of more complex units like animals, persons, social systems, and perhaps some computers, the dimension of memory is carried along with the system in its present like the tail of a comet that can be drawn upon by the system or object at will. My relation to my lover, for example, will not just result from the manner in which she or he immediately impacts me in the preceding moment, but will also result from the sedimented past that is activated in response to his or her “perturbation”. My response will also include all sorts of sedimentations of past interactions with people in the remote past. In short, the immediately preceding moment will not predelineate the subsequent moment.
Not only do complex autopoietic entities carry this remote past– superimposed on the present –along with themselves, but that cone of the past is ever growing. This is the meaning of Bergson’s cone of memory depicted to the right above. On the one hand, each moment contracts the remote past along with the immediate past of sensible stimuli, but also the past is perpetually growing in relation to the events of the present. It is this dimension of a past that is not the immediate past that complicates the responses of any complex autopoietic system and that allow for the creativity of these systems. A friend, for example, proposes some political course of action and I don’t simply respond to the perturbation of his speech according to the code of language and the internal dynamisms of my nervous system at this point in time, but suddenly recall the revolutionaries of the French Revolution and model my response based on my attachment to them.
This property of complex autopoietic systems such as animals, psychic systems, microbes, plants, social systems, etc., entails that we should be extremely cautious about speaking of these types of objects as having a fixed withdrawn essence that is invariant. The dimension of memory insures that these types of units will be creative, that their identity is necessarily processual, and that any talk of a fixed identity will necessarily be a moving target. They make themselves even as they are themselves.