rhizomes (Deleuze)

Lately I have been diving down the Deleuze rabbit hole (trying say that five times fast) and recently came across some of his more famous thinking on the topic of thinking — the notion that rhizomatic systems are a more accurate representation of many things (like how we think, how physics works, etc.).

Traditional thinking — pre-Deleuze’s characterization — typically modeled knowledge as a very structured tree-like figure, with a single trunk and linear branches stemming from the trunk.

Deleuze suggested this was an inaccurate representation of reality, which would be better represented as a rhizome.

The word rhizome refers to a network like structure. You find this structure in nature, commonly in objects like roots. Here is an example.

The rhizome has multiple entry and exit points. This allows connections to be made multi-laterally – meaning you can go in and out in various places, without depending upon a fixed node.

Representing a system as a rhizome destroys the notion of hierarchy. There is no one centrifuge — instead, there are many points that exist in a decentralized fashion.

Exploring systems with the frame of a rhizome in the back of your head — rather than a more statically/linearly shaped structure — really opens your mind to creativity and exploration. It embraces the idea that systems are dynamic, and that no one point is totally in charge of the network.

You could think about this by applying it to the systems you are a part of — recognizing that the person in charge is only really in charge by certain definitions, and that there are many influences coming in from all around that are impacting the results of the system. It encourages varietal thinking to destroy the hierarchy, at least in some moments of curiosity, and helps you to see various modes of causation.

It also embraces the idea that connections can happen from any place in the network. Just because you are quite far off from whatever you imagine your starting place to be, does not mean you would not be able to draw a bridge or an entry or exit point from where you are sitting.

You could imagine this sort of imagery can apply in many settings. And the more you think about it, the more you start to really see it in action.

I independently came to a similar confusion as Deleuze — though perhaps not as profoundly or precisely or aware-ly articulated — when years ago I started becoming more aware of a concept I called “collisions.”

Collisions referred to the scenario where you find two ideas colliding from very different places. I would create collisions by reading two books from very different sections of the library (for instance, I would read a book about 19th century china and harry potter or a business minded book and a ww2 book).

These collisions were my favorite way to learn — they helped reframe ideas in my head in a way that made a lot more sense, and it made the learning process more fun and enjoyable. I never knew when I was about to enter a trap door – a shortcut of sorts to accelerating my understanding. I think it also made me more appreciate details, because you never know what details will lead you to another place in the network. It was always surprising which details would unveil other details — I found the more random ones actually often led me into more interesting directions.

You can also more accurately represent systems say at work as rhizomes. If you think about organizations merely through a top down or bottoms up lens, then you are likely missing key details that more purely display reality (and this would be interesting/relevant for you so long as you are interested in better understanding how things actually actually work).

If and when you accept that the world may be shaped more like a rhizome than a linear branch, you may find yourself re-thinking some of your core philosophy. It may not be immediately obvious, but you can soon start to recognize how much of your mentality is anchored by an underlying belief (one that you are cognizant of or not) that you can judge your progress by looking further up the ladder for the next rung. So much of our life tends to be shaped this way — peeking ahead to see where the next step on the ladder will take us.

Many of us position our careers this way. Like a linear tree we just have to keep climbing and by the end, we will be happy and rich and everything will be good.

Accepting the rhizome will lead you in another direction. A directionless direction, or rather a direction that does not put so much weight and emphasis on the value of forward motion. Because in a rhizome, perhaps going backwards or taking a left turn is actually the way to make “progress.”

Rethinking progress as not a linear journey but as an adventure through caverns of sorts. Tracing roots in various directions — directions you could never really anticipate — in hopes of finding a destination that is satisfactory.

This is starting to sound more representative of life, right?

How random did it feel to meet who is now your best friend? Did you know you would end up on this journey with them when you first met them? Was it destiny?

Or was it subject to the twists and turns — the ins and outs — of something you perhaps did not and in fact could not actually plan for and anticipate.