Engels on materialism: part 6 – the universe is a process

The second specific limitation of this materialism lay in its inability to comprehend the universe as a process, as matter undergoing uninterrupted historical development. This was in accordance with the level of the natural science of that time, and with the metaphysical, that is, anti-dialectical manner of philosophising connected with it. Nature, so much was known, was in eternal motion. But according to the ideas of that time, this motion turned, also eternally, in a circle and therefore never moved from the spot; it produced the same results over and over again. This conception was at that time inevitable. The Kantian theory of the origin of the Solar System (that the Sun and planets originated from incandescent rotating nebulous masses) had been put forward but recently and was still regarded merely as a curiosity. The history of the development of the Earth, geology, was still totally unknown, and the conception that the animate natural beings of today are the result of a long sequence of development from the simple to the complex could not at that time scientifically be put forward at all. The unhistorical view of nature was therefore inevitable. We have the less reason to reproach the philosophers of the 18th century on this account since the same thing is found in Hegel. According to him, nature, as a mere “alienation” of the idea, is incapable of development in time — capable only of extending its manifoldness in space, so that it displays simultaneously and alongside of one another all the stages of development comprised in it, and is condemned to an eternal repetition of the same processes. This absurdity of a development in space, but outside of time — the fundamental condition of all development — Hegel imposes upon nature just at the very time when geology, embryology, the physiology of plants and animals, and organic chemistry were being built up, and when everywhere on the basis of these new sciences brilliant foreshadowings of the later theory of evolution were appearing (for instance, Goethe and Lamarck). But the system demanded it; hence the method, for the sake of the system, had to become untrue to itself.

Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

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Engels on Dialectics, Part Five: Causality

bullet_leaving_barrel

The first thing that strikes us in considering matter in motion is the inter-connection of the individual motions of separate bodies, their being determined by one another. But not only do we find that a particular motion is followed by another, we find also that we can evoke a particular motion by setting up the conditions in which it takes place in nature, that we can even produce motions which do not occur at all in nature (industry), at least not in this way, and that we can give these motions a predetermined direction and extent. In this way, by the activity of human beings, the idea of causality becomes established, the idea that one motion is the cause of another. True, the regular sequence of certain natural phenomena can by itself give rise to the idea of causality: the heat and light that come with the sun; but this affords no proof, and to that extent Hume’s scepticism was correct in saying that a regular post hoc can never establish a propter hoc. But the activity of human beings forms the test of causality. If we bring the sun’s rays to a focus by means of a concave mirror and make them act like the rays of an ordinary fire, we thereby prove that heat comes from  the sun. If we bring together in a rifle the priming, the explosive charge, and the bullet and then fire it, we count upon the effect known in advance from previous experience, because we can follow in all its details the whole process of ignition, combustion, explosion by the sudden conversion into gas and pressure of the gas on the bullet. And here the sceptic cannot even say that because of previous experience it does not follow that it will be the same next time. For, as a matter of fact, it does sometimes happen that it is not the same, that the priming or the gunpowder fails to work, that the barrel bursts, etc. But it is precisely this which proves causality instead of refuting it, because we can find out the cause of each such deviation from the rule by appropriate investigation: chemical decomposition of the priming, dampness, etc., of the gunpowder, defect in the barrel, etc., etc., so that here the test of causality is so to say a double one.

Natural science, like philosophy, has hitherto entirely neglected the influence of men’s activity on their thought; both know only nature on the one hand and thought on the other. But it is precisely the alteration of nature by men, not solely nature as such, which is the most essential and immediate basis of human thought, and it is in the measure that man has learned to change nature that his intelligence has increased. The naturalistic conception of history, as found, for instance, to a greater or lesser extent in Draper and other scientists, as if nature exclusively reacts on man, and natural conditions everywhere exclusively determined his historical development, is therefore one-sided and forgets that man also reacts on nature, changing it and creating new conditions of existence for himself. There is devilishly little left of ‘nature’ as it was in Germany at the time when the Germanic peoples immigrated into it. The earth’s surface, climate, vegetation, fauna, and  the human beings themselves have infinitely changed, and all this owing to human activity, while the changes of nature in Germany which have occurred in this period of time without human interference are incalculably small.

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Reciprocal action is the first thing that we encounter when we consider matter in motion as a whole from the standpoint of modern natural science. We see a series of forms of motion, mechanical motion, heat, light, electricity, magnetism, chemical union and decomposition, transitions of states of aggregation, organic life, all of which, if at present we still make an exception of organic life, pass into one another, mutually determine one another, are in one place cause and in another effect, the sum-total of the motion in all its changing forms remaining the same (Spinoza: substance is causa sui strikingly expresses the reciprocal action). Mechanical motion becomes transformed into heat, electricity, magnetism, light, etc., and vice versa. Thus natural science confirms what Hegel has said (where?), that reciprocal action is the true causa finalis of things. We cannot go back further than to knowledge of this reciprocal action, for the very reason that there is nothing behind to know. If we know the forms of motion of matter (for which it is true there is still very much lacking, in view of the short time that natural science has existed), then we know matter itself, and therewith our knowledge is complete. (Grove’s whole misunderstanding about causality rests on the fact that he does not succeed in arriving at the category of reciprocal action; he has the thing, but not the abstract thought, and hence the confusion – pp. 10-14.) Only from this universal reciprocal action do we arrive at the real causal relation. In order to understand the separate phenomena, we have to tear them out of the general inter-connection and consider them in isolation, and then the changing motions appear, one as cause and the other as effect.

