STRUCTURAL CORRELATIONISM AND THE BATTLE FOR COGNITIVE HEGEMONY

Deleuze talks about the struggle for primacy in terms of the aspiration of various discipines to become « the official language of a Pure State » (DIALOGUES, 13). Thus in the French context the ancient supremacy of philosophy has been superseded by new contenders: psychoanalysis, linguistics, and cognitive science (Deleuze doesn’t mention physicalist reductionism because this has far less impact in the visible battle for hegemony in France). In each case we have a new « interiority », ie the very opposite of the transversality that combines various disciplines on an equal footing to produce new ideas and new explanations. Instead we have the same form of an autonomous discipline (interiority) staking a claim for explanatory primacy over its fellow disciplines. But this self-promotion to primacy and universality is accompanied by a desperate endeavour to formalise and unify the hegemonic discipline, to give it explicit and coherent structure, canonical method, apodictic force. From a fruitful heuristic messiness and multipiplicity (diverse partially incompatible hypotheses producing only partially overlapping results) the hegemonic will imposes a unified paradigm or system of judgement. This unificatory interiorisation then functions as what Deleuze calls a « represser of thought », a rulebook for producing (politically) correct ideas. No wonder mathematicians and physicists resent the incursions of cognitive science – they are too comfortable with their supposed intellectual primacy and academic prestige. Behind the epistemological babble about disinterested research and objectivity as a bulwark against « irrationalism » and « relativism » there is a combat for power, posts, resources, status and funding.

Personally I do not like to talk in terms of « correlationism » as I believe it to be an ill-formed concept (allying maximum extension with minimum intension). However, if one is going to talk about correlationism in the case of cognitive science’s pretentions to account for science itself, its nature and legitimacy, this can only be the case under an extended acception that I would call « structural correlation ». This nicely captures a little-noticed fact: whenever a physicist leaves off his equations and experiments to declare that everything is made of and reducible to sub-atomic particles (or strings, or spacetime, or whatever) and that all disciplines are ultimately explained by his own he is no longer making a scientific claim inside his discipline, but is himself guilty of structural correlationism.

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