26 September, 2016

Is Reason Merely Formal Logic (Part 4)

Vahram Again - Ghost City series

The Crucial Role of Stability

So, where does this leave us? I am sure that we must include, along with these episodic Events of dramatic Change, their very opposite – the periods of Stability that occur in between! 

To begin to explain both of these could possibly reveal some sort of structure, and be wholly determined by Reality itself, and not a restricting man-devised pluralist programme.

The development of Reality is not one of “constant revolutions”, even though it is one of “permanent change”.

The difference is that the major Qualitative Changes only actually occur in Emergences, and are clearly episodic, while the incremental changes are very different – amounting only to “change within Stability”, where it is mostly easily accommodated within the current stability without ever threatening its overthrow.

The transition which can occur, however, is that from a "simmering stability” to a “boiling Emergence”, and clearly it is within this “change-over” that we will find what we seek!

Indeed, the more such events are studied (read Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution), it soon becomes clear that Holism and ONLY Holism can cope with such Changes. From the pre-Emergence build-up, through the revolutionary overthrow, to the establishment of a new stability, at a wholly new and higher Level, the factors are changing constantly. What is vital in one phase can vanish from the next.

NO immutables are available throughout, nor can they be engineered by Control. An avalanche-like series of phases definitely occur, NONE of which can be predicted pluralistically from its antecedents. There are no constant carry-overs, from before the Emergence, to actually deliver discernable persisting causalities, in the New Stability!

Clearly, the original “it’s all happening” holism will simply NOT DO!

The way a holistic Universe self-generates and then maintains its stabilities is by changing its own context - the key and crucial process.

So, at this point, I must once more reflect upon my hero Zeno, whose Paradoxes took the alternative assumptions of Continuity and Descreteness to the limit, and showed them BOTH to be inadequate.

Is it that which is also what is involved in the study of all real Change, and all real Movement, whether of objects, or of Reality, in Flux?

Examples of Using the Holistic Method

I: Dance

For the last 20 years, I have been tackling the provision of Structured Video Resources for the Teaching of Dance Performance and Choreography, and, perhaps surprisingly, this same problem has been paramount at every stage.

The Descrete is delivered by a photograph or a still-frame from a digital video, and though a moving video seems to be the place to find the real dynamics involved, how do we study it in detail, without having to turn it into descrete stills?

The problem was solved, though I won’t labour it within this essay.

Its solution was no one-liner! Even when we had the solution in our hands, we didn’t actually understand why it was successful. It took most of the full 20 years to answer that, and, thereafter, generate a whole set of appropriate tools, to enable the proper study of dynamism on Movement, in both Effectiveness and in Expression.

The point of bringing up this work here, is to establish that there ARE areas of study which directly address Change, and allow a start to be made, which is NOT merely a continuation of Pluralist Science.

Mont Sainte Victoire Cezanne 1902

II: Painting

In the late nineteenth century, the painter Paul Cezanne sought a different way of what he termed “realisation” of the landscapes of his home district in the south of France. He was a man of the countryside, not of the city, and the wonders of mathematical perspective meant nothing in the rolling landscape around Mount Saint Victoire. He wanted his pictures to be “much more real” than was currently being delivered by his contemporaries, and he worked to devise methods of achieving his aim. He developed a delivery of the spaces of his landscapes by a series of new methods.

It is interesting that while other leading artists were moving away from what might be called “realism”, Cezanne was making it his main purpose, but that did not mean he sought a photographic likeness. He used the sequence of overlapping areas, plus a form of “colour modulation” to generate a strong third dimension. And, even more surprisingly, he integrated different viewpoints into the same picture, to reflect how we remember a scene concretely. His works were considerably more real than anyone else’s, and he had a major impact on many contemporary and following artists. Indeed, there is a strong argument that Cezanne was the father of early 20th century flowering of Modern Art, and, certainly, was seen as making contributions to several different modern trends.

He was dealing with Reality in new ways, a million miles from Mathematical perspective and photographic truth, yet more “real” than either of them could ever deliver.

Such a diversion into Art may seem inappropriate in an essay on Reason and Reality, but it is, on the contrary, most appropriate. While the dominant, “reasonable” approaches to Reality were inherently pluralist and particular, the best artists had always been holists, and tackled the full multifariousness of the visual world in an integrated, holistic way. Their methods often involved an attempt to capture something of the rich, varied and integrated nature of their subject, with simultaneous elements attempting to deliver something of the oneness and mutually determined nature of the subject.

Of course, it is just as impossible to fully deliver such an intention in a picture, as to doing it is in an explanation, but the method also delivered the subject by a particular, seemingly active view of it.

Such works cannot be said to be pluralistic – the attempt to deliver Reality by means of its perceived constituent Parts, but instead by attempting to “realise” its intrinsic wholeness.

