Lenin: The Theory of Knowledge of Dialectical Materialism – Part Fourteen

 

Why I have such a high regard for Marx, Engels and Lenin

What is Matter? What is Experience? (continued)

One expression of the genius of Marx and Engels was that they despised pedantic playing with new words, erudite terms, and subtle “isms”, and said simply and plainly: there is a materialist line and an idealist line in philosophy, and between them there are various shades of agnosticism. The vain attempts to find a “new” point of view in philosophy betray the same poverty of mind that is revealed in similar efforts to create a “new” theory of value, a “new” theory of rent, and so forth.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 130-131

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Part fourteen/to be continued…

Want to see a good display on New Year’s Eve?

NGC 6357: Stellar Wonderland

NGC 6357: Stellar Wonderland

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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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The one (theoretical) absolute is change

The one (theoretical) absolute is change

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Engels on materialism: part 4 – the bourgeois prejudice against materialism

The brain: the place of consciousness and thought

The brain: the place of consciousness and thought

The course of evolution of Feuerbach is that of a Hegelian — a never quite orthodox Hegelian, it is true — into a materialist; an evolution which at a definite stage necessitates a complete rupture with the idealist system of his predecessor. With irresistible force, Feuerbach is finally driven to the realisation that the Hegelian premundane existence of the “absolute idea”, the “pre-existence of the logical categories” before the world existed, is nothing more than the fantastic survival of the belief in the existence of an extra-mundane creator; that the material, sensuously perceptible world to which we ourselves belong is the only reality; and that our consciousness and thinking, however supra-sensuous they may seem, are the product of a material, bodily organ, the brain. Matter is not a product of mind, but mind itself is merely the highest product of matter. This is, of course, pure materialism. But, having got so far, Feuerbach stops short. He cannot overcome the customary philosophical prejudice, prejudice not against the thing but against the name materialism. He says:

‘To me materialism is the foundation of the edifice of human essence and knowledge; but to me it is not what it is to the physiologist, to the natural scientists in the narrower sense, for example, to Moleschott, and necessarily is from their standpoint and profession, namely, the edifice itself. Backwards I fully agree with the materialists; but not forwards.’

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

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Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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A meditation on creative thought

*   *  *

I believe the brain plays a game – some parts providing the stimuli, the others the reactions, and so on…One is only consciously aware of something in the brain which acts as a summariser or totaliser of the process going on and that probably consists of many parts acting simultaneously on each other. Clearly only the one-dimensional chain of syllogisms which constitutes thinking can be communicated verbally or written down…If, on the other hand, I want to do something new or original, then it is no longer a question of syllogism chains. When I was a boy I felt that the role of rhyme in poetry was to compel one to find the unobvious because of the necessity of finding a word which rhymes. This forces novel associations and almost guarantees deviations from routine chains or trains of thought. It becomes paradoxically a sort of automatic mechanism of originality…And what we call talent or perhaps genius itself depends to a large extent on the ability to use one’s memory properly to find the analogies…[which] are essential to the development of new ideas.

Stanislaw M. Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician, 1976, in Scientific American, October, 1994, 83

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Video

Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part fourteen

Democritus, Johannes Moreelse, oil on canvas, c. 1630, Centraal Museum, Utrecht

Democritus, Johannes Moreelse, oil on canvas, c. 1630, Centraal Museum, Utrecht

Ernst Haeckel and Ernst Mach (continued)

Imagine the bitter lot of a Machist when his favourite subtle constructions, which reduce the categories of natural science to mere working hypotheses, are laughed at by the scientists on both sides of the ocean as sheer nonsense! Is it to be wondered at that Rudolf Willy, in 1905, combats Democritus as though he were a living enemy, thereby providing an excellent illustration of the partisan character of philosophy and once more exposing the real position he himself takes up in this partisan struggle? He writes: “Of course, Democritus was not conscious of the fact that atoms and the void are only fictitious concepts which perform mere accessory services (blosse Handlangerdienste), and maintain their existence only by grace of expediency, just as long as they prove useful. Democritus was not free enough for this; but neither are our modern natural scientists, with few exceptions. The faith of old Democritus is the also the faith of our natural scientists” (op. cit., S. 57).

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919)

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919)

And there is good reason for despair! The “empirio-criticists” have proved in quite a “new way” that both space and atoms are “working hypotheses”; and yet the natural scientists deride this Berkeleianism and follow Haeckel! We are by no means idealists, this is a slander; we are only striving (together with the idealists) to refute the epistemological line of Democritus; we have been striving to do so for more than 2,000 years, but all in vain! And it only remains for our leader Ernst Mach to dedicate his last work, the outcome of his life and philosophy, Knowledge and Error, to Wilhelm Schuppe and to remark ruefully in the text that the majority of natural scientists are materialists and that “we also” sympathise with Haeckel… for his “free-thinking” (S. 14).

Ernst Haeckel with Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai, his assistant, in the Canary Islands, 1866

Ernst Haeckel with Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai, his assistant, in the Canary Islands, 1866

And there he completely betrays himself, this ideologist of reactionary philistinism who follows the arch-reactionary Schuppe and “sympathises” with Haeckel’s free-thinking. They are all like this, these humanitarian philistines in Europe, with their freedom-loving sympathies and their ideological (as well as political and economic) captivity to the Wilhelm Schuppes. Non-partisanship in philosophy is only wretchedly masked servility to idealism and fideism.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 333-334

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Part fourteen/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd

Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part two

Infrared image of the Mountains of Creation

Infrared image of the Mountains of Creation

Parties in Philosophy and Philosophical Blockheads (continued)

Throughout the preceding exposition, in connection with every problem of epistemology touched upon and in connection with every philosophical question raised by the new physics, we traced the struggle between materialism and idealism. Behind the mass of new terminological artifices, behind the clutter of erudite scholasticism, we invariably discerned two principal alignments, two fundamental trends in the solution of philosophical problems. Whether nature, matter, the physical, the external world should be taken as primary, and consciousness, mind, sensation (experience – as the widespread terminology of our time has it), the psychical, etc., should be regarded as secondary – that is the root question which in fact continues to divide the philosophers into two great camps. The source of thousands upon thousands of errors and of the confusion reigning in this sphere is the fact that beneath the covering of terms, definitions, scholastic devices and verbal artifices, these two fundamental trends are overlooked. …

The genius of Marx and Engels lies precisely in the fact that during a very long period, nearly half a century, they developed materialism, further advanced one fundamental trend in philosophy, did not rest content with repeating epistemological problems that had already been solved, but consistently applied – and showed how to apply – this same materialism in the sphere of the social sciences, mercilessly brushing aside as rubbish all nonsense, pretentious hotchpotch, the innumerable attempts to “discover” a “new” line in philosophy, to invent a “new” trend and so forth. The verbal nature of such attempts, the scholastic play with new philosophical “isms”, the clogging of the issue by pretentious devices, the inability to comprehend and clearly present the struggle between the two fundamental epistemological trends – this is what Marx and Engels persistently tracked down and fought against throughout their activity.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 315-316

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/details.php?id=434

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Part two/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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

The silicon strip tracker of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) nears completion. Shown here are three concentric cylinders, each comprised of many silicon strip detetectors (the bronze-coloured rectangular devices, similar to the CCDs used in digital cameras). These surround the region where the protons collide. (Image from cds.cern.ch)

The silicon strip tracker of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) at CERN nears completion. Shown here are three concentric cylinders, each comprised of many silicon strip detetectors (the bronze-coloured rectangular devices, similar to the CCDs used in digital cameras). These surround the region where the protons collide. (Image from cds.cern.ch)

The Essence and Significance of “Physical” Idealism (continued)

Engels reproached the earlier materialists for their failure to appreciate the relativity of all scientific theories, for their ignorance of dialectics and for their exaggeration of the mechanical point of view. But Engels (unlike Stallo) was able to discard Hegelian idealism and to grasp the great and true kernel of Hegelian dialectics. Engels rejected the old metaphysical materialism for dialectical materialism, and not for relativism that sinks into subjectivism.

An engineer welds together the first cryomagnets for the Large Hadron Collider in 2005. 1,700 interconnections for the whole collider required 123,000 separate welding and assembly operations.

An engineer welds together the first cryomagnets for the Large Hadron Collider in 2005. 1,700 interconnections for the whole collider required 123,000 separate welding and assembly operations.

…Nature is infinite, just as its smallest particle (including the electron) is infinite, but reason just as infinitely transforms “things-in-themselves” into “things-for-us”.

A CMS detector event in 2012 showing characteristics expected from the decay of the Standard Model Higgs boson to a pair of Z bosons, one of which subsequently decays to a pair of electrons (green lines and green towers) and the other Z decays to a pair of muons (red lines). The event could also be due to known standard model background processes.

A CMS detector event in 2012 showing characteristics expected from the decay of the Standard Model Higgs boson to a pair of Z bosons, one of which subsequently decays to a pair of electrons (green lines and green towers) and the other Z decays to a pair of muons (red lines). The event could also be due to known standard model background processes.

…In short, the “physical” idealism of today, exactly like the “physiological” idealism of yesterday, merely signifies that one school of natural scientists in one branch of natural science has slid into a reactionary philosophy, being unable to rise directly and at once from metaphysical materialism to dialectical materialism. This step is being made, and will be made, by modern physics; but it is advancing towards the only true method and the only true philosophy of natural science not directly, but by zigzags, not consciously but instinctively, not clearly perceiving its “final goal”, but drawing closer to it gropingly, unsteadily, and sometimes even with its back turned to it. Modern physics is in travail; it is giving birth to dialectical materialism. The process of child-birth is painful. And in addition to a living healthy being, there are bound to be produced certain dead products, refuse fit only for the garbage-heap. And the entire school of physical idealism, the entire empirio-critical philosophy, together with empirio-symbolism, empirio-monism, and so on, and so forth, must be regarded as such refuse!

Science is burdened by the physical idealism of capitalist ideology - ‘the God particle’, ‘the hand of God’, ‘the mind of God’...

Science is burdened by the physical idealism of capitalist ideology – ‘the God particle’, ‘the hand of God’, ‘the mind of God’, ‘mind’ itself…

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 288-289

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Part fourteen/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd/4th