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The principle of individuation, or principium individuationis, describes the manner in which a thing is identified as distinguished from other things.

The concept appears in numerous fields and is encountered in works of Carl Gustav Jung, Gilbert Simondon, Bernard Stiegler, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, David Bohm, Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze, and Manuel De Landa.

The word individuation occurs with different meanings and connotations in different fields.

Philosophically, "individuation" expresses the general idea of how a thing is identified as an individual thing that "is not something else". This includes how an individual person is held to be distinct from other elements in the world and how a person is distinct from other persons.

In Jungian psychology, also called analytical psychology, individuation is the process in which the individual self develops out of an undifferentiated unconscious – seen as a developmental psychic process during which innate elements of personality, the components of the immature psyche, and the of the person's life become integrated over time into a well-functioning whole.

The media industry has begun using the term individuation to denote new printing and online technologies that permit mass customization of the contents of a newspaper, a magazine, a broadcast program, or a website so that its contents match each individual user's unique interests. This differs from the traditional mass-media practice of producing the same contents for all readers, viewers, listeners, or online users.

  • The I, as a psychic individual, can only be thought in relationship to we, which is a collective individual. The I is constituted in adopting a collective tradition, which it inherits and in which a plurality of I ’s acknowledge each other’s existence.
  • This inheritance is an adoption, in that I can very well, as the French grandson of a German immigrant, recognize myself in a past which was not the past of my ancestors but which I can make my own. This process of adoption is thus structurally factual.
  • The I is essentially a process, not a state, and this process is an in-dividuation — it is a process of psychic individuation. It is the tendency to become one, that is, to become indivisible.
  • This tendency never accomplishes itself because it runs into a counter-tendency with which it forms a metastable equilibrium. (It must be pointed out how closely this conception of the dynamic of individuation is to the Freudian theory of drives and to the thinking of Nietzsche and Empedocles.)
  • The we is also such a process (the process of collective individuation). The individuation of the I is always inscribed in that of the we, whereas the individuation of the we takes place only through the individuations, polemical in nature, of the I ’s which constitute it.
  • That which links the individuations of the I and the we is a pre-individual system possessing positive conditions of effectiveness that belong to what Stiegler calls retentional apparatuses. These retentional apparatuses arise from a technical system which is the condition of the encounter of the I and the we — the individuation of the I and the we is in this respect also the individuation of the technical system.
  • The technical system is an apparatus which has a specific role wherein all objects are inserted — a technical object exists only insofar as it is disposed within such an apparatus with other technical objects (this is what Gilbert Simondon calls the technical group).
  • The technical system is also that which founds the possibility of the constitution of retentional apparatuses, springing from the processes of grammatization growing out of the process of individuation of the technical system. And these retentional apparatuses are the basis for the dispositions between the individuation of the I and the individuation of the we in a single process of psychic, collective, and technical individuation composed of three branches, each branching out into process groups.
  • This process of triple individuation is itself inscribed within a vital individuation which must be apprehended as
    • the vital individuation of natural organs,
    • the technological individuation of artificial organs,
    • and the psycho-social individuation of organizations linking them together.
  • In the process of individuation, wherein knowledge as such emerges, there are individuations of mnemo-technological subsystems which overdetermine, qua specific organizations of what Stiegler calls tertiary retentions, the organization, transmission, and elaboration of knowledge stemming from the experience of the sensible.
  • the vital individuation of natural organs,
  • the technological individuation of artificial organs,
  • and the psycho-social individuation of organizations linking them together.


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