Translation: Chapter 1 of Simondon’s Psychic and Collective Individuation

Simondon, Gilbert. Individuation psychique et collective. Aubier: Paris, 1989.

Chapter One:
Individuation of Perceptive Units and Signification

1. Segregation of perceptive units; genetic theory and theory of holistic grasping determinism of the good form.

First of all, a problem of individuation can be defined relative to perception and knowledge taken in their totality. Without prejudging the nature of perception which can be considered as an association of elements of sensation or the grasping of a figure on a background, it is possible to wonder how the subject grasps separate objects and not a confused continuum of sensations, how it perceives objects having their individuality already given and consistent. The problem of the segregation of units is solved neither by associationism nor by the psychology of Form, because the first theory does not explain why the individualized object has an internal coherence, a substantial bond that gives it a true interiority that cannot be regarded as the result of association. Habit, which is then called upon to guarantee the coherence and the unity of perception, is in fact a dynamism that can communicate to perception only what it has itself, namely this temporal unity and continuity which are inscribed in the object in the static form of the unity and continuity of the perceptum. In this genetic theory of pure appearance that constitutes associationism, the recourse to habit (or, in a more diverted form, to a bond of resemblance or analogy which is a statically grasped dynamism) in fact constitutes a debt to a concealed innateism.  Mere association by contiguity could not explain the internal coherence of the object individualized in perception. The former would remain simply an accumulation of elements without cohesion, without mutual attractive force, except the ones compared to the others partes ex partes. However, the perceived object does not merely have the unit of a sum, of a passively constituted result by a “vision in reverse” that would be the practice and the series of repetitions. The perceived object is so unlike a passive result that it has a dynamism allowing it to change without losing its unity: it has a unity, autonomy and a relative energetic independence that makes it a system of forces.

The theory of Form has replaced the genetic explanation of the segregation of perceptive units by an innateist explanation: unity is the grasping of a whole in virtue of a certain number of laws (like the laws of pregnancy [prégnance] and good form), and this psychological phenomenon should not surprise us since the living world with organisms and the physical world in general express phenomena of totality.[1] Seemingly inert matter conceals the virtuality of forms. Supersaturated solutions or liquids in superfusion make it possible for crystals to appear whose form is predestined in the amorphous state. However, the theory of Form allows an important problem to persist, which is precisely that of the genesis of forms. If the form were truly given and pre-determined, there would be no genesis, plasticity, or relative uncertainty in the future of a physical system, an organization, or a perceptive field; but this is precisely not the case. There is a genesis of forms just as there is a genesis of life. The state of entelechy is not entirely predetermined in the bundle of virtualities that preceded and preformed it. What associationism as well as the theory of Form lack is a rigorous study of individuation, i.e. of this critical moment where unity and coherence appear. A true sense of totality should affirm that the theory of Form does not consider the ABSOLUTE SET. In the physical world, absolute unity is not simply the solvent and the dissolved body; it is the solvent, the dissolved body and the whole of the forces and the potential energies that are translated by the word metastability applied to the state of the supersaturated solution the moment when crystallization begins to take place. In this moment of metastability, no determinism of “good form” is sufficient to envision what happens: phenomena like epitaxy show that there exists at the critical instant (at the moment when potential energy is maximum) a kind of relative indetermination of the result: the presence of the smallest external crystal nucleus, even of another chemical species, can then spark crystallization and direct it. Before the appearance of the first crystal, there exists a state of tension that places a considerable energy at the disposal of the slightest local accident. This state of metastability is comparable to a state of conflict in which the moment of highest uncertainty is precisely the most decisive moment, the source of the determinisms and genetic sequences that find their absolute origin in it. In the world of life, a genesis of forms also occurs that supposes a setting in question of prior forms and their adaptation to the vital milieu. Every transformation cannot be regarded as a genesis of form, because a transformation can involve degradation. When crystals are formed, erosion, abrasion, crumbling, and calcination modify the shape of the crystal but are in general not geneses of form. It can retain some consequences of the form generated during crystallization, like for example the privileged directions of cleavage, due to the reticular structure of the crystal made up of a great number of elementary crystals; but then we are dealing with a degradation of form, not a genesis of forms. In the same way, all the transformations of a living species cannot be interpreted as geneses of forms. There is a genesis of forms when the relation of a living set to its milieu and itself passes through a critical phase, rich in tensions and virtuality and ending with the disappearance of the species or the appearance of a new form of life. The entire situation is composed not only by the species and its milieu, but also by the tension of the set formed by the relation of the species to its milieu in which relations of incompatibility become increasingly strong. It is not simply the species that is modified, but also the whole of the vital complex formed by the species and its milieu which discovers a new structure. Lastly, in the psychological field, the set in which perception takes place, and which can be called the psychological field following Kurt Lewin, does not simply consist of the subject and the world, but also the relation between the subject and the world. Lewin justifiably says that this relation with its tensions, conflicts, and incompatibilities is integrated into the psychological field. But, according to the theory we support, it is precisely here that the theory of Form reduces to two terms that which is a whole of three independent or at least distinct terms: only after perception do tensions actually become incorporated into the psychological field to form part of its structure. Before perception, before the genesis of form which precisely constitutes perception, the relation of incompatibility between the subject and the milieu only exists as a potential, including the forces which exist in the phase of metastability of the supersaturated solution or solid in a state of superfusion, or in the phase of metastability of the relation between a species and its milieu. Perception is not the grasping of a form, but the solution of a conflict, the discovery of a compatibility, the invention of a form. This form which constitutes perception not only modifies the relation of object and subject, but also the structure of the object and that of the subject. Like all physical and vital forms, it is capable of degrading, and this degradation is also a degradation of the entire subject, because each form creates part of the structure of the subject.

