30 May, 2016

Stability and Change

Sculpture by Tara Donovan

Quantitative Pin-heads & Qualitative Revolutions

Let us start by comparing Formal Logic with Dialectical Logic!

The former is universally applied across the board, and has been a significant method for explaining the causes and the consequences of phenomena via what are termed Natural Laws, as well as in discussions and arguments, where it reigns supreme to this day.

Yet, some 200 years ago, the brilliant German idealist philosopher, Friedrich Hegel, condemned it as inadequate in innumerable, developing situations, and consequently struggled for years to construct a better alternative.

His criticism was that Formal Logic only worked out the consequences of sets of fixed Laws, and, as such, failed in dealing with things that changed qualitatively.

It was solely the method for dealing with things that only changed quantitatively, and hence didn’t ever become something else. He, therefore, sought a Logic of Change, and made significant gains in that direction – in particular, in his alternative method of reasoning, which became known as Dialectics!

Clearly, the crux of the problem was whether Reality was solely the product of fixed Natural Laws, or whether it self modified - that is it actually evolved!

For, centuries Mankind had struggled to distil “Eternal Abstract Laws” out of complex and often confusing Reality, in attempts to understand it, solely in terms of fixed material things and fixed abstract laws of purely quantitative change.

But, there was a crucial rider to this aim: which was expressly to enable the use of what was extracted to certain desired ends. Initially, at least, the reasons for the undertaking were almost entirely pragmatic. If what was achieved could be profitably used, then “it was right!”

Now, there were extremely important problems with these objectives from the outset, but they appeared to have been solved by adopting the ubiquitous Principle of Plurality, which certainly seemed to deliver a logically- tight system of handling these extractions effectively and reliably, but only as long as certain preparatory conditions were always established and maintained throughout both investigations and subsequent use!

This was achieved, and many gains were made possible by the resulting system, which was termed Formal Logic. 

Sculpture by Tara Donovan

But, Hegel’s chosen area was “Thinking about Thought!”, and he compared the implicitly assumed Principle of Plurality with its opposite - that of Holism. For, this alternative turned out to be brilliant at exposing the complex causes of phenomena, and to a remarkable extent, dealing with qualitative changes too. But, there was NO practical, purely quantitative system of using Holism as had been developed with Plurality. It was clearly superior in Explanation, while, equally clearly, useless at dealing with quantitative questions. 

It became Hegel’s task to attempt to remedy this lack: he was determined to devise a Logic of Change.

But, its whole object involved tackling the creation of the wholly new, as he was aware certainly happened in Thinking! So, it was clear he had to investigate the crucial interludes, when such qualitative, conceptual leaps occurred, to reveal what was actually happening. [Surprisingly, human beings thought just like he did, but, unlike Hegel, they hadn’t the faintest idea of what actually occurred in generating new ideas. The processes of the mind were wondrous but inexplicable to them.]

In actively seeking such creative events, Hegel happened upon what he termed Dichotomous Pairs of concepts, which were clearly directly contradictory ideas, which couldn’t possibly both be true, but which had nevertheless seemingly emerged from the very same generally-agreed premises! And, Mankind, whenever this happened, always found themselves at a logical impasse. 

They simply couldn’t use Formal Logic to go any further, so they merely terminated that line of reasoning, kept both arms of the dichotomy, and switched between them entirely pragmatically.

Hegel knew that these impasses AND their pragmatic work-around, had to be dispensed with. He had to unearth the actual causes of these Dichotomous Pairs, and somehow, find sound “logical” way to transcend both, to reach solid and developable ground beyond them.


He had the ancient example of Zeno’s Paradoxes as an obvious starting point, for they demonstrated clearly the inadequacies of Formal Logic in dealing with them. Zeno, some 2,300 years earlier, had noticed the dichotomous pair Continuity and Descreteness, and proved their total contradiction via his cleverly constructed Paradoxes. It was, indeed, an ideal place to start, for since Zeno no one had made any further contributions to such contradictory concepts, and, certainly, if anyone did transcend a pair of contradictions, it certainly wasn’t then turned into some sort of generalised method.

