Death of Stephen Hawking: a scientific mind in the service of humanity

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jk1921
Death of Stephen Hawking: a scientific mind in the service of humanity
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Death of Stephen Hawking: a scientific mind in the service of humanity. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

jk1921
This article perplexes me

This article perplexes me some. I have no doubt that Hawking at one time made a substantive contribution to his scientific field, but the value in his later life work seems to have been more as a populizer of cosmological theory--some of the underpinnings of which have been challenged by some figures who consider themselves on the political left. Clearly, Hawking made little or no substantive contribution to the workers' movement. As was pointed out in another thread--his politics were quite anodyne bourgeois leftism--a supporter of the Labour Party, who marched with Trotskyists, but who appeared to have problems with Corbyn. Moreover, some of his statements about the existence of alien life seem problematic--it almost certainly exists, but humanity should not try to contact it less they discover us and destroy us. Is this a recognition that the horrors of imperialism and colonialism likely extend into outer space or is it just a dark dystopianism? Borne of what vision of humnaity's future? It doesn't sound like a communist one.

But if we are going to salute scientists who "serve humanity"? Where do we draw the line at who gets a celebratory obituary in the working class press and who doesn't? How bad does ones' politics have to be to get excluded? What about Richard Dawkins? He is generally regarded as one of the most important contributors to evolutionary biology living today, but his politics are highly controversial, some would even say racist, but that is obviously debatable. Is it that Hawking's politics were so anodyne that he can "safely" be saluted in our press without bringing up thorny political questions? if that is the thought, obviously its wrong, because here I am bringing up thorny political questions.

But, if we are going to salute all those in the culture who in some way "serve humanity," why should we draw the line at (hard) scientists? When Chomsky goes (which is likely to be soon) will he get an article? He is obviously not a left communist. He is an anarchist of some kind. At one point, he made some important contributions to linguistics, but my understanding is that they have since been transcended. He has spent the majority of his career as an ardent critic of US foreign policy and he strongly urged everyone to vote for Shillary in 2016, because the other option was so unthinkable. Still, Chomsky has also made invaluable contributions to understanding how the press and media function to "manufacture consent," which could be viewed as a development of the Marxist theory of "false consciousness." He also recommended an individual attend an ICC public meeting once, when he expressed interest in left communist ideas (or so we were told). Does Chomsky get an article?

But let's do a little reductio ad absurdum: Why even stop with scientists and social theorists? What does it even really mean to "serve humanity"? How perfect does one have to be? Do entertainers and other pop culture figures in some way "serve humanity" or do they anesthetize it? Heck, Oprah has made millions of her viewers feel better. So has Dr. Phil. Their politics are pretty anodyne too.

What is really at work in this article celebrating Hawking though? Is it his scientific contributions or is it more his personal story of transcending upper motor neuron disease to make those contributions? Are we celebrating the achievements or a certain performance principle behind a disabled person who can still--despite it all--make those achievements? Its hard to put into words the emotions that such cultural displays of fascination with the disabled who achieve nonetheless can invoke in the much more numerous disabled people who are truly stymied by their conditions. Many of whom are forced by the very performance principle of bourgeois society to live in abject poverty on a measly allowance from the state that often doesn't even cover basic daily living costs. In bourgeois society, it is simply not possible to pay a disabled person more than the bare minimum, because there can't be a perverse incentive to be disabled. Great for Hawking! No, really--bully for him! But what about all of us failures? I really hope this isn't what is going on here. This is a kind of hero worship that bourgeois ideology trucks in--a bootstrappy kind of medical Stakhanovism that continues to assign worth not to one's intrinsic humanity, but to their achievements in the bourgeois public sphere.

I am reminded of the 2012 Presidential campaign in the US, when both the Romney and Obama campaigns made a minor virtue of how they had family members who achieved great things despite their multiple sclerosis (Romney's wife--Michelle Obama's father). Really, who cares? for Marxists our approach should be "From each according to their abilities to each according to their needs." I am not sure this fits with celebrating the transcendence of disability. If you can transcend it, were you ever really disabled to begin with? I'll stop here.

P.S. I am pretty sure the phrase "disabled" is not-PC anymore. I think its supposed to be "people with disabilities," or some such convoluted compound word phrase, but as my carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive motion injuries are killing me about now, I am not going to edit it.

 

baboon
I think that he's worth a

I think that he's worth a mention. As you say jk, among others, there are myriads of personal struggles that go unnoticed, with people in far more perilous positions; that's the world of capitalism. But there is a story here, and though they are not generally mentioned, Hawkins had his hard times and grief outside of his illness. I also thought that some of his speculations on alien life were a bit dubious.

But he demonstrated, with some mathematical certainty, that the Big Bang wasn't an Act of God, and he showed, with some charm, the existence and properties of Black Holes. Both areas based on previous scientific advances and taken forward with some rigour.

Chomsky? No.

Demogorgon
Brilliant individuals

Hawking was undoubtedly a brilliant man, both scientifically and personally.

But I share JK's concern about the apparently completely uncritical approach we take here. There is nothing in this article that offers a Marxist perspective on Hawking's life and work. I think this was a real missed opportunity to look into the social context of what makes the "brilliant individual", both in reality (as they do exist!) and the ideology behind it.

Hawking's achievements were made possible by collective activity of a whole range of people: the medical staff that treated his condition; the technicians and engineers that designed the equipment that aided his daily life; the colleagues who assisted him. Moreover, science itself doesn't happen in a vacuum - a whole infrastructure has to be built and maintained to support scientific endeavour.

