Speed of neutrinos: is scientific progress faster than its shadow?

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Speed of neutrinos: is scientific progress faster than its shadow?
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Speed of neutrinos: is scientific progress faster than its shadow?. The discussion was initiated by Fred.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!


Maxime's article about Neutrinos and how the bourgeoisie in dominating science ideologically (and financially of course) limits it's development, ends with this comment: "Today, no scientific discovery, as brilliant as it is, could bring humanity out of the obscure prehistory in which capitalism entraps it up to its last breath. The greatest experiment standing in front of us now is nothing other than the profound transformation of society which alone can bring humanity into its real history."

You could argue of course that the greatest scientific discovery of all - as it relates to humanity's evolution- is the discovery of class struggle as the motor of history. (Isnt some wag supposed to have teased Marx with the comment "who would have supposed society consisted of two warring classes!" To which the irrepressible Marx retorted "who would have supposed water consisted of two combustible gases!") This discovery of class struggle by the early theorists of communism, could one day provide us the opportunity to free humanity from the stultifying and murderous grip of capitalism, and bring pre-history to a shuddering end. And then, as we build communism, science will truly come into it's own as the reign of freedom releases humanity's untapped abilities. The sky will cease to be the limit. Who knows what we are capable of, who knows what talents and creative powers of mind lie stupefied and repressed by the bourgeoisie's rule and limited grasp of humanity's potential?For them we are merely the source of surplus value. But we, the proletariat, are like neutrinos, and bear the possibilities of something totally revolutionary. The seeds of a new humanity.

Kabir asks what my point is.

Kabir asks what my point is. I suppose I was trying to say that there is one exceptionally brilliant scientific discovery that points the way out of capitalist misery, and the obscure history in which we are trapped, and that is scientific socialism which springs from the discovery of class struggle as the motor force of history. Through the insights and discoveries of this science - knowledge gained directly from the lessons of class struggle - we are provided a route towards the overthrow of the bourgeoisie's dictatorship. For me this possibility puts all other scientific discoveries, amazing though they may be, in the shade. In fact all other science is pointless now unless we do finally put paid to the bourgeoisie, for unless we do there's no future anyway. That's all I was trying to say.

It's nice to hear from Kabir that we are genetically coded for cooperation, and I'm sure we should all know as much as we can about developments in science. Totally agree! But I insist that it'll all be irrelevant unless we can establish a society based on scientific socialism, or Marxism to use another word. Just as neutrinos may posit new and breathtaking breakthroughs for science, so the proletariat posits new and breathtaking breakthroughs for class society and its overthrow, and eventually the whole of humanity! But first we have to make the revolution. That's my point and my concern. Hope Kabir agrees. Hope I haven't caused yet more confusion. Fraternally, Fred.

It's an interesting article,

It's an interesting article, but these types of questions are fraught with difficulites for revolutionaries who are not "specialists" in these fields. That of course does not mean we shouldn't take them up. However, a case in point is the last footnote which describes the theory of the Big Bang as a tremendous advance. Yet, there is an alternate theory that argues that the Big Bang theory, and the quest for a "theory of everything" that it entails, is an authoritarian attempt to smuggle God back into science. Notions that the universe has some fixed "origin" have emerged at times of social decline, when the ruling class has sought to ground its crumbling authority in some original event. See Eric Lerner's, "The Big Bang Never Happened" for a complete exposition of this view. What role do revolutionaries play in these debates? It's not clear.

Revolutionaries, marxists

Revolutionaries, marxists have to defend scientific rigour I think.

Sorry about that, not sure

Sorry about that, not sure about posting here - it's problematic.


Yes, revolutionaries, marxists have to defend scientific rigour. Even scientists in the field are unsure about some of the phenomena they are studying - see for example how no cosmologist knows what dark matter is.

I think that the point of the article is to be open minded, that nothing is written on tablets and that even well-verified work can be overturned by a new theory. And even when a new theory comes along, take Darwin and Wallace for example, then the amount of work that went before them was a strong contributory factor to the development of the understanding of the descent of humanity. We should be wary of jumping on the new theory bandwagon and be aware that valid advances in science start somewhere and minority views should be tested, assimilated if shown to be verifiable without rejecting past work out of hand. The rivalry of capitalism, its competitive nature that Maxime talks about in relation to scientific work, can only weaken a global and historicial view. It's also important to remember that all branches of science will always throw up surprises.

I don't agree with jk that the Big Bang is a theory of everything and religion by the back door. To me, it looks like a clear scientific fact. I haven't read Lerner's book but his anti-big band thesis is rejected by most physicists and cosmologists (and the discovery of the Big Bang really put cosmology on the map). But being rejected by the majority doesn't make Lerner's thesis wrong. Just unlikely in the present circumstances and it's his and others responsibility to come up with greater verifiable scientific evidence.  It's important to remember the context of the discussion around the issue at the time. The "Big Bang" was a derogatory term made up by the proponents of the "Steady State" theory around the early 1960s I think. Fred Hoyle - who I think has been greatly underestimated as a physicist - and others supported the "Steady State" theory which agreed that the universe was expanding but generally stayed the same in relation to matter over time I think that the Big Bang theory was, if anything, revolutionary and its confirmation and measurement a great step forward even if it is only part of an unknown whole (none of this is to deny the possibility of endless big bangs going off somewhere or multiple universes or any other theory).

You can see the Big Bang (or its effects) on an ordinary household appliance. Simply de-tune your TV and of the white horizontal flashing spots on the screen around one in a hundred will be now lightless photons from the Big Bang smashing into your ariel at something less than the speed of light.



Good points Baboon. But to be

Good points Baboon. But to be clear, the thesis that the Big Bang is a backdoor to religion and authoritarianism is Lerner's (and others) not mine. Personally, I simply lack the tools to pass definitive judgment on these debates (and I think the point I was trying to make is that neither does the ICC). It seems to me that there is a tension going on right now in the ICC between the reflex to "defend science" and the need to be critical of ideological thinking. The instinct to "defend science" is something shared with certain factions of the bourgeoisie (Dawkins, the humanist left, etc.) who recognize that it is under attack from increasing obscurantism. Knowing when to be critical of received scientific truth and unmasking the manifestations of power and domination expressed as "science" is a much more difficult task. These questions arise in a number of different fields: cosmology, psychiatry, evolutionary, neuroscience, etc. I just don't know how we do it. There is a need to defend "scientific rigour" as you say, but there is also a need to form a critique of social power and domination that often masks itself as science  (Obvious in the "science" of economics). Moreover, there is also a need to stay clear of the multifarious proliferation of quackery today. It is not easy to accomplish all of this. There are some difficult debates ahead on these question, I suspect.

Just as there will be no

Just as there will be no women's or gay liberation - no real equal rights for anybody, no quality education unfettered by bourgeois obsessions, no true democracy, no genuine healthcare, and certainly no free society in which we all have the right to be as un-equal as we like - there can be no real freedoms this side of the revolution will which overthrow the Bourgeoisie's Dictatorship. Similarly science cannot be free either. It's rigor will always be suspect, as will it's motivation, driven finally by the bourgeoisie's urge for profit and conquest. Individuals and groups of scientists may struggle against the tide, and make achievements. And such achievements when made are there mainly for the benefit of the rich and their self-perpetuation. But we won't have a properly free science, and a free scientific community, and a free society able to share equally in the benefits of science, and become involved in it's objectives, till after the proletarian revolution. That's why I say that the greatest Nobel science prize of all time goes to Messrs. Marx and Engels who discovered class struggle and established socialism as a science - even managing to make a science of economics!

More unmasking of "the manifestations of power and domination expressed as 'science' ", is what we need, as jk21 points out. For this will bring us nearer the revolution.

Incidentally, the custom

Incidentally, the custom search facility is not working for me - is this a general problem?


I agree with Fred that the greatest scientific advance has been in scientific socialism, dialectical materialism, marxism - whatever you want to call it. And that advance has been the exposition of contradictions of capitalism and the negation of that, ie, the class struggle.

But I agree more with K that that doesn't preclude taking in particular scientific advances. Maxime says the same in the original piece: science is tainted by capitalism but communists have a more materialist and historical approach to "scientific" questions. It's an approach that existed throughout the workers' movement with scientific advances taken on board by Marx, Engels, Pannekoek, Lenin, Kautsky, etc, etc, who all interested themselves in the rapid scientific advances of their time as much as they could (with the class struggle predominating). Both Marx and Engels took on board Darwin's "Origins..." and both unconditionally approved Lewis Henry Morgan's "Ancient Society..." reproducing it as "The Origins of the Family, ...". Lenin used the advances in physics in his work, Pannekoek developments in neuroscience and anthropology and the 3rd International issued a rebuttal of Dawkins "pure science" against religion ninety years before he made it (much faster than the speed of light!). Steven Jay Gould wrote a defence of Darwinism that was anything but so being a scientist doesn't make anyone "right".

We don't have to know all the details, we don't have to make the measurements ourselves but, within the framework of marxism, we do have the tools to take in some of the advances of science which otherwise take place in a fragmented and competitive basis in capitalist society.

News today from the Mount

News today from the Mount Grasso lab that the results have been confirmed by a further experiment. The latest measurements involved a more concentrated sample and are likely to be more accurate. This makes it worth further experiments by independent researchers, Chicago and and least one other. It's too early to say, but if these results are confirmed it will open up new scientific doors, rather than dumping an old theory.


Maxime's position stands; around the "end of Einstein" nonsense and around how scientific advances at this level have to understood and assimilated into a wider framework. The supercession of Newtonian physics didn't at all detract from his (and others) advances, but reinforced their importance at the time. The "behaviours" involved in quantum mechanics already contradict the classical laws of physics and this seems to be well understood and generalised.

I think Maxime's article is

I think Maxime's article is being misunderstood. She's not standing on the side-lines shouting "yippee, we've just had another great scientific discovery" what she's really saying - in my interpretation- is that these very individualistic small group discoveries ( funded of course courtesy of the bourgeoisie ) exciting though they may be, pale into insignificance when placed against the need for revolutionary science which will change the nature of society itself; which may then be able perhaps to take on the urgent need to do something about global warming, for example; something of a much more compelling requirement for humanity, than the discovery of things that travel faster than light, that challenge Einstein, or even make it into the Guinness book of Records. She's not up for the "Boys' Own" type of bourgeois science. All competitive and wanting to be first. In fact she even says: " In a society founded on solidarity and social progress, the role and the place of science would be completely different to those that we’ve know so far."

I don't think anybody here is knocking science, and after the revolution science will see progress unknown to us now. As Baboon says: science is tainted by capitalism. The urgent requirement then is to dispose of that. So it seems to me that getting over-excited but about some new findings turned up in the name of the bourgeoisie is to confuse our priorities. Workers, unemployed and students unite. We have a world to win!

Wasn't there some new

Wasn't there some new breakthrough regarding the nature of "anti-matter" today also?

