A defense of dialectical materialist science.Dialectics and Modern Science
Towards a New Dialectics of Nature
Joseph Dietzgen Internet Archive, also see: Joseph Dietzgen and the History of Marxism
In the case of terrestrial nature we observe that matter, life, history
and thought evolve through a series of revolutionary changes
(qualitative leaps) according to the dialectical law of the negation of
the negation or a triad of thesis—antithesis—synthesis mediated by
chance and necessity, and brought forth through the conflict of the
opposites or the contradiction of heredity and adaptation in its very
own units. Chance is blind only when it is not realized in a necessity.
If a seed from a plant falls on a stone or by chance carried to the
moon, it will not grow there, because there is no necessity for it, i.e.,
no scope of its further development. So this chance is sterile and
things end there. But when a chance brings the same seed into a fertile
soil, it develops due to the exacerbation of the conflict of the
opposites within the seed, it negates itself into a plant, which in turn
negates itself (the negation of the negation) to give an increased
quantity of the seed itself. All change, motion, development in this
view proceeds through nodal points or leaps (governed by specific
laws) where dialectical opposites either mutually annihilate each other
or are sublated (aufheben) into a new synthesis and so on (the
negation of the negation) and where changes in quantity leads to a
qualitative change and vice versa. It is the task of natural science to
discover these specific laws and not to impose laws on nature created
in the brain of man.
A dialectical view of the universe as proposed recently (Apeiron,
Vol 10, No. 2. 165-173(2003)) can provide a plausible basis for an
understanding of the evolution of the galaxies in particular and the
phenomenology of the cosmos in general. According to this view,
matter in the form of elementary particles comes into being and
passes out of existence (with a finite amount being present at any
particular time) as a dialectical and quantum mechanical necessity in
the universe, which is void and infinite in space and time. Persuasive
evidence from quantum electrodynamics suggests that virtual
particles inhabit empty space with an increasing concentration close
to an atomic nucleus. Some of these virtual particles can become real
(and the real pass back to virtual) as chance events and necessities, by
tunneling effects, and/or as pair production by quantum fluctuation in
the vacuum and so on, to give rise to both matter and antimatter. Out
of the innumerable possibilities, the law of chance and necessity
determines which particles eventually prevail. Chance accumulation
of matter and/or antimatter at certain points can then provide the seeds
for further growth and development of galaxies, following physical
laws. Since the appearance/disappearance of matter is enhanced
where mass concentration is high, the galactic centers form the most
active sites where new matter accumulates and these centers become
the theatre where other random and periodic cosmic events can
manifest themselves, such as those that we see as the Active Galactic
Nuclei (AGNs), quasars, etc. This basic process then can form the
fundamental dynamics through which the universe evolves.
Everything in this universe from the galaxies to man are
At the dawn of science, Heraclitus introduced the concepts of becoming and union of opposites as principles that govern reality and hence should govern thought. Similar process views had been developed by Buddhist and Taoist philosophers ("Tao," becoming as the cosmic law, is the Chinese equivalent of logos). The recognition of evolution in cosmology, biology, and history, has recreated an interest in the process approach. Evolutionary science requires a process logic that deals with action and change, not stable entities; with actual oppositions, not abstract separation of opposites; and with creative processes in nature and thought, not only linearly determined causality and implication. Quantum mechanics also suggests a departure from traditional logic insofar as it postulates that (1) the universe is made up of quanta of action (Plank constant); (2) particle and wave properties coexist (principle of complementarity) ; and (3) interactions create qualitative, non-linear leaps.
Although process philosophies have been also developed by Spencer, Whitehead and Teilhard du Chardin, a process approach to logic is largely limited to the dialectics developed by Hegel. Dialectic logic, which in our century came to be fostered almost exclusively by Marxist thinkers, had the advantage of recognizing empirical facts essential to scientific understanding which are obscured and denied by mathematical logic, namely, the ever present becoming (so an entity becomes unequal to itself), the existence of coexisting opposites in nature, history, and mind (denied by the principle of no contradiction), and the existence and generation of a multiplicity of alternatives (excluded as third cases). On the other hand, dialectic logic was not mathematically formulated except in very partial ways, and by a limited number of thinkers [11, 17, 26-28]. Some systems theorists  and trialectics  have explicitly incorporated dialectic logic. Temporal , and fuzzy  logic, may also be understood as partial formalizations of dialectic logic under another name.
"The motion is the only way of existence of matter. There was nowhere and never and there is no matter without motion... Matter without motion is as inconceivable as motion without matter. Therefore the motion is as increatable and undestroyable as matter itself - ... : the quantity of existing motion in the universe is always the same." - F. Engels.
