The notion of information in Simondon [1]


What exactly is information in the thoughts of Gilbert Simondon? Is it different from what has been understood by Claude Shannon and Norbert Wiener? This question seems to be crucial to understand firstly the concepts of transduction, individuation, amplification, disparity etc; secondly the relation between Simondon and cybernetics: is Simondon a cybernetician? But it seems to me that the responses from the commentators of Simondon remain unsatisfactory, firstly there is a misunderstanding of “information” in cybernetics; secondly Simondon tries to distant himself from his fellow cyberneticians, but in fact in his lecture notes and conference papers [60s and 70s] Simondon spoke like a neuroscientist today.

This series of notes attempt to understand the notion of information in Simondon and its relevant implications to address the current technological development. In fact, the misunderstanding of information seems to be normal, because even in cybernetics Shannon and Wiener share two different understandings of ‘information’. It seems that some commentators of Simondon tend to propose such correlation: Cybernetics- form, Simondon- information even though the term information was firstly made known by the cyberneticians. For example in Muriel Combes’s Simondon Individu et collectivité –Pour une philosophie du transindividuel, while explaining Simondon’s critique of hylomorphism, she pointed out:

Form, especially ceases to be understood as principle of individuation acting on the material of the exterior and becomes information. But information diving in this new conceptual context, loses the sense that was conferred on it by the technology of transmission (that consider it as what circulate between a emitter and a receiver), for designating the same operation of the form holding, the irreversible direction in which individuation occurs .[1]

Here Combes understands information as “what circulate between an emitter and a receiver”. This seems to be a pitiful misunderstanding of information in cybernetics, though it becomes a common sense. Information for Shannon is never about form or meaning, instead information designates surprise, uncertainty and entropy. Entropy is the measure of uncertainty, “of how much ‘choice’ is involved in the selection of the events or of how uncertain we are of the outcome”[2]. Entropy hence concerns the redundancy of information and the exceptions or surprises that was given by a message regardless of its meaning. But we can approach the meaning of information from another aspect, if we consider that information is now nothing about the semantics but rather it possesses an affective nature that allows it to affect its neighbours and hence to the whole network. For Wiener information takes a different definition, it is the measure of disorder. Disorder and surprise are different, but they share something in common which is ‘difference’. Hence Bateson is able to define information as “a difference which makes a difference”.

The richness of the discussions in cybernetics are rarely taken into account of understanding Simondon, the Simondonian scholars seem to emphasize how different is Simondon from the cyberneticians without looking into the legacy. In fact one can find a lot of similarities between Wallan McCullough and Simondon; further if one looks into the contemporary literatures of neuroscience, Simondon may be called an advocator of neurodynamics. In the introduction to L’individuation à la lumière des notions de form et d’information, after criticizing the matter-form hylomorphism, Simondon proposes the idea of a good form [bonne forme] which is based on information rather than the Platonic form inherited in the tradition of occidental philosophy. Simondon’s position is quite clear when he says:

the pure notion of form should therefore be saved twice from a rough technological paradigm: the first time, relatively in the ancient culture, due to the reductive usage which is made of such notion in the hylomorphic scheme; a second time in the state of the notion of information, for saving information as signification of the technological theory of information in modern culture. [3]

Here it is essential to understand why Simondon still proposes a form (though a good one) after criticizing the bad ones. The departure from form to information is a new approach to the question of individuation. Hylomorphism presupposes forms as the principle of individuation which is derived from the individuals regardless of the true process of individuation. A true process of individuation as Simondon proposes, can be perceived as crystallization. One has to be extremely careful here that the physical individuation demonstrated in the example of the crystal is only an analogy. Analogy plays an important role in the theory of Simondon which allows him to extend his study of technology to a social and psychical dimentions; at the same time it also destabilize his system of thoughts since it is haunted by a disparity [la disparation] (lets be faithful to Simondon’s vocabulary) between thoughts and beings. The process of individuation is not governed by form as one can conceive of a mould and the material, as what Simondon illustrated of the image of making bricks: one fill the mould(form) with clays (material). Information here becomes the differences and the possibility of difference which triggers and conditions the whole process of individuation. But crystallization cannot do without a form, the chemical bonds between the ions (for example sodium chloride) and molecules (for example water molecules in snow flakes) are determined by a ‘form’. The process of crystallization can be also modulated, that is to say the form information is circulated can be controlled. This aspect of information is very clear in Simondon especially in one of his conference papers titled L’amplification dans les processus d’information (1962).

Form and information are by no means two oppositions, but they represent two paradigms to understand the process of individuation. Forms can also be information, and the data based on which information is produced (or not if there is no surprise). It is the same case in Shannon’s attempt to work out the redundancy of the English language (which to him is 50%). The above explanation doesn’t yet suffice to clarify the notion of information, we should look into L’amplification dans les processus d’information, which I think also allow us to think in parallel of the notion of ‘control societies’ proposed by Deleuze.