"She blinded me with science." That's a quote from the theme song to the '80s movie "Weird Science," but it expresses well the increasing extent to which science as a form of human liberation has been called into question over the course of the 20/21st centuries. The weirder some some of these findings get; the more convulted the mathematical and theoretical instruments needed to "fit them" into existing paradigms, the more plausible some of the arguments about science having lost its moorings in human society become. One could even ask, is there a point at which science loses its relevance to real human societies. What is the ultimate goal of a science that serves "progress" and human development? To conquer human mortality? What will human society do when the sun eventually burns, out or is there really no limit to the problems science can overcome under communism? Is there something like what the philosophers call "the human condition" that is ultimately beyond scientific intervention?

I think Fred is trying to make a point about the socially situated nature of science that needs further development and assimilation into a Marxist framework. Maxime's article is a good start, but there is much work to be done.

Thank you jk for your very

Thank you jk for your very sensible and helpful response. Your point about science possibly losing it's moorings in human society is well-made, but I'm glad I won't be around when the sun burns out, or have to suffer the fate of living for ever. Like everything, science is bound to be a very different project under communism, with human needs taking precedence. Your final point, about how science, and it's place in a truly democratic society needs to be be understood in Marxist terms, is also appreciated. There is much work to be done.

But our first priority must be the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system, otherwise nothing matters. Left to themselves (a ghastly thought) our rulers will probably discover for example, how to weaponize neutrinos and use them against us, should we dare to try and unseat them. Or even if we don't! We must all unite before it's too late.

I think that sub-atomic

I think that sub-atomic particles have already been weaponised. I'll rreturn to some of the questions that Fred raises because I think that there's something of a dismissal of science.

Study rejects 'faster than light' particle finding

 Is this true? Or part of the competition among scientists?


I think this is were

I think this is were "science" starts to lose a lot of people. It all sounds like a battle of the experts, completely inaccesible to the average person. One minute we are told of a great discovery; then another study is released contradicting it. At the sub-atomic level, the measurement bias is an ever present factor, that makes it difficult to have any firm confidence in the outcome of these experiments. Just what are they measuring and how are there attempts to measure it affecting the results? Is "measurement," in the way we understand it, even really possible at this level?

The same is often the case in medicine. Recently, a team of researchers announced they had discovered a new human retro-virus associated with the much maligned, but very debilitating, illness "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome." Patient groups and advocates, who have suffered decades of dismissal as psychatric cases immediately seized on the results as vindication that they are suffering from a very "real" infectious disease. However, most attempts to replicate the findings have failed and the predominant sense now is that the orgininal finds were caused by "labratory contamination." Where does this leave CFS sufferers? Why do they need evidence of a virus to legitimate their suffering?

On the Gran Sasso business,

On the Gran Sasso business, it will probably take months to definitively confirm or deny their "faster than light" results. There's been a couple of similar cases in the last few years and they have taken a long time to definitely refute. Maxime makes this point about the immediacy and one-upmanship in how the bourgeois media reports any scientific development or experiment.


I agree with Fred about how science will only flourish within communism and how scientific developments in such a society freed of the constraints of capitalism could be endless. I further agree with Fred on how marxism is in effect the "science of science". I think that this demonstrates (scientifically) that science can exist and develop within capitalism and that revolutionary minorities are the historical and living proof of it.


I think that there is some underestimation from Fred on the role and existence of science in capitalism. But to go back further, can we say that science existed before capitalism - I think that most would agree that it did - or even before class society? It depends on how one defines science.

For scientific advances I think that one could go back to the early history of humanity. In primitive communism science was fundamentally social - humanity was scientific. Let's take an example, a real, unequivocal expression of science as we understand it today as such - chemistry. The chemistry of cooking food propelled our species forward apace. This was a major scientific and social advance for humanity that took place around three hundred thousand years ago. There were many other social/scientific advances that we could mention but, rapidly moving forward, some elements of mathmatical knowledge must have been present to build the structures of the epipalaeolithic (the period of the end of the Palaeolithic and the opening up to the Neolithic). In the millenia following this, bridging pre-history and the beginnings of class society, we see the independent development (across the globe) of pottery and then the independent development of metallurgy. From then on into civilisation scientific developments come thick and fast; the Greeks, Persians, to name just two of many expressions.


The ICC has given a lot of space and time to the defence of the science of Darwinism, not just his "Origins.." but also his "Descent...". A thoroughly bourgeois individual, apt to fall into the most virulent anti-working class rants and enmeshed in the upper echelons of bourgeois society, Darwin nevertheless, through his scientific approach and research, was able to break out of his personal prison and tortures and make a major contribution to the understanding of the development of humanity and, in a profound way, the development of the workers' movement. The ICC has quite rightly defended the basis of Darwin's scientific approach and its distortion by the bourgeoisie.


Yes, the priorty is marxism, but marxism is big enough to take in all scientific developments and should see them as more than "Boys Own" stuff. As the article in International Review 140 says, it was thanks to the development and "progress of science" that conjured up the proletariat, the gravedigger of capital. Science underpins the mastery of technology that brought it about.

Marxism:the science of science

Thank you for your erudite and helpful comments Baboon, and specially for Marxism as the "science of science". And I take your other points on board. But when you said, on Nov.22, that there was "something of a dismissal of science" in Fred's remarks, I'd thought you were going to have my guts for garters. But I'm glad you didn't. (If I knew how to to put in here one of those grinning little yellow heads, I would. But I don't.) Fraternally, Fred.

It's a good discussion

It's a good discussion Fred.

Consider the little yellow grinning head attached in my mind. It's enough anyway to wipe out the malevolent green snarly icons that get posted against me on libcom when I defend marxism. Thanks for that!

Science before the Renaissance?

I'm not sure I agree with baboon's idea that science existed since humanity began - it seems to me we need to distinguish between knowledge and science, otherwise we lose track of what is specific to the scientific endeavour.

There is no doubt that all human societies, including the most primitive, have accumulated enormous stores of knowledge. Indeed, in some cases we have undoubtedly lost knowledge with the disappearance of primitive societies. I was very struck some months back by an obituary in the Economist (of all places) to the last Melanesian navigator, who was able to sail 2000 miles across the Pacific, to an island he had never seen before, without instruments and solely on the basis of his knowledge of the stars, sea currents, sky patterns, etc. Clearly a staggering degree of knowledge based on millenia of close observation of nature and the transmission of cultural knowledge between generations.

But is it science? The other element that struck me in this article was the fact that the navigator's knowledge was supposed to be secret, because based on ritual. Only navigators could know how to navigate, and they only could pass their knowledge to other initiated navigators. The same was true of the medieval guilds. 

So when Galileo published not just the results of his experiments, but how to set them up and repeat them, he was doing something truly radical. The essence of scientific knowledge is to be open to contradiction and debate by all, and in this sense scientific knowledge is (at least potentially) truly universal in a way that pre-scientific knowledge was not.

LoneLondoner's idea that the

LoneLondoner's idea that the escence of scientific knowledge is that it is "open to contradiction and debate by all," is a very stimulating argument. I don't think most scientists would agree with this however. The standard for what makes a statement scientifically valuable is peer review, not acceptance by the democratic masses. In fact, there is a long history of controversy over this very issue in the philosophy of science and critical theory that seems to be missing so far from this discussion. To what extent can scientific knowledge be subjected to "democratic control"? Isn't the escence of  thatscientific age that the pursuit of knowledge was freed from "social control" not subjected to more of it?  How will communist society reconcile the divorce of science from society? The answer is far from obvious and the burden is on those who think it will happen to provide a convincing argument. H

Another point LL makes is that we need to distinguish between science and knowledge. I think that is right, but I think we also have to distinguish between science and Marxism. For example, the argument that Baboon makes that a staid anti-proletarian bourgeois thinker actually contributed to the workers' movement seems to be stretching the point a bit. Marxism is the critique of captialist society from the point of view of the proletariat; science can either serve this project or be a tool of social domination and oppression--depending upong which social class is putting it to use.

Some interesting points in

Some interesting points in Lone's post about the attributes of science but I don't think that one can only talk of science during the Rennaissance. Mathmatical formulas, algebraic manipulations, were being developed in ninth century Baghdad without which "modern science could not exist" (David Bodanis - this week's Observer). These advances themselves were based upon earlier advances made by Indian religious scripts "The Opening of the Universe", which were probably themselves based on earlier advances.

I agree with what Lone says about "secrecy" in regard to science and that this was a development within the ruling classes of civilisation and has been honed by capitalism with its capture and compartmentalisation of science under its rule.


I also wasn't too sure about describing mankind as fundamentally scientific but I think, with some qualifications and the broadest sweep, I will stick to the term. I think that the development of toolmaking is scientific in both theory and practice and that, given this took place in humanity's infancy, took a great deal of time. When, still in the last days of prehistory, we see the independent global development of scientific advances (settlement, pottery, metallurgy), this is too restrictive to be defined as "knowledge". "Science" may not be the precise term but there's something more than knowledge going on here. In the field of the organisation of society Lewis Henry Morgan's "Ancient Society..." makes the point about the totally independent development of the gentes, a complicated and progressive form of societal relationships, which, from one side of the world to the other, from peoples that had never met each other, detailed very intricate relations of a very similar nature incredibly sometimes using the same or similar words to describe them. That may not be a strict description of science but it's more than knowledge.


I think that in answer to jk Darwin's theories were all the more radical because of the nature of their source. It showed that however "staid" or bourgeois, Darwin's scientific methodology could only - with assistance - lead to the radical conclusions that shook the bourgeoisie.

Weren't Darwin's conclusions

Weren't Darwin's conclusions rather rapidly recuperated by the bourgeoisie into "social Darwinism"? Of course, we could devolve into a discussion about what Darwin "really meant," but that doesn't seem frutiful. The bourgeoisie has proven able to to adapt to just about any scientific discovery or advance. (Some post-modernists/modernists might even argue that it adapted to Marxism). It's not science that threatens the bourgeoisie's hegemony over society--in fact it often reinforces it--its the revolutionary proletariat.

There is a direct political corollary to this discussion of course, that so far has gone unmentioned, and that is the confrontation between Lenin and Luxemburg on class consciousness. There is really no need for the masses in Lenin's vision of the party as the embodiement of revolutionary science; on the other hand the idea of an advanced revolutionary vanguard--has never fit comfortably into Luxemburg's world view. The masses' spontaenous creativity has the ultimate soverignity over the class struggle. At some level, these contradictions seems rather intractable.

That there is a "direct

That there is a "direct political corollary", according to jk1921, between the discussion on science - which seems to go round in circles now - and the "confrontation between Lenin and Luxembourg on class consciousness" comes as a happy surprise to me, especially in the terms in which jk expresses it. For I will confess to a greater interest in the latter (which is not to down-play on-going scientific endeavors), and see its theoretical elaboration as a matter of increasing urgency in the current crisis of capitalism, where the proletariat may be forced, almost against it's will, to confront and respond to the appalling reality of the world we live in.

I thought that Lenin later repented of his view that the masses could do no good, and the party do no wrong. And that Luxembourg approved of the Bosheviks as a party - and regretted the absence of anything similar in Germany - while pointing out their mistakes! But I realize I know nothing about it, and hope some ICC'ers will respond to jk's provocation.-

After all, this question of the party, who it is, how it functions and what it does, is ceasing to be an issue for a distant future time, and becoming a matter of increasing urgency: as the crisis boils up, the working class gets beaten down almost daily by bourgeois attacks on living standards, and the unions continue their dreary parades, which PM Cameron in the UK is able to dismiss and call "a damp squib". We need class consciousness to develop and show itself, and at some point ( maybe sooner than we think) we will need the party. Comrades unite.

