Engels And Mickey Mouse Science

 

Preface

 

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As is the case with all my Essays, nothing here should be read as an attack either on Historical Materialism [HM] -- a theory I fully accept --, or, indeed, on revolutionary socialism. I remain as committed to the self-emancipation of the working class and the dictatorship of the proletariat as I was when I first became a revolutionary nearly thirty years ago.

 

The difference between Dialectical Materialism [DM] and HM, as I see it, is explained here.

 

Phrases like "ruling-class theory", "ruling-class view of reality", "ruling-class ideology" (etc.) used at this site (in connection with Traditional Philosophy and DM), aren't meant to suggest that all or even most members of various ruling-classes actually invented these ways of thinking or of seeing the world (although some of them did -- for example, Heraclitus, Plato, Cicero, and Marcus Aurelius). They are intended to highlight theories (or "ruling ideas") that are conducive to, or which rationalise the interests of the various ruling-classes history has inflicted on humanity, whoever invents them. Up until recently this dogmatic approach to knowledge had almost invariably been promoted by thinkers who either relied on ruling-class patronage, or who, in one capacity or another, helped run the system for the elite.**

 

However, that will become the central topic of Parts Two and Three of Essay Twelve (when they are published); until then, the reader is directed here, here, and here for more details.

 

[**Exactly how this applies to DM will, of course, be explained in the other Essays published at this site (especially here, here, and here). In addition to the three links in the previous paragraph, I have summarised the argument (but this time aimed at absolute beginners!) here.]

 

Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism

 

Abbreviations Used At This Site

 

Return To The Main Index Page

 

Contact Me

 

 

Quick Links

 

Anyone using these links must remember that they will be skipping past supporting argument and evidence set out in earlier sections.

 

(1) The Two Letters

 

(2) Defending Engels

 

(a) Mickey Mouse Science

 

(b) Straw Man?

 

(c) Nodal Logic?

 

(d) Who Is 'Foisting' What Onto Nature?

 

(e) Coming To The Boil

 

(f)  Refutation In Stereo

 

(g) Another 'Leap' In The Dark?

 

(h) Anti-Dialectical Line-Up?

 

(i)  The Necker Cube Bites Back

 

(j)  Still Hopelessly Vague?

 

(k) Is The Second 'Law' Incompatible With The First?

 

(3) Notes

 

(4) References

 

Abbreviations Used At This Site

 

Return To The Main Index Page

 

Contact Me

 

The Two Letters

 

A while back I sent a letter to the International Socialist Review concerning an article written by Brian Jones about Engels's book Anti-Dühring, which had been published in the May/June 2008 issue. My letter appeared in the September/October number, along with a reply from comrade Jones.

 

Here is the original letter, followed comrade Jones's response, and then my reply to it:

 

Dear Comrades

 

Brian Jones's summary of Anti-Dühring neglected to say that with respect to philosophy it is among the worst books ever written by a revolutionary.

 

Space prevents me from outlining its many errors, but one example will do: the "law of the transformation of quantity into quality".

 

While it is true that some things change "nodally" (in "leaps"), many do not; when heated, metal, glass, plastic, butter, toffee and chocolate melt smoothly. So, the "nodal" aspect of this law is defective.

 

To be sure, some things change "qualitatively" (exactly as Engels says), once more, many do not. The order in which events take place can effect "quality". For example, anyone who tries pouring a pint of water slowly into a gallon of concentrated sulphuric acid will face a long and painful stay in hospital, whereas the reverse action is perfectly safe.

 

Worse still, this law is hopelessly vague. For instance, we have yet to be told the precise length of a "nodal point". But, if no one knows, then anything from a Geological Age to an instantaneous quantum leap could be "nodal"!

 

In addition, Engels failed to say what he meant by "quality". Hegel understood this word in an Aristotelian sense; that is, it refers to a property the change of which alters an object into something new. Unfortunately, given this 'definition', many of the examples dialecticians use to illustrate this law would fail.

 

For example, the change from water to steam can't be an example of "qualitative change"; ice, water and steam are all H2O. Quantitative addition or subtraction of energy does not result in a qualitative change of the required sort; nothing substantially new emerges.

 

Faced with this, we might try to widen the definition of "quality" to neutralise this objection.

 

Alas, while this might rescue the above example, it would sink the theory: if we relax "quality" so that it applies to any qualitative difference, we would have to include the relational properties of bodies. In that case, we could easily have qualitative change with no extra matter or energy added. For instance, consider three animals in a row: a mouse, a pony, and an elephant. In relation to the mouse, the pony is big, but in relation to the elephant it is small. Change in quality here, but no matter or energy has been added or subtracted. Plainly, that would make a mockery of this law.

 

Finally, consider stereoisomers: molecules with the same number of atoms arranged differently. Here we have a change in geometry producing a change in quality with the addition of no new matter or energy.

 

This law's other serious weaknesses have been detailed at my site:

 

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2007.htm

 

In solidarity,

 

Rosa Lichtenstein

 

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Rosa Lichtenstein has a strange approach to the question of dialectics and their applicability to nature and human society. Ultimately, I believe that she reproduces the same upside-down error of Hegelian dialectics that Marx and Engels aimed to turn on its head. Hegel tried to understand the dynamics of the transformation of ideas. For Marx and Engels, the point was to explain the general dynamics of change in the real world.

 

First, Lichtenstein wants dialectical laws to prescribe precise nodal points of transformation from quantity to quality. When dialectical laws cannot meet that level of specificity, she declares them "hopelessly vague." Lichtenstein can knock down her straw-man law all day, but it does not refute the general law that Engels describes. "For our purpose," he writes in Dialectics of Nature, "we could express this by saying that in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy)" (my emphasis). The transformation of water to ice or to steam, according to Lichtenstein, isn't really a qualitative change anyway, since all three have the same molecular structure. Well, I don’t think we have to “relax” our definition of quality too far to imagine that the unique qualities of steam allowed it to play a special role in industry. An ice engine will never be as productive as a steam engine, even though ice and steam are both H2O. Lichtenstein must be blissfully unconcerned about the melting of the polar ice caps -- no qualitative change there, she must claim. Polar bears might disagree.

 

Lichtenstein admits that there are some cases of quantitative changes -- for example, increasing degrees of heat -- that lead to qualitative changes. (She concedes some examples of melting -- but why does she admit them, since they also do not produce new molecular composition?). But since the precise dimensions of the “nodes,” or threshold -- a millisecond or a geological age -- cannot be prescribed, she claims that the "law" is worthlessly vague. Yet similar events can occur on vastly different scales. Geologists regularly refer to the “collision” of tectonic plates. These are quite different from, say, our automobile collisions. Surely, since tectonic plates move mere millimeters a year, and automobiles move at many miles per hour, Lichtenstein must find it ludicrous to call both "collisions," even though the term describes something important that they have in common.

 

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.”

 

Amazingly, she claims to refute this law further by placing animals next to each other -- a mouse, a pony, and an elephant -- and moving her eyes from one to the other. They have different qualitative sizes, so she determines: "change in quality here, but no matter or energy has been added or subtracted. Plainly that would make a mockery of this law." Let me see if I've got this right: three different animals placed side by side show no change from quantity to quality? If the mouse is not transforming into the pony, and the pony changing into an elephant, what is the change being considered here? Are we talking about the change that takes place in her mind as she looks at different animals? Surely she understands that in order for something the size of a mouse (say, a pony embryo) to grow into something the size of an adult pony, an enormous amount of energy (food, etc.) is required. The same holds true for something the size of a pony (say, a young elephant) to grow to the size of an adult elephant. Plainly Lichtenstein has made a mockery of herself.

 

Finally, Lichtenstein presents the example of stereoisomers. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a chemist. Still, this example doesn’t seem to be a far cry from another very common phenomena in nature -- bicameralism, things that are mirror images of each other yet cannot be exchanged for each other. Your left and right hands are bicameral. If you could detach your hands and place them on the opposite arms, you’d look silly. So your hands are the same stuff arranged a different way -- qualitative change without quantitative change? Sure, if you have found a way to observe the transformation of your left hand into a right hand! Engels, on the other hand (pun intended), was on a different mission. "We are not concerned here with writing a handbook of dialectics," he explains, “but only with showing that the dialectical laws are really laws of [the] development of nature." The problem with Hegel is that he got it the other way around. "The mistake lies in the fact that these laws [in Hegel’s idealist scheme] are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them."

 

Lichtenstein, like Hegel, is trying to "foist on nature and history" dialectics as laws of thought, losing sight of the real life motion of things in the natural world, which is inherently dialectical. There are countless silly examples on Lichtenstein’s website. She claims, for example, that Necker cubes are qualitatively different from regular cubes with no quantitative difference, and thereby are another refutation of dialectics. But by definition, these cubes are ambiguous in our perception of them. They are, after all, not even real cubes, only representations of cubes! Their qualitative difference from other cubes exists entirely in the realm of the idea of a cube. Lichtenstein has lost sight of the purpose of dialectics -- to understand the motion of things as we observe them in nature. I’m not sure what laws (if any) govern the transformation of one representation of a cube into another representation of a cube. Down here on earth, in order for one thing to truly change from one qualitative state to another, specific quantities of energy must be added or subtracted, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case.

 

Brian Jones

 

I published an initial reply to the above at RevLeft, but the latter was written rather hastily, based on an imperfectly typed copy of Jones's response to me (which had also been posted at RevLeft by another comrade).

 

The following contains my more considered thoughts.

 

Defending Engels

 

Mickey Mouse Science

 

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 analytically sound. The use of primary data is essential (or it has at least to be reviewed and/or referenced by the scientists involved); supporting evidence has to be precise, detailed, meticulously recorded, and subject not only to public scrutiny, but also to 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 offered in support of his 'Laws' 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 Engels'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 and fresh data, which has been expanded upon greatly over the last 150 years.

 

Contrast, DM-Mickey Mouse Science with the real thing; here, for example, is one report of the accuracy achieved by the instruments aboard the recently launched Gaia satellite:

 

"'Gaia was not designed to take Hubble-like pictures; this is not its operating mode at all. What it will eventually do is draw little boxes around each of the stars you see in this picture and send just that information to the ground.'

 

"The satellite has been given an initial mission duration of five years to make its 3D map of the sky.

 

"By repeatedly viewing its targets, it should get to know the brightest stars' coordinates down to an error of just seven micro-arcseconds -- an angle equivalent to a euro coin on the Moon being observed from Earth." [Quoted from here. Accessed 06/02/2014. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Even back in the 16th century, astronomers were concerned with accuracy and precision; Tycho Brahe, for instance, was able to observe the heavens with the naked eye down to an accuracy of one arcminute (1/60th of a degree!). Once again, this is typical of genuine science, which, unfortunately, starkly distinguishes it from the 'science' we find in DM.01

 

[For the benefit of those less familiar with genuine science, I have given several more examples in Note 01, link above.]

