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Ecologies, Assemblages and Evolution edited by Janneke Adema and Pete Woodbridge


Introduction: Symbiosis as a Living Evolving Critique

here the focus is more on how symbiosis can be used as a means to argue for ‘a better world’ or an alternative worldview. both of symbiosis as a metaphor and a material reality. of species in an intimate relationship together. amongst others. of becoming something else and transgressing boundaries. a breeding ground for. such as climate chance and environmental disasters and with that to influence and improve (our) ecosystem(s) and make the . in its many guises and definitions.Introduction: symbiosis as a living evolving critique. Angela Elizabeth Douglas notices a similar effect in her book The Symbiotic Habit (2010). where she talks about the growing importance of ‘applied symbiosis research’. Different species. interacting in a symbiotic fashion. Less focused on the biological process of symbiosis as such. This image has made the concept of symbiosis. eventually co-evolving into new species: this vision of the biological phenomenon of symbiosis has created a strong image. posthuman and ecologically informed critique. Douglas refers her first of all to how research into symbiotic processes has the potential to help solve some of the practical problems mankind is facing through anthropogenically induced effects. a biologically. living together over a prolonged period of time. cooperating in spite of differences.

Margulis states in her book Symbiotic Planet: a new look at evolution (1999). research on symbiosis has been taken-up as evidence for becoming as an infinite creative process. process. Symbiotic processes offer seeds for alternative worldviews and as a tool of critique. This living book consists of examples of how symbiosis has been deployed for instance as a critique against the mainstream Darwinian idea of evolution as struggle. acquiring their gene sets at the same time. Organisms merge with other organisms. for the (animal. from (the interactions between) bacteria. all life forms can be seen to have evolved from microbes. multiplicity and cooperation For the biologist Lynn Margulis. against an anthropocentric worldview within the sciences and society at large. Otherness. and against the idea of organisms or objects as static and isolated entities. Margulis main claim. However. and for the integrated cooperation of living and non-living affects as one interconnected mesh. that in science there are still many (hidden) assumptions that man is the center of things and resides in the middle of the chain of we life in more healthy. when certain forms of long-term living together lead to the appearance of new species or new organs. (endo)symbiosis has been the major theme around which she developed her—by some viewed as controversial—evolutionary biological research. and/or virtual) other as an integral part of the multiple I. ‘below god and above rock’. microbal. machinic. for which she draws amongst others on earlier work by the biologist Ivan Wallin. as Margulis has argued for in her revolutionary work on the importance of endosymbiosis for evolution. is thus that in . In some cases symbiosis even evolves into symbiogenesis.

. but all life-forms. The Gaia hypothesis proposes a holistic view on the earth (Gaia) as a selfregulating system of organic and inorganic matter. which goes directly against (or in a less radical view compliments) a Darwinian ‘nucleocentric view of evolution as a bloody struggle of animals. Symbiotic becomings Developments in modern biology. not only through her insistence on symbiosis and evolutionary cooperation as an alternative theory to Darwinian struggle. However. the mixing of a near spiritual and religious rhetoric with scientific facts was not claimed serious enough by many biological researchers and it was seen as too harmonious and to regulated (instead of an unconscious mechanism) according to the ‘struggle as survival’ evolutionary strand of neo-darwinians.’ What makes Margulis even more suspect in some biological circles is the way her theory of symbiosis and symbiotic evolution has been adopted by New Age inspired environmental and deep ecology movements and how most importantly her use of symbiosis in biological discourse has been connected with James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis. And as she states ‘the idea that new species arise from symbiotic mergers among members of old ones is still not even discussed in polite scientific society. through its feedback system operating as a close unity. have within mainstream evolutionary biology been seen as controversial and extreme. including the new emphasis on the importance of symbiosis for evolution. but also in her insistence that not only plants an animals evolved from the interaction of microbes . and her use of the concept of symbiosis.most cases evolutionary novelty arises as a consequence of symbiosis. This idea is visible in many present-day ecosophies. Margulis claims concerning symbiosis.