2. Psychic tension and degree of metastability. Good form and geometrical form; different types of equilibrium.

Thus perception would be an act of individuation comparable to those expressed by physics and biology. But to be able to consider it in this way, it is necessary to introduce a term that could be called “psychic tension” or more so the degree of metastability, because the first expression has already been employed to indicate a rather different reality, since it does not abandon the concept of crisis. Consequently, the laws of good form are insufficient for explaining the segregation of units in the perceptive field; indeed, they do not take account of the nature of the solution brought to a problem presented by perception. They apply to the transformation and degradation of forms more than their genesis. In particular, many laboratory experiments utilizing a subject in perfect stability do not realize the conditions under which the genesis of forms takes place. We must note the ambivalent nature of the concept of “good form.” A form like the circle or the square easily emerges from a network of incoherent lines upon which an overprinting is superimposed. But, in spite of their simplicity, does a circle or a square relate to forms superior to what the artist invents? If this were true, the most perfect column would be a cylinder; it is on the contrary a figure of revolution not simply thinned, degraded at the two extremities, but still non-symmetrical compared to its center, the largest diameter being placed below the medium height, according to the Orders of Vignolle. The author of this work considers these proportions as resulting from a true invention which the Ancients could not make. As for the Ancients, they also proved the feeling of having been inventors, and Vitruve shows how the three traditional orders were successively invented under conditions where the prior forms were not appropriate. It is necessary to establish a distinction between FORM and INFORMATION; a form like the square can be very stable, very pregnant, and receive a small quantity of information, in the sense that it can only very seldom incorporate in it various elements of a metastable situation; it is difficult to discover the square as a solution of a perceptive problem. The square, circle, and more generally the simple and pregnant forms are structural designs rather than forms. It may be that these structural designs are innate; but they are not enough to explain the segregation of units in perception; the human figure with its friendly or hostile expression and the shape of an animal with its typical external characters are as pregnant as the circle or the square. Portmann notices in his work Animal Forms and Patterns that the perception of a lion or a tiger is not forgotten, even if it takes place only once and in a young child. This supposes what the simple geometric standards do not take into consideration: it would be very difficult to define the shape of the lion or the tiger and the reasons for their colored coats, through geometrical characters. Actually, between a very young child and an animal there exists a relation which does not seem to borrow from the “good forms” of perceptive designs: in the animals which it sees for the first time, the child shows an astonishing aptitude for recognizing various parts of the body, even if a very weak similarity between the human form and that of these animals obliges us to exclude the assumption of an external analogy between the human form and the shape of these animals. It is in fact the corporeal diagram of the child which, in a situation strongly developed by fear, sympathy, or terror, is engaged in this perception. It is the tension or the degree of metastability of the system formed by the child and the animal in a determined situation which is structured in the perception of the corporeal diagram of the animal. Here perception not only grasps the form of the object, but its orientation as a whole, its polarity which makes it lie down or draw up on its legs, makes it fight or flee, or makes it adopt a hostile or trustful attitude. If there were no preliminary tension or potential, perception could not arrive to a segregation of the units which is simultaneously the discovery of the polarity of these units. Unity is perceived when a reorientation of the perceptive field can be accomplished according to the object’s own polarity. To perceive an animal is to discover the cephalo-caudal axis and its orientation. To perceive a tree is to see in it the axis that goes from the roots to the end of the branches. Every time the tension of the system cannot be resolved in the structure or the organization of the polarity of the subject and the polarity of the object, a malaise remains which habit hates to destroy, even if every danger is averted.

