Deleuze’s Timed Logic (II)

Drawing on his philosophy of time, we can deduce Deleuze’s logic of events as processes. Taken fully, this logic is also the logic of his metaphysics, when it is considered as a system about the creation, encounter with, relations between, and changing of events.

To develop this metaphysics, Deleuze doesn’t take time to be a container or one of the familiar forms given to time, such as a line, circle, or series of forks. Events do not happen in time (in the past, in the future) or take place on time (on a timeline, in cycles or across a number of bifurcations). Instead, time is a process. It does things to events. It acts such that there are time-processed events. For instance, we are intimately aware of this time processing as birth, growth and ageing. The logic is the abstract plan for these processes.

For time to operate on events, something has to happen to time. It becomes dynamic. In a very strong sense of the term, time changes. This doesn’t mean that it involves change in things (that they change over time). It means that time is a process of change, a transforming dynamism.

Explaining this dynamism, Deleuze defines time processes as dimensions, where each level of time is taken as a dimension of another or by itself. A process of time is played out in another dimension – similar to when we say increased rainfall is played out on the surfaces of a mountain range, or when national enmities are played out in proxy wars overseas. Though the dimensions are different, they are linked; processes in one follow from processes in the other.

This taking-as-dimension constitutes the process. When a level of time is taken as a dimension it is transformed; the logic is the abstract diagram for that transformation. For example, there is a process of time when the present is taken as a dimension of the past; where a change in the past does something to the present.

As we’ll see in a later post in this series, the past makes the present pass away. Present events are drawn into the past, like an enforced ending or decay, where the immediacy and activity of the present become distance and passivity. This is a passing into history, always accompanying the present as a dimension of the past.

Changes in the past make the present pass away differently. For instance, when an aspect of the past becomes crowded by increased numbers, present actors are called into this past with greater anonymity. Nameless, because you aren’t the first to have scaled Everest, but the seven hundred and forty second, as your feat becomes past, in turning away from the summit and beginning the even more dangerous descent. The banality of a death is a feature of how the past takes the present as dimension.

There are different ways of getting to understand this process of passing. Positively, we can work at detecting all the signs in a present that indicate its fall (ageing, becoming obsolete, fading away, becoming a matter of record). These signs show the present taken as a dimension of the past. Negatively, we can try to think of a present that isn’t falling away into the past. If we fail to do so, it is because every present is called into the past.

The bigger challenge is in finding a logic for the transformation. This is because logics tend to assume static tokens, combined according to rules. According to that deep-rooted assumption, entities change according to operations within the logic (addition, for instance), whereas Deleuze assumes that processes are constantly changing and that any logic is stirring streams rather than combining blocks.

Note that in traditional logics a block, or anything represented by a token, can include a process or stand for a process (process P, there exists an x such that x is a process). The problem is rather that, for Deleuze, the tokens or blocks are changing during any operation, while also changing the operation. P is becoming P’ as you stir it into Q, the spoon turning more easily and your wrist adopting a different rhythm, as heat combines chocolate and cream into ganache.

The operations of Deleuze’s logic are irreversible. You cannot get back to P when you subtract Q after having added it. You cannot reverse P’ back into P. Irreversible and asymmetrical processes are hallmarks of Deleuze’s philosophy of time. Everything changes such that you can never return to where you came from. Conservatism is always the peddling of an illusion; nostalgia is inevitably a sad passion.

The logic for Deleuze’s metaphysics is an experiment in mapping these movements, rather than setting down the rules for combination once and for all. Accordingly, the foundational idea of a unit or a number (‘1’) is replaced by the idea of a multiplicity in a process of unpredictable becoming that cannot be represented satisfactorily as unchanging during any operation. Metaphysics is not building with bricks; it’s trying to paint the sea, in a storm, from the bridge of an unsteady ship, as colours run across your palette.

This departure from traditional logics, whether bivalent or many-valued, at the core of Deleuze’s metaphysics does not mean they have no place. As I explained in the first post of this series, there are many logics that can operate in the system and indeed, practically, they must do so. The logic of time works with other logics while retaining priority over them, in the sense that the logic of the metaphysics is the logic of time. The hardest problem will not be about a philosophy with no consistent logic, but rather how the logic of time fits with others within the same system.

For Deleuze, the three basic levels of time are past, present and future. I don’t think there is anything necessary to this decision. It is a pragmatic and speculative hypothesis based on history, observation and philosophical experimentation.