Luxemburg and Lenin on class consciousness

This article - third in the series on the birth of Bolshevism from IR 118 -  goes into the debate between Lenin and Luxemburg at the turn of the 20th century.

There's no conclusive

There's no conclusive evidence yet, but the idea of multiple universes seems to be widely accepted across cosmology experts even if their interpretations of a "multiverse" differ. The New Scientist, 26.11.11, estimates the possible number of universes from staggering to indefinite and, as the editorial says, such a discovery would have Copernican ramifications. Another thing to bear in mind is that it wasn't so long ago that we believed that ours was the only galaxy - now look at the number of them.

One of the elements that could assist in this research is closer examination of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) from the Big Bang. The temperature of this is very similar, to one ten thousanth of a degree, from one end of the visible universe to the other.

But there have been some reported anomolies in these readings. The Planck satellite is currrently looking at CMB much more closely and its findings could support what some theorists are predicting: ie, that these "aberrations" could show that our universe has collided with other universes  leaving dents in the CMB. My concern is are we fully comp or just Third Party Fire and Theft?


 Either way,  I would advise taking out insurance in one of the many parallel universes as a back up. 

Some of this stuff is so

Some of this stuff is so fantastic; it makes you wonder about the underlying assumptions of the theory. Lerner has made the point that the mathematical and conceptual gymnastics they have to do to make the Big Bang work, should cuase pause about the theory itself. Its similar with psychiatry; when one drug doesn't work; they add another and then another, until the point where its not possible to tell if its your "mental disorder" making you miserable or the drugs they are giving you to "treat" it. As Kuhn argued, once a paradigm has established itself in a field and the experts have become vested in it, it won't go away easily--reagrdless of the accumulating anomalies.

parallel universe communism

I wonder if anyone (any species) in a parallel universe has achieved communism yet, and how difficult it was to get there. Presumably nobody from outside our solar system will want to contact us until we do achieve communism, on the grounds that our emancipation is our responsibility alone.

With regard to revolution and it's relation to science, I think Amos got it right a couple of years ago. "The problem of the environment is indeed a problem for mankind – for the very survival of the human species. But it cannot be solved by the very institutions whose function is to guard and maintain the present social system. This is why a science of society must also be a science of revolution." Amos 3/2/7

Happy Holidays to all Comrades in Whatever Universe they be.

Motivated by reading Chris

Motivated by reading Chris Knight's book "Blood Relations" (I'm about half way through), I want to make some rambling comments along the lines I followed above with a broad definition of "science" in prehistory similar to the generalised scientific advance that I defend in relation to the chemistry of cooking, ie experimentation, testing, refinement, assimilation - all elements of which undoubtedly served as a propulsion to human history.


There's another "scientific" element of prehistory that I think is worth looking at in more detail and that is the "gathering" side of hunter-gathering, an element which is greatly underestimated in my opinion, the "hunt" being more dramatic.


Firstly though to deal with some immediate disagreements with Knight's analysis that human culture began around 70,000 years ago with a sexually based "revolution", where Knight dismisses out of hand any existence of "culture" before then. Defining human as hominin and culture as some form of society, I would say that culture existed particularly after the Astralopithicine/Homo transition some two million years ago where increased cranial capacity went up by some 20%, legs became longer, arms shorter, dexterity increased as canine and incisor teeth reduced. This is Homo habilis some 2 million years ago. In the period after our ancestors lost the ability to scoot back up the trees and before the management of fire, I find it inconceivable that there wouldn't be some form of solidarity/society among the bipedal species. Aiello and Wheeler (1995), suggest that Homo habilis increased metabolic activity for a larger brain from increased tool use, meat and marrow consumption with further brain expansion. The million and a quarter year "standstill" which followed with the same fundamental shaped tools being used is used by some to show what "dummies" these species were but, as Knight admits, to survive for this period is no mean feat. And during this period cranial capacity increased a further 20% and sexual dimorphism (the relative size between male and female of the species) reduced over time to what it is today with the female brain and body size growing faster than that of the male.


Much of the material culture of this period (tools) would have probably been made of perishable organic stuff - wood, bark or horn but we do have the remants of the Oldowan tool industry namely the Acheulean. In a disappointing turn, Knight, in order to exclude this toolmaking from being cultural, follows some of the basest bourgeois thought, and sees this period as a period of warfare in the same way as the bourgeoisie sees in Darwin's theory "man the aggressorl". For him these are not tools but weapons of war, he calls them "fighting stones" and even posits the existence of thick skull casing as a defence against these weapons! He has to underestimate the great variety, different sizes and uses of these tools and their development over the one-and-a-quarter million years of so-called standstill in order to eliminate any element of culture before his sexual revolution. And, as an aside here, it has to be said that even if one limits culture to Homo sapiens, then all the ingredients of it; geographic range, advanced technologies, specialised hunting and gathering, fishing, long distance trade and symbolism, all existed in early sapiens in Africa two hundred and fifty thousand years ago (Mcbrearty and Brookes, ?). And an aside on the aside to make a general point about prehistory not being a unilinear (but a progressive) development we find, as dating and research procedures are developed, that there's evidence from Omo Kibish and Herto 165 and 195 thousand years ago, and Guombe, Keyna, perhaps a quarter-of-a-million years ago, of sudden, very advanced pockets of sapien activity and technological developments, only for them to quickly disappear.


But back to the post-Astralopithicine transition and it's worth noting here, again against the point of view of a unilinear development, that there were around 8 species of Homo, "robust" and "gracile" and that they produced a whole range of tools (not "fighting stones") from heavy duty (greater than 5cm) to light duty (less than 5cm), utililised artefacts (hammers, anvils, cobbles, which primates had also used) and unmodified stones transported from their geological context (Scarre, 2005). Given recent DNA evidence showing a suprisingly significant amount of sapien/neanderthal inter-breeding, one can reasonably assume that interbreeding between these 8 species took place and has been a constant feature of our hominin history. It's suggested that these early species relied more on gathering plants than hunting animals, particularly the consumption of tubers and O'Conell et al (1999) and that the ability to locate, dig up and process these tubers played a major part in evolution.


Why I think that "gathering" is an expression of science - or rather a scientific expression, is that it would have taken a sound collectivity, trust, experimentation, testing and so on over long periods. In the development of gathering during the explosion of Homo sapiens one can easily imagine that this wouldn't have just been the task of the women (as many, including Knight, suggest) but the fittest and strongest of the young men would have had to have been well involved as the guinea pigs in the experimental process in order to suss out what was beneficial and what was harmful. In the gathering of berries, fruits, tubers, herbs, nuts, leaves, funghi, etc comes the understanding of poisons, medicinal properties and possible hallucinatory effects. There's good evidence (Shanidar cave in Northern Iraq) that Homo neanderthalis also knew of the medicinal properties of some plants and practiced care of the injured with them. It's very likely that this "scientfic" development goes back way before then.


A final point on the role of "gathering" that's ascribe to women is the other side that woment also hunted. There's ethnographic evidence from Australia, the Congo and North America that women were successful hunters of small game. In fact the evidence confirms that for expenditure of energy and pound for pound results, women were more successful  hunters the male after big game. Taken along with the elements of gathering this would have put women in a very powerful position well before the "sexual revolution" if we put it backwards. The other aspect is that certainly with the advent of Anatomically Modern Humans (and maybe well before) sexual dimorphism was at the levels of today. But these peoples were much fitter and were quite capable of running down a gazelle over distance in the hot sun. This applied just as much to the female of the species and there's no reason to think that young women wouldn't have been involved in such activities as hunting big game.

On the last bit of

On the last bit of Lonelondoner's post: I think that flexibility and adaptability have been very important in the development of HS. I don't know about "education" but looking after offspring is also of major importance. Our species was certainly flexible and adaptable when we came out of Africa because in Europe it got very cold very quickly and we survived whereas the apparantly better suited neanderthals didn't. I think that there's a number of scientific writers in this field that support the idea of flexibility and adaptability. I don't buy "looking for allies" but better organisation through greater numbers.

I agree with Lone's comments on Chris Knights book. There's definitely something to the menstruation story from the myths of old and even older, the 3-D representations in Chauvet cave around 30,000 years ago. I also agree that I use a wildly extravagant definition of science in order to make some points. It was special but science didn't begin with the Rennaissance.


On society: Yes, animals have society and some of them are quite complex. There are also the animal instincts that we have retained and generally honed to finer points. Knight underestimates this often stressing the aggressive side of  animal behaviour and instincts. What's particular about a human society (and by human I mean from the 2 million year old post-Astralopithicine species) is the development of consciousness - this was an absolute necessity for the survival of our lineage. In the first tens, or hundreds of thousands of years of this period, physically unable to get quickly back up into the trees, and before controlled fire then the fate of our ancestors was in the balance. Faced with the obvious dangers and precarity, a certain development of consciousness along with practical solidarity had to take place. What sort of society it was I don't know. But it must have been some sort of society, some sort of organisation based on greater cooperation. Marx, Engels, Pannekoek, Darwin and Wallace all, in general,  look to the development of cooperation, consciousness and positive instincts in the transition of ape to man. Sparse it might be, but the evidence of material culture at this time is shown in different shaped tools and different sized tools evolving, slowly but surely, in technological innovation. Chris Knight sees here only weapons which these creatures ("men") used to smash each other's heads in. Which just goes to show that putting quotes from Marx and Engels in front of every chapter doens't necessary prevent you from writing "Social Darwinian" clap-trap.


Nothing is written is stone - though sometimes it is. There will always be surprises from the archeological record and so far the archeological record, particularly with its great advances in dating technigques, shows  organised and technologically advanced Homo sapien activity in Africa some 200,000 years ago and still evolving obviously. Around 30 years ago the general scientific view was that we evolved directly from neanderthals. Then we found out that we were working alongside them for thousands of years (the same flint "industries"). And now we know, from confirmed DNA, that there was serious shagging going on between the species!

Neanderthal genes?

So, if someone tells you you look like a Neanderthal, should you be offended?

I am curious, the discussion so far has centered around the origin of science and culture, but what about politics? When did politics emerge and is that an achievement or is it an example of alienation? Was there politics before the state?

Also, on the issue of the origin of consciousness, how are we to understand that? Is the right method cognitive science of the philosophy of consciousness? What was Marx's approach? Are the two fundamentally irreconcilable or can they compliment one another?


Chris Stringer

Lone, try Chris Stringers' "Origin of our Species". It's less than a year old, band up to date with finds, DNA, etc. A great scientific work that poses a lot of questions.