Even his scientific achievements were built on the work of those scientists who came before him and were examined and critiqued by his peers, as they will continue to be. The praise of the individual misses the point that most science today is as collective and multidisciplinary as production itself, with most of the hard work being done by underpaid graduate students.

In that sense, "Stephen Hawking", was a nexus of collective human activity that came together to release a remarkable human potential. His exceptional individual qualities cannot be fully understood without the social dimension.

There is, of course, another side, because Stephen Hawking lived in capitalism. For all the talk of serving humanity, the "humanity" he served most was the bourgeoisie. This is a simple banality of life in capitalism: we all serve capitalism and the bourgeoisie in our daily lives, even revolutionaries.

Only revolutionary activity and the class struggle provide an alternative to this horrific reality of life.

In that sense, Hawking serves as a modern example of the "brilliant individual", the "self-made man" that triumphed over great odds. He also represents a mythological figure for other social strata, as well: the ideal of self-actualisation through work. In a world where the vast majority of life and work is alienated, there is a profound human hunger to do something "meaningful" and that "helps others". We all want to feel that we "make a difference". Again, Hawking serves as an idol for this ideology, too.

The fact that, unlike other "great individuals", Hawking wasn't tainted by the trappings of obvious wealth makes him ideally suited to these alienated aspirations of bourgeois ideology.

A last irony is that Stephen Hawking's specific discoveries will have little impact on the daily lives of the vast majority of the human species. In that sense, Bill Gates has arguably done more to improve human life than Stephen Hawking has ever done. Of course, Gates is also filthy rich, a ruthless exploiter of both the proletariat and rival capitalists. And you may have strong views about the Windows operating system! Yet it remains true that said operating system runs most of the fundamental systems that make modern life possible.

As for Hawking, it is true that his activity contributed to an enrichment of the intellectual life of humanity, which has aspirations beyond simple day-to-day survival. And yet, that humanity is trapped and enslaved in a social system that strips each individual of qualities (intellectual, emotional, etc.) that are not needed to serve that system. The result is that the vast majority of humanity (including me) is simply unequipped and unable to appreciate the wonders that Hawking revealed.

In the shadow of the idol of "Stephen Hawking", the proletarian stands muted, invisible, excluded, forever outside and looking in; intellectually stunted even in her intellectual labour, emotionally retarded as he struggles to find meaning even in meaningful activity; desiring to serve humanity, but finding only slavery.

In today's world, the real service to humanity is to resist anthrophagic social system that denies humanity the chance to transform the anodyne sentiments about serving humanity into a living reality.

Alf
idolising Hawking

It's true more could have been said about the way the bourgeoisie has used the image of Hawking as a brilliant individual, just as more could have been said about the way the bourgeoisie instrumentalises the discoveries of science in general; it's true that his politics remained in the bourgeois spectrum; true that he said silly things about aliens; true even that non-physicists can criticise Hawking when he strays from physics into the general realm of philosophy (for example when cosmologists talk about a "theory of everything" which doesn't seem to include the problem of consciousness). It's true that more could have been said about Hawking's work as a product of associated labour (although if you read his short autobiography he talks a lot about his joint work with others). But I still don't think that Demo is right when he says that "there is nothing in this article that offers a Marxist perspective on Hawking's life and work".

The marxist perspective is contained in this paragraph, which touches on a fundamental problem confronting the proletariat:

"Today, the whole of humanity seems to be suffering from a deep and potentially fatal malady: it no longer believes in its future. More exactly, the working class has forgotten what it is and what it is capable of. It has lost the perspective of a new world, which it alone can bring into being. This perspective has been trapped in the present, where minds are more and more infected by the spirit of every man for himself, by irrationality and fear. Stephen Hawking’s spirit should be an inspiration to us: even in the face of the worst, of imminent death, he rejected the egoistic illusions of the present instant and instead projected himself into the future of humanity through his scientific research".

Demogorgon
Confidence in the future, but which future?

"Today, the whole of humanity seems to be suffering from a deep and potentially fatal malady: it no longer believes in its future. More exactly, the working class has forgotten what it is and what it is capable of. It has lost the perspective of a new world, which it alone can bring into being. This perspective has been trapped in the present, where minds are more and more infected by the spirit of every man for himself, by irrationality and fear. Stephen Hawking’s spirit should be an inspiration to us: even in the face of the worst, of imminent death, he rejected the egoistic illusions of the present instant and instead projected himself into the future of humanity through his scientific research."

True, his contribution to science may be long-lived, but this personalised adulation seems deeply problematic. As JK says, why him? What other scientific representatives should communists and workers look to for inspiration?

Why not Newton or Galileo or Bohr or any other famous scientist? Are they all representatives of this confidence in this "future"? What about Werner von Braun, a truly remarkable man who put men on the moon, one of the most symbolic events in the history of our species ... but who began his scientific career as an SS member and designed rockets for the Nazis?

The problem here is that the "future" being talked about here seems purely abstract. Only two futures are currently available to humanity: a capitalist one and communist one. And, of course, the capitalist future is not much of a future at all.

Yet, in the absence of any revolutionary content, I see no way that Hawking can represent a communist future. At absolute best, he may represent intellectual heights that more of us may achieve in such a future, but he offers not the slightest clue as to how to achieve that future.

In reality, Hawking's idolisation presents a capitalist present and future. He represents the spirit of reformism: with the right equality legislation, the NHS, etc. even profoundly disabled people can be high achievers in this society. You just have to be willing to work hard and make sacrifices. And, with brains like his, we can solve climate change and all the other problems that occasionally interrupt the smooth running of the capitalist system.

