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Less Metaphorical?

by on April 11, 2013

Less Metaphorical

The question of metaphor has impressed itself upon me during the course of reading a number of our texts this semester. And while I can’t claim to understand DeLanda fully, I’d like to consider some of the implications of his Philosophy and Simulation.

Twice, early on in the text, DeLanda uses the phrase “less metaphorical”:

page 15:

15

page 18:

18

Is the distinction between metaphorical and literal one of degrees? If something is “less metaphorical,” can we also assume, by inverse relationship, that it is “more literal.” This may seem a needlessly picky observation in such a complex text, but the concept of metaphor and realism seems central to DeLanda’s philosophical project.

DeLanda sets out the following projects as the province of realist philosophers: to “create a ontology free of deified generalities within which the concept of emergence can be correctly deployed,” to “do justice to the creative powers of matter and energy,” and to specify the “space of possibilities.” Central to these projects is the concept of simulation, of which DeLanda writes, “Simulations are partly responsible for the restoration of the legitimacy of the concept of emergence because they can stage interactions between virtual entities from which properties, tendencies, and capacities actually emerge.” Simulation, as DeLanda indicates is reproduction and representation, which suggests that metaphor is at the core of his philosophy.

Consider the following artist’s statement on “plastic,” which Christian Bök claims allows us to  “simulate, then supplant, every facet of reality, converting all the varied elements of the planet into one common emulsion.” DeLanda’s simulations are presented to us both instead of reality (reproduce, represent) and coevolutionary, if not coextensive, with reality itself. In the sense that computer models are given equal ontological status with the reality it purports to simulate, I wonder if we can regard DeLanda’s “Theory of Everything” (as Pickering puts it on the back cover) in terms of what Kittler has called a total media link: “a total connection of all media on a digital base erases the notion of the medium itself. Instead of hooking up technologies to people, absolute knowledge can run as an endless loop.”

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3 Comments
  1. This is a good question to ask, right? Can something be more or less metaphorical than something else? In literary terms, a metaphor compares characteristics. In doing so, we might make the first term more or less familiar to us (typically the former, but we can do the latter as well). However, the similarity of characteristics does not necessarily imply a similarity in the processes by which those characteristics come to be. I.e. my love may be a rose but not because the process of photosynthesis provides insight into the production of my love.

    The argument here is that a simulation is more than something that shares characteristics; it is also providing insight into processes. These processes are “mechanism-independent,” and that’s one crucial point. That is, it doesn’t matter if it is prebiotic soup or a computer simulation. As DeLanda writes, “once we add the mechanism-independent component the concept of emergence leads to two important epistemological consequences: it explains why we can use partial models to learn about reality and it provides an account for the capacity of those models to mimic the behavior of the processes they model” (13-14).

    I suppose I am looking at DeLanda’s philosophical investigations into simulation as a kind of speculative realist practice. Maybe not alien phenomenology per se, but perhaps more along the lines of Meillassoux’s assertion that what is mathematically conceivable is absolutely possible. That is a step away from metaphor, away from correlation.

  2. jmdaven permalink

    I think the question is interesting, and I see the potential commonality between DeLanda and Meillassoux’s thinking of the simulation and mathematization of possibility. But unlike Meillassoux, DeLanda neglects to note the very basic emergence of simple things from nothing. Perhaps this is what he discusses in the second half, but without a theory of this emergence of something from nothing that allows for a singularity or single origin of the concrete and the abstract, then there is no reason why one should provide insight into the other. Despite the usefulness of simulation, one might still have to find a way to argue that these singularities and truths are content independent.

    • In scientific terms, you can’t get something from nothing. Energy is never lost or gained. You can reach a point of singularity where you can say that what happens before has no impact on what happens afterward. So, for example, the theory of the big bang offers a powerful gradient (one which is still unfolding). Whatever happened before the big bang has no causal relationship to what happens after, but that’s not quite the same thing as getting something from nothing.

      Regarding mechanism-independence, I would suggest checking out Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. Here’s one paragraph:

      From a Deleuzian point of view, it is this universality (or mechanism independence) of multiplicities which is highly significant. Unlike essences which are always abstract and general entities, multiplicities are concrete universals. That is, concrete sets of attractors (realized as tendencies in physical processes) linked together by bifurcations (realized as abrupt transitions in the tendencies of physical processes). Unlike the generality of essences, and the resemblance with which this generality endows instantiations of an essence, the universality of a multiplicity is typically divergent: the different realizations of a multiplicity bear no resemblance whatsoever to it and there is in principle no end to the set of potential divergent forms it may adopt. This lack of resemblance is amplified by the fact that multiplicities give form to processes, not to the final product, so that the end results of processes realizing the same multiplicity may be highly dissimilar from each other, like the spherical soap bubble and the cubic salt crystal which not only do not resemble one another, but bear no similarity to the topological point guiding their production. (22)

      In short, DeLanda views Deleuzian multiplicities (or at least some such multiplicities) as being quasi-causal and mechanism-independent.

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