Catherine Malabou has created a meticulous and profound new concept of the brain. Malabou analyses the functions which neuroscience has discovered, conducting a contemporary synthesis of neuroplasticity, crystallizing a new concept which acts as a curious new abstract machine with many parts. She names this concept plasticity after the plastic multiplicity of the brain; and one component of this concept expresses the brain’s power to learn and to heal, and even to reconfigure itself. Another component is transdifferentiation, or the power of life to remake and refold itself: the capability of certain (pluripotent, totipotent) cellular organisms to unfold into some or many other kinds of cells.
Wiring an interface between creative neurological differentiation and social transformation, Malabou’s plasticity combines these components into a revolutionary multiplicity escaping towards neuronal liberation, and contesting the sovereignty of capitalism over neural life. Thus plasticity acquires its sharpest contours in Malabou’s deployment of it in a critique of dominant computational images of thought which underlie techno-capitalism. This part of the work seems to resonate with Châtelet’s somewhat more bleak criticism of contemporary humanity, wherein human beings are superfluous neurocattle, atomized livestock tossed whatever scraps of cognitive make-work are left over after automation and simulation have eaten the world.
Plasticity as a concept is perhaps uncannily conscious of itself, and implicitly denounces the rival claims to “friendship with the concept” of the neurocapitalist marketing specialist, as well as that of the computer scientist, both of whose machines have been taken too long to be concept-fabricators, acting as images of simulated thought.
Plasticity is therefore an explosive concept, even a dangerous one, since the deformation goes as far you as like; and Malabou emphasizes that plasticity is also destruction. In What Should We Do with Our Brain? we find an insistent and critical differentiation between:
a. the brain as creative multiplicity (transdifferentiation, creative plasticity, neuronal liberation)
b. the brain as computer, reifying-mutating a capitalized image of Thought (neuronal man, plastique)
The plasticity of the brain contests the computational image of thought for its strangle-hold on the sense of humanity. The task of neuronal liberation is also the creation of open affective-conceptual assemblages, and the construction of free life-affirming neuro-modalities; it invents or discovers another music, a mutant universe.
How to explore new ways of feeling, in order to condition different ways of thinking, to permit alien modes of existence? How to evaluate new conceptual personae in turn, in terms of plasticity? Neuronal liberation: lived plasticity, or immanent creation of neuronal life. Here begins neurosophy, in cognitive intensities, vibrations, luminosities…