Peter Pan
interesting discussion

Goddamn! Why do I have so many exams? This is way more interesting!

a frustrated student

Chris Stringer

 I can certainly recommend Chris Stringer. He gave a very stimulating presentation to his book at one of the Radical Anthropology Group talks (RAG is the group founded by Chris Knight and others) 

Before I take the plunge

Before I take the plunge, once again, into the whirlpool of controversy, I want to return to the point, a point I agree with, raised by Lonelondoner, about the positive nature of adaptability and flexibility in humans. It is very clear that this is the case in Homo sapiens coming out of Africa and into Europe some 50 to 30 thousand years ago (roughly). Cold, climatic conditions were completely adverse to sapiens - who probably still had black or coffee-coloured skin at the time - while the white-skinned, cold-adapted neanderthals fared less well in the longer term. It should be remembered here though that before they died out, the archaeological record shows that neanderthals went through a definite period of evolution (body ornaments, beads, ritual) that most likely was provoked by sapiens and their proximity to them (against the Social Darwinist stories of "slaughter and extinction" by the latter on the former). There is also the advance here in society in terms of tool-making, hunting strategies, symbolism  and art.


Now to take it back much further, and to underline my original position (which I'll return to in the next post). It is perfectly possible, likely even, that adverse climatic conditions and adaptability and flexibility, played an important part in the development of the post-Astralopithicine species of Homo. Recent evidence undertaken in the US, which has examined sea-bed samples from the region at the time, taken alongside the  examination of rock layers and sediments, show that the period of ape-like creatures (up to two-and-a-half million years ago) was, climatically, relatively stable. Then came a period of very rapid changes in the Rift Valley where lakes came, went and come back again, interrupted by periods where volumes of volcanic ash were laid down, lakes, aridity, lakes again - clearly a turbulent period which would have had effects on all forms of life.


A few decades ago it was thought that an upright Homo first emerged in a semi-arid savanna landscape of the Rift Valley, the "uprightness" enabling vision across the plains, etc. Chris Knight (following Foley, 1987) correctly disagrees with this view in his Blood Relations but instead fixes it as permanent lakes and associated landscape making the connection between water, tides, moon, menstruation, synchronisation, etc., and even suggest that "uprightness" was a way of literatelly keeping the head above water. I think that if this research into the rapid changes of climatic conditions, backwards and forwards, up and down, etc., is correct, then this would demand adaptability and flexibility and the response was Homo habilis ("handyman") with the doubling of encephalisation from Astralopithicines and the tool-kit that accompanied the species.


I can't find the quote (I'm not sure if I read it in Capital or Grundrisse?), but Marx talks about the adverse nature of some climatic conditions being a spur to the productive forces and "comfortable" conditions not having that same element of pushing humanity forward. This is directly relevant to the economic crisis of capitalism and the class struggle.


nature's on our side too

" Marx talks about the adverse nature of some climatic conditions being a spur to the productive forces and "comfortable" conditions not having that same element of pushing humanity forward. This is directly relevant to the economic crisis of capitalism and the class struggle." Good news, Baboon. So not only do we now have the increasingly unbearable economic "downturn" - as they like to downplay it ( and of course we're all in the shit together, though some more than others!) - but we have global warming, bad harvests, and rising sea levels on our side as well. So what are we waiting for? The objective conditions are ripe. We just have to get our class consciousness together, and we're on the way.

A plunge

I just found out yesterday that there are two views in the world of anthropology on the development of man; one is called the short-range view that sees only  Anatomically Modern Humans (ie, around 70,000) years ago, as being responsible for social systems, self-awareness, language, art-like products and culture and the other view, a minority view, that sees all these things developing since we definitively broke with our ape-like past, the "long-range model". I definitely support the latter position and will here briefly give some elements for doing so.


Above, I try to make out a case for the beginnings of "society" after the Astralopithicine/Homo transition two, two-and-a-half million years ago with the appearance of Homo habilis and then Homo Erectus. I have no idea of the intricacies of this society but my reasons for calling it thus is that I believe that there must have been a certain coherence, cooperation, consciousness, mutuality and solidarity that went well beyond, though linked to, anything achieved in the animal kingdom. The beginnings of this period, however long, has been called by some "the reign of the big cats" - and they would have been much bigger, much more ferocious than their scraggly descendents today. Some form of "society" would have been essential for survival.


Chris Knight's book, Blood Relations, is a very positive work and I don't want to snipe at it, but it is wrong to suggest that men at this time were just ignorant, bloodthirsty killers. For a start homocide and fratracide wouldn't have been conducive to the survival of the species in the face of all the external dangers. And this was an important part of clarification between Darwin and Wallace. In their correspondence, Wallace argued against Darwin's draught for "Descent..." where he said that women would be attracted to the best fighters. Wallace convinced Darwin that this wouldn't be the case, that women and the maternal instinct would go for the more considerate male, the one who wasn't constantly in danger - that they would keep away from the "nutter" end of the spectrum. After discussion, Darwin acccepted Wallace's arguments and that is how it appears in the book of "The Descent of Man..." On a related issue, Knight's position about the aggressive,  dominating males is extended to baboon society which detailed research has shown is a very complex matriarchal society. Darwin was very clear about the complexity of baboon society.


Rather than this society having a male of the species whose development was to unconsciously grow a thicker skull in order to protect against blows to the head (!), I would argue that from the beginning this was a species that had to cooperate, that had to look after each other, that took on and refined the best of the animal instincts of bonding and morality. I also argue above, that along with a "society" there was also a "culture" and this latter can be based on the clear evidence of a material culture - a collection of well-dated and different types of tools - not so much individual tools as the basis for a tool-kit.


Now I'd further argue, that along with the emergence of these two features above, a basic form of society and of culture, that there was a further phenomenon that was part of and moved this transition period forward - and that was symbolism. "Symbolism" is a word like "culture" and "society" which can have all sorts of meanings at all sorts of times both specifically and generally across ranges of human development. Nevertheless, I would say that symbolism was a feature of early Homo and the concrete expression of symbolism was first of all stone tools. Whatever way you approach it, it seems to me nailed on that a real, useful artefact, produced by labour, pre-thought out in consciousness can be anything else but symbolic. Like society, like culture, symbolism was first of all crude and basic but the innovations developed, got better and better, and in its becoming these first tools turned into fully developed symbols and then expressions of art.


In "The Part Played by Labour in the Transition of Ape to Man", Engels describes this early transitional period (he thought it might have been a couple of hundred thousand years ago and wasn't to know the correct dating of over two million years): "Mastery over nature began with the development of the hand, with labour, and widened man's horizons at every new advance. He was continually discovering new, hitherto unknown, properties in natural objects. On the other hand, the development of labour necessarily helped to bring the members of society closer together by increasing cases of mutual support and joint activity, and by making clear the advantage of this joint activity to each individual. In short, men in the making arrived at a point where THEY HAD SOMETHING TO SAY to each other" (original emphasis). Tools were the real, productive expression of this development and thus were not unconscious but symbolic of it. Further, recent research has shown that the areas of the brain concerned with speech are the same as in primates concerned with manual activity. Therefore, though I think that Engels above wasn't literally talking about speech,  I think it likely that this period saw the beginnings of speech as well. Again, obviously, in a rough, crude form.


"What sets humans apart from all other species is not just their numbers, but their capacity for symbolic behaviour and its material expressions in terms of structures and artefacts. The evidence for material expression begins with the first stone tools, and grows more steadily, more complex during the latter stages of the Palaeolithic period. As pebble tools are succeeded by deliberately crafted hand axes, and these give way to flake and blade tools of the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, it is reasonable to assume that we are witnessing the development of more intelligent and  capable hominins" (Scarre, 2005).  This development would probably been in fits and starts with regressions and progressions, with, as we know, long periods of "calm". But the development is there.

Primates use tools; birds and elephants also; it wouldn't surprise me if some species of fish used a tool (I'd draw the line at a chain-saw), but over two million years ago there was a qualitative leap in the production and use of tools. For me this is the material expression which is symbolic of a new society.


The "Acheulean" axe dates its first expression to the period above. It was first fashioned from smashed lumps of lava, quartz and chert in Kenya, Ethiopia and Oldavai in what was Tanzania. Two million years ago, in the Lower Omo valley in Ethiopia, material for these tools were brought from a distance. Vast numbers of them have been found, some clumsy and irregular, later more regular and taking a symmetrical turn. What the Acheulean axe turned into around six hundred thousand years ago was, in my opinion, a work of art. Perfectly shaped "axes" have been found. Too big to be of practical use, unused and razor sharp, a definite cubism to the shaping and sometimes incorparating a central "feature", a shell or something. I can quite image these "tools" being part of some ritual process.


Around half-a-million years ago, at Boxgrove in Kent, a horse and a  rhinocerous were butchered by a band of Homo erectus where they fell (it's quite possible, from the evidence that they were speared). In its excellent TV series "Apeman", first broadcast in 2000, the BBC producers provided a master butcher with exact replicas of the stone tools used to butcher the creatures in order for him to try them on a newly-killed carcass. He was impressed. Not only did he say that the tools were as good as his modern knives, he like the way that their shape diverted the blood away from the hands. A five hundred thousand year old collective action refuting the "blood-soaked hunter" of Chris Knight's imagination.

In Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, Israel, 790,000 years ago, there solid evidence of a very diverse diet of the hominins that inhabited the place as well as evidence for a continual and controlled fire. In Schronigen in Germany and Clacton-on-sea, spears dated to 350 thousand years ago have been found that some have compared to the weight and shape of Olympic javelins. In Terra Amata in southern France, four hundred thousand years ago, is firm evidence of a hearth alongside which 60 pieces of prepared ochre has been found, mainly red but also yellow, brown and purple. Red ochre remains, brought from elsewhere, have also been found in the Oldavai beds over a million years ago but that's about all you can say about it.


None of the above is to deny the enormous advances made by Homo sapiens over a the latest two hundred thousand year period, and particularly the Upper Paleaolithic around 50,000 years ago and its transition to the revolutionary Neolithic. In fact it underlines and reinforces it in my opinion. As far as the development of humanity is concerned, I'm a long-range, old-timer.

much further back

 I can't get too drawn into this at the moment, but it should be pointed out that since he wrote Blood Relations, Chris Knight has considerably revised his view of the 'human revolution' backwards in time and I would say this even includes the Neanderthals following some recent research.

This article by Stonehenge analyst Lionel Sims (SWP, but published in the CPGB's Weekly Worker - on the front page!) is a serious effort to explain some of the current thinking of the Radical Anthropology Group on where they stand with regard to Engels.


Location, Location


"Around half-a-million years ago, at Boxgrove in Kent.... "

Should I distrust everything you've written just because Boxgrove is in West Sussex rather than Kent? Nah. Good stuff Baboon. I'm with the Long Firm.


baboon. You may be right, you

baboon. You may be right, you may be wrong, but your version is very appealing. "I would argue that from the beginning this was a species that had to cooperate, that had to look after each other, that took on and refined the best of the animal instincts of bonding and morality.". So we've always had a necessary instinct for....I suppose it's solidarity! And Wallace's appreciation of women, and more understanding insight of their appreciation of men is excellent too. (What would Darwin have done without Wallace's more advanced consciousness and promptings to take a better, not so obstinately bourgeois, direction?).

And then, Engels: " In short, men in the making arrived at a point where THEY HAD SOMETHING TO SAY to each other.". As you point out, in fact they may not actually have been talking at all as yet, but through the development of labour and cooperative work - and emerging solidarity too perhaps - they were developing (a) something to say, (b) the need to say it, and (c) the necessary technique through which to do it. A lesson for the modern proletariat I think!

baboon, I am not one much besotted with science and anthropology (this is yet another failing of my bourgeois mis-education) but you are creating an interest for me at last. Thanks.

