Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (hereafter referred to as ISVP) is a 2002 book by Manuel De Landa.

In De Landa's words, the book seeks to present the process-based realist philosophy of Gilles Deleuze to an audience of analytical philosophers of science and scientists with an interest in philosophical questions. Specifically, the author explores Deleuze's ontology, using examples from differential geometry, group theory and complexity theory to divide this ontology into three partially overlapping domains, the virtual, the intensive and the actual.


Deleuze's ontology

The book opens by explaining the immanence of Deleuze's realist philosophy, ie. that it does not rely on essences.

The virtual/abstract

In the first domain, the virtual, essences are replaced with multiplicities, which De Landa describes as 'concrete sets of singularities or attractors (realised as tendencies in physical processes) linked together by bifurcations (realised as abrupt transitions in the tendencies of physical processes)'. These multiplicities are meshed together into a 'heterogeneous virtual continuum', a continuous, immanent, abstract space in which, through various interactions, each multiplicity progressively differentiates into the intensive and then the actual, through a cascade of symmetry-breaking events. There is a notable similarity between multiplicities described as such and morphogenetic field theory.

The intensive

The intensive domain is informed by the singularities comprising a multiplicity, and is a domain of flux and qualitative differentiation (eg. the differentiation of neutral cells into blood, bone and muscle cells) where nonmetric, non-exact yet rigorous relationships of ordinality are still primary, as opposed to the metric, quantitative exactitude which accounts for the spatial structuration of the actual, eg. cellular migration, invagination and folding.

The actual/extensive

The actual is the familiar domain of fully formed entities where the intensive has been 'hidden' under extensive qualities, ie. the intensive processes driven by singularities/attractors have differentiated into a fully Euclidian geometric space. Deleuze views one of the primary goals of philosophy as uncovering the intensive, and then abstract, dynamisms hidden under the extensive; De Landa refers to the studies of nonequilibrium systems by Ilya Prigogine and others as an example of how traces of intensive differences and virtual tendencies emerge in the modelled behaviour of these systems.

Importantly, Deleuze does not place these three domains in a hierarchical relationship, with the abstract being primary, but rather sees them as partially overlapping and informing each other, consistent with his assertion that multiplicities are not to be viewed as essentialist replacements for eternal archetypes but as abstract emergent properties of dynamic systems, informed by and informing the intensive and the actual in a relationship of constant feedback and adaptivity.

Later in the book, De Landa describes Deleuze's conception of time as heterochronous, ie. as consisting of a series of nested presents at different levels of duration, each present representing a single cycle or pulse of a multiplicitous process or assemblage (a heterogeous coupling of multiplicities), eg. a circadian cycle, a metabolic cycle, an atomic oscillation; he also shows that this model of time (which is closely aligned to that of Henri Bergson, a major influence on Deleuze) can be applied to the abstract and the intensive, as well as the extensive.

Deleuze's epistemology

De Landa also briefly describes Deleuze's epistemology as contingent on 'well formed problems' as opposed to deductive-nomological solutions. (An example of a well formed problem would be that of finding a point of minimal surface tension - a problem solved, for instance, by soap bubbles.)

He furthermore stresses the importance Deleuze placed on 'minor science' (pragmatic laboratory engagement) as opposed to 'royal science' (the prestigious, proscriptive science of the royal academies, etc.) and observes how a minor science tends to place more importance on well formed problems than generalized solutions.

Deleuze's words

In the appendix to the book, titled Deleuze's words, De Landa recreates his argument thus far using the idiosyncratic and neologistic terminology of Deleuze and Félix Guattari (who was also partly responsible for the creation of several of the above-mentioned concepts but who has been omitted from ISVP because De Landa felt the relevant concepts were continuations of Deleuze's earlier, solo work), describing how Deleuze's ontology, as mapped out in ISVP, is described in each of his major books; for this he creates an ontological list of 7 core components. To paraphrase, these are:

  • The (abstract) depth or spatium in which intensities are organised. Deleuzian synonyms: 'machinic phylum', 'plane of consistency', 'Body without Organs'.
  • The disparate series (multiplicities) these form and the fields of individuation they outline. Deleuzian synonyms: 'vague essences', 'becomings', 'partial objects', 'concepts'.
  • The 'dark precursor' (line of flight) which causes them to communicate. Deleuzian synonyms: 'aleatory or paradoxical point', 'desiring machine', 'nonsense', 'object=x', 'quasi-cause', 'conceptual personae'.
  • The linkages, resonances and movements which result (the dynamism of this system). Deleuzian synonyms: 'convergence and divergence', 'forced movement'.
  • The constitution of 'passive selves' in the system, and the formation of pure spatio-temporal dynamisms (the intensive). Deleuzian synonyms: 'intensive individuals', 'larval subjects', 'monads (from Leibniz).
  • The qualities and extensions differentiated into (the actual/extensive). Deleuzian synonyms: 'forms and substances'--
  • The centres of envelopment. Deleuzian synonyms: 'codes'.

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