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

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

Herman Matzen, ‘Angel of Death Victorious’ (‘Haserot Angel’), bronze, 1924. Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio

Herman Matzen, ‘Angel of Death Victorious’ (‘Haserot Angel’), bronze, 1924. Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio

 Is Motion Without Matter Conceivable? (continued)

Matter has disappeared, they tell us, wishing from this to draw epistemological conclusions. But has thought remained? – we ask. If not, if with the disappearance of matter thought has also disappeared, if with the disappearance of the brain and nervous system ideas and sensations, too, have disappeared – then it follows that everything has disappeared, and your argument as a sample of “thought” (or lack of thought) has disappeared. But if thought has remained – if it is assumed that with the disappearance of matter, thought (idea, sensation, etc.) does not disappear, then you have surreptitiously gone over to the standpoint of philosophical idealism. And this always happens with people who wish, for the sake of “economy”, to conceive of motion without matter, for tacitly, by the very fact that they continue their argument, they are acknowledging the existence of thought after the disappearance of matter. This means that a very simple, or a very complex philosophical idealism is taken as a basis; a very simple one, if it is a case of frank solipsism (I exist, and the world is only my sensation): a very complex one, if instead of the thought, ideas and sensations of a living person, a dead abstraction is taken, that is, nobody’s thought, nobody’s idea, nobody’s sensation, but thought in general (the Absolute Idea, the Universal Will, etc.), sensation as an indeterminate “element”, the “psychical”, which is substituted for the whole of physical nature, etc., etc. Thousands of shades of varieties of philosophical idealism are possible and it is always possible to create a thousand and first shade; and to the author of this thousand and first little system (empirio-monism, for example) what distinguishes it from the rest may appear important. From the standpoint of materialism, however, these distinctions are absolutely unessential. What is essential is the point of departure. What is essential is that the attempt to think of motion without matter smuggles in thought divorced from matter – and that is philosophical idealism.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 248-249

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Consider the unceasing motion in the works above – in their sub-atomic structure and in their decay.

Chernyshevsky wrote in ‘The Aesthetic Relation of Art to Reality’ that a beautiful object is that which reminds us of life, and it is the material motion – ‘ageing’ – of these works that most makes them beautiful, reminding us of the impermanence and brevity of life, of its worth in this world and of its passing, in objective reality.

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Part eleven/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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

Is Motion Without Matter Conceivable?

The fact that philosophical idealism is attempting to make use of the new physics, or that idealist conclusions are being drawn from the latter, is due not to the discovery of new kinds of substance and force, of matter and motion, but to the fact that an attempt is being made to conceive motion without matter. …let us examine Dietzgen’s own statements on the question under consideration. He says: “They [the idealists] want to have the general without the particular, mind without matter, force without substance, science without experience or material, the absolute without the relative” (Das Wesen der menschlichen Kopfarbeit, 1903, S. 108). …“The antithesis between force and matter is as old as the antithesis between idealism and materialism” (111). “Of course, there is no force without matter, no matter without force; forceless matter and matterless force are absurdities. If idealist natural scientists believe in the immaterial existence of forces, then on this point they are not natural scientists…but seers of ghosts” (114). …

 Let us imagine a consistent idealist who holds, let us say, that the entire world is his sensation, his idea, etc. (if we take “nobody’s” sensation or idea, this changes only the variety of philosophical idealism but not its essence). The idealist would not even think of denying that the world is motion, i.e., the motion of his thoughts, ideas, sensations. The question as to what moves, the idealist will reject and regard as absurd: what is taking place is a change of his sensations, ideas come and go, and nothing more. Outside him there is nothing. “It moves” – and that is all. It is impossible to conceive a more “economical” way of thinking. And no proofs, syllogisms, or definitions are capable of refuting the solipsist if he consistently adheres to his view.