Thanks guys. Fred, I agree

Thanks guys.

Fred, I agree with what you say about Wallace. There's a piece on him on this website "Alfred Russel Wallace".

I think Boxgrove might have been in Kent in the Middle to Lower Palaeolithic possibly as the outcome of local authority boundry changes. It's now reverted back West Sussex showing that all change is not necessarity progressive.



In the period of decadent

In the period of decadent capitalism, both Kent and West Sussex are equally reactionary and workers should not be fooled into choosing either.

Human evolution

A quick  response to Alf above and related issues:

A few years ago, I put the evidence to Chris Knight about developments in Neanderthal "society" and his colleague and co-presenter at the meeting certainly took the point on board - so I'm not surprised that he has developed his views in this area and hopefully will continue to do so. But I think that there is a need to go back much further.

And also wider. Chris Stringer in the book quoted above says: "Modernity was not a package that had a unique African origin in one place, one time and population, but was a composite whose elements appeared at different times and places, and were then generally assembled to assume the form we recognise today". The discovery in March 2010 of the human group first called "Lineage X" and then the "Denisovans", after the cave in Siberia where it was found, now show that apart from modern humans and Neanderthals, there is another distinct group that shared the area around 40,000 years ago.

About ten years ago, I read a book by Ian Tattersall, palaeoanthropologist and curator of the American Museum of Natural History (I think it was called "Becoming Human..."), stating the bold view at the time that he suspected that there could have been around 4 or 5 groups of homo around at the same time in the pre-"modern" era (ie, when there was just one form of modern humans) . If we include H. floresiensis (the "hobbits" of the Indonesian island of Flores) then Tattersall's comments are quite prescient.

Originally sequenced from the 41,000 year-old tip of a young girl's finger (and confirmed by a couple of molars later), the genome is distinct from moderns and also, while they share an archaic ancestor, are also distinct from Neanderthals. Further DNA evidence shows has shown that the Denisovans, who lived across Asia, interbred  not only with Neanderthal but also interbred with the ancestors of modern-day Melanesians and Australian aborigines.

There are lots of questions to be addressed here and while hybridization can have its setbacks, the evidence from the Denisovans, who inhabited Europe and Asia before modern humans, suggests that interbreeding has produced valuable protection for the immune system and against diseases. Peter Parham, an immunologist at Stanford University School of Medicine, has looked at evidence in this respect. Did we interbreed with the Hobbits? There's no evidence because of the climatic conditions of the region, but I'd bet on it.


Baboon's last paragraph is

Baboon's last paragraph is very interesting, i.e. interbreeding (genetic diversity) as a means of developing the immune system. But could this process go too far? Is this the situation today, where we have a plethora of auto-immune conditions that produce chronic disease and disability? Is it significant that auto-immune diseases seem to be more prevalent in the "developed" world?

Wow am I glad I decided to

Wow am I glad I decided to browse this thread today.

What a great discussion you got goin here. Baboon seems to be quite the expert (have you considered a career in this field?), I'm not sure how much I can add in his shadow. I definitely can't get to the specific academic detail he has, but nevertheless theres a few things I wanna just throw out there...

I just wanted to go OT for a quick second. Back to the bit about our understanding of the universe, multiverse, what have you. I really like the direction physics has taken lately--- really too bad I never got a good math education or I'd be much more immersed in it.

In addition to the breakthroughs we're making in particle physics, its also a great time to be a astrophysicist. Just in the past few years alone we have discovered there is at least 1.6 planets for each star in our galaxy. Compare that to the old belief that our solar system could be the only one with planets. We have already discovered 5 or more planets with similar temperatures and most likely, oceans and lakes. One of them is only 19 or 20 lya. We think now every galaxy has at its center a supermassive black hole. We understand better how galaxies exist in relation to each other, what its like between star systems, galaxies. We are even beginning to conceptualize how the universe(s) work.

It's no coincidence that all this scientific discovery seems to be happening at a faster and more intense rate. At this point, most sciences are inextricably bound to each other in a direct or sometimes indirect way. This is especially true with things like string theory and the science of stars. For example. without the massive celestial bodies we can now find in outer space, our understanding of gravity would be extremely rudimentary, to the point where it hinders our conception of the tiniest particle's particles.

I personally think with strong conviction that the past 30 years of discovery will not come crashing down with some chaotic, random occurrence or discovery as some might argue. I don't believe much in coincidence, and theres just TOO much that makes sense for us to see different results. No worries though, we're so close to discoveries on these issues its almost pointless to debate in length at this moment.

Really what we're seeing in the scientific community is your typical, "damn thats radical so it must be invalid." We have had to accept the existence of 11 dimensions and possibly infinite universes--- a notion that just blows peoples fucking minds--- however I don't personally see it as any more or less radical than the assertion the earth is round and we rotate our sun. People need to just, be more open minded. How you obtain this mind frame is up to you ;) Sometimes an exceptionally clear night is all you need.

But yeah, I don't see how someone could argue against the big bang theory, especially when we can look back to literally the moments after it. As other comrades have pointed out, the so called "membrane" that carries our universe is most likely interacting with a number of other "branes" carrying other universes. I think this interaction is supposed to be largely gravitational and with CERN our studies of dark matter, dark energy, anti-matter, etc. will give us some big answers, most likely in the next 5-10 years. Same with our space explorations. This is really the golden age of science in terms of our self-understanding. Combined with another great revolutionary wave I believe this would be enough to cause not only a communist revolution, but a social renaissance, and humanity will be changed forever.

Ok so, briefly back to the point on early humans. I did a brief stint as a History major and pre-Modern was one of my favorite courses. I wanted to first ask Baboon for more information about us "not being able to get back up the trees." It was always my understanding that our predecessors came to walk upright through more of a process. Some bushmen today still sleep in trees. I find this sudden tree-climbing amnesia hard to swallow, because I always heard in my studies it was like; first we spent mostly all time in trees, then we started roaming the ground for more food and crashing in the trees at night, then eventually we learned how to fortify ourselves on the ground with shelters, etc. I was also told this transition was pushed by climate change and the hunt. We were forced to run great distances after prey (gazelle, and other deer like things) because we couldn't necessarily kill them in one blow with the weapons, they had to bleed out. This could happen over distances of 40km and would require coordinated hunting parties--- another great argument for the necessity and origin of language.

Anyways, I'm gonna spend some time brushing up on all this stuff, its been a while. Thanks everyone for such a rich discussion!

Shit I forgot I wanted to

Shit I forgot I wanted to also mention the North Sentinel Islanders..

North Sentinel Island is in the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, pretty small ~30 sq. mi. It doesn't have natural harbors so Europeans never settled it, but somehow there is an indigneous population of around 500 individuals.

They are infamous for having repelled all attempts at contact. When observes sail nearby they come out and have a massive orgy on the beach. They have killed two or three people attempting to make contact, they even brought down a helicopter lol. They survived the 2004 tsunami, quite strong and resilient people. Whats most significant though is, they don't grow food and they don't have fire from what we can tell. Their skin is very dark and they are short in stature (the guys being no taller than 5' 6").

Basically the idea is they could have been isolated on this island for 30-60,000 years plus. If thats true, they are basically a glimpse into our past and could provide a ton of insight on the culture/society questions.

As long as they can bring down a helicopter with rocks, spearheads, and arrows not sure how much we can actually learn from them though haha.

The idea that science is on

The idea that science is on the verge of a new golden age seems to fit poorly with the theory of social decomposition. At the precise moment when, as a result of the social and historical stalemate, society retreats into the most obscurantist and bizarre ideologies, science is on the verge of a new age of discovery? Or is it the contradiction between science's advances and society's retrenchment that characterizes decomposition?

I think that Marxists have to be careful to remain critical. Marx called for the ruthless critique of everything exisiting. That includes science also. We are right to point out the rise of obscurantism as a dangerous feature of decomposition, but I don't think we can paint a simple opposition between science and ideology. Can there be something like "pure science" in a class based society? Probably not. Marxists also need to provide a critical account of science and point out how class power and ideology manifests itself within science also.

One can agree or disagree with or remain ambivalent about Lerner's ideas on the Big Bang theory--but he provides a critical account of the theory that attempts to show the vested interests of class power behind the notion that the universe has a fixed origin. As Marxists, we should take such efforts seriously.

On a lighter note, what do people think about Big Foot?

Golden Age Science

Thanks for your comment jk. I totally agree with what you say. "Can there be something like 'pure science' in a class based society?" That is surely not possible. Science is as much "in chains" as everyone and everything else in this commodity based world. But I'd like very much to hear a bit more about how the vested interests of class power find support in the idea of the universe as having a fixed origin. Is this god coming in through the back door?

But I agree with p_p when he limits (accidentally!) science's Golden Age to the terms of our "self understanding". This relates to our class consciousness of course, the on-going development of which is all that matters. For without it science is doomed along with all else. Infinite universes and eleven dimensions pale before the vital, essential, nothing-else-matters need for the revolution.

With regard to Big Foot...I suffer from it myself, along with Big Knee. But this is down to auto-immune mess-ups.

Didn't Galileo's (and others)

Didn't Galileo's (and others) scientific discoveries happen during a decadent period of society? Wasn't the end of feudalism/the onset of capitalism marked by scientific discoveries? If the dark ages weren't decadent, I'm not sure what is…

I agree of course as marxists we should remain as critical as possible. But methinks "the contradiction between science's advances and society's retrenchment" puts the scientists on the side of the workers and revolution. What if we discover the Higgs boson this year? Life in outer space? Surely you will have to concede this is progress, not some bourgeois progress in decomposition, but part of the classes progress towards full consciousness.

Galileo and science as a productive force

I think that you could say that Galileo's discoveries were made in a period of revolutionary struggle (which lasted several centuries) between the decaying feudal order (represented by the Catholic Church which threatened to burn him), and the new, revolutionary bourgeoisie. It was this class which really gave birth to the scientific method (building on the foundations of the ancient Greeks, it has to be said). So Galileo appears in the first great flowering of nascent capitalism, centred in the Italian city states of the Renaissance.

What is science? After much thought, it seems to me that it is best described as a productive force in its own right. And in this sense science, like all the other productive forces in capitalism including the proletariat, is straining against the capitalist relations of production which hold it back. Science and the practice of science is infected with ideology, which of course should be criticised, especially in the way in which it can distort scientific inquiry. And this is more true the closer you come to the human sciences: the conclusions of theoretical physics do not have many implications today for how we should live (though of course in Galileo's day they did); the same is not true of anthropology, for example.

Have you read Chris Knight's piece on Marxism and Science? Personally I think this is extremely good. I particularly liked this paragraph:

Chris Knight wrote:

Engels wrote: ".... the more ruthlessly and disinterestedly science proceeds, the more it finds itself in harmony with the interests of the workers. We can be confident that this accurately expressed Marx's own views. Science, as humanity's only universal, international, species-unifying form of knowledge, had to come first. If it had to be rooted in the interests of the working class, this was only in the sense that all science has to be rooted in the interests of the human species as a whole, the international working class embodying these interests in the modern epoch just as the requirements of production have always embodied these interests in previous periods.