3. Relation between the segregation of perceptive units and other types of individuation. Metastability and information theory in technology and psychology.

The psychological problem of the segregation of perceptive units indicates a fact that has been perfectly clarified by the founders of the theory of Form: individuation is not a process reserved for a single field of reality, for example that of psychological reality or physical reality. For this reason, whether it acts in the field of psychological reality or material reality, any doctrine that limits itself by privileging one field of reality and making it into the principle of individuation is insufficient. It may even be possible to say that it only exists due to an individualized reality rather than a mixed one. In this sense, we will try to define the individual as transductive reality. We mean by this that the individual is neither a substantial being like an element nor a pure relation, but that it is the reality of a metastable relation. There is only a true individual in a system where a metastable state occurs. If the appearance of the individual makes this metastable state disappear by decreasing the tensions of the system in which it appears, the individual becomes entirely motionless and unevolving spatial structure: it is the physical individual. On the other hand, if this appearance of the individual does not destroy the potential of metastability of the system, then the individual is alive, and its equilibrium maintains metastability: it is in this case a dynamic equilibrium that supposes a series of new successive structurations in general, without which the equilibrium of metastability could not be maintained. A crystal is like the fixed structure freed by an individual that would have lived only a moment, that of its formation, or rather of the formation of the crystal nucleus around which successive layers of the macroscopic crystal lattice came to be incorporated. The form that we see is only the vestige of the individuation that was formerly achieved in a metastable state. The living is like a crystal that would maintain a medium of permanent metastability around itself and in its relation. This living entity can be endowed with an indefinite life, as in certain, very elementary forms of life, or on the contrary limited in its existence because its own structuration is opposed to the maintenance of a permanent metastability of the unity formed by the individual and the milieu. The individual loses its plasticity little by little along with its capacity to return to metastable situations and address problems with multiple solutions. It could be said that the living individual structures itself more and more, thus tending to repeat its former arrangements when it moves away from its birth. In this sense, the limitation of lifespan is not absolutely related to individuation; it is only the consequence of a very complex form of individuation in which the consequences of the previous individuations are not eliminated from the individual and are used by it at the same time as an instrument to solve future difficulties and as an obstacle to reach new types of problems and situations. The successive character of apprenticeship and the use of successiveness in the achievement of different functions give to the individual higher possibilities of adaptation but require an internal structuration of the individual which is irreversible and preserved in the latter simultaneously as the designs discovered in situations surpassed the determinism of these same situations. Only an individual whose transformations would be foreseen could be regarded as immortal. As soon as the functions of the succession of the arrangements and temporal sequences of acts appear, a process of irreversibility specializes the individual due to the appearance of temporal laws: for each type of organization, there is a threshold of irreversibility beyond which any progress made by the individual, any acquired structuration, is a chance of death. Only beings having very little enervation and a slightly differentiated structure have few limits to their lifespan. Generally, they are also those for whom it is most difficult to determine the limits of the individual, in particular when several beings live aggregately or in symbiosis. The degree of structural individuality, corresponding to the concept of the limit or border of one being compared to other beings, or to that of internal organization, is put on the same plane as the nature of temporal structuration involving irreversibility but is not its direct cause; the common origin of these two aspects of the reality of the individual seems in fact to be the process according to which metastability is preserved or augmented in the relation of the individual in the milieu. Thus the essential problem of the biological individual would relate to this character of metastability of the unity formed by the individual and the milieu.