Hegel set himself the initial task of revealing the source of the contradiction, and, thereafter, devising a reliable method of always being able to transcend the impasse, thus opening up such dead-ends in reasoning to further developments.

Now, this task was by no means easy! Within the Formal Reasoning tradition, there really was no way of explaining such contradictions at all: it had to involve very deep-seated and often implicit assumptions, that users were not even aware of, and, if revealed would undermine long established methods and consequent conclusions too.

His initial discoveries were that Dichotomous Pairs always occurred at some point, and when they did that would permanently terminate that line of reasoning, full- stop! Now to dissuade any efforts in this direction. an essential “by-pass technique” had become the pragmatic work-around: the “use what works” trick! But, clearly, such frigs merely papered over something very important and wrong in normal reasoning methods.

The affect upon the cornerstone assumption of Reductionism was clearly evident.

Every single line of reasoning would always be terminated by this same phenomenon. And, yet the overall stance of strict causality from bottom to top was still adhered to, though, in its current premises, it couldn’t possibly be true.

Human understanding came to look like a much divided bush of logical reasoning, with every single (or terminal twig) ending in one of these impasses.

“Wisdom” had now declined into merely knowing which arm of a dichotomy to take - like leaping from rock-to-rock across a raging stream.

Hegel finally realised that qualitative change was the problem: dealing with fixed, unchanging entities and even Laws would always end that way: it was a strictly limited system. And, the solution could be no easy fix. 

Sculpture by Patrick Dougherty

The dichotomy marked the point at which some sort of qualitative changes were occurring, and switching around between formal and fixed laws couldn’t possibly resolve the problems.

Deep below the resulting Dichotomous Pair, there had to be a very different kind of qualitative process, that didn’t have a single outcome, but at least a Pair, and any “law” to be revealed had to change with differing circumstances to give both outcomes!

Hegel had to dig deep enough to reveal the fixed erroneous premises, where a variable law should be. The task was not only to bring out the key premises, but also criticise and replace the cause of the problem. If this was done then the anomaly at the top level would be removed. The impasse would have been transcended!

Indeed, the key mistake was in subscribing to the Principle of Plurality. Clearly, Reality was not a mere addition of multiple fixed Formal Laws: it actually in certain circumstances changed qualitatively. The reason for the inordinate delays in addressing these anomalies is understandable. For, what was necessary was a major change in premises, not just for an individual impasse, but for all of those caused by these universally assumed, but rarely overtly stated assumptions.

To break through was more than dealing with a particular problem, it meant a positively wholesale revision, with consequences everywhere. And, it didn’t help that the old to-be-replaced premises could still deliver required outcomes in appropriately arranged-for circumstances.

Why should there be a revolution, when individual solutions were still possible, for productive ends, in carefully arranged-for circumstances?

The major imperative for change was philosophical! It was about Understanding rather than mere Effective Use, so it was never a priority!

And, of course, being a philosopher, Hegel’s achievements didn’t impact a burgeoning growth in Science, and wouldn’t to this day 200 years later, while it was exclusively about human thinking.

Only when Science itself was brought to its knees by irredeemable cascade of such impasses, would the challenge be imperatively addressed, and even then as a Revolution, rather than an adjustment!

It also required the next stage, which was to extend it to all areas of thinking and indeed, all areas of Reality too: it had to be transferred wholesale from Idealism to Materialism. 

Now, this was achieved by Hegel’s best student, Karl Marx. But, Marx’s applications, even though he was fully aware of their power across the board, were focussed primarily upon Economics, History and Politics. The important full-scale application in the sciences did not occur.

Now, as this researcher (Jim Schofield) discovered in his own work in this area, at the present time, the “thinking solutions” recommended by Hegel in revising erroneous premises were too concerned with Logic. Yet, the premises discovered to be crucially at fault in Science were not just with regard to concepts.

They definitely included contents as well as conceptions of Reality. For example, the long held idea of a Universal Substrate, even though its existence was never proven and it was totally dropped in Physics, this “physical premise” has turned out to be the most important error transforming Physics, ever since the discovery of the Quantum in the late 19th century.

