October 03, 2007

Serres is working hard to make sense of the “clinamen”

larvalsubjects Says: October 1, 2007 at 8:35 pm
It was translated into English a couple years back as The Birth of Physics. I’ve been slowly working my way through it, but had to put it down a couple months back because other things arose. I really should return to it as Serres is working hard to make sense of the “clinamen” or “swerve” as central to the project of physics. Honestly, while I find the concept of the clinamen as a little bit of chaos that gives birth to a world very appealing, I have a great deal of difficulty reconciling it with the first principle of Lucretius’ philosophy: nothing can come from nothing.
It seems that Lucretius wants to have his cake and eat it too. On the one hand, Lucretius wishes to reject superstition or any claims that assert something coming from nothing. Yet, on the other hand, he wishes (and needs to) posit something emerging from nothing in the case of the clinamen. It is difficult to see what entitles him to assert an uncaused bit of chaos in the case of the clinamen while rejecting something uncaused in the case of religion or superstition.
I’d be very interested in hearing from others that know some way of resolving this difficulty.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Clinamen is the name Lucretius gave to the spontaneous microscopic swerving of atoms from a vertical path as they fall (2.216-293). According to Lucretius, there would be no contact between atoms without the clinamen, and so, "No collision would take place and no impact of atom upon atom would be created. Thus nature would never have created anything." (2.220-225) This was first described in Epicurean physics.
The clinamen has been taken up in discussions of determinism as a possible explanation for an incompatibilist free will.
The term has also been taken up by Harold Bloom to describe the inclinations of writers to "swerve" from the influence of their predecessors; it is the first of his "Ratios of Revision" as described in The Anxiety of Influence.
In Difference and Repetition, Gilles Deleuze employs the term in his description of multiplicities, pointing to the observation at the heart of the theory of clinamen that "it is indeed essential that atoms be related to other atoms."(184) Though atoms affected by clinamen engage each other in a relationship of reciprocal supposition, Deleuze rejects this version of multiplicity, both because the atoms are too independent and because the multiplicity is spatio-temporal instead of internal.

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