of mimesis. Aspects of their symbiotic critique can be seen directed against the idea of classification by filiation. or holism. their philosophy ‘deterritorialize(s) Gaia's unified field’. in her reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s geophilosophy. as in the perspective of Deleuze and Guattari disparate processes of symbiosis and evolution don’t resolve into a synthetic unity. a ‘more scientific’ division can also be made between prokaryotic cells and eukaryotic cells. strongly contrasts their theories with ideas related to the Gaia hypothesis. against the idea of a stable identity (instead of identity as becoming) and against the idea of the single unified entity (instead of the self as a pack of multiplicities and assemblages). as she states. This critique of classification is also visible in Margulis’ work were she uses symbiosis to problematize the mainstream way of classifying species. However. arguing that in many cases differences between plants and animals are not that easy to make and. Using the concept of symbiosis. She argues against oversimplified and dangerous categorizations into ‘plants. as Chisholm states. in which they argue for a ‘virtually limitless connectivity between heterogeneous beings’. Deleuze and Guattari first of all critique modern science and how it is only able to think in terms of filiations. Deleuze and Guattari use symbiotic processes in another way to ground their philosophy. Very clearly you can see how biologically oriented ‘earthly processes’ (as opposed to transcendental ideas) and new evolutionary theories have been an influential reference point for the construction of Deleuze and Guatarri’s geophilosophy. but. animals and germs’. crushing the age-old divide between plants and animals (who are much more alike then they . Dianne Chisholm.played an important role in postmodern and posthuman thinking.

“ The critique of a static individual is something that is . selection. reproduction. symbiogenesis. They specifically use symbiosis to explain their idea of becoming (which is rhizomatic and is directed against thinking in genealogies). and co-evolution. it is in the domain of symbioses that bring into play beings of totally different scales and kingdoms. all filiation is imaginary. Different.seem to be in mainstream classifications). and evolution. in the terminology of both Deleuze and Guattari and Margulis.” Deleuze and Guattari instead propose a nonclassification of becoming. hard to establish and maintain. or by imitating or identifying with something/one.’ Chisholm summarises Deleuze and Guattari’s neoevolutionism as follows: “Instead of specific genealogical lineages of origin. with no possible filiation. as an alternative to ‘evolution’. but by ‘transversal communications between heterogeneous populations. where symbiosis can be seen as the underlying basis of their "creative involution." “Becoming produces nothing by filiation. Becoming is always of a different order than filiation. when they discuss their idea of neoevolutionism. preferring the term ‘involution’ for evolution between heterogeneous terms. they map a nonteleological and unpredictable network of symbiotic alliances. It concerns alliance. trans-species affiliations. Deleuze and Guattari take on a similar approach of critiquing classification and genealogical evolution with the help of the concept of symbiosis. distinct kingdoms are thus. In a neoevolutionist approach classifications are not made according to filiation. If evolution includes any veritable becomings.

as individuals continually merge to regulate their reproduction to generate new populations. Their vision of an individual is that it consist of an infinite multiplicity. Deleuze and Guattari’s non-classification of symbiotic becoming can be seen as a viral evolution. Multiplicities cofunctioning via a viral logic of contagion then enter into assemblages. were animals as packs originate. where symbiosis has been used to challenge the boundaries of an organism.again already visible in biological research. Margulis already states that every individual consists of multi-unit symbiotic individuals. like Deleuze and Guattari. a membrane-bounded packet of microbes that looks like and acts as a single individual. as it is fascinated by both the multiplicity outside us (the pack of animals) and the multiplicity that is already dwelling inside of us. it amounts to the same thing to say that each multiplicity is already composed of heterogeneous terms in symbiosis.’ This directly relates to Deleuze and Guattari’s idea that every animal is a band or a pack. She. speaks about how every ‘individual organism’ in a ‘species’ is ‘really a group. and that a multiplicity is continually transforming itself into a string of other multiplicities. develop and transform by means of viral contagion. Becoming and multiplicity basically mean the same thing in Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy. based on contagion (instead of heredity). where multiplicities made up of heterogeneous terms continuously transform or cross over into each other. according to its thresholds and doors. . which is very important for the human becoming-animal. and here again they use symbiosis to define and explain one of their core concepts: “Since its variations and dimensions are immanent to it.

