Lenin: the recent revolution in natural science, and philosophical idealism – part twelve

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The Essence and Significance of “Physical” Idealism

The reactionary attempts are engendered by the very progress of science. The great successes achieved by natural science, the approach to elements of matter so homogeneous and simple that their laws of motion can be treated mathematically, caused the mathematicians to overlook matter. “Matter disappears”, only equations remain. At a new stage of development and apparently in a new manner, we get the old Kantian idea: reason prescribes laws to nature. Hermann Cohen, who, as we have seen, rejoices over the idealist spirit of the new physics, goes so far as to advocate the introduction of higher mathematics in the schools – in order to imbue high-school students with the spirit of idealism, which is being driven out by our materialistic age (F. A. Lange, Geschichte des Materialismus, 5. Auflage, 1896, Bd. II, S. xlix). This, of course, is the ridiculous dream of a reactionary and, in fact, there is and can be nothing here but a temporary infatuation with idealism on the part of a small number of specialists. But what is highly characteristic is the way the drowning man clutches at a straw, the subtle means whereby representatives of the educated bourgeoisie artificially attempt to preserve, or to find a place for, the fideism which is engendered among the masses of the people by their ignorance and their downtrodden condition, and by the senseless barbarity of capitalist contradictions.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 287-288

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Across open country, philosophical idealism gallops free and wild, the wind blowing in its mane:

‘When we look at reality through the equations of physics, we find that they describe patterns and regularities. But to me, mathematics is more than a window on the outside world: in this book, I’m going to argue that our physical world not only is described by mathematics, but that it is mathematics: a mathematical structure, to be precise.’ p. 6

‘If my life as a physicist has taught me anything at all, it’s that Plato was right: modern physics has made abundantly clear that the ultimate nature of reality isn’t what it seems.’ p. 8

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If or when our species becomes extinct, we will take, other than the physical records of them, every fact and mathematical equation with us. The universe will continue, sans facts, sans equations and, contrary to the words of the dishonest mystic and concealed priest Wittgenstein (Heraclitus without the Heraclitus), it will do so as a totality of material, non-mathematical things.

Part twelve/to be continued…

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Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd/4th/5th/6th/7th/8th

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