 

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 also the total lack of clarity in the concepts employed. In Anti-Dühring and Dialectics of Nature, for example, we aren't 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 (if there are any!) to the systems under consideration. Indeed, we aren't even told what constitutes a system, nor what counts as that system "developing" -- or even what constitutes a dialectical body"!01a

 

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

 

Again, unlike genuine science, this situation hasn't 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?

 

On "pedantry" itself, I noted this in another Essay:

 

However, to any who think that this sort "pedantry" (or "semantics") -- or, attention to detail -- can be ignored, it is worth pointing out that this is the only way they can excuse their own sloppy approach to philosophy, and the only way they can make their ideas even seem to work.

 

This sort of attitude would not be tolerated for one second in the sciences, or in any other branch of genuine knowledge. Can you imagine the fuss if someone were to argue that it doesn't really matter what Magna Carta said, or when and where the Battle of the Nile was fought, or what the Declaration of Independence actually contained, or what the exact wording is of Newton's Second Law, or whether "G", the Gravitational Constant, is 6.6742 x 10-11 or 6.7642 x 10-11 Mm2kg-2, or indeed something else? Such pedantic details are merely 'academic'.

 

Would we accept the following excuse from a boss who said that the precise wording of a worker's employment contract was irrelevant? Would we allow someone to argue that it was of no concern what Marx really meant by "variable capital", or who complained that he had "pedantically" distinguished use-value from exchange-value -- or more pointedly, the "relative form" from the "equivalent form" of value --, and that this distinction is merely "semantic"?

 

And how would we react if someone said, "Who cares if there are serious differences in the evidence given by those two cops against these strikers"? Or, if someone retorted "Big deal if there are a few minor errors in this or that e-mail address/web page URL, or in this mathematical proof! And who cares whether there's a difference between rest mass and inertial mass in Physics! What are you, some kind of pedant!?"

 

Indeed, in this excellent video, Comrade Jones is himself at pains to point out how careful Marx was with his choice of words when characterising slavery, for example. Was he being 'pedantic'? The question answers itself. When it comes to complex issues in politics, economics, the physical sciences, or any other challenging area of study, careful choice of words isn't a luxury, it is a necessity.

 

Unsurprisingly, Trotsky concurs:

 

"It is necessary to call things by their right names." [Trotsky (1971), p.56.]

 

I even predicted that if readers were to ask dialecticians to be clear about what they meant by "quality" or "node", they would either be ignored or fobbed off.

 

What then do we find in comrade Jones's response? Does he even so much as attempt to tell us what a "quality" is, or define the length of a dialectical "node"? Do we find any reference at all to original data, new field work, greater attempts at analytical clarity?

 

As predicted, the answer to these questions is, alas, in the negative:

 

First, Lichtenstein wants dialectical laws to prescribe precise nodal points of transformation from quantity to quality. When dialectical laws cannot meet that level of specificity, she declares them "hopelessly vague." Lichtenstein can knock down her straw-man law all day, but it does not refute the general law that Engels describes.

 

In that case, we still do not know how long a "nodal" point is, or what "quality" means!

"Hopelessly vague"? Whatever was I thinking!

 

However, when we compare this recklessly cavalier attitude to evidence, proof and clarity apparent in DM-circles with the opposite state of affairs in, say, Historical Materialism [HM] -- across all the areas it covers -- the contrast is stark indeed. In economics, history, politics, and current affairs, comrades write with commendable attention to detail and often with admirable clarity. Moreover, they almost invariably present their readers with page after page of data, facts and figures, tables and graphs, evidence and analysis, all carefully researched and referenced. They also devote several pages -- sometimes whole books -- to analysing concepts such as "ideology", "racism", "mode of production", or "alienation", but hardly ever even so much as a single paragraph on "quality" or "node", let alone the other key omissions noted above!

 

Indeed, if an enemy of Marxism were to try to attack, say, our economic theory with an argumentative display that was as crassly amateurish or as evidentially-challenged as the material Engels and his epigones have put together in support of this first 'Law', comrades would rightly dismiss it out-of-hand as Mickey Mouse Anti-Marxism!

 

In fact, this is what comrade Jones all but alleges of my work (he calls much of it "silly"), and yet he is quite happy to accept a theory that enjoys very little evidential support (or any at all), and which is still terminally vague -- even after his 'reply' to me!

 

Straw Man?

 

But what of this point?


Lichtenstein can knock down her straw-man law all day, but it does not refute the general law that Engels describes.
 

But what "straw man" is this? All I did was ask a few simple questions. How long is a "nodal point", and what is a "quality"?

 

At least we know something about straw men: they are made of straw and look vaguely human. But, this 'Law' is so vague, we haven't a clue what to make of it. We would be blessed indeed if dialecticians were clear enough in what they said that I could even so much as begin to erect a "straw man" -- but they have left me nothing with which to work!


 

Figure One: Admirably Clear In Comparison

 

Nodal Logic

 

However, in relation to dialectical "nodes", I have said the following in the Essay comrade Jones said he read:
 

So, dialecticians could specify a minimum time interval during which a phase or state of matter transition must take place for it to be counted as "nodal". In the case of boiling water, say, they could decide that if the transition from water to steam (or vice versa) takes place in an interval lasting less than k seconds/minutes (for some k), then it is indeed "nodal". Thus, by dint of such a stipulation, their 'Law' could be made to work (at least in this respect). But, there is nothing in nature that forces any of this on us -- the reverse is, if anything, the case. Phase/state of matter changes, and changes in general take different amounts of time; under differing circumstances even these alter. If so, as noted above, this 'Law' would become 'valid' only because of yet another stipulation and/or foisting, which would make it eminently 'subjective'.

However, given the strife-riven and sectarian nature of dialectical politics, any attempt to define dialectical-"nodes" could lead to yet more factions. Thus, we are sure to see emerge the rightist "Nanosecond Tendency" -- sworn enemies of the "Picosecond Left Opposition" -- who will both take up swords with the 'eclectic' wing: the "it depends on the circumstances" 'clique' at the 'centrist' "Femtosecond League".

 

Fortunately, comrade Jones has a reply:

 

But since the precise dimensions of the "nodes," or threshold -- a millisecond or a geological age -- cannot be prescribed, she claims that the "law" is worthlessly vague. Yet similar events can occur on vastly different scales. Geologists regularly refer to the "collision" of tectonic plates. These are quite different from, say, our automobile collisions. Surely, since tectonic plates move mere millimeters a year, and automobiles move at many miles per hour, Lichtenstein must find it ludicrous to call both "collisions," even though the term describes something important that they have in common.

 

However, the use of "collision" in mathematics, the physical sciences and geophysics is quite well-defined. When one tectonic plate hits another, their continued collision can last for hundreds of millions of years, but the actual collision (point of contact) isn't a protracted affair. It doesn't take millions of years for two rock faces to begin to touch each other. In fact, to depict the process itself, geophysicists will use the present continuous tense, employing "colliding". Dialecticians don't have a similar present continuous tense they can employ (unless, of course, they appeal to "leaping", or "node-ing").

 

So, the actual use of "collision" in this case is the same as its use in descriptions of road crashes; the word connotes suddenness. And. so does "node" and its corollary "leap". Comrade Jones needn't take my word for it, both Hegel and Engels are quite clear:

 

It is said, natura non facit saltum [there are no leaps in nature]; and ordinary thinking when it has to grasp a coming-to-be or a ceasing-to-be, fancies it has done so by representing it as a gradual emergence or disappearance. But we have seen that the alterations of being in general are not only the transition of one magnitude into another, but a transition from quality into quantity and vice versa, a becoming-other which is an interruption of gradualness and the production of something qualitatively different from the reality which preceded it. Water, in cooling, does not gradually harden as if it thickened like porridge, gradually solidifying until it reached the consistency of ice; it suddenly solidifies, all at once. It can remain quite fluid even at freezing point if it is standing undisturbed, and then a slight shock will bring it into the solid state. [Hegel (1999), p.370, §776. Bold emphasis added.]1

 

With this assurance Herr Dühring saves himself the trouble of saying anything further about the origin of life, although it might reasonably have been expected that a thinker who had traced the evolution of the world back to its self-equal state, and is so much at home on other celestial bodies, would have known exactly what's what also on this point. For the rest, however, the assurance he gives us is only half right unless it is completed by the Hegelian nodal line of measure relations which has already been mentioned. In spite of all gradualness, the transition from one form of motion to another always remains a leap, a decisive change. This is true of the transition from the mechanics of celestial bodies to that of smaller masses on a particular celestial body; it is equally true of the transition from the mechanics of masses to the mechanics of molecules -- including the forms of motion investigated in physics proper: heat, light, electricity, magnetism. In the same way, the transition from the physics of molecules to the physics of atoms -- chemistry -- in turn involves a decided leap; and this is even more clearly the case in the transition from ordinary chemical action to the chemism of albumen which we call life. Then within the sphere of life the leaps become ever more infrequent and imperceptible. -- Once again, therefore, it is Hegel who has to correct Herr Dühring. [Engels (1976), pp.82-83.I have used the online version here, but quoted the page numbers for the Foreign Languages edition. Bold emphasis added.]

 

We have already seen earlier, when discussing world schematism, that in connection with this Hegelian nodal line of measure relations -- in which quantitative change suddenly passes at certain points into qualitative transformation -- Herr Dühring had a little accident: in a weak moment he himself recognised and made use of this line. We gave there one of the best-known examples -- that of the change of the aggregate states of water, which under normal atmospheric pressure changes at 0°C from the liquid into the solid state, and at 100°C from the liquid into the gaseous state, so that at both these turning-points the merely quantitative change of temperature brings about a qualitative change in the condition of the water. [Ibid., p.160. Bold emphasis added.]

 

As, indeed, was Lenin:

 

The "nodal line of measure relations"... -- transitions of quantity into quality.... Gradualness and leaps. And again...that gradualness explains nothing without leaps. [Lenin (1961), p.123. Lenin added in the margin here: "Leaps! Leaps! Leaps!"]

 

What distinguishes the dialectical transition from the undialectical transition? The leap. The contradiction. The interruption of gradualness. The unity (identity) of Being and not-Being. [Lenin (1961), p.282. Bold emphasis added.]

 

The first conception is lifeless, pale and dry. The second is living. The second alone furnishes the key to the "self-movement" of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to the "leaps," to the "break in continuity," to the "transformation into the opposite," to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new. [Ibid., p.358. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

From this it is clear that for Hegel, Engels and Lenin, "nodes"/"leaps" are sudden. Indeed, Engels, applies this term right across the sciences, and Lenin credits it with universal significance. In which case, comrade Jones is out-of-line with these dialecticians (and, indeed, with many other DM-theorists).

 

Hence, a collision is a collision no matter whether it is sudden or protracted (so a clear definition is inappropriate), but a "node" has to be sudden, as the above quotations show.

 

But how "sudden"?

 

We have yet to be told -- just as I predicted.

