Posted by: Johan Normark | June 2, 2009

Bergson’s creative evolution and Deleuze

This is post # 100 and I decided to celebrate this by continuing with my presentation of Bergson’s idea of evolution. So, what is evolution in Bergson’s conception? He argues that evolution is a creative and productive force (note that creative in Bergson’s view has nothing to do with creationism). Bergson sees consciousness as the principle motivation of evolution, but it has no teleology, no goal. Evolution is a differentiation that is unpredictable but not accidental. Differentiation and material resistance are interdependent and individual substances are phases of becoming. Thus, the only way to really demarcate different life forms is in the virtual tendencies rather than their actual states (Ansell Pearson 1999:47).

Like the contemporary neo-Darwinist Weismann, Bergson argues that evolution is deeper than the individual effort, such as it was argued among Lamarckians. However, Bergson is different from neo-Darwinism in that complexification cannot increase by simple accretion since every new element recasts the whole. This cannot have to do with simple chance. Complexity in evolution is not just the effect of exogenous natural selection (Ansell Pearson 1999:45-46).

Bergson suggests that life should not be defined from specific characteristics but rather the tendency to emphasize the characteristics. Plants and animals are two such divergent tendencies of life (Bergson 1998:106). However, the classification is more diverse and complicated today than when Bergson lived. Today animals and plants are only two of six kingdoms. The other four are fungi (mushrooms), protists (algae), bacteria and archaebacteria.

Despite this, his idea of diverging tendencies is still relevant. Bergson argues that the plant tends toward fixity and the animal tends toward mobility. There is further a relationship between mobility and consciousness. The nervous system comes from a division of labour. It brings a function to a higher degree of intensity and precision. Bergson argues that consciousness is in proportion to an organism’s power of mobility. He claims that even plants can have consciousness if they are mobile (ibid:109-111). I shall discuss Bergson’s distinction between intelligence and instinct in another post.

One of the reasons why Bergson’s ideas have received a renaissance is that the early Deleuze used Bergson to investigate the virtual and creative part of evolution. Later he focused on complex systems that evolve from interiorization of components and differences. Together with Guattari, he emphasizes rhizomatics that break with the genealogical and filiative evolutionary models. They argue that there is no transmission of flows, only a code that is communicated, that give information to the flow. Hereditary transmission is here pushed to the side. Deleuze argues that heredity is not given by the species or the DNA, the organism is not a vehicle for genes. It is transfigured and made vital through the becoming of a new individual (Ansell Pearson 1999:9-10). Individuation is less influenced by exogenous mechanisms. However, he still believe that organisms and individuals are places where transformation takes place (ibid:77). In his later works, Deleuze no longer appeals to a single principle of evolution, like Bergson’s élan vital. This is because symbiosis analyses show that the branches of evolutionary trees are bushy, there is not one single ancestor (ibid:166). He moves partly away from the organic world and emphasize the becomings of matter. This is where we have connection to material studies like archaeology.

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