Read any critic trying to describe what is going on in a masterpiece, to see the inadequacies of even describing what was being delivered. THE communication of the holistic content could only be the picture itself!

And for my purposes, I have to investigate such paths, because they are THE most successful attempts at a holistic approach to delivery of the Real rather than the mere Appearance.

Mankind does realise such things, and always has, but the achievements are considered as trivial, compared with those of Science and Technology, and even regarded as somewhat self-indulgent, as compared with the useful and applicable investigations of the scientists and technologists. But, as I have described in the examples of Geology and Evolution, many things in the experience of Mankind could NOT be penetrated by pluralistic means.

III: Human Development

Let us consider the holistic development of a human being!

Such an individual starts its existence as a fertilised egg – that of a female united with the sperm of a male. Even at the moment of conception, the essential plans for the future development of that consequent human being are already there and complete in the DNA of that fertilised egg. But, these instructions come into action at different stages in the subsequent development of the embryo, and are activated by the changing context of the egg at each and every different juncture.

With such a collection of unchanging genes, each with a particular role, either alone or in combination with others, the expressions of these genes are delivered, but they MUST be under some sort of control. They don’t all act together unhindered and unsynchronised. On the contrary, they spend most of their time inactive and only come into play at exactly the right time. What can coordinate their properly sequenced expression?

We have only the fertilised egg, its genetic material and its environment.

Initially at least, the environment must trigger particular genes, and the process commences. But, as the embryo grows in size and absorbs nutrients, there will be physical rearrangements of the cells, and different conditions will pertain in different parts. The environment becomes localised and differentiated with internal components to add to the enclosing context. This must be the crux.

The embryo itself with its increasing differentiation, and the products of earlier expressed genes, along with the environment will successively trigger the right genes at the right times, and from a single original egg, via a multiplication involving cell divisions and a sequence of gene expressions, will usually immaculately produce the individual, which at some stage can leave its perfect environment within its mother, and set out into the world as a separate human being.

The organism has been directed by its genetic blueprint, but IT, in turn, controls the expression of that plan. The development of the organism changes its own contained environment as it develops.

Now, if we were limited to a single-celled organism, we would also be limited finitely, and though that fragment of life will still have alternative and sequenced modes, they would all have to involve the whole cell in these changes. The true potential of this recursive loop can only be maximised, in the way outlined above, in a multi-cellular organism (such as our human being). For then, different “local” environments for different groups of cells can cause different “expressions” of the genes in appropriate areas. Indeed, different functional organs can be developed simultaneously in different places – produced by different expressions of the genes, and these will in turn affect each others local environments.

The multi-celled organism revolutionised the possibilities for Life, and after almost 3 billion years in the single celled phase of Life, the Emergence of the multicellular forms led to the famous Cambrian Explosive Radiation of life forms, which persists even today in the main basic body plans of living things.

Can you imagine some pluralist attempt dealing with all this via a series of equations? It couldn’t!

Such a scenario requires a holistic standpoint to even conceive of it happening.

The organism is constantly changing but via a sequence of relatively stable phases, while at certain crucial points, the whole organism undergoes an Emergence, and becomes essentially different, with different and NEW properties.

The Pillars of Creation - Hubble Space Telescope

IV: The Universe

To those who study Emergence, there can be NO doubt, the living organism in microcosm reflects the Cosmos in macrocosm. It too undergoes episodic Emergences, wherein the possibilities are radically extended, and the crucial essence of these Events involves the changing environment, which initially produced it, and which is now regularly changed by its own products.

Emergences create new possibility spaces (to use a modern expression), NOT posited in the individual from without, but generated from within, when incremental change can no longer be contained in the same way, and the whole structure is radically changed – not merely in Form, but vitally also in possibilities.


Not Form, but Cause

To return, for a moment, to my previously mentioned book, by Iain Stewart - Life’s Other Secret, Stewart’s thesis was that Mathematics was that other secret. He dismissed the “gene for everything” school of thought, and offered Mathematics as the determinator of many features of Living Things (the usual idealist error of inversion). But, Mathematics is about abstracting Form from Reality: it can never be a cause!

In the examples he gives, Stewart mistakes mere Form for determining cause, whereas it can only be a consequent result of some real and concrete multifarious processes. In concentrating on his beloved Mathematics, he ignored the true and fascinating real concrete causes.

Once more we see the limitations of Plurality, and the significant aberration of understanding that such an approach is bound to cause.

The reader, by now, will realise that this essay is neither a description of, nor a prescription for, a holistic Science. I am in no position to deliver such a thing. But, I can demonstrate that it is not only necessary, but also possible to develop such a methodology.

