To be is to differ. We must take care not to be lured by language. We might wish to draw a distinction between being and becoming, treating being as that which does not change and becoming as that which changes. Yet nothing about the term “being” implies stasis. Being denotes existence and with the exception of those beings that perhaps don’t become such as mathematical entities, all existing entities become. Existence, for the most part, is phusis; though the concept of phusis must be rethought in light of both the materialist tradition descending from Democritus and modern physical and biological sciences. We must avoid the animisms of vitalism. Those that renounce ontology on the grounds that they endorse becoming are particularly irritating because they don’t seem to recognize that they’re making an ontological claim about the nature of being or existence.
Being differ in a variety of ways. Here I am not proposing the trite thesis that being is characterized by comparative difference. The thesis is not that apples are different from oranges, though this is true. Such a thesis wouldn’t get at the heart of beings, at their internal constitution, at what it is to be an entity.
Beings differ constitutively, internally. In the first instance, beings differ through the constitution of a boundary. In some instances, the boundary constitutive of an entity and necessary for the existence of a being as a being, is a membrane like the skin or an eyelid. Boundaries, however, need not be membranes. They can be operations and forces as well. If, for example, a city is an entity, it is certainly not an entity with a membrane. To be sure, there’s perhaps a line on a map, but the map is not, as Bateson says, the territory. No, the boundary of the city, that which constitutes the city as a distinct entity, is its operations. These operations consist in administrative functions of its government and institutions, the manner in which it sorts outside and inside, the way in which its citizens define the difference between those who belong and those who don’t, etc. Cities and institutions do not have physical boundaries like membranes, but rather engage in activities or operations that sort inside and outside, what belongs and what doesn’t, what arises from within and without.
With entities like rocks, matters are different yet again. Like cities and institutions, rocks do not have membranes. Rather, their boundaries are a product of forces. It is not, for example, a surface that prevents my hand from going through a rock, by physical reactions involving electro-magnetism where both my hand and the rock are repelling one another. Of course, it is the same with membranes like skin. The point is that an entity need not have a taut surface like a drum to establish a boundary.
Boundaries, then, are the first difference constitutive of beings. As Hegel notes at the beginning of the Science of Logic, boundaries are inherently paradoxical as they are both a necessary condition for the possibility of entity, while also belonging to the entity and not belonging to the entity. Boundaries are, in a sense, both self and other. This, then, is the second differential feature of entity. In and through its boundary, entity differentiates outside and inside, both repelling an outside and producing an inside or interior. It differentiates itself as a sphere of interiority, apart from a surround or environment, apart from other entities, while externalizing the surround. It is as if entities were folds within being, carrying out a dynamic origami that takes the continuous surface of existence, plicating it, and thereby constituting a field of interiority.
It is through these operations that entity constitutes its independence, that it fashions itself– and here I’m speaking metaphorically as there’s no intentionality here –as an “object”. However, this independence is a strange sort of independence. In the past I’ve argued that objects are independent of their relations. Today I think this view is erroneous. Entities can, of course, always break with various relations. This is why ecologies are so fragile. In folding itself– again, metaphor –entity constitutes a zone of independence, a non-relation. However, it is a strange non-relation. For in differentiating itself, in repelling an outside, in forming a zone of interiority, in producing a non-relation, entity is, in fact, in relation. The non-relation is a relation, an openness to the world.
The constitution of a boundary is not a one time accomplishment. Every entity is a dynamism, a process, an ongoing activity, and, for this reason, is not done once and for all. This is yet another way in which entity contains difference within itself. Processes scintillate, perpetually differ, perpetually change. It is not the case that first entity constitutes boundary, and now that that’s done it can move on to other things. Boundary must be reproduced again and again, from moment to moment and is never done once and for all. Boundary perpetually threatens to collapse, at which point entity melts back into continuum or the field or sheet from which it was folded. Boundary is never done.
Despite accomplishing a zone of independence and interiority, we should not think that entity is vacuum sealed or withdrawn. To be sure, boundary is a wall, a differentiation, a distantiation, an othering. However, boundary is also a sieve, an interface, or a port. All sorts of things flow across boundary. In some entities– not all –signs or information of all sorts pass through and across boundary. There are also flows of energy, necessary for entity to continue to exist at all as no operation or activity can take place without energy used to engage in work (in the sense that physics uses the term). There are shocks, impacts, and force that pass through entity. It matters little whether we say that entity is composed of matter or energy, for the two are the same. Through these flows across boundary, in part, entity is made to differ from itself by being pulled out of its current state and into another one. Signs, for example, lead to a new system state in the organization of a system that uses information. The system before was in a state of serenity, yet now, through an encounter with a sign, everything is thrown into turmoil and a new set of cognitive and affective states crystallize, calling for specific actions. Entity has undergone a differentation, a new folding that departs from its prior fold.
In Part II: Powers or fluctuations in intensity of being, potentials, intensity, becoming, ecologies.