"There is nothing in the universe except matter in motion." - V.I. Lenin.
These three postulating quotations put the corner-stones to our cognition of the general theory of evolution of the universe.
So Matter is the objective reality, the nature of which are different forms of motion, being itself her attribute. Hence there is nothing in the universe except motion, all existing construction material is motion. Matter is woven with motion. Any particle of any substance is a regulated motion of micro motions; any event is a determinated motion of elements of the system of motions. It is possible to resolve mentally any phenomena, events or substance into different forms of motion as well as out of different forms of motion in conformity with certain Laws it is possible to synthesize any phenomena, event or substance of Matter. Therefore in order to know how it happens it is necessary to learn the Laws, that regulate different forms of motion of Matter.
Dialectic, Systems, and Organization: The Philosophical Implications of the New Science
By Anthony Mansueto
There has been growing interest in recent years in the philosophical implications of complex systems theory and such related disciplines as cybernetics, artificial life, and artificial intelligence. Among theorists working in this area, there is a growing tendency to regard complex systems theory as providing scientific sanction for what amounts to a sophisticated neoliberal philosophy centered on "the spontaneous emergence of higher levels of organization or control (metasystem transitions) through blind variation and natural selection (Principia Cybernetica Project, Symposium on the Evolution of Complexity, Call for Papers)." This interpretation of complex systems theory has its roots in the "negentropic" or "information theoretical" interpretation of organization first advanced by von Neumann, Shannon and Weaver, and finds parallels in the positivistic interpretation of the new physics advanced by Frank Tipler (1986, 1989) among others.
This paper will argue that the neoliberal interpretation of complex systems theory is marked by serious errors. Neoliberal interpereters of complex systems theory fail to situate the new discipline properly in the context of equally important developments in physics (unified field theories) and biology (especially postdarwinian theories which stress the role of problem solving genetic algorithms and symbiosis, as against blind variation and natural selection in the evolutionary process). There are powerful theoretical and empirical grounds to support the idea that competition and natural selection (whether in the ecosystem or in the marketplace) are not only an inadequate basis for explaining development, but in fact hold back the emergence of dynamic, organized complexity.
The paper will advance an alternative dialectical interpretation of the new science (including complex systems theory). Specifically it will argue for
a) a radical, dialectical holism which recognizes being as system, structure, and organization, and treats "things" (particles, individuals) as merely the nodes at which complex relationships intersect,
b) a cosmology which stresses the role of underlying, implicit structures, complex relational interaction, and emerging conscious creativity rather than blind variation and natural selection as the motive force behind the emergence of complex organization and thus the whole cosmohistorical evolutionary process, and
c) a theory of value grounded in the immanent teleology of the cosmos itself, in which complex organization, and not the survival of particular elements, is the telos and thus the highest value of the system.
With a few notable exceptions, the Platonic dualism of identity and change reverberated in one way or another throughout Western philosophy until the nineteenth century, when Hegel's logical works largely resolved this paradox by systematically showing that identity, or self-persistence, actually expresses itself through change as an ever-variegated unfolding of "unity in diversity," to use his own words.2 The grandeur of Hegel's effort has no equal in the history of Western philosophy. Like Aristotle before him, he had an "emergent" interpretation of causality, of how the implicit becomes explicit through the unfolding of its latent form and possibilities. On a vast scale over the course of two sizable volumes, he assembled nearly all the categories by which reason explains reality, and educed one from the other in an intelligible and meaningful continuum that is graded into a richly differentiated, increasingly comprehensive, or "adequate" whole, to use some of his terms.
We may reject what Hegel called his "absolute idealism," the transition from his logic to his philosophy of nature, his teleological culmination of the subjective and objective in a godlike "Absolute," and his idea of a cosmic Spirit (Geist). Hegel rarefied dialectical reason into a cosmological system that verged on the theological by trying to reconcile it with idealism, absolute knowledge, and a mystical unfolding logos that he often designated "God." Unfamiliar with ecology, Hegel rejected natural evolution as a viable theory in favor of a static hierarchy of Being. By the same token, Friedrich Engels intermingled dialectical reason with natural "laws" that more closely resemble the premises of nineteenth-century physics than a plastic metaphysics or an organismic outlook, producing a crude dialectical materialism. Indeed, so enamored was Engels of matter and motion as the irreducible "attributes" of Being that a kineticism based on mere motion invaded his dialectic of organic development.