Hawking may represent confidence in the future, but it's a bourgeois confidence in a bourgeois future.

It is true that one of the main barriers to struggle is the working class' lack of confidence in itself, but I don't see how Hawking offers an antidote to that.

A real development of working class confidence can only be developed by engaging in struggles. What role does confidence play here? In the current situation, where the working class is far away from a revolutionary confidence, defensive struggles are the first form a return to struggle will take. Such a struggle is based on two forms of confidence: (i) that the goal of the struggle is realisable, and (ii) that the struggle can be won.

The first element of confidence is confidence in the capitalist system, i.e. that wage cuts, pension reforms, etc. are not the inevitable consequence of this system. This is why, even in ascendent capitalism, defensive struggles (and their organs, the trade unions) had such a close relationship with reformism. Today, reformism represents a belief in capitalism's future both positive (it can be changed for the better) and negative (it cannot be defeated).

As revolutionaries, we hope that class struggle pushes the working class towards the realisation that both perspectives are false. Defensive struggles no longer have their value in their immediate goals, most of which are either unrealisable or ephemeral. Their power comes from the fact that they reveal a form of solidarity and humanity that is now almost totally absent from daily capitalist life. That revelation only serves to highlight further the daily impoverishment (both material and "spiritual") in which we live and ask us the question of why we live like this when a real, lived alternative is available - one which we created in our struggle!

It is the confidence in its power to create that alternative, in the immediate, in real life, but losing confidence in capitalism's ability to provide it that opens the door to the class realising it can build that future without capitalism.

I struggle to see what value Hawking offers to this development of class consciousness. The great theorists of the workers' movement at least articulated and developed the aspirations of the class. Moreover, the place of these exceptional individuals was itself a product of the immaturity of the working class, which was gradually replaced by the collective intellectual of the revolutionary organisation (albeit one where exceptional individuals still emerged).

The maturity of the working class will be measured in the development of this collective intellectual activity, not its dependence on great thinkers, even revolutionary ones. Idolising bourgeois thinkers like Hawking, let alone seeing them as some sort of antidote to the despair of decomposition, seems like a massive step backwards to me.

jk1921
Supernatural

Alf wrote:

The marxist perspective is contained in this paragraph, which touches on a fundamental problem confronting the proletariat:

"Today, the whole of humanity seems to be suffering from a deep and potentially fatal malady: it no longer believes in its future. More exactly, the working class has forgotten what it is and what it is capable of. It has lost the perspective of a new world, which it alone can bring into being. This perspective has been trapped in the present, where minds are more and more infected by the spirit of every man for himself, by irrationality and fear. Stephen Hawking’s spirit should be an inspiration to us: even in the face of the worst, of imminent death, he rejected the egoistic illusions of the present instant and instead projected himself into the future of humanity through his scientific research".

The perspective here still seems to be that of the courageous, brilliant, talented individual who rises above social decomposition to produce something transcendental. One might even be tempted to call the vision rather mystical as it is not clear where this unique power to defy the overwhleming forces of social conformity come from. In fact, there is an air of supernaturalness about the entire Hawking story itself. Is this why it is so fascinating? Upper motor neuron disease (aka ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease) usually kills its victims in a matter of years, yet Hawking was able to live with it for decades. Not only did he defy the pressures of captialist relations (the egotisitc illusions of the present), but he also defied the degeneration of his very nervous system. How could this man be mortal?

But besides this, there seems a certain reification of science in the entire exercise, which is something bourgeois society itself is apt to do today. The scientist is seen as some kind of holy figure up in the ivory tower high above the vulgar world of the money changers. Science is in a sense pure knowledge, uncorruppted by material motives and ideological distortions. Isn't this the mirror image of contemporary captialism's STEM worship against all other fields of knowledge? It seems as if the message is that it is "safe" for revolutionaries to revere scientists in a way that is not possible with any other public figures in contemporary social life whose contributions are always polluted by some other motive.

 

jk1921
In defense of mediocrity?

Demogorgon wrote:

In that sense, Hawking serves as a modern example of the "brilliant individual", the "self-made man" that triumphed over great odds. He also represents a mythological figure for other social strata, as well: the ideal of self-actualisation through work. In a world where the vast majority of life and work is alienated, there is a profound human hunger to do something "meaningful" and that "helps others". We all want to feel that we "make a difference". Again, Hawking serves as an idol for this ideology, too.

The anarcho-academic David Graeber published this piece yesterday (actually an excerpt from a coming book) on the so-called "bullshitization" of work, in which he describes a process whereby so many people today spend large portions of their working life doing nothing really socially useful. Even scientists today spend increasing amounts of their time simply begging for grant money. Senseless admistrative tasks abound, people are forced to spend increasing amounts of time trying to "quantify the unquantifiable," or even just trying to justify themselves having a job at all to administrators.

There are some problems with Graeber's thesis--the tendency towards actually reproducing a certain moralism regarding the content of one's work (useful vs. parasitic labor), ignoring the fact that while administrative bloat may infect largely white collar sectors of the economy, blue collar and service workers often face the opposite process, etc. but the piece serves to illustrate a real problem in glorifying exceptional high achievement and the social utility of one's work, when many of us are forced by capitalism to remain trapped in this kind of self-referential mediocrity.

baboon
I think that Demo makes some

I think that Demo makes some salient points in his criticisms but I don't share jk's apparant contempt for science and scientists. I don't think that this is an approach that marxists should take and it's certainly not one that Marx took. Marx read and made contact with many scientists and was particularly interested in the work of the intellectual aristocrat E. Ray Lankester for his studies on ethnology and who, despite some weird views, became a close friend. Marx read the detailed work of the chemists Christian Schonbein and Justin Von Liebeg, and included their analyses in Capital, writing to Engels that their work was "more important than all the economists put together".