The physical problem of individuality is not simply a problem of topology, because what topology lacks is the consideration of potentials; potentials, precisely because they are potentials and not structures, cannot be represented as graphic elements of the situation. The situation in which physical individuation occurs is space-time, because it is a metastable state. Under these conditions, physical individuation, and more generally the study of physical forms, concerns a theory of metastability which considers the processes of exchange between spatial configurations and temporal sequences. This theory can be called allagmatic. It must be put in direct connection with information theory, which envisions the translation of temporal sequences into spatial organizations or vice-versa; but information theory, proceeding on this point like the theory of Form, instead considers sequences or configurations already given, and can hardly define the conditions of their genesis. On the contrary, it is absolute genesis as the mutual exchanges of forms as well as the structures and the temporal sequences that should be considered. A similar theory could then become the common basis for information theory and the theory of Form in Physics. Indeed, these two theories are unusable for the study of the individual because they employ two mutually incompatible criteria. It is obvious that the theory of Form privileges the simplicity and the pregnancy of forms; on the contrary, the quantity of information that information theory defines is higher as the number of decisions to be considered is larger; the more the form is foreseen, corresponding to an elementary mathematical law, the easier it is to transmit with a small quantity of signals. On the contrary, that which escapes from every monotony and stereotype is more difficult to transmit and requires a higher quantity of information. The simplification of forms and elimination of details increases in contrasts corresponding to a loss of the quantity of information. However, the individuation of physical beings can neither be assembled with simple good geometrical form nor with a high quantity of information understood as a great number of transmitted signals: it composes the two aspects, form and information, joined together in a unity; no physical object is simply a good form; but in addition the cohesion and the stability of the physical object are not proportional to its quantity of information, or more exactly to the quantity of signals of information that it is necessary to utilize in order to correctly transmit a knowledge about it. Hence the need for a mediation; the individuation of the physical object is neither pure discontinuity like the rectangle or the square, nor continuity like structures requiring a number of signals of information tending towards the infinite in order to be transmitted.

4. Introduction of the concept of quantum variation into the representation of psychic individuation.

It seems that a whole path of research can be discovered in the concept of the quantum. Subjectively and very paradoxically, it is possible to increase the quantity of useful signals by introducing a quantum condition which, in fact, decreases the quantity of information of the true system inside of which there is information. Thus, by increasing the contrast of a photograph or a television image, the perception of objects is improved, although information is lost within the context of information theory.[2] What someone perceives in the objects when he or she grasps them as an individual is thus not an indefinite source of signals, an inexhaustible reality, like matter which allows itself to be analyzed indefinitely; it is the reality of certain thresholds of intensity and quality maintained by the objects. Pure form or pure matter, the physical object would be nothing; alliance of form and matter, it would simply be contradiction; the physical object is the organization of thresholds and levels that are maintained and transposed so as to traverse various situations; the physical object is a bundle of differential relations, and its perception as an individual is the grasping of the coherence of this bundle of relations. A crystal is individual not because it has a geometrical form or a set of elementary particles, but because all the optical, thermal, elastic, electric, and piezoelectric properties undergo an abrupt variation when we pass from one side to another; without this coherence of a multitude of properties with abruptly variable values, the crystal would be simply a geometrical form associated to a chemical species, and not a true individual. Hylemorphism is here radically insufficient because it cannot define this character of unified plurality and pluralized unity making a bundle of quantum relations. For this reason, even on the level of the physical individual, the concept of polarity is dominant; without it, we could not understand the unity of these quantum relations. It still may be that this quantum condition makes it possible to understand why the physical object can be perceived directly in its individuality: an analysis of physical reality cannot be separated from a reflection on the same conditions of knowledge.

