Summary Of Essay Eleven Parts One And Two: Totality
This material is now badly out-of-date. Visitors are encouraged to read the updated summaries, here and here.
In this Essay, the aim is to show that the refusal/failure by DM-theorists to say what they mean by the word "Totality" fatally undermines their entire theory, turning it either into a crude form of Conventionalism or into a confused version of Phenomenalism.
The author of TAR, for example, simply says that:
"Totality refers to the insistence that the various seemingly separate elements of which the world is composed are in fact related to each other." [Rees (1998), p.5.]
This can't be right since it tells us that the "Totality" is an "insistence", which if it were --, and as the word suggests --, it would have to be foisted on nature.
When pressed, dialecticians sometimes appeal to "nature" (or perhaps "the Universe") as a physical embodiment of the "Totality", but this is of little help. As we will soon see, such vague gestures allow in far too many things one would normally prefer to keep out.
This response also leaves out of consideration the past. The past is surely part of nature, and the universe, one supposes. But, clearly, the past does not exist (except for those with a novel take on the word "exist"). And yet, if the past is included as part of the "Totality", then the latter will contain many things that do not exist. This might make it difficult to explain how everything in the "Totality" is interconnected. Clearly, no matter how big the Universe now is, most things that have featured in it at some point did so in the past. If so, items in the present "Totality" must be interconnected with far more non-existent things than existents. The word "interconnected" would then become rather difficult to account for in physical terms.
If now the past is said the be interconnected with the present as a result of certain processes that stretch into the past, then that would mean that while those processes are connected with things in the past, the past is not actually interconnected with the present (unless we allow 'backwards' causation, where the present is back-connected with the non-existent past). At best, that would mean that the vast bulk of the "Totality" would not be interconnected, as we were led to believe.
On the other hand, if the past is said to exist (as part of a sort of Einsteinian four-dimensional manifold) then that would scupper the dialectical belief in change. This is because there is no objective change in such a world. On this view, change is the result of our subjective perception of how successive orthogonal hyperplane slices through this manifold seem to be related to one another.
And even if that is rejected, then most of the Totality would still be changeless. If the past does exist somehow, it could not change (into what?). That would mean that the vast bulk of the "Totality" would be frozen like Plato's Forms.
Alternatively, if the existence of the past is rejected, then dialecticians might find it difficult to account for the present. How can anything non-existent create all that now exists? That would be worse than believing in 'God'.
Of course, the same sort of problems afflict the "Totality" in relation to the both present and the future. Given that the present lasts only a moment (easily less than a yocto second, i.e., 10-24 seconds), it is surely far too ephemeral to be interconnected with anything -- if the "Totality" consists of only the present state of the Universe. It is hard to see how such a ghostly entity could account for anything. And if the present is interconnected with anything, what is it? It can't be the past; that does not exist. It can't be the future either, for the same reason.
It rather looks like the DM-"Totality" is even less substantial than the Cheshire Cat's smile.
[Possible responses to these and other objections are considered in detail in Essay Eleven, Part One.]
More significantly, DM-theorists have in general failed to inform us just how they know that there is only one "Totality" (as opposed to two, or ten thousand). Nor have they revealed how they are quite so sure that everything belongs to the same "Totality".
Appealing to the BBT here will do no good since that just accounts for the origin of our universe (although some scientists and Marxists reject this theory; on this see, for example, here, and here), not the "Totality" (for which we are still owed so much as even a vague DM-gesture, let alone anything like a clear definition).
[BBT = Big Bang Theory.]
Nor will it do to appeal to what the word "Totality" itself means (i.e., "everything") -- unless, that is, those aiming to do so openly admit to trying to derive another substantive truth about nature from the supposed meaning of yet another word.
Of course, if there are a few brave DM-fans who still want to link their "Totality" to whatever the Big Bang produced, then they would, it seems, have to accept that they live in that changeless four-dimensional manifold mentioned above.
Moreover, the word "everything" is a little too loose a word to use in political company, since it would allow the "Totality" to contain some rather odd items. [On this see below.]