 

Independently of the above, while they certainly are important, collisions aren't a fundamental feature of this part of geology, something that distinguishes plate tectonics from whatever went before.

 

Contrast this with the "leaps" and "nodes" of DM; here is what Lenin had to say:

 

What distinguishes the dialectical transition from the undialectical transition? The leap. The contradiction. The interruption of gradualness. The unity (identity) of Being and not-Being. [Lenin (1961), p.282. Bold emphasis added.]

 

So, according to Lenin (but not comrade Jones, it seems), "leaps"/"nodes" are central to DM; they help distinguish dialectical from non-dialectical change.

 

Hence, and once more: can you imagine a scientist leaving it unclear what she meant by a core principle of her theory (one that distinguishes it from all the rest), but who then criticises you for having the cheek to ask her to be clear or more precise?

 

I can't. Perhaps comrade Jones can?

 

Exactly Who Is 'Foisting' What Onto Nature?

 

But, what of the following claim (which comrade Jones in fact advanced several times)?

 

Down here on earth, in order for one thing to truly change from one qualitative state to another, specific quantities of energy must be added or subtracted, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case.

 

But, how can this comrade possibly know this? Where has this "must" come from? Has he examined every single change in 'quality' that has ever taken place on this planet (or, indeed, even a representative sample)? Supposing he has, how would that alter an "always" into a "must"? Furthermore, how does comrade Jones know that these changes "must" occur in a manner "exactly fixed for each individual case"? All he has to go on is Engels's word for it. In fact, isn't it obvious that he has simply accepted Engels's dogmatic word, and imposed this a priori view on nature, too?

 

However, in defiance of this, comrade Jones argues:

 

Lichtenstein, like Hegel, is trying to “foist on nature and history” dialectics as laws of thought, losing sight of the real life motion of things in the natural world, which is inherently dialectical.

 

But, where do I try to "foist" anything at all on nature? This comrade doesn't say --, and no wonder, since he can't, for I not only do not, I will not. And, as if to compound matters, this comrade also ignores what Engels himself had to say:

 

Dialectics, however, is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought. [Engels (1976), p.180. Bold added.]

 

Did comrade Jones miss this comment when he reviewed Engels's book? Or, like most DM-fans, does he suffer from a severe case of selective blindness?

 

Indeed, Engels repeated this idea in The Dialectics of Nature:

 

For they [the laws of dialectics] are nothing but the most general laws of these two aspects of historical development, as well as of thought itself. [Engels (1954), p.62. Bold added.]

 

So, it is Engels, not me, who is foisting these laws on nature, society and thought.

 

Indeed, comrade Jones assures us that the natural world is "inherently dialectical". Again: how can he possibly know this? Even physicists can't yet tell us what the "inherent" nature of reality is. In that case, and once more: like so many other dialecticians, comrade Jones has indeed "foisted" this idea on nature, too.

 

[The evidence that this is in fact what all dialecticians do can be accessed here.]

 

Indeed, Engels lapsed into dogmatic, 'foisting' mode all the time; here are just two examples:

 

The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. For our purpose, we could express this by saying that in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy).

 

All qualitative differences in nature rest on differences of chemical composition or on different quantities or forms of motion (energy) or, as is almost always the case, on both. Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e. without quantitative alteration of the body concerned. [Engels (1954), p.63. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be…. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself; as the older philosophy (Descartes) expressed it, the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transmitted….

 

A motionless state of matter therefore proves to be one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas…. [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

In the first of the above passages Engels was quite happy to impose this 'Law' on nature, asserting that it is "impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion" before he had considered all the available evidence even in his day. And yet, even if he had access to evidence that was several orders of magnitude greater than we have today, it would still not justify his use of "impossible".

 

In fact, his employment of "impossible" is not only mistaken (as my stereoisomers example shows -- see below), it constitutes as good an example of "foisting" as one could wish to find.

 

In the second passage, Engels's a priori dogmatism is plain for all to see. Does comrade Jones take him to task for this? Or, did he pass over it in silence?

 

Coming To The Boil

 

But, what of the more substantive arguments comrade Jones wields against me?

 

The transformation of water to ice or to steam, according to Lichtenstein, isn't really a qualitative change anyway, since all three have the same molecular structure. Well, I don’t think we have to "relax" our definition of quality too far to imagine that the unique qualities of steam allowed it to play a special role in industry. An ice engine will never be as productive as a steam engine, even though ice and steam are both H2O. Lichtenstein must be blissfully unconcerned about the melting of the polar ice caps -- no qualitative change there, she must claim. Polar bears might disagree.

 

But, what "definition" of "quality" is comrade Jones referring to here? He doesn't say, nor do the vast majority of other dialecticians.

 

Nevertheless, in my original letter, and despite what comrade Jones says, I didn't in fact deny that this was a "qualitative" change; I merely noted the consequences of adopting Hegel's (and derivatively Aristotle's) understanding of "quality". Hence, much of the above is beside the point. [Someone might want to advise comrade Jones to read things a little more carefully.]

 

In fact, I actually said this:

 

To be sure, some things change "qualitatively" (exactly as Engels says), once more, many do not.

 

Indeed, I am happy to acknowledge that there are qualitative differences between ice, water and steam (where have I ever denied it?) -- but, whether or not these are the sort of "qualities" Engels refers to it is impossible to decide.

 

[I for one certainly do not mean to use this term in the way Hegel used it (on that, see here). Perhaps comrade Jones does; but he was far too coy to say.]

 

Nevertheless, comrade Jones should know that Engels didn't tell us what he meant by "quality", and so he (comrade Jones) is merely guessing. Indeed, comrade Jones doesn't tell us what he himself means by "quality" -- presumably because he prefers the vague, Mickey Mouse 'sort of science' one finds in DM.

However, if Engels was using "quality" as Hegel attempted to define it (i.e., in an Aristotelian sense), then a "quality" is an essential, or non-accidental property of an object or process the change of which alters it/them into something new -- a new substance, a new "kind of thing". The problem is that if this is indeed the case, then when liquid water freezes or boils, no new substance comes into being; no new "kind of thing" emerges. In this case, plainly, we have H
20 throughout, which means that there is no change of "quality" in an Aristotelian/Hegelian sense of that word anywhere in sight.

 

This point is even easier to see when, say, iron melts: as a liquid or a solid, it is still iron. The same is true of all the elements: Liquid Oxygen is still Oxygen.

 

Furthermore, countless substances exist as solids, liquids, or gases, so this cannot be what makes each of them "what it is and not something else". What makes lead, for example, lead is its atomic structure, and that remains the same whether or not that metal is in its solid or its liquid state. As such, it remains "the same kind of thing" whatever state of matter it happens to be in. The same it true of all the stable elements, and most of the more complex molecules (that aren't 'de-natured' by heat)..

 

The Aristotelian definition can be found in the Glossary at the Marxist Internet Archive, here; Hegel's can be found here. As we can see from what Hegel says, even he got the water example wrong! He certainly thought that such phase changes were "qualitative" -- ignoring his own definition! No new 'kind of thing' emerges. Of course, this depends on what we mean by "new kind of thing", but then both Hegel and DM-fans are vague about that, too!

 

Strike that; they are totally silent about it.

So, the above can't be the "quality" that comrade Jones, at least, is referring to, for he wants us to accept the idea that ice, liquid water and steam exhibit different "qualities". Well, what sort or "quality" is he referring to?

 

Again, we are left in the dark.

 

As I alleged earlier, DM is indeed hopelessly vague.

 

Alas, comrade Jones seems intent on keeping it that way.

 

Refutation In Stereo

 

Comrade Jones dismisses many of the counter-examples I listed at my site as "silly" -- which word is, of course, a technical term drawn from Hegelian Philosophy far too complex for most of us mortals to comprehend. Nevertheless, I presented many of them in order to show that unless and until the term "quality" is clarified, and we are told what the "addition" of matter or energy amounts to -- or even what the thermodynamic boundaries are to a system that supposedly undergoes these changes --  this 'Law' will continue to have countless trivial counter-examples.

 

In fact, one of the most important counter-examples I referred to was the following:

 

There are countless examples where significant qualitative change can result from no obvious quantitative difference. These include the qualitative dissimilarities that exist between different chemicals for the same quantity of matter/energy involved.

 

For instance, Isomeric molecules (studied in stereochemistry) are a particularly good example of this phenomenon. This is especially true of those that have so-called "chiral" centres (i.e., centres of asymmetry). In such cases, the spatial ordering of the constituent atoms, not their quantity, affects the overall quality of the resulting molecule (something Engels said could not happen); here, a change in molecular orientation, not quantity, effects a change in quality.

 

To take one example of many: (R)-Carvone (spearmint) and (S)-Carvone (caraway); these molecules have the same number of atoms (of the same elements), and the same bond energies, but they are nonetheless qualitatively distinct because of the different spatial arrangement of the atoms involved. Change in geometry --, change in quality.

 

This un-dialectical aspect of matter is especially true of the so-called "Enantiomers" (i.e., symmetrical molecules that are mirror images of each other). These include compounds like (R)-2-clorobutane and (S)-2-chlorobutane, and the so-called L- and D-molecules, which rotate the plane of polarised light the left (laevo) or the right (dextro)) -- such as, L- and D-Tartaric acid. What might at first appear to be small energy-neutral differences like these have profound biochemical implications; a protein with D-amino acids instead of L- will not work in most living cells since the overwhelming majority of organisms metabolise L-organic molecules. These compounds not only have the same number of atoms in each molecule, there are no apparent energy differences between them; even so, they have easily distinguishable physical qualities.

 

Change in quality -- identical quantity.

 

To which, comrade Jones replied:

 

Finally, Lichtenstein presents the example of stereoisomers. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a chemist. Still, this example doesn’t seem to be a far cry from another very common phenomena in nature -- bicameralism, things that are mirror images of each other yet cannot be exchanged for each other. Your left and right hands are bicameral. If you could detach your hands and place them on the opposite arms, you’d look silly. So your hands are the same stuff arranged a different way -- qualitative change without quantitative change? Sure, if you have found a way to observe the transformation of your left hand into a right hand! Engels, on the other hand (pun intended), was on a different mission. "We are not concerned here with writing a handbook of dialectics," he explains, “but only with showing that the dialectical laws are really laws of [the] development of nature."

 

Comrade Jones's argument seems to be that since such isomers do not develop into one another, this is a spurious criticism of Engels's 'Law'.

 

But, Engels himself used isomers as an example of his 'Law'!

 

In these series we encounter the Hegelian law in yet another form. The lower members permit only of a single mutual arrangement of the atoms. If, however, the number of atoms united into a molecule attains a size definitely fixed for each series, the grouping of the atoms in the molecule can take place in more than one way; so that two or more isomeric substances can be formed, having equal numbers of C, H, and 0 atoms in the molecule but nevertheless qualitatively distinct from one another. We can even calculate how many such isomers are possible for each member of the series. Thus, in the paraffin series, for C4H10 there are two, for C6H12 there are three; among the higher members the number of possible isomers mounts very rapidly. Hence once again it is the quantitative number of atoms in the molecule that determines the possibility and, in so far as it has been proved, also the actual existence of such qualitatively distinct isomers. [Engels (1954), p.67. Bold emphases added.]