The fundamental distinction between the materialist and the adherent of idealist philosophy consists in the fact that the materialist regards sensation, perception, idea, and the mind of man generally, as an image of objective reality. The world is the movement of this objective reality reflected by our consciousness. To the movement of ideas, perceptions, etc., there corresponds the movement of matter outside me. The concept matter expresses nothing more than the objective reality which is given us in sensation. Therefore, to divorce motion from matter is equivalent to divorcing thought from objective reality, or to divorcing my sensations from the external world – in a word, it is to go over to idealism. The trick which is usually performed in denying matter, in assuming motion without matter, consists in ignoring the relation of matter to thought. The question is presented as though this relation did not exist, but in reality it is introduced surreptitiously; at the beginning of the argument it remains unexpressed, but subsequently crops up more or less imperceptibly.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 246-248

The world is matter in motion: Voyager 1 approaching Jupiter, 1979

Jupiter’s storms modelled on a soap bubble

Part ten/to be continued…

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Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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

Spin up of a super-massive black hole

Spin up of a super-massive black hole

“Matter has disappeared” (continued)

…the new physics wavers unconsciously and instinctively between dialectical materialism, which remains unknown to the bourgeois scientists, and “phenomenalism”, with its inevitable subjectivist (and, subsequently, directly fideist) deductions.

…however much both Rey and the physicists of whom he speaks abjure materialism, it is nevertheless beyond question that mechanics was a copy of real motions of moderate velocity, while the new physics is a copy of real motions of enormous velocity. The recognition of theory as a copy, as an approximate copy of objective reality, is materialism. When Rey says that among modern physicists there “is a reaction against the conceptualist [Machist] and energeticist school”, and when he includes the physicists of the electron theory among the representatives of this reaction (46), we could desire no better corroboration of the fact that the struggle is essentially between the materialist and the idealist tendencies. But we must not forget that, apart from the general prejudices against materialism common to all educated philistines, the most outstanding theoreticians are handicapped by a complete ignorance of dialectics.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 243-246

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Part nine/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Hypatia of Alexandria and NASA

Rachel Weisz as Hypatia in 'Agora'

Rachel Weisz as Hypatia in ‘Agora’

The NASA website, appropriately and to their credit, has a page on the Neoplatonist Hypatia.

The text states:

‘Sixteen hundred years ago, Hypatia became one of the world’s leading scholars in mathematics and astronomy. Hypatia’s legendary knowledge, modesty, and public speaking ability flourished during the era of the Great Library of Alexandria. Hypatia is credited with contributions to geometry and astrometry, and she is thought instrumental in the development of the sky-measuring astrolabe. “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all,” Hypatia is credited with saying. “To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing.'”

If only the scientists at NASA were to study and understand Hypatia’s philosophy and developments on it by others, particularly Hegel and then Marx and Engels, who stood it on its feet in a material world, they would have the epistemology that best reflects the world, can best organise what science is telling them about the world’s profoundly poetic and contradictory nature and can best guide their quest for knowledge.

Both the acquisition and organisation of knowledge require an epistemology. For more than one hundred years in particular, since the development of dialectical materialism by Marx and Engels and the rise of a new science, the dominant bourgeois philosophy (neither dialectical nor materialist) has been an impediment to science.

While science (our drive to know and shape the world) pushes ever further past that ideological constraint, it lacks the epistemology necessary to guide its research and fully enable the understanding of its discoveries (see my post ‘Aristotle and Nicholas of Cusa: to be and/or not to be, that is the question’).

Developments on dialectical materialism are the way forward.

Lunar surface, oblique view across Moltke and Rima Hypatia. 24.2° E, 0.6° N. 80mm. Apollo 10, 1969

Lunar surface, oblique view across Moltke and Rima Hypatia. 24.2° E, 0.6° N. 80mm. Apollo 10, 1969

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

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“Matter has disappeared” (continued)

But dialectical materialism insists on the approximate, relative character of every scientific theory of the structure of matter and its properties; it insists on the absence of absolute boundaries in nature, on the transformation of moving matter from one state into another, that from our point of view is apparently irreconcilable with it, and so forth. However bizarre from the standpoint of “common sense” the transformation of imponderable ether into ponderable matter and vice versa may appear, however “strange” may seem the absence of any other kind of mass in the electron save electromagnetic mass, however extraordinary may be the fact that the mechanical laws of motion are confined only to a single sphere of natural phenomena and are subordinated to the more profound laws of electromagnetic phenomena, and so forth – all this is but another corroboration of dialectical materialism. It is mainly because the physicists did not know dialectics that the new physics strayed into idealism. They combated metaphysical (in Engels’ and not the positivist, i.e., Humean, sense of the word) materialism and its one-sided “mechanism”, and in so doing threw out the baby with the bath-water. Denying the immutability of the elements and of the properties of matter known hitherto, they ended by denying matter, i.e., the objective reality of the physical world. Denying the absolute character of some of the most important and basic laws, they ended  by denying all objective law in nature and by declaring that a law of nature is a mere convention, “a limitation of expectation”, “a logical necessity”, and so forth. Insisting on the approximate and relative character of our knowledge, they ended by denying the object independent of the mind, reflected approximately-correctly and relatively-truthfully by the mind. And so on, and so forth, without end.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 242-243

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Part seven/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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The number of senses, free will, and productive reality

A good article on how we relate with and know the world – with (again) a useful lead-in by SelfAwarePatterns.