Speculative is added to pragmatic to insist on the long-period, experimental and maximally inclusive aspects of this philosophical pragmatism. It isn’t limited to solving practical puzzles in the here and now, but instead tests its experiments across past and future, with a view to missing as little out as possible. Far from the idea of an experiment in vitro, further even that the idea of in vivo, if life is limited to the here and now, speculative pragmatism must play out across times and worlds.

The desire for practical relevance can be a weakness for philosophical pragmatism, since it restrains philosophy from interacting creatively with distant, unusual and uncomfortable ideas and things that nonetheless might play important – if harder to detect – roles in what we take to be everyday practicality. There was a time when reflecting on computers was reserved for a quirky and outlandish group of thinkers. It turns out they were the practical ones, in the long run. Philosophy is about responding in often shockingly new ways to recurrent problems, with their long histories and propensity to demand risk-laden reinventions.

I can imagine adding other levels to Deleuze’s three levels of time, such as the super-future, a time that acts as the far limit of the future, associated with processes of extinction, or the origin-past, a time that acts as the explanation of types of beginning of time (processes of big bang or creation ex nihilo).

I can also imagine reducing the levels of time by limiting them, for instance, to past and present. However, this assumption brings out the pragmatic and experimental nature of Deleuze’s approach. There will be many phenomena hard to explain once we discard the future; in particular, around relative novelty and uncertainty. It is therefore pragmatic to keep the future alongside past and present.

At least in this aspect, Deleuze’s pragmatism is under higher constraints than science fiction, since literature can depart from the requirements of explanation. Given this departure and greater freedom, fiction can be – and has been – a laboratory for philosophy, suggesting risky ideas for pragmatic assessment.

According to the definition of philosophy as a speculative pragmatism, pragmatic tests are around explanation and creativity in relation to problems, rather than to functions and resolutions in relation to solutions. The distinction between solutions and problems is crucial to Deleuze’s philosophy.

For problems, the guiding questions are: How far does the speculative model explain how events are brought about by common problems? Does it suggest new ways of responding to events, such that these problems are transformed, away from their worst effects and moved towards their best? These questions don’t allow for answers that get rid of them once and for all. They are themselves pragmatic and practical, including discussions about what constitutes ‘best’ and ‘worst’ for any given event and course of action.

The pragmatic questions call for assessments of relative and temporary responses to ongoing and changing problems; like the challenge of how to live well, with its different tentative answers in different epochs and for different lives. Hence the distaste pragmatists hold for doctrines claiming to have eternal and universal answers – once and for all solutions founder on the hubris that comes from undervaluing past efforts and overvaluing control over the future.

If we stick to the three levels of time and allow them to be dimensions of each other and of themselves, this gives us a grid of nine time processes (the time taken as dimension is listed second): past-past; past-present; past-future; present-present; present-past; present-future; future-future; future-present; future-past.

Deleuze’s technique for constructing this grid of time is to begin with one of the dimensions, show how it is required and how it can be deduced in order to explain some events. He then shows how this time is insufficient in relation to other events and how we need to bring in other times to explain events more fully. The grid is therefore a construction of explanations, deductions and dependencies.

In terms of method, we can take these dependencies as necessary, according to transcendental deductions, or as pragmatic, in terms of observations and practical construction. Both interpretations can lean on evidence from Deleuze’s texts; in my view, which is preferable remains moot.

The second option is attractive, not because it is the most faithful to Deleuze’s writing, but rather because it is better at taking his philosophy and making novel use of it. To escape redundancy as times change, philosophy must innovate well on the basis of its past, rather than simply defend a faithful record of sacred texts or, worse, purported intentions of great minds. The first option has the merit of establishing a necessary structure. I think this necessity is an overreach, but I will nonetheless appeal to a looser sense of deduction and structure for the dimensions of time.

In this post, I will focus on the three processes of time where past, present and future are taken as dimensions of the present. Deleuze discusses them at the beginning of Chapter II of Difference and Repetition, starting with a study of Hume. He then builds on Hume and Bergson’s work to move from the past as dimension, through the future and then on to the present as dimension of itself. This latter is the hardest process to explain and understand, because it goes against many entrenched beliefs about action and existence, and because it implies the apparent contradiction of self-dimension, where something is played out on itself (the rain on the rain, rather than the rain on the mountain).

