How Concepts Function

March 31, 2009

I started reading the IEP (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) entry on “Concepts,” which starts by laying out “tasks for an overall theory of concepts,” one of which is to determine what the metaphysical status of a concept is. As I thought about Deleuze and Guattari’s theories, it occurred to me that they are not so much concerned about what a concept is so much as what a concept does: how it functions in a particular context or assemblage, what it accomplishes in solving a particular problem.

In fact, the way that this line of thinking started was by thinking, “If you stop to think about it…” But stopping is artificial: there is no stopping: the mind is going going going, a model of Bergsonian duration, and it’s when we “stop” to think about thinking that we develop a metaphysics of thinking, a model of the “being” vs. “becoming” of thinking. Deleuze is about thinking on the go, thinking as going, and going implies a direction, possibly even a destination (unless you’re a nomad, that is) and/or an agenda: are you stratifying or destratifying? Are you becoming more complex as an organization or is there a kind of chaos-ification occurring?

Thought, that is (to repeat myself), requires a context (what are you thinking about? what problem are you trying to solve?). I see this in their concept of the machinic assemblage: things themselves have fluid ontological categories depending on the role they play in a temporary assemblage of parts/wholes that come together to fulfill a particular purpose or desire. A bicycle tire on a bike, for example, serves as a mode of transportation; in a work of art, however, it serves as a mode of self-expression. In a different context, faced with a different problem to solve, it could be/come something else (in the way that car tires are used as the soles of shoes in third-world countries).

For D&G;, it seems that the problem they want to solve is the question of how to think differently, how (ultimately) to think creatively. Beyond this (and with them there always seems to be a beyond), they want to capture the boiling roiling moment of a phase transition, whether the moment when water freezes or when water boils… In the words of Jeffrey Bell, in his Philosophy at the Edge of Chaos: Gilles Deleuze and the Philosophy of Difference,

A dynamic system. . . presupposes both the stable, structured strata that are in some sense *complete*, and it entails the unstable, unstructured, deterritorializing flows. As Deleuze and Guattari proceed to develop the implications of this thinking, or as they develop a philosophy ‘at the edge of chaos,’ they neither create concepts which solve, once and for all, philosophical problems, nor do they slip into a state of anarchical relativism. Rather, philosophy, as with a living organism ‘at the edge of chaos,’ must maintain both its stable strata and its unstable deterritorializing flows. Without the former, a living organism dies (or a philosophy slips into disordered nonsense and says nothing), and without the latter, an organism is unable to adapt and will also die (or a philosophy falls into a mindless repetition of cliches and platitudes). (4)

So there should be a give and take to thinking, one that allows for this kind of freezing (stratification, striation) then flowing (destratification, smoothening). Philosophical concepts, according to Deleuze and Guattari, function to facilitate such vacillations.

With all of this in mind, I declare once again my intention to investigate fluid/flow principles. An initial peek at the Encyclopedia of Science and Technology points to Newtonian and non-Newtonian fluids, “rigid body dynamics,” viscosity vs. “viscoelasticity,” and the like.

And before closing this entry, I need to mention Edward de Bono’s Water Logic, in which he opposes the “rock logic” of the “Greek gang of three” (i.e. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, “who hijacked Western thinking”) with his concept of “water logic”: “Traditional rock logic is based on ‘is’ [identity: What is this?]. The logic of perception is water logic and this is based on ‘to’ [flow]. . . “What does this lead to?” De Bono concludes in a passage that might have been penned by Deleuze: “I write about the huge importance of concepts for water logic. It is concepts that give movement and flexibility in thinking. Such concepts do not always need to be precise because we are using water logic rather than rock logic, which depends on precision” (189).