Simondon, Information, and Astrobiology
I started reading the new translation of Gilbert Simondon's primary doctoral thesis, Individuation in Light of Notions of Form and Information, over winter break. Taylor Adkins has done an excellent job bringing this text to us, and I'm grateful for his efforts. He's made it easy to fall for Simondon, just as Gilles Deleuze did so many years ago. While I continue to make my way through the text, I've decided to begin trying to think with Simondon about questions in our own time and to start a mini-series of posts in this blog to document my attempt. As chance would have it, the question of individuation has recently been raised once again in a paper co-authored by researchers associated with the Santa Fe Institute (amongst other institutions): The information theory of individuality.
Researchers in a variety of subject areas have taken up information theory and explored its possibilities. For example, SFI recently added Dr. Sara Walker of Arizona State to their roster of external faculty, and she has proposed a theory of life that focuses on information processing. Dr. Walker was also recently selected to lead a team of researchers in NASA's Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research (ICAR). Presumably, her team's research will use that theory in their search for life beyond earth. (Walker et al. discuss ideas for exoplanet biosignature detection here, and interested readers can listen to Dr. Walker discussing these subjects in this podcast episode.)
The project I'm proposing for myself is to ask if Simondon's conception of individuation can have anything interesting to say to either the paper by Krakauer et al. or Dr. Walker's efforts with her new team, to see if Simondon's work needs critique, or something else entirely. Whichever of these possibilities occurs, I think the project is worthwhile. The point is to gain some experience thinking with Simondon, as I noted before, and to have an excuse to look at these leading thinkers in fascinating areas of inquiry. Hopefully, whatever happens, I'll learn something.
On that note, I'm neither an expert on Simondon nor any sort of biologist. Therefore, I fully expect to make mistakes as I proceed in this work. I can only hope that someone else finds this interesting enough to correct me and that I'm smart enough to learn what they have to teach. To get myself started then, I'll take a small bite and write a post outlining Simondon's paradigmatic example of individuation, the formation of a crystal, and some of its implications.