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Christian Jarrett has an interesting article at BBC Future on the number of senses that we have.

The principle of five basic human senses is often traced back to Aristotle’s De Anima (On the Soul), in which he devotes a separate chapter to vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Today, the five senses are considered such an elementary truth that it is sometimes used as a point of consensus before writers embark on more mysterious or contentious topics. “What do we actually mean by reality?” asked the author of a recent article in New Scientist magazine. “A straightforward answer is that it means everything that appears to our five senses.”

If only it were that simple. Simply defining what we mean by a “sense” leads you down a slippery slope into philosophy. One, somewhat vague, definition might argue that a human sense is simply a unique way for the…

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

Four billion BCE: Battered Earth

Four billion BCE: Battered Earth

“Matter has disappeared” (continued)

The error of Machism in general, as of the Machist new physics, is that it ignores this basis of philosophical materialism and the distinction between metaphysical materialism and dialectical materialism. The recognition of immutable elements, “of the immutable essence of things”, and so forth, is not materialism, but metaphysical, i.e., anti-dialectical, materialism. That is why J. Dietzgen emphasised that the “subject-matter of science is endless”, that not only the infinite, but the “smallest atom” is immeasurable, unknowable to the end, inexhaustible, “for nature in all her parts has no beginning and no end” (Kleinere philosophische Schriften, S. 229-30). That is why Engels gave the example of the discovery of alizarin in coal tar and criticised mechanical materialism. In order to present the question in the only correct way, that is, from the dialectical materialist standpoint, we must ask: Do electrons, ether and so on exist as objective realities outside the human mind or not? The scientists will also have to answer this question unhesitatingly; and they do invariably answer it in the affirmative, just as they unhesitatingly recognise that nature existed prior to man and prior to organic matter. Thus, the question is decided in favour of materialism, for the concept matter, as we already stated, epistemologically implies nothing but objective reality existing independently of the human mind and reflected by it.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 241-242

From the smallest (known) to the largest (known)

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Part six/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Chernyshevsky: the aesthetic relation of art to reality – part two

Vasily Perov, ‘Portrait of Fyodor M. Dostoevsky’, 1872, oil on canvas, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Vasily Perov, ‘Portrait of Fyodor M. Dostoevsky’, 1872, oil on canvas, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The author’s task was to investigate the question of the aesthetic relation of works of art to the phenomena of life, to test the correctness of the prevailing opinion that true beauty, which is regarded as the essential content of works of art, does not exist in objective reality, but is attained only by art. Inseparably connected with this question are the questions of the essence of beauty and the content of art. Investigation of the question of the essence of beauty has led the author to the conviction that beauty is life. After arriving at this conclusion it became necessary to investigate the concepts sublime and tragic, which according to the usual definition of beauty are elements of the latter, and we were forced to the conclusion that the sublime and the beautiful are not subsumed in art. This proved an important aid to the solution of the question of the content of art. But if beauty is life, the question of the aesthetic relation of beauty in art to beauty in reality solves itself. Having arrived at the conclusion that art cannot owe its origin to man’s dissatisfaction with beauty in reality, we had to ascertain what needs gave rise to art and to investigate ins true purpose. The following are the chief conclusions to which this investigation brought us:

