15 August, 2016

Marxism & Physics

Marxism & Physics: a new series from Shape Journal

A Prologue

This essay, plus a following extended series to be posted weekly upon SHAPE Blog, addresses a crucial hole in Marxism, which arose since Lenin's Materialism and Empirio Criticism - a book that vigorously attacked the significant slide in Physics Theory, away from Materialism, at that time, epitomised by the positivist ideas of Henri Poincaré and Ernst Mach.

Since that time, this crucial question - not only for Science, but also for Marxism as a truly, generally applicable Philosophy, was not seriously addressed.

The one incomplete exception was surely embodied in Christopher Caudwell's The Crisis in Physics, but never taken further, as he was killed fighting the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War, while still a young man.

This major omission in the most advanced Philosophy available, was crucial for the discipline of Physics, but also for both the reach and depth of the Marxist Method too.

So here, this physicist, who has been a Marxist all his adult life, and throughout has been aware of this discrepancy, has finally grasped the nettle, and this summer, after 50 years of trying, has finally achieved a breakthrough.


Jim Schofield
August 2016

The Black Hole in Marxist Theory
(How Physics Temporarily Escaped)

A crucial question arises out of the clear failure to recruit professional intellectuals into a Marxist philosophical stance in the last century.

Up to the Russian Revolution it had been precisely within those ranks that Marxism first appeared and developed: indeed, the whole leadership of the Bolshevik Party were such people, and had been wrested from their natural Class stance, by commitment to that Revolutionary alternative presenting a truly enormous potential.

But, the possibility that such Social Revolutions were now possible with conscious, pro-Working Class objectives, changed the emphasis completely, and it was activism and organisation, towards such an outcome, that dominated attitudes among those involved.

You might imagine that the revolutionary transformation of traditional Mechanical Materialism in the Sciences, made possible by Karl Marx's wholesale transfer of Hegel's achievements in Dialectics from an Idealist Stance to one of Materialism, would bring the scientists flocking in. But, it didn't happen!

The crisis precipitated by the discovery of the Quantum, and by the positivist ideas of Henri PoincarĂ© and Ernst Mach, which Lenin quickly and vigorously criticised in his book Materialism and Empirio Criticism, would, certainly, lead us to believe that the defeat of such backward tendencies in Science was nigh. 

After all, the new anomalies and crises in Science were proliferating at an accelerating rate, and it should have been clear that what was needed to tackle the increasing mess, and its ever-strengthening swoop into Idealism, had to be in breakthroughs made by Hegel and, most particularly, Marx! 

The basis of their revolution had been the switch to include Qualitative Changes, Development and, as with Darwin, Evolution (not only of Life, but of all Reality!). And, it wasn't only a change of view, for though primarily based upon Marx's study of Capitalist Economics, Dialectical Materialism - as a method, could profitably be extended to Science: indeed Science would surely be its natural home, and give that stance a deserved, widespread credibility, as well as addressing the many problems clearly mounting up within that discipline.

How could this crucial extension not occur?

Indeed, Lenin had effectively managed his remit upon this question, very effectively, in spite of not being a physicist: surely the task cried out for Marxist physicists to complete the rout! But, once more, it didn't happen. And, there were reasons.

In the Socialist Movement, there was an increasing dominance by Democratic Socialists, who rejected Revolution, and with it the philosophical stance of Marx and his followers, and even within those who remained "Marxist", there was increasing emphasis upon political agitation and organisation, and also clear a break from that Social Democracy, with the setting up of Communist Parties across the World.
Clearly, the emphasis with these "Marxist" parties was activism among the Working Class, and work with Middle Class intellectuals, gradually, but increasingly, fell away.

Soon, most professional physicists didn't even hear about Marxism, except, perhaps, as a threat to their privileged existence. And, clearly, several factors within the historical, cultural and intellectual development of Science were crucial in politically countering that possible influence. 

First, culturally, literally all scientists were from a very different Class to the workers, as with all professions. Science was totally dominated by privileged Classes, even up to including the Aristocracy (like Cavendish, for example) .

And, as a full-time, demanding and expensive career, it could not be adopted by those without the necessary and substantial resources. Thus, the Class content within the cultural ideas of scientists, certainly, did not gel with the Class conclusions of Marxism.

But, even that wasn't all!

Science itself, had grown spasmodically, in fits and starts, and in a peculiar ad hoc way - commencing with Pragmatism - "If it works, it is right!", and actually maintaining that as a fall-back position, throughout its history. And, though it had gradually broke from religion, and settled into a thoroughly materialist stance as its bedrock, that actually came very much later, than an early and very close relationship with the first ever intellectual discipline of all - namely Mathematics, which brought in a decidedly Idealist stance into the mix which has also remained there throughout its history.