So is it really too far off

So is it really too far off for me to consider any scientific discoveries we' might be on the verge of finding as straw on the camels back in the class struggle, so to speak? I think it is possible that one of these discoveries could challenge the ideology and even political policy of the ruling class, depending on its nature..

Sorry I've not been able to reply to this before...

jk1921 wrote:

LoneLondoner's idea that the escence of scientific knowledge is that it is "open to contradiction and debate by all," is a very stimulating argument. I don't think most scientists would agree with this however. The standard for what makes a statement scientifically valuable is peer review, not acceptance by the democratic masses. In fact, there is a long history of controversy over this very issue in the philosophy of science and critical theory that seems to be missing so far from this discussion. To what extent can scientific knowledge be subjected to "democratic control"?

I didn't actually mean that scientific research and results should be (or could be) subject to "democratic control", which is not at all the same thing as peer review. What I was essentially trying to get at is that the scientific method is open: the neutrino guys have (I believe) very carefully published - just as Galileo did - all their research, including the details of their experiments and how to set them up, so that anybody could repeat them. Of course "anybody" means anybody with the technical knowhow to understand what they are saying, and €40 billion to build another LHC, but that in some ways is secondary, at least from the scientific viewpoint.

And scientific knowledge can't be subjected to "democratic control" (though I'm not sure what jk means by that). I'm inclined to think that the search for truth is a human need in itself...

One aspect of the evolution of science which strikes me is the move from an individual to a collective exercise of scientific thought and research. It's very striking if you read John Gribbin's excellent "History of Science" that up to about the mid-19th century, science is very much about individuals, the "great geniuses" of popular myth. From then on the story is less about individuals (though of course some stand out - Einstein is an obvious example) and much more about ideas, simply because there are far more people doing science. And today, scientific advance is fundamentally collective, proletarianised phenomenon, dependent on the collective efforts of scientists, lab workers, technicians, etc. The CERN LHC is the high point of this evolution: it concentrates the efforts of hundreds, even thousands of physicists, programmers, and also technicians and building workers (simply constructing the tunnel in which the LHC is installed is an incredible "tour de force").

Scientific breakthroughs and camels...

proper_propaganda wrote:

So is it really too far off for me to consider any scientific discoveries we' might be on the verge of finding as straw on the camels back in the class struggle, so to speak? I think it is possible that one of these discoveries could challenge the ideology and even political policy of the ruling class, depending on its nature..

I think it depends what you mean. I rather doubt that a sudden fundamental discovery in theoretical physics will tip the balance towards revolution, for example.

However, anthropology and the study of primitive human society are another matter. For example, one of the reasons that Marx/Engels gave so much importance to the work of Lewis Morgan, was that he demonstrated the validity of the evolutionist (ie historical materialist) view of human society, and the invalidity of "bourgeois common sense" of his epoch which held that the desire to own property was fundamental to human nature.

Nowadays, you have a rather different problem: how often have you heard people say "oh communism, nice idea, but after all you can't change human nature"? So a scientific understanding of what we are and where we came from is in my view of fundamental importance to the communist project, because it allows us to answer precisely the question of what human nature is, and what it is that we are striving to create.

I don't know if that answers the question, though.

Science is a site of serious

Science is a site of serious contradictions in this epoch. On the one hand, developments in science continue at a breakneck pace in the pursuit of war and profit. On the other, where science challenges powerful bourgeois interests, the scientific method itself is under attack.

As an example: www.theguardian.com/science/2012/feb/19/science-scepticism-usdomesticpolicy

Combined with the increasing difficulties of the education system, leaving even basic understanding of scientific method and critical reasoning beyond most of us, we can see yet another example of the blockage capitalism represents to future social and scientific progress.


P_p, thanks for the kind words above. It's too late for a career for me in the field (except possibly digging vegetables). I didn't have much of an education and have spent the last half-a-century as a glorified (and not so glorified) labourer - which I continue to do part-time. I reflected recently that my interest in our ancestors may have had something to do with losing both my parents when I was a young child. Though I was well looked after by the rest of my familty it did leave something of a "gap". But my interest was really fired within the ICC and the marxist search for a scientific understanding of the past - to see where we've come from and where we have to go. In this the Review series around "Communism" has been of majjor importance. Even primitive communism was not a static phenomenon and without idealising the archaic condition, the "Entire human history is an act of genesis" and the centrality of "nature developing into man" (Marx, EPM).

The ICC (quite rightly in my opinion) classifies this period - since the end of the 60s - as a revolutionary period so I don't see some forms of scientific progress (outside of the war economy and the means of repression and destruction) as impossible but a contradiction showing what is possible beyond capitalism.. One of the dangers here for revolutionary elements is to fall into the mode of "anti-science". I broadly agree with Lone's (and Chris Knight's) definitions above - though to nit-pick I would include the Persians along with the Greeks.

On the "on the ground", "back up the trees" bit, p-p: I don't at all see this as a sudden development  and it could have taken place over tens of thousands of years - a whole period. Some baboons (I've been chatting to my relatives) have recently adapted to both life on the plains and in the mountains. But for homo, once the physical body had changed - full bipedalism, less of a gripping ability for the arms, hand, legs and feet, the species was at its most vulnerable. Not only were the big cats much bigger but so to apparantly were the wolves and hyenas. Even some of the "docile" gravids were dangerous. And this required the development and consolidation of solidarity and some form of society.

I read somewhere that the Andeman islanders (now the subject of freak-show tours by the Indian state) survived  the 2004 tsusami because of the oral myths pointing out the dangers of sudden, receding tides.

When I've got more time, I want to come back on the link from Alf above, specifically two points: Lewis Henry Morgan and the wiping our of megafauna my man.

Everyone makes very

Everyone makes very interesting points. I agree with Baboon that it is important to avoid "anti-science," but I think it is also important to avoid becomming an echo-chamber for it. As Demo points out, science is rife with contradictions today. In fact, the definition of what consitutes science itself is often contested. I agree with Lone, that the penetration of ideology into science is more pronounced the closer one gets to the social sciences, but the "hard" sciences are far from immune from it, as the example of Lerner's critique of the Big Bang theory might demonstrate. Of course, its even quesitonable as to whether or not cosmology is really a "hard" science at all.

In terms on what I mean by "democratic control": Some would argue that science doesn't care about society, social values or ethics. It proceeds by its own logic and doesn't care very much about its implications for society. Society can do what it wants with the results of scientific research, but the process of scientific discovery itself will not subject itself to regulation from society. Its a version of the fact vs. value antinomy, I suppose. All of this has a long history in "Western Marxism," which it seems like the ICC has not really begun to broach in the context of this debate about Marxism and science. Of course, the core argument of Adorno and Horkheimer in "Dialectic of Englightenment" was that freed from its moorings in values and ethics science tends to evolve towards domination of nature and eventually domination of man himself. Simply put, science and society don't mix very well, as instrumental reason follows its own insipid logic towards domination. Pretty much the entire history of Western Marxism since then has been trying to solve this dilemna--in particular Habermas' work. We might reject Adorno and Horkheimer's conclusions, but they are a serious challenge that I don't think we can just wish away by calling it "anti-science." Similary, we can't ignore Popper's somewhat opposite critique of Marxism (and Freudianism), which calls it a pseudo-science, because of its lack of empircally testable statements. We need to confront these ideas.

In response to Lone's statement about the search for truth being a human need itself. That's interesting, but I am not sure I totally agree with that. The truth is often really painful. Certianly, it has been very traumatic for humanity to learn that we are not really made in God's image afterall, but we are really just space dust. Its not surprising we have erected numerous mechanisms against the "disenchantment" of the world: religion, cults, new age sects, etc. that by some measures are actually growing today in the midst of the Hadron Collider, etc. Do we write this all off as due to the effects of class society, etc. or is there something more fundamental there? I guess the bottom line question is can there be too much science and englightenment? What good is it to know about string theory and worm holes, if we can't do a damn thing about human mortality? Or can we? (there is actually a book called "The Physics of Immortality"--I haven't wasted my time reading it, although I understand the "science" behind it is not well regarded). Is there a point where science and enlightenment becomes somewhat irrelevant given the human condition? Perhaps the solution for what ails humanity today is not "more science," but a new conception of ethics and values (is this what communism really is?) Maybe faced with human mortality what we need is not new medicines that will eek out a few more hours of life in the ICU, but a  new ethical approach to death and dying?

Ultimately, it seems like we are kind of caught between two different (although perhaps not contradictory) instincts. On the one hand to defend the acquitions of science and modernity against the rising obscuratism of decomposition (anyone who is following the Republican Party's primary campaign in the U.S. can see how serious this is getting); and on the other to critique the penetration of ideology into science when it leads to false conclusions and tends to reinforce the exisitng bourgeois society. On these things, we can all agree--but when it comes to the application of these principles to specific, concrete issues, it seems like there can be widely different conclusions--all purporting to be a Marxist position. PP can't see how anyone can reject the Big Bang, yet there is a major work that sees that theory as an ideological bulwark of class society. Some might see psychiatry as a tremendous advance in the understanding of human illness, others might see it as a weapon of social domination against those who are different. Of course, there is no class line of these issues, and the more we debate them, the more we show the life within Marxism and the ICC. However, we also risk coming off as looking like we have our pants down on some of these things, but perhaps that is part of process too?



Morgan, etc.

Jk, apologies for cutting across your general point about science, but I want to return the question of prehistory above and, specifically, the position of Lionel Sims of the Radical Anthropology Group linked to by Alf above.


There are some interesting clarifications by Sims above but I'm not sure (there are some things about this piece that I just don't understand) that it's a defence of Engels position. It's certainly not a defence of Lewis Henry Morgan whose work Sims seems to reject outright. Sims, the SWP member, describes Morgan at the beginning of his article as “a millionaire Republican rail-road speculator”. Most marxists that are aware of Morgan's work “Ancient Society or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilisation”, would first and foremost describe Morgan decade's long work begun in the middle of the 1800s as of enormous importance to the workers' movement. Engel's “Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State” is based, in great part, on Morgan's “Ancient Society...”. Marx embraced the work as did Wallace and Darwin who met Morgan in England. Like all these great characters above there were plenty of other elements before, after and contemporary (particularly the comrades of Marx and Engels) who contributed to the overall analyses but it's these specifics elements I am referring to. First of all I don't think that Engels and Morgan's analyses of primitive communism is divorced from economics, no more than I think that there was a revolutionary “sex-strike”. I agree with Sims that was a certain overestimation of the precariousness of life in primitive communism in both books but unlike the “Eden” that Sims describes, as Marx says, the chains holding back this society may have been comfortable but they were still chains. Sims says there was no mode of production, but the mode of production was stone tools (I know that elements of RAG think that to refer to stone tools is “anti-women”) and the consolidation of society was the emergence of the gentes, a comprehensive organisation of society that allowed its further development and laid the basis for the upper stages of barbarism (not at all a pejorative term -see below) and the development of civilisation. The conclusion to Ancient Society, part of which Chris Knight quotes in a positive context in “Blood Relations” says: “A mere property career is not the final destiny of mankind, if progress is to be the law of the future as it was the past. The time which has passed away since civilisation began is but a fragment of the past duration of man's existence; and but a fragment of the ages yet to come. The dissolution of society bids fair to become the termination of a career of which property is the end and the aim; because such a career contains the elements of self-destruction. Democracy in government, brotherhood in society, equality in rights and privileges and universal education foreshadow the next higher plane of society to which experience, intelligence and knowledge are steadily tending. It will be a revival in a higher form of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes”. On the basis of his work this is a communist perspective from the “millionaire, Republican speculator” Morgan.


