Socialist Unity Censors Debate

 

Recently, Socialist Unity website posted an article that revolved around Dialectical Materialism [DM]. In the ensuing debate, Andy Newman, one of the 'owners' of the site, made a rather weak attempt to attack ideas he claimed to have found at this site, in the course of which he became personally abusive towards me (for no good reason it seems, other than the fact that I dared to question the sacred 'dialectic'). In addition, he was quite happy to make things up about me and my ideas. This is of course, par for the course. Rarely, if ever, do dialecticians fail to become abusive and emotional in defence of this 'theory' of theirs. As I noted in Essay One:

 

In general, DM-fans have so far responded to my ideas on the Internet by oscillating between the twin extremes of abuse and incredulity. For some, their response has revolved around the safe but pointless regurgitation of 'Holy DM-Writ' (i.e., the quotation of selected passages from the 'classics'), or retailing the same tired old formulae -- as if reading the same hackneyed material for the thousandth time will do the trick where the previous nine hundred and ninety-nine had failed. To a man, woman and 'robot', one and all seem unable, unwilling or incapable of arguing in support of the metaphysical theses our ideological forebears dumped on us. To be sure, the level of incapacity demonstrated in this respect by such comrades appears to be in direct proportion to their propensity to quote Holy Scripture, and in inverse proportion to their ability to read with any accuracy what I have posted in response....

 

The most common reactions to my work (from comrades who have 'debated' this with me on the internet, or elsewhere) are the following:

...

 

(4) Page after page of bluster, abuse and misrepresentation.

 

Naturally, twenty-five years of having to endure this would make anyone (who is not a 'saint') rather tetchy, if not somewhat aggressive in return. [From here, the reader will see that my forthright response to their attacks on me is something DM-fans cannot take. Sure, they can lie and abuse, but Rosa must take it lying down, and be all sweetness and light in return.]

...

 

(6) A casting of the usual slurs e.g., "anti-Marxist", "positivist", "sophist", "logic-chopper", "naïve realist", "revisionist", "eclectic", "relativist", "post modernist", "bourgeois stooge", "pedant", "absolutist", "elitist", "empiricist", and so on.

 

Naturally, when such comrades are described as "mystics" in return, they complain about "name-calling". Once more, they are allowed to dish it out (but not very well), but they cannot take it.

 

(7) The attribution to me of ideas I do not hold, and which could not reasonably have been inferred from anything I have said or written -- e.g., that I am a "postmodernist" (which I am not), an "empiricist" (same comment), a "Popperian" (I am in fact an anti-Popperian), that I am a "sceptic" (and this, just because I challenge accepted dogma, when Marx himself said he doubted all things and Lenin declared that all knowledge is provisional), that I am an "anti-realist" (when I am in fact neither a realist nor an anti-realist --, I am indeed a "nothing-at-all-ist" with respect to philosophical theory -- this must not be confused with Nihilism!), that I am a "reformist" (when I am the opposite), or that I am a "revisionist" (when Lenin enjoined us all to question accepted theory).

 

Once more, these are often advanced by comrades who have not read a single one of my Essays (but this does not prevent them from being experts in this area, or from making things up about me), or they have merely skim-read parts of my work. Naturally, they would be the first to complain if anyone else did this with the writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. [This is just one of the latest examples.]

 

So, comrade Newman is just the latest in a long line of irrational, abusive and highly emotional dialecticians who have tried to take me on. [Why they are all constrained, almost compelled, to behave in this way is examined in detail here.]

 

Nevertheless, the aforementioned thread has now been closed, probably to limit the damage I have already inflicted on this 'theory' at his site.

 

Anyway, here is my response to comrade Newman's 'reply':

 

 

Dialectical Denial

 

As if to set the comradely tone, and ignoring the bulk if my earlier responses to him (including the evidence that he had lied about me and my ideas), comrade Newman opens with this abusive shot across my bows:

 

You are a ridiculous figure, and you attempts to argue about science prove just how out of your depth you are.

 

This from someone who thinks that valid arguments only proceed from true premisses!

 

First, this comrade tries to argue against an earlier response of mine:

 

“Unless you can show that scientists explicitly use concepts that are exclusive to DM (’internal contradictions’, ‘unity of opposites’, ‘negation of the negation’, ‘quantity passing over into quality’, etc. etc) your argument won’t wash.”

