The Clinamen

400 BC, Democritus:
The world consists of atoms, constantly moving in the same direction. Together they form complex structures.

– Lucretius: On the Nature of Things

structured chaos

99-55 BC, Lucretius:
Once, an atom must have changed direction and collided with another one. That is the clinamen: the smallest possible deviation.


spontaneity ∙ change ∙ beginning freedom ∙ the butterfly effect

1825, Coleridge:
Artists follow their predecessors, but then stray. That is the clinamen.

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Aids to Reflection

creative freedom

1927, Heisenberg:
Modern science needs a clinamen. At unpredictable times electrons jump.

the smallest possible jump, from here to there, with nothing in between

1977, Serres:
“Whether we look at atoms, at species, and later, at society, the same model is always at work. That is, at first an equilibrium and, here, there, tomorrow or yesterday, a deviation.”

– Michel Serres: The Birth of Physics

deviation as part of the system
does that still count as deviation?
necessary unpredictability

– John Neubauer: Reflections on the “Convergence” between Literature and Science

2013, Pettman:
Programmed orcs are able to strike and penguins are able to walk towards certain death. That is the clinamen.

– Dominic Pettman: The Orc and the Penguin

free will / glitch

1986, Motte:
Always new interpretations of the clinamen. That’s how the authors stray. That is the clinamen.

– Warren Motte: Clinamen Redux

interpretation as creation

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