 

And yet, there is no "development" here! So, if Engels can use examples where there is no "development" (in order to illustrate his 'Law'), comrade Jones can hardly complain if similar examples are used to help refute it.2

 

[Several more examples of such 'non-developmental qualitative differences', referred to by Engels, are given in Note Two. Did the comrade miss these, too, when he reviewed Engels's work?]

 

Nevertheless, it is quite clear that Engels failed to appreciate how far this undermined his claim that:

 

It is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e. without quantitative alteration of the body concerned. [Engels (1954), p.63. Bold emphasis added.]

 

For here we have a change in geometry "passing over" into a qualitative change, refuting this 'Law'.

 

Anyway, it isn't too clear why comrade Jones objects to this amendment to Engels's 'Law'. Am I suggesting a non-materialist revision? Is it bad science? Is it anti-Marxist?

 

On the contrary, it is plain that there are only two possible reasons why this comrade could be objecting to the above points: (1) They show that Engels's 'Law' is unsound as it stands (and it isn't too clear how it can be repaired); or (2) Comrade Jones is far more intent on defending tradition than he is concerned to understand nature, and is thus quite happy to "foist" a certain (received) view on reality.

 

But, even if we insist that the 'developmental' aspect of this 'Law' can't be ignored, one isomer can be turned into another by various chemical reactions. Of course, whether or not this conforms to Engels's 'Law' will depend on how the "addition of energy" clause is to be understood. No surprise then to find that dialecticians also fail to tell us what they mean by the "addition of energy". Nor do they define the energetic (thermodynamic) boundaries of the systems in question -- nor do they tell us what constitutes a "system", or even a "body"! And yet these aren't minor or insignificant details; as we have seen, no genuine scientist would leave such important aspects of a theory as vague as this.

 

[In case anyone thinks the answers to these questions are straight-forward, in Essay Seven Part One I examine several cases where this isn't so, and show in general that it is in fact impossible to answer them, given the vague 'guidelines' set out in the DM-classics. (The problems faced by this slap-dash approach to theory are discussed, for example, here.)]

 

Well, this is Mickey Mouse Science, after all!

 

What else can you expect?

 

Indeed, it is important to be clear about the difference between the expenditure of energy and the energy added to a system. This distinction is easy to see. Imagine someone pushing a heavy packing case along a level floor. In order to overcome friction, the one doing the pushing will have to expend energy. But, that energy hasn't been put into the packing case (as it were).3 However, if the same case is pushed up a hill, Physicists tell us that recoverable energy will have been added to this case in the form of Potential Energy.

 

Now, in the examples of interest to dialecticians, it is the latter addition of energy (but not necessarily always Potential Energy) that appears relevant, not the former. [But, who can say for certain? They don't!] The former sort doesn't really change the quality of the bodies concerned; the latter does. If so, the above counter-examples (e.g., concerning the aforementioned Enantiomers) still apply, for the energy expended in order to change one isomer into another is generally of the first sort, not the second.

 

And, of course, there are many examples of "qualitative development" in nature that do not involve the "addition" of matter or energy -- several were in fact listed in Essay Seven; so comrade Jones either ignored them, or he didn't read that Essay with due care -- or at all.

 

Of course, no one has to read my work, but if they want to pass informed comment on it, at the very least they should read it.

 

Just to take one example at random; consider the Bombardier Beetle:

 

Bombardier beetles store two separate chemicals (hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide) that are not mixed until threatened. When this occurs the two chemicals are squirted through two tubes, where they are mixed along with small amounts of catalytic enzymes. When these chemicals mix they undergo a violent 'exothermic' chemical reaction. The boiling, foul smelling liquid partially becomes a gas and is expelled with a loud popping sound.... [Wikipedia.]

 

If the original object/body (of the sort that Engels (possibly?) meant) is the said beetle, then we have here a change in quality with no change in quantity: this animal has turned into noxious beetle where once we had an ordinary insect, but for no change in matter or overall energy in that animal. Sure matter is subsequently lost, but before that happens, the beetle has already changed (or this wouldn't happen!).

 

It could be objected that small amounts of energy in the form of light (or perhaps in other forms) triggers this insect so that it reacts to defend itself. But, if we put this insect in a sealed box, isolating the thermodynamic boundaries of the system concerned, and provoke it with a timed, battery-powered mechanical device also in that box, that insect will react in a familiar way. So, given this system (the box-battery-powered-mechanical-device-timing-mechanism-beetle-complex), no energy will have been added to that system (i.e., the box-battery-powered-mechanical-device-timing-mechanism-beetle-complex), but it nevertheless 'develops' into a system with different 'qualities' (namely, a  box-battery-powered-mechanical-device-timing-mechanism-noxious-beetle-complex).

 

Even more annoying: this change is part of that beetle's "development"; so this example isn't susceptible to the challenge comrade Jones advanced.

 

This illustrates once again why it is important to be clear what we mean by the thermodynamic boundaries of a system, just as it is important to be clear about what the phrase "the addition of energy" means, and, indeed, what is, and what isn't, counted as a system/body.

 

No good looking to DM-fans (like comrade Jones) for assistance/clarity here; they don't even consider register such issues.

 

Welcome to Mickey Mouse Science!

 

Or, consider another --, and one that is perhaps more familiar to most dialecticians than the Bombardier Beetle --, the Widget found in certain cans of beer:

 

A can of beer is pressurised by adding liquid nitrogen, which vaporises and expands in volume after the can is sealed, forcing gas and beer into the widget's hollow interior through a tiny hole -- the less beer the better for subsequent head quality. In addition, some nitrogen dissolves in the beer which also contains dissolved carbon dioxide.

 

The presence of dissolved nitrogen allows smaller bubbles to be formed with consequent greater creaminess of the subsequent head. This is because the smaller bubbles need a higher internal pressure to balance the greater surface tension, which is inversely proportional to the radius of the bubbles. Achieving this higher pressure is not possible just with dissolved carbon dioxide because of the greater solubility of this gas compared to nitrogen would create an unacceptably large head.

 

When the can is opened, the pressure in the can quickly drops, causing the pressurised gas and beer inside the widget to jet out from the hole. This agitation on the surrounding beer causes a chain reaction of bubble formation throughout the beer. The result, when the can is then poured out, is a surging mixture in the glass of very small gas bubbles and liquid.

 

This is the case with certain types of draught beer such as draught stouts. In the case of these draught beers, which before dispensing also contain a mixture of dissolved nitrogen and carbon dioxide, the agitation is caused by forcing the beer under pressure through small holes in a restrictor in the tap. The surging mixture gradually settles to produce a very creamy head. [Wikipedia.]

 

Once more, here we have a change in quality with no change in quantity.4

 

[Several possible objections to these fatal counter-examples are considered in Note Four.]

 

Once again: the problem is that this 'Law' is so vague and imprecise that it invites counter-examples like these. In that case, it is in the interests of dialecticians to be clear about what they mean -- if only to rule these out and rescue Engels's theory from the trash can!

 

Another Leap In The Dark?

 

What about the following?

 

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 point. He doesn't deny that the changes I noted are smooth, he just advances the following claim:

 

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

 

But, this fails to address the point I made: that metals go from hard to soft slowly, as does plastic, glass, resin, tar and asphalt, toffee, wax, chocolate, and butter. [For those who harbour doubts, I have posted several videos that demonstrate these phenomena, here.] Now, it isn't relevant that in the case of metals this begins well above cooking temperature. That is, of course, part of the reason why we don't use (ordinary) plastic containers to cook food, or install chocolate fire doors -- since, obviously, they begin to melt at far lower temperatures. On the other hand, no one would use, say, an ordinary frying pan to try to melt a steel ingot with a thermal lance.

 

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 comedian of no little ability.

 

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 (or parts of it) will have melted, but despite this, at lower temperatures that metal will begin to soften, and that softening is gradual. There is no clearly defined point between this gradual softening and the fully melted metal. Human beings have known this for thousands of years -- it 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 above softening process ends, but the lead up to it is unquestionably slow. The qualitative change (solid-to-liquid) here is typically non-nodal. The same is true of the other examples I gave. Who doesn't know that glass and many plastics melt slowly?

 

[In case anyone thinks glass is a liquid of some sort, may I suggest they check this out, and then think again.]

 

Of course, there is an entire class of solids that have no melting point, the "amorphous solids" (glasses, gels, and plastics):

 

Amorphous solids do not have a sharp melting point; they are softened in a range of temperature. [Quoted from here; accessed 03/05/2015. Bold emphasis added.]

 

In an amorphous solid, the local environment, including both the distances to neighbouring units and the numbers of neighbours, varies throughout the material. Different amounts of thermal energy are needed to overcome these different interactions. Consequently, amorphous solids tend to soften slowly over a wide temperature range rather than having a well-defined melting point like a crystalline solid. [Quoted from here; accessed 08/04/2015. Bold emphasis added; spelling modified to agree with UK English.]

 

Moreover:

 

Almost any substance can solidify in amorphous form if the liquid phase is cooled rapidly enough.... [Ibid.]

 

This must mean that "almost any substance" will lack a melting point if cooled in the above way. In turn, it implies that there are countless non-'nodal' (non-"leap"-like) changes in nature.

 

[Notice: I am not arguing that there are no sudden changes in nature and society, only that not everything changes this way.]

 

In fact, there are countless other node-free "qualitative" changes in nature (many of which were listed in the Essay comrade Jones plainly skim-read). For example, when heated, objects change in quality from cold to warm and then to hot, with no "nodal" point separating these 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 this comrade 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. Sounds, too, change smoothly from soft to loud, and back again, in a "node"-free environment. Anyone with a volume control on a radio, TV, stereo-system, or handset can confirm this for comrade Jones if he still harbours doubts.

 

Moreover, 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 remarkably "node"-lessly (and your friend will appear to grow in size "leap"-lessly, from small to normal size, too). If you increase the pressure on your arm, you will pass from comfort to pain slowly in a "node"-free environment, as well.

 

[Obvious objections to the above points have all been answered in Essay Seven Part One.]

 

There are countless examples of continuous change like this in nature and society where distinctive alterations occur in a non-"nodal" manner; so many in fact that one wonders why dialecticians haven't noticed them. Have they been blinded by tradition to such an extent that they can't think or look for themselves?

 

Of course, it might prove possible to rule some of the above out by a suitable re-definition of "quality" and/or "node" (always supposing dialecticians actually get around to doing this -- after all, we have only been waiting for over a hundred years!), but how would that be different from imposing dialectics on the facts, and not reading it from the facts?

