Emergent illusions

20/04/2012 § Leave a comment

Back on the topic of emergent properties. Deleuze wants us to believe that we have a multiplicity of potentials (or is that a potential of multiplicities?). In a rhizomatic model of becoming, we push our potentials out into new spaces. No potential is necessarily prioritised over another.

This is a corollary of Sartre’s existentialism. In Existentialism is a humanism, Sartre gives the example of a young man who must choose between going to England to fight with the French Resistance or stay home and care for his mother:

Ce jeune homme avait le choix, à ce moment-là, entre partir pour l’Angleterre et s’engager dans les Forces Françaises Libres – c’est-à-dire abandonner sa mère – ou demeurer auprès de sa mère, et l’aider à vivre.

Sartre counsels him and us that he must choose; the choice is his. The criteria for his choice are also his. There is no eternal principal on which he can base his decision, to which in effect he can surrender his decision.

Thus with Deleuze, we have the freedom to choose the path that our rhizomatic becomings take.

But, but…

In First as tragedy, then as farce, Zizek takes on the notion of free choice:

There are multiple ideological investments in the topic of choice today, even though brain scientists point out that freedom of choice is an illusion — we experience ourselves as “free” simply when we are able to act in the way our organism has determined, with no external obstacles to thwart our inner propensities….There is, however, a feature conspicuously missing from this series: namely, the injunction to choose when we lack the basic cognitive coordinates needed to make a rational choice. [pp 62, 63]

This is the terrifying element of microsimulation models as well as some game theoretic experiments. They are closed universes in which agents/subjects are herded down chutes into specific endpoints. They are given illusions of choices along the way, nodes in a decision tree which was developed by the researcher. It is no longer a rhizome, but a collection of tubes and chutes, however Rube-Goldberg the model may be. Too, the agent/subject must choose. Each round of the game, each run of the model, they must register their choice and continue to the next step in the process.

The result is then treated as a true emergence from the multiplicity of potentials — this is the illusion of emergent properties. Instead, we are counting the number of marbles in the hoppers we have already built, and then asking the reader not to pay any attention to the arrangement of tubes and chutes that dropped them there.

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