5. The perceptive problematic; quantity of information, quality of information, intensity of information.

It is necessary to define with more precision what we mean by the quantity of information and form. Two very different meanings are presented by the theory of Form and Information theory. The theory of Form defines the good forms by pregnancy and simplicity: the good form, being that which has the capacity to be essential, overrides forms having less coherence, clearness, or pregnancy. The circle and the square are thus good forms. On the other hand, information theory responds to a set of technical problems relating to the use of weak currents in the transmission of signals and the use of the various modes of recording of audio and luminous signals. When a scene is recorded by photography, film, a tape recorder or video recorder, the total situation must be broken up into a set of elements that are recorded by a modification imposed upon a very great number of physical individuals ordered according to a spatial, temporal, or mixed organization, i.e. space-time. Photography can be taken as an example of spatial organization: a photographic surface, which can support signals in its active part, is constituted by an emulsion containing a multitude of silver grains, originally in the form of a chemical combination. The optical image being projected on this emulsion, if the perfect optical system is supposed, obtains a more or less accentuated chemical conversion of the chemical combination constituting the emulsion; but the capacity that this emulsion has of recording small details depends on the smoothness of the particles: the actually chemical translation of a continuous optical line within the emulsion is constituted by a discontinuous trail of sensible grains; the coarser and rarer these grains are, the more difficult it is to determine a small detail with sufficient accuracy. Examined under the microscope, an emulsion which, if it were of a continuous structure, should reveal new details merely shows a fog formed from discontinuous grains. Thus, what is called the degree of the definition or resolution of an emulsion can be measured by the number of distinct details able to be recorded on a given surface; for example, on an emulsion of the current type, a square millimeter can contain five thousand distinct details.

On the other hand, if a sound recording on a covered ribbon of magnetic iron oxide coating, on steel wire, or on disc is considered, it is seen that here the order becomes an order of succession: the distinct physical individuals whose modifications translate and transmit the signals are oxide grains, steel molecules, or clusters of plastic ordered on a line that unravels in front of the air gap of a polarized electromagnet or under the sapphire or diamond of recording equipment. The quantity of details that can be recorded per unit of time depends on the number of distinct physical individuals that unravel during this unit of time in front of the place where the recording is carried out: the details engraved on a disc must be smaller than the order of the magnitude of the molecular chains that constitute the plastic; furthermore, frequencies cannot be recorded on a magnetic tape when the number of details (particles magnetized in variable degrees) is larger than the number of its particles; lastly, the variations of a magnetic field cannot be recorded on a steel wire whose sections are too small to be able to receive a magnetization particular to each one. If we wanted to go beyond these limits, the sound would merge with the background noise created by the discontinuity of elementary particles. If on the contrary a rather large tape speed is adopted, this background noise is rejected towards the higher frequencies; it perfectly corresponds with the indistinct fog of silver grains that appear when a photograph is looked at under a microscope;[3] sound is recorded in the form of a series of a clusters of particles more or less magnetized or laid out in a furrow, just as photography consists of a juxtaposition and distribution of clusters of more or less concentrated silver grains. The limit of the quantity of signals is justifiably the discontinuous character of the information carrier, the finalized number of distinct representative elements ordered according to space or time in which information finds its support.

Lastly, when a movement is to be recorded, the two types of signals, temporal and spatial, both conflict in some way, so that the former can only by obtained by partially sacrificing the latter, and then the result is a compromise: to break up movement into fixed images or transmit it, cinematography or television can be utilized; in both cases, the temporal sequences in a series of successively fixed or transmitted instantaneities get cut out; in television, each separate image is transmitted point by point due to the movement of the exploration of a “spot” analyzer crisscrossing the entire image, generally according to the successive segments on the right-hand side, just like the eye reads. When the movement to be transmitted is faster, it requires a higher number of images to transmit it correctly; for a slower movement, like that of a man walking, five to eight images a second suffice; for a fast movement like that of an automobile, the rate of twenty-five complete images a second is insufficient. Under these conditions, the quantity of signals to be transmitted is represented by the number of details to transmit per unit of time, similar to the measurement of a frequency. Thus, to completely utilize all the advantages of its resolution, a television with 819 lines was able to transmit approximately fifteen million details a second.