The reader will be forgiven for protesting that this essay seemed to promise Holistic Reason, or a Logic of Change, and has not delivered this. It is certainly true that a finished all-bells-and-whistles approach has not been described. If it had, it would be a truly world shattering revolution in Reason, but such systems can only be achieved over long periods, via the contributions of many innovative thinkers. It could never be produced in a single essay and from a single contributor.

The Laban Pure Form

The Multi-Discipline Approach

Nonetheless, I think that this contribution is important because of my unusual experience.

Not only am I a qualified Mathematician and Physicist, but have also reached the pinnacle of my profession in Pedagogy and also in programming Computers-in-Control. I am a long-standing sculptor and composer, and also spent a substantial fraction of my adult life in revolutionary politics. I am, as you may have guessed, a Marxist, though never a Stalinist. 

Since the early 1980’s my specialism in Computers-in-Control led to my assisting a wide variety of researchers in many disciplines, until finally I developed, with Dance Teacher colleague in Higher Education, a system for supplying Multimedia Resources for the Teaching of Dance, in which I an currently the world leader in the field.

I have been writing on science and Philosophy for over 15 years, and, since my retirement, have become full-time in these areas. I have written a series of books on Operational Research, the Methodology of Multimedia Pedagogy, Theory and Reality, Emergence and The Structures of Explanatory Diagrams. I have spent many years researching in Mathematics, with perhaps the best discoveries being the invention of an infinite Three Dimensional Strand (The Soma Strand) that stacks to fill space, and a polyhedral Teaching Aid (The Laban Pure Form) for use with Laban’s ideas in Dance Teaching, and his world famous Labanotation system for recording Dance works.

This width of interests is unique, and has fuelled my criticism of pluralist methods and philosophy in both Science and Reason. I am in a position to survey the landscape of Reality from a rare promontory, and at the very least discern that its proper exploration is certainly fully achievable, while “burying” the atrocities of current Quantum Theory in Physics along the way.

16 September, 2016

New Special Issue: Thinking!

Exactly what thinking is has always been a problem for Homo Sapiens.

For we are clearly animals, yet seem to be very differently endowed from even our closest relatives among the Great Apes.

Yet we continue to study what we think of as “intelligence” in various non-human animals, and attempt to define what it is that separates us from them, and exactly how it could have developed in only this single species.

Indeed, we often characterise what we do as “Thinking” and picture it in a very homocentric way, as in Rodin’s famous sculpture of a man with his hand upon his chin and with head bowed. He isn’t looking at an object or doing anything physical: he is Thinking!

We like this because it doesn’t seem to fit with how all the other intelligent animals “think”. We seem to do our reasoning solely in our heads, using what we call abstractions, and we are convinced that only we can do this. There can be no doubt that it happens. But what actually is it, and what can it achieve? Indeed, the number one question has to be, “Can it actually settle upon the Real Truth?” The answer has to be “No!”

15 September, 2016

Marxist Theory Today III

Eadweard Muybridge: Dancing girl. A pirouette (2)

The Long-awaited Breakthrough

A major breakthrough in my Marxist philosophy just had to come, and it happened in a very surprising area - the application of multimedia techniques in aids for the Teaching of Dance Performance and Choreography!

The unique cooperation between a world class researcher in dance teaching, and this physicist/computer-expert, led to a product which won a British Interactive Video Award (BIVA) for excellence. And, as the research proceeded, with ever-new objectives, and unavoidable constant changes in both equipment and software, major questions became totally unavoidable.

Yet, before that position was reached, another change of job, was necessary. Apart from this work with my Dance colleague (which later got her a PhD), little else was going on in that institution. I applied for and got a professorial level post in London University as a Director of Information Technology. But, as usual, the emphasis changed: in London I had to undertake the design and commissioning of a Campus-wide Fibre-Optic Network, which I successfully achieved within the next 18 months, while keeping contact with my Dance Research colleague back in my old institution.

But, ill-health due to a chronic illness over the last decade, finally caused early retirement, and a cessation of all undertakings, to at least recover to some extent, though it was clear that I would never be able to return to full-time work. As I slowly improved, I took to making toys for my youngest two children, mostly in wood, which both I and they enjoyed enormously. After a Drakar, a Brigantine and a Tug for my lad, I constructed a Noah's Ark, a historic Mail Coach and a Gypsy Caravan for my girl.
NOTE: I haven't mentioned it here, but I have married twice and have five marvellous children, all of whom, at this time of writing, had obtained degrees in a wide variety of subjects, and some had gone on to Postgraduate qualifications too. They have also given me 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild!