 

But, comrade Jones refuses to define (or even clarify) these terms, and it isn't hard to see why: if he were to do so, many of the examples to which he and other dialecticians appeal would fall by the wayside. [Or, far more likely, he/they would be accused of "Revisionism!" by the DM-thought Police.]

 

What of the other things he says?


Lichtenstein admits that there are some cases of quantitative changes -- for example, increasing degrees of heat -- that lead to qualitative changes. (She concedes some examples of melting -- but why does she admit them, since they also do not produce new molecular composition?).


As noted above, I am quite happy, as a materialist, to admit that objects and processes change qualitatively (using whatever definition of "quality" dialecticians finally alight upon). Nothing at my site suggests otherwise, so it isn't too clear why comrade Jones said this:


She concedes some examples of melting -- but why does she admit them, since they also do not produce new molecular composition?


In fact, this is a problem for him, not me. I am not trying to defend a hopelessly vague 'theory', or impose a set of ideas on nature. [There is an example of this in the next section.]

 

Unfortunately, I can't say the same of him.
 

Anti-Dialectical Line-Up?
 

But, what of this?

 

Amazingly, she claims to refute this law further by placing animals next to each other -- a mouse, a pony, and an elephant -- and moving her eyes from one to the other. They have different qualitative sizes, so she determines: "change in quality here, but no matter or energy has been added or subtracted. Plainly that would make a mockery of this law." Let me see if I've got this right: three different animals placed side by side show no change from quantity to quality? If the mouse is not transforming into the pony, and the pony changing into an elephant, what is the change being considered here? Are we talking about the change that takes place in her mind as she looks at different animals? Surely she understands that in order for something the size of a mouse (say, a pony embryo) to grow into something the size of an adult pony, an enormous amount of energy (food, etc.) is required. The same holds true for something the size of a pony (say, a young elephant) to grow to the size of an adult elephant. Plainly Lichtenstein has made a mockery of herself.

 

Clearly, this comrade has missed the point -- again! My example of comparative sizes was introduced into the discussion to show what happens if the definition of "quality" is relaxed too far. Here is what I said:

 

...[I]f we relax "quality" so that it applies to any qualitative difference, we would have to include the relational properties of bodies. In that case, we could easily have qualitative change with no extra matter or energy added. For instance, consider three animals in a row: a mouse, a pony, and an elephant. In relation to the mouse, the pony is big, but in relation to the elephant it is small. Change in quality here, but no matter or energy has been added or subtracted. Plainly, that would make a mockery of this law. [Bold added.]

 

So, the sloppy approach dialecticians have adopted toward their own theory in fact makes a mockery of this 'Law'.

 

And, of course, these animals do not "develop" into one another, but we have already seen that Engels ignored this particular caveat himself.

 

From this we can see quite clearly that comrade Jones needs to acquaint himself with his own theory before he tries to defend it -- or, indeed, snipe at my criticisms.

 

But, speaking of developing organisms, it is no less clear that they change from small to large slowly, and in a "leap"-free environment, too. Who has ever seen, say, a daffodil grow from a seed to a mature plant in one "leap"? But, this is just as a much a 'qualitative' change as water boiling is.

 

What about qualitative changes that are very slow, but where the build-up to them is rapid? Consider the larval stage of moths. The larva/grub will build a cocoon rapidly, but the radical qualitative changes inside that cocoon (from larva to adult moth), in its pupal stage, are painfully slow (relative to the previous stage, and to the lifetime of most moths and butterflies) -- ranging from a few weeks to many months. To be sure, when the moth breaks out, that change will be rapid, but the unseen qualitative changes that have already happened are slow. By no stretch of the imagination is this unseen development -- these radical qualitative changes -- a "leap".

 

And the same comment applies to the development of reptiles, birds, fish and other animals that grow inside egg sacks. Even a human baby takes nine months to "leap" from fertilised egg to fully-developed foetus before it is born --; as is well known, fertilisation and parturition are pretty rapid in comparison to the slow qualitative changes in between.

 

Nature and the changes that take place in it are therefore far too varied and complex to be shoe-horned into dialectical boot they plainly won't fit.

 

In short, as far as we know: nature is reassuringly non-dialectical.

 

The Necker Cube Bites Back

 

What about this, though?

 

There are countless silly examples on Lichtenstein’s website. She claims, for example, that Necker cubes are qualitatively different from regular cubes with no quantitative difference, and thereby are another refutation of dialectics. But by definition, these cubes are ambiguous in our perception of them. They are, after all, not even real cubes, only representations of cubes! Their qualitative difference from other cubes exists entirely in the realm of the idea of a cube. Lichtenstein has lost sight of the purpose of dialectics -- to understand the motion of things as we observe them in nature. I’m not sure what laws (if any) govern the transformation of one representation of a cube into another representation of a cube. Down here on earth, in order for one thing to truly change from one qualitative state to another, specific quantities of energy must be added or subtracted, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case.5

 

In fact I nowhere said that Necker cubes are qualitatively different from ordinary cubes. What I did say was this:

 

However, other recalcitrant examples rapidly spring to mind: if the same colour is stared at for several minutes it can undergo a qualitative change into another colour (several optical illusions are based on this fact). Something similar can happen with regard to many two-dimensional patterns and shapes (for example the Necker Cube and other optical illusions); these undergo considerable qualitative change when no obvious quantitative differences are involved. There thus seem to be numerous examples where quantity and quality do not appear to be connected in the way that DM-theorists would have us believe. [Quoted from here.]

 

The difference here is between two views of the same Necker Cube, not between the latter and an ordinary cube.

 

However, as we have seen, it is Engels who wants to impose this 'Law' on nature, while I want to impose nothing on anything.


So, when comrade Jones says the following:

 

Their qualitative difference from other cubes exists entirely in the realm of the idea of a cube. Lichtenstein has lost sight of the purpose of dialectics -- to understand the motion of things as we observe them in nature. I’m not sure what laws (if any) govern the transformation of one representation of a cube into another representation of a cube,

 

he has plainly ignored what Engels elsewhere tells us about his theory:

 

Dialectics, however, is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought. [Engels (1976) p.180. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Ideas of Necker cubes are objects of thought, I believe. Perhaps comrade Jones thinks otherwise.

 

Moreover, Engels declared that:


It is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e. without quantitative alteration of the body concerned. [Engels (1954), p.63. Bold emphasis added.]


But, when someone (who is plainly in possession of a very material body) is in a different qualitative state while viewing a Necker Cube one way, and then in another qualitative state while viewing it another way, with no new energy added to that individual, we can see that Engels's defective 'law' has been refuted once again.6

 

Down here on earth, in order for one thing to truly change from one qualitative state to another, specific quantities of energy must be added or subtracted, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case.

 

But, as us Earthlings can now see, this comrade is quite wrong; there are many things that can change in "quality" with no new matter or energy "added" -- howsoever these are defined, or (more likely) not.

 

Is comrade Jones therefore from another planet?

 

Still Hopelessly Vague?

 

Finally, we have this opening shot:

 

Rosa Lichtenstein has a strange approach to the question of dialectics and their applicability to nature and human society. Ultimately, I believe that she reproduces the same upside-down error of Hegelian dialectics that Marx and Engels aimed to turn on its head. Hegel tried to understand the dynamics of the transformation of ideas. For Marx and Engels, the point was to explain the general dynamics of change in the real world.

 

On the contrary, comrade Jones seems to be in the grip of the odd idea that dialectical materialism can be preserved in its current, terminally vague state -- based on the confused Hermetic theories imported from that Christian Mystic, Hegel (upside-down or the "right way up") -- and still be called a science.

 

Notes

 

01. In late September 2011 the news media were full of stories about an experiment that seemed to show that a beam of neutrinos had exceeded the speed of light. Here is a brief description of the lengths to which they went to check this result:

 

"'Light-speed' neutrinos point to new physical reality

 

"Subatomic particles have broken the universe's fundamental speed limit, or so it was reported last week. The speed of light is the ultimate limit on travel in the universe, and the basis for Einstein's special theory of relativity, so if the finding stands up to scrutiny, does it spell the end for physics as we know it? The reality is less simplistic and far more interesting.

 

"'People were saying this means Einstein is wrong,' says physicist Heinrich Päs of the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany. 'But that's not really correct.'

 

"Instead, the result could be the first evidence for a reality built out of extra dimensions. Future historians of science may regard it not as the moment we abandoned Einstein and broke physics, but rather as the point at which our view of space vastly expanded, from three dimensions to four, or more.

 

"'This may be a physics revolution,' says Thomas Weiler at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who has devised theories built on extra dimensions. 'The famous words 'paradigm shift' are used too often and tritely, but they might be relevant.'

 

"The subatomic particles -- neutrinos -- seem to have zipped faster than light from CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, to the OPERA detector at the Gran Sasso lab near L'Aquila, Italy. It's a conceptually simple result: neutrinos making the 730-kilometre journey arrived 60 nanoseconds earlier than they would have if they were travelling at light speed. And it relies on three seemingly simple measurements, says Dario Autiero of the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Lyon, France, a member of the OPERA collaboration: the distance between the labs, the time the neutrinos left CERN, and the time they arrived at Gran Sasso.

 

"But actually measuring those times and distances to the accuracy needed to detect nanosecond differences is no easy task. The OPERA collaboration spent three years chasing down every source of error they could imagine...before Autiero made the result public in a seminar at CERN on 23 September.

 

"Physicists grilled Autiero for an hour after his talk to ensure the team had considered details like the curvature of the Earth, the tidal effects of the moon and the general relativistic effects of having two clocks at different heights (gravity slows time so a clock closer to Earth's surface runs a tiny bit slower).

 

"They were impressed. 'I want to congratulate you on this extremely beautiful experiment,' said Nobel laureate Samuel Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after Autiero's talk. 'The experiment is very carefully done, and the systematic error carefully checked.'

 

"Most physicists still expect some sort of experimental error to crop up and explain the anomaly, mainly because it contravenes the incredibly successful law of special relativity which holds that the speed of light is a constant that no object can exceed. The theory also leads to the famous equation E = mc2.

 

"Hotly anticipated are results from other neutrino detectors, including T2K in Japan and MINOS at Fermilab in Illinois, which will run similar experiments and confirm the results or rule them out (see 'Fermilab stops hunting Higgs, starts neutrino quest')....

 

"Even if relativity is pushed aside, Einstein has worked so well for so long that he will never really go away. At worst, relativity will turn out to work for most of the universe but not all, just as Newton's mechanics work until things get extremely large or small. 'The fact that Einstein has worked for 106 years means he'll always be there, either as the right answer or a low-energy effective theory,' Weiler says." [Grossman (2011), pp.7-9. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Also see the report in Socialist Review. Subsequent experiments have confirmed this anomalous result, but some scientists think they have found a flaw.]