The processes Deleuze describes can be summed up as follows. As a dimension of the present, the past is a contraction of series through contemplation in the present. The future is a momentum determined by present anticipation. The present is an active combination of passive contemplation and anticipation. These processes introduce difference into repeated series, where a passive present retains an active power of creativity.

Though Difference and Repetition can seem a very hard work, the two concepts from its title are always a good way of grasping its more complicated points, time included. We can understand taking the past and future as dimensions of the future by studying how repetition and difference work in series.

Taken as a dimension by the present, the past is many repeated series transformed by the way the present absorbs them. Deleuze says that the present contemplates the past because it is made passively by it. The present is an involuntary prolongation of past series: the past flows into it, like a landscape worn by time, or learning about past practice, or the development of languages through history, repeated rituals, years of refinement, the culmination of many failed attempts, or reaching a boiling point, a divisive break or an escape velocity.

Contemplation isn’t simply passive. In contemplating its past the present changes it. It contracts past series into the present: the flows are considered and disturbed. Like a genetic variation or the refinement of a technique, contemplated series diverge and are transformed over their full past length through present creative contraction (now less vulnerable to predators; now better at striking the cue ball).

I’ll return to these strange ideas of retroactive change and future determination, but a first glimpse of the processes at work can be garnered from expressions such as ‘their genetic line was to become resistant to these predators’ and ‘practice at a higher bridge was to lead to reliable swerve shots’. The future in the past of these phrases captures the way the past is re-evaluated by a future present.

The contemplation and transformation of series through the introduction of novel differences does not end with the present. It continues as the introduction of difference into series open to the future. The present takes the future as dimension when past series and the differences introduced into them in the present are projected into the future.

As dimension, the future is different from the given and then transformed series of the past. The past has happened and is then changed; the future remains open but is now given more distinct lines. There is a ‘part’ determination of future openness by ongoing series. We can think of this as a kind of momentum carrying into the future, but in many directions. It comes from the injection of difference in the present, but since the future also remains ‘partly’ open, this determination remains uncertain and multiple.

Again, familiar phrases give us an idea of future determination. When we say ‘they were now doomed to fail’ or when a shot lingers on a fraying rope in a film scene, the present is projected into a future that is ‘partly’ determined by it. A series such as a well-practised cue technique makes some future shots easier and others harder. Genetic lines constrain life forms into the future.

Similar to the case of the future in the past, the present in the future can seem to be unproblematic. We can think of the past differently. We can’t do some things in future because our acts are limited. What’s surprising about this? Against this common sense view, Deleuze is pointing us to surprising and revealing aspects of real time processes, as opposed to properties of our imagination or consciousness.

When its meaning and value change in the present, the past isn’t merely thought about differently, it really changes. This is because meaning and value belong to past events; they are not superimposed on them. There isn’t a past set of facts or records independent of meaning and value, they are constituted with them and change when they change.

For Deleuze, the future is both open and determined. It is anticipated in the present as series and differences continue into the future, but it is also open, since any subsequent present encounters the future as open and determinable again. Like the past, the future is therefore uncertain and open to change, while retaining well-determined features.

The nature of this uncertain determination of past and future is important for questions about the logic of Deleuze’s metaphysics. I have put ‘part’ and ‘partly’ in quotes in the above paragraphs, because the meaning of the relative openness of the future is hard to define and yet all-important. Leaving the past for later in the discussion, for the future, there are different ways of interpreting its ‘part’ determination:

  • It could be that the future is determined as a set of possibilities. In which case, at least where one of its dimensions is concerned, the metaphysics could be modelled as a tree of possibilities branching out from the present, with either bivalent or many-valued logics, dependent on what possibilities are allowed
  • Or it could be that the future is determined as a range of weightings showing different outcomes on a continuous sliding scale; from more or less likely, for instance. If so, the logic might be some kind of fuzzy logic, for a forecast of future temperatures, a forecast about the strength of future beliefs, or the range of outcomes for different scenarios expressed in percentages
  • Or it could be that the future is in dynamic interchange with the past and present, an unpredictable to and fro movement, where a series of events are changing all the time in ways resistant to complete analysis in terms of possibilities or ranges. The model for this would be an encounter with another agent, like a game, conflict or seduction, where the opponent surprises us and forces us to change and review strategy and tactics. If so, the logic would be a diagram of current experimental learning, a state of fluid and changing assumptions, guided by standard and non-standard logics but also forced to discard and re-evaluate them.