Jk asks where does this power to overcome social conformity come from and suggests the idea, or even the "overcoming", is "supernatural" or visionary. The task of great artists, philosophers and scientists is to step out of and go beyond "social conformity" or, more accurately, the limitations of the economic basis of society. It comes from free will. I think that the really great artists, etc., can be called "visionary".  I'd put Hawking in this category from his much earlier work with the great scientist Roger Penrose (who was a visionary - he eschewed maths to paint pictures of space-time), to his attempts to unify the two fields of physics. Hawking was also not slow in changing his position when evidence against it was provided.

You can't really blame Hawking for the bourgeois campaign whipped up around him. They did exactly the same to Einstein and Hawking is entirely in continuity with Einstein. Notwithstanding the rise of fundamentalist religious beliefs that's expressive of capitalist decomposition, I think that broad layers of the working class today have an imaginative idea of a universe that is full of galaxies and that's thanks to the fundamental materialism of scientists like Einstein, Hawking and Rovelli.

The "theory of everything" has to begin and end with consciousness and I don't see scientific materialism divorced from this. The bourgeoisie can't even approach this question and one can see the difficulty with the programmes of the very engaging  Professor Brian Cox whose analysis from the Big Bang (a scientific fact, like the Earth going around the Sun) to the present is persuasive but unable to develop any perspective for the future other than cold, empty, space.
 

Alf
cold empty space

If I remember rightly, Cox elaborated that future vision of cold empty space following the heat death of the universe in the very same programme that he talked about the possibility that our universe is only one of an uncountable number of universes. 

I endorse the direction taken by baboon's post, not least where he insists that it would be a mistake to identify the scientist and the human being with the bourgeoisie's falsifications and idol-creation. 

Comunero
Cold death is the only

Cold death is the only possibility if the universe doesn't die in a different way. At least according with the laws of thermodinamics and with the unavoidable increase of entropy, "facts" quite more "facts" than the Big Bang. Of course, I don't want to start a scientific discussion, but I don't think the theories about the death of the universe have anything to do with any pessimism, specially when this death is situated many, many more years after our present that the universe itself has. I think that possibly it's the other way around: the rejection of the eventual death of the universe is rooted in a loose desire for eternity derived from our fear to die without having lived a fully human life. Defending that the idea of the eventual death of the universe millions of millions of years from now is in some way due to the (real, existing) bourgeoise pessimism is similar in essence to think that the idea of the Sun turning into a white dwarf and dissappearing as a supernova is also due to that, or even thinking that human life reaches a definitive end is also due to the inability of the bourgeoisie to image anything different to the slow dissolution of capitalism into barbarism.

Maybe I'm going a little bit mystical here, but life implies death and death implies life. Everything in the universe, and the universe itself, evolves, developes and changes trough the dissolution of difference into a homogeneous nothingness, our very own body is dissolving and will eventually dissappear into that cold, homogeneus nothingness. I think of it as the proggresive dissolution of contradictions into a big, unified oneness. This last paragraph is just metaphisycal speculation ofc, but I think it can be one of many examples of the possibility to see the death of the universe, the ultimate death, as something neither catastrophical nor pessimist. The mature plant is ready to decay, the crime is letting the plant die before it fulfills its existence.

Comunero
jk, the phrase for disabled

jk, the phrase for disabled people is, in the latest fashion trend, "people with functional diversity" ;) It truly elevates sugarcoating to an art.

Alf
The End

Just a point on the End of The Universe. I agree with Comunero that Cox, in talking about cold death, was putting forward a scientifically valid conclusion based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics and that contemplating the end of this universe is not in itself an expression  of bourgeois pessimism. But I am not sure that the quest for an absolute beginning and thus an absolute end does not have an ideological element in it. It struck me as contradictory that Cox in the same programme was saying that scientists were more and more drawn to the hypothesis of a multiverse, an infinity of universes, and then at the end seemed to shift to the vision of the end of our particular universe as the last word to be said on the question. 

Comunero
Well, yes, I agree with that.

Well, yes, I agree with that. Although I'd have to read again about the multiverse hypotesis. As I remember it now (and it's quite possible I don't remember correctly!) the multiverse hypotesis based on what we know says that the universe "splits" everytime there's a collapse of a given superposition (this doesn't imply that any universe can overcome the laws of thermodinamics), and the one about infinite universes with every possible combination of qualities and laws was way less based on what we know. I have to read about it again (and more) because I don't remember very much.

It's true what you say about definitive end. I've used that expression, but it's true that some versions of the Big Crunch theory say that the universe has a expansion-collapse cycle. But I don't know if that implies anything different at all for anything alive when the Crunch happens, and it doesn't even make sense to apply it to the future of mankind. After all, in that case everything that we know, except for the laws of physics, will disappear.

I don't think there's any last word in this subject, or even in science in general. I've met many phisicysts, and I've been surprised to see that lots of them think that, in a practical way, it's not possible to go beyond our current understanding of the basis of physics. That can really come from a general historical pessimism.

