There are many names for beings: tode ti, thing, object, primary substance, system, process, body, “this”, machine, event, etc. I’m sure there are others yet. In a certain sense, all of these terms are synonyms of one another. They all denote a “this”, an individual being, something that exists. In another sense, they denote different approaches to things or primary substances or things. In discussing things as events, we emphasize their durational nature or the manner in which they unfold in time. In approaching them as machines, we approach them in terms of the outputs they produce in response to inputs. In approaching them as systems, we explore the processes they engage in to maintain their organization and the interdependence of their parts.
Things or bodies are split between their virtual proper being and their local manifestations; their powers and their qualities. It is not qualities or properties that individuate a body or thing. Indeed, properties or qualities are effects of powers or capacities. They are activations of powers, actualizations of powers that flash into being as events as a result of either interactions of bodies with the field in which the thing or machine dwells, or as a result of operations or activities unfolding within the thing. It is not qualities that define a being, but rather powers, capacities. A power is what a being can do, a singular point, a capacity.
The relation between a quality and the power that it actualizes is never 1 to 1. Put differently, there is never a resemblance between powers and qualities. The range and domain of a power is always greater than that of a quality. If we think of a power as a function, we can thus think of qualities as points, values, or outputs that are obtained when the function is given an input. Thus, for F(x) = x² + 2, we get the value 3 when 1 is plugged into the x place for this function. “3” is the quality that this function produces for this value. Clearly the range of the function is greater than any particular value that the function produces when a value is plugged into it. Moreover, there is no resemblance between the output of the function and the function or power itself. As a sort of shorthand we can say that a match has the power or capacity to burn or produce flame, but this is only a manner of speaking. Flames and burnings are outputs of the match under appropriate circumstances. There is no resemblance between the capacity or function and the flame. One and the same power can produce a variety of outputs; the same power capable of producing flame can produce other qualities that are not forms of burning. It is in this respect that bodies, things, or objects are lively and surprising. They harbor within themselves hidden potentials that can produce unexpected qualities or local manifestations under appropriate circumstances.
The powers or capacities of a thing, of course, can never directly be observed because we only ever encounter local manifestations or actualized points in a phase space. We can only ever infer the powers of a body or thing, and we do this by experimentally varying the contexts in which the thing exists, discerning how it behaves or what it does under these conditions. Gradually we begin to detect the powers that reside within the thing and build a diagram of its structure.
In his thesis “One Thousand Machines: Ontology, Critique and Politics in Levi R. Bryant’s Deleuzian Realism”, Yuri di Liberto proposes the following formalization for this conception of objects:
B: = [S(p1, p2, p(…) , pn)]/I = O
A body “B” (or thing or machine or object or process) is a set or system “S” of powers or operations “P” that given a particular input “I”, transforms it into a particular output “O”. Inputs can arise from within a thing or from without. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, the minimal unit of being is not the thing, but the fold between a being and its field. If local manifestations are local, then this is because they are actualizations of a property or quality under specific conditions within a field. A body like fire behaves differently, has different properties, on the planet earth and in space.
Fire’s behavior here is the result of the field in which it exists. When manifesting itself in space, in near zero gravity, it actualizes different properties. If local manifestations are manifestations, then this is because they are actualizations or events that take place in the world or a field. It is not being witnessed that makes a local manifestation a manifestation. Manifestations have no need of a subject to regard them to be manifestations. Rather, it’s because they actualize a property or quality that they are a manifestation. Rust would be a local manifestation of iron in response to oxygen (an input) regardless of whether or not there were any sentient beings there to witness it.
The outputs of an operation can be varied. Sometimes they will be an action as in the case of a Briggs-Rauscher reaction.
At other times they will be in the form of a product, as in the case of the formation of a commodity through the operations of labor. At others times, outputs will consist in the manifestation of qualities or properties as in the case of rust with iron. Following Spinoza and Deleuze we can call powers “affects”.
However, we should not assume that the powers of a thing are fixed or rigid. There is a plasticity proper to things, a power of becoming, that takes a few different forms. There is a sense in which the powers of a thing are “voluminous” as if they range across degrees from the lowest to a state of fullness. We encounter this above our own bodies in states of fatigue, hunger, grief, loss, and sickness. Our powers of acting, perceiving, and thinking are here diminished. This attests to the manner in which bodies are assemblages. In sickness my powers are diminished because I’ve entered into a relation with bacteria or viruses that have made my body their home. Their powers, in turn, have been enhanced. However, these fluctuations in powers are not restricted to living bodies. A steel fork, for example, finds its strength diminished as a result of its crystals being re-aligned as a result of constantly being bent.
Bodies can take on new powers and lose powers that they once had. In the latter case we might think of having a stroke or eyesight that gradually goes bad as a result of aging. With respect to the latter, Deleuze writes that,
[t]he movement of the swimmer does not resemble that of the wave, in particular, the movement of the swimming instructor which we reproduce on the sand bear no relation to the movement of the wave, which we learn to deal with only by grasping the former in practice as signs… Our only teachers are those who tell us to ‘do with me’, and are able to emit signs to be developed in heterogeneity rather than propose gestures for us to reproduce. In other words, there is no video-motivity, only sensory-motivity. When a body combines some of its own distinctive points with those of a wave, it espouses the principle of a repetition which is no longer that of the Same, but involves the Other– involves difference, from one wave and one gesture to another, and carries that difference through the receptive space thereby constituted. To learn is indeed to constitute this space of an encounter with signs, in which the distinctive points renew themselves in each other, and repetition takes shape while disguising itself. (Difference and Repetition, 23)
Following the language of A Thousand Plateaus, we can call this conjugation of distinctive or singular points belonging to waves and the body a “plane of consistency” or a “body without organs”. This plane of consistency– always singular, always a “haecceity” –is populated by the disparate, the intensive, the singular, the differential. Deleuze will say that “[h]abit”– the folding of a field into a body –“draws something new from repetition– namely, difference… In essence, habit is contraction” (DR, 73). A fold is a contraction of elements, intensities of a field; but not in the form of resemblance or recognition, but rather a difference. This difference is a new power or a capacity. Michael Phelps undergoes both a becoming-wave and a becoming-dolphin, producing a new power within a body as a result of folding these things within himself. He is able to do something he was not able to do before.
Finally there are the assemblages where new beings and therefore new powers come into existence. As Delouse and Guattari write in A Thousand Plateaus,
The lance and the sword came into being in the Bronze age only by virtue of the man-horse assemblage, which caused a lengthening of the dagger and pike, and made the first infantry weapons, the morning star and the battle-ax, obsolete. The stirrup, in turn, occasioned a new figure of the man-horse assemblage, entailing a new type of lance and new weapons… (ATP, 399)
The man-horse body with and without the stirrup are two different entities because they have different powers. Without the stirrup the man-horse assemblage is unable to channel the force of the lance. The man is thrown from the horse upon impact and the body thereby flows out of existence. With the stirrup the force can be channeled. A new being emerges with a periodic structure that arises every time the assemblage is put together. Enough for this evening.