A remarkable post-retirement interlude then ensued, involving irregular work with my Dance colleague, ostensibly on a series of new multimedia aids building upon the gains made in our award winning Dance Disc, but also, for me, posing new philosophical questions involving the unstated premises underlying what we were trying to achieve, and a realisation of how both the idealist philosopher, Friedrich Hegel, and his leading student Karl Marx had addressed such problems.

Finally away from the constraints and requirements of employers, I was addressing what I knew were the central questions in literally ALL serious research. And, the fact that this particular undertaking was about problems in Movement and Dynamics, made it ideal for addressing fundamental questions head-on!

Gjon Mili - 1947 strobe shot of Nora Kaye dancing on pointe

The problem had been noticed 2,500 years ago by the Greek, Zeno of Elea, who had accurately revealed problems with his famous Paradoxes.

Each case addressed the incompatibility between the two concepts of Continuity and Descreteness, which Mankind always switched between pragmatically in attempts to address problems associated with movement. Zeno's Paradoxes such as Achilles and the Tortoise and The Arrow made our lack of rational reasons for our switching very clear.

Hegel, some 2,300 years later, had finally addressed the problem philosophically, and had found a solution.

He realised that the regular occurrence of such Dichotomous Pairs of contradictory concepts, always arose from the very same premises, if they were significantly flawed. Such Pairs always delivered a rational impasse, and without significant changes in those premises, we would NEVER transcend that rational HALT. Instead, we would leave it unresolved, and merely cause investigators to pragmatically choose whichever of the pair allowed a successful continuation. But Hegel found a solution!

By successfully revealing all the often unstated premises in a situation, he was able to attempt changes in those premises, which, if appropriate, transformed the Impasse into a fork in reasoning, in which sound reasons could decide which way was correct.

He called his method Dialectical Reasoning, and though he considered it only as applicable to Human Thinking, his best student, Karl Marx, realised that it was applicable to conceptions about Developments of any kind, whatsoever. So, he transferred Hegel's achievements, wholesale, into a Materialist Philosophical Stance: so, for the first time, it could be applied across the board, and crucially to both Social Development in History and to Science itself!

The problem with capturing dance, could not have been closer to what was, clearly, the crux, all the way from Zeno to Marx!

Movement, when analysed, can never be delivered only by descrete positions (Stills): for, in addition, where it came from, and what was to follow, must also, somehow, be delivered too.

And, that requires a time-based context (a Movie).

Yet, without precise positioning-information (only accurately-available from high-resolution Stills) NO precise dynamics could be captured and delivered. And, this was the case both in correct performance within a Dance Piece, and, crucially, also in the choreography involved when creating such movements.

Millennia had passed with such instruction being by "do it like this" - purely by demonstration, by the choreographer or someone he or she had very fully instructed, by those very same means.

You could (and did) get away with it in performance instruction, but only with dancers present who had correctly done it before.
But, teaching choreographic creation of entirely new movements and pieces was never conquered.

My colleague's purpose was to attempt to solve the problem using Video and Film, but she soon found it impossible due to acute problems in accurate Access, and major difficulties in precise and revealing Control, using the available technology of the time.

I was able to proffer a possible solution via precise and flexible computer control of such footage, delivered from a Laser Disc, as well as delivering synchronised simultaneously presented views from different angles, and even detailed close ups. Both Access and Control were sufficiently delivered for most of my colleagues requirements to be provided.

It enabled a major step-change in what my colleague was attempting, but alone it wasn't sufficient, and the universal switch to Digital footage from Analogue footage made it impossible to deliver, as we had successfully achieved all our objectives with the prior format.

The philosophical problems were clearly unavoidable, and the Marxist research as well as that required within Dance Instruction came together, and I was able to finally crack both!

Well, "crack" is, of course an over-statement: for to become a real, producing Marxist theorist would take a great deal of time: but I was finally on my way!    

This post is part of a blog series entitled Marxist Theory Today, which is turn, forms part of our grand Shape Journal series on Marxism & Physics.

07 September, 2016

Is Reason Merely Formal Logic? (Part 3)

Anish Kapoor - Sky Mirror

Qualitative Change & Development
Involving both Analogy, Generality & Objective Content

Even the originators of the previously described scientific methodology were dissatisfied with it, as the sole method of dealing with Reality. It was a profoundly “particular” method! Almost all scientists “knew” that Reality was an inter-related Whole, and required an insight into this side of its qualities, relations and processes. They were dissatisfied with their “bag” of disparate, special-case solutions, and also required to understand over much wider areas of Reality.

The only way they could do this was to attempt, in addition to their usual methods, to also try to understand “WHY?” things were the way they were! And, that needed to integrate the particulars into more general scenarios. They knew that the methodology of experiment and abstraction was simply a very sophisticated way of describing each-and-every particular case. They knew that they would be greatly more empowered by understanding why things were the way that they were, and over much wider areas of phenomena.