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For one who denies causality every natural law is a hypothesis, among others also the chemical analysis of heavenly bodies by means of the prismatic spectrum. What shallowness of thought to remain at such a viewpoint!

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 230-232

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Part five/to be continued…

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Engels on the exaltation of man

Michelangelo, ‘David’, marble, 1501-1504, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Florence)

Michelangelo, ‘David’, marble, 1501-1504, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Florence)

So much is certain: comparative physiology gives one a withering contempt for the idealistic exaltation of man over the other animals. At every step one is forced to recognise the most complete uniformity of structure with the rest of the mammals, and in its main features this uniformity extends to all vertebrates and even – in a less distinct way – to insects, crustaceans, tapeworms, etc. The Hegelian business of the qualitative leap in the quantitative series is also very fine here. Finally, among the lowest infusoria one reaches the primitive form, the simple, independently existing cell, which in turn is not to be distinguished by anything perceptible from the lowest plants (fungi consisting of single cells – the fungi of the potato and the vine diseases, etc.) or from the germs of the higher stages of development up to the human ovum and spermatozoon inclusive, and which also looks just like the independent cells within the living body (blood corpuscles, the cells of the epidermis and mucous membranes, the secretion cells of the glands, kidneys, etc.)…


Engels to Marx in London, Manchester, July 14, 1858, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 102

Tardigrade or water bear (Macrobiotus sapiens) in moss. Colour enhanced scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a water bear in its active state. Water bears are tiny invertebrates that live in aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats such as lichen and damp moss. They require water to obtain oxygen by gas exchange. In dry conditions, they can enter a cryptobiotic state of desiccation, known as a tun, to survive. In this state, water bears can survive for up to a decade. This species was found in moss samples from Croatia. It feeds on plant and animal cells. Water bears are found throughout the world, including regions of extreme temperature, such as hot springs, and extreme pressure, such as deep underwater. They can also survive high levels of radiation and the vacuum of space. Magnification: x250 when printed 10cm wide.

Tardigrade or water bear (Macrobiotus sapiens) in moss

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Imagine

W5: Pillars of Star Creation. Double-click to enlarge. ...Are we thinking Dante?

W5: Pillars of Star Creation. Double-click to enlarge. …Are we thinking Dante?

Gustave Doré’s 1855 illustration for The Divine Comedy: ‘Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven, The Empyrean’.

Gustave Doré’s 1855 illustration for The Divine Comedy: ‘Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven, The Empyrean’.

‘How is that Power present to the universe?

…Conceive it as a power of an ever-fresh infinity, a principle unfailing, inexhaustible, at no point giving out, brimming over with its own vitality. If you look to some definite spot and seek to fasten on some definite thing, you will not find it. The contrary is your only way; you cannot pass on to where it is not; you will never halt at a dwindling point where it fails at last and can no longer give; you will always be able to move with it – better, to be in its entirety – and so seek no further; denying it, you have strayed away to something of another order and you fall; looking elsewhere you do not see what stand there before you.’

Plotinus, The Enneads, Third ed. Abridged, Trans. Stephen MacKenna. Penguin, London, 1991, VI.5.12

Imagine if someone inverted this philosophy, giving it a material basis – a basis in the objective world.

Marx did this. He stood it on its feet.

In doing so, he took this theory of knowledge to its most developed stage.

Now it must be taken further.

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The world is a dynamic unity of opposites 1

Milky Way Galaxy Doomed: Collision with Andromeda Pending

Milky Way Galaxy Doomed: Collision with Andromeda Pending

‘Instead of speaking by the maxim of Excluded Middle (which is the maxim of abstract understanding) we should rather say: Everything is opposite. Neither in heaven nor in earth, neither in the world of mind nor of nature, is there anywhere such an abstract ‘either-or’ as the understanding maintains. Whatever exists is concrete, with difference and opposition in itself. …Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world…’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, Trans., William Wallace, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, 174

Galaxy NGC 7714 After Collision

Galaxy NGC 7714 After Collision

‘…if you consider [the matter] carefully: rest is oneness which enfolds motion, and motion is rest ordered serially. Hence, motion is the unfolding of rest. In like manner, the present, or the now, enfolds time. The past was the present, and the future will become the present. Therefore, nothing except an ordered present is found in time. Hence, the past and the future are the unfolding of the present. The present is the enfolding of all present times; and the present times are the unfolding, serially, of the present; and in the present times only the present is found. Therefore, the present is one enfolding of all times. Indeed, the present is oneness. In like manner, identity is the enfolding of difference; equality [the enfolding] of inequality; and simplicity [the enfolding] of divisions, or distinctions.

