After taking a graduate seminar on Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus with John Protevi, I decided I wanted to delve deeper into Deleuzian literature, so I picked up his epic masterpiece Difference and Repetition. The power of thinking displayed in A Thousand Plateaus really blew me away, so I was eager to get into his more classically philosophical works. I’m not sure what I will get out of Difference and Repetition just yet, but I plan on devoting a lot of blog space to thinking through this book. I like Deleuze because of his background in complex systems theory as well as modern mathematics and contemporary scientific theory. Although he is well-known as a “philosopher’s philosopher”, and is often discussed as being a “continental philosopher”, I think he goes above and beyond the typical work being done under the label continental philosophy. For me, Deleuzian thought is fully compatible with science and should be understood in terms of it. Indeed, Deleuze says in the introduction that “Philosophy cannot be undertaken independently of science or art.”
This resonates with something I heard Pat Churchland say about the role of philosophy in the modern scientific era. Churchland said that philosophy’s role to science is analogous to theoretical physics role to experimental physics. Theoretical physics “jumps ahead” of the known data and essentially participates in a kind of concept creation for the sake of synthetic understanding. Of course, the best theory takes into account all the data collected from the past, but it not simply an analysis of existing data sets, but rather, an attempt to synthesize previous knowledge while at the same time forging new concepts to make new predictions and correct theoretical deficiencies of the old theory. Philosophy should operate in more or less the same way. Philosophy is not restricted to using the vocabulary of established thought, but is charged with the task of creating new vocabularies to make sense of the world in light of previous knowledge, while not restricting itself to the vocabulary of previous knowledge. But the essence of philosophy is the construction of new concepts. I take this to be compatible with Deleuze’s statement that “philosophy creates and expounds its own concepts only in relation to what it can grasp of scientific functions and artistic constructions.”
As you can see, I am tremendously excited to dive into Difference and Repetition. It should offer me a new set of concepts to understand and explain natural phenomena. I even think it will be useful for my own research in the philosophy of mind. I wrote my research paper for Protevi’s seminar on Deleuzian neurophilosophy and I will probably upload it soon, as I think it was a pretty good explication of Deleuze’s relevance to cognitive science. Protevi has already done an invaluable service to the cog sci community by writing his paper “Adding Deleuze to the mix“, which I highly recommend. I hope to someday also contribute to Deleuzian scholarship, and Protevi even expressed interested in coauthoring a paper someday!