I favour the last option because it is the most consistent with positions taken by Deleuze and with his observations of events. He is opposed to thinking of the future as possibilities because this restricts it to conceptions held in the present and based on the past. The most salient aspect of the future is that it surprises and that this surprise is connected to creativity rather than current knowledge.

To take the future as a range of weights does not solve the problem of the over-determination of the future. It merely softens the opposition between possibilities, turning them into smooth gradients. While this introduces greater uncertainty, it restricts it to relations between conceptions, such as ranges of temperature and pressure in weather systems.

Again, Deleuze’s argument is not that thinking of the future as possibilities is wrong or that we shouldn’t do it. It is rather that it is insufficient and that we need to add other ways of acting and thinking. The logic of his philosophy of time is supplementary to other formal ways of thinking about time. The key question is then what kind of logic does he add?

We already know that it is not one logic but many, each suited to a particular dimension of time. We also know that it not an exclusive logic, but rather one that works alongside others and alongside ongoing ways of thinking, acting and undergoing changes amid events.

An answer to the conundrum of a logic we are passive to, as well as in command of, is firstly to change the directness of the logic. It will not be applied simply to achieve direct outcomes – through a deduction or proof – but rather to respond to the nature of time as something we undergo – through principles of attentiveness, for instance. These principles are indirect because they condition and guide other approaches, rather than working independently towards outcomes.

Secondly, the answer is to formalise supplementary operations alongside more direct and strict ones – by giving a formal structure to moments of attentiveness, for example. This extended logic is like an algorithm combining standard logics and timed-practices according to a formal diagram. In such combinations passivity directed by principles is brought together with logic-driven activity, such as in guidance to wait for a moment during an argument, deduction or thought process; or to take a time to review past activity during a new act; or to examine or invite risky and counter-intuitive moves into a logical pattern.

It is important to note that the radical nature of Deleuze’s philosophy is in his concepts of time and their logics; not in comparison to past and contemporary practices that take account of the role of time, where his approach already has many exemplars. We are familiar with this kind of secondary operation and we use them regularly in formal systems, as caution, attentiveness and sceptical humility, and in structures of checks, balances and oversight.

These operations aren’t intrinsic to standard logics and yet we accept their importance; for example, when we adopt formal systems for double-checking, time-taking and reproduction of arguments and deductions. When Deleuze describes himself as an empiricist, he is – among other things – aligning himself with practices of empirical caution and experimentation with respect to the future and the past.

This latter experimentation is more unusual than practices linked to caution, but they are prevalent in the arts (pushing boundaries, seeking out shock and discomfort, combined with well-grooved artistry) and sciences (following hunches, responding to accidents and chance, doggedly following a rejected path, reviewing and reassessing the history of a science or established practice, encouraging counter-arguments and alternative scenarios).

Practices of caution and innovation aren’t fundamental to Deleuze’s philosophy. They follow from his metaphysics of time. This has two far-reaching consequences. First, the practices are highly variable. They are open to pragmatic negotiation dependent on events and the logic of the philosophy of time. Second, it’s the timed-logic that takes priority: providing us with a complex structure for practice.

This priority for the philosophy of time means that the ideas of contemplation and anticipation from his account of the dimension of the present do not translate directly into practice. He is not claiming that we should always contemplate and anticipate. On the contrary, we should think through logic and practice to take account of the structure of time as contemplation and anticipation.

The difference can be understood through the idea that, for the argument putting time first, it might well be right to resist contemplation and deny anticipation for given events; whereas, if attitudes of contemplation and anticipation are fundamental, they always remain the correct ways to act. This is a significant distinction about kinds of pragmatism. Deleuze’s pragmatic philosophy does not rely on fixed attitudes and practice, such as scepticism, or caution, or care, or wisdom. It is pragmatic about them, dependent on the consideration of events on the basis of metaphysics.

Nonetheless, despite its flexibility, due to the combination of many logics with a pragmatic assessment of how to combine them with time, I’ll conclude with a positive answer to the question ‘What is Deleuze’s logic of time?’

Here’s the answer for the three dimensions based around the present: Deleuze’s logic of time involves formal and pragmatic structures that subject logical practices to the requirement to consider how a present act is a contemplation of the past, how any present act brings together passivity to the past and anticipation of the future, and how a present act changes the future by anticipating it. Logic is required to listen to history, pay attention to what is beyond its control, yet operating within it as it works towards new results, and find ways to incorporate its effects on futures that it interacts with as they unfold together and in conflict, backwards and forwards in time.