Comunero
Regarding the article, I

Regarding the article, I agree with whath is said about Hawking. Nonetheless, I think all this writing and talking (in general, not specifically this article) about Hawking after his death has a lot to do with his huge fame and popularity more than with his contributions. There are plenty of physicists which have made contributions of equal or greater importance, and yet they usually are only dedicated a relatively modest obituary in newspapers. So I think what jk said is relevant, although I disagree with him regarding the role of physicists (you can't really compare science with the pseudo scientific envelope for ideology that are social sciences). So yes, I'd also say "what is really at work in this article [I'd say in general] celebrating Hawking though? Is it his scientific contributions or is it more his personal story of transcending upper motor neuron disease to make those contributions?"

 

Demogorgon
baboon wrote:I think that

baboon wrote:
I think that Demo makes some salient points in his criticisms but I don't share jk's apparant contempt for science and scientists. I don't think that this is an approach that marxists should take and it's certainly not one that Marx took. Marx read and made contact with many scientists and was particularly interested in the work of the intellectual aristocrat E. Ray Lankester for his studies on ethnology and who, despite some weird views, became a close friend. Marx read the detailed work of the chemists Christian Schonbein and Justin Von Liebeg, and included their analyses in Capital, writing to Engels that their work was "more important than all the economists put together".

I don’t think it’s right to suggest that JK exhibited contempt for science or scientists. True, he posted a lot of material so maybe I missed something but I’m not even sure the question about the value of science was even raised in his posts.

As I see it, the original point was questioning the effectiveness of an ICC intervention. To me, the question is this: did our intervention pick apart the bourgeois campaign about Hawking or did it lend unwitting support? After reflecting on JK’s points (none of which had occurred to me previously), I was able to see a whole host of weaknesses in the article’s approach, which I then critiqued myself.

 

baboon wrote:
Jk asks where does this power to overcome social conformity come from and suggests the idea, or even the "overcoming", is "supernatural" or visionary. The task of great artists, philosophers and scientists is to step out of and go beyond "social conformity" or, more accurately, the limitations of the economic basis of society. It comes from free will. I think that the really great artists, etc., can be called "visionary".  I'd put Hawking in this category from his much earlier work with the great scientist Roger Penrose (who was a visionary - he eschewed maths to paint pictures of space-time), to his attempts to unify the two fields of physics. Hawking was also not slow in changing his position when evidence against it was provided.

After reading this, I confess I’m still not sure where you think the ability for “Great People” to step outside social conformity comes from.

That you think they can is obvious – indeed you say it is their “task” to do so. But this gets us no closer to understanding how this happens or why it is even possible. This is like asking how an engineer builds a bridge and replying by saying it’s their task to do so.

You do mention “free will” but that seems like a very abstract and not very Marxist concept to me.

An interesting discussion on this question can be found here. It might be worth revisiting some of the arguments raised there?

Quote:
You can't really blame Hawking for the bourgeois campaign whipped up around him. They did exactly the same to Einstein and Hawking is entirely in continuity with Einstein. Notwithstanding the rise of fundamentalist religious beliefs that's expressive of capitalist decomposition, I think that broad layers of the working class today have an imaginative idea of a universe that is full of galaxies and that's thanks to the fundamental materialism of scientists like Einstein, Hawking and Rovelli.

Is anyone blaming Hawking on a personal level? The real question is why there is such a campaign in the first place.

And seriously, can a Marxist look at things like this and not wonder what is happening here? The guy is being treated like some sort of saint. A “Service of Thanksgiving”? Who are we thanking? God? The fact an atheist and standard bearer for rationalism being given thanks for in one of the primary seats of religiosity in the country is surely an utterly bizarre twist.

In this sort of context, I think there are far more important things for Marxists to do than to join the universal chorus of praise and JK should be acknowledged for pointing this out.

jk1921
Contempt

Demogorgon wrote:

I don’t think it’s right to suggest that JK exhibited contempt for science or scientists. True, he posted a lot of material so maybe I missed something but I’m not even sure the question about the value of science was even raised in his posts.

I can't see where it could be garnered from my posts that I have "contempt for scientists." That is rather unfair. What I have contempt for is a certain hero narrative that suggests there is some virtuous and honourable way to live under capitalism and that this appears to only be as a hard or natural scientist.

There are a number of things suspect about such a narrative:

1.) It ignores the social conditions that undergird the production of scientists in the first place--the privilege, but at the same time luck, that almost always precedes genius. This is something that Hawking himself acknowledges when he describes the importance of the NHS in his life. Had he had been less lucky (or privileged) in the birth lottery and been born in the USA would he had been able to accomplish what he did? Of course, there is a certian political statement in here in defense of the NHS that is itself suspect from a revolutionary point of view.

2.) It sets up science, in fact it appears only a certain kind of science, as in and of itself virtuous and ideologically-free, such that the scientific life becomes a locus of personal virtue and "service to humanity." Hawking had a "scientific mind" and served humanity from the centers of bourgeois academic privilege and prestige, whiel the rest of us either do bullshit work or engage in professions that are hopelessly tainted by ideology or which actually only reproduce captialism. Of course, the idea that science as practiced in bourgeois society is beyond ideology is itself spurious--especially the philosophically and abstract math-heavy field of cosmology that Hawking championed. In fact, some of the major precepts of what one might call "establishment cosmology" have been attacked by other scientists--many of them associated with the political left--as inherently ideological. I have no desire to enjoin the substance of this debate here, but it is important to acknowledge that it exists.

3.) There seems a kind of protestant work-ethic at play here in championing a life of service and high achievement that screams of tone-deaf elitism (where is LBird?) and demonstrates a critical blindness to the conditions of social reproudction under capitalism and the distorting effects of the capitalist labour process on the creativity and self-expression of the vast majority of humanity. How many potential geniuses are there out there in the world who are simply never discovered, or who are stuck in bullshit work, because they never had the chance to develop or becauce they fell on the wrong side of some stupid academic committee someplace at some point in their lives?