 

This is how genuine science is practiced. Three years looking for possible errors! Even today, scientists around the world are still pouring over the data, looking for mistakes in the experiment or in its interpretation. They certainly don't attack each other for having the temerity to question Einstein. Nor do they moan about "pedantry" when their work is peer reviewed; and they certainly don't retreat into a 'dialectical sulk' and refuse to engage with those who insist on their work being checked and double-checked.

 

That is the difference between science and dialectical sectarianism. And, it takes a little more than a few references to balding heads, boiling water or the ambiguous fighting habits of the Mamelukes to establish even a remotely possible counter-example to Einstein's theory.

 

Oddly enough, repeated reference to the a priori musings of a Hermetic Mystic who lived 200 years ago isn't sufficient, either.

 

Update March 2012: The above experiment has been repeated far more carefully, and it now appears that neutrinos do not travel faster than light:

 

"Neutrinos clocked at light-speed in new Icarus test

 

 

"An experiment to repeat a test of the speed of subatomic particles known as neutrinos has found that they do not travel faster than light. Results announced in September suggested that neutrinos can exceed light speed, but were met with scepticism as that would upend Einstein's theory of relativity. A test run by a different group at the same laboratory has now clocked them travelling at precisely light speed.

 

"The results have been posted online.

 

"The results in September, from the Opera group at the Gran Sasso underground laboratory in Italy, shocked the world, threatening to upend a century of physics as well as relativity -- which holds the speed of light to be the Universe's absolute speed limit. Now the Icarus group, based at the same laboratory, has weighed in again, having already cast some doubt on the original Opera claim. Shortly after that claim, Nobel laureate Sheldon Glashow co-authored a Physical Review Letters paper that modelled how faster-than-light neutrinos would behave as they travelled.

 

"In November, the Icarus group showed in a paper posted on the online server Arxiv that the neutrinos displayed no such behaviour. However, they have now supplemented that indirect result with a test just like that carried out by the Opera team.

 

"Speedy result

 

"The Icarus experiment uses 600 tonnes -- 430,000 litres -- of liquid argon to detect the arrival of neutrons sent through 730km of rock from the Cern laboratory in Switzerland. Since their November result, the Icarus team have adjusted their experiment to do a speed measurement.

 

"What was missing was information from Cern about the departure time of the neutrinos, which the team recently received to complete their analysis. The result: they find that the neutrinos do travel at the same speed as light. 'We are completely compatible with the speed of light that we learn at school,' said Sandro Centro, co-spokesman for the Icarus collaboration.

 

"Dr Centro said that he was not surprised by the result. 'In fact I was a little sceptical since the beginning,' he told BBC News. 'Now we are 100% sure that the speed of light is the speed of neutrinos.'

 

"Most recently, the Opera team conceded that their initial result may have been compromised by problems with their equipment. Rumours have circulated since the Opera result was first announced that the team was not unified in its decision to announce their findings so quickly, and Dr Centro suggested that researchers outside the team were also suspicious.

 

"'I didn't trust the result right from the beginning -- the way it was produced, the way it was managed,' he said. 'I think they were a little bit in a hurry to publish something that was astonishing, and at the end of the day it was a wrong measurement.'

 

"Four different experiments at Italy's Gran Sasso lab make use of the same beam of neutrinos from Cern. Later this month, they will all be undertaking independent measurements to finally put an end to speculation about neutrino speeds. The Minos experiment in the US and the T2K experiment in Japan may also weigh in on the matter in due course -- if any doubt is left about the neutrinos' ability to beat the universal speed limit." [Quoted from here. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Several paragraphs merged to save space.]

 

Again, this is how genuine science is conducted -- typically, results have to be rigorously tested (and re-tested) before they are accepted and are published in the textbooks -- unlike Mickey Mouse DM-'Science'.

 

Consider another example -- the following is a brief description of the precautions (highlighted in bold) taken by one scientist trying to ascertain a more accurate value for the Gravitational Constant, G:

 

"Harold Parks's belongings were already leaving for France when he realised gravity had given him the slip. 'The movers were in my apartment taking my stuff away,' he says. He was in his lab at the research institute JILA in Boulder, Colorado, making the final checks on an experiment that had taken up the past two years of his life -- to precisely measure the strength of gravity. 'The signal shouldn't have changed,' he recalls. 'But it did.'

 

"That was 10 years ago. Having relocated, for a while Parks was tempted to give up on gravity. But the force exerts a mysterious pull on those who measure it. After a sojourn at the high temple of metrology, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Paris, France, Parks was back in Boulder, rebuilding and improving his old experiment....

 

"Meanwhile, Parks was beavering away in Boulder. His and [his supervisor] Faller's experiment was a variant of an apparatus that had been used to try to pin down big G before. It consisted of two free-hanging pendulum bobs surrounded by four massive stacks of tungsten. Moving the tungsten masses inwards...draws the bobs closer together by an amount 1000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Still, the shift is large enough to be picked up by a laser interferometer.

 

"Not that it is easy to be sure the movements are down to gravity alone. 'It's about thinking of all the things the world can do to you to muck up your experiment,' says Parks. The pair set up the pendulums in a vacuum to avoid the effects of temperature changes and air resistance slowing the pendulums' movements. They also floated the tungsten stacks on a thin layer of air to stop them vibrating unexpectedly. Even so, tiptoeing anywhere near the experiment was a no-no: the additional mass of a person would weigh down one side of the floor and nudge the apparatus ever so slightly.

 

"The problems didn't stop at the doors of the lab. Next to, and towering over, the basement where the experiment was situated was a high-rise block. As the sun crept across the sky during the day, it warmed first one side of the tower and then the other, causing it to expand unevenly. The effect was to imperceptibly tilt the tower and everything attached to it, including Parks's lab, first one way and then the other.

 

"Even that cruel trick was nothing compared to what was unmasked the day the fire alarm sounded. 'There had been regular spikes in data taken during the day,' says Parks. 'They just went quiet.' It turned out that a surge in current each time the elevator moved in the tower caused a slight change in the magnetisation of the pendulum bobs, moving them ever so slightly and skewing the results." [Webb (2011), pp.45-47. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases added.]

 

Do we see such attention to detail in Engels's work on DM, or in that of subsequent fans of 'the dialectic'? Or, anything even remotely like it?

 

1. It is quite clear that this is the real source of Engels's 'Law'. Plainly, Engels didn't derive this 'Law' from a careful consideration of all the facts available even in his own day, but from a careful reading of Hegel's 'Logic'! And, it is also clear that Hegel, too, ignored the facts accessible in his day. Did he not know that many qualitative changes in nature are gradual? Had he never seen an egg slowly turn white when fried? Or, butter slowly melt? Or, metals slowly soften? Or, plants slowly grow?

 

Despite this, there is another difficulty here that dialecticians have also failed to notice, one that involves the second of Engels's 'Laws':

 

The law of the interpenetration of opposites.... Mutual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes.... [Engels  (1954), pp.17, 62.]

 

Here's how I have put this in Essay Seven:

 

Is The Second 'Law' Incompatible With The First?

 

Despite this, it is quite clear that the '"nodal" aspect of the First 'Law' is incompatible with the Unity and Interpenetration of Opposites [UIO], or at least with the link between the UIO and the DM-criticism of the LEM.

 

[LEM = Law of Excluded Middle; FL = Formal Logic; DL = Dialectical Logic.]

 

To see this, consider object/process P which is just about to undergo a qualitative change (a "leap") from, say, state PA to state PB. For there to be a "nodal" change here it would have to be the case that P is in state PA one instant/moment, and in state PB an instant/moment later (howsoever these "instants/moments" are understood). There is no other way of making sense of the abrupt nature of "nodal" change.

 

[To spare the reader, I will just refer to these as "instants" from now on.]

 

But, if that is so, then any state description of P would have to obey the LEM, for it would have to be the case that at one instant it would be true to say that P was in state PA at that instant but not in state PB at the same instant; i.e., it would not be true to say that P was in both states at once. That is, if we assume that PB is not-PA, then at any one instant, if this change is "nodal", the following would have to be the case: P is either in state PA or it is in state not-PA, but not both. In that case, these two states wouldn't interpenetrate one another (in the sense that both exist or apply to P at the same time), and the LEM would apply to this process over this time period, at least.

 

On the other hand, if these two states do in fact interpenetrate each other (in the sense that both exist or apply to P at the same time), such that the "either-or" of the LEM doesn't apply, and it were the case that P was in both states at once, then the transition from PA to PB would be smooth and not "nodal", after all.

 

This dilemma is independent of the length of time a "node" is held to last (that is, if we are ever told!). It is also worth noting that this inconsistency applies at just the point where dialecticians tell us DL is superior to FL --, that is, at the point of change.

 

So, once more, we see that not only can DL not explain change, at least two of Engels's three 'Laws' are inconsistent with one another (when applied to objects/processes that undergo change).

 

But, this is dialectics; it is supposed to be inconsistent!

 

In view of the dogmatic things Hegel and Engels had to say about the LEM, it does indeed look like these two 'Laws' are incompatible:

 

Neither in heaven nor in earth, neither in the world of mind nor nature, is there anywhere an abstract 'either-or' as the understanding maintains. Whatever exists is concrete, with difference and opposition in itself. The finitude of things with then lie in the want of correspondence between their immediate being and what they essentially are. Thus, in inorganic nature, the acid is implicitly at the same time the base: in other words its only being consists in its relation to its other. Hence the acid persists quietly in the contrast: it is always in effort to realize what it potentially is. Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world. [Hegel (1975), p.174. Bold emphasis added.]

 

To the metaphysician, things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are isolated, are to be considered one after the other and apart from each other, are objects of investigation fixed, rigid, given once for all. He thinks in absolutely irreconcilable antitheses. "His communication is 'yea, yea; nay, nay'; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." For him a thing either exists or does not exist; a thing cannot at the same time be itself and something else. Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another, cause and effect stand in a rigid antithesis one to the other.

At first sight this mode of thinking seems to us very luminous, because it is that of so-called sound common sense. Only sound common sense, respectable fellow that he is, in the homely realm of his own four walls, has very wonderful adventures directly he ventures out into the wide world of research. And the metaphysical mode of thought, justifiable and even necessary as it is in a number of domains whose extent varies according to the nature of the particular object of investigation, sooner or later reaches a limit, beyond which it becomes one-sided, restricted, abstract, lost in insoluble contradictions. In the contemplation of individual things it forgets the connection between them; in the contemplation of their existence, it forgets the beginning and end of that existence; of their repose, it forgets their motion. It cannot see the wood for the trees. [Engels (1976), p.26. Bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

On the serious difficulties this view of the LEM presents for Hegel, and anyone who agrees with him, see here.

 

01a. Anyone who concludes these are only minor points, or who might think the answers are rather obvious in each case, should check this and this out, and then perhaps think again.

 

2. As noted in the main body of this reply, Engels (and other dialecticians) appeal to various co-existent organic molecules produced in parallel chemical reactions. In that case, if they can appeal to examples like this to support their 'Law', they can hardly complain when examples of the very same phenomena are used against them.