In this manner we are also related to non-living/non-organic beings through assemblages. as cooperating . with the affects of another body. something more creative.The concept of assemblage as applied in Deleuze and Guattari’s geophilosopgy. creating a machinic phylum. Symbiotic systems and ecologies In systems theory and media studies a symbiotic critique following the idea of machinic assemblages can be seen to have gained ground. where the affects of a body enter into composition with other affects. This entering of affects has again a symbiotic character: “We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do. or symbiosis with inorganic life. An assemblage keeps different types of objects. what its affects are. in a symbiotic fashion. of heterogeneous elements together that continuously enter into relations with one another. Tools as instruments get incorporated and are inseparable from the assemblage. in other words. either to exchange actions and passions with it or to join with it in composing a more powerful body. Assemblages also incorporate non-organic matter.” Chisholm remarks how these kind of machinic assemblages. arguing for the importance of seeing non-organic processes and natureculture assemblages as inherent to informationprocessing entities. either to destroy that body or to be destroyed by it. can thus be seen to do away with the nature-culture distinction. Symbiotic couplings or machinic assemblage between unlike things create something other than themselves. how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects. is the vitalist element behind creating more life in a nonreproductive way. In research into media ecologies media are seen.

Jussi Parikka. when he discusses the importance of symbiotic processes to understand the interactions in (complex) systems systems. Not only does biology and science an sich use symbiosis as a metaphor too. bacteria) are all media and are of media. but function as a means to rethink the material basis of media and how matter can be seen as an active agent. Matthew Fuller. insects. and it is their interconnectedness that we should be interested in. he argues that political processes are not less real than let’s say bacteria. potentials and energetics. arguing for a vision on media ecologies that is more inclusive. is interested in the intertwining of animals and technology. animals. uses Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the machinic phylum to describe the tension between the discrete parts of a specific medium or a specific media ecology and their multiplicitous becomings. as networks of objects and processes. Media can thus be seen as ‘a realms of affects. These machinic assemblages are in Parikka’s work not merely metaphoric suggestions. in his book Insect Media. As Fuller he is not interested in studying media as fixed substances but in their becomings (exploring media archaeology). producing something more through their interactions than (the sum of) their separate parts. we (humans.’ Media bodies emerge as part of the environments in which they are embedded. As van loon states: “The point to make here is simply that if we understand that the basic process in symbiosis is a form of interaction between two or more different information . In this sense. as Parikka states. Media should be seen as complex dynamical systems (ecologies). Van Loon argues for a similar material basis that extends metaphorical imagery. in his book on Media Ecology. interconnected through their intensive capabilities.

Within it you will find a collection of media resources. This living book forms another machinic assemblage between heterogenous and discrete informationprocessing entities. which can be seen the essence of a community. posthumanism and augmentation This living book is divided in four sections. functions and evolves via a symbiotic parasite politics. that apply symbiotic critique within their particular networks. from which they will continue to evolve. symbiosis has been used to show how evolution through associations can explain how new organisms ‘emerge’ far more effectively than natural selection. The first part looks at symbiosis as an evolutionary process. Van Loon argues how a politics of survival based on natural selection can be seen as fascist as it privileges the autonomy of the individual over that of the community. than it should become clear that this includes both organic and inorganic informationprocessing systems. in this living book they merge and form symbiotic alliances. that in turn work to manipulate and modify their environment according to better their chances of survival. The fourth part then . Opposed to that. Here he sees the parasite as ‘the other’ that makes up the community-in-difference. the second part at the relationship between symbiosis and ecology. ecology. Evolution. the third at the role symbiosis played in discourses on the posthuman.” Van Loon shows how in systems theory. Van Loon goes on to show how community as it emerges. Complex systems always arise through symbiosis as they are assemblages of information-processing devices.processing systems. They use symbiotic processes to argue for a different worldview and together. interacting in and within a wider media ecology.