To dismiss dialectical reason because of the failings of Hegel's idealism and Engels's materialism, however, would be to lose sight of the extraordinary coherence that dialectical reason can furnish and its extraordinary applicability to ecology--particularly to an ecology rooted in evolutionary development. Despite Hegel's own prejudices against organic evolution, what stands out amid the metaphysical and often theological archaisms in his work is his overall eduction of logical categories as the subjective anatomy of a developmental reality. What is needed is to free this form of reason from both the quasi-mystical and the narrowly scientistic worldviews that in the past have made it remote from the living world; to separate it from Hegel's empyrean, basically antinaturalistic dialectical idealism and the wooden, often scientistic dialectical materialism of orthodox Marxists. Shorn of both its idealism and its materialism, dialectical reason may be rendered naturalistic and ecological and conceived as a naturalistic form of thinking.
This dialectical naturalism offers an alternative to an ecology movement that rightly distrusts conventional reason. It can bring coherence to ecological thinking, and it can dispel arbitrary and anti-intellectual tendencies toward the sentimental, cloudy, and theistic at best and the dangerously antirational, mystical, and potentially reactionary at worst. As a way of reasoning about reality, dialectical naturalism is organic enough to give a more liberatory meaning to vague words like interconnectedness and holism without sacrificing intellectuality. It can answer the questions I posed at the beginning of this essay: what nature is, humanity's place in nature, the thrust of natural evolution, and society's relationship with the natural world. Equally important, dialectical naturalism adds an evolutionary perspective to ecological thinking--despite Hegel's rejection of natural evolution and Engels's recourse to the mechanistic evolutionary theories of a century ago. Dialectical naturalism discerns evolutionary phenomena fluidly and plastically, yet it does not divest evolution of rational interpretation. Finally, a dialectic that has been "ecologized," or given a naturalistic core, and a truly developmental understanding of reality could provide the basis for a living ecological ethics.
The well-publicized attack by Derek Freeman (1983) on the Margaret Mead study of Samoa (1928) has raised a number of questions about anthropological research and communication, ranging from professional ethics to the dialectical understanding of science. These questions involve substantive matters as well as methodological canons. Now we have the long-awaited assessment of the Mead-Freeman controversy by Lowell Holmes (1987), a valuable intervention that provides answers to a number of these questions, especially those relating to professional and substantive issues. Their two books are briefly reviewed in panels on the facing page. Here we focus on some areas of philosophical interest in the development of U.S. anthropology: the history and role of the doctrine of `falsifiability' in anthropology and in the sciences in general, the relationship between Boasian anthropology and biologism, and the relation between both these doctrines and historical materialism.
To anticipate somewhat, we will first show how the `falsifiability' canon has a longer and perhaps more interesting history than the popular accolades to Karl Popper would acknowledge, and that it entails a dialectical conception of science and its development. Next, in light of these dialectical considerations, we will show that Boasian anthropology is indeed the negation -- the simple negation -- of biologism. While giving our attention to such biologistic contemporaries of Franz Boas as Herbert Spencer and Karl Pearson, we remark that today's chic variant of the same biologism is called "sociobiology." Finally, the dialectical negation of both these doctrines (biologism and Boasian anthropology) is shown to be social evolutionism and its philosophical recapitulation, historical and dialectical materialism.Thus, as class struggle intensified during the later decades of the 19th Century, we see that Socialism, Marxism, historical materialism, Morgan's social evolutionism, etc. -- virtually any aspect of science revealing the significance of dialectics -- all became increasingly disreputable in `higher circles.' And their reputations in those circles only worsened with the onset of the general crisis of capitalism and the Bolshevik Revolution. As evidence of the latter, we find the persons and the periods hopelessly confounded. For instance, we find Engels described as "the most explicit Bolshevik spokesman" (Leslie and Kerman, 1985:116), though he died in 1895, some years before the 1903 split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The primary task of `reputable' academics in the West -- and even aspiring academics -- came to be the promotion of doctrines and Metaphysical Worldviews which did not threaten the bourgeois order. Thus the popularity for both the two competing approaches of Boasian anthropology and biologism.
All this bears on our understanding and practice today, as the 20th Century wanes and along with it, Imperialism as well. As we have seen throughout this essay, it is essential to recognize the dialectical considerations and implications of science and its development. We must first assess the ideological significance of a discipline such as anthropology -- as well as its artifacts (e.g. monographs, essays, etc.) -- in class terms, and only then weigh the merits of the controversies between the several forms of apologetics and obfuscations. And that caveat seems to bear on our understanding of the anthropology of the 1980's no less than that of the 1880's.
Stephen Jay Gould
history of science
philosophy of science
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