Some might want to refer us to scientists to tell us what the "Totality" is; but that might not be such a good idea. If we naively relied on what scientists have at some point told us exists then the "Totality" would contain things like Caloric, Phlogiston, Piltdown Man and the Crystalline Spheres (as well as numerous other peculiar objects and processes that scientists used to swear once existed).
On the other hand, if the "Totality" does not contain these things (any longer?) then either (1) the "Totality" must have changed in the past in line with our ideas about it, or (2) scientists shouldn't be allowed the sole right to decide what its contents are.
But, if scientists are now refused exclusive rights in this area, then one can only sympathise with the poor comrade who has to sit on the 'revolutionary selection panel' charged with deciding whether any of the following belong to the "Totality", or not:
Vacua, mirages, illusions, holes, surfaces, corners, shadows, the 'Unconscious', mirror and lens images, para-reflections, the perspectival properties of bodies, phantom limbs, dreams, rainbows, refractions, pains, hallucinations, memories, emotions, the Ether, N Rays, The Odic Force, Orgone, the Fifth Force, Bioenergy, Polywater, Superstrings, branched time zones, Axions, Branes, the Higgs Boson, virtual particles, particles themselves, selfish genes, I.Q., race, Morphogenic Fields, homeopathic phenomena, 'Mitochondrial Eve', the Placebo effect, gravitons, tachyons, Gaia, singularities, geodesics, gravitational waves, electrons travelling 'backward' in time, magnetic monopoles, tetraneutrons, phase space, photinos, dark matter, the Field, world-lines, Strange Attractors, Cold Fusion, MACHOs, WIMPS, spinors, the future, the past and the specious present. [Reference to what many of these are is given in Essay Eleven Part One, here.]
However, without such a panel, the DM-"Totality" would be as Ideal as Hegel's Absolute ever was (or it would largely be empty). On the other hand, even with such a panel, the "Totality" would be sensitive to human choice -- and thus as conventional as other areas of science are.
Moreover, if Lenin is right and all knowledge is provisional (and it is worth recalling here that Lenin himself described the existence of the Ether as "objective" [Lenin (1972), pp.50, 312, 314, 329]), then the "Totality" would have to change whenever its contents list was revised (as indeed it might have to do soon, given the fact that the Higgs Boson is barely clinging onto its theoretical life right now, as it seems is 'Dark Matter', too). Naturally, that will mean that this supposedly objective "Totality" must change in line with the decisions we take, making it even more identical to Hegel's Absolute. On the other hand, if the "Totality" does not change in line with our decisions about it, what on earth is it?
Given the fact that some scientists are beginning to think that the Ether should be re-introduced into Physics (details are given in Essay Eleven, here) this seems to mean therefore that the "Totality" has its own sort of metaphysical revolving door, as it were, in order to accommodate the changing roll-call nominated by constitutionally fickle scientists.
But worse, if we can't decide on what basis to include or exclude things from this avowedly contradictory "Totality", then perhaps it includes things that not only do not exist, but things that cannot exist?
This latest possibility now poses far more serious problems for any attempt to construct an Ontological Definition of the "Totality". This is because several DM-theses indicate that the 'perimeter fence' (as it were) encircling the "Totality" is full of holes.
While rival ontological systems operate with some sort of closed-border policy -- admitting the existence of certain entities, but disallowing others -- it turns out that DM-theorists may not reject anything at all, since they openly admit (if not adamantly insist upon) the existence of contradictions -- and countless trillions of them (indeed, possibly hundreds, if not thousands, in each atom in the entire universe)!
Hence, the 'DM-boundary fence' is not so much porous as non-existent. The "Totality", it seems, could contain anything, including impossible objects -- not just contradictory objects and processes, but mythical and imaginary ones, too. Maybe it includes four-edged hexagons, the round square, the golden mountain, unicorns, all the Olympian Gods, the end of the rainbow and the Adhedral Triangle?
Anyone tempted to respond here that the above list is absurd since it contains contradictory items, which can be ruled out in advance, should once more consult their local DM-oracle before they pontificate quite so hastily in future. In fact, given well-known DM-principles, it is not easy to see how any of the above (and more) could be rejected on such an a priori basis.