So, a parallel approach involved identifying common elements across many particular cases, along with the postulation of processes, which actually caused things to happen. These included the abstracted relations of the normal methods, but extended to seeing whole areas as integrated and explicable systems. And these Theories proved to be both profoundly revealing, yet also perhaps not surprisingly, also inevitably insufficient!

This latter feature was unavoidable because the theory would inevitably always be based on inadequate data and also inadequate previous understanding too.

However, such a flaw was not totally debilitating. It was certainly NOT a case of “Give up now, you’ll never do it!”. The care and intelligence that the best scientists employed, meant that they DID extract significant elements by these methods, which I call Objective Content. The details of the Theory may later turn out to be based on erroneous assumptions and abstractions, but it always had the taste of the actual occurrence in Nature.
You could depend on such Partial Truths for now. Indeed, even when a theory was overthrown by a better one, the old brick which had played a role in the whole edifice, was certainly comparable to the updated replacement, and could not only maintain the structure adequately, but also be very easily replaced by the better brick, without the whole thing collapsing to the ground.

But, this parallel methodology came under a severe threat in the years following the beginning of the 20th century. It happened in the citadel of ALL the Sciences – in Physics – where the previous (so-called “classical”) attempts at integration into wider comprehensive theories were increasingly exposed as inadequate. There arose an ever-widening gulf between the technological/mathematical, equation-producers and the erectors of overall explanatory theories, that attempted to integrate all phenomena into coherent, general schemes.

And, the source of the rift was clear!

It wasn’t the inadequate philosophy of the theorists that caused the problems, but, on the contrary, that which originated with the equation producers.

Plurality was proving to be wholly inadequate in the sub-atomic domain!

Why was this? The answer is - because it required Parts which were “effectively eternal”!

That "permanence", in the past, may have been due to a natural interlude of temporary stability, or due to the necessary imposition of containing conditions (as in literally ALL experiments). But, it proved impossible in this crucial area of Reality.

You may well ask why it was the theorists that were kicked into touch and not the through-and-through pragmatic pluralists of the equation makers! But, the answer is very clear.

The equation makers never made ANY more-general claims for their equations (or so they said). They were quite satisfied to have equations that worked in given circumstances! They were pragmatic to the end. It was the theories that had to bite the dust!

The equation makers could see NO reason why their methodology should in any way be compromised. Their “head-down” severely “local” approach could continue just as before.

With each new phenomenon and its containing situation, they always just reached for the Library of Forms that is Mathematics, in each and every situation, and they usually found something to fit.

The fact that they could not inter-relate their diverse instances and separate equations, was simply dismissed as -

“Not our problem! We can deal with whatever is necessary as we always have. We can control each and every situation in our mammoth array of expensive kit, and produce any situation we think fit. And when one Domain is transcended, we simply move to the next formula as we have always done. The fact that the theorists have run out of analogies, and all their attempts at integration have failed, only reveals their “self kid”. They are redundant!”

So, the flaw in their own methodology, which actually caused the problem, was used to scupper its parallel theoretical accompaniment, and of course, for this rejection to succeed, there also had to be real inadequacies in the position and methodology of the theorists too.

What were they?

Michael Coldwell - Everything Affects Everything (photograph of Liz West's Additive Mix installation)

The Difficulties of a Holist Alternative

The problem was that, though the theorists were less “particular”, and less “blinkered”, than the equation-merchants, they still only played lip-service to the only philosophical alternative to Plurality, which is Holism. And you can see why!

Holism seems to undermine any chance of understanding any given area of Reality, because its relevant mediations are ultimately almost infinite, including not only immediately-local and obvious parts, but also whole hierarchies of aspects - both contributory and produced. In contrast, Plurality effectively “walled around” and “nailed down” its areas of study, to guarantee the revelation of isolated relations, whereas a true holist approach had to address the whole set of possibilities simultaneously.

Even, our theorists could not do that, so they too had attempted the integration using the assumptions of Plurality – they took their cue from the limitations of the pluralists, but whereas the latter had only very narrow, “limited” objectives, they by their requirements needed a wider context. So, their taken-on limitations could be no other than a certain route to disaster.

The most important of their retained pluralist methods was Formal Logic (Reason?), which defined Parts as eternals and attempted to explain things using them alone. It didn’t take these theorists long to realise that this wouldn’t work, so they depended, instead, on the idea of the “Hierarchy of Parts”. In this view, each Part was itself composed of lesser Parts, and the job of Science was to “penetrate through” these layers, one at a time, until they reached the ultimate, basic, fundamental and immutable elements of Reality.