There is a lot of dating and other various factors that do not add up in Morgan's work – as one would expect from a work written in the mid-1880s (there are a few in Sim's work above), but the overall analysis, its dynamic is soundly based of human societies following a broadly similar pattern. From his work with the Iroquois and Seneca Indians, Morgan examined the organisation of societies, gentes, across the globe. The global work wasn't conducted by the Smithsonian Institute, as Sims says above, but in the book itself and confirmed by the Institute afterwards. One can't go into all the detail because it is so comprehensive – Sims concentrates on one form of the gentes, the Hawaiian, to make a point but he doesn't see the wood for the trees. And the wood is this: What Morgan showed was that peoples from across the globe, peoples that had never met each other, peoples from different cultures who spoke different languages, developed almost identical forms of complex organisations of society that were overwhelmingly positive and egalitarian. What this independent development underlines is a development that was the product of human actions and culture. One phenomenon pointing to this independent development in Morgan's work is that despite different languages, words describing close family/gentes relationships are often very similar or sometimes the same. I think that the products of human action and culture finds its heights in barbarian society – a society so strong, with such a fundamental base and endurance, that it outlived the Roman Empire. The irony being, as Marx says, that it saved the Roman metropole from the collapse of Roman imperialism and while not doing wonders, it reinstituted its art, mother-right and built up the populations of Europe for the blood-letting of the Crusades. Barbarian society (which I would put opening up about fifteen thousand years ago and I would say that the contradiction of the division of labour between male and female had been solved long before then) brought about enormous technological and social progress and I would further say that it was the basis for the independent development across time and space of ceramics, metallurgy and agriculture (there was also, in my opinion, the independent development of religious and ritual iconography and thought).



That's on Morgan. This is what I think about Sim's views on man's extinction of the mega-fauna, the large animals, wiped out because, according to him, man is “really good at killing animals”. Sims talks about verification on “solid scientific evidence”. Well there is absolutely no “solid scientific evidence” that man (or woman) were responsible for wiping out the large beasts – in fact what evidence exists says that man wasn't involved. Paul Martin (1984) posed the blitzkrieg wipe-out of the mega-fauna by man in the Americas around 15,000 years ago where some 35 genera of animals including mastodon, horse, mammoth, deer, large sloths, etc, and the carnivores that relied on them went extinct. According to Barnosky et al, (2004), there's little human contribution to this and ecological factors including climate change are more likely. Donald Grayson and David Meltzer (2002), have examined kill sites of the Clovis and less than a fifth show evidence of mastodon or mammoth kills and that 33 of the 35 types of animals extinct can't be put down to man. At one of these sites of mastodon butchery, Monte Verde, Southern Chile, 15 thousand years ago, there is evidence of a 20-metre long wood and hide structure containing 18 different medicinal plants, many of which had been bought from up 700 k away (Scarre, 2005) with a range of plant and vegetable foods showing an extensive diet that did not rely on meat. There was certainly predation on the bison and at one “kill site” there about 170 of the beasts stampeded over a cliff with only a small percentage of the meat taken (there are similar “stampede” kills elsewhere in time and space). But there is also clear evidence that hunting strategies developed over time in the Americas (as elsewhere) and far from being over-hunted the bison survived in their millions to roam the plains wiped out only by the hand of civilisation in a broader context.


This idea of man as the bloody hunter that emerges here and there in the RAG is further contradicted in the religious and ritual practices, as well as the rock art of Europe, the Americas and Australia where the closeness of humanity to the animal kingdom is evidenced. Chris Knight, in the chapter on The Rainbow Snake of “Blood Relations”doesn't seem to hold this view of the animal wipe-out. Sims fictional view of the extinction of the mega-fauna means for him (the dating is weird here) that collective organisation cannot sustain itself. I would argue that this is the period (barbarism) of real, collective organisation – a major advance that saw the development of sedentism and agriculture.

I think that one has a responsibility, one has to be careful talking about man wiping out the animals because it could feed into the bourgeoisie's use of social Darwinism. But this idea of the bloody male, man the killer, man the dumb, is one of the themes I see in the Radical Anthropology Group which fits perfectly well beside its idea of the “woman at home” and its underestimation of the special role of womanhood throughout the whole period of human prehistory.

jk raises some questions.

jk raises some questions. But really they boil down to one, which goes: Is there anything more fundamental than class society - and, if so, what is it? He investigates the Frankfurt School of writers. Shouldn't Marxism have a stance on them, he wonders. He worries about the hardship of having to face "the truth". Humanity can't bear too much reality, and truth can be painful, as can be the loss of illusions. And then there are "class lines". Do they always apply? Do they apply to psychiatry for instance? jk thinks they can't apply in this case, but in fact goes on to show how exactly they could, in the same sentence! Example: Is psychiatry "an advance" in treating mental disorder, or a type of repression against those who are different? It could be either of course, or even both? But the question could hardly be raised without some awareness however subliminal of the class basis of society.

Jk discusses the Frankfurt School's writings and concludes "instrumental reason finds it's own insipid logic towards domination." But surely the point about Adorno and Habermas et al, is that they were all under the Stalinist pall, and all masters of the dark arts of mystification and obscurantism. For "instrumental reason" read capitalism. For "domination" read the real but secret dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. NB. Adorno wrote a notable but despicable attack on Tchaikovsky, rubbishing his symphonies for their humanity, and the expression of human emotions that these symphonies understand and dramatize so well in music. But such "romanticism" and such "emotional excess" doesn't sit well with a disciplined Stalinist, keen on "modernism".

So what are we left with? In this age now in which we live, surely there is nothing that we are aware of that is more fundamental to human life, on this planet, than class society and the class struggle. Class struggle is the motor force of history for us, and I reckon it's now possible to take a class line on just about everything. And I think we should do just that. Demo points out how capitalism is now a blockage and a distortion to the whole of life and it's future. LoneLondoner notes that a scientific understanding helps us better understand human nature and what it is we want to create. So we should pursue the truth no matter the pain, and try and hang on to our pants if we can.

Back in the USSR

Popper thought Marxism a pseudo science, says jk, and needs to be refuted or at least confronted. But the social sciences are not 'falsifiable' in the same manner as the hard sciences may be. Popper also thought that capitalism was an 'open' society, and embodied all that may be desired in the realms of freedom and democracy (laugh out loud and roll on the floor in mirth). For saying this he has secured the undying support of that great humanizing influence George Soros. Popper also thought that the USSR was communist - or socialist (laugh a lot, fall about and vomit). So why would anyone want to take anything Popper has to say as having relevance to the furthering of the proletarian revolution? I don't get it! Nor do I think we need to debate these matters much to prove that both Marxism and the ICC vibrate with life and vigor. And I'm not anti-science, but would rather read about what the class is doing in it's fight against capitalism, and how it's consciouness is growing (with proof where possible) and how it's slowly rising to it's feet all over the world, and is beginning to fight with intention to get rid of capital. The impossible dream?

"You don't know how lucky you are boys. Back in the USSR." (Beatles)

Just to clear, I was not

Just to clear, I was not advocating abandoning the search for truth because its painful; I was only responding to Lone's assertion that there is some kind of innate human drive to search for the truth. Perhaps there is on some level, but there is also a lot of evidence that this drive is not a universal feature of our species. I suppose its a variation on the old "ignornace is bliss" line. Of course, we should not ignore the fact that the posssibility of "truth" itself has been called in question repeatedly either.In fact there is some serious political consequences of these things, such as the predominant sentiment that was expressed in the Occupy Movement where fundamentally incompatible demands could co-exist with one another. Multiple "truths" equals multiple and often contradictory demands.

On the Frankfurt School and Habermas: I am not sure I understood Fred correctly, but they were certainly not Stalinists. Obscurantists? Perhaps at times, but this in no way aboslves us from taking their arguments about sicence and instrumental reason seriously and responding to them. Habermas purports to give a --at the very least--Marxist inspired--account of the relationship between science and society that would seem to problematize the way it has been conceptualized in this discussion so far. Should we ignore it because we disagree with his politics? Similary, with Popper. We all now his politics suck, so what? Does this mean we can just shrug off his critiques of Marxism (and Freudianism)?  That doesn't seem wise.

The idyllic pastoral

The idyllic pastoral described by baboon is clearly preferable to it's alternative, where thick boned idiots go round clubbing each other and killing all the animals. ( Sounds like the modern bourgeoisie.) But what were they doing in their primitive communism for all those thousands and thousands of years. Was it all just hunting and sex? ( Some might say: what's wrong with that? ) I know they had their cave paintings, but these were difficult of access and poorly lit (give me the Tate Modern and Guggenheim ) and that they had stone implements too. But what about plumbing and dentistry, and a decent house? A roman villa say, with delightful mosaics and heating in the winter. Or Chartres Cathedral with those magnificent stained windows. Do we have to wait for the emergence - I was going to say 'development'! - of class society, with all it's horrors, before we get the production of real benefits and technical advances?

The bourgeoisie would say, yes, indeed we do. And they would take the opportunity to go on: The trouble with communism is that there is no compulsion to work, and no incentive, so nobody does anything! (This is to overlook the "communism" of the USSR where there was nothing but grinding labour and nothing pleasant at all.) In his vision of the real communism to come, Marx goes for the idyllic pastoral of course. Is it just another illusion? He paints a picture of work turned play, and play become work, through which we will all realize our potential and our full humanity. A blessed future, but difficult to imagine; and even more difficult it seems to bring about.

So where does this leave us? In comparison to the long years of our immaturity as a race - I dont suppose the anthropologists will like "immaturity" much - the onset of exploitative class society has had only the shortest of rule: what, ten thousand years? (I'm guessing.) Yet the "civilizing benefits" of this are as enormous as is the exploitative horror. It need only be a short leap now to the wonders of a classless society again. But will the new communism be as apparently aimless as was the old? (I will pull up the drawbridge now, and retire to a distant turret.)

big bangs

I probably shouldn't say anything as I have not read the aforementioned criticisms of Big Bang theory as a variety of religious ideology. But one thing that does strike me when I listen to some of the leading cosmologists, such as Hawking and that young Brian Cox fellow: there seems to a contradiction between what sometimes sounds to me like a quest to find the absolute beginning and absolute end of the one and only universe - a quest which does have some continuity with the Judaeo-Christian myth -  and the growing need of advanced physics to hypothesise about the existence of multiple universes, which would imply that there have been and will be innumerable big bangs.


Alf wrote:

I probably shouldn't say anything as I have not read the aforementioned criticisms of Big Bang theory as a variety of religious ideology. But one thing that does strike me when I listen to some of the leading cosmologists, such as Hawking and that young Brian Cox fellow: there seems to a contradiction between what sometimes sounds to me like a quest to find the absolute beginning and absolute end of the one and only universe - a quest which does have some continuity with the Judaeo-Christian myth -  and the growing need of advanced physics to hypothesise about the existence of multiple universes, which would imply that there have been and will be innumerable big bangs.

