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Sunday, 20 May 2012

The extensive continuum and a space of contingencies

Whitehead´s notion of extensive continuum is a very interesting one. It satisfies the obligation of transmutation - that Whitehead deems important to explain Leibniz´s idea that monads have a confused perception of the whole universe. It is connected to the potential, to what takes place in each actual entity - in each monad - before actual individualisation takes place. Each actual entity starts out with the extensive continuum and brings about (or sponsors) actual individual entities who would be the staring point for a next round of generating contemporary actual entities out of the extensive continuum. It is like a potential complicatio of the available world. It is in the continuum that different actual entities co-exist - like an Anaximander´s apeirón more than Anaxagoras´ pool of things which is an assemblage of ready-made, individualised items (his fragment 10: how could hair come from anything but hair and flesh from anything but flesh?). Whatever is an actual entity inhabits the extensive continuum. It is also a pool of elements for ontogenesis - in the sense of individualizing actual entities. Ontogenesis is achieved through sponsorings (objectifications, is Whitehead´s term in this case). In the continuum, things get deindividuated, decrystallized and loose their borders so that they can get recrystallzed later. The continuum is perceptual and is real, it is the constant origin of all new contemporary actual entities. (It is like the night, if we think with the Miletians, the night that gives rise to a new day of actual entities.)

The continuum is the space where entities are. It is the locus for what there is. Not a whole, but a locus. I take it to have the role of providing a kind of address to the plurality. In that sense, I compare it with three other notions: a) Souriau´s surexistence, defined as a crossroad of modes of existence; b) Deleuze and Guattari´s plan d´immanence, understood as a place where contact and contagion between what is organized takes place and c) Kit Fine´s überreality, understood as the assemblage of what is seen through all perspectives. In all those cases, different from each other and from the extensive continuum, what is at stake is a place that puts together the different existences, organizations or perspectives. I´d like to think of those four concepts as pointing at what I would call the space of contingencies. In Leibniz, because of the identity of indiscernibles and the indiscernibility of identicals (Leibniz´s law), there is no room for something like Whitehead´s concrescence. All monads are unique and yet defined by their features (and historical trajectories in the best and therefore uniquely existing world). They are like mathematical objects: anything that happen to them follows from their (infinite) definition. A space of contingencies (or a contingency space) is needed, though, whenever things can happen to monads just because they occupy the space of what exists (they are concrete, as opposed to abstract). The four notions (extensive continuum, surexistence, plan d´immanence, überreality) vary in how much the pluralities that inhabit the contingency space interact with each other. In the case of Deleuze and Guattari´s notion, contact is central while in Kit Fine´s or Souriau´s it is no much more than insinuated. What is important in the four cases is that this space doesn´t precede the pluralities, it is built out of the pluralities (because they happen to be plural). It follows from the plurality itself. So, for Whitehead, the extensive continuum is not the starting point - which is always the actual entities - but a step of transmutation. It follows from the actual entities and is not like a receptacle but rather space created (maybe sponsored) by the actual entities.

I´ve been thinking of matter as something that could be compared with this contingecy space. It can be seen as one of these four things above - and, yes, it is a device to decrystallize and recrystallize entities (or objects). Big difference is that often it is thought as preceding the plurality of objects (but see posts in this blog considering a post-object matter). Matter can be thought as a locus of transmutation as things have to be material in order to exist as concrete items. Nothing can avoid borrowing clay. While in Leibniz there is no space for the contingencies of matter - any piece of matter is under the influence of monads - if there is the contingencies of matter, there is a room for what can affect through contact. I then wonder what does it mean for something to be in this contingent space - if it is not merely being contingent simpliciter (that I suspect is never the case with anything, things are contingent to something else, and not contingenct tout court, as I wrote in a previous post). In any case, the sheer plurality seems to point towards a space like this, a space of implementation, maybe, where things are more than their definitions.


  1. This is not very extensive, please continue! It sounds very interesting.

  2. Yes, I think your analysis points to the idea that the space of contingencies is a space of abundance and not of withdrawal. That this space is built out of the pluralities (Deleuze would say out of multiplicities) makes it resemble Deleuze's notion of smooth space. This makes me wonder about your thesis that contingence is always contingence relative to something else. This seems to be a necessary proviso if we are to avoid an onto-theology of contingence (which I argue that Meillassoux falls into). Yet I am haunted by Deleuze's idea that resistance, or deterritorialisation comes first. You seem to agree here by your idea that pluralities come first, before space (I suppose this is a logical "before"). Even deconstruction maintains that it can be a necessary preliminary move to privilege one term of a binary couple, the marginal resisting term. Deleuze and, I would argue, Feyerabend seem to maintain that we must give precedence to the term bearing the most plurality. In which case contingence would be partially relative in our crystallised states, but somehow absolute in the decrystallised continuum. I further like your idea that a criterion of demarcation for evaluating the relative merits of such pluralist doctrines is in the degree of contact or interaction they authorise. Pluralism for me is on the side of abundance and interaction, as opposed to monist doctrines of withdrawal and retreat from contact.

  3. thinking with you both, 5 years latter, I would avail the idea of abundance and think it in opposition to the scarcity. a space that is pure creativity, where concrescences are in constat creation inspire me to apply it to the idea of ground itself. If we see the space as newton in scholium as a absolute receptacle where things are disposed is dificult to see how abundance can appear from nothing. But having the organism filosophy in mind, this image of this constant ontogenesis it is possible to conceive how water can flow from a agroecological treatment of ground, how the person became a part of this space... In times of water scarcity, the organism filosophy can bring beautiful insights of abundance...