Therefore, there is one enfolding of all things. The enfolding of substance, the enfolding of quality or of quantity, and so on, are not distinct enfoldings. For there is only one Maximum, with which the Minimum coincides and in which enfolded difference is not opposed to enfolding identity.’

Nicholas of Cusa, De Docta Ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance), 1440, II, 3, 106-7, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1990, 65-66

Exploring the Antennae

Exploring the Antennae

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The motley play of the world and its dialectical relativity

Cairns Birdwing butterfly

Cairns Birdwing butterfly

‘In this motley play of the world, if we may so call the sum of existents, there is nowhere a firm footing to be found: everything bears an aspect of relativity, conditioned by and conditioning something else.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, Trans., William Wallace, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, 180

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Do you want to understand the world? Then consider this

NGC 4676: When Mice Collide

NGC 4676: When Mice Collide

‘…the tremendous power of the negative…’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, trans., A.V.Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, 19

Events recorded by the ALICE experiment from the first lead ion collisions, at a centre-of-mass energy of 2.76 TeV per nucleon pair 03.03.14

Events recorded by the ALICE experiment from the first lead ion collisions, at a centre-of-mass energy of 2.76 TeV per nucleon pair 03.03.14

LL Orionis: When Cosmic Winds Collide

LL Orionis: When Cosmic Winds Collide

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The philosophy for the world within is now our tool for the world without

Zeta Ophiuchi: Runaway Star. 20 times more massive than the Sun, moving at 24 kilometres per second. What set this star in motion?

Zeta Ophiuchi: Runaway Star. 20 times more massive than the Sun, moving at 24 kilometres per second. What set this star in motion?

Bourgeois philosophy is increasingly an impediment to knowledge.

Marx took the following and stood it on its feet, anchoring it in the material world.

When based in praxis, it is the core of the tool for structuring and developing our knowledge of the world, reflecting in theory the engine of the world itself – what set and keeps Zeta Ophiuchi in motion.

‘(The thinking of formal logic) keeps to external reflection and knows of no other thinking but external reflection, fails to attain to a grasp of identity…or of essence, which is the same thing. Such thinking always has before it only abstract identity, and apart from and alongside it, difference. …It proceeds analytically. …These assertions and opinions about what reason does must be completely set aside, since they are in a certain measure merely historical; the truth is rather that a consideration of everything that is, shows that in its own self everything is in its self-sameness different from itself and self-contradictory, and that in its difference, in its contradiction, it is self-identical, and is in its own self this movement of transition of one of these categories into the other, and for this reason, that each is in its own self the opposite of itself. The Notion of identity, that it is simple self-related negativity, is not a product of external reflection but has come from being itself. Whereas, on the contrary, that identity that is aloof from difference, and difference that is aloof from identity, are products of external reflection and abstraction, which arbitrarily clings to this point of indifferent difference.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 412

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Hegel on the Light of Life

Bioluminescent phytoplankton, River Derwent, Tasmania

Bioluminescent phytoplankton, River Derwent, Tasmania

‘…vast tracts of sea break out into phosphorescent light…the whole surface of the sea, too, is partly an infinite shining, partly an immeasurable, immense sea of light which consists purely of points of life lacking any further organisation.’

G.W.F.Hegel Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, Part Two of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., A.V.Miller, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2004, 297

Vaadhoo Island, Maldives

Vaadhoo Island, Maldives

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Engels on materialism: part 8 – Ludwig Feuerbach, cobweb-spinning flea-crackers and the rise of science

HMS Beagle in the seaways of Tierra del Fuego. Watercolour painted by Conrad Martens during the voyage, 1831-1836.

HMS Beagle in the seaways of Tierra del Fuego. Watercolour painted by Conrad Martens during the voyage, 1831-1836.

…even during Feuerbach’s lifetime, natural science was still in that process of violent fermentation which only during the last 15 years had reached a clarifying, relative conclusion. New scientific data were acquired to a hitherto unheard-of extent, but the establishing of interrelations, and thereby the bringing of order into this chaos of discoveries following closely upon each other’s heels, has only quite recently become possible. It is true that Feuerbach had lived to see all three of the decisive discoveries — that of the cell, the transformation of energy, and the theory of evolution named after Darwin. But how could the lonely philosopher, living in rural solitude, be able sufficiently to follow scientific developments in order to appreciate at their full value discoveries which natural scientists themselves at that time either still contested or did not know how to make adequate use of? The blame for this falls solely upon the wretched conditions in Germany, in consequence of which cobweb-spinning eclectic flea-crackers had taken possession of the chairs of philosophy, while Feuerbach, who towered above them all, had to rusticate and grow sour in a little village. It is therefore not Feuerbach’s fault that this historical conception of nature, which had now become possible and which removed all the one-sidedness of French materialism, remained inaccessible to him.

Darwin’s first diagram of an evolutionary tree from his first notebook on transmutation of species (1837).

Darwin’s first diagram of an evolutionary tree, from his first notebook on transmutation of species (1837).

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

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