Individuation, Cognitive Development, and Education

ethnographies (fiction, memoir, biography)

When Breath Becomes Air

Karl Emile Franzos, "Schiller in Barnow," in The German-Jewish Dialogue: An Anthology of Literary Texts, 1749-1993, Ritchie Robertson, ed. (Oxford, 1999)

The Lowlands

Notes of a Red Guard

literary criticism

Marshall W. Alcorn, Jr., Narcissism and the Literary Libido: Rhetoric, Text, and Subjectivity (New York University Press, 1994): excerpt

Stephen Rumph, Mozart and Enlightenment Semiotics  (University of California, 2012): excerpt

Franco Moretti, The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture (Verso, 2000) excerpt

educational theory

                   Figure 1.  PISA Math Scores, 2003 - 2012: 25 Nations
Southeast Asian nations are in light blue; Scandinavian nations + Switzerland
in dark blue
; Anglo-Saxon nations in orange; France, Germany, Belgium and
Poland in green; Italy, Portugal and Spain in brown; the United States in red.
(The advanced capitalist nations.  Some have been
omitted for the sake of visual clarity).

Note the decline in the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian nations.  The results of the 2015 tests will be released in December of 2016.

Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares (New York Times, 4-29-16)

Individuation, Cognitive Development, and Education

Figure 2.  Bronfenbrenner's Bioecological Model of Human Development


from Jean-Hugues Barthélémy, "Glossary", in Arne De Boever, Alex Murray, Jon Roffe, and Ashley Woodward (eds.), Gilbert Simondon: Being and Technology, Edinburgh University Press, 2012

  In the second chapter of the second part of MEOT, as well as in this book’s conclusion, Simondon reproaches Marx for not having thought through the ‘psycho-physiological’ alienation of the worker in the machine era. Indeed, behind ‘economico-social’ (MEOT 118) alienation – which is linked to the private ownership of the means of production that Marxists criticize – there exists a more fundamental alienation that is ‘physical and mental’.

  Simondon gives a new double meaning to this notion, which becomes the name of his great adversary in the theorization of human and technical reality. Indeed, in Simondon’s work the word ‘anthropology’ refers to two major Western tendencies that must both be resisted:

1. First of all, it refers to the tendency to separate the human being from the living, on the grounds that the human being would have an ‘essence’ that is either psychic (Freud) or social (Marx, Durkheim) – this is not to mention, even, the mythological human ‘reason’ (Aristotle, Descartes, Kant) that Simondon does not even discuss. Against this tendency, Simondon in IPC, and more particularly in the first chapter of this book’s second part, wants to think the human being as a living being that has become centrally and indissolubly psycho-social, with the ‘purely psychic’ and the ‘purely social’ being only ‘limit-cases’ (IPC 209 or ILFI 313). On this basis, Simondon seeks in FIP to refound the human sciences so that it would become possible to unify psychology and sociology, which have been artificially separated from one another. On this count, see the words Axiomatic and Transindividual.

Associated milieu:  The thought of individuation cannot be constructed without taking into account the milieu that is associated with the individual, and this is why this notion of the associated milieu is of central importance in both ILFI and MEOT. Indeed, Simondon remarks in the introduction to ILFI that if hylomorphism presupposes a ‘principle of individuation’ – whether it is form or matter – that already comes from the mode of being of the individual that it was nevertheless supposed to explain, this is because hylomorphism sought to explain the genesis of the separate individual, without taking into account its associated milieu:

If, on the other hand, one presupposed that individuation does not only produce the individual, one would not seek to pass quickly through the stage of individuation to arrive at this final individuality which is the indi- vidual: one would seek instead to seize ontogenesis in the entire unfolding of its reality, and to know the individual through the individuation rather than the individuation starting from the individual (ILFI 24, Simondon’s emphasis)

One will observe that this is not a question of explaining the individual starting from its associated milieu, but of explaining both starting from a pre-individual reality.

With the living being, the associated milieu becomes the pole of a permanent exchange, whereas for the psycho-social personality (see Personalization and personality), the collective is no longer even a simple milieu but a group that has its proper unity and its proper personality, with which the personality of the individual is ‘coextensive’ (IPC 183 or ILFI 297).