For, it was Mathematics that first involved an attempt to grasp the quantitative and geometrical patterns so evident in Reality.

Clearly, Science was never a single stance, but a pragmatic mix of contradictory stances, also separated into innumerable and unavoidable sub-divisions, and the gaps between them could never, via the currently available stances, be rationally transcended.

It was a patchwork in every sense!

Indeed, though more correctly termed the "Handmaiden of Science", Mathematics was considered by many scientists to be the Queen of the Sciences, for the discovered relations in the found patterns, enabled formulae to be constructed, which could successfully be employed to predict outcomes, which, along with pragmatism, soon enabled many new uses.

The surprising amalgam of Pragmatism, Idealism and Materialism flexibly, if inconsistently, allowed a kind of piecemeal progress upon many different fronts, with Pragmatism providing the necessary enabling "glue".

And, as the most reveal-able route, Science became besotted with practical applications, and the very philosophical academicism of Marxism, seemed very airy-fairy, compared with all the burgeoning practical uses.

The scientists certainly preferred their amalgam! As a physicist myself, I can safely affirm that, as a group, scientists make lousy philosophers!

But, also there were reasons within the Working Class Movement, and even among self-professed Marxists.

It was because no-one bothered to study the crucial Dialectics of Hegel with regard to its applications in Science. Neither Hegel nor Marx had been up to it, for it required dedicated theoretical work within Science, which as described above was fast becoming a philosophical minefield, with its simultaneously necessary, yet totally contradictory standpoints, and, of course, would have to be carried out by suitably-equipped Marxists, to have any real chance of succeeding! 

Marx, himself, had known precisely what the level of work had to be, and he carried it out, spending many decades in the British Museum studying Capitalist Economics, to finally deliver Capital - his Dialectical Materialist analysis of the Economics of the Capitalist System. Inherent in that work, were the methods required to do the same in other disciplines, but no-one took on the tasks necessary in even one of the Sciences.

Instead Activism was decided upon as the only achievable option!

Sitting in a University Library studying an abundance of works by non-Marxist, and totally eclectic scientists, was an onerous activity, for it not only involved becoming a professional scientist, but also in establishing a consistent, coherent and comprehensive approach applicable across the board.

Not a soul tried!
NOTE: There is a current brilliant exception to this generalisation, though he did the job he tackled correctly, he still only took on today's Capitalist Economics. It is, as you may already be aware, Professor Richard D. Wolff, the American Professor of Economics at the New School University in New York City, USA, who has spent his adult life studying and teaching Economics, and now criticises it with truly devastating effect. He is not only a professional Marxist but also a professional Economist, and his critique is unanswerable.

To show how difficult this could be, let me give an example that I know a great deal about.

I am a qualified physicist, with an Honours Degree in the subject, and very early on indeed, in my University course, I joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (the CPGB), in order to become a Marxist. But, I found no one there, who could (or even wanted to) teach me what that actually meant, and how I could use it.

Instead, we were supposed to learn by reading the classic works of people like Marx, Engels and Lenin. But, though I did precisely as I was advised, it certainly did not make me a Marxist.

And, of course, such advice was rubbish - not only didn't it deliver to me any ideas of method, it also could never ever do that: they were not written to achieve such things.

For, all these works were written long ago, at particular times in the past, and many were only the results of applying a not-overtly-included-method, which though they delivered good advice for the activists of that time, would be useless to inform modern-day Marxists-to-be, on how to address today's many problems: for they were clearly very different. 

Manufacturing #10A, Cankun Factory, Xiamen City, 2005, Edward Burtynsky

Situations would literally never match after a century of vast changes, so it would have to involve, initially, the establishment of the clearest possible philosophic stance, AND, only then from that basis, could crucially-clear and detailed descriptions of the methods used be adjusted to fit wholly new contexts.

And, it would involve nothing like the application of the same technical steps as used historically. Indeed, even the factors acting now, would be of a very different order to what were critical then.

If, perhaps, the reader had substantial experience and had done detailed studies of how things are today, he or she might be able to begin to extract methods, from the classic works, and re-cast them in a modern context. But, for most of us, that would be totally impossible. The advice given was useless, and to my mind, totally irresponsible!

If you were an activist, it would be the only advice you could give. And, mere activism does not a Marxist make!
I, of course, asked about such things, but only got the same advice - "Consult the classics!".

