Dialectics and Science

Rahul Mahajan rahul at hagar.ph.utexas.edu
Sun Jun 18 11:36:27 MDT 1995

>The scientist's "first-order"
>questions are indeed, totally separate from the philosopher's
>"second-order" questions.

As I mentioned when responding to Hans, the absoluteness of such a
distinction cannot be upheld. Physicists have invaded the arena of
second-order questions.

>Dialectics is first and foremost, a method.  Though it is
>frequently conjoined with "materialism," it should not align
>itself with any metaphysical claims about the nature of the
>primary "stuff" in the universe.  Science simply doesn't know
>yet, what that primary "stuff" is.  To say that the world is
>material is certainly true, given the current context of our
>knowledge.  But if tomorrow, science should discover that the
>"material" is nothing more than puffs of meta-energy, this
>would not invalidate the essential METHOD that is dialectics.

Which is what, exactly? What do you conceive the method that is dialectics
to be? BTW, according to the current views of particle physicists, "puffs
of meta-energy" is a very good way to describe the fundamental constituents
of matter. If by "material" we mean something like our everyday experience
of material objects, that's already been thrown out the window.
Ontologically, an electron is much more complex than a brick.

>     Thus, a dialectical approach accommodates any and all
>valid scientific theories.  It should be as undaunted by the
>Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle--as it is with any other
>principle that might emerge in contemporary physics.  Our
>inability to predict a subatomic event does not prove that
>causality is inapplicable to subatomic particles.

Explain, please.

>Our lack of scientific explanation
>does not erase the reality it seeks to explain.

This is clear enough, but it seems a different case from the one above.

>  What is so
>wonderful about a dialectical sensibility is its openness to
>change and epistemic evolution.  Not possessing any
>metaphysical presumptions about the essential nature of
>reality--save a formal commitment to system, totality,
>internal relations, and dynamic process--we can proceed to
>examine any and all factors.

Call your sensibility what you will, scientists have all had to learn (in
the 20th century) that they must be open to epistemic evolution. They've
always been open to change.

>In all cases, a dialectical approach
>eschews reductionist monism.

Don't we all? In fact, the term is used only to insult in general, right?

> Even for those who recognize
>the primacy of economics, there is the understanding that
>economics cannot be abstracted from politics or culture.

In the natural sciences, physics is primary, and it can be abstracted from
chemistry and biology. Furthermore, all chemistry is physics. Biology, of
course, may never be reducible to physics.

How do you respond to the idea that fundamental physics is at a stage where
it can pose and address some of its own philosphical/epistemological


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