4.) It seems to be fundamentally apolitical. The further one gets away from an actual political commitment the "safer" they are to be eulogized by revolutionaries. The virtuous life is then what? An apolitical one? One that is purely technical without too many risky political acts? Of course, Hawking wasn't entirely apolitical. As is the norm in today's celebrity culture people actually paid attention to his political statements, depsite the fact that he appeared to have no technical political expertise (His ideas about alien life seem rather cartoonish). But I suppose supporting New Labour is just so anondyne as to be inoffensive? What if he were in SWP? Can you serve humnaity and be a member of SWP at the same time. And nodobdy has addressed my query about Dawkins?

Of course, all of this raises the question about the personal achievements of the great revolutionaries of the past. But the point here is that they were revolutionaries. But even revolutionaries are rarely self-made. Their existence is likely not possible without a social network of support and influence behind them--and entire web of experience that molded them and made them who they were. The movie The Young Karl Marx actually demonstrates this quite well: No Engels--likely no Marx (or at least not the Marx history knows today), but take this chain ever further--No Mary Burns (a figure practically lost to history), a lowly uneducated proletarian, rumoured to have been a sex worker--likely no Engels. Maybe I missed it, but when is the ICC article on Mary Burns' inestimbale contribution to humanity due?

There, is in fact, a certain feminist critique to be made here of the over celebration of the public achievements of great men, while the private reproductive labor of mostly women (although not always women) is rendered mute, obliterated by history.

I'll end here. Demo has probably done a better job indicating the problems with this article than I have.

P.S. Spell-check isn't working.

LBird
A few reluctant words...

jk1921 wrote:
... tone-deaf elitism (where is LBird?) and demonstrates a critical blindness to the conditions of social reproudction under capitalism and the distorting effects of the capitalist labour process on the creativity and self-expression of the vast majority of humanity. How many potential geniuses are there out there in the world who are simply never discovered...

Well, I said that I'd stop posting, but I'm still reading, and since my name has been mentioned, I felt I should say something. A very little something - I think you are all already well aware of my views.

I agree with much that has been written by jk and demo, and disagree with what baboon has said. As for (bourgeois) 'science' being 'tone-deaf elitism', I would also give 'materialism' the same label.

No 'materialist' will allow the working class to outvote the 'material world' (which only the 'materialist elite' can know). Materialism is tone-deaf elitism.

We workers require a democratic science, a proletarian science, a revolutionary science, Marx's unified method.

baboon
No-one is saying that Hawkin

No-one is saying that Hawkin is a revolutionary and represents revolutionary principles, but that he showed courage and determination and was a brilliant physicist who made, along with his colleagues, major scientific discoveries. So he praised the NHS, so what? Does that deny his work? Einstein, you could say, was responsible for Hiroshoma and Nagasaki. Besides, I've heard lots of workers "praise" the NHS. They're not communists either.

Of course there are a myriad of stories of desperation, courage and fight among unknown individuals everywhere - who is denying it? In fact the ICC press does more than most to cover these, to bring them to light, to make them examples or points of polemic, generalising them in a revolutionary framework. None of these preclude an examination of the work of one particular individual, even though he's a man. The argument that there's a feminist critique here because, by implication, there's been no ICC article on Mary Burns, a woman, is a novel twist.

It's relatively easy to see within capitalism the existence of "advanced" elements. Individuals, that for reasons, many, complex and not always positive, come together to form a vanguard; give over the best part of their lives to the working class and a future communist perspective. There has to be a "visionary" aspect to this and though it's individual in form it entirely depends on social determinations. It's in this context that free will, part of consciousness, plays. Scientific analysis, developing scientific analysis is part of this process and to this extent the science can play an independent and integral role in the development of consciousness

So with capitalism, so with previous epochs: Philosophers, scientists, artists were representative of their social conditions and while some accepted and promoted them, others rose above them proposing new elements and advances, while others made social criticisms.

On cold dark space and the BBC: Similar to Brian Cox was the series on quantum physics by Professor Al-Khalili. Again, very engaging, in-depth analysis but the conclusion, like the formers, a crowd of diverse people walking across London Bridge (or somewhere) and then nothing until the end of time five billion years hence. The pre-history programmes follow a similar trend, starting sometimes millions of years ago, progress upward, usually stopping at civilisation and next it's a crowd of diverse people walking down Oxford Street (or somewhere). There's absolutely no perspective to be drawn for the coming period.

 

ps: I thought you had to say his name three times.
 

LBird
Knock three times...

baboon wrote:

It's relatively easy to see within capitalism the existence of "advanced" elements. Individuals, that for reasons, many, complex and not always positive, come together to form a vanguard; give over the best part of their lives to the working class and a future communist perspective. There has to be a "visionary" aspect to this and though it's individual in form it entirely depends on social determinations. It's in this context that free will, part of consciousness, plays. Scientific analysis, developing scientific analysis is part of this process and to this extent the science can play an independent and integral role in the development of consciousness

[my bold]

This is the sort of elitist ideology that goes with 'materialism'.

In this elitist ideology, the mass of workers are always passive, because 'matter determines their ideas', whereas a 'special elite' can overcome this 'material determination' by their 'special' attributes of being 'advanced individuals' in a 'vanguard' who, unlike the mass of workers, have a 'free will', which allows their elite science an 'independent' role in society.

It's the elitist ideology that Lenin argued for.