But, Marx never had time to write theoretically about the Method that he was creating, as well as using - not least because the heart of that Method was Holism, which, as distinct from the usually subscribed-to opposite, Plurality, instead insisted that "Everything affects everything else!".

And, it also dealt with the whole normally totally neglected areas concerned with Qualitative Development and Collapse, and with Stability and Emergence. Compared with the usually adhered-to Plurality, Holism was vastly more complex - no easy rules and tidy encapsulating equations here.

And, crucially, NO extractable causality in the Key Emergent Transformations at all. Compared with his work on Capital, the holist, dialectical method would be both an even more enormous, and also an unavoidably ongoing task. Clearly, most followers of Marx didn't really understand exactly what his Method involved: yet that was the true essence of his contribution!

It was, in retrospect, no wonder that I got no help on such a crucial question: they didn't know either!

The population of real Marxists (by which I mean professional researchers developing rather than revising the theory) was never large enough for these questions to be fully addressed. It clearly was Marx alone who had made the transcending transition, so, it was his remarkable analyses that won followers, and NOT his revolutionary Method

For, "Marxism" to become a fully developed stance, it needed many dedicated theorists, who were not only specialists in their own professional fields, but also committed to doing what Marx had done with Economics. And, that has never really been the case!

Even the very best of those professionals, who did attempt it, such as V. Gordon Childe, the archaeologist, John Berger and Georg Lukasz, the critics, and even Christopher Caudwell, the philosopher, never really cracked the methods involved. The establishment of that crucial and always continuing task remains to be achieved.
And, this loss had significant repercussions, not just in the many ignored specialisms and Subjects, but within Marxism itself. Marxism is still too young to already be able to supply all the answers in every single sphere. Marx himself read bourgeois Economics for decades, before gradually finding the right way to tackle it in a "Marxist Way"!

So, getting back to this particular physicist, I was far too young too, and found no members who could help.

Indeed, my task was particularly difficult, for I had to tackle the monolith of the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory - no small undertaking!

In spite of knowing, intuitively, that Copenhagen was a major and debilitating retreat, who was I, a 19 years old student, to take on the World's leading Physicists, especially when I could find no one to help, within what was surely the best place to find a solution?

Only slowly in an academic career that took in Mathematics, Biology and Computing, as well as Physics, did I make any progress at all. And, it was many years later, when I was the Computer Programmer in a Higher Education establishment, dedicated to helping researchers across the whole range of disciplines with their programming needs, did the penny finally begin to drop.

And, surprisingly, it happened when working with an expert in both Dance Performance and Choreography teaching, that the research that I personally had to undertake, finally revealed the real problem in Science. In dealing with the analysis of movement on Video and Film under computer control, I did finally realise what a Dichotomous Pair really was, and how Hegel had addressed the consequent impasse that was always the inevitable result.

As a result, I applied what I had learned to the Key Dichotomous Pair in Copenhagen, usually termed Wave/Particle Duality, and was, thereafter, able using Hegel's method, to crack a whole series of consequent impasses within that stance.

It had taken me 50 years (by myself) to be able to do it!

The key was Zeno's Paradoxes involving the use of the contradictory concepts of Continuity and Descreteness, when attempting to analyse movement over time. Clearly, this Dichotomous Pair arose just as Hegel had discovered - due to flaws within the usually unstated premises which were the basis for both these concepts.

Hegel found that he had to identify exactly what, in those premises, was causing the contradiction. And, he found, that if the flaw was corrected, the halting dichotomy would dissolve into a clear forked path with strictly logical reasons for taking each option. 

Clearly, I had to solve an identical kind of problem in delivering both Access and Control of the Video and Film footage of key movements, and was able to solve them.

But, in addition, I had finally understood the method involved and in Wave/Particle Duality knew that the key to transcending this impasse would be found in the common premises which delivered both of these conceptions.

I studied the premises (usually never overtly stated) and I found the flaw!

Now, looking for concepts, as Hegel had to do when considering Thinking, at first waylaid me, but he was an idealist, and the problem here was about Reality. It turned out that what was wrong in these premises was an physical omission! 

What had been dispensed with in the 19th century because it could not be detected, turned out to be essential for making sense out of the whole panoply of impasses in Sub Atomic Physics.

What was essential was the presence of a Universal Substrate.

And, after much research into a material, but undetectable, Substrate, I managed to remove every single anomaly in the famed Double Slit Experiments. And since that time, I have been able to dismantle item after item within the Copenhagen Stance, and, philosophically, make significant contributions to the processes and productions of Abstraction, as well as delivering an extended Theory of Emergences.

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