  1. The definition of beauty as ‘the perfect manifestation of the general idea in the individual phenomenon’ does not stand criticism; it is too broad, for this is the definition of the formal striving of all human activity.
  2. The true definition of beauty is: ‘beauty is life.’ To man, a beautiful being is that being in which he sees life as he understands it; a beautiful object is an object that reminds him of life.
  3. This objective beauty, or beauty in essence, must be distinguished from perfection of form, which consists in the unity of the idea and the form, or in the object fully answering its purpose.
  4. The sublime does not affect man by awakening in him the idea of the absolute; it hardly ever awakens it.
  5. To man, the sublime is that which seems to be much bigger than the objects, or much more powerful than the phenomena, with which he compares it.
  6. The tragic has no essential connection with the idea of fate or necessity. In real life the  tragic is most often adventitious, it does not spring from the essence of preceding events. The form of necessity in which it is clothed by art springs from the ordinary principle of works of art: ‘the denouement must follow from the plot,’ or else is due to the artist’s misplaced surrender to the conception of fate.
  7. The tragic, according to the conception of recent European learning, is ‘the horrible in a man’s life.’
  8. The sublime (and its element, the tragic) is not a variety of the beautiful; the idea of the sublime and the idea of the beautiful are two entirely different things; between them there is neither inherent connection nor inherent contrast.
  9. Reality is not only more animated, but is also more perfect than imagination. The images of the imagination are only pale and nearly always unsuccessful imitations of reality.
  10. Beauty in objective reality is fully beautiful.
  11. Beauty in objective reality fully satisfies man.
  12. Art does not spring from man’s desire to make up for the flaws in beauty in reality.
  13. Works of art are inferior to beauty in reality not only because the impression created by reality is more vivid than that created by works of art: works of art are inferior to beauty (and also inferior to the sublime, the tragic and the ridiculous) in reality also from the aesthetic point of view.
  14. The sphere of art is not limited to the sphere of the beautiful in the aesthetic sense of the term, of beauty in its essence and not only in perfection of form; art reproduces everything that is of interest to man.
  15. Perfection of form (unity of the idea and the form) is not the characteristic feature of art in the aesthetic sense of the term (the fine arts). Beauty as the unity of the idea and the image, or as the perfect realisation of the idea, is the object of the striving of art in the broadest sense of the term, or of ‘accomplishment,’ the object of all man’s practical activities.
  16. The need that engenders art in the aesthetic sense of the term (the fine arts) is the same as that which is very clearly expressed in portrait painting. Portraits are not painted because the features of the living person do not satisfy us; they are painted in order to help us to remember the living person when he is not in front of our eyes and to give those who have not had occasion to see him some idea of what he is like. By its reproductions, art merely reminds us of what in life is of interest to us and strives to acquaint us to some degree with those interesting aspects of life which we have not had occasion to experience or see in reality.
  17. Reproduction of life is the general characteristic feature of art and constitutes its essence. Works of art often have another purpose, viz., to explain life; they often also have the purpose of pronouncing judgement on the phenomena of life.
Vasily Perov, ‘Self-portrait’, 1851, oil on canvas, Museum of Russian Art, Kiev

Vasily Perov, ‘Self-portrait’, 1851, oil on canvas, Museum of Russian Art, Kiev

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N.G. Chernyshevsky, ‘The Aesthetic Relation of Art to Reality’, MA thesis, 1855, in Selected Philosophical Essays, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1953, 379-381

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Chernyshevsky: the aesthetic relation of art to reality

Orion Nebula: The Hubble View

Orion Nebula: The Hubble View

Defence of reality as against fantasy, the endeavour to prove that works of art cannot possibly stand comparison with living reality – such is the essence of this essay. But does not what the author says degrade art? Yes, if showing that art stands lower than real life in the artistic perfection of its works means degrading art. But protesting against panegyrics does not mean disparagement. Science does not claim to stand higher than reality, but it has nothing to be ashamed of in that. Art, too, must not claim to stand higher than reality; that would not be degrading for it. Science is not ashamed to say that its aim is to understand and explain reality and then to use its explanation for the benefit of man. Let not art be ashamed to admit that its aim is to compensate man in case of absence of opportunity to enjoy the full aesthetic pleasure afforded by reality by, as far as possible, reproducing this precious reality, and by explaining it for the benefit of man.

Let art be content with its lofty, splendid mission of being a substitute for reality in case of its absence, and of being a textbook of life for man.

Reality stands higher than dreams, and essential purpose stands higher than fantastic claims.

M42: Inside the Orion Nebula

M42: Inside the Orion Nebula

The Northern Lights, Hverir Geothermal Area, Myvatn, Iceland

The Northern Lights, Hverir Geothermal Area, Myvatn, Iceland

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N.G. Chernyshevsky, ‘The Aesthetic Relation of Art to Reality’, MA thesis, 1855, in Selected Philosophical Essays, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1953, 379

Part one/to be continued…

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