 

Because you are arguing against such a ridiculous straw man that the only people who fall into it are those who are already totally discredited, such as Paul Kammerer and Lysenko.

 

Contradiction (Widerspruch in the original) or literally “speaking against” is the concept that there can be more than one competing process in a complex system (in Hegelian language, a differentiated unity).

 

All serious science proceeds from the idea that there are complex interactions of processes (internal contradictions) and that processes oppose one another. It is easy to show that the seemingly mystical terminology of Hegel in fact corresponds to many common sense platitudes about the irreducibility of any one process and the interpenetration and mutual dependence of processes in complex systems.

 

Marxist philosophy is a method of reasoning about such complex interacting processes, providing a toolbox of mental concepts. Because complex interacting processes also appear in the real world, then some of the mechanisms by which complex processes can be understood to interact will also be truth approximate to the real world. Reasoning about Interpenetrating opposites and such like is just sharpening the tools in the box, as it helps to understand the mechanisms by which processes interact. it doesn't determine that any particular thesis and antithesis will produce any particular synthesis, nor pre-determine by which “law” the processes will interact. [Spelling mistakes corrected.]

 

Taking each section at a time:

 

Because you are arguing against such a ridiculous straw man that the only people who fall into it are those who are already totally discredited, such as Paul Kammerer and Lysenko.

 

My reply above was to an earlier claim that modern science is implicitly 'dialectical'. I merely pointed out that it obviously isn't, and that it will take proof (in the form, for instance, of specific statements made by the vast majority of scientists to this effect) to establish the case. Comrade Newman calls this a 'straw man'; but he would wouldn't he? And this is because he has no evidence that modern science (or any science at all for that matter) is 'dialectical'.

 

Now, in response to repeated requests that dialecticians tell us what they mean by the phrase "dialectical contradictions", which comrade Newman said he would ignore (since I was apparently not worthy of his time and towering intellect), we encounter this volte-face:

 

Contradiction (Widerspruch in the original) or literally “speaking against” is the concept that there can be more than one competing process in a complex system (in Hegelian language, a differentiated unity).

 

All serious science proceeds from the idea that there are complex interactions of processes (internal contradictions) and that processes oppose one another. It is easy to show that the seemingly mystical terminology of Hegel in fact corresponds to many common sense platitudes about the irreducibility of any one process and the interpenetration and mutual dependence of processes in complex systems.

 

Marxist philosophy is a method of reasoning about such complex interacting processes, providing a toolbox of mental concepts. Because complex interacting processes also appear in the real world, then some of the mechanisms by which complex processes can be understood to interact will also be truth approximate to the real world. Reasoning about Interpenetrating opposites and such like is just sharpening the tools in the box, as it helps to understand the mechanisms by which processes interact. it doesn't determine that any particular thesis and antithesis will produce any particular synthesis, nor pre-determine by which “law” the processes will interact

 

Are you any the clearer?

 

I must confess I am not.

 

Consider this:

 

Contradiction (Widerspruch in the original) or literally “speaking against” is the concept that there can be more than one competing process in a complex system (in Hegelian language, a differentiated unity).

 

But, how can the phrase "speaking against" be used to represent or describe physical processes in nature and society? Surely it can't -- unless we agree with Hegel that everything is Mind, or the development of Mind? Comrade Newman neglected to say how this trick can be pulled off. But this is no surprise, either: no one in the last 200 years has been able to say. In fact, the best attempt (by far) that I have ever seen (written by a Marxist dialectician) to say what this obscure term means was itself no less unsuccessful, and has been taken apart here.

 

It's a pity therefore that comrade Newman did not do his homework before he dropped this Idealist clanger.

 

What of this, then?

 

All serious science proceeds from the idea that there are complex interactions of processes (internal contradictions) and that processes oppose one another. It is easy to show that the seemingly mystical terminology of Hegel in fact corresponds to many common sense platitudes about the irreducibility of any one process and the interpenetration and mutual dependence of processes in complex systems.

 

Readers are encouraged to reach for the first "serious science" text (or article) they have to hand (not written by a dialectician) and try to locate at least one occurrence of the phrase "internal contradictions". Now, the result of that impromptu search can be predicted with 99.999% certainty, which is that it is nowhere to be found. So, "all serious science" actually ignores this obscure term; and no wonder. No sense can be made of it.