Yes, there is a contradiction; just as the quest to find a complete and final "theory of eveything" seems to be in contradiction with the idea of science as process.

I think Lerner's argument goes beyond seeing the Big Bang as a continuation of Judaeo-Christian eschatology. He also sees it as a form of authoritarianism--a closed theory unable to tolerate contigency and incompletness. In the Lib Com thread, it was mentioned that Lerner was a "Luxemburgian Marxist." That is probably going a little far, but his argument that the Big Bang theory is part of an overall philosophy of authoritarian social control seems like something that Luxemburgian Marxists need to address if they are going to take up these questions.

mikail firtinaci
Kuhn and Dietzgen may be of help to us

Dear Comrades,

I am trying to follow this science debate with great interest. I did not want to join the debate though, since my knowledge is greatly lacking on the subject. However, as the methodology issue came up -which was to the point- I felt myself more confident to say a few words.

It is really difficult to discuss the scientific (or shall I say "hard" science) innovations for us marxists - since many of us may not be professionals in those sometimes obscurantist and highly complex fields of physics, astronomy etc. Still it is at the same time crucial for us to follow especially the cosmology debates (I think) because their implications are or may be central to our political theories. Let me give a crude and simplistic example for the sake of clarity:

let's assume that universe has a beggining. Let's say this is the big bang or any similar cosmological scientific theory. Then we have to assume that the concepts such as time and space also are not universal and infinite, but partial - in the sense that they have a beginning and an end too - or likely to end. This assumption supports one of the oldest philosophical theories; that of Kant. According to Kant the world of things, the world of phenomenon could not be perfectly penetrated by the human intelect. Because the casuality that the mind attributes to the world of things was basically derived from certain categories of mind -time, space. So for Kant human mind thinks through the lenses of time and space. However, we can not be sure that the things in themselves can be really explained through pure observation -which is basically observing through time and through space.

Hence, Kant argues that it was logical to seperate the world of moral reasoning and the world of practical cognition, since our practical-empirical reasoning would in no way tell the truth about the nature or the origin of the thing that is observed. Big bang cosmology seems to lead similar results. According to the big bang theorists the time and space as we know are "created" and our cognition is limited in time and space - it can not tell us anything beyond the big bang or beyond the future end of the universe. In that sense both speculation about a heaven and the necessity of communism or liberalism may be valid scientifically since, the secular Kantian paradigm presents us a universa that is beyond our reason and sensual experience! In this universa which eventually all the "matter" will come to an end -though in a very far future- heaven and hell seem as reasonable as, or even more then the earthly hell of of daliy life under capitalism.

Lucky for us that, big bang cosmology is not the final world for us. First of all, it is not a proven theory - in the sense that being empirically observed. As far as I could understand, the so-called "standart theory" is a mathematical hypothesis, set up to explain the nature of observed phenomenon; such as the background radiation or the redshifts that Hubble observed.

I can not comment much on those complex issues, however I can argue, following Dietzgen that, philosophically speaking the perspective that seperates the moral and practical reasoning is a bourgeoisie one. The clearest expression of this may be found in Bernstein. for Bernstein, Marx and Engels' attempt to unite their analysis of the capitalist society and socialism in the order to reach the second was false. He argued that the Marxist assumption that capitalist society will inevitably end due to its internal contradictions was wrong... and we know the rest of the story... His proposed socialism was a moral one, a socialism based on Kantian assumptions.

Now does the Big Bang theory has to prove the Kantian theory and its political implications are right? I am not sure. However, I am sure that Big Bang cosmology is not the final word of science.

Kuhn's study shows us that science is not a lineer progression of theories that develops through an accumulation of knowledge but through revolutions. According to that, for a period of time a paradigm becomes dominant in science. This paradigm lays the ground for further research by providing the researcher the necessary assumptions to give meaning to his/her observations. Then gradually emerges certain contradictions in the findings which increasingly challenges the borders and assumptions of the paradigms. At first' the researcher tries to ignore those contradictions by basing his/her study on a ceteris paribus world. However gradually those contradictions starts to accumulate. This accumulation of contradictions between the observed knowledge and theory leads to a crisis situation. At this point the paradigm becomes ever more complex leading to a kind of obscurantism. The black holes, singularity or the dark matter are all expressions of those challenges to the standart model. They are all hypothetical-mathematical models that aims to explain the observable phenomenon and theoretical model that does not fit each other.

Then Kuhn argues a revolution happens and a newer, more simple, comprehensible, easire paradigm replaces the old one. This revolution does not simply happen in the minds but it also replace the old scientific generation with a new young one, crushes old institutions etc. And this should not be strange because the scientific endavour is never free from the social context it is active. Universities, research institutes, labaratories, academic journals all rely on funds and legal status that dominant classes grant them. However, Kuhn in his study of the structure of the scientific revolutions never goes  that far to relate the scientific revolutions to the social revolutions. Only one example proves that how this relation is necessarily logically linked those two; the case of Newton which Kuhn mentions times and times again. Newton lived through the English revolution and his politics and his epistemological approach were obviously linked to the social context that was revolutionary in the 17th century. Or the emergance of rationalists (Spinoza, Leibniz, Descartes) and the rise of Holland as the Commonwealth of dissident merchants... We can multiply the examples countless times in the key paradigmatic revolutions. 

So if the revolutions in science that replace paradigms requires a social levarage, a social revolution we can easily assume that the current stagnations in the world of science can only be overcome by a proletarian revolution. The increasing inability of the capitalist science to get out of obscurantism is an expression of this. We can find this in post-modern social sciences, economics, cosmology and physics. The increasing specilization in science making it ever more uncomprehensible and out of touch of the "real world", the sensual experience, points out a crisis in the explanatory value of science - in my opinion. 

Anyway I should stop here; and please forgive my weak english and lack of knowledge.




I was going to post this on the other science thread relating to jk's point about the "big crunch". I agree with what Kabir says on this point - ie, expansion just keeps on expanding. And if there was a contraction of the universe it wouldn't mean that we would die and then be born. I don't think that it means time goes backwards in this sense at all.

The point I want to raise here is that if Einstein's theory of Energy equals Mass times the speed of light squared is perfectly reversible - and it must be - then, at some stage, this reversal poses a singularity, a point of such intense energy outside of space and time that is possible from a previous "big crunch",  ie, the big bang could be the result of a big crunch and that this process could never-ending and somewhat timeless.

Thanks for that MF, there is

Thanks for that MF, there is much to ponder there. You are right, that Kuhn has been sorely missing from the disussion so far and you relate his insights to the current state of Big Bang theory very well. One question though, you talk about "bourgeois science"--but isn't the point of science that it is universally valid? Can there be one type of science for the bourgeoisie and another for the proletariat? Does this risk falling into a kind of relativism?

Perhaps, the ICC should consider inviting Lerner to its next Congress?

mikail firtinaci
JK 1921, I think your

JK 1921,

I think your question is very important and as you implied to attribute a class perspective to science is or may be dangerous. However, I can argue that science may be bourgeois in two senses;

1- Theoretically; (shall I say 'ontologically'?) by assuming that world of phenomenon, the nature of things are unpenetrable by human cognition' and that human reasoning is an entity that is seperate from its objects. This -following Dietzgen- I think, creates a dualism inherent to the bourgeois ideology. 

To clarify; if a socilogist argues that he can and should stand neutral towards his/her subject of inquiry, because his/her self moral judgements are personal, then this follows a capitalist logic. Simply because, there is no such thing for human reasoning is pure, devoid of self-interest. I do not think however that this is necessarily relativistic, since that does not necessarily comes to say that reasoning itself is a bourgeois activity. Contrary to that, it means reasoning can only be universal through a proletarian science. I think this possibility of a proletarian universalism can best be found in Marx;

Where, then, is the positive possibility of a German emancipation?

Answer: In the formulation of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong, but wrong generally, is perpetuated against it; which can invoke no historical, but only human, title; which does not stand in any one-sided antithesis to the consequences but in all-round antithesis to the premises of German statehood; a sphere, finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society, which, in a word, is the complete loss of man and hence can win itself only through the complete re-winning of man. This dissolution of society as a particular estate is theproletariat.

2- Science can also be class based in organizational or institutional sense. At this point, I tried to refer to Kuhn. Though, Kuhn probably would not claim that, I think the hegemonic paradigms, and also the generations, the institutions that reproduce the hegemonic paradigms are related to capital and state. As such, they may not be directly responsible for the political needs of the state. However, they are directly linked to its economic interests, organizational mentality and social atmosphere though funding, media etc. I do not try to argue that science is bourgeois simply because it funded by the capital. However, the monopolistic tendencies of the paradigms, the hierarchy of scientific organization, the elitism etc. are all results of the domination of capitalist class. This may have effects on the science as well. 

I think I merely repeated myself in a worse way :(

I agree with you in many ways

I agree with you in many ways MF. I think the point is that under bourgeois class rule science is distorted by all the things you mention, but underneath there is still something we can recognize as "science" that is more than just another cultural narrative. Could the proletarian revolution lead to one of the "paradigm shifts" Kuhn talks about? But this begs an even deeper question. Are the dynamics Kuhn talks about inherent to science itself or only the distorted science we get under the domination of the state and capital?

To seek to express the kind

To seek to express the kind of ideas that you are mikail, and in a second language, is wholly admirable. And you do it well enough to catch even the attention of a total science dummy such as myself. Because in a way you start to provide an explanation for the very dumbness I resent. In suggesting that science is shot through with very basic bourgeois assumptions like dualism and unacknowledged self-interest (subjectivity), the hegemony of paradigms, the hierarchies and elitism that pervade the research process, the generally poor way in which science is taught in schools (that the true nature of things is impenetrable by human cognition) you make out a case for science being generally committed to the bourgeois world view. Why wouldn't it be? All else is! Why wouldn't the science produced under the bourgeoisie be bourgeois science taught in a bourgeois way ie. transmitted not experienced.

In an earlier post mikail, you said:" So if the revolutions in science that replace paradigms requires a social levarage, a social revolution we can easily assume that the current stagnations in the world of science can only be overcome by a proletarian revolution. The increasing inability of the capitalist science to get out of obscurantism is an expression of this. We can find this in post-modern social sciences, economics, cosmology and physics. The increasing specilization in science making it ever more uncomprehensible and out of touch of the "real world", the sensual experience, points out a crisis in the explanatory value of science..."

That is well said mikail (meaning I agree!) and, if I may say so, jk agrees too, as can be seen from his post immediately above.

And while not intending to belittle science, and what appears to be its extremely fascinating but speculative endeavors in physics and astronomy, I must end by saying that the only Big Crunch I am looking forward to is the one where the proletariat defeats the bourgeoisie, and sets the scene for a bang of mind-shattering proportions.

An article?

Fred wrote:

And while not intending to belittle science, and what appears to be its extremely fascinating but speculative endeavors in physics and astronomy, I must end by saying that the only Big Crunch I am looking forward to is the one where the proletariat defeats the bourgeoisie, and sets the scene for a bang of mind-shattering proportions.


Good One!

I agree Mikhail has some really good insights on this question. I would encourage him to think about writing an article on it, if possible.