Frames /sing


Davidson’s Triangulation and the Swarm

Quorum Sensing

wiki; microbiology bites

These bacteria certainly are not “triangulating” in any conscious sense (that is, as Davidson sees it: not conceptually reading states of the world through an assumed causal relationship of the beliefs of others to the same world); but they are affectively reponding to a shared environment, and their communally shared excited states probably cause them to react to that environment in specific, categorical ways, i.e. the responses of others to the environment are informing a bacteria about that environment. At least that is what it seems to be, however mechanically we want to describe the molecular causes and effects that produce the phenomena. What is interesting to me is that the assumed cognitive isolation of a single bacteria as an “individual”, that conceptual, really philosophical notion that a simple bodied thing forms an essential cognitive binary of a “world” and an “individual” is what probably long delayed the discovery of the phenomena of “quorum sensing”. The most elemental cognitions that occur in a bacteria (however slight) simply could not part of a communal organization of perceptions, and certainly could not be triangulating in any sense of the word. Now there certainly are attempts to still explain the phenomena just in this way, along the binary of self/world, or bacteria/environment, usually along the lines of collapsing any consciousness into its explanatory mechanism, but it is interesting that the behaviour of these quorum’d bacteria expresses dynamics to those that higher animals do, such as ants and bees; and these social animals in many ways are of a kind that we as humans identify with them meaningfully, seeing in them something essential to our sociability. The comparisons to bees and ants are quite numerous, but it sufficies to give a most ancient example, as Homer echously tells us of the movements of the Hellenic soldiers peacably gathering themselves to leave the shore of Troy, like:

“bees that sally from some hollow cave and flit in countless throng among the spring flowers, bunched in knots and clusters…” – Iliad, Book ii

Marc Nguis Illustration from a thousand plateaus

Marc Ngui's Illustration from a thousand plateaus

Putting aside the sheer epistemic issue of the power of this brief description thousands of years old (how does it “work”), when conceiving the nature of bodied and cognitive social organization across species, how categorically far is, let us say, a mob panic from a quorum sensing bacteria? And relatedly, as a scientific question, how much of social sharing, across bodies, in humans, is lost by the assumptions of an unbreakable and overriding individualism? This is what I find interesting here, the notion that our very traditioned conceptions of identity and binary relations occlude us to very real alternate factors of organization. And, flipping the question back onto signficance of philosophy, how deep down into the root of our affects does Davidson’s conceptual triangulation go? It would seem to me that Spinoza’s principle of shared affects, the “affectuum imitatio” (E3p27s), provides the reasonable ground upon which to measure these observations, (those of science and philosophy alike), a knotting place where biological mutual expression causally foregrounds our rational capacities for coherent reasoning and action.

The point of course is not to say in one grand thought that we are just like bees, or ants or any other social animal for that matter, in a general sense of connectedness, though admittedly such a thought works to cohere many of the individual arguments along this line (arguments for which a more Spinozist, or Autopoietic account may give strong analytical framework). No, the point is to realize within the necessary conditions for shared affect as a principle of epistemological structures that by tracing the transmission of affect we might identify the paricular conditions that mould our capacity to think, feel and organize ourselves meaningfully. If in some sense we are like bacteria, or ants or wildebeest, the specfic historical and mechanistic vectors of our sharing (as expressed in our knowing), should be made delineatable, against the grain from any preconceived notions essential self/world orientations


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