 

In fact, comrade Newman just helps himself to this phrase (and this after he had already told us that it applies only to speech), and with no attempt at justification. And then he wonders why us genuine materialists allege that mystics like him impose this 'theory' of theirs on the facts.

 

It is easy to show that the seemingly mystical terminology of Hegel in fact corresponds to many common sense platitudes about the irreducibility of any one process and the interpenetration and mutual dependence of processes in complex systems.

 

He wishes!

 

The fact that he did not "show" this, but merely asserted it, is no surprise either. No one has been able to do this. Sure, dialecticians are always saying stuff like this, but they conveniently leave the proof out. Moreover, what they do say is worryingly like the 'God of the Gaps' argument beloved of those other mystics, the creationists. All the while, as science advances and more and more processes are reduced to their component parts, this Holist dogma slowly disappears, somewhat like a mystical version of the Cheshire Cat's smile.

 

[Incidentally, this is not to argue in support of reductionism, merely to point out that science has the disconcerting habit of brushing aside such Idealist nostrums.]

 

Marxist philosophy is a method of reasoning about such complex interacting processes, providing a toolbox of mental concepts. Because complex interacting processes also appear in the real world, then some of the mechanisms by which complex processes can be understood to interact will also be truth approximate to the real world. Reasoning about Interpenetrating opposites and such like is just sharpening the tools in the box, as it helps to understand the mechanisms by which processes interact. it doesn't determine that any particular thesis and antithesis will produce any particular synthesis, nor pre-determine by which “law” the processes will interact

 

Sure, this is what the brochure says, but the finished article never fails to disappoint. [On the 'Interpenetration of Opposites', a notion foreign to all "serious science", see here.]

 

Moreover, comrade Newman's reference to "thesis, antithesis, synthesis" is unfortunate since this is not in fact Hegel's schema, but Kant and Fichte's. [Even Plekhanov and Lenin rejected it!] A small point, sure, but it does reveal how sloppy dialectical comrades are in defence of their 'theory'.

 

But, what serious errors have I committed that show that I am 'out of my depth'? Well in an earlier response to another DM-fan (and with respect to the evidence he alleged supported this 'theory'), I posted this:

 

What I have seen up to now of this 'evidence' would be rejected even if it were to appear in a first year undergraduate paper.

This is what I have published in reply to Brian Jones's criticism of a letter of mine that was published last month in the International Socialist Review:

http://www.isreview.org/issues/61/letters.shtml


I made the point in Essay Seven Part One that Dialectical Materialism [DM] relies for its 'veracity' on what I have called "Mickey Mouse Science". Anyone who has studied or practiced genuine science knows the great care and attention to detail that has to be devoted by researchers, often over many years or decades, if they want to add to, or alter, even relatively minor areas of current knowledge, let alone establish a new law. This was the case in Engels's day, just as it is the case today. Moreover, the concepts employed by scientists have to be precise and analytically sound. The use of primary data is essential (or at least it has to be reviewed or referenced by scientists); any new supporting evidence has to be extensive, meticulously recorded and subject not only to public scrutiny, but peer review.

In contrast, the sort of Mickey Mouse Science one finds in Creationist literature is rightly the target of derision by scientists and Marxists alike. And yet, when it comes to DM, we find in Engels's writings (and those of subsequent dialecticians) little other than Mickey Mouse Science. Engels supplied no original data, and what little evidence he presented in support of his 'Law' would have been rejected as amateurish in the extreme if it had appeared in an undergraduate science paper, let alone in a research document --, even in his day! It is salutary, therefore, to compare Engel's approach to scientific proof with that of Darwin, whose classic work is a model of clarity and original research. Darwin presented the scientific community with extensive evidence, which has been added to greatly in the last 150 years.

The picture is almost the exact opposite when we turn to consider not just the paucity of evidence illustrating (it certainly does not prove) Engels's first 'Law', the transformation of quantity into quality [Q/Q], but the total lack of clarity in the concepts used. In Anti-Dühring and Dialectics of Nature, for example, we are not told what a "quality" is, nor how long a dialectical "node" is supposed to last. Furthermore, we are left completely in the dark what the phrase "addition" of matter and energy means, nor are we told what the energetic (thermodynamic) boundaries are to any of the systems under consideration. Indeed, we are not even told what constitutes a system, nor what counts as that system "developing"!