Therefore, this technical concept of a quantity of information conceived as a number of signals is very different from what is worked out by the theories of Form: the good form is characterized by its structural quality, not a number; on the other hand, it is the degree of the complication of data that requires a high quantity of signals for a correct transmission. In this respect, the quantity of signals required for the transmission of a given object does not take any account of the character of “good form” that it can have: the transmission of the image of a sand heap or an irregular surface of granite requires the same quantity of signals as the transmission of the image of a well aligned regiment or the columns of the Parthenon. The measurement of the quantity of signals which should be employed makes it possible neither to define nor to compare the different contents of the objective data: there is a considerable hiatus between the signals of information and the form. It could even be said that the quantity of signals appears to increase when the qualities of the form are lost; it is technically easier to transmit the image of a square or a circle than that of a sand heap; no difference in the quantity of signals appears between the transmission of an image of text having a meaning and an image of text made of randomly distributed letters.[4]

It thus seems that neither the concept of “good form,” nor that of the quantity of pure information is adequately appropriate to define the reality of information. More importantly than information as quantity and information as quality exists what could be called information as intensity. It is not necessarily the geometrical and simplest image that is most expressive; it is also not necessarily the most thought out image, meticulously analyzed in its details, that has the most meaning for the perceiving subject. The entire subject should be considered in a concrete situation with tendencies, instincts, and passions, and not the subject in a laboratory, in a situation that has a weak emotive valorization in general. It appears then that the intensity of information can be increased due to a voluntary reduction in the quantity of signals or the quality of the forms: a very contrasted photograph, with a random distribution of clarity and obscurity, or a slightly fuzzy photograph can have more value and intensity than the same photography with a perfect gradation respecting the value of each detail, or more than the geometrically centered photograph without any deformation. The geometrical rigor of a contour often has less intensity and meaning for the subject than a certain irregularity. A perfectly round or perfectly oval face, incarnating a good geometrical form, would be without life; it would remain lifeless for the subject that would perceive it.

Intensity of information supposes a subject directed by a vital dynamism: information is then what allows the subject to be situated in the world. In this sense, any received signal has a possible coefficient of intensity forcing us to constantly correct our situation in relation to the world in which we exist. Pregnant geometrical forms do not enable us to orient ourselves; they are innate designs of our perception, but these designs do not introduce a preferential sense. It is on the level of the different luminous, colored, dark, olfactory, and thermal gradients that information takes a predominant, intensive sense. A quantity of signals only gives a ground without polarity; the structures of good forms merely provide outlines. It is not enough to perceive details or sets organized in the unity of a good form: it is still necessary that these details as sets have a meaning in relation to us, that they are grasped as intermediaries between the subject and the world, as signals allowing the coupling of the subject and the world. The object is an exceptional reality; in a quotidien way, it is not the object that is perceived, but the world, polarized in such a way that the situation has a meaning. The object itself appears only in an artificial situation and in some exceptional way. However, the very rigorous and absolute consequences of the theory of Form relative to the spontaneous character of the perceptive processes deserve to be examined with more precision. It is undoubtedly true that the grasping of forms operates directly without apprenticeship or recourse to a formation which would be achieved by practice. But it is also not true that the grasping of the meaning of a situation is primitive and that no apprenticeship intervenes. Affectivity can be moderated, transposed, or change. It can in certain cases also be inverted: one of the aspects of defeatist behavior is the general negativism of subsequent control; all that formerly, before the failure, attracted the subject, is repulsed; all spontaneous movements are refused, transformed into their opposite. Situations are taken in the wrong way, read from reverse. Failure-neuroses express this inversion of polarity, but the training of an animal presenting definite tropisms or taxies already shows this possibility of the inversion of polarity.