Indeed, literally from that moment onwards, physicists made retreat after retreat, until at the Solvay Conference in 1927, Einstein and other classical physicists were defeated by Bohr and Heisenberg, when they persuaded the majority of those attending to subscribe to their purely mathematical Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory.

At no point did any scientist take on Hegel’s (and more importantly Marx’s) criticisms. For, though Hegel could be dismissed as an Idealist, Marx should not have been, for he was a Materialist!

And, hence, no investigation of premises was undertaken, instead, the whole fabric of physical explanation was dumped, for the “supposedly primary” determinations provided by Purely Formal Equations. In effect, Theory was abandoned for pragmatism and formal equations - as the driving essences of all Reality. Sub Atomic Physics became a purely abstract sub-division of Mathematics.

So, for the last 200 years Hegel’s gains have never been generally applied in any Science, except unintentionally by holist scientists such as Charles Darwin, Alfred Russell Wallace and later Stanley Miller.

You would have thought that Hegel’s revelations would have changed their World, but they certainly didn’t think that!

Human Thinking was not only considered a “foreign” and incompatible tradition to Science, but was considered merely as a transparent conduit for “Real Formal Ideas and Relations”.

Hegel’s criticisms cut no ice with scientists, who were committed Materialists, and had no truck with Idealists such as Hegel.

Dealing as they did with eternal Formal Laws of Nature and their precise embodiment in formal equations, they were convinced that carrying on in the same way as before, they would ultimately have all the equations they needed to explain everything.

Even though the relevance to all knowledge had been realised by Hegel’s best student Karl Marx, who along with several other Young Hegelians, decided to move all Hegel’s gains over wholesale to a Materialist standpoint.

But the whole group were philosophers, with not a single scientist involved.

Now, this group realised that the possibilities that they had transferred over were all-embracing, and would apply to all concepts and reasoning, but because of their specialisms, they naturally started by applying them to the things they were most familiar with such as History, Economics and Politics. In those areas they made significant, indeed, revolutionary contributions. But, in spite of making it clear that Science would also be transformed, none of them were in a position to do anything fundamental about those possibilities. 

The Dialectics of Nature and The Part Played by Nature in the Transition from Ape to Man, were valuable indicators of direction, but professional scientists were needed to be recruited to address the major problems in their disciplines. And that did not happen!

Science was never given the necessary attention, and was unaffected by the Marxist revolution in other areas.

But, though there was no one to predict the inevitable crisis in Science, it happened anyway,

For, the 200 years since Hegel’s important contributions and even Marx and Engels transfers to materialism, none of it had the least effect upon the scientific community, who increasingly as the years rolled by were less and less concerned with philosophy, and still in the 21st century have a contradictory set of bases as their underlying premises. They may have overthrown their classical amalgam of materialism, idealism and pragmatism for a more limited dependence on Form alone, which, if anything, can only be a step backwards into a fairly consistent idealism. They still hobbled along with a contradictory stance, but now it involved Pragmatism and Idealism in preference to Materialism!

The , now very long-in-the-tooth imperative of carrying over Hegel’s achievements into the heart of Science, still requires to be achieved. And, clearly, with the scientists hostility to such encroachment into their realm, the only possible assault, just had to be a head on attack upon the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory, and particularly upon its main cornerstone - the famed Double Slit Experiments.

Both these have been adequately explained by the gains of Hegel and Marx, and the rubbishing of the current theories of quantization are now almost complete.

All we need is for some physicists to be confronted with these results.

Issue 44 now available

This paper is the third in a series of articles to be published here weekly, on the theme of Marxist Philosophical Practice. This work isn’t about Capitalism or Socialism, and certainly says nothing about Economics. This is about Marxism as a philosophical approach, applicable to any field of study, any aspect of reality. The series takes four very different issues in Philosophy and investigates them via this Marxist stance, which is termed Dialectical Materialism.

These papers are also collected as a new issue of the Shape Journal (44) available here

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