Thus, if the DM-"Totality" is to be rescued from absurdity some way must be found to stop these and countless other 'impossibles' before they cross its leaky border.
It could be objected here that this is ridiculous; dialecticians only acknowledge the existence of contradictions that can be empirically verified. Hence, they do not countenance the actuality of 'theoretical' contradictions, nor do they admit the mere existence of all 'contradictory', imaginary, and impossible objects.
But, this counter-claim is demonstrably incorrect. [This claim is substantiated in detail in Essay Seven, and Essay Eleven Part One.]
Again, it could be argued that 'contradictory objects' are easily excluded because they are not material and do not represent verifiable material forces. But who says? How do we know that scientists might not one day discover weird and wonderful things like these? They already have a few of their own to contend with; several of these were listed above. Electrons travelling backwards in time, and events happening before they occur seem pretty absurd.
[UO = Unity of Opposites; DL = Dialectical Logic; FL = Formal Logic.]
Worse still: such possibilities cannot be ruled out by anyone wielding principles found only in DL -- because of those, DM-theorists openly admit the existence of countless contradictions and other assorted impossibilities. [On this, see below.]
In fact, if everything in existence is a UO (as Lenin claimed) then there should be as many contradictions in reality as there are elementary particles (possibly more). In that case, the above 'impossibilities' cannot be ruled out in advance of all the evidence having been considered, certainly not on principles exclusive to DL.
Of course, DM-theorists already acknowledge the actual existence of contradictory objects and processes prior to all (or even most, or even a tiny fraction) of the evidence has been amassed (and in many cases in abeyance of any evidence) since they view (nay, insist that) everything as(is) a UO. If this is so, then for all they know the Totality could contain these and other absurdities. If, according to DM, an infinite amount of knowledge awaits future discovery, then at any point in history (such as the present) humanity must be infinitely ignorant of the final contents of -- and the principles governing -- the universe. That being so no, one in the grip of this Hermetic virus is in any position to rule such absurdities out. The only way these could be excluded is by an appeal to principles exclusive to FL -- and on a basis of rules of language that are incompatible with those found in DL.
As we have already seen (in connection with Engels's analysis of motion, and several other core DM-theses, here, here and here), DM-theoreticians already admit the existence of contradictory objects and events. Examples of these include the unity of opposite poles in a magnet, 'contradictory' opposing forces throughout nature, contradictory moving objects, contradictory numbers and mathematical concepts, seeds which negate themselves, the existence of actual infinities (that is, the existence of something which both terminates (so that it is an existent) and does not), the fundamentally contradictory nature of matter (in that it is both wave and particle, continuous and discontinuous, all at once), and contradictory cells (in that they are both alive and dead at the same time), and so on.
As Lenin noted:
"[Among the elements of dialectics are the following:] [I]nternally contradictory tendencies…in [a thing]…as the sum and unity of opposites…. [E]ach thing (phenomenon, process, etc.)…is connected with every other…. [This involves] not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other….
"In brief, dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence of dialectics….
"The splitting of the whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the 'essentials', one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristic features) of dialectics….
"In mathematics: + and -. Differential and integral. In mechanics: action and reaction. In physics: positive and negative electricity. In chemistry: the combination and dissociation of atoms….
"The identity of opposites…is the recognition…of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature…. The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their 'self-movement', in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the 'struggle' of opposites…. [This] alone furnishes the key to the self-movement of everything existing….
"The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…." [Lenin (1961), pp.221-22, 357-58. Emphases in the original.]
This means that DM-theorists cannot consistently exclude any of the contradictory and unlikely entities listed earlier solely on the basis of their contradictory natures. Theorists who postulate contradictions everywhere, but who suddenly become arbitrarily fastidious about them just when it suits their 'theory', should not be expected to be taken seriously.
But, what could be more contradictory than a "Totality" that perhaps admits among its denizens things that not only do not exist (like the past), but also those that cannot exist (like abstractions, since if they exist they must be concrete)?
Unