Reading notes on science and marxism

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Fred
Reading notes on science and marxism
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Reading notes on science and marxism. The discussion was initiated by Fred.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Fred
I liked this article so much,

I liked this article so much, I was sorry when it suddenly finished.

baboon
Agree with Fred

Yes, I agree with Fred this is a good, positive piece and raises the whole question of how to debate around this issue (and generally also). I like the way it links the development of science to trade and production - particularly with the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution but, as a secondary aspect, I still think that the earlier contribution from the east, China, Arab, Persian, Indian and others in the spheres of astronomy, medicine and mathmatics is a little underestimated.

I think that the defence of the Big Bang and, along with it, the analysis of Red Shift, is very important. There could be so much more than this (probably is) but this is a sound scientific basis as the article says. There was a thread on libcom about a year ago that called both into question on the basis of what two individuals had written or said about both. I read the "critique" of red shift - the latter is integral to the expansion of the universe - and was mightily unconvinced.

If a light-emitting object is coming towards an observer on Earth (say) and is travelling at a thousand kilometres per hour, the light still reaches the observer at the speed of light - 300,000 ks per second. But the light is shifted to green/blue end of the spectrum (UV light is very dangerous to work close to by the way). If, on the other hand, a light-emitting object is moving away from the same observer on Earth at a thousand kilometres per hour, the light still reaches the observer at 300,000 ks per second but is shifted to the infra-red end of the spectrum. One can hear and accurately measure down to fine detail (providing one knows speeds, temperatures, etc) the audible equivalent of red shift with the Doppler Effect, an effect that is caused by a constant noise coming towards and going past a listener. The Doppler Effect for electromagnetic waves = red shift. 

 I don't know how accurately red shift can be measured now but it clearly shows that the greater amount of heavenly bodies are moving away from each other at a pace and where these bodies, galaxies or clusters for example, are held together by gravity then the space between them is expanded (or possibly created?). It's good that the article tackles this question of the Big Bang versus the Steady State because it gives a deeper context to the discussion. As far as I know, Einstein thought that the universe was neither expanding nor contracting which makes him a proponent of the Steady State before Fred Hoyle.

jk1921
Does one have to defend a

Does one have to defend a "steady-state" version of the universe to question the Big Bang? I have to say, I am really surpised by the extent to which the article seemed to take a side in this debate. Or is it that there really isn't a debate on this question? Are the small number of scientists who question the Big Bang, the same as the small minority who question the reality of man-made climate change, regardless of the fact that one of those who quesitons the Big Bang theory seems to believe it is  an ideological bulwark of class society?

BTW, why was there a thread about this on Libcom of all places? Could you post a link to it?

baboon
links

There's several threads on it jk including one called "big bang, cosmology, etc".

I haven't done it for so long that I've forgotten how to make a link. I think there's a couple of ways to do it - could someone be kind enough to remind me? Cheers!

Alf
This

This one?

 

http://libcom.org/forums/theory/big-bang-cosmology-etc-21042010

Alf
double post

 

 

 

Alf
er..treble post

sorry

Demogorgon
Alf is clearly trying to

Alf is clearly trying to express all possible quantum outcomes in his multiple posts ...

jk1921
HAHA!

Demogorgon wrote:

Alf is clearly trying to express all possible quantum outcomes in his multiple posts ...

He must have a worm hole in his house somewhere. cool

baboon
"And God said, let there be light"

But there was more than light because if it had just been an explosion of intense electromagnetic radiation, which one might think from such a compressed and hot singularity, then we wouldn't be here talking about. it.

In defence of the big bang and the article above: physics has no problem with a single point of infinite density. The constituents of matter, quarks and leptons are only points - they have mass but no dimensions and therefore a theoretical infinite density. John Gribben (1992) writes: "Inflation (the Inflation Model - see below) takes on board ideas from quantum theory to provide a natural mechanism which whooshes a microscopic seed of a universe down on the Planck scale, up to the hot fireball stage, where relativity theory takes over". The joke above about Alf having a wormhole in his room is perfectly feasable given that any microscopic quantum fluctuation of the vacuum has the potential to be inflated into a new universe and these could happen in anyone's room (not that you would notice it) though most will just disappear like virtual particles. One would have thought that the heat and density of the singularity prior to the big bang would have been enough to destroy any matter and simply be an explosion of light. As far as I understand it scientists who defend the big bang concept say that in the first ten seconds there was an annilhation of matter and anti-matter leaving a slight excess of positrons and electrons at the rate of one in a billion.

After being put into service in 1919, the 100-inch telescope of Mt. Wilson, California was used by Edwin Hubble to discover that the colour of all distant galaxies was shifted to the red. This underlined an expansion, as well as undermining the steady state theory, because what was clearly expanding had once to be contracted and contracted down to a single point. Further research after Hubble shows the expansion is uniform; for example two galaxies one million light years apart should move away from each other at 18 km/s, while two others, two million light years apart, should move away from each other at a speed of 36 km/s. The most distant object in the sky is moving away from us at 283,000 km/s, ie, 92% of the speed of light (Cesare Emiliani, 1995). Because everything is moviing away from us doesn't mean that we are at the centre of the universe because an observer anywhere in the universe would see the same phenomenon.

The Inflation Model, cosmic background radiation, quantum mechanics and red shift all point to a miniscule singularity at the beginning of this and other universes about 16 billion years ago. Inflation starts trilliseconds after the big bang and Emiliani above notes that according to measurements the universe initially expanded a speed much greater than the speed of light and then continued spreading at the speed of light. The Inflation Model, if correct, predicts that the radius of the entire universe would be 3.7X10 to an exponential notation of 22 (3.7X10 followed by 22 zeros) larger than the visible universe. And if the universe is spherical it predicts that the entire universe would contain 5X10 to the power of 67 (50 followed by 67 zeros) universes as large as the visible universe. That's the mind-blowing number predicted by the Inflation Model and we should remember that the Inflation Model also predicts that the matter produced by the big bang would consist of 74% hydrogen and 26% helium (which is the observed ration of hydrogen to helium in the visible universe), it also predicts and explains the uniformity of microwave background radiation as well as the average density of matter in the visible universe.

jk1921
I read the thread on LibCom

I read the thread on LibCom and was struck by a couple of things. First, I think it says something that there is a wide ranging discussion taking place on a whole myraid of topics that previously have not been broached by the workers' movement. However, following on that--and in line with what Baboon said above--there does not seem to be a real understanding of the methodology for how to carry out this discussion (or debate). How systematic do we need to be? What kind of statements and critiques can we as political militants make about scientific topics that few us have any specialized training in? These questions are as important, I think, as the underlying discussion of the specific points.

I have a more detailed intervention on this article prepared, but I am waiting for some feedback on it.

jk1921
Baboon, what do you think

Baboon, what do you think about the theory of the coming "Big Crunch"? I.e. the idea that at some point the universe will stop expanding, start contracting, and--in theory--time will run in reverse. Does this mean, we will regress from full blown communism, back to capitalism, feudalism, the Asiatic Mode of production, primitive communism and eventually back to the singularity?

kabir (not verified)
the big crunch

I belive the 'big crunch' is not as important an idea in the physics today as it was some decades ago. I understand, the original big bang theory postulated that universe is expanding, that speed of its expansion is slowing and that at some point in time this expansion will reverse and universe will start contracting which will finally lead to a 'big cruch' (so do not worry about traversing to previous societies) and fall into itself..

But recently, more and more proof are that expansion of the universe is accelerating. Different objects, stars, galaxies are running away from each other with accelerating speed. This new understanding of the universe does not entirely exclude the reversal of this expansion. But it more often postulate the possiblity that universe continue to expand indefinitely, bodies move away from each other, glaxies and stars disintegerate and continue to expand so that finally only a haze of isolated particles hung in space left, possibly still going away from each other ...

jk1921
Thanks Kabir, I thought I

Thanks Kabir, I thought I remembered the idea that time would actually run in reverse as part of some iterations of the "big crunch" theory--but it has been a while since I actually looked at anything on that.

jk1921
Yes, this article was very

Yes, this article was very good. We should salute the ICC publishing this, opening up their internal discussions and allowing others to see that there is debate on critical issues, contrary to the claims we read on various forums about the ICC's "monolithism." Moreover, it is important to recognize the hard work and research the comrade who prepared this text carried out. It is a very serious effort to open up and orient discussion on this very difficult question that required a good deal of reading, reflection and analysis. It is certainly worthy of a more sustained reflection, response and discussion than can be given in a forum comment, but I will give a few initial impressions below. If my comments weigh towards the critical side, this shouldn't be taken as hostility. This is a very welcome piece; but its criticism after all that allows us to advance.

First, it should be acknowledged that Engels' "Dialectics of Nature" is perhaps the most controversial text in the Marxist canon. It has been identified as, on the one hand, the root of Stalinist "vulgar materialism" and, on the other, some kind of dialectical mysticism. We shouldn't think that aligning ourselves with Engels is some kind of litmus test of Marxist authenticity on the question of science. As serious a Marxist as Lukacs (during his pre-Stalinist accommodation days) totally rejected Engels' efforts to carry the dialectic to nature. We can agree or disagree with Luckas, but his absence in this discussion seems a major omission. The text seemed to lack the level of critical distance with Engels’ text that this debate probably needs. We have to acknowledge the controversy around his ideas.

Second, as I have pointed out in previous threads, some of the assumptions about the state of the scientific literature on specific questions that are made in the text have been called into question by authors claiming to represent a "critical" position. The example of the Big Bang theory stands out here. The text seems to take the Big Bang for granted, failing to recognize that there is an alternative literature out there that has called this theory into question, precisely on the grounds that it is an ideological bulwark of class society. I am not making an argument for or against this view (although I have to admit that Lerner makes a powerful case) but simply making a more general point about the dangers of wedding ourselves to one particular theory and identifying it as the Marxist view on a particular subject. It seems that there is always the possibility of making a radical critique of whatever position constitutes the consensus. Aligning ourselves with the "consensus of scientists" doesn't necessarily get us to the "truth." There is a long list of areas in which the scientific consensus conflicts with some of the basic assumptions of Marxism (granted this is more an issue in the soft or social sciences, the hard sciences are far from immune: as the examples of medicine and psychiatry also show). Do we just pick and choose when we like the scientific consensus and when we don't? On what grounds do we accept or reject the consensus? What exactly is the duty of Marxists here? Moreover, what is our capacity?

This underlies a more general point about the nature of knowledge itself, i.e. epistemology. The text seems to argue that science and knowledge are always incomplete, subject to revision and development, etc. This may be true, but what are the implications of this? Specifically, what are the political implications? Couldn’t this be the gateway to a kind of pessimism about our ultimate ability to know the world? Might it lead to a kind of passivism in the face of tough questions, of the need to take a stand, etc.? How can we be confident of ourselves, if our knowledge is always incomplete? And incomplete in what way? Are we getting closer to approximating the truth as history advances or are we only authoring new narratives? I think that there is a correlation to this latter kind of thinking and the kind of “all pervasive permissiveness” we see in current social movements, where there is a fear to clarify and polarize. A fear to try to understand the world scientifically, because in the end it is ultimately unknowable anyway. How can we justify committing “epistemological violence” against any particular point of view?  It seems that there is no end to the ways we can “get to the left” of particular theories. Thus, if everything can be critiqued, can anything really be critiqued? If not, maybe demands to abolish the nuclear family CAN coexist with demands to reinstate Glass-Stegall? There is a problem of false democratism here that leads to a kind of nihilism about our ability to know the world and thus act in a way that is guided by “science.” We can be critical of this, but what is our alternative? Is there one?

The text argues at one point that the progression of science is “incremental.” But what is the alternative? Surely though, Kuhn and Foucault have problematized this approach. Briefly, and at some risk of falsely conflating Kuhn and Foucault, in their view science (Kuhn) and knowledge (Foucault) are characterized by paradigm discipline in which a given way of looking at the world disciplines and punishes all attempts at understanding it in ways that contradict the dominant paradigm. In Kuhn’s view it is only when the accumulation of anomalies that the paradigm cannot accommodate reaches a critical mass that the governing paradigm explodes. Certainly for Foucault—although maybe less so for Kuhn--the result of paradigm change does not necessarily bring us any closer to something called the “truth.” In this view, science is really just another form of social power in the end. Again, we can argue about the meaning of all these ideas, but it seems they cannot simply be ignored or written off as “bourgeois ideology.” Maybe they are, but bourgeois ideology needs to be confronted. Of course, the ultimate point that Foucault and maybe Kuhn make is that there really is no outside of ideology that one can call scientific, so the entire idea of ideology and science constituting two opposed poles collapses.  

On Popper: this was probably the most challenging part of the text, but perhaps also the most disappointing. The argument that we can use theories about the “multiverse” etc. to reject Popper’s thesis on falsifiability, etc. seems to me to fall short. I also didn’t quite understand the part about teleology. Nature is not teleological but human history is? It seems like this doesn’t get us out of the essential conundrum of specifying exactly what kinds of knowledge are “scientific” and which are not and specifying the grounds upon which we make this judgment. At the very least Popper offers one way of doing this. If we don’t agree with it, or reject part of it: it is up to us to offer an alternative.

Popper’s argument that it is simply not possible to make empirically testable statements about a data set where N=1 may not mesh well with Marxism, but can at least Popper draws the line somewhere. If it is not possible to make scientific statements about something than all we are left with is a form of “narrative.“ This dilemma presents itself in the social sciences where today there are three main approaches to social scientific research: Large N statistical analysis, rational choice/game theory and historical institutionalism. Needless to say, those practicing historical institutionalism are often derided by statisticians as producing little more than “narrative.” I don’t think we get out of this problematic by citing the non-reproducible features of modern cosmology. On the contrary, it only seems to call modern cosmology into further question. We are still stuck in Popper’s trap. One final point on Popper: I don’t think we get anywhere by calling him a bourgeois ideologue. This seems like an ad hominen attack that doesn’t help us confront his ideas much.

More specifically, I would caution about using the discoveries of quantum physics/cosmology to demonstrate the ultimate validity of Marxism. This is highly contested ground. Quantum Physics and modern cosmology have been claimed by everything from New Age mysticism, religion and parapsychology, something summed up by the search for the so-called “God Particle.” We are in really murky waters here. Then again, science itself is claimed by liberal democracy, Stalinism, etc.

Finally, the text seemed at one point to want to oppose science to “common sense.” But let me end with a defense of common sense. It is, after all, part of our species’ evolutionary heritage. Its one thing when common sense teaches us to accommodate class society, another thing altogether when it causes us to question the claims of scientists who want to treat our anxiety by giving us drugs that include anxiety as a listed side effect. In some ways, common sense may be our last best defense against the science/capital complex.

I think what has worried me since the ICC begin this reexamination of the question of Marxism and Science is a nagging sense that we are getting into a very old argument about which there is already a vast literature—a literature that has generally concluded that there is no real resolution to what may be a genuine philosophical conundrum. What more are we going to do at this point?  There are of course real political implications for all of this, so on one level it seems very important to continue this discussion, but on another it seems likely to end in something close to futility. I think that this is a reflection of the continued, and now perhaps growing, skepticism in the broader culture about the reasonableness of believing we can ultimately manage humanity’s existential problems in a purely scientific way. There are many forms of this, from both the left and the right—but undergirding most of them is suspicion that any attempt to organize human society in a scientific way leads to the domination of a kind of bureaucracy unbound by ethics—or a form of “bureaucratic collectivism” to use the current vogue phraseology—by which is meant not only Stalinism but pretty much any attempt to use science to organize society.

The ICC should recognize that in many ways it is kind of swimming against the tide on these questions. That in and of itself is not a problem, but we should be aware of this particularly when it comes to the directly political implications of all of this.

 

 

 

 

 

Pierre
I am very interested in these

I am very interested in these ideas, though I haven't read as much as others.

For everyone reading these posts who is completely lost, make sure to check out "Elegant Universe" (written by a string theorist) and "Morgan Freeman's Through the Wormhole" for a lamens, boob-tube summary of a lot of these issues...Although much like the scientific community at large, there is a clear bias towards "expansionary" conceptions of the universes' "creation".

I want to pose a question also. I can understand that some people want to be on the fence about the Big Bang. Especially since we are all waiting for concrete experiments and study results on the specifics.

What I can't understand, is a postion like Stephen Hawking's, which in my understanding amounts to "Well, there is no physical evidence for any of this yet" so therefore we should throw 30+ years of mathematical and observational evidence out the window in lieu of this notion...

Also, in regards to expansion/contraction... In string theory the theoretical "bang" and "crunch" is caused by the interaction between the membranes of the multiverse, no? Just wanted to point that out...solving the questions about this universes' origins do not necessarily solve the questions of the origin of all existence...

To me, the scientific advancements in these fields in the last 30, 40 years is analogous to the notion that the earth is not flat and rotates around the sun. In the sense that--- its such a complete mindfuck for most people that the facts we do have are underappreciated due to the notion that--- this can't be!

Pierre
Seriously, make sure to check

Seriously, make sure to check out Morgan Freeman's Through the Wormhole.

I wanted to embed the episode called "What Happened Before the Beginning", but flash embedding doesn't seem to be enabled so here is the link: http://youtu.be/h4nhLpWahLE

jk1921
Morgan Freeman? I like the

Morgan Freeman? I like the sound of his voice. Seriously, I'll check it out. smiley

LoneLondoner
Marxism and science

JK makes some interesting points, and shows that there is far more to explore, though perhaps he takes the article for more than it is meant to be: these are only "reading notes", it is not meant to be an orientation text or anything like it, and they only represent the views of the author.

However, I would disagree with some aspects of his post:

jk1921 wrote:
The text seems to take the Big Bang for granted, failing to recognize that there is an alternative literature out there that has called this theory into question, precisely on the grounds that it is an ideological bulwark of class society. I am not making an argument for or against this view (although I have to admit that Lerner makes a powerful case) but simply making a more general point about the dangers of wedding ourselves to one particular theory and identifying it as the Marxist view on a particular subject. It seems that there is always the possibility of making a radical critique of whatever position constitutes the consensus. Aligning ourselves with the "consensus of scientists" doesn't necessarily get us to the "truth." There is a long list of areas in which the scientific consensus conflicts with some of the basic assumptions of Marxism (granted this is more an issue in the soft or social sciences, the hard sciences are far from immune: as the examples of medicine and psychiatry also show)

I'm doubtful whether medicine and psychiatry can be classed as "hard sciences", at all events it is certainly the case that the closer you get to the study of man, the more ideology comes into play (at least these days, it wasn't the case in Galileo's time.

But I would really disagree that we can have a "marxist position" on the Big Bang for example. Marxism (ie a historical materialist class perspective on things) might allow us to have a critical view of the underlying ideological assumptions that affect this or that position, but in the end scientific theory has to stand or fall on the basis of its experimental verification or not. It would be a great mistake to think that you could have a "marxist theoretical physics" for example (in fact you could argue that any such notion is a hangover from Stalinism: remember Lysenko and socialist biology).

the article wrote:
as Rovelli points out, it is the sign of an idea’s strength, not weakness, that it can be called into question. When we are confident in our ideas, in our theories, then we cannot be afraid of debating them – if debate reveals weaknesses or gaps in this or that aspect of a theory then the theory itself can only be strengthened

For anyone who reads French, I can't recommend Rovelli's book too highly. This to me was one of his most profound points: acknowledging that ALL scientific conclusions can be called into question does not weaken our conviction, on the contrary. It should allow us to combine a conviction that our present theory is the nearest we can get to the truth at a given moment, because we have tested our theory in argument and (as far as possible) experiment, with a healthy scepticism of new theory and a demand that new theory should meet some objective criteria, and with an openness to new ideas precisely because we know that our knowledge of the world can never be complete. To seek for absolute certainty is to return to the religious viewpoint.

Looking at the last paragraph in jk's post, I think that he has perhaps misundersttod the point of what we are trying to get at (unsurprisingly, since we really haven't published as much as I would have liked on the question). We're not trying to arrive at a "position" on the subject, but rather to get some understanding of it, and to encourage a greater interest for scientific subjects generally.

 

jk1921
I recognize these were only

I recognize these were only reading notes and goods one at that. I had real concerns about whether or not my post was overkill. I don't think there is a Marxist position on any given controversy in science; other than the general fact that Marxism is supposed to be an extension of science on some level and should therefore defend the overall scientifc approach and defend it from the rise of obscurantism and quackery. The point is that Marxism's job should always be on the look out for the penetration of bourgeois ideology into science. And here is Lerner arguing that the Big Bang theory is just such an occurrence--part of the attempt to develop a "theory of everything," and hence a return to the religious viewpoint.  If there is a Marxist viewpoint on the Big Bang, it is that it should be a scientific one--not a religious one. Is Lerner right? I don't know. His work clearly represents a minority viewpoint in his field  (that doesn't mean its wrong) but his argument raises other more thorny questions about the nature and possibility of critique itself.

But I don't think Marxists can take up scientific questions as causally as Lone seems to suggest. I don't think we can say that a discussion of Marxism and science is the same as a discussion of Marxism and art for example. There is a special relationship between Marxism and science--with real political implications--that has dogged Marxism for a long time and today remains far from resolved. I wonder if it is even resolvable.

I too am doubtful about whether medicine and psychiatry are always hard sciences--but the overall consensus in those fields is that they are. Evidence based medicine is the standard for what makes something in that field scientific or not. Of course, much or what passes for psychiatry today--currently under the domination of bio-psychiatry--is questionable from that perspective--and not very political palatable either.

The question of Lysenkoism is interesting, but I don't think anyone here is advocating anything like that. However, the charge of neo-Lysenkoism is often thrown at scientisits who seem to craft their work to fit preconceived left political positions. Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Leowontin's work in evolution and genetics have both been attacked as neo-Lysenkoist. This raises more questions about the relationship between science and ethics--something broached in the Paul Mattick quote in the other thread.

mikail firtinaci
...

I agree with the idea that we can not have a Marxist theory of physics. However this does not necessarily mean that we can not have a marxist criticism or analysis of scentific paradigms. First of all, science itself is not a field seperate from society. Its history reveals that the development of science always remained in close relation with the development of capitalism. Before capitalism if there was anything we may call scientific that was not discernable from the ruling class ideologies. However, bourgeoisie by gradually seperating church from the scientific inquiry enabled the development of a secular science.

This should not confuse us. Science is still mainly dependent on and serves to the dominant class. Universities and research institutions work with government funds and endowements. It is very clear that in social sciences what we have is (just like before the secularization of the university) a production of knowledge on society which is sometimes very difficult to differentiate from the class interest of bourgeoisie. This is done through the competition. The studies that are published most have wider popularity. And since most universities compete in a democraticly mediated arena - consensus is generally accepted as truth. So for instance, the general paradigm in russian history during the cold war era in the historigraphy in the west argued that Russian revolution was a coup, that the bolsheviks were an authoritarian party. This paradigm of course did not develop because there was a machivellian plot. This historigraphy was challenged during 80s and 90s by yet another paradigm. However the historiography partially turned back to those questions only with the deepening crisis of Russia and the rising interest to, especially the national question. I gave this example that long because history is a field that I am more familiar with.

So what I want to say is that, we can develop a similar historical analysis of science too. Pannekoek for instance has a wonderful book on astronomy in which he analyze the development of this field through an analysis of the changes in social relations. 

Marxists can develop a criticism or analysis of cosmology and physics also. As we recently see, right wing bourgeois tendencies are widely using the big-bang cosmology and post-modernism the quantum physics. One can argue that it is their ignorance on the way the science works that led those currents to speculate about science and I agree. Still, for instance, determinism both episthemologically and also as a law that can be attributed to the way the natural phenomenon organised is challenged by certain physicists. This question is vital for us marxists. It calls us to engage in science, to criticize it, to integrate its results into our theory and to change our understandings etc. 

But I think big bang and cosmology in general is very vital for a very basic reason; Simply because we are now getting closer and closer (or perhaps getting away if the stars do not in reality as big bang theory claims!) day by day to the answers of certain questions neither Marx nor even Lenin could conceive; When our earth and sun will not be able to support human life? Does time has a beggining, and hence an end? Is humanity unable to change the course of cosmological time which will eventually lead to its destruction? One may say that these are very long time periods. But I think these are still crucial. If humanity is eventually going to end, if even time will end, then one may say what is the point in struggle for a better society? 

I think just as the totality of our social relations, our science is also living through a period of continuing crisis in its explanatory efforts. Its theories and its perception of reality is/should be something that marxists can critize or at least understand. 

Fred
jk says: "There is a special

jk says: "There is a special relationship between Marxism and science--with real political implications--that has dogged Marxism for a long time and today remains far from resolved." I wonder if jk could please elaborate on this a bit, so that the "special relationship" is clarified. jk also said: "I think what has worried me since the ICC begin this reexamination of the question of Marxism and Science is a nagging sense that we are getting into a very old argument about which there is already a vast literature—a literature that has generally concluded that there is no real resolution to what may be a genuine philosophical conundrum. What more are we going to do at this point?  There are of course real political implications for all of this, so on one level it seems very important to continue this discussion... " but on the other hand not! What I would like to know, or be reminded of, is what exactly "the very old argument" to which there may be no resolution, in fact is? And what the "real political implications for all of this" actually are? Is the validity
of Marxism somehow being challenged by recent scientific discoveries and theorizing? Is the validity of comrade militants, their right to claim a
proletarian authenticity, called into question if their scientific credentials are not those of a Hawking or a Lerner? This is the crunch question that emerges from this discussion for me.

And then there's the question raised by mikail, at the end of his substantial contribution, but like an appendage. " If humanity is eventually going to end, if even time will end, then one may say what is the point in struggle for a better society?" A mind boggler of a question!! Indeed what is the point of this thread, or of tbe ICC? I have always assumed the "end of time" to be some distance away (could be wrong) and that the struggle for a better society is worth doing if only for our kids and their grand-children. But in any case, the striking fact that this society, this horror-stricken idiocy called capitalism exists and we are stuck in it and are conscious of being stuck, but also know the way-out,means we don't really have any choice in the matter. We have to fight, we have to replace it with something better, it's our job.

If we decide like fatalists to just give up and sit on our arses, awaiting whatever's coming like morons, then there is no purpose in life, and boredom will finish us off long before the bomb gets launched and aeons before the 'red shift' kicks in, or whatever. So fight on!

.

mikail firtinaci
fred

I am totally with you on your comment that we have to fight on. I just wanted to be provocative (in a positive sense) in terms of the possible political implications of science. 

Still as a general perspective time as a finitude in reality means a lot for us. If time is really going to end, then we have to accept the fact that there is something beyond time! And this beyond is incomprehensible for us - humans. Religion tends to be stronger in this "infinity and beyond" sphere. As we discussed under the other topic, this will have implications for our politics. 

Also; don't you think it is ironic that while human race is on the verge of collapse and annihilation, science is being more and more contradictory, abstract and most importantly fatalistic in terms of the fate of the universe. I love how ICC put the decadance's effect on art, etc;

 

Philosophically, there is less and less room for ideas of making society more 'harmonious'. Intellectuals today either see themselves as revolutionaries or are disillusioned, pessimistic and indifferent. Obscurantism and mysticism have again become fashionable (cf. Revolution Internationale, old Series, no 6).

In the sphere of art, decadence has manifested itself in a particularly violent way, and it would take a long time to discuss the evolution of art faced with a world that has become an aberration. As in other periods of decadence, art, if it does not stagnate in an eternal repetition of past forms, seeks to take up a stance against the existing order, or is very often the expression of a cry of horror.

When the world of ideas undergoes such upheavals it is the sign that something is breaking down at the level of material production.

 

Fred
Thanks for being with me

Thanks for being with me mikail. I don't know whether there's something beyond time or not. I don't think I care all that much anymore, as there certainly cant be much beyond time that has any significance for life on this planet at the moment - unless we suddenly get visitors from other stars - and I stopped being curious about religion long ago. Anyway, as you say, the "beyond" is quite beyond our human comprehension, at the moment. So I would rather give what brain power I have left to more down-to-earth matters. (I didn't think like his when very young, but that was some time ago. And things change.). Also, after we've got rid of capitalism, and set about building a truly emancipated society, in which human capacities will be totally freed-up (just imagine it!) then it may become possible that humanity will be more capable of dealing with the kind of issues you raise than we are in the present mess.

No, I definitely do not think it "ironic" or even surprising, that science has a correlation to the current state of humanity ie chaos and confusion It would be ironic if it didn't.

Finally, your end quote about decadence and art. That is very interesting. Where does it come from? Best wishes to you and all comrades.

mikail firtinaci
yes

Fred,

yes perhaps I am exaggerrating the immediate importance and the relevance of the debate. It is very difficult at this stage to take positions. I am half way through Lerner's book and maybe I am influenced very much with that :) Anyway the quotation is from the ICC brochure "decadance of capitalism."

 

jk1921
To respond to some of Fred's

To respond to some of Fred's questions briefly:

The Lenin/Kautsky vision of class consciounsess and the relationship beteween the party and the class is often said to be that of "scientific managment." The party is a party of experts who scientifically understand the balance of class forces and develop a scientific approach to the class struggle and the revolution. The class itself is capable only of a "mystified trade union consciounsess." It can't arrive at scientific truth by itself--it needs to be brought to it from the outside, from the intelligentisa. The revolution is a technical problem of applying scientific knowledge to the social and political landscape. The class is more of an object of history and the party; the party (the scientists) have agency. 

The Luxemburg, Gorter, Pannekoek theory is quite different. The class itself remains soverign over the historical process and through its own creativity and self-organization determines the course and path of the class struggle and the revolution. The truth of the struggle can't be known in advance, it is revealed in the process of becomming, the unfolding of the struggle through time. Truth is contingent and developing--a process that unfolds rather than a set of facts that can be mastered beforehand. The party is but a guide to this process, not its master. It is one part of the unfolding of a contingent historical process. The class itself exercises agency and subjectivity, the party is a tool of the class in this process.

These are only gross caricatures of the two positions--but it gives a sense of how the understanding of "science" can have real consequences on how we envision the class struggle and the role organizations have therein.

Mikhail gives some other examples of how science relates to Marxism more generally. Put simply: if the sun is going to burn out, or time is going to run in reverse one day, and we can't do anything about it, what is the point of it all?

 

mikail firtinaci
Some notes from Trotsky

 Liberal scholars – now they are no more – commonly used to depict the whole of the history of mankind as a continuous line of progress. This was wrong. The line of progress is curved, broken, zig-zagging. Culture now advances, now declines. There was the culture of ancient Asia, there was the culture of antiquity, of Greece and Rome, then European culture began to develop, and now American culture is rising in skyscrapers. What has been retained from the cultures of the past? What has been accumulated as a result of historical progress? Technical process, methods of research. Scientific and technical thought, not without interruptions and failures, marches on. Even if you meditate on those far-off days when the sun will cease to shine and all forms of life die out upon the earth, nevertheless there is still plenty of time before us. I think that in the centuries immediately ahead of us, scientific and technical thought, in the hands of socialistically-organized society, will advance without zig-zags, breaks or failures. It has matured to such an extent, it has become sufficiently independent and stands so firmly on its feet, that it will go forward in a planned and steady way, along with the growth of the productive forces with which it is linked in the closest degree.
 

*****************

 

IT IS the task of science and technique to make matter subject to man, together with space and time, which are inseparable from matter. True, there are certain idealist books – not of a clerical character, but philosophical ones – wherein you can read that time and space are categories of our minds, that they result from the requirements of our thinking and that nothing actually corresponds to them in reality. But it is difficult to agree with this view. If any idealist philosopher, instead of arriving in time to catch the nine pm train, should turn up two minutes late, he would see the tail of the departing train and would be convinced by his own eyes that time and space are inseparable from material reality. The task is to diminish this space, to overcome it, to economize time, to prolong human life, to register past time, to raise life to a higher level and enrich it. This is the reason for the struggle with space and time, at the basis of which lies the struggle to subject matter to man – matter, which constitutes the foundation not only of everything that really exists, but also of all imagination. Our struggle for scientific achievements is itself only a very complete system of reflexes, i.e. of phenomena of a physiological order, which have grown up on an anatomical basis that in its turn has developed from the inorganic world, from chemistry and physics. Every science is an accumulation of knowledge, based on experience relating to matter, to its properties, of generalized understanding of how to subject this matter to the interests and needs of man.

************

The more science learns about matter, however, the more “unexpected” properties of matter it discovers, the more zealously does the decadent philosophical thought of the bourgeoisie try to use the new properties or manifestations of matter to show that matter is not matter. The progress of natural science in the mastering of matter is paralleled by a philosophical struggle against materialism. Certain philosophers and even some scientists have tried to utilize the phenomena of radioactivity for the purpose of struggle against materialism: there used to be atoms, elements, which were the basis of matter and of materialist thinking, but now this atom has come to pieces in our hands, has broken up into electrons, and at the very beginning of the popularity of the electronic theory a struggle has even flared up in our party around the question whether the electrons testify for or against materialism.

*******************

Radio-activity, as we have already mentioned, in no way constitutes a threat to materialism, and it is at the same time a magnificent triumph of dialectics. Until recently scientists supposed that there were in the world about ninety elements, which were beyond analysis and could not be transformed one into another – so to speak, a carpet for the universe woven from ninety threads of different qualities and colours. Such a notion contradicted materialist dialectics, which speaks of the unity of matter and, what is even more important, of the transformability of the elements of matter. Our great chemist, Mendeleyev, to the end of his life was unwilling to reconcile himself to the idea that one element could be transformed into another; he firmly believed in the stability of these “individualities”, although the phenomena of radioactivity were already known to him. But nowadays no scientist believes in the unchangeability of the elements.

**************

I remember the time when men wrote that the development of aircraft would put an end to war, because it would draw the whole population into military operations, would bring to ruin the economic and cultural life of entire countries, etc. In fact, however, the invention of a flying machine heavier than air opened a new and crueller chapter in the history of militarism. There is no doubt that now, too, we are approaching the beginning of a still more frightful and bloody chapter. Technique and science have their own logic – the logic of the cognition of nature and the mastering of it in the interests of man. But technique and science develop not in a vacuum but in human society, which consists of classes. The ruling class, the possessing class, controls technique and through it controls nature. Technique in itself cannot be called either militaristic or pacifistic. In a society in which the ruling class is militaristic, technique is in the service of militarism.

Source:

http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1926/03/science.htm

Fred
Thank you jk for your swift

Thank you jk for your swift reply, and pitting Lenin/Kautsky against Luxembourg et al. "These are only gross caricatures of the two positions--but it gives a sense of how the understanding of "science" can have real consequences on how we envision the class struggle and the role organizations have therein." I take the point, although I was expecting a different kind of answer. One of the problems with this and the other thread, is that what is being discussed as being SCIENCE, or "science", or just plain science, seems to change a lot.

My reply is not so swift. We are plagued by technical problems locally. Sorry about that.

jk1921
Yes, I agree with you Fred.

Yes, I agree with you Fred. Figuring out just what "science" is is a big part of this discussion. Sometimes we mean one thing, sometimes another. Also, part of the disucssion seems to be about the validity of particular scientific theories, while another part seems to be about the nature of science itself and the appropriateness for Marxists of taking up these questions.

jk1921
I heard an interesting

I heard an interesting interview on the radio the other day with an author, Margaret Wertheim, about her recent book, Physics on the Fringe. She researched the proliferation of a variety of "alternative scientific" theories in contemporary culture, theories that are generally shunned by the academic establishment, but which are not quite quackery. She talks about a number of different theories, mostly constructed by intelligent people who are nonethless shut out of academic discussion. Apparently, there is one guy who has an entire alternative theory of gravity. Perhaps, Lerner's ideas on the Bing Bang (backed up by so-called "Plasma Physics") could qualify here?

Her explanation for this phenomena is that there is a desire in the culture to "re-democratize" science. The idea that science is the province of a few brilliant individuals with multiple advanced degrees and that modern science is so complicated that it can only really be understood by a few dozen people is culturally revolting. There is thus a desire to "rephrase" science in terms that can be understood, appreciated and integrated by the multitude.

Could it be that science, at some level, by producing forms of knowledge so complex and so specialized, enters into conflict with the possibility of a classless society?

LoneLondoner
Science impossible in classless society?

jk1921 wrote:

I heard an interesting interview on the radio the other day with an author, Margaret Wertheim, about her recent book, Physics on the Fringe. She researched the proliferation of a variety of "alternative scientific" theories in contemporary culture, theories that are generally shunned by the academic establishment, but which are not quite quackery.

I don't know anything about Lerner, but there is an interesting review of this theory in the April issue of the New York Review of Books.

jk1921 wrote:

There is thus a desire to "rephrase" science in terms that can be understood, appreciated and integrated by the multitude.

Could it be that science, at some level, by producing forms of knowledge so complex and so specialized, enters into conflict with the possibility of a classless society?

I don't see why "rephrasing" science should necessarily need to lead to bad science. One of the things that encourages me is the ability of some (not all obviously) very good scientists, to vulgarise scientific ideas (in the best sense of the term, ie render accessible to the non-scientist). John Gribbin's History of Science springs to mind, or indeed Dawkins' Selfish Gene (very readable).

I find jk's question interesting though, because it poses a question about how scientific endeavour will work, what it would look like, in a communist society (and I think that generally speaking marxists have always assumed that communism would allow science to flower. See for example this well-known speech by Trotsky).

So here are a few ideas.

First of all, I think we can take it for granted that a communist society worth the name would raise immeasurably the general level of education of the population so that what is completely inaccessible to the vast majority now would become more accessible to more people. 

That does not mean however that everyone would understand all scientific endeavour at the deepest level, because we start from the principle that all human beings are different, and that their differences would flower under communism precisely because everyone would have the possibility to develop their individual talents to the utmost.

What would change though is the relation of the individual to the whole. The free development of each, as Marx said, would become the condition for the free development of all. So society would have an interest in making possible the greatest development of human thought and endeavour in each individual, because that would contribute to the whole.

A kind of pale foretaste of what that might mean can be got from an imaginative view of CERN. Undoubtedly, there are only a few scientists who understand everything that CERN is doing - but the whole endeavour would be impossible without the immense efforts of a huge collective, including the workers on the tunnel in which the LHC is housed, which is itself an extraordinary achievement (which the theoretical physicists could not themselves accomplish). 

baboon
smoke rings

Interesting stuff about Jim Carter's smoke rings in the link from Lone above - his underwater bags certainly worked a treat.

Some time ago Princeton University did some experiments on smoke rings and some of this was applied to replica cave's used by prehistoric peoples for rituals, ceremonies, etc. There would have to have been fires in these dark recesses and the smoke from the fires would have been affected by the sounds of the gatherings. That sounds were made is evidenced from the stalagmites which show that they were struck by wooden staves. Percussion, the drum, is a constant feature of prehistory and this no doubt would have been used, as were the "bull-roarers", very ancient percussion instruments, some of which have been found dyed with red ochre. Add to this the probable chanting and singing...

The Princeton experiment showed a magical effect of sound on the smoke rings moving and changing shapes and becoming alive as the sound waves reverberated off the cave walls and ceilings as echo met with echo.

These shape-shifting rings and circles are a constant feature of Upper Palaeolithic and Neolithic art which can reasonably be assumed to show, in their context, a way into the tiered cosmos.

jk1921
Division of Labor?

LoneLondoner wrote:

A kind of pale foretaste of what that might mean can be got from an imaginative view of CERN. Undoubtedly, there are only a few scientists who understand everything that CERN is doing - but the whole endeavour would be impossible without the immense efforts of a huge collective, including the workers on the tunnel in which the LHC is housed, which is itself an extraordinary achievement (which the theoretical physicists could not themselves accomplish). 

This is a very interesting discussion. The vision LL cites above sounds a lot to me like the way any complex organization already functions with the parts not knowing exactly what the whole is tending towards. Could this is part be how captialism is able to reproduce itself? How the rational actions of individual proletarians aggregate into actually reproducing the very system that exploits them. In fact, I seem to remember something from Adorno and Horkheimer that cited this kind of division of labor as what made the holocaust possible--the pervasive cultural attitude that each individual is just a link in the operation of a giant social-industrial machine that has its own logic and which individuals are powerless to effect, i.e "I am just a peon, doing my job." How will this change under communism? How will individuals be able to influence processes that they can't possibly understand? Could it be that communist society will be undergirded not by efficiency, profit and science for science's sake, but by ethics instead?

Certainly, LL is right that communist society would raise the overall level of education and cultural comeptency in broad terms, but we can't all be astrophysicits or brain surgeons. In fact, we all can't understand the very complex concepts behind astrophysics or neurology. Or can we?

I think I am rambling a bit, but LL's post raises interesting questions about the division of labor and its relation to science and the fate of such relationships under a hypothetical communist future.

LoneLondoner
Individuals will not be powerless

jk1921 wrote:

How will individuals be able to influence processes that they can't possibly understand? Could it be that communist society will be undergirded not by efficiency, profit and science for science's sake, but by ethics instead?

I certainly don't think communism will be guided by efficiency and profit. Though maybe efficiency, in the sense of the most effective and economical use of resources might come into it. I'm a fan of Iain M Banks' "Culture" SF novels, in which he describes a galactic communism society which certainly has an ethic, which includes an appreciation which is both ethical and aesthetic of non-waste, and achieving the biggest effect with the least expenditure of resource.

Will it be guided by ethics? Hmmm, big question. I confess I'm not really sure on this, but up to a point I think you're right. Communism will be guided by what is good for humanity as a whole, and for each individual as a part of that. Which means that individuals (contrary to the situation today) will have to take responsibility for directing social decisions: such as, for example, do we actually want to put the resources available into running CERN, or into something else?

It's a big question: imagine a society which is big enough and inclusive enough for people who want to raise goats in the Swiss Alps to do that, and at the same time build the most sophisticated scientific experiments imaginable. Yet I find it hard to imagine that this would work without everybody sharing a concern and an interest, and participating, in deciding what direction human society should take.

Fred
Taking hints from LL above,

Taking hints from LL above, and reading the ICC's article on Ethics (part 2), and getting increasingly irritated with the general idea that progress in science = automatic progress for humanity, can I offer this quote for discussion? "...the lies circulated by the Bolsheviks, in order to justify the repression of Kronstadt, not only eroded the confidence of the class in the party, but undermined the conviction of the Bolsheviks themselves. The vision that the end justifies the means, practically denies the ethical superiority of the proletarian revolution over the bourgeoisie. This forgets that, the more the concerns of a class correspond with the welfare of humanity, the more that class can draw on its moral strength."

Apart from the clarification on Kronstadt (the Ethics article is full of proletarian aphoristic insight!) it's the mention of "the welfare of humanity" that gets me. So...does it really serve the welfare of humanity that the massive Cern project is underway? To put it another way. If the proletariat was newly in charge of the planet would it be astro-physics and Cern that caught it's attention, or feeding the population and saving the planet? The answer is obvious. We would need to delay momentarily our visits to the stars etc. because our proletarian moral concern for human solidarity as the way forward (completely the opposite of the bourgeoisie's notion of morality where the imagined freedom of the individual is at the cost of the majority) would be seen as an ethical necessity, far more important than the luxury of stupendously dramatic scientific breakthroughs eg the 1968 moon trip, which was hardly more than expensive propaganda, and has achieved little for humanity though quite a lot for war.

We are not the bourgeoisie; our goals are not the same as theirs - in so far as they have goals at all, or know what they do or why, or where they go. So the occasional "spectacular" whether in science or film, is really all the same to them - unless it gives them advantage for war of course - as it's the "spectacular" that gets their attention, or it's money-making potential, not it's usefulness for humanity.

And I don't think many of us even want to be brain surgeons or shape-changers, or even goat-herders in the Alps - appealing as the latter might be for ten minutes - but I'm sure we would all appreciate the chance to find out and move towards becoming whatever it is we might be deep down. And for this we need a communist society; and an education permitted us by a communist society, about which the bourgeoisie know nothing. Who knows, such a society could well produce science and art of unimaginable dimensions, such as to dwarf anything we've seen up till now.

jk1921
The recent "discovery" of the

The recent "discovery" of the Higgs Boson--the so-called "God Particle"'--set off a minor media frenzy in the U.S. this past week. The sense that something very important had happened was palpbale, yet nobody seemed to know why it was important. Even when physicists were trotted out to try to explain in lay person's terms what exactly had happened, the various interviewers all seemed to have an "OK, why should I care about this?" look on their faces.

The more sophisticated media outlets took the opportunity to compare the discovery of Higgs Boson to the growing number of people in the country who believe in the literal truth of the bible. How could the two things co-exist? This raised the interesting question of the utter inaccessibility of modern physics to all but a handful of experts nobody can understand or even see the importance in what they are doing and the resulting tendency to "re-enchant" the world regardless of what the authorities say. One can imagine a true believer of the young earth theory responding to the news with, "God is more than a mere particle," or maybe "You might be made of gillions of sub-atomic particles, but I'm made in the image of God."

Comments to many online articles on the discovery seem to be dominated by the view that projects like the CERN are a giant waste of money that only allows a few science geeks to self-masturbate in a hopeless and useless attempt to "prove" their increasingly complex and abstract mathematical models.

In fact, it is indeed tempting to compare the grotesteque mathematical abstractions that the so called "standard model" requires to function with the obscene reified equations of the "quants" whose mathematical models made gillions of dollars for the Wall Street Banks, until it was realized nobody had told these supposed geniuses that housing prices wouldn't go up forever. It seems it is possible for someone to be smart enough to solve an equation that spans the size of a lecture hall blackboard, without really having any idea of how the world functions. But what should we expect in a world where science and technology are the only legitimate educational pursuits and the humanities are total waste of time.

The sense that we are living in a world marked by profound decline, where fields as far flung as finance and physics all labor under a certain detachment from the "real world" is becomming more and more evident to many people. The reality that nobody on Wall Street really understand what the hell they were doing seems to forebode the possibility that nobody in the world of particle physics really knows what they are doing either. What exactly did they discover? The "God particle" or the shadow of an abstraction caught in an enigma.................

Fred
congratulations jk

Oh what an excellent post jk, you've really got down to the nitty-gritty,and are even openly angry about the ridiculousness of everything; the way all values are upside down, the way the size of the equations grows as the satisfaction of human needs shrink, the crazed loonies who rule the world. Oh I can't go on. You've said it all so well. Theres nothing left to add. Congratulations.

ernie
Higgs-boson discovery: well impressed

I think that JK is wrong to conflate the brilliant scam pulled by some university graduates on the finance industry ie convincing them that they could simply apply mathatical models from physics to finance, with the discovery of the Higgs-Bosn. The history of capitalism has shown that in speculative bubbles all sorts of crazy scams can be pulled as desperate greed takes hold. The discovery of the Higg-Boson is nothing to do with this. It is a real and very important scientific advance.It would appear to be the confirmation of the Standard Model (for a bried explanation of the link see http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/nstv/2012/07/one-minute-physics-why-the-higgs-is-the-missing-link.html). The SM may be based on complex maths and equations that only a few physicists can understand but that does not mean that it does not have validity. A recent Horizon (a science serious on BBC2) did a very interesting program on the whole quesiton of neutrinos and the standard model, which explained it very clearly without equations. There are also several popular science books that seeks to explain the Model.

The media may seek to use this discovery to "enchant" us with all sorts of ideas, but as Marxists we should see though this and show what a real achievement for humanity this discovery could be.

The fact that we can not only think about the idea that there are fundamental laws to the universe but  also work out what they probably would be and then make predictions and hypotheses based on them, and for these to be proved or refute is truely mind boggling,and shows us what humanity will be truely able to achieve once freed of the shackles of class society..

The maths model scam on the finance would shows just how stupid our rulers can really be at times!

 

 

ernie
Higgs-boson discovery: well impressed

I think that JK is wrong to conflate the brilliant scam pulled by some university graduates on the finance industry ie convincing them that they could simply apply mathatical models from physics to finance, with the discovery of the Higgs-Bosn. The history of capitalism has shown that in speculative bubbles all sorts of crazy scams can be pulled as desperate greed takes hold. The discovery of the Higg-Boson is nothing to do with this. It is a real and very important scientific advance.It would appear to be the confirmation of the Standard Model (for a bried explanation of the link see http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/nstv/2012/07/one-minute-physics-why-the-higgs-is-the-missing-link.html). The SM may be based on complex maths and equations that only a few physicists can understand but that does not mean that it does not have validity. A recent Horizon (a science series on BBC2) did a very interesting program on the whole quesiton of neutrinos and the standard model, which explained it very clearly without equations. There are also several popular science books that seeks to explain the Model.

The media may seek to use this discovery to "enchant" us with all sorts of ideas, but as Marxists we should see though this and show what a real achievement for humanity this discovery could be.

The fact that we can not only think about the idea that there are fundamental laws to the universe but  also work out what they probably would be and then make predictions and hypotheses based on them, and for these to be proved or refute is truely mind boggling,and shows us what humanity will be truely able to achieve once freed of the shackles of class society..

The maths model scam on the finance world shows just how stupid our rulers can really be at times!

 

 

baboon
MC2=E

Agree with Ernie. Jk's position is consistent with his rejection of the Standard Model including the Big Bang. I think that the likely discovery of this particle is a scientifica achievement and I wonder if it demostrates the same thing as Einstein's Cosmological Constant, ie, the idea of a sort of "glue" throughout the universe, an idea that he subsequently rejected.

Despite jk rejecting the elitist nature of the this work there's no doubt that it was an enormous collective effort involving a range of scientists from all over the world including Palestinians, Israelis and so on. This shouldn't be underestimated.

No doubt the military will be interested in this but you can no more blame the scientists for this than you can blame E=MC2 for the nuclear bomb. Neither can you blame them for the screaming headlines about a "God particle".

jk1921
Hold on a second: I don't

Hold on a second: I don't think I ever said I rejected the Big Bang or the Standard Model. Honestly, I don't really have a dog in that fight. My post was more an effort at cultural criticism than anything else. I am sorry if that didn't come through. It was late when I wrote it.wink

The point of my post was to emphasize the growing complexity of the world that is currently manifesting itself in diverse areas such as science and finance, etc. and the profound cultural gaps that are opening up in response to it. In other parts of this discussion, I have emphasized the difficult question of Marxism's relationship to scientific "authority" and the problem of the critique of domination when it presents itself as science.

I think, as Marxists, we have to acknowledge that these issues have a level of complexity to them that it is difficult to wish away merely by referencing scientific authority. I do think it is a little odd that Marxists would defend something called the "Standard Model" without much reservation, but then again it would be a mistake to think that the most radical position one can take on something is always the best one.

Personally, I am quite perplexed by the entire issue. As I stated earlier, Lerner makes a very strong critique of the Big Bang theory (and by extension much of the Standard Model, I assume) pointing out the socially repressive function of theories of a fixed origin for the universe throughout history. He also makes a critique of the science behind it all on the basis of "Plasma Physics." I don't have the tools to evaluate the veracity of the science and I am worried that in the search for radicalness we end up in quackery sometimes, but I think it is important to ackowledege that there is a controversy here with implications for Marxism and indeed the very possibility of critique itself.

One thing that interests me about Baboon's post however is the question of the military applications of whatever it is they have discovered. Why is this giant particle accelerator in Switzerland? Why was the proposed accelerator in Texas cancelled? Who is funding this research? I imagine that something this expensive must be backed up by state dollars. Has US state captialism more or less turned its back on this stuff and ceded the terrain to the Europeans? Why?

Fred
ernie says "The media may

ernie says "The media may seek to use this discovery to "enchant" us with all sorts of ideas, but as Marxists we should see though this and show what a real achievement for humanity this discovery could be." It isn't the media that seek to enchant us, but the bourgeoisie, and don't be so confident that "as Marxists" you can be sure we're seeing through it. They enchant us daily with anything that'll distract us from the fact of the crisis and the necessary imposition of austerity and the suffering it causes. And I'm sure they'd be delighted to know that proletarian revolutionaries are, to an extent, falling for it. The fact that we can think about the fundamental laws of tbe universe, is very nice, and truly mind boggling. (Dont you think Horizon serves the needs of the bourgeoisie, as well as those of science-under-bourgeois-rule, and is there as yet another mind-boggler,like terrorism, or generalized gang warfare in Syria, or any of tbe other enchanting distractions our rulers provide every day to "protect" us from the reality of dying capitalism and increasingly savage austerity?)

Higgs Boson may be a wonderful discovery, and a triumph for science, and may indicate what humanity will do when freed from the shackles of class society. But if all it does for the working class is provide an opportunity for proletarian militants to fall for bourgeois enchantments, then the bourgeoisie will have made their point. As a particle, Higgs Boson seems to be serving a purpose similar to that of the particle that led the three wise men to Bethlehem: a sort of magical mystery tour with nothing at the end for the working class.

ernie
Sorry I got the wrong end of

Sorry I got the wrong end of the stick JK, I think I see where you are coming from. Not read the learner book so cannot comment. The questioning of the Big Bang in itself is not a big problem, science is based on always doubting results. The question is the method used.

For me the possible discovery of the  Higg-Boson is something that revolutionaries should be interested in because it represents a possible important step forwards for humanities potential to control its future. The Workers' Movement has always had a particular interest in science from the earliest days. Early workers papers and magazines had articles on science, defending it against religion, there was the whole movement of the technical and philosophical institutes set up to help workers educate themselves. Marx and Engel's were very interested in the latest developments in science. Marx and Engels were extremely impressed by the very serious way that workers sort to understand science and its advances, despite having worked 12 hour days and living in poverty. Fred would be appearing to suggest that they and we are falling for the enchanments of the  bourgeoisie!

Also the bourgeoisie did not discover the Higg_boson its was scientists collaborating around the world -extremely skilled proletarians-, as Baboon points out, that did. What the state does with these results and why they should have poured billions into building CERN is another  question. One that has puzzled me as well.

As for the class nature of Horizon, yes it is part of the  bourgeoisie appartus of ideological domination, but then so is the whole of the media, education and academia, does that mean we cannot learn anything from them?

Persoanlly, I was brought up watching Horizon and I am very thank for my parents allowing me to watch it: it helped me to have a questioning mind. Recently I meet the original producer of Horizon, by chance, and thank him for such a good program! I must have drunk deeply of the magic potionto still be entranced after all these years. Sadly recently Horizon has gone the way of many science programs and become celeberaty lead,ah the lose of illusions is painful!

 

 

baboon
don't dismiss science

Apologies to jk if I misrepresented his views but Fred above seems to dismiss scientific achievements within capitalism out of hand to the point of castigating proletarian militants for showing an interest in them. This is a false vision in my opinion and again I agree with Ernie above.

There's an interesting piece in the Observer today by its science editor, Robin Mckie, on how this whole experiment was very precarious and its funding almost stopped by national governments. If you want echantments Fred look at this "liberal", "serious" newspaper which has the first three pages about a possible win by a Briton in a tennis match.

The Higgs bosun is a particle, and identifiable as such, that points to a universal energy field, that was first conceived in the imagination of man and which has now almost certainly been verified by a mass scientific experiment taking years and involving over ten thousand scientists and engineers - highly skilled proletarians as Ernie says. Its discovery tends to confirm existing theories as well as posing new questions. As a marxist, I don't see how this can be so contemptably dismissed?

This "triumph of science and engineering" as Mckie puts it, almost never happened because of the withdrawal of funding by national governments and he goes on to say that it is unlikely that they will continue to fund such projects in the future.

The US Superconductor Super Collider, initially backed by Congress, had general interest lost in it when it became clear that it would only initally benefit Texas where it was to operate. Both the above are typical of the short-termism of capitalism.

Got to go now and watch the tennis - C'mon Tim (just joking).

jk1921
No worries Ernie and Baboon,

No worries Ernie and Baboon, It was I who did not make myself particularly clear. But part of the reason for that is because I am NOT particulary clear about any of this.

It does seem that there are at least two differing conceptions of science and its relationship with captialism and Marism in play here:

1.) Science is basically class neutral. Its achievements belong to humanity. The goal of Marxism is to extract it from the lingering ideological meaning class society gives it (i.e. the idea that what they found at CERN has something to do with God) and create the social conditions through which science can be applied in the interest of the entire species, rather than the ruling class. In this view, questioning the achievements of science is dangerous and can lead to a capitulation to various anti-technological, or in the extreme case, primitivist ideologies.

2.) Science is implicated in class rule and alienation. Its achievements have a certain objectifying and instrumentalist character. Whether it was this way from the beginning or has only become so as a result of decadence and the decine of captialist civilization is open for debate; however, the point here is that Marxists must adopt a critical approach towards science. This need is more profound in some areas than others, but there is a sense that we can't always trust science to be an unqualified "good." Science is characterized, not by abstract linear progress, but is firmly rooted in the class societies it develops in. It develops in the context of paradigms (Kuhn), which do not necessarily correspond to the "truth" about the world, but which function as disciplining mechanisms to root out dissent and alternative ideas. Many scientific ideas serve class interests and become weapons of the ruling class.

These are gross generalizations, but I think they reflect a real tensions in the approach to science, as it has developed in this debate so far.

One final point: I don't get the significance of the "cooperative labor" argument about CERN. Sure, this work wasn't just carried put by a few ivory tower elitists. It did require the contribution of tens of thousands of proletarians, etc., but doesn't just about every large scale activity? It seems the Nazi Reich Chancellery couldn't have run either without the labor of thousands of proletarians somewhere down the chain. Lone Londoner tried to make this point either. What do we gain by citing the captialist division of labor? Isn't the point of Marxism to end this? What am I not seeing here?

Fred
If you think it was me who

If you think it was me who "contemptibly dismissed" Higgs Boson baboon, then you're quite wrong. I don't dismiss it at all. And as to "contempt"... it's true I expressed regret if the discovery only served as yet another covenient distraction for the bourgeoisie to use against us, and a deeper regret if some militants found our rulers latest enchantment, and the ideological way they are able to use it, as somehow beyond critique. But there was no contempt here baboon, just a little sadness. And I don't even know that my regret about the seemingly uncritical adulation by some hard-headed militants of scientific achievements under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, is firmly based. Just raising the question. Just wondering. Is that allowed? All I was saying is that there doesn't seem to be much in it at the moment for the working class. And if you say "well it's good progress for humanity..." then I would just ask "which side of the class struggle is humanity going to be on, when the struggle takes off? But there was no contempt baboon! And my reference to the star of Bethlehem, and the absence again of anything in it for the proletariat; just a joke. A bit satirical perhaps, but no contempt: except perhaps for the manipulations and far reaching machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie.

Apart from that I think jk makes some very serious and incisive comments about science and class rule, which deserve our consideration.
And as to Marx and Engels being enthusiasts for science, well I am myself though rarely understanding it. But Marx and Engels were living during the "good" ascendant part of capitalism's reign. Things changed a lot with the onset of decadence. The trades unions went over to the bourgeoisie, and, who knows, maybe science did. Under decomposition we might doubt that our founding theoreticians would be clinging now and intransigently to the same views of the world they found alright in say 1880. I'm sure Marx would agree. But I could be wrong.

that they did

.

Pierre
The reason why its called the

The reason why its called the "God particle" isn't even due to Peter Higgs himself. The author of the book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?, Leon Lederman, is the one who coined the term. And even then it was supposed to be "The Goddamn Particle" (in reference to the 30+ year struggle to find it), but the publisher forced Lederman to change the name of the book, and the news media loves to confuse people by using the term.

Also, I don't see how the experiments at CERN amount to the oversimplification I keep hearing that a bunch of scientists are just sitting around doing uber-complex math. Remember what really happened is we smashed particles together so fast, with so much force, that we were able to observe what happens to their actual masses in the process. If we actually observed this phenemonon, whats left that is so "abstract?"

The only possiblity is that we discovered some new particle other than the Higgs Boson. But so what, we discovered something we have never discovered before, based on a hunch that originated in the minds of human-beings.

jk1921
Thanks for the background

Thanks for the background info Proper. The issue I think is that there is a sense that the physicists tend to shape their observations to fit the preconceived mathematical requirements. In other words, they see what they want to see in the data. The relationship between observation and theory has been reversed. The data is reinterpreted to fit the requirements of the paradigm. Lerner has an entire disucssion of how observational data has repeatedly invalidated the Big Bang theory, yet the paradigm constantly adjusts itself through a series of ever more abstract and complicated mathematical "fudges" to keep itself alive.

I can't comment on the veracity of all that, but another example where I am more confident is psychiatry where the dominat model of schizophrena for sometime has been  that is its the result of a malfunction in the dopamine system. This is supposedly validated by brain scans that show abnormal activation of dopamine circuits in the brain in people diagnosed with schiozophrenia. Still, nobody has ever been able to "prove" a causal relationship. They can't say whether the activation of the dopamine circuitry is a cause or an effect. But because the dominat paradigm in psychiatry is bio-reductionist; it is simply assumed that the brain scans prove that schizophrenia is caused by a "broken brain." These ideas trickle down into the media culture, such that it is common place today to believe that stress and anxiety are caused by cortisol or that the feeling of love is a mere effect of oxytocin levels. Clearly, there is a good deal of ideology at work here in service of a paradigm.  Some critics think the problem is materialism, but I would say its vulgar materialism.

Still, even if this discovery does represent "reality." We continue to have a problem to explain. Why does this kind of work alienate so many people? Why is there a profound cultural revulsion to all this? Why do so many struggling working people see things like this as a giant waste of resources that has NO impact on their lives?

To conclude, I think the frustration that comes out in Fred's post is in part a reaction to the level of certainty some have on these issues. I have this concern as well. How is it possible to be so certain about this in the context of a good deal of critical literature about it?

 

baboon
real problem

Jk points to a real problem regarding the relations of science under the present conditions of capitalism. I don't think that science is neutral, standing above society, but mainly an expression of the bourgeoisie, But not totally - and that's not to say that there are elements of "proletarian science" but that there are elements of science that are not in the thrall of the ruling class which sometimes opposes it or goes into different areas than simply ruling class interests. There is in these aspects something which can inform the concerns and research of communists, ie, there is something positive to them.

An example: some years ago some scientists, on the basis of their research, put forward a view that there was a "hole" in the ozone layer above the earth, that it was growing and that this was potentially dangerous for mankind. These ideas and these scientists were abused and villified by the main vectors of the bourgeoisie. A bit later however some scientists demonstrated with undeniable proof that the ozone layer existed and that it was getting larger - the hole was "mapped" and it couldn't be argued against. The bourgeoisie had to effect some changes in order to remedy the situation which they did reluctantly and very slowly initially making the problem worse. But with some measures the "hole" was closed and the latest as far as I understand it is that the problem will be largely overcome by around the middle of this century but not without large numbers of people getting skin cancer as a direct result. It's too simplistic to simply denounce the scientists who made this discovery as running dogs of a decadent social system.

It's a similar story with global warming, pollution, etc., and the scientists who have researched and defend the idea that this is man-made and can be undone by man. Whatever the reformist agendas of these scientists they are still at odds with the needs of capitalism which is to continue to poison the planet with their need for profit. It's similar with many other scientific elements that can inform the work of communists: anthropology, studies in disease, and so on. Decadence doesn't mean that everything stops and every element of society outside of the working class is counter-revolutionary.

On the question of "cooperative labour": of course cooperative labour existed under the nazi and stalinist regimes as it does under democracy. And of course the communist perspective is ultimately the disappearance of the division of labour, classes and the proletariat itself. But it's the situation of workers as an associated class of cooperative labour that gives it its revolutionary potential - its place in production. Workers produce weapons, the means of the facilitation of bourgeois ideology, etc., but it is its place in the productive process that ultimately brings it into inevitable conflict with the bourgeoisie. I, and I'm sure Ernie, don't want to give the impression that the CERN business was an island of communism, or even an exaple of it, within capitalism. But it was an enormous international, collective effort that does give us a glimpse of what mankind is capable of doing.

I worked in the water industry for many years and during that time, particularly when there were problems, I worked with technicians, engineers, chemists and scientists - sometimes at the same time, to overcome the problems and provide healthy drinking water to hundreds of thousands. We were totally in the framework of wage labour but nevertheless the ability of cooperative labour within this was for me very much a positive factor - as it is for millions of workers who produce just about everything every day.

Pierre
Re:

jk1921 wrote:
Lerner has an entire disucssion of how observational data has repeatedly invalidated the Big Bang theory, yet the paradigm constantly adjusts itself through a series of ever more abstract and complicated mathematical "fudges" to keep itself alive.

I've always also been weary of this kind of thing myself. For example, the most supported string theory involves 11 dimensions, theoretically.

This all gets so mind-boggling at this point for me though. You have to ask, how much does the way in which we observe or percieve our surrondings affecting the data we recieve through observation? For example my dog, a housefly and myself could all be looking at the same color. To me it seems green. To my dog it seems gray. To the fly who sees in a different spectrum it might be purple. Were all experiencing the same observation, but each one of us would have different ways of percieving it. The question is--- are there three colors or one?

I heard somewhere no value is absolute until its measured. How true and universal is this statement?

Fred
Einstein on science

It seems that even Einstein had doubts about scientific progress and wondered out loud why it brought so little happiness. In a speech to a large body of students, in Pasadena, in February 1930, he went on. "If you want your life's work to be useful to mankind, it is not enough that you understand applied science as such. Concern for man himself must always constitute the chief objective of all technological effort, concern for the big unsolved problems of how to organize human work and the distribution of commodities in such a manner as to assure that the results of our scientific thinking may be a blessing to mankind, and not a curse."

quoted in R.W.Clark (2011: p527) Einstein: The Life and Times.

jk1921
Nice one

Fred wrote:
It seems that even Einstein had doubts about scientific progress and wondered out loud why it brought so little happiness. In a speech to a large body of students, in Pasadena, in February 1930, he went on. "If you want your life's work to be useful to mankind, it is not enough that you understand applied science as such. Concern for man himself must always constitute the chief objective of all technological effort, concern for the big unsolved problems of how to organize human work and the distribution of commodities in such a manner as to assure that the results of our scientific thinking may be a blessing to mankind, and not a curse." quoted in R.W.Clark (2011: p527) Einstein: The Life and Times.

 

Nice find Fred.

LoneLondoner
Colour comment

proper_propaganda wrote:

This all gets so mind-boggling at this point for me though. You have to ask, how much does the way in which we observe or percieve our surrondings affecting the data we recieve through observation? For example my dog, a housefly and myself could all be looking at the same color. To me it seems green. To my dog it seems gray. To the fly who sees in a different spectrum it might be purple. Were all experiencing the same observation, but each one of us would have different ways of percieving it. The question is--- are there three colors or one?

Interesting. I think you need to distinguish two different things though. On the one hand, you, your dog, and the fly are looking at the green door. Objectively you are all seeing the same thing: the door. You are all perceiving the same thing (keeping to the colour and ignoring the door's other physical characteristics): light reflected off the door at a frequency range of 526-606 TeraHertz and a wavelength between 495 and 570 nanometres. From that point of view you are all "seeing" the same thing.

But what we mean by colour is the way in which the human brain interprets that frequency/wavelength range. Even among humans we do not all interpret these frequencies in the same way. And then it gets even more complicated, because your evaluation of a colour is also connected to memory and emotional affects (do you find the colour green soothing, nauseating, indifferent... do you prefer green to yellow, is the green door set in a red wall and you dislike the colour combination?). Here we are in territory which is definitely human: the dog and the fly are not seeing things this way, for sure.

Pierre
Thanks LL, hadn't thought of

Thanks LL, hadn't thought of it from that perspective.

Still though, in science today the question is more relevant than ever--- how much does our perception (or lack thereof) affect our scientific observations?

jk1921
Italian Geologists

Anyone following the manslaughter convictions and potential jail sentences of the Italian geologists that allegedly failed to warn about the dangers of the earthquake that killed many? What kind of world are we living in where scientists can't make mistakes for fear of jail? Have we advanced any from the days of Galileo? Back then scientists faced jail (or worse) for being scientists, now its for not being good enough scientists? I don't know all the facts of the case, but there seems to be something disturbing here. Is it now the expectations that science (and scientists) can solve all of our problems? If they screw up; then it must mean they were criminals? Can we no longer accept that sometimes shit just happens and sometimes people screw up? I wonder what kind of political pressure they were under at the time?