This existence of a perceptive polarity plays a dominating part in the segregation of perceptive units; neither good form nor the quantity of signals can take account of this segregation. The subject perceives so as to be oriented in relation to the world. The subject perceives so as to increase not the quantity of signals of information nor the quality of information, but the intensity of information, the potential of information of a situation.[5] As Norbert Wiener says, perceiving is to struggle against the entropy of a system, it is to organize, maintain or invent an organization. It is not enough to say that perception consists in grasping organized wholes; in fact it is the act that organizes wholes; it introduces the organization by analogically connecting the forms contained in the subject to the signals received: to perceive is to retain the greatest possible quantity of signals in the forms most deeply anchored in the subject; it is not only to grasp forms or to record juxtaposed or successive multiple data; neither quality, quantity, continuity, or discontinuity can explain this perceptive activity; the perceptive activity is a mediation between quality and the quantity; it is intensity, the grasping and organization of intensities in the relation of the subject to the world.

Some experiments on the perception of forms in vision has shown that quality is not enough with perception; it is very difficult to perceive forms represented by colors having even a luminous intensity; on the contrary, these same forms are very easily perceived if a luminous difference in intensity marks it, even when the colors are identical or absent (degrees of gray). The differential thresholds of intensity are remarkably low for sight (6/1000) but the thresholds of frequency are even lower in differential perception; thus the aforementioned fact cannot be maintained under peripheral organic conditions. It is the central perceptive process of the grasping of the forms that is concerned. In the same way, a weak frequency modulation of a sound is not easily discernible from a modulation of intensity, or from very short interruptions in the emission of the sound, which could be called a phase modulation: various types of modulation converge towards the modulation of intensity, as if the dynamisms implied in the perception retained primarily this type of modulation.

If to perceive consists in generating the information of the system formed by the subject and the field in which it is oriented, the conditions of perception are analogous to those of any stable structuration: metastable states must precede perception. Kant wanted to explain perception by the synthesis of the manifold of sensitivity; but in fact there exist two species of the manifold: the qualitative and the quantitative, the heterogeneous and the homogeneous; the theory of Form has shown that perception cannot be explained by the synthesis of the homogeneous: a dust of elements do no constitute a unity by simple addition. But there is also an intensive manifold that renders the subject-world system comparable to a supersaturated solution; perception is the resolution that transforms the tensions that affected this supersaturated system into an organized structure; it could be said that every true perception is the resolution of a problem of compatibility.[6] Perception reduces the number of qualitative tensions and compatibilities by transforming them into a potential of information, a mixture of quality and quantity. A figure on a background is not yet an object; the object is the provisional stabilization of a series of dynamisms that go from the tensions to the aspects of the determination characterizing a situation. While being oriented in this situation, the subject can reduce the aspects of qualitative and intensive heterogeneity to a unity, operating the synthesis of the homogeneous manifold; indeed, this act of orientation reacts on the milieu which is simplified; the multiple world, the problem proposed to the subject by perception, and the heterogeneous world are simply aspects of the time preceding this act of orientation. It is in the system formed by the world and the subject that, by its perceptive gesture, the subject constitutes the unity of perception. To believe that the subject directly grasps forms that are ready-made is to believe that perception is a pure knowledge and that forms are entirely contained in reality; in fact a recurring relation is instituted between the subject and the world in which it must perceive. To perceive is rightly to take through; without this active gesture which supposes that the subject forms part of the system in which the perceptive problem is posited, perception could not be accomplished. Borrowing the language of axiomatics, it could be said that the subject/world system is an overdetermined or supersaturated field. Subjectivity is not deforming, because it is that which operates the segregation of the objects according to the forms that it brings; it could only be hallucinatory if it were detached from the signals received from the object. The perceptive act institutes a provisional saturation of the axiomatic system which is the subject plus the world. Without this coupling[7] of the subject in the world, the problem would remain absurd or undetermined: by establishing the relation between the supersaturation and indetermination, the subject of perception reveals a finalized number of necessary solutions; the problem can, in some cases, compose several solutions (as in the figures with reversible perspectives), but it generally composes only one of them, and this unicity creates the stability of perception.