How symbiosis can guide evolution. on symbiosis and evolution. In an overview article biologist Lynn Margulis goes back to the origin of the theory of . Finally the third section looks at the origin of the theory of symbiogenesis. which made the then very controversial claim that cells evolved by symbionticism. The second set of articles in this part looks at the process of endosymbiosis (symbiosis inside the body/cell) more in particular. contains two articles that serve as both an introduction to and an example of symbiosis. In this book Wallin describes the emergence of mitochondria as the incorporation of independent bacteria inside of existing cells. The first article. is an example of the use of the concept of symbiosis to battle (neo)Darwinism inspired theories of evolution.functions as a more speculative glance into a future of augmented and virtual reality and an evolving symbiosis between the virtual and the real. looks at the evolution of a virus (Hepatitus C) in a within-host environment. which evolved to what we now know as organelles. by Fabio Lucian and Samuel Alizon. describing the parasitic relationship of the virus with the host-body. The second article in this section. by the formation of microsymbiotic complexes. The first part. It describes the creation of a computational model that shows how the formation of symbiotic relations in a given ecosystem influences genetic variation. and the possibility of genetic manipulation in this evolutionary interaction. where the first article looks at the evolution of symbiotic bacteria in the human intestine and the second article by Wernegreen looks at the interactions (via associations or genetic conflicts) of bacteria within and with insects. incorporating the seminal 1927 book by American biologist Ivan Wallin.

echoing processes of symbiosis. also to determine what the effects of global climate change on this ecology might be. The second part of this liquid book looks at the relationship of symbiosis with ecology. . Williams. looks at this aspect of biodiversity as a measure of the health of ecosystems and the role symbiosis (especially with respect to the way proteobacteria interact with insects) plays in generating species diversity. and the role symbionts play in this community ecology with respect to the community’s (the coral holobiont’s) fitness. and Fares. The article by Toft. the article The Roles and Interactions of Symbiont. is set up against nature-culture distinctions.symbiogenesis (and to Wallin and his Russian colleagues) and explores her own roots and the development of her groundbreaking Serial Endosymbiosis Theory (SET) at the same time. and the environment. An important aspect of discourses surrounding ecology is the upkeep of the level of biodiversity and complexity of a given system or ecology. His concept of the Mesh. Host and Environment in Defining Coral Fitness. In the first section on community ecology. The idea of the world functioning as one big ecosystem is a thought that can be found to reflect in Timothy Morton’s work and the importance he gives to the idea of interconnectedness. looks at the complex interactions between the coral host. the algal symbiont. but focuses on the interconnectedness of existence and sees existence as first of all being a co-existence. Symbiosis also plays a role in discourses surrounding ecology that go beyond a single community or ecological system but rather focus on the ecosystem that makes up the world as a whole.

In The systems view of Life. using present developments in computing and information processing to show how Licklider’s utopian vision has been not so much utopian . seeing living organisms as open systems. and media systems. in his podcast on Lynn Margulis and Gaia. in his overview article on Gaia. Scharper. functioning in their interactions with others and their environment. He focuses amongst others on the way Gaia combined scientific discoveries with a ‘religious imagination’. ecology and interconnectedness are taken to a spiritual culmination point where the whole biosphere. Stephen B. Timothy Morton. Like different species interacting in symbiotic way to create new species. Schalk updates Licklider’s article. for instance in Lickliders seminal speculative paper on the possibilities of man-machine symbiosis. where he adapts the concept of ecology to media. reviews theories by Lovelock and Margulis and others that have focused on the idea of the earth as a living organism. The third part of the book continues with the influence of symbiosis on thinking about non-organic matter and its interactions with organic matter. the whole planetary ecosystem can be seen as a single complex system consisting of organic and inorganic components. Capra looks at these interrelationships from a systems point of view. showing how media as interacting objects. Fuller shows how a mobile phone can for instance be seen as a ‘media assemblage’.Symbiosis also plays an important role in the previously mentioned Gaia hypothesis. Here symbiosis. on different levels of the overall system. This part of the book ends with Matthew Fuller’s media ecologies. notes the differences between her view on symbiosis and the way it was adopted in Gaia Theory. Symbiosis played an important role in discourses on the posthuman. function as ecologies.

