Issue #34 September 2020

Gilbert Simondon and the Process of Individuation

The Preindividual

In order to conceptualise individuation in such a way as to separate himself from substantialism, hylomorphism, and Hegelian idealism, Simondon introduces a new concept which serves as the grounding and the source of all individuals. This he calls ‘preindividual being’. Simondon wants to claim that any substantial being that exists in reality has already undergone (or is already undergoing) a process of individuation through which the singular individual is formed. The predicates of unity and identity that are necessary for the existence of an individuated being therefore only exist as a consequence of the process of ontogenesis. Thus, in order to conceptualise a phase of being that exists ontologically prior to individuated being we must exclude unity and identity from its determining characteristics. Both unity and identity are predicative characteristics that exist only as a result of the process of individuation: “Unity and identity only apply to one of the phases of being, posterior to the operation of individuation … they do not apply to ontogenesis understood in its fullest sense, that is to say, the becoming of being as a being that divides and dephases itself by individuating itself” (PPO, 6).

Dephasing and the Metastable Equilibrium

In physics, a phase transition occurs when one state of equilibrium shifts to another (i.e. from water to ice). However, to Simondon preindividual being exists without a phase. So, in its most basic sense, ‘dephasing’ can be understood as a term which is used to indicate a change in the state of a system, or the becoming of phases within a system. To understand how this term is used, we must first note that, to Simondon:

Physical Individuation and Transduction

To start this investigation, Simondon wants to first present how physical objects are created through individuation in this metastable environment — this he calls ‘physical individuation.’ He seeks to present “physical individuation as a case of the resolution of a metastable system, starting from a system state like that of supercooling or supersaturation, which governs the genesis of crystals” (PPO, 6). In other words, he wants to use the genesis of crystals as both an example of physical individuation, and as an analogy to understand how individuated systems form as a resolution of the problematic between different potentialities within being. This example is summarised well by Muriel Combes:

Biological Individuation

Biological individuation, vital individuation, or individuation of the living being, is the process through which life comes into being and perpetuates itself. Simondon claims that in the domain of the living, the idea of metastability can be used to characterise individuation, however, it no longer occurs in such an instantaneous manner as we have seen in the formation of the crystal. Biological individuation still creates an individual-environment pair, “but it is accompanied by a perpetuated individuation, which is life itself, according to the fundamental mode of becoming: the living conserves within itself a permanent activity of individuation” (ibid., 7). In other words, the living individual is not just the result of individuation as is the case in the crystal, but is what he calls ‘a theatre of individuation’ because “not all of the activity of the living is concentrated at its limit, such as with the physical individual” (ibid.). Now, what does Simondon mean here? He is referring to the differences in the dichotomy between interiority and exteriority within the realm of the physical individual and the biological individual. He claims that within the interior realm of the living individual there is a “more complete regime of internal resonance, one that requires permanent communication and that maintains a metastability that is a condition of life” (ibid.). Internal resonance can be thought of as the source of potential future individuations. Whereas the internal resonance of the physical individual is characterised by the limit of the individual as it becomes in its environment (as we saw in the metastable equilibrium that is formed through the propagation of a crystal’s structure at its outer layer), the internal resonance of the living individual exists inside the living being, as well as at its outer layer:


The purpose of this essay has been to illuminate some of the key concepts in the work of Simondon that will prove influential for later philosophers such as Bernard Stiegler, Gilles Deleuze, and Bruno Latour. As Deleuze states: “The new concepts established by Simondon seem to me extremely important; their wealth and originality are striking, when they’re not outright inspiring” (DI, 86). Although Simondon’s work on technics has recently garnered more attention in the English-speaking world, the lack of a translation of his primary thesis on individuation has limited him to being referred to as a ‘thinker of technics.’ However, Simondon’s work, originally completed in 1958, was vastly ahead of its time in its application of various interdisciplinary fields such as quantum mechanics, cybernetics, evolutionary biology, minerology, aesthetics and many more. My hope is that, with the publication of Individuation in Light of the Notions of Form and Information, we will start to see his recognition as an important thinker in his own right.

Works Cited

Combes, M. (2013) Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual. Trans. T. LaMarre. Cambridge: MIT Press.


In his introduction to Deleuze, Todd May (despite his mischaracterisation of Simondon as a biologist) recognises Simondon’s preindividual as a partial inspiration for Deleuze’s notion of the virtual: “Simondon’s idea of a preindividual state recognizes the significance of the virtual as a field of difference, or, as Deleuze sometimes calls it, a field of intensities” (May, 2005, 86).


Recent studies have shown that pure water can be super cooled to −48.3 °C without being changed into ice (Moore & Molinero, 2011).


In the work of Jean Piaget, transduction refers to a mental operation that differs from deductive or inductive reasoning. However, Simondon takes the initial premises of this definition and carries them further than Piaget would have intended. In recent years transduction has also been used in the realm of machine learning.


The transductive process occurs across each different regime of individuation, but for the purposes of this chapter we will focus on the physical and biological which are described in L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique.


This is also what differentiates biological individuation from technical individuation: “This is not the sole characteristic of the living, and the living cannot be reduced to an automaton that maintains a certain number of equilibriums or that searches for compatibilities between different exigencies, according to a complex equilibrium formula composed of simpler equilibriums; the living is also the being that is the result of an initial individuation and that amplifies this individuation — an activity not undertaken by the technical object, to which cybernetics would otherwise compare the living, in terms of its function” (PPO, 7). The particular aspects of technical individuation are explored in detail in On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (2016).


September 2020


Gilbert Simondon and the Process of Individuation

by Matt Bluemink

Deleuze on Problems, Singularities, and Events

by John C. Brady

An Impersonal Liberalism: Simone Weil and the Sacred

by Riley Clare Valentine

The Agency of Objects

by Ron Richardson

Marx’s “The Fetishism of The Commodity And Its Secret”