The importance of Deleuze’s theory of the fold manifests most for me in the distinction that it highlights between organisms and inorganic matter.
“An organism is defined by endogenous folds, while inorganic matter has exogenous folds that are always determined from without or by the surrounding environment. Thus, in the case of living being, an inner formative fold is transformed through evolution, with the organism’s environment.”
Thinking about this concept in respect to nature, it is easy to conceptualize the potential of infinitely unfolding matter. Potential is pent up within folds, and released in the process of unfolding.
Deleuze progresses the concept of the fold, speaking of it as a mechanism, and later, even as a series of machines. He furthers his argument of the infinite potential of organisms in his comparison of the organism and the mechanism:
“If plastic forces can be distinguished, it is not because living matter exceeds mechanical processes, but because mechanisms are not sufficient to be machines. A mechanism is faulty not for being too artificial to account for living matter, but for not being mechanical enough, for not being adequately machined. Our mechanisms are in fact organized into parts that are not in themselves machines, while the organism is infinitely machined, a machine whose every part or piece is a machine.”
That idea that nature is the unsurpassable designer and engineer is no new conclusion. However, what is revolutionary is Deleuze’s claim that “a mechanism is faulty not for being too artificial to account for living matter, but for not being mechanical enough, for not being adequately machined.” Here, Deleuze dismantles the common perception that the concept of ‘mechanism’ is associated exclusively with inorganic, man made design. However, it is really the organism that is “infinitely machined”.
Keeping this concept in mind, broadly, can help to advance human invention and design. I am always a bit skeptical of designs that claim biomimicry as source. Biomimicry is a flashy design trend at the moment, and because of this is overused, or over-claimed, by designers and architects. They will etch a pattern resembling a cellular structure onto a piece of bent aluminum and call it biomimicry. I have no problem with deriving aesthetic designs from nature, but I don’t think this deserves the title “biomimicry”. The real potential in mimicking nature, which many makers are exploring, comes from studying and mimicking how organisms self-operate. This study has to come from first understanding organisms for their infinitely complex and ever-unfolding engineering.