Nomads: Space, Solitude, Science

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becoming / chaos / culture / Deleuze / desire / multiplicity / nomad / reason / Science / Mathematics / Technology / Serres / space / state / unity


Royal science is inseparable from a “hylomorphic” model implying both a form that organizes matter, and a matter prepared for the form; it has often been shown that this schema derives less from technology or life than from a society divided into governors and governed, and later, intellectuals and manual laborers. …all matter is assigned to content, while all form passes into expression. (Gilles Deleuze, A Thousand Plateaus)

The difference between state science and nomad science is practice; the difference is as great and as narrow as that between geometry and poetry. The practice intrinsic to each mode of scientific exploration is implicit in their method, in their metaphysical categories, and especially in their respective divisions of labor. Nomad thought works continually against the grain of traditional categories and conventional methods; it upsets orders of scale, imparts unusual rhythms, creates social turbulence and sometimes, if it is fortunate, gives birth to new modes of expression.

The state cannot spontaneously create scientific assemblages any more than it can create poetry; the state struggles only with its habitat, its Other, its medium, never (or only in extreme cases) with itself. And in the end, nomadic science draws the state bloodhounds to its hide-out by its exotic odors. The nomads are not only killed formally and indifferently; they are annihilated precisely for their indifference to the state formalism. Nomadic signals hijack the royal message, forge the signature of the state; such floating signals are seeds, impressions of novel forms, sparks which sometimes inspire revolutions. Conventional science is quite effective at reincorporating these signals, as it is skillful at organizing prepared matter; but minor science contraverts every state by inventing new forms of matter, and just as easily a poet dreams up novel expressions.

Between the two kinds of science there is an epistemological difference and an ontological unity. On the one hand, we have the world-as-object, the knowable or intelligible world with clear properties which can be plainly examined in their palpability. Properties are infused with geometry by virtue of their position within a structure: the state space is a closed symmetric grid. On the other hand, we have the world-as-experiment or the world-as-song, the imperceptible or becoming world, whose properties are not encoded into relations, but decoded flows free from axiomatizations. Nomad space is smooth and open, transitive yet untraversed. There is an irreducible epistemological division between the two modes, but in fact, we need both kinds of spaces in order to ‘perform’ science. Ontologically, the two modes are isomorphic: deterritorialization and reterritorialization are two aspects of the same process, operating at different speeds, moving in different directions. And at any rate, to awaken to a scientific mindset is already to go much farther. To become-scientist is to awaken in a desert, or upon an island, with only the differential forces of wind and sand and sky by which to mark distances, judge paths, measure waves. The scientist trusts himself, but cannot trust the world, not even as as an object. Hence science is already a different practice than conventional object-oriented activity. Michel Serres writes:

We do not know what the world is like today; we are only beginning to know it and this knowledge differs from our knowledge of a circumscribed object. We are just beginning to act on the world and this practice differs from our action on circumscribed objects. (From ‘Revisiting the Natural Contract’)

Thus science forms an ontological unity outside of the consistency of appearances, a moving unity capable of penetrating and reconverging cloven discourses, and then of disuniting them again. Science flows: in its nomadic aspect, it chases becoming; as state geometry, it captures being. The shape of the unity is precisely a turn to the formless, an impression of chaos, and a return to the form, the sublimation of collectivity and noisy assemblages into consistent ‘objects.’ In short, both modes require experimental methods and ways of averting breakdown; the experiment must be guarded against self-destruction. The more experimental the method, the riskier and more difficult it is to follow, the greater the exposure to uncertainty, and hence the greater the potential becoming.

The nomadic mode priveleges multiplicity over unity, but only provisionally, not as a foundation. A home, an idea, a language is built from pieces of noise; chaos and turbulence are at the origin of rhythm, of method, of smooth spaces. Following Serres, we are not against rational unity as such, but as Phillip Schweighauser writes in ‘The Desire for Unity and its Failure,’ we are “against the arrogance of a rationalist discourse whose desire for unity turns violent in its exclusion of everything that does not fit in its rigid order.” Not only must we be watchful of experiments which secretly desire to dominate nature, but we must actually experiment upon our desires in order to transform culture.

The Author

mostly noise and glare


  1. Pingback: First Time Technicalities « how to play big science

  2. Reblogged this on AGENT SWARM and commented:
    Very interesting and useful meditation on the interplay between state science and nomad science (or what we could also call synchronic science and diachronic science) by Joseph Weissman. He argues that the two are ontologically isomorphic, and this is true if you take a static snapshot and compare the two at any one moment. But a few moments later or a few kilometers distant diachronic science has already changes, and perhaps even “corrected” state science on some points, or even totally reconfigured its paradigm. Weissman seems to recognise this because he affirms that despite their “ontological unity” their is a very important “epistemological difference”. This leads him to argue, following Michel Serres and Deleuze and Guattari, that we must distinguish two states of the world. One state (or dimension) is natura naturata, what he calls “the world-as-object” whose properties are encoded in a closed synchronic structures. The other is “the world-as-experiment” or “the world-as-song” whose properties are decoded into diachronic flows. Both are necessary, and one can only give relative and provisional primacy to one over the other, even if from the Deleuzian point of view deterritorialisation is what one could call “first-in-the-last-instance”. Weissman compares this opposition to that of geometry and poetry, and insists that it is in reality a composition of two tendencies. He thus sheds new light on a recent dispute over a fictitious opposition between a synchronic naturalist and a diachronic mytho-poetic approach to the sciences.

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