However, it is necessary to distinguish the stability of perception from its pregnancy. The perception of a circle or a square is not pregnant, and yet it can be very stable; this is because the pregnancy of the perception comes from its degree of intensity, not from its quality or number of signals; such perception can be pregnant for a subject, and some other perception for another subject: perception is much more pregnant when the dynamism of the previous state of incompatibility is stronger; fear or intense desire generates a great intensity for perception, even if the clearness of this perception is weak; the perception of an odor is often confused and does not discover firmly structured elements; however, a perception that incorporates olfactory data can have a great intensity. Certain tonalities, certain colors, certain timbres can enter an intense perception even without constituting a good form. It thus seems that one needs to distinguish between the clearness and the pregnancy of a perception; pregnancy is truly related to the dynamic character of the perceptive field; it is not a consequence of form only, but more especially the range of solutions which it constitutes for vital problems.

What has been known as the segregation of perceptive units can apply to the genesis of concepts. The concept does not result from the synthesis of a certain number of perceptions under a relational design conferring a unity to them. In order for the formation of the concept to be possible, inter-perceptive tension is needed that generates the meaning of the relation of the subject to the world. An assembly of perceptive data cannot be constructed simply from perceptions; neither can it be established the meeting of the perceptions on the one hand and an a priori form on the other hand, even if it is mediated by a schematism. The mediation between a priori and a posteriori can be discovered neither from the a priori nor the a posteriori; the mediation is not of a similar nature to the terms: it is the tension, potential, and metastability of the system formed by the terms. Moreover, the a priori forms are not rigorously preexistent to the perceptions: in the way in which perceptions have a form each one for itself, there is already something of this capacity of syncrystallization that appears on a higher level in the birth of concepts: in this sense, it can be said that conceptualization is to perception what syncrystallization is to the crystallization of a single chemical species. Moreover, like perception, the concept requires a permanent reactivation in order to be maintained in its integrity; it is maintained by the existence of quantum thresholds that support the distinction of concepts; this distinction is not an intrinsic priority of each concept, but a function of the set of concepts present in the logical field. The introduction of new concepts into this logical field can bring about the restructuration of all concepts, like any new metaphysical doctrine; before this reorganization, it modifies the threshold of the distinction of all concepts.


[1] The Theory of Form does not establish the essential distinction between a set, whose unity is merely structural, not energetic, and a system, a metastable unity made of a plurality of sets among which there exists a relation of analogy and an energetic potential. Sets do not possess information. Their becoming can only be that of a degradation or augmentation of entropy. On the contrary, the system can be maintained in its being of metastability due to the activity of information which characterizes its systemic state. The Theory of Form has taken sets as totalities, whereas in fact they are only property of systems; however, systems cannot be totalized, because treating them as the sum of their elements ruins the consciousness of what informs the systems, namely the separation relative to the structures they contain, an analogical structure, disparation and, in general, the relational activity of information. What forms the nature of a system is the type of information that it conceals; however, information or relational activity cannot be quantified abstractly, but only characterized in reference to the designs or structures of the system where it exists; we should not confuse information with the signals of information, which can be quantified but which could not exist without a situation of information, i.e. without a system.[2] Indeed, the number of decisions falls when contrast is shown: if there are only white and black colors in an image, then there are only two possible states for each physical surface unit; if there are various nuances of gray, there is a greater number of possible states, and thus of decisions.

[3] The reading of a magnetic tape at high speed is the equivalent of a perception of a photograph at a distance.

[4] We could only take account of the degree of the probability of this form’s appearance; there are only a finite number of good forms, whereas unspecified assemblies can be indefinitely varied. But it is only because of this, through the intermediary of a possible coding implying a lower number of decisions, that the good form is easier to transmit. A very simple coding, in the case of straight lines, consists in reducing the number of possible states to two: white and black. It is in this sense that drawing a line is more easily transmitted than an image in different tones of gray.

[5] In the reflexes of perceptive accommodation, we simultaneously find operations that increase the quantity of signals (convexity of the crystalline lens) and others that direct living entities privileging interesting signals selectively: hence fixation, i.e. ocular movement in tandem with a moving object.

[6] Simple heterogeneity without potentials cannot promote becoming. Granite is made from heterogeneous elements like quartz, feldspar, or mica, and yet it is not metastable.

[7] This word is taken here in the sense that Physics gives it, particularly in the theory of the exchange of energy between oscillator and resonator.

4 thoughts on “Translation: Chapter 1 of Simondon’s Psychic and Collective Individuation

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