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Do simulations leave too much out?

by on April 19, 2013

The scope of Philosophy and Simulation is as large as it gets, and I admire De Landa’s ability to pull off such an ambitious project. However, I found the scale of his thinking to be a potential weak point. While I respect De Landa’s rigorously scientific approach (and should probably kindly back off because I honestly didn’t understand a whole lot of what he was talking about at some points), I was constantly thinking about how much of the irreducible singularity and ‘haecceity’ of life that De Landa’s simulations necessarily leave out. I’m thinking especially true of the later chapters about the emergence of human society. In the light of our recent reading of Latour, I am particularly critically minded towards such an over-arching and massively reductive approach. A hypothetical ancient anthropologist employing actor-network(-?)theory would likely discover irreducible singularity and totally individual factors in every emergent society they observed. And in each individual within those societies. I am just hesitant to accept such a broad take on why existence unfolded the way it did. I think that psyches are truly infinitely complex things, and no two are quite alike. I don’t think that simulations can account for this complexity – for love, our endless neuroses, transcendence, trauma, the aesthetic dimension, self-consciousness, insanity, despair, etc., etc.

I’m also left at a loss as for what exactly the point of De Landa’s exploration is. Like John, I wonder what ultimate philosophical value there is to this project other than to conclude that we can simulate really complex things. I guess De Landa’s ‘point’ comes in the last paragraph: “…it has been the underlying message of this chapter that social simulations as enacted thought experiments can greatly contribute to develop insight into the workings of the most complex emergent wholes on this planet.” Okay, I guess that’s a pretty noble cause now that I think about it. But I’d be interested to see how this knowledge could be used for some kind of greater good.

Criticisms aside, this is a very impressive and intimidatingly well-researched book. It’s also hard to believe that De Landa could pack such a large theory into so few pages.

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One Comment
  1. jmdaven permalink

    A further problem with the insistence upon simulations is that DeLanda walks a fine line between determinism and notions of agency by searching for such simulatable singularities. This is I think part of the argument from ‘haecceity,’ but if single individuals really do share possibility spaces and singularities, and moreover if humanity in general shares possibility spaces and emergent singularities with other animal or inorganic forms, then how exactly could this avoid a kind of deterministic structuralist claim?

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