It's the elitist ideology that Marx condemned, in his Theses on Feuerbach.

baboon's ideology has nothing at all to do with Marx, the building of communism, or workers' power.

Marx wrote:
The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.
[my bold]

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm

baboon sees themself as a member of the 'superior part' of society (and the mass of workers of the inferior part, hence 'no democracy in science'), along with bourgeois physicists like Hawking, and all other 'materialists'.

LBird
Hawking's regressive political ideology

Hawking: 'aggression is hardwired into our genes'

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/stephen-h...

What makes any communist think that Hawking's political beliefs about physics are any more sound than his political beliefs about humans?

The discipline of 'Physics' is a social product, which changes over time, and will be subject to revolutionary changes by the class conscious proletariat, as it builds towards a communist society.

This revolutionary Marxist view is denied by 'materialists', who hold to the ideological belief that 'science' produces 'Truth', and that Hawking's views about 'The Universe' are universally valid. Thus, 'materialists' regard Hawking as a 'special individual', who 'knows better', and always will, than the vast majority of humanity.

LBird
A view of Hawking by the SPGB
Demogorgon
On topic

LBird, this thread is not about the merits of materialism. If you want discuss materialism and the Theses, then start another thread.

Please refer to post #3 here for a reminder of your probation rules, in particular:

"No attributing positions to anyone, be they a forum member or an authority such as Marx, without a direct quote supporting the attribution".

Your labelling of baboon as seeing himself as superior to society meets this criteria.

And, another reminder: "If, during a debate, a moderator intervenes and instructs participants in terms of conduct, those participants will either comply with the instruction or withdraw from the debate. We will not tolerate any derailment of threads by challenging such instructions."

Having said that, there is no need for other comrades to be provocative towards LBird either. Regardless of how many times his name was mentioned, it was mentioned in a way that more-or-less invited response.

We may not be moderating everyone as strictly as we are with LBird, but the rules we laid down for him are really basic best practice for everyone.

LBird
Is mentioning 'materialism' strictly forbidden?

Demogorgon wrote:

LBird, this thread is not about the merits of materialism. If you want discuss materialism and the Theses, then start another thread.

But both Hawking and baboon are 'materialists', and argue from 'materialist' premises. Are you saying that we can't discuss the ideologies behind Hawking's bourgeois 'science', or just objecting to my use of 'materialism'? If the latter, I can change the term to 'realism', because it's the same ideology.

Demo wrote:
Please refer to post #3 here for a reminder of your probation rules, in particular:

"No attributing positions to anyone, be they a forum member or an authority such as Marx, without a direct quote supporting the attribution".

Your labelling of baboon as seeing himself as superior to society meets this criteria.

But I have 'directly quoted' Marx, and baboon calls himself a 'materialist'. Marx, in effect, condemns baboon's ideology of 'materialism'.

As for baboon's alleged 'superiority', ask him if his ideology will allow the revolutionary proletariat to vote on 'Truth', or does he argue that there is a 'superior' political force to the rev. prol.? He's often argued that he is superior to democratic controls (as must, as Marx pointed out, all 'materialists').

Demo wrote:
And, another reminder: "If, during a debate, a moderator intervenes and instructs participants in terms of conduct, those participants will either comply with the instruction or withdraw from the debate. We will not tolerate any derailment of threads by challenging such instructions."

Having said that, there is no need for other comrades to be provocative towards LBird either. Regardless of how many times his name was mentioned, it was mentioned in a way that more-or-less invited response.

Thank you, Demo. I had stuck to my self-imposed silence, until this thread started to mention me by name. And in my replies, I've not offended anyone (not even the blessed Stephen), but simply quoted them and Marx, to point out the political differences between their views.

Demo wrote:
We may not be moderating everyone as strictly as we are with LBird, but the rules we laid down for him are really basic best practice for everyone.

If you think that anything that I've said on this thread breaks the 'strict version of the rules', please point that out.

jk1921
TMZ

baboon wrote:

No-one is saying that Hawkin is a revolutionary and represents revolutionary principles, but that he showed courage and determination and was a brilliant physicist who made, along with his colleagues, major scientific discoveries. So he praised the NHS, so what? Does that deny his work? Einstein, you could say, was responsible for Hiroshoma and Nagasaki. Besides, I've heard lots of workers "praise" the NHS. They're not communists either.

No, nobody has said Hawking was a revolutionary. That is kind of the point. And I don't care that he praised the NHS. I would too if it saved my life. My point is where is the line drawn between a public figure whose politics are so anodyne as to be unimportant (I guess like Hawking) and one who despite his/her contributions to science--which is apparently some surrogate for human progress here--has politics that are on some level offensive, like again the example of Dawkins?

baboon wrote:

Of course there are a myriad of stories of desperation, courage and fight among unknown individuals everywhere - who is denying it? In fact the ICC press does more than most to cover these, to bring them to light, to make them examples or points of polemic, generalising them in a revolutionary framework. None of these preclude an examination of the work of one particular individual, even though he's a man. The argument that there's a feminist critique here because, by implication, there's been no ICC article on Mary Burns, a woman, is a novel twist.

The article was more than just an examination of Hawking, it bordered on an uncritical hagiography. The question is why is this in the revolutionary press and what are we celebrating here? His scientific contributions (which some see as rather minor) or his personal celebrity story? This isn't a cosmology journal and its not TMZ, so what is the purpose here?