Moreover, supporting 'evidence' alone is considered; problem cases are just ignored. In this, too, DM resembles Creation 'Science'.

Again, unlike genuine science, the situation as not changed much in dialectical circles in the last 140 years. This led me to observe (in an earlier Essay):


Moreover, this Law is so vaguely worded that dialecticians can use it in whatever way they please. If this is difficult to believe, ask the very next dialectician you meet precisely how long a "nodal point" is supposed to last. As seems clear, if no one knows, anything from a Geological Age to an instantaneous quantum leap could be "nodal"!

And, it really isn't good enough for dialectically-inclined readers to dismiss this as mere pedantry. Can you imagine a genuine scientist refusing to say how long a crucially important interval in her theory is supposed to be, and accusing you of "pedantry" for even asking?

 

You can read the rest of my reply here:

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/rosa.l/Engels_and_mickey_mouse_science.htm

 

Comrade Newman then jumped in with both feet (not knowing that I had already dealt with his 'objections' in the above Essay, and in Essay Seven), with these comments:

Your examples are also ridiculous. You say, in contradiction to everything we know: "many things do not change in 'leaps' either. For example, metals and plastics change slowly from solid to liquid when heated. So does butter, glass, chocolate…"

Firstly you seem ignorant that glass is always a liquid, butter I am not sure about, I suspect it may always be a liquid, but it may be a suspension. I am sure that both butter and glass flow even in their apparently solid form. (In reality still liquid with very high viscosity)

But more substantively you are just wrong. metals do have a specific, measurable and deterministic melting point, dependent upon temperature and pressure, which is to do with the degree of excitation of the constituent molecules, and there is indeed a point where the internal order within the relationship of those molecules makes a qualitative change from solid to liquid, and from liquid to gas. the degree of viscosity of a liquid will change with temperature and pressure, but you cannot increase the degree of viscosity of a solid, and gas has no viscosity at all. So there is no gradual change, but a transformative one between the different states of matter. If you are saying that for any given mass of matter then the transformation is not simultaneous, and therefore appears gradual, well of course. Not only does this reflect unevenness of temperature and pressure, but it is also dependent upon the fact that there is non-determinism at the molecular level.

Other examples you give are equally naive about science. Broadly, most of Engels pronouncements about matter that you quote are consistent with Newtonian physics. [Spelling errors corrected.]

Again, taking these one at a time:

 

Firstly you seem ignorant that glass is always a liquid, butter I am not sure about, I suspect it may always be a liquid, but it may be a suspension. I am sure that both butter and glass flow even in their apparently solid form. (In reality still liquid with very high viscosity)

 

But this does not affect the argument, for glass (as a seeming solid) is hard and brittle, whereas heated glass as a genuine and obvious liquid is neither of these things -- and the transformation from one set of "qualities" to the other is slow, and non-nodal.

 

Moreover, as one supporter of this site has informed me:

 

'Firstly you seem ignorant that glass is always a liquid,'

What rubbish, and this coming from an engineer as well. A solid can transfer a shear force whereas a fluid cannot. I learnt that from my fluid dynamics classes at university. And glass can pretty much transfer shear, otherwise it would drip off the window frame.

 

Red Eck
 

So, it looks like it is comrade Newman who is "out of his depth".

 

What of this, though?

 

But more substantively you are just wrong. Metals do have a specific, measurable and deterministic melting point, dependent upon temperature and pressure, which is to do with the degree of excitation of the constituent molecules, and there is indeed a point where the internal order within the relationship of those molecules makes a qualitative change from solid to liquid, and from liquid to gas. the degree of viscosity of a liquid will change with temperature and pressure, but you cannot increase the degree of viscosity of a solid, and gas has no viscosity at all. So there is no gradual change, but a transformative one between the different states of matter. If you are saying that for any given mass of matter then the transformation is not simultaneous, and therefore appears gradual, well of course. Not only does this reflect unevenness of temperature and pressure, but it is also dependent upon the fact that there is non-determinism at the molecular level.

 

Well, this is how I responded to the above objection when it appeared in Brian Jones's response to me (in the International Socialist Review -- links above):

 

What about the following reply?

