In Holland's Introduction to Schizoanalysis, the author states that Desire produces the Real analogously to the production of evidence in a courtroom: Desire structures and invests our perceptions.

Consider the ardent natural scientist, completely convinced that only the hard sciences can offer 'true' knowledge. Can we accurately say that this person's reality is 'produced' in the sense of their investment of Desire into the scientific mode of knowledge? In short, does Desire produce reality in the sense of determining how we organize and percieve phenomena?


Rex Kerr answers your question well to the extent that you ask about the desires, perceptions, and knowledge of individual inquirers or scientists. We may be able to will ourselves to perceive things in a certain way out of sheer force of desire, up to a point. What point that is exactly becomes an empirical psychology question. I suspect that for some people, experiencing psychosis, little desire is necessary to adjust their sense of reality such that it doesn't conform with perceptions, while for others it may take considerable will or unconscious desire.

However, that is all to discuss the individual, which is the wrong unit of analysis for discussing natural science. Philosopher Helen Longino, for instance, has argued persuasively that an individual person cannot do science in isolation, that science is a fundamentally social process. Individuals can have knowledge they acquire on their own. I see that I am typing now. I know that I am typing. By "know" I mean that I am defeasibly very confident, but not that I am objective. That knowledge is not yet scientific, and we should understand that knowledge as neither certain nor objective.

Your scientist would therefore be wrong to say that "only the hard sciences produce true knowledge," but right to say that scientific methods produce better-justified knowledge than pre-scientific knowledge, because only science, by definition, can lend objectivity to knowledge. Science simply is the process through which beliefs are tested and criticized in ways that justify our treating the few beliefs that pass our tests as more objective.

How? Knowledge-generating methods and procedures are scientific precisely if and because they neutralize the desires of individuals or groups to believe one thing or another. An individual's perceiving and believing independently do not have those features. When methods and procedures involving different, independent assumptions converge on the same results, we describe those results as more "robust" or more "objective."

All of this is consistent with the idea that yes, our desires can influence — though I'm not sure I would agree they can "determine" — our beliefs. But no amount of desire per se can render our beliefs scientific or objective. We should only understand our beliefs as hewing closer to reality than other beliefs do when our beliefs have been produced by desire-neutralizing processes rather than by desire itself.

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  • Nice explanation! I have not yet found any work that is remotely convincing that science is fundamentally a social process, however. I haven't read Logino's--what's the citation? (As far as I can tell, the key steps in desire-neutralization do not require more than one person, even if they are aided by it.) – Rex Kerr Jan 19 '14 at 19:28
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    Yes, I might've glossed it somewhat in responding to the question more than your answer; Longino argues that if there is some sense an individual can practice science, it is only by doing things that imitate what an ideal scientific community would do. See Helen E. Longino. Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1990. – ChristopherE Jan 19 '14 at 22:16
  • Funny, I would have argued the other way around: if in some sense a community can practice science, it is only by doing things that imitate what an ideal individual scientist would do. Thanks for the reference. – Rex Kerr Jan 20 '14 at 0:30
  • Definitely some good considerations here! The Longino sounds pretty intriguing – Joseph Weissman Jan 20 '14 at 0:56

Although theoretically it is possible to hallucinate everything when moved by sufficiently strong desire (up until one dies), in practice people almost always retain considerable sensitivity to their environment.

Thus, no, you cannot accurately say that a scientist's desire is producing their reality. It's helpful to desire to be doing science when one is, because it can speed up noticing patterns (e.g. instead of following a faulty idea for years only to have results repeatedly contradict you, you can try to come up with a new idea that fits your early results well, or to try to come up with lots of ideas any of which fit these results but which will be discriminated by future experiments). But the point of the scientific method is to avoid being captive to desire, and to instead be captive to the relatively universal objective perceptions most people can manage most of the time.

(In short, when trying to understand the scientific process, pay more attention to Popper, Kuhn, and Quine than Holland and Deleuze.)

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  • But surely the Enlightenment culture of rationalism invests the scientific method as a sort of salvation over the forces of theological false knowledge? This can't be said to lack desirous components. – Cameron Jan 17 '14 at 21:56
  • @Cameron - The desirous components are inessential components. Maybe you'll be motivated by salvation. Maybe you just like that science works. Doesn't really matter which; the important part is that you do science. Everyone uses ATP for metabolism, but I don't make much of "ATPousness" when talking about the philosophy of science (or any other philosophy). – Rex Kerr Jan 17 '14 at 21:59
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    +1, the point that Deleuze/Holland are not 'philosophers of science' per se is well-taken; but I do think the question about collective investments of desire in science is at least valid. In passing, I might suggest thinking about Nietzsche's question (what is the meaning of science, i.e., on whose behalf does the scientist attempt to nullify their desires and become a pure lens for truth to pass through?) and, again just in passing, the early Deleuze on the structure of sense and the nature of the desire for truth seems possibly relevant here... – Joseph Weissman Jan 17 '14 at 22:50
  • The problem to my mind here is the idea that the thinker naturally wants truth, that one assumes the good will of the thinker is sufficient to discover truth -- in short, we have an image of thought in which thinking is conceived as natural activity, rather than as an active process of creating problems. (Again cf. the early Deleuze; Empiricism and Subjectivity seems particularly appropriate...) – Joseph Weissman Jan 17 '14 at 22:51
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    @JosephWeissman - I do not argue that the thinker naturally wants truth, but I very strenuously object to the idea that the good will of the thinker is enough! It is most assuredly not, and this is why we have years of training, peer review, and the philosophy of science. However, all these things act in concert to render questions about "whose behalf", "active process of creating problems", and so on, largely moot at the level of the correctness of individual results. That's the point, and the evidence is great that proper methodology and training can protect from distortions. – Rex Kerr Jan 17 '14 at 23:56

Desire makes all your activities confined to a particular point that is your goal. Hence desire increases the possibility of getting real.

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