Do you not think there is a feminist critique to be made of the celebration of public achievement and the consequent invisibility of private reproductive labor? It very well may be the case that such a separation is inevitable under capitalism, but as critical theorists of bourgeois society there would seem a certain imperative to acknowledge it and draw out the implications. I don't see what is so novel about it.

baboon wrote:

It's relatively easy to see within capitalism the existence of "advanced" elements. Individuals, that for reasons, many, complex and not always positive, come together to form a vanguard; give over the best part of their lives to the working class and a future communist perspective. There has to be a "visionary" aspect to this and though it's individual in form it entirely depends on social determinations. It's in this context that free will, part of consciousness, plays. Scientific analysis, developing scientific analysis is part of this process and to this extent the science can play an independent and integral role in the development of consciousness

So with capitalism, so with previous epochs: Philosophers, scientists, artists were representative of their social conditions and while some accepted and promoted them, others rose above them proposing new elements and advances, while others made social criticisms.

Yes, its easy to see the existence of advanced element but much harder to recognize the invisible social processes that produce them. Obviously, free will is a factor, but Marxists would seem to me to have the task of de-fetishizing this as much as possible and emphasizing the social origins of individual greatness not join in bourgeois campaigns about the transcendent powers of talented individuals--individuals, who whatever their free will, probably wouldn't exist without much luck.

But more than this, I am concerned about what appears to be an ongoing trend here to use science as a kind of stand-in for class consciousness (in the absence of much of the latter today).The progress of science means that some how the species is still advancing, despite the historically depressing conditions of the workers' movement, lack of working class identity, etc.. Conditions which it is not clear how the advancement of cosmology advances in any concrete way. These advancements may be important in their own right, but it is not clear what their relationship is to the revolutionary movement other than in a very broad sense. But again, hasn't someone like Dawkins made similar advancements?
 

baboon wrote:

ps: I thought you had to say his name three times.

Once is enough apparently, but it would be good if LBird could advance his critique of elitism in the context of the topic of the thread and not go off into the same old broadsides against materialism and attack individual posters motivations.

LBird
Attacks on ideology are not attacks on its followers

jk1921 wrote:

But more than this, I am concerned about what appears to be an ongoing trend here to use science as a kind of stand-in for class consciousness...

This is a common strategy by 'materialists', who regard 'science' as 'non-political', and concerned with 'matter' or 'reality', both outside of human production, which was Marx's political concern.

jk wrote:

... it would be good if LBird could advance his critique of elitism in the context of the topic of the thread and not go off into the same old broadsides against materialism and attack individual posters motivations.

Well, I've already said that I agree with much that you and Demo have written.

I've given some links to Hawking's own words, and another party's criticism of Hawking.

I've not 'attacked individual posters motivations', but have only attacked an anti-working class ideology, that is, 'materialism'.

This retrograde ideology (or its modern version, 'Realism') has to be attacked by class conscious workers.

At any time, baboon can ditch this ideology, and there will be no attacks on the ideology he then holds to, supposing he begins to read Marx's views on the subject of 'science'.

To stress it again, I agree with much both you and Demo have already outlined, in your criticisms of baboon's position.

jk1921
Editing

Has the edit post function been disabled? I get that there can be issues when people go back and change the content of their posts after the fact, but I just wanted to make a few stylistic changes. That doesn't seem possible anymore? There is an edit tab at the top of the thread, but it seems non-functional. Or is it that once someone has quoted your post, you can't edit it anymore?

Demogorgon
Thread housekeeping

JK: Editing is working for me, but my permissions are slightly different to yours. If anyone else is having this issue can they PM me or start another thread.

LBird, of course, it's not a forbidden subject - I said explicitly that, if you want to discuss materialism in the context of the Theses, then you are welcome to start another thread.

What will no longer be tolerated is your continual repetitive claims about materialism (which are merely assertions, not arguments) which you put on on every single post, on every single thread you participate in.

Moreover, your probation rules explicitly instruct you not to question moderator decisions on discussion threads and you went ahead and did so anyway. I've let it slide this time because of the preceeding circumstances, but do not let the leniency I've advanced here be mistaken for reluctance to take any action necessary to prevent you returning to your previous pattern of behaviour.

For the absolute avoidance of doubt: if you want to respond to the issues in this post, you can PM me or respond on your banning thread. If you continue trying to push the issues here, I will be forced to conclude that you are being deliberately provocative and will ban you accordingly.

Demogorgon
Thread split

In order to keep discussion on topic, we've decided to split the thread. We would like to keep this thread for discussing the original topic of the article and critiques thereof.

The questions around science itself, which have been touched on by several posters, should be discussed on the new thread.

baboon
Jk points to the vast number,

Jk points to the vast number, the multitude of life, suffering and grief that has existed in humanity under class society and Demo points to the networks of the anonymous in the development of the sciences and both are expressions of the material basis of society (all class societies, not just capitalism) and its social relationships. And, quite naturally you would think, from this constant ferment, sparks appear that at first sight seem to be out of nowhere but in reality are entirely linked to the economic base of society but also have the possibility of standing outside of the present society, of the economic base and going beyond the existing conditions that produces them. Revolutionary elements are a prime example of this under capitalism. In society generally this can also effect all the domains of science, philosophy, materialists, structuralists, artists and in this in respect of primitive communism, I would also add belief systems.

Giotto and Cezanne were petty-bourgeois, Wagner was a Nazi supporter, Newton degenerated from a belief in an all-powerful God into rank superstition, Alfred Russel Wallace became involved in spiritualism, Charles Darwin expressed overt racist views, as did Karl Marx. But to fixate on any particular weaknesses of individuals given the contributions that they have made to humanity is expressive of an individualism in itself.

 

The three-times naming was a joke and there was no intent to provoke.