For example, Woods and Grant (quoting Engels) list several molecules taken from Organic Chemistry, and, in this case, the qualitative differences between these organic compounds is independent of whether or not they have been derived from one another. Patently, they can exist side-by-side:


Chemistry involves changes of both a quantitative and qualitative character, both changes of degree and of state. This can clearly be seen in the change of state from gas to liquid or solid, which is usually related to variations of temperature and pressure. In Anti Dühring, Engels gives a series of examples of how, in chemistry, the simple quantitative addition of elements creates qualitatively different bodies. Since Engels' time the naming system used in chemistry has been changed. However, the change of quantity into quality is accurately expressed in the following example:

 

CH2O2   -- formic acid        boiling point 100o melting point 1o
C
2H4O2 -- acetic acid        "................."   118
o "..............."    17o
C
3H6O2 -- propionic acid  ".................."   140o ".............."    —
C
4H8O2 -- butyric acid      ".................."   162o ".............."    —
C
5H10O2-- valerianic acid  ".................."   175o ".............."    —

 

and so on to C30H60O2, melissic acid, which melts only at 80o and has no boiling point at all, because it does not evaporate without disintegrating. [Woods and Grant (1995/2007), p.52/p.57, quoting Engels (1976), p.163.]

 

These organic chemicals don't have to be made from one another for this example to work; the differences Engels noted between the various molecules he listed don't depend on them being made from precisely the same atoms, or even in the same laboratory, or at the same time.

 

[This is quite apart from the fact that the above examples, and those taken from the Periodic Table, actually refute this 'law'. Evidence and argument substantiating these controversial allegations can be found below.]

 

However, if it is still argued that "development" is the key to this 'Law', then many of the examples DM-theorists themselves use will fall by the wayside. For example, this overworked one from Engels would have to go:


In conclusion we shall call one more witness for the transformation of quantity into quality, namely -- Napoleon. He describes the combat between the French cavalry, who were bad riders but disciplined, and the Mamelukes, who were undoubtedly the best horsemen of their time for single combat, but lacked discipline, as follows:

"Two Mamelukes were undoubtedly more than a match for three Frenchmen; 100 Mamelukes were equal to 100 Frenchmen; 300 Frenchmen could generally beat 300 Mamelukes, and 1,000 Frenchmen invariably defeated 1,500 Mamelukes." [Engels (1976), p.163.]


Where is the "development" here? Does anyone imagine that Napoleon tried to pit three French soldiers against two Mamelukes, and then gradually added another ninety-eight Mamelukes and ninety-seven Frenchmen, one-by-one, to the original groupings, only to finish off by adding another two hundred to both sides? But, this is the only way that "development" could have taken place in this case!

These will have to go, too:

 

(1) The sphere, however, in which the law of nature discovered by Hegel celebrates its most important triumphs is that of chemistry. Chemistry can be termed the science of the qualitative changes of bodies as a result of changed quantitative composition. That was already known to Hegel himself (Logic, Collected Works, III, p. 488). As in the case of oxygen: if three atoms unite into a molecule, instead of the usual two, we get ozone, a body which is very considerably different from ordinary oxygen in its odour and reactions. Again, one can take the various proportions in which oxygen combines with nitrogen or sulphur, each of which produces a substance qualitatively different from any of the others! How different laughing gas (nitrogen monoxide N2O) is from nitric anhydride (nitrogen pentoxide, N2O5) ! The first is a gas, the second at ordinary temperatures a solid crystalline substance. And yet the whole difference in composition is that the second contains five times as much oxygen as the first, and between the two of them are three more oxides of nitrogen (N0, N2O3, NO2), each of which is qualitatively different from the first two and from each other. [Engels (1954), pp.64-65.]

 

(2) What qualitative difference can be caused by the quantitative addition of C3H6 is taught by experience if we consume ethyl alcohol, C2H12O, in any drinkable form without addition of other alcohols, and on another occasion take the same ethyl alcohol but with a slight addition of amyl alcohol, C5H12O, which forms the main constituent of the notorious fusel oil. One's head will certainly be aware of it the next morning, much to its detriment; so that one could even say that the intoxication, and subsequent "morning after" feeling, is also quantity transformed into quality, on the one hand of ethyl alcohol and on the other hand of this added C3H6. [Ibid., p.66.]

 

(3) Transformation of quantity into quality: the simplest example oxygen and ozone, where 2:3 produces quite different properties, even in regard to smell. Chemistry likewise explains the other allotropic bodies merely by a difference in the number of atoms in the molecule. [Ibid., p.294.]

 

(4) Quantity and quality. Number is the purest quantitative determination that we know. But it is chock-full of qualitative differences. 1. Hegel, number and unity, multiplication, division, raising to a higher power, extraction of roots. Thereby, and this is not shown in Hegel, qualitative differences already make their appearance: prime numbers and products, simple roots and powers. 16 is not merely the sum of 16 ones, it is also the square of 4, the fourth power of 2. Still more. Prime numbers communicate new, definitely determined qualities to numbers derived from them by multiplication with other numbers; only even numbers are divisible by 2, and there is a similar determination in the case of 4 and 8. For 3 there is the rule of the sum of the figures, and the same thing for 9 and also for 6, in the last case in combination with the even number. For 7 there is a special rule. These form the basis for tricks with numbers which seem incomprehensible to the uninitiated. Hence what Hegel says (Quantity, p. 237) on the absence of thought in arithmetic is incorrect. Compare, however, Measure.

 

When mathematics speaks of the infinitely large and infinitely small, it introduces a qualitative difference which even takes the form of an unbridgeable qualitative opposition: quantities so enormously different from one another that every rational relation, every comparison, between them ceases, that they become quantitatively incommensurable. Ordinary incommensurability, for instance of the circle and the straight line, is also a dialectical qualitative difference; but here it is the difference in quantity of similar magnitudes that increases the difference of quality to the point of incommensurability. [Ibid., pp.258-59.]

 

In examples (1) and (3), above, Engels notes that it is the proportion among the various elements that initiates these qualitative changes, but none of these have to "develop" from any of the others. No one imagines that every molecule of Ozone has "developed" from ordinary diatomic Oxygen. Sure, some may have done this, but not all have. But, that doesn't affect the qualitative differences here. This is even more so in the case of another of these examples: the differences between Nitric Oxide and Nitric Anhydride do not depend on one of them "developing" from the other.

 

Example (2) is more-or-less the same; the various alcohols Engels mentions do not have to be "developed" from each other for the qualitative differences to emerge. Sure, they can be made from one another, but in industrial production they typically aren't.

 

The clearest counter-example is (4); here mathematical objects can't "develop" in any meaningful sense. No one imagines -- it is to be hoped(!) -- that, for example, sixteen "develops" out of four; four manifestly doesn't change if we add twelve to it  (4 + 12 = 16), or if we multiply it by 4 (4 x 4 = 16). Look, the original four is still there on the page/screen! It hasn't developed in any way at all.

 

Someone might object and argue that, say, a collection of four apples develops into a collection of sixteen if twelve are added. Maybe so, but numbers themselves don't develop. Not even numerals do. And, of course, even in this case, the original four apples are still there; they haven't split to become sixteen apples. Moreover, numerals are very real, physical and non-abstract inscriptions on the page or screen that don't alter in any way. And, if we consider more complex examples, this point becomes even clearer. Where is the "development" in a given matrix, say, if it is multiplied by another conformable matrix? The original matrix will annoyingly remain on the page, mocking any dialectician foolish enough to believe all they have read in Hegel or Engels.

 

Moreover, infinite numbers can't be generated from the set of finite numbers. As Engels says, there is an "unbridgeable gap" between them.

 

But, even if the aforementioned organic substances were made from one another, the changes are all sudden; there is no "break in gradualness" as the DM-classicists (and others) require:

 

With this assurance Herr Dühring saves himself the trouble of saying anything further about the origin of life, although it might reasonably have been expected that a thinker who had traced the evolution of the world back to its self-equal state, and is so much at home on other celestial bodies, would have known exactly what's what also on this point. For the rest, however, the assurance he gives us is only half right unless it is completed by the Hegelian nodal line of measure relations which has already been mentioned. In spite of all gradualness, the transition from one form of motion to another always remains a leap, a decisive change. This is true of the transition from the mechanics of celestial bodies to that of smaller masses on a particular celestial body; it is equally true of the transition from the mechanics of masses to the mechanics of molecules -- including the forms of motion investigated in physics proper: heat, light, electricity, magnetism. In the same way, the transition from the physics of molecules to the physics of atoms -- chemistry -- in turn involves a decided leap; and this is even more clearly the case in the transition from ordinary chemical action to the chemism of albumen which we call life. Then within the sphere of life the leaps become ever more infrequent and imperceptible. -- Once again, therefore, it is Hegel who has to correct Herr Dühring. [Engels (1976), pp.82-83. Bold emphasis added.]

 

It is said, natura non facit saltum [there are no leaps in nature]; and ordinary thinking when it has to grasp a coming-to-be or a ceasing-to-be, fancies it has done so by representing it as a gradual emergence or disappearance. But we have seen that the alterations of being in general are not only the transition of one magnitude into another, but a transition from quality into quantity and vice versa, a becoming-other which is an interruption of gradualness and the production of something qualitatively different from the reality which preceded it. Water, in cooling, does not gradually harden as if it thickened like porridge, gradually solidifying until it reached the consistency of ice; it suddenly solidifies, all at once. It can remain quite fluid even at freezing point if it is standing undisturbed, and then a slight shock will bring it into the solid state. [Hegel (1999), p.370, §776. Bold emphases added.]

 

[I]t will be understood without difficulty by anyone who is in the least capable of dialectical thinking...[that] quantitative changes, accumulating gradually, lead in the end to changes of quality, and that these changes of quality represent leaps, interruptions in gradualness…. That is how all Nature acts…. [Plekhanov (1956), pp.74-77, 88, 163. Bold emphasis added.]

 

The 'nodal line of measure relations' ... -- transitions of quantity into quality... Gradualness and leaps. And again...that gradualness explains nothing without leaps. [Lenin (1961), p.123. Lenin added in the margin here: "Leaps! Leaps! Leaps!" Bold emphasis added.]

 

What distinguishes the dialectical transition from the undialectical transition? The leap. The contradiction. The interruption of gradualness. The unity (identity) of Being and not-Being. [Ibid., p.282. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Dialecticians call this process the transformation of quantity into quality. Slow, gradual changes that do not add up to a transformation in the nature of a thing suddenly reach a tipping point when the whole nature of the thing is transformed into something new. [Rees (2008), p.24. Bold emphasis added.]

 

The argument here is plainly this: (1) Quantitative increase in matter or energy results in gradual change, and hence that (2) At a certain point, further increase breaks this "gradualness" inducing a "leap", a sudden "qualitative" change.