Technics / work (labour)

Individual and technical individual:
Simondon distinguishes between ‘regimes of individuation’ and thus between degrees of individuality of the individual, in such a way that one cannot, even with the highest rigour, speak of an individual, but only of individuation; one must go back to the activity, the genesis, instead of trying to apprehend the being as entirely made in order to discover the criteria by which one will know whether it is an individual or not. The individual is not a being but an act. [. . .] Individuality is an aspect of generation, can be explained by the genesis of a being, and lies in the perpetuation of this genesis. (ILFI 191)

This is why the crystal is not truly individual unless it is at the moment of crystallization. The living being, on the other hand, possesses a complex and durable individuality; its associated milieu participates in its being, which is therefore a ‘theatre of individuation’ rather than simply the ‘result of individuation like the crystal or the molecule’ (ILFI 27).

The machine is a ‘technical individual’ in so far as it ‘carries its tools’ and becomes capable even of doing without the human auxiliary (see Alienation). But the individualization of the technical object is also this aspect of the process of ‘concretization’ through which the technical object calls forth an associated milieu that it integrates into its function- ing (see Concretization, Individualization and Associated milieu). Finally, in the order of the levels of analysis of the technical object, the technical individual is opposed to the element, which ‘does not have an associated milieu’ (MEOT 65) and transposes itself from one object to another.

This notion applies at the same time to the living being (in ILFI) and to the technical object (in MEOT) because of an operative analogy: ‘It is because the living is an individual being that carries with it its associated milieu that the living is capable of inventing: this capacity to condition itself is in the beginning the capacity to produce objects that condition themselves’ (MEOT 58; see also MEOT 138–9).

With the living, individualization is, first, that which accompanies this ‘perpetual individuation’ which is life in so far as it is continuous genesis: Simondon has the tendency to reserve the notion of individualization to the somato-psychic splitting of the living. Whence the fact that, for him, ‘psychic individuation’ is not, properly speaking, an individuation (see 214 Gilbert Simondon: Being and Technology IPC 132–4 or ILFI 267–8) but an individualization and a ‘transitory path’ between vital individuation and psychosocial individuation (see Regimes).

In MEOT, then, the individualization of technical beings is the condition of technical progress. This individualization is possible through the recurrence of cau- sality in a milieu that the technical being creates around itself and that conditions it in the same way that this milieu is conditioned by the tech- nical being. This milieu, which is at the same time technical and natural, can be called the associated milieu. It is that by which the technical being conditions itself in its functioning. (MEOT 56–7)

It is because of such technical progress that ‘human individuality finds itself more and more cut off from the technical function through the construction of technical individuals’ (MEOT 80). This is why, ‘when reflecting on the consequences of technical development in relation to the evolution of human societies, we must take into account the process of individualization of technical objects before everything else’ (MEOT 80). On this point, see Alienation.

Individuation / disindividuation: ‘Genetic’ encyclopedism is a philosophy of individuation, or, for Simondon, of genesis. Individuation is thus not differentiating indi- vidualization, as was the case in the work of Carl Gustav Jung; for Simondon, individuation as genesis founds and encompasses the differ- entiation between individuals, which only becomes fully meaningful in the case of the living individual and its individuation. This is continuous and very different from the individuation of the physical individual (see Individualization). On individuation, see also Ontogenesis.

The term ‘disindividuation’ refers to a very particular phenomenon that can generate emotion in the bio-psychic living, and that makes possible in its turn, as long as this phenomenon is temporary, the passage to the psycho-social – or the transindividual. On the difference between temporary disindividuation and the disindividuation that generates anxiety, see Anxiety.

Metastability: This term, which is used by Norbert Wiener as well, refers in Simondon to a state that has been discovered by thermodynamics. It is a state that transcends the classical opposition between stability and instability, and that is charged with potentials for a becoming (see ILFI 26 or IGPB 24). The central importance that Simondon gave to this term is characteristic of the theoretical gesture that Gilles Deleuze so admired in IGPB:

Few books, in any case, make felt to such an extent how a philosopher can take his inspiration from contemporary science, while at the same time dealing with the great, classical problems of philosophy by transforming them and renewing them. The new concepts established by Simondon are of extreme importance; their richness and their originality capture and influence the reader. (Deleuze, ‘Gilbert Simondon, L’Individu et sa genèse physico-biologique’ [Gilbert Simondon, The individual and its physico- biological genesis], Revue philosophique de la France et de l’étranger, vol. CLVI, 1–3, 118)

The difference between the physical individual and the living indi- vidual is therefore that the second entertains within it a metastability, whereas the first has become stable and has exhausted its potentials. Life is for Simondon a ‘perpetual individuation’ (ILFI 27 or IGPB 25). On metastability as condition for the processes of individuation, see also Pre-individual.