of ‘collective decision making’ or symbiotic intelligence is also discussed in Johnson’s overview on Symbiotic intelligence and human-net interactions. Jussi Parikka. goes deeper into this discourse of the viral as a negative control-issue in the present capitalist system. Parikka explores these contradictory themes of the viral as the enemy of capitalism and at the same time integral to its logic of expansion. The next section in this part expands on the possibility of symbiotic intelligence by combining computing with (neural) networks. The importance of dynamic or distributed problem-solving. chaos and viral infections are necessary for systems to survive and evolve. in his article on digital monsters and binary aliens. arguing that mutations. where Schhuppli’s article describes the coevolution of machine’s with living matter through the example of Hopper’s bug. The first article Forming Neural Networks Through Efficient and Adaptive Coevolution discusses a novel neuroevolutionary approach to mobile robotics. It argues for the benefits of using coevolutionary algorithms to solve complex control problems. Another aspect of the importance of symbiosis is discussed in the paper on human-animal symbiosis resulting in chimeras (human-animal hybrids). as two . where it not for the strong ethical problems involved in this form of symbiotic evolution. The last section in this part looks at machine-nature interactions. Schalk argues that brain-computer symbiosis or partnerships are a logical step in the course of our a case of technological improvements. using the Symbiotic Adaptive NeuroEvolution system (SANE). The paper discusses the importance their development could play in vaccine development. He shows how on the other hand capitalism itself is integrally viral.

Carrier becoming symborg. not only looking at the way we can computers smarter but can enhance our own brains and bodies with computer intelligence. tools can be used as extensions or ‘enhancements’ of the Her electronic literature piece about the Hepatitis C virus describes life as well as literature. The last two papers describe media art works which look at the augmentation of the real with a virtual layer and what humanity might evolve to in the future.intertwined discourses. the piece and text by Melinda Rackham looks at the viral merging of biological code and source code. Mitchell Whitelaw describes the work of Any Gracie and other examples of the bio/tech hybrid in media art and talks about the importance of symbiosis in Gracie’s work. looks at the incorporation of neuro-prosthetic tools through neurological networks via the brain and can be seen as an example of human-tool symbiosis. where through the cognitive space of the brain. for instance when he creates augmented worlds in which real and virtual bacteria interact(in Autoinducer_Ph-1). The last part of the book looks at possibilities of both augmenting man with machinic prosthetic tools via neural networks and reality with overlaid or augmented virtual worlds or realities. The article by Sanchez et. Kevin Warwick’s article describes a braincomputer interface (BCI). . This part ends with two descriptions of media art that experiments with symbiosis between the real and the virtual. as an infectious viral agent. in which control of a computer through the recording of neurological activity can be a helpful tool to assist patients with motor movement disabilities in gaining more control over their environment.

It is a merging and co-habitation of different media-species. keeping the book alive. making the book open for infection. remixing and change. sound and images. But maybe some genetic modification might be beneficial in this . pixels and living. a death tree. feed into them. with the human assemblages that create the books. or nonorganic matter. a mash-up of text and video. heavily influenced by environmental and cultural barriers. interconnected. a critique targeted at visions of the book as a static. also takes places with and via the living. keeping it social. stable entity. as infinitely transforming and interacting and crossing over into other books and other discourses. The symbiotic book in this context also forms a tool for critique. boundaries between the scholarly world and society at large. a machinic assemblage of various discrete media entities. The symbiotic book as a concept argues for the book as becoming. The digital medium has in many ways made it possible for the book to become increasingly infected with foreign (non-textual) elements. Cooperation as books. Boundaries between the life sciences and the humanities. The symbiotic book has borders though. and make them part of the networks through which they algorithmically spread over the web. as ‘lifeless entities’. as it is evolving into something different. In this vision these networked. liquid books form an ecology of information. a lifeless thing. The symbiotic book crosses boundaries.Epilogue This living book is also a symbiotic book. growing stronger and more consistent in mutual cooperation. material tissue. into a becoming in which the book might even mean the disappearance of the book as we know it and the rise of a new symbiotic book-evolved hybrid species. Evolution is a slow process. for re-use.

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