 

But, this doesn't happen in the Organic compounds mentioned above, nor does it take place in the Periodic Table (another over-used DM-example). Between each substance or element there is no gradual increase in atoms, or in protons and electrons, leading to a sudden change -- there are only sudden changes as 'particles' or atoms are added. For example, as one proton and one electron are added to Hydrogen, it suddenly changes into Helium. Hydrogen doesn't slowly alter and then suddenly "leap" and become Helium. The same is true of every other element in the Table. Hence, one of the 'best' examples dialecticians use to 'illustrate' this 'Law' in fact refutes it! There is no "interruption" in gradualness anywhere in sight.

 

Indeed, between each of organic molecule and the next there is no gradual increase in atoms leading to a sudden change -- once again, there are only sudden changes as 'atoms are added! For example, as one atom of carbon and two atoms of hydrogen are added to Butyric Acid, it  suddenly changes into Valeric Acid. Butyric Acid doesn't slowly alter and then suddenly "leap" and become Valeric Acid. The same is true of every other molecule in similar series. In that case, another of the 'best' examples dialecticians use to 'illustrate' their 'Law' in fact refutes it! There is no "interruption" in gradualness, here, either.

 

Finally, dialecticians like to use this 'Law' to argue that as one rises in the orders of existence (from the molecular level and higher) this change in 'quantity' (but, exactly which quantity has changed here?) passes over into 'quality'.

 

Have read Hofmann. For all its faults, the latest chemical theory does represent a great advance on the old atomistic theory. The molecule as the smallest part of matter capable of independent existence is a perfectly rational category, a 'nodal point', as Hegel calls it, in the infinite progression of subdivisions, which does not terminate it, but marks a qualitative change. The atom -- formerly represented as the limit of divisibility -- is now but a state, although Monsieur Hofmann himself is forever relapsing into the old idea that indivisible atoms really exist. For the rest, the advances in chemistry that this book records are truly enormous, and Schorlemmer says that this revolution is still going on day by day, so that new upheavals can be expected daily. [Engels to Marx, 16/06/1867, in Marx and Engels (1975), p.175. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Now, there is no way that this can be squeezed into the 'more energy/matter added to the same body/development' straight-jacket. What energy/matter is fed in here?

For example, in Reason in Revolt, comrades Woods and Grant include different levels in reality as different quantities, or qualities (but, again, it isn't too clear which is which):


Newton's dynamics were quite sufficient to explain large-scale phenomena but broke down for systems of atomic dimensions. Indeed, classical mechanics are still valid for most operations which do not involve very high speeds or processes which take place at the subatomic level. Quantum mechanics...represented a qualitative leap in science.... But for a long time it met with a stubborn resistance, precisely because its results clashed head-on with the traditional mode of thinking and the laws of formal logic. [Woods and Grant (1995/2007), pp.53-54/p.59.]


However, the fact that there is a "qualitative" difference between Classical and Quantum Mechanics can't be put down to anything obviously quantitative, either. Or, at least, if it can, Woods and Grant unwisely forgot to say what that was. [The 'quantity' of magnification, perhaps? But, again: where is the energy/matter input into the system?]

And note, too, that such levels are compared with each other even though they don't "develop" into one another. Indeed, what would it be for microscopic particles to "develop" into macroscopic objects? Do electrons, for instance, grow in size?


In that case, the objection to many of the counter-examples listed in my Essays (that they aren't relevant because the first 'Law' only applies to objects and processes in "development"/"transformation") cannot now be maintained. DM-theorists use the above 'difference in levels' all the time -- for example, in arguing about determinism, or about the emergence of life and/or mind from matter --, and regularly connect these to the first 'Law'.

 

Once more, they can't consistently complain if my counter-examples aren't all "developmental", either.

Here is another related example:


At a certain point, the concatenation of circumstances causes a qualitative leap whereby inorganic matter gives rise to organic matter. The difference between inorganic and organic matter is only relative. Modern science is well on the way to discovering exactly how the latter arises from the former. Life itself consists of atoms organised in a certain way. We are all a collection of atoms but not "merely" a collection of atoms. In the astonishingly complex arrangement of our genes, we have an infinite number of possibilities. The task of allowing each individual to develop these possibilities to the fullest extent is the real task of socialism....

The enormous complexity of the human brain is one of the reasons why idealists have attempted to surround the phenomenon of mind with a mystical aura. Knowledge of the details of individual neurons, axons and synapses, is not sufficient to explain the phenomenon of thought and emotion. However, there is nothing mystical about it. In the language of complexity theory, both mind and life are emergent phenomena. In the language of dialectics, the leap from quantity to quality means that the whole possesses qualities which cannot be deduced from the sum of the parts or reduced to it. None of the neurons is itself conscious. Yet the sum total of neurons and their connections are. Neural networks are non-linear dynamical systems. It is the complex activity and interactions between the neurons which produce the phenomenon we call consciousness. [Ibid., pp.55-56/p.61.]


It isn't just quantity that is important here, it is organisation and complexity.


We find Engels appeals to this sort of change, too:

 

If we imagine any non-living body cut up into smaller and smaller portions, at first no qualitative change occurs. But this has a limit: if we succeed, as by evaporation, in obtaining the separate molecules in the free state, then it is true that we can usually divide these still further, yet only with a complete change of quality. The molecule is decomposed into its separate atoms, which have quite different properties from those of the molecule. In the case of molecules composed of various chemical elements, atoms or molecules of these elements themselves make their appearance in the place of the compound molecule; in the case of molecules of elements, the free atoms appear, which exert quite distinct qualitative effects: the free atoms of nascent oxygen are easily able to effect what the atoms of atmospheric oxygen, bound together in the molecule, can never achieve.

 

But the molecule is also qualitatively different from the mass of the body to which it belongs. It can carry out movements independently of this mass and while the latter remains apparently at rest, e.g. heat oscillations; by means of a change of position and of connection with neighbouring molecules it can change the body into an allotrope or a different state of aggregation.

 

Thus we see that the purely quantitative operation of division has a limit at which it becomes transformed into a qualitative difference: the mass consists solely of molecules, but it is something essentially different from the molecule, just as the latter is different from the atom. It is this difference that is the basis for the separation of mechanics, as the science of heavenly and terrestrial masses, from physics, as the mechanics of the molecule, and from chemistry, as the physics of the atom. [Engels (1954), p.64.]

 

Neither in the imagination nor in the material world is any energy or matter added to, or subtracted from, the said bodies, nor do they "develop" or "transform".

 

Am I being anti-materialist for pointing these rather obvious things out?

 

3. Sure, some of that energy will appear as heat (and/or perhaps sound), and will warm the said case slightly. But, that energy won't be stored in this case; it won't appear there as chemically recoverable (i.e., as structural, or new bond) energy.

 

4. It could be argued that there is a difference in matter and/or energy in relation to this can, namely the ring pull and the escaping gases near the opening. That is undeniable, but is it significant? What causes the change in quality is the Widget, not the ring pull. This can be seen by the fact that in cans where there is no Widget, the above doesn't happen.

However, someone could still object that the above differences in matter/energy are relevant to the subsequent change in quality; after all, they set in motion those very changes.

 

There are several problems with this response. First: as we saw in Essay Seven, there is no question-begging way to define the energy locale (the thermodynamic volume interval) of such DM-changes.

 

Second: it is questionable that the removal of a ring pull, and the loss of small quantities of vapour amounts to the addition/removal of matter or energy from the beer/Widget ensemble itself. This consideration, naturally, raises issues also touched on in Essay Seven, and above. What exactly is the 'dialectical object' that is undergoing change here? Until we are told, this counter-objection itself can't succeed. Even after we are told, that response can't help but beg the question itself (as noted above), for it will be plain that any new demarcation lines will have been drawn in order to save this 'Law', making it eminently subjective. [In other words, it will have been "foisted" on nature.]

 

Finally: after the ring pull has been removed, and the small quantity of vapour has escaped, the beer/Widget ensemble will undergo a qualitative change for no new matter or energy input into that 'ring pull-less' system, violating the first 'Law'. Anyone who objects to the 'line' being drawn just here (i.e., corralling this system at the Widget/beer boundary just after the ring pull has been removed) will need to advance objective criteria for it to be re-drawn somewhere else.

 

Now, if that boundary is re-drawn to include the removed ring pull and the escaped vapour, then, once more, no new energy or matter will have been added to that system (i.e., the beer/Widget/ring-pull/vapour ensemble) even while it will have undergone a qualitative change.

 

[Once more, this is just a particular example of the general point made in Essay Seven.]

 

Incidentally, the same comments apply to similar objections made to the Bombardier Beetle example given above.

 

Anyway, the aforementioned ring-pull could be removed by a battery-operated device inside the can, controlled by an internal timer, meaning that the resulting change in quality will have been occasioned by no new energy added to the can/beer/widget/battery-device system. And, of course, there are plenty of such systems already in use. For example, electronic alarm clocks run on internal batteries; when they change in 'quality' from ticking to ringing, no new matter/energy will have been added to the clock. The same is true of most battery operated devices, or, indeed, of any system with its own internal energy source (and that includes motor vehicles, aeroplanes, ships, lap-top computers, cell phones, etc., etc.).

 

Put that beetle in a box, too, and worry it with a timed device, and the beetle/box/worrying-device system will still alter qualitatively for no new energy added.

 

5. The Necker Cube looks like this:

 

Figure Two: The Necker Cube

 

6. It could be argued that there will be small energy changes in the individual concerned. Maybe so, but that response itself is subject to the rebuttals advanced in Note Four, above.

 

References

 

Engels, F. (1954), Dialectics Of Nature (Progress Publishers).

 

--------, (1976), Anti-Dühring (Foreign Languages Press).

 

Grossman, L. (2011), 'Neutrinos Point To A New Reality', New Scientist 211, 2823, 01/10/11, pp.7-9.

 

Hegel, G. (1975), Logic, translated by William Wallace (Oxford University Press, 3rd ed.).

 

--------, (1999), Science Of Logic (Humanity Books).

 

Lenin, V. (1961), Philosophical Notebooks, Collected Works, Volume 38 (Progress Publishers).

 

Marx, K. and Engels, F. (1975), Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, 3rd ed.).

 

Plekhanov, G. (1956), The Development Of The Monist View Of History (Progress Publishers). This is reprinted in Plekhanov (1974), pp.480-737.

 

--------, (1974), Selected Philosophical Works, Volume One (Progress Publishers, 2nd ed.).

 

Rees, J. (2008), 'Q Is For Quantity And Quality', Socialist Review 330, November 2008, p.24.

 

Trotsky, L. (1971), In Defense Of Marxism (New Park Publications).

 

Webb, R. (2011), 'Notorious Big', New Scientist 210, 2808, 23/04/2011, pp.44-47. [The on-line article has a different title.]

 

Woods, A., and Grant, T. (1995/2007), Reason In Revolt. Marxism And Modern Science (Wellred Publications 1st/2nd edd.). [The on-line text still appears to be the first edition.]

 

Latest Update: 01/09/16

 

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