Chris M. Sciabarra sciabrrc at is2.NYU.EDU
Sun Sep 17 07:54:58 MDT 1995

On Sat, 16 Sep 1995, Stephen Tompkins wrote:

> Hello! Just signed on the other day.
> Pardon me for asking, but what does it mean to engage in a social
> interpretation of Chaos theory? Is this similar to engaging in a
> bio-chemical understanding of Freud's libido?  I mean, is this stretching
> cross-paradigm analysis just a tad? (not the zucker brother's definition
> of 'tad' in airplane II either!)
>      I understand Jamal as arguing that "reality" per se is some
> understanding taken posterior to a dynamism of force(s) - i.e. as the
> end result of the chaotic process.  FINE. But to write that there is no
> difference between Chaos Theory and Marxist dialectics or that they are
> the same thing is an intolerance to the complexity of the claim at hand;
> it deserves more attention.
>      First.  One has to admit, that 'chaos' in Chaos Theory involves a
> sensitivity to initial conditions - e.g., describing convection and
> mixing in fluids, wave motion, electrical current in semiconductors.
> This began, at least the historians will have it, with Lorenz in '63, the
> meteorologist whose research showed indeterminacies in themal convection
> of the Earth's atmosphere.  this is the mathematical scale that Jamal
> wishes to avoid, but on the level and complexity of the physics of
> Marxist-dialectics, it seems one would face massive unfathomable
> exclusion with respect to such theoretical transgressions; taking a
> neurophysiological reading of Freud would seem to be just as problematic;
> how to translate? please, anyone?
>      I'd be interested to hear more from Jamal on how these are the SAME
> thing - If you agree with a chaotic dynamism, what constitutes the same
> here? What about a semiotic reading?
>      Chris Sciabarra, could you elaborate more on Hayek's notion that
> there are epistemic strictures which prevent central control? you did
> intend to use stricture, not structure, I assume.
> Later,
> Stephen J. Tompkins
> ohio university
> philosophy graduate program
> stevilbollweevil

I'll leave the first aspects of this to Jamal; suffice it to say, I don't
think chaos theory and dialectics are the exact same thing, but I do
believe, for lack of a better descriptive phrase, that chaos theory is
much more "dialectical" than reductive materialism or strict one-way
linear causality.  If it is true that the slightest variation in
conditions or in the interaction of conditions could bring about wildly
different "unintended" consequences, then it is clear, at least to me,
that there are direct applications here to the social world.
Conventional social theorists who speak as if "all things are equal" in
their analysis, are so depressingly static and one-dimensional that they
are almost congenitally incapable of understanding system dynamics and
evolution.  I think both Marx and Hayek (the Austrians) are much better
at dynamics than any of their more conventional rivals.

Now, as to Hayek, and his claims that certain epistemic strictures
prevent efficacious central control-- I've gone over some of this at
length before on this group, so I will ask my colleagues to "put up with"
just one more lesson from dear Friedrich.  For Hayek, knowledge is
sometimes articulate, sometimes tacit, and always, essentially dispersed
among individuals, each of whom interprets that knowledge within the
context of their own lives.  While people can cooperate and share their
knowledge and insights, no individual can attain a synoptic vantage
point on the whole, since every individual is internal to the social
whole.  By extension, no simple accumlation of data on a complex,
changing, dynamic whole can capture the infinite, sophisticated nuances
of that whole, because knowledge of its processes is NOT strictly
quantifiable, but qualitative and tacit as well.  Central control may be
able to operate on the basis of quantifiable data (within a simple static
model), but it cannot take account of dynamic change over time, nor the
interpretive frameworks of each individual within the whole, interpretive
frameworks that are the context for individual creativity and innovation
and entrepreneurial action.

Moreover, no individual can know the whole, nor can any individual know
completely the workings of his or her own mind.  Hayek gives us a lesson
in cognitive humility, but in social humility as well-- because no
individual or group of individuals can know completely the consequences
of individual or group action, since unintended consequences are quite
simply, an extension of sociality.  And since no human being can master
such unintended consequences, the idea of human control over all aspects
of the social totality, envisioned in the Marxian ideal of communism, is

Hayek is no raving individualist here.  He is fully dialectical.  He
recognizes that the whole is an organic totality, that knowledge is a
social product, and that internal relations are essential to the whole.
He merely believes that nobody can know fully the nature of these
internal relations in the complex network of an organic totality; to fool
oneself into believing that one can control that totality is not only a
pretense of knowledge--it is a prescription for calculational chaos and
ultimately, oppression and brutality.

					- Chris
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics
INTERNET:  sciabrrc at

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