 

Anyway, even Lichtenstein's examples of node-less transformations don’t hold up. She claims that all kinds of things don’t melt "smoothly" (meaning, without a precise melting point) -- metal, glass, and so on. Is she serious? If that were correct, metal would begin melting as soon as any heat were applied to it. Hasn’t Lichtenstein ever cooked a meal? Did her metal pots and pans melt on the stove? Probably not, because while she was applying a certain quantity of heat to them, each metal has a unique quantitative threshold at which melting begins -- and not before -- “in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case.”

 

This is perhaps comrade Jones's weakest response. He does not deny that the changes I noted are smooth, he just makes the following point:

 

If that were correct, metal would begin melting as soon as any heat were applied to it.

 

But, this is irrelevant to the fact that all metals go from hard to soft very slowly, as does plastic, glass, toffee, and butter. It is not relevant that in the case of metals this begins at temperatures well above cooking temperature. That is, of course, why we do not use (ordinary) plastic containers to cook food, or use chocolate in the manufacture of fire doors. But, on the other hand, no one would use, say, an ordinary frying pan to try to melt iron or steel over a sufficiently hot flame.

 

The comrade asks:


Hasn’t Lichtenstein ever cooked a meal? Did her metal pots and pans melt on the stove? Probably not, because while she was applying a certain quantity of heat to them, each metal has a unique quantitative threshold at which melting begins...


We can see from this that comrade Jones has missed a career as a humorist of no little merit.

 

But is it true that: "each metal has a unique quantitative threshold at which melting begins"? Sure, each metal has a defined melting point at which juncture it will have melted, but despite this, at lower temperatures that metal will soften, and that softening is gradual. Human beings have known this for thousands of years -- this is what makes metals malleable, and formable. So, the "qualitative" transition of metals from solid to liquid is slow, not rapid. At the melting point, the transition ends, but the lead up to it is slow. The qualitative change (solid-to-liquid) here is typically non-nodal. The same is true of the other examples I gave. Who does not know that glass and plastic melt slowly?

 

Indeed, there are countless other node-free "qualitative" changes in nature (many of which were listed in the Essay the comrade clearly skim-read). For example, when heated, objects change in quality from cold to warm and then to hot, with no "nodal" point separating these particular qualitative stages. The same happens in reverse when they cool. Now, hot objects/processes are "qualitatively" quite different from cold objects/processes -- indeed, one is almost tempted to retort that comrade Jones might not notice the difference between a cold winter's day and a blisteringly hot summer afternoon, but his sweat glands will.

 

Moving bodies similarly speed up from slow to fast (and vice versa) without any "nodal" punctuation marks affecting the transition. In like manner, the change from one colour to the next in the normal colour spectrum is continuous, with no "nodal" points evident at all -- and this is also the case with the colour changes that bodies experience when they are heated to red or white heat. Sounds, too, change smoothly from soft to loud, and back, in a "node"-free environment.

 

Also, if you try walking up the stairs in a skyscraper (or along a trail up the side of a mountain), you will ascend from low to high in a "leap"-free manner. If you walk toward a friend, you will move from being far away from her to being close to her "node"-lessly. If you increase the pressure on your arm, you will pass from comfort to pain slowly in a "node"-free zone.

 

There are countless examples of continuous change like this in nature and society where distinctive changes occur in a non-"nodal" manner, so many that one wonders why dialecticians have not noticed them. Are they blinded by tradition to such an extent that they cannot think for themselves?

 

Of course, some of the above could be ruled out by suitable definitions of "quality" and/or of "node", but how would that be different from imposing dialectics on the facts, and not reading it from the facts?

 

Anyway, dialecticians refuse to define these terms, and it is not hard to see why: if they did, many of the examples they themselves use would fall by the wayside.

 

The rest of this can be read here.

 

And more or less the same can be said in response to comrade Newman: I do not deny that some changes in nature are nodal (such as melting points), just that not all are (such as melting metals, etc.).

 

Other examples you give are equally naive about science. Broadly, most of Engels pronouncements about matter that you quote are consistent with Newtonian physics. [Spelling errors corrected.]

 

In fact, this is the reverse of the truth.

 

However, readers will note that comrade Newman, just like other DM-fans (as I predicted above), does not tell us what a "quality" is, nor how long a "node" is supposed to last.

 

No wonder then that I have called this 'theory' "Mickey Mouse Science"...

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