Such a scheme can quickly reach prodigious proportions (an almost infinite regress), but, it allowed concentration on local, deep sub-sets, while promising total comprehensiveness in the end. This handy get out is termed Reductionism, and it seemed to allay problems for theorists attempting to explain a given limited area. Then, clearly, the FULL right-through explanations became the task of scientists as a whole, and individuals could limit their task, while apparently still contributing to the overall purpose of Science.

No single theorist (or even group) could be expected to tackle the whole hierarchy, so they sensibly limited their job to do-able chunks. The term do-able is surely the KEY!

It meant that they limited their theories to areas where Logic could indeed by used. The elements of their explanations were taken as given (as indeed fixed) at some lower Level, and could be used as immutables in the current explanation. So, nevertheless, the mistake of the immutable Parts was assumed here too.

Now, here I am talking about physicist-theoreticians.

Elsewhere, in some so-called “lesser” Sciences, immutability had long been seen as clearly impossible, and had been jettisoned. In both Geology and the study of the Evolution of Life, the only thing on the menu was Qualitative Change, and in these studies equations were useless in dealing with that!

NOTE: In this, any equations that could be derived were, from the outset, mere conveniences, and delivered NOTHING in explaining the creative processes of Change that were the essence of these Sciences.

These Sciences had to address Qualitative Change itself, yet was not, and never could be, a study of such processes occurring now! All the valuable evidence was “of the distant past” and greatly transformed by gigantic forces, or selective processes, taking place over millions of years. They had to study the remnants of the effects in the meagre traces left in the rocks beneath our feet.

Yet, they produced in the last 150 years the most profound theories in Mankind’s history from the Origin of Species to the meaningful history of the Earth itself via the Theory of Tectonic Plates.

Science explanation in these vital areas was not self-kid, and had been achieved under the most difficult of circumstances. So, why had the physicist-theoreticians not been able to find their alternative route?

it was because they had no frozen history of sub atomic Changes to study in order to discover its meanings. They were "now-scientists" (using experiments), and also wedded to the universal failings of pluralist assumptions. Even our geologists and students of Evolution were actually ill-equipped to really tackle Change.

For. there was a profound gap in the methods of dealing with Qualitative Change that had to be addressed.

Naum Gabo

The Hegelian Holistic Method - Dialectics

What was needed was to fulfil the original agenda of Hegel, which he so brilliantly proposed over 200 years ago, when he found it essential to embark upon the construction of a Logic of Change (he called it his Science of Logic). But, there was no doubt that his crucial area was Change itself – and Qualitative Change at that! He got round the problem of absolutely no fossilised evidence, by choosing his own Thought as his area of study. For this, he was roundly condemned by both his co-idealists, and even the opponent materialists, but he could see no alternative.

He did not succeed in his attempt, but that was not because he was wrong. He was ahead of his time and though he had a strong group of disciples (The Young Hegelians) the problem of his idealism just had to be addressed.

The issue was ultimately destructive of the group as Karl Marx “changed horses in mid-stream” and became a sort of Hegelian materialist. He called the new position Dialectical Materialism.

The future of Hegel’s agenda may have seemed assured by these developments, but it wasn’t!

Though the only studies in this direction were those undertaken by Marx and his followers, they were soon embroiled in what they considered to be a much more pressing undertaking – the Social Revolution.

For Marx, in applying Hegel's methods to History, began to understand the sequence of succeeding Economic Systems, and their individual overthrows via Social Revolutions. Clearly, this could not but lead to a study of the then current Economic System, namely Capitalism, so the more basic philosophical tasks though inferred in all his work was, to a significant extent, shelved for a more opportune time, when, of course, sufficient numbers of co-workers would surely be available.

Such circumstances never materialised, however, both during his life, and, even afterwards, for the imperatives of social action tended to dominate the work of his many disciples. And, it must also be admitted that disciples don’t usually entirely grasp the agendas of their mentors, and the study of Change was NOT carried through as was crucially necessary.

Surprisingly though, there are significant records of such Change, and they are available in History.

Not, of course, what is usually called History, where historians concentrate on Kings and Wars, but the detailed, almost moment-by-moment history as produced by historians such as Michelet.

Such historians do NOT take the usual route, nor write on the usual subjects, for the necessary data that is needed for real Change takes place overtly ONLY in Social Revolutions. And, a great deal has been written on the English, the French (Michelet himself), the Paris Commune, and finally the Russian and Chinese Revolutions.

In addition, the history of Reality itself can also be seen as being studded with such “revolutions”, though in those non social areas, they are now more correctly called Emergences.

From the Emergences in the Evolution of the Universe itself, with first its stars and galaxies and then the Origin of Life and its remarkable Evolution, all the way to Social Revolutions. All these display Qualitative Change in remarkable episodic “turnovers”, which also always “multiplied-up” future possibilities.

