Synesthetic entities in the cognitive domain

Note: This essay was written for the course SPACE with Prof. Gilpin (Amherst College, Spring 2015).

There are invariances to our cognitive process such that emergent unities become distinguishable. Humberto Maturana in his studies of color vision tried to explain the stability of its unities in terms of representation, but he realized that mapping a color world as internal representations onto the nervous system did not account for the synesthetic (not used by Maturana) dynamics by which color space is generated (xiii). Massumi’s “synesthetic forms” are what Maturana deems “composite unities” or “entities,” but those that achieve synesthesia via the rhizomatics that select for their invariance or constancy. Maturana’s history as a color vision researcher is significant to his degrounding of representationalist, sometimes called “contentful,” explanations of invariance, but his theory abstracts to the domain of space-generation, or experiences of space. Entities emanate from a plane of consistency via the formula “n–1” but their nature is synesthetic such that “n–1–1” and “n–1–1–1…” is within the “metadomain” of n–1’s being.


A basic cognitive operation is the use of distinction to specify unity. A “simple unity” achieves its distinction via its properties in space which exists in (what Maturana calls) the phenomenal domain and which may generate in its interactions with other unities. A “composite unity” is distinguished by its components and “exists in the space that its components define because it is through the specified properties of its components that we observers distinguish it” (Maturana, xix).  Moreover, a composite unity can act as simple unity if we treat it not in the space of its components, but in the space that defines it as a simple unity. The specifying of a unity occurs in the cognitive domain. A discourse that specifies for the observer a metadomain is used as reference for specifying a unity (in the cognitive domain) as a “separate entity” (Maturana, xix–xxii).

According to Maturana, “for the observer an entity is an entity when he [sic] can describe it. To describe is to enumerate the actual or potential interactions and relations of the described entity” (8). We can use D&G’s mapping out of rhizomatics here, rather than confine ourselves to a signifying distinction of “unity” or “entity.”  There is a semiotics to the body in its relation to space and generations of it that do not require a signifying language or even consciousness. “Linguistic models…are not abstract enough…[and] do not reach the abstract machine that connects language to…collective assemblages of enunciation” (D&G, 7). Or, rather, linguistic models cannot account for abstract operations which characterize entities.

“The observer can describe an entity only if there is at least one other entity from which he can distinguish it and with which he can observe it to interact or relate” (Maturana, 8). Thus, an entity is an entity insofar as entityn–1. The formula “n–1” specifies “the only way the one belongs to the multiple: always subtracted” (D&G, 6). “An entity is an entity if it has a domain of interactions, and if this domain includes interactions with the observer who can specify for it a domain of relations” (Maturana, 8).  An entity exists as a multiplicity on a plane of consistency. An entity as such fills all of its dimensions*, or what Maturana would call “domains.” Again, the entity exists on a flat plane, even though the dimensions or domains of this “plane” “increase[s] with the number of connections that are made on it” (D&G, 9). These are the rhizomatics of the entity on the plane-domain of the cognitive.

An entity is always subject to its own potential for disintegration. According to dynamical systems theorists Esther Thelen and Linda B. Smith, “the focus on stability is a focus on the end-state” (43). This is not so for the rhizomatical dynamics of entities. Rather, the stability or invariance of entities is dynamic. If the organization of an entity changes, then its identity changes and it becomes an entity of another kind (Maturana, xx).


Proprioceptive entities orient. They are dynamical, synesthetic forms. They are “literal perceptions…experienced as events” (Massumi, 186). A hallucination is a proprioceptive entity no less so than a perception. “Seeing things that aren’t there [is] just a momentary grounding in an impractical dimension of reality[.]” (Massumi, 182). Proprioception is a “self-referential, monadic† operation” (Massumi, 182–3). Unities, as mentioned, become entities when referenced against a metadomain. The metadomain entails the multiple, or rather, the virtual. Proprioceptive entities are referenced against a metadomain that is the proprioceptive domain defined by properties of its components. (This process is “self-referential” because it operates by way of subtraction and is “monadic” because its virtualities are distinguished by dynamic thresholds or invariance criteria, i.e., “properties of its components.”)

The impractical grounding to the hallucinatory event can be reworked (on the cognitive not proprioceptive domain) if the hallucination is not so far removed from that which is no longer considered a hallucination (how many “minus-1’s” away from an n, which is always itself an n–1, the observer is from a dimension that is, for the observer, a “perception”). “The elements [of proprioception] fuse into a rhythm [or, this plane of consistency, or this metadomain]. The multiplicity of constituents fuses into a unity [/entity] of movement.” The proprioceptive event is a “self-varying monad of motion: a dynamic form figuring only vectors. Although effective, the dynamic form is neither accurate nor fully visualizable. It is operatively vague, a vector space not containable in metric space.” (Massumi, 183). Proprioceptive entities act as components of another entity, the “biogram.” Biograms are “lived diagrams based on already lived experience, revived to orient further experience.” They “lie at the border of what we think of as internal, personl space and external, public space [bold added].” They are “event-perceptions combining senses, tenses, and dimension on a single surface,” that is, on a flat plane containing lines of multiplicities. “Since they are not themselves visual representations, they cannot be accurately represented in mono-sense visual form.” A synesthetic description of an event is “seeing time in space” (Massumi, 186–7). Time does not occur linearly, nor does it exist outside of an observer.

Space is an entity-event (an event of an entity) that is constituted on the metadomain that defines the components of what-is-space. The space-domain is not subservient to the cognitive-domain but it can act as such. Domains themselves are rhizomes and their multiplicities are similarly rhizomatic, making for emanations of entities that operate synesthetically (because they are always subtracted from other like-entities). The proprioceptive domain, because of its autopoietic nature, or because of its autonomy and abstractness, cannot be reduced from the synesthetic, that is, proprioceptive entities cannot be interacted with as simple unities. Hallucinatory events on the plane of proprioception are, as such, irreducible to what Massumi calls the exoreferential, i.e., a single-sense entity mappable via Euclidean geometry. The proprioceptive domain is not subservient to the cognitive, nor vice-versa, but their topologies are overlapping, which only deepens their inexactness or synesthesia.

* “All multiplicities are flat, in the sense that they fill or occupy all of their dimensions: we will therefore speak of a plane of consistency of multiplicities, even though the dimensions of this “plane” increase with the number of connections that are made on it” (D&G, 9).
Monads are “inductive/transductive virtual perspective fading out in all directions to infinity, separated from one another by dynamic thresholds” (Massumi, 43). From the earlier chapter, “The Autonomy of Affect.”
‡ Maturana coined “autopoiesis” to describe “the dynamics of the autonomy proper to living systems” (xvii).


Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. “Introduction: Rhizome.” A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 3–25. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Massumi, Brian. (2002). “Strange Horizons.” Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, 177–207. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Maturana, Humberto. (1980). “Introduction.” Autopoiesis and Cognition, xi–xxx. Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

–––––. (1980). “Cognitive Function in General.” Autopoiesis and Cognition, 8–14. Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

Thelen, Esther, and Linda B. Smith. (1994). A Dynamic Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action, 43. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s