Directly from Ronald Bogue, Deleuze and Guattari (1989). Pages 61–63:
“From the virtual to the actual:
Individuation and the intensity
That which effects the passage of the virtual into the actual is the intensity (or intensive quantity), whose essential activity is that of individuation. What Deleuze means by the intensity is best understood after a consideration of the concept of individuation, which Deleuze takes from Gilbert Simondon’s L’Individu et sa genése physico-biologique. Simondon uses information theory to describe individuation in physical and biological systems, showing that traditional distinctions between form and matter, individual and milieu, animate and inanimate, and the specification (the determination of species) and individuation must be reconceived in terms of information in order to take account of the reality of the process of individuation.
Simondon first considers the hylemorphic schema, or form-matter model, which has dominated Western thought about individuation from Aristotle to the twentieth century, offering as a simple example of the hylemorphic schema the manufacture of a brick using malleable clay and a wooden mould. Aristotle viewed the clay as matter and the mould as the form, but this is an abstract interpretation of the facts. In actuality, Simondon argues, both the clay and the mould have form and matter, but the clay is in a metastable state, i.e. it possesses potential energy, or unevenly distributed energy, which is capable of effecting a transformation. The quality of the clay is the source of its form, and the mould merely puts a limit on the expanding form of the molecular organization of the clay as it fills the mould. The mould does not passively form the clay, but communicates a resonating action throughout the clay that alters the clay’s molecular organization. Thus, the individuation of the brick, or the process whereby the clay assumes a specific stable form, should be described as follows: the malleable clay, initially in a pre-individual, metastable state, possessed of potential energy and capable of assuming any number of stable shapes, interacts with an external milieu (the mould), which sets up an internal resonance within the clay and allows the clay’s uneven distribution of energy (potential energy) to assume an even distribution (the stable shape of the clay being possible only through the residual energy of the molecules that hold the clay together).
Another illuminating example of individuation offered by Simondon is the process of crystallization, which may be observed in the passage of a substance from a metastable, amorphous state, to a stable, crystalline state. Crystallization begins when a ‘seed’ crystal (or a different substance with the analogous structure) is introduced into a substance which is in an amorphous, metastable state, a state characterized by Simondon as an internal resonance of singularities. The seed crystal communicates its shape to a molecule of the substance, which then communicates the shape to another, and so on. (In some substances, several different kinds of crystals may be formed, the seed crystal determining which one will be actualized.) The process of individuation occurs between each crystal and the contiguous amorphous substance, always at the surface of the crystal, the individually formed crystals being the products o f individuation and marking the cessation of the process of individuation. Individuation, therefore, precedes the individual. One can also see in crystals that the species and the individual are simultaneously determined, the seed dictating what kind of crystal will be formed (species) and the specific conditions of crystallization (perhaps the speed of formation, suggests Simondon), dictating the specific characteristics of the individual crystal.
Simondon argues that the simple model of crystallization may be used to understand the process of individuation throughout physical and biological systems. One can establish hierarchies of metastable states, each stable in relation to a higher metastable state, and one can distinguish between various levels of organization, from the microscopic to the macroscopic, but the process of individuation remains the same throughout. The difference between animate and inanimate matter is that animate matter manages to sustain certain metastable states that allow a perpetual individuation in the organism. (The completion of individuation, then , is not only the completed individual, but also the end of all change, process and becoming — in other words, death.) We perceive distinctions between matter and form, organism and environment, species and individual, but these are merely manifestations of a single process of becoming, metastable and pre-individual, which constitutes the real.
In Deleuze’s terms, a metastable substance is a difference in itself (e.g. sulphur capable of taking on several different crystalline forms), and individuation is a process in which difference differentiates itself. In the Spinozist language of expression, a metastable substance implicates (enfolds within itself) difference and explicates (unfolds) that difference through the process of individuation. At the most fundamental level, all processes of physical individuation may be thought of in terms of energy, and it is for this reason that Deleuze describes that which individuates itself as an intensity, or intensive quantity of energy that explicates itself as an extensive quantity and a physical quality (Difference and Repetition, 287–8). The intensity, like the pre-individual metastable state, escapes our common-sense categories of understanding; nevertheless, the intensity can be experienced through a disjunctive use of the faculties, in moments of disequilibrium, vertigo, distortion of the senses, and so on. The profondeur (depth or depths), which some psychologists of perception regard as implicit in the constitution of the dimensionality of space. This experience of profondeur reveals the existence of a primal, groundless space (spatium) from which issues a dimensional and representable space (extensio) with identifiable coordinates of heigh, width and depth, The spatium is an implicate space which explicates itself in the extensio, and ‘energy in general or the intensive quantity is the spatium’ (Difference and Repetition, 310). The space we perceive is that of the extensio because the faculties, under the regulation of common sense, perform a passive synthesis of the spatium, whose existence can only be revealed through a transcendental analysis of the ground — actually an ‘Ungrund or sans fond’ (DR 296) — or condition of spatial perception.”
From Ronald Bogue, Deleuze and Guattari (1989). Pages 61–63.