Ontogenesis: Ontogenesis – the French ‘ontogenèse’, which Simondon consistently spells as ‘ontogénèse’ – is first distinguished from individuation, to the extent that the latter is also the appearance of an associated milieu that one must take into account for a true explanation of the genesis of the individual. In the second instance, it is the term ontogenesis itself that is enlarged in order to refer to the ‘becoming of being’ (ILFI 25) in general, and thus to individuation as the genesis of the individual and its associated milieu.  Ontogenesis – the French ‘ontogenèse’, which Simondon consistently spells as ‘ontogénèse’ – is first distinguished from individuation, to the extent that the latter is also the appearance of an associated milieu that one must take into account for a true explanation of the genesis of the individual. In the second instance, it is the term ontogenesis itself that is enlarged in order to refer to the ‘becoming of being’ (ILFI 25) in general, and thus to individuation as the genesis of the individual and its associated milieu.

Pre-individual This term, which is crucial to Simondon’s thought, refers to the state of metastability that makes possible each individuation. While metastability can exist within the process of individuation, as is the case with the living, the pure pre-individual actually exists ‘before’ this process – in an ‘anteriority’ that is not temporal, since time itself ‘develops out of the pre-individual just like the other dimensions according to which the process of individuation takes place’

Real collective and community / society  The term ‘real collective’ can be used as another name for the transindi- vidual when the latter is considered in its social rather than its psychic aspect. Indeed, the paradox of the transindividual, as Simondon presents it in the second and third chapters of IPC, is that ‘psychological individ- uality appears as that which elaborates itself while elaborating transin- dividuality; this elaboration rests on two connected dialectics, one that interiorizes the exterior, and another that exteriorizes the interior’ (IPC 157 or ILFI 281). This means that where psychic individuality unfolds itself to the utmost, the collective equally becomes a ‘real collective’, immanent to each individuality. This paradox is an ontological conse- quence of the epistemological doctrine of the realism of relations.

Realism of relations  This term refers to the epistemological doctrine of Simondon’s work, which provides the core of his genetic ontology. The term – which was curiously lacking in IGPB – is most completely developed in the third chapter of ILFI. The realism of relations consists in desubstantializing the individual without, however, derealizing it. It posits that the indi- viduality of the individual increases through the demultiplication of the relations that constitute the individual. This is why the individual does not dissolve in the relations that constitute it. Simondon’s anti- substantialism thinks of relations as not being preceded by the terms that they relate. At the same time, it preserves the idea that the individ- ual is the ‘active centre’ of the relation. For more on both these aspects, see Orders of magnitude.

The precursor of the realism of relations is Gaston Bachelard, the great French epistemologist and philosopher of physics, whose most important disciple was Georges Canguilhem, philosopher of biology, who was the director of both Simondon’s main doctoral thesis and his secondary thesis.

Transindividual / interindividual  This opposition is decisive for understanding the psycho-social or ‘transindividual’ regime of individuation, but also for understanding the value of technical invention:

1. The transindividual, first of all, is defined as ‘the systematic unity of interior (psychic) individuation, and exterior (collective) individuation’ (IPC 19; ILFI 29). Unlike the interindividual, it is therefore not simply a bringing-into-relation of the individuals. The transindividual makes subjects intervene in so far as they carry a charge of pre-individual reality. The mistake of psychologism – which only sees the interindividual – as well as of sociologism – which merely sees the intrasocial – is to have forgotten this reality of the subject which is ‘vaster than the individual’ (MEOT 248) and which alone enables one to explain the birth of a real collective and also the ultimate realization of the individual psychism that is becoming ‘personality’ (see Personalization and personality).

2. In addition, and this has already been explained in the context of the opposition ‘Technics / work (labour)’, the paradigm of the transindividual is the human relation, which is ‘supported’ by the invented technical object, as Simondon says in MEOT. It should be added here that it is by virtue of the contemporary informational sets that the properly called ‘modern’ human society of work – which was born from the industrial revolution, and which was made up of merely interindividual relations and as a consequence sometimes found itself alienated (see Alienation) by the machine – can from now on construct itself as a transindividuality that is indissociably human and technical. Simondon was already proposing this in NC, where he wrote that the ‘value of the dialogue of the individual with the tech- nical object’ was ‘to create a domain of the transindividual, which is different from the community’ (ILFI 515 or IPC 268).