[1] Muriel Combes, Simondon Individu et collectivité –Pour une philosophie du transindividue, “La forme, surtout, cesse d’être comprise comme principe d’individuation agissant sur la matière de l’extérieur et devient information. Mais l’information, plongée dans ce nouveau contexte conceptuel, perd le sens que lui confère la technologie des transmissions (qui la pense comme ce qui circule entre un émetteur et un récepteur), pour désigner l’opération même de la prise de forme, la direction irréversible dans laquelle s’opère l’individuation.”

[2] Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication

[3] Simondon, L’individuation à la lumière des notions de form et d’information, « La notion pure de forme doit donc être sauvée deux fois d’un paradigmatisme technologique trop sommaire: une première fois, relativement à la culture ancienne, à cause de l’usage réducteur qui est fait de cette notion dans le schème hylémorphique ; une second fois, à l’état de notion d’information, pour sauver l’information comme signification de la théorie technologique de l’information, dans la culture moderne», 35

Latest from Blog

Review of The Question Concerning Technology in China (Genron, 2022) in Artscape (JP)

昨年、哲学者ユク・ホイの主著2冊が立て続けに日本語に翻訳された。その1冊が『再帰性と偶然性』(原島大輔訳、青土社)であり、もう1冊が本書『中国における技術への問い』(伊勢康平訳、ゲンロン)である。かれのおもな専門は技術哲学だが、過去には哲学者ジャン=フランソワ・リオタールが手がけた展覧会「非物質的なものたち」(1985)についての論文集の編者を務めるなど★1、現代美術にも造詣が深いことで知られる。 本書『中国における技術への問い』は、近年まれにみるスケールの哲学書である。著者ユク・ホイは香港でエンジニアリングを、イギリスで哲学を学び、ドイツで教授資格(ハビリタツィオン)を取得したという経歴の持ち主だが(現在は香港城市大学教授)、本書を一読してみればわかるように、そこでは英語、中国語はもちろん、ドイツ語やフランス語の文献までもが幅広く渉猟されている。そのうえで本書が投げかけるのは──まさしく表題にあるように──「中国」における「技術」とは何であるか、という問いである。 そもそもこの「技術への問い(The Question Concerning Technology)」という表現は、ハイデガーによる有名な1953年の講演(の英題)から取られている(『技術への問い』関口浩訳、平凡社ライブラリー、2013)。本書は、かつてハイデガーが西洋哲学全体を視野に収めつつ提起した「技術への問い」を、中国哲学に対して差しむけようとするものである。せっかちな読者のために要点だけをのべておくと、本書でホイがとりわけ重視するのは「道」と「器」という二つのカテゴリーである。大雑把に言えば、中国哲学においては前者の「道」が宇宙論を、後者の「器」が技術論を構成するものであり、ホイはこれら二つの概念を軸に、みずからが「宇宙技芸」と呼ぶものの内実を論じていくことになる。言うなればこれは、古代ギリシアにおける「テクネー」を端緒とする西洋的な「テクノロジー」とは異なる、中国的な「技術」の特異性を明らかにする試みである。 Read more

The Question Concerning Technology in China (Genron, 2022) is ranked no. 10 the Kinokuniya Humanities Award 2023 (「紀伊國屋じんぶん大賞2023」) (JP)

たくさんのご応募、誠にありがとうございました。 「紀伊國屋じんぶん大賞2023 読者と選ぶ人文書ベスト30」が決定いたしました! 「読者の皆さまと共に優れた人文書を紹介し、魅力ある『書店空間』を作っていきたい」――との思いから立ち上げた「紀伊國屋じんぶん大賞」は、今年で13回目を迎えました。 おかげさまで、本年もたくさんのご応募と推薦コメントをお寄せいただきました。一般読者の方々からいただいたアンケートを元に、出版社、紀伊國屋書店社員による推薦を加味して事務局にて集計し、ベスト30を選定いたしました。 ※2021年11月以降に刊行された人文書を対象とし、2022年11月1日~11月30日の期間に読者の皆さまからアンケートを募りました。※当企画における「人文書」とは、「哲学・思想、心理、宗教、歴史、社会、教育学、批評・評論」のジャンルに該当する書籍(文庫・新書も可)としております。 2023年2月1日(水)より全国の紀伊國屋書店で受賞作を集めたブックフェア・推薦コメントを掲載した小冊子の無料配布を予定しております。※フェアの展開規模は店舗によって異なります。詳細が決定しましたら随時このページや公式Twitterにてお知らせいたします。   出版社内容情報 諸子百家と人新世を結ぶ、まったく新たな技術哲学の誕生! なぜ「技術」は西洋の伝統のうえでのみ定義され、論じられてきたのか? ハイデガーの「技術への問い」を乗り越え、破局へと暴走するテクノロジーに対抗するために、香港の若き俊英は文化的多様性に開かれた「宇宙技芸」の再発明に挑む。京都学派から100年。「近代の超克」を反省し、東洋思想を再び世界へと開くために必要な、「道」と「器」の再縫合はどうなされるべきなのか。諸子百家と人新世を結ぶ、まったく新たな技術哲学の誕生! more info