Indeed, they were THE crucial Events in Significant Change throughout!

And such Emergences, though rare, turned out to have been legion in the vastness of Time.

The study of such Emergences MUST be the key to a holistic alternative to Plurality.

Of course, compared with the immediate pragmatism of pluralist science, and its accelerating number of separate, individual and isolated discoveries, the study of Qualitative Change seems extremely indirect and abstract, but it allows the possibility of both a structuring, and the possibility of the Understanding of Holistic Reality - in Change!!

The trouble with a purely philosophical holism, is that it was self-defeating. In opposing the analytic partitioning used by the pluralists, the arguments of the classical holists, quite rightly, concentrated on the all-encompassing, innumerable inter-connections and mediations between everything and everything else!

With such a position, you might well be able to win arguments, because you were clearly correct, BUT you couldn’t develop any sort of methodology, that is a system, which would deliver Reality in wider and wider “explained” areas.
But, the theoretical position could not be turned into a holistic methodology of study and explanation.

NOTE: When Professor Sykes was recently employed to travel the world studying Meditation by Buddhists, she openly admitted that she was at a loss to carry out any meaningful investigation. She could ONLY conceive of a study in which the vast majority of factors were held fast, and a minimal number of variables investigated to reveal a telling relation. The fact that such controls were impossible, completely disenfranchised her cherished methods. They were, of course, totally pluralist. And her mentors in these holistic techniques could not reveal to her an alternative method of study. She just had to experience the processes “whole”, and communicate what she had experienced. She felt totally inadequate to the task of explaining what was going on, and she is no mug!

02 September, 2016

Marxist Theory Today II

Leicester in the 1970s

Major Political Activity & Earning My Living

It was three of that type of Marxist student (including myself), who at the conclusion of our various degrees moved to Leicester to do a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, and, together, began to build the Labour Party Young Socialist organisation there, by working exclusively upon the Working Class Council Estates - with considerable success.

Indeed, so much success that I didn't leave the city at the end of my course, but got a local teaching post, and carried on building a significant local organisation among the Working Class Youth.

Leicester was unique, for apart from a substantial indigenous Working Class, it also had a significant West Indian population, and, in the 1970s, acquired a big group of Indians from East Africa. Needless to say, we worked avidly in those populations too.

I stayed overall for 20 years, mostly totally committed to politics, but I never found anyone to discuss Marxism with, who might really direct me to the essential Dialectical Materialist Method. I'm afraid the dreaded "Activism Ruled OK", and no one was making any strides in Theory at all!

Though I fully agreed with the turn to Working Class youth, and very early on, while still at the University, I edited two issues of a Marxist magazine called Kontrast, though its philosophical content was diabolical.

So, I, in the end, put a great deal more into my professional disciplines than I was able to contribute to Marxist Theory.

And, I began to make some progress, and even some research, in Mathematics, which pressed me to learn Computer Programming - to greatly lessen the substantial weight of calculations and analyses that was demanded by my work. I was, at the time, a teacher and researcher at work, and active politically the rest of the time. I took on Modern Mathematics, and even Biology in my teaching jobs, and even researched Programmed Learning, and produced useable materials in that area.

More home-based diversions led first into Sculpture (which I have continued with ever since) and even Music (in which I sadly didn't have the talent), along with a growing and wonderful family of three daughters that certainly kept me busy.

But, the politics was fast becoming a time-and-money consuming millstone, rather than making real political or theoretical progress.


None of my expected benefits from Marxism had been fulfilled either politically, philosophically or in my professional studies either. I finally realised that I was not going to get what was needed from the colleagues and the organisation that I was associated with. I would, somehow, have to do it myself, and in my professional disciplines of Physics, Mathematics and Teaching.

So, this I commenced to do, mostly in developing new ways of teaching Modern Mathematics, and in the (then) new discipline of Computing - in Systems Analysis & Design, in which I showed great ability.

After moving to a Further Education College, I managed to acquire a Pair of obsolescent mainframe computers, from a nearby massive hosiery firm, for nothing, and was, therefore, able to build a quality "department" - serving not only the College itself, but also, via so-called Link Courses, classes coming from local schools too. Then I, along with two very hard-working and committed colleagues, set up C.U.R.E. - an organisation, which sought, acquired and distributed obsolescent mainframe computers to Schools and Colleges, entirely free of charge, who had heard about us, and asked if we could help them too. We moved 25 such machines over the existence of that Make-Do-and-Mend System.

Clearly, we were certainly more than just teachers, we were all committed socialists, and two of us were professed Marxists (though by now you will know what that meant)!

I began a Masters (M. Phil.) Degree, part-time with Lanchester Polytechnic, and by 1978 had effectively completed it, but seeing no real future with our Cheap-or-Free Computer Centre, I had begun applying for jobs in Universities.

