Unified field theory - LOV?

Chris, London 100423.2040 at compuserve.com
Thu Jun 20 00:36:40 MDT 1996

OK Zeynep, Good.

Our wavelengths overlap to some extent and you have pinpointed
some areas where perhaps they do not. I will concentrate on
clarifying my position on these.

>2. Exchange value is an emergent property of complex commodity
>exchange. The concept of an emergent property, not unreal,
>but not mechanically linked to the concrete phenomena, needs to
>be understood subtly.

Hello? Run that by me again please, defining emergent property, unreal in
what terms, complex commodity exchange, which concrete phenomena. Unsubtly.

This discussion is taking place under the ever-vigilant eye of Rahul
who is a fearsome scourge of sloppy populist scientific idioms. So
we will have to tread carefully.

My line is that there is a lot of hype, wonder, excitement, and
publisher's promotional material linked up with popular re-interpret-
ations of science, some of which I fall for. To keep our feet on the
ground, I think it is wise to reflect that if a change in perspective
achieves anything, it is unlikely to be revolutionary in itself, but
it might make a bit of a difference, it might bring some things into
focus that previously seemed out of focus.

But the world is not changed because someone thinks differently, it
still goes on turning, people still reproduce, argue, love, and die.

The ideas I was referring to are grouped around the concept of
"complexity". The safest reference book on this is probably,
"Fontiers of Complexity" by Coveney and Highfield, authors of
"The Arrow of Time", who claim they have checked all their references,
and have an introduction by a Nobel prize winner.

*To the extent these concepts have validity* they are being tested
in specialist academic circles. In economics there have been
some attempts to see how much chaos theory fits economic patterns.
Academic debate is necessarily specialised however, and I have come
to doubt that it will spill over into political thinking in any
direct way. For us on this l'st the most relevant interface
I think are those left-wing economists who are doing work elsewhere
on the economy as a non-equilibibrium system.

I think actually the extent these ideas influence political thinking
will be the result of them percolating unobserved into the culture
of our times. This will be more the result of technology than formal
lessons. Everyday on television children see rotated images that bend
and distort within a few seconds, lap overthemselves, dissolve and
get replaced.

In school it is true, that nowadays computers can
model the effects of a simple non-linear equation, whereas until
recently all science was presented in linear form. Trying to
get a non-linear perspective required dedicated attention to
the values of dx/dy over and over again with vanishing small results.
I confess I was one who could never see the magic of differential

So technology may recently have closed the gap between the mathemat-
icians and the public. Mathematics can now model in a much more
sophisicated way patterns that correspond to the pulsating real

*Properly interpreted* the area of "complexity", the study of how
the interaction of large numbers of entities produces at times
quite complex patterns, has IMO the closest fit with the marxist
analysis of how the exchange of commodities multiplied many times
over years has a *propability* (not a rigid certainty) of
creating patterns which "emerge" from the jostling chaos.

This is my long-winded attempt to explain my paragraph, subtly.
It does not of course mean it is going to help us overthrow
world capitalism in the next five years. But it might give us
a perspective to see why we have not ovethrown world capitalism yet.

And it might give us an overall perspective that helps to
pose the marxist question of how the social nature of production
can be brought again under social, democratically accountable


Exchange value as a field? I wonder what you exactly mean.

So do I, exactly.  But see the parallel thread going on at the
moment about whether white workers are labour aristocrats because
they can drive cars which guzzle up dwindling energy supplies.

The arguement can take place about use-values. But until it also
takes place about exchange value, it will lack perspective.

 And in
terms of exchange value there are great problems of unequal
exchange, which IMHO cannot be answered just in terms of plunder by
the rich of the poor, although that certainly happens. There are
many complex gradients of exchange value between countries and

A Turkish man visiting Germany or England weighs up his
chances of selling his labour power in a different environment,
the quality of his life and relationships, and how long he will
stay. On his return to Turkey ten years later he may be in two minds
whether to buy a single or a return ticket. His marriage in England has
bust up. Perhaps he will hang round a bit and see how life goes.
But then to his surpise he doesn't settle back in quite as well
as he thought he might. He takes another flight, and chats to me
on the plane. His hopes. A revealing but dignified reticence between
men about his fears. Nice bloke.

These countless little decisions, participate in and create the
interactions of a field of exchange value that is constantly
being created and is uneven across time and space. Yet it is
exists powerfully and shapes the life and future of that man,
and of millions, including me and you.

Again for the purpose of illustration, I find it cute to say that the law of
value stipulates market-prices will revolve around the labour-content, a
strange attractor. Just cute though, I've no more analytical claim in this

I agree with your caution, but stripped of the technical jargon
about "strange attractor" there is nothing strange about this way
of looking at things. (*That* is the breakthrough, if any breakthrough
is required). From childhood we learn that life is rich and
fuzzy. Things are not absolutely certain: they are probable. We
expect that another little boy or girl will have two arms and
two legs, and between a range of heights and skin colour.
Rigid categorisation causes problems even though we do it sometimes.
Expectations of probabilities are more flexible. Talk of an
"attractor" is no more than that. But now Science tells us it is

I think I've gotta stop this free-association post naming.

As you may have noticed, I do use some free-association on this
l'st and actually I find it not as separate from reality as
the Freudians seem to imply. Certainly this l'st proceeds more
by some internal psycho-social dynamic than by strict logic, even
when in each post each contributor tries to be as grave and as logical
as possible in slaying his (probably his) opponent.

And the jokes and the Freudian slips are sometimes the most
revealing. But I agree they are dangerous.

Sorry to be long-winded. You have probably had time only to skim
at best. I do not expect total mystic agreement, or even a reply.
I hope there has been some overlap with what fits for you and others.
And if anyone wants to thrash aspects of this out a little more,
I'm game. I am glad you maintain a belief in the relevance of the
law of value.


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