[Marxism] O, Dialectics!
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 12 08:21:23 MDT 2005
>The point about Lenin and the ether was aimed at the naive scientific
>realism that underpinned his diamat - as you have Materialism and
>Empiriocritism to hand, you'll know what I mean. To say that it shows how
>'science behaved dialectically' demands explanation more than it explains.
>Are you saying that the concept of the ether was interpenetrated by its
>opposite, or that quantity changed into quality? Thomas Kuhn, whatever
>else was wrong with him, provided a far better model for understanding the
>'paradigm-shifts' that occur within science than diamat (albeit you could
>argue that his institutional analysis was itself dialectical)...
I would urge Leninology and others to check Helena Sheehan's website, where
excerpts from her "Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical
History" can be found: http://www.comms.dcu.ie/sheehanh/mxphsc.htm. This
book sheds light on the creative intersection between science and Marxist
philosophy in the USSR, including--most interestingly--the 1930s.
Here's something from her discussion of Christopher Caudwell, who was a
casualty of the Spanish Civil War and whose "Notes on a Dying Culture" is
The new categories required could not be formed within the bounds of
physics alone, however. No real solution was possible unless the most basic
and fundamental categories common to all domains were to be radically
refashioned. What physics needed was a new philosophy.
Einstein and Planck were the last physicists adhering to the old
metaphysics of physics, whereas Jeans and Eddington represented the most
extreme swing in the opposite direction, the most extreme tendency for
physical theory to fly away from physical experiment. Einstein stood out as
a larger figure than the rest in his aspiration to an all embracing
philosophy. Although he did manage to bring together a wide domain of
physics, he was still unable to encompass the whole complexity of modern
physics. Nor was anyone else able.
With the breakdown of traditional categories and no new ones to take their
place, physicists were becoming inclined to call God back in again to
sanction the physicists belief in unity, to assure him of a worthwhile end
to his labours. But it was a God from the other side. Unlike Newton's God
who was Matter, this God was Mind, a mind remarkably like that of the
physicist's own. All such introjections of the physicist's mind behind
phenomena to take the place of a deleted matter represented a certain
falling off and disorientation as compared with earlier physicists' more
The state of physics amid all the confusion was disturbing, not only to the
physicists, but to the general public as well. Taking up the various
problems perplexing to the popular consciousness in relation to physics,
Caudwell first examined the problem of the relation of physics to
perception. The world of physics seemed to be deviating further and further
from the world of perception. The world of relativity physics seemed to be
taking physics further and further from reality as directly experienced. In
answer to the question of whether the world of physics could be restored to
the world of experience, his answer was yes, that it must, for physics was
built up and validated from the results of perception, even relativity
physics. The discrepancy between Newton and Einstein was settled after all
on the basis of the Michelson-Morley experiment. The perceived world,
Caudwell insisted, was primary and gave status to only certain of the
various self-consistent possible worlds.
An even stickier question in physics was that surrounding the status of
concepts of causality and determinism that had become particularly
problematic with the development of quantum physics and had brought many
physicists to deny causality and to assert a radical indeterminism in
nature. Responding particularly to the conclusions being drawn by Jeans and
Eddington from Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty, to the effect that
causality and determinism were no longer principles of physics and that it
was therefore possible to guarantee the freedom of the human will, Caudwell
analysed the issue on a number of levels.
Basically his argument was that the fundamental bourgeois illusion, in its
false notion of the nature of freedom, had penetrated even into physics.
The bourgeois understanding of causality was equivalent to predeterminism,
the only sort of determinism that bourgeois could understand. It was the
bourgeois nightmare. It was the dread of a class that did not want to be
tied to nature by any relation except that of private property, a relation
entered into by the individual by virtue of his own free will. Freedom, for
the bourgeois, seemed to lie in arbitrary subjectivity, with all causality
concealed, hidden in the shadow of the free market.
Those, such as Jeans and Eddington, who seized upon Heisenberg's principle
to launch a full-scale attack on determinism in physics, picturing the
movements of the particles as indeterminate and the particles themselves as
unknowable, supposed that this at last secured the menaced free will of the
bourgeois. By this bizarre stratagem, they thought they had freed man from
the determinism of nature by eliminating the determinism of nature
altogether. Even nature was now seen to exhibit bourgeois free will.
On one level, Caudwell analysed the way this played itself out within the
realm of physical theory, tracing it back to the subject-object dichotomy
and the separation of the basis of freedom from the basis of necessity in
the 17th century. He seemed to have very definite ideas about how the
resolution of his dichotomy provided the way out of the anarchy engulfing
physical theory. His argument at this level was not fully developed,
however, as it came only in the draft notes for the chapters of The Crisis
in Physics, which were left in a very rough state, far from ready for
publication, when he went off to Spain.
Roughly, he seemed to be indicating that the apparent antinomies of
physical theory between quantum and wave, discontinuity and continuity,
freedom and determinism, accident and necessity, would find their
resolution when thought ceased to move back and forth between mutually
exclusive polar opposites. It was necessary to see freedom within the
framework of determinism. Otherwise, each was abstracted from the other,
distorted and scarred. Determinism and necessity became crystalline and
incapable of evolution. Freedom and accident floated about without roots.
It was the universal interweaving of domains and not the concept of strict
determinism as such that made it possible to speak of the universal reign
of law. Part of Caudwell's argument seemed to rest on a distinction between
causality as an active subject-object relationship and predeterminism as a
*Determinism, as it emerged at the end of The Crisis in Physics is the more
general category. Within it, he distinguished between causality and
probabilistic determinism on the one hand and strict Laplacean
predeterminism on the other.
For Caudwell, then, the crisis in physics was not due to the mystical and
contradictory nature of the phenomena discovered, but to the attempt of the
bourgeois to keep the world of physics closed and to preserve his own
freedom outside it, to keep himself at all costs immune from causality.
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