After many, many refusals, I finally got a offer for an Higher Education post in Hong Kong, China, at the Polytechnic. I didn't hesitate, I accepted it! And, it was the correct decision. I could deliver all that was asked of me there, and even devised and delivered a high quality Postgraduate Course on Programming Operational Research tools (which I later turned into a book entitled Linear Programming).
NOTE: My two friends and colleagues at the Further Education College, soon followed my lead, and both got good posts in Higher Education: my right hand man getting a Doctorate along the way.

Nevertheless, I very soon discovered that the Hong Kong Polytechnic was purely a teaching institution: no research was possible there: no time or resources were available. But, that was precisely what I wanted to do. 

Hong Kong Island 1980

So, entirely in my own time at home, in our Hong Kong Island flat, I built a Music Synthesizer and Sequencer, based upon Moog's published circuits, and even built a working, tailor-made Computer for music composition purposes.

But, though I did a good job in Hong Kong, and was promoted to Senior Lecturer, it wasn't why I had aimed for a post in Higher Education. I really needed the environment and co-workers of proper University Research to rise above "well-informed hobby" status in such projects.

I returned to the UK after just one contract, in spite of the many perks, and began the job application marathon once more. Needless-to-say, I didn't get any of the ones that seemed ideal to me, but, I did finally get an offer from a major College of Technology in Glasgow, Scotland, and once more I was glad to get it.

But, the Department, which I was in, was not of the first rank in Research, so I applied and got another post, within the same institution, but in the Computer Services Unit, where I rapidly established myself as first port of call for all researchers in widely different disciplines, requiring Computer advice and tailor-made Programming.

Now, the reader may be wondering why I have included all this personal historical stuff.
What about the struggle to become a Marxist? Well remember, that Marx himself only really arrived at the necessary Method, by his intellectual research into Capitalist Economics. And, this individual, who wanted to be a real Marxist, was to find his answers in the research that subsequently ensued, now he had found the appropriate conditions in which real progress could be made. So bear with me a little longer, and all will be revealed!

The new post blossomed into something both substantial and fulfilling. My services were requested by researchers in a wide variety of disciplines from Engineering, Taxonomy, Test Equipment Control, Nursing, Mathematics, Ophthalmics, and Chemistry. And, the areas which were most in demand were Graphics and Computers-in-Control. In addition to my professional life at the college, I was also working with Unemployed Youth - teaching them not only to use, but also to program, Computers, in A Youth Training Initiative for the WRP.

The quality of my contributions was appreciated by my co-worker-colleagues, from many different departments in the institution, as together we published joint papers upon what we managed to achieve.

And, IBM approached me to contribute a chapter in their new international Research and Academic Users Guide, for which I (actually my employers) received a gratis, top-of-the-range IBM Desktop Computer.

As I should have guessed, it was this serious and demanding research that allowed a breakthrough upon that now very long-in-the-tooth problem of a Marxist Philosophical Stance and Methodology.

Marxism is the same kind of professional discipline as the academic areas I was serving in this post.

Indeed, it was even more basic, as it alone could deal with any mistaken and misleading assumed premises, and deliver the possibility of solving many consequent and seemingly intransigent problems.

It didn't happen immediately, of course, but as soon as I was as committed to necessary research in my own current specialism, Computing (along with my long experience in Science and Mathematics), in order to effectively to serve serious work in other disciplines, all the key questions, due to flawed premises, came up constantly, and demanded new answers. The width of the tasks, I was asked to undertake, took me into many distinctly different areas, with, clearly, NO rational bridging of any kind between them.

For, each new Subject (or even Specialism) had been artificially decided upon, when reasoning from one area, attempting to arrive in another, invariably terminated in a seemingly non-negotiable rational impasse.

The whole concept of Reductionism was clearly in question, not only vertically and historically, but, clearly, also laterally too - between the supposed disciplines and specialisms.

Calling in the "computer-man", was usually considered to be like bringing-in a technician from an alien discipline, to fix a problem that was "outside my area". As long as the served researcher could thereafter carry on in the usual way, after the "technical fix", all involved were happy. But, literally no inter-discipline revelations were apparent to either side with that kind of arrangement. Each side's paradigms remained "as before", and the richest regions of all Reality - those involving major Qualitative Changes and Developments, were avoided like the plague.

I, increasingly, realised that this was precisely where Marxism came in!

Together with my colleagues across the Institution, we managed to achieve some valuable insights, without necessarily bringing about a major change in the methodology of my co-workers.

This post is part of a blog series entitled Marxist Theory Today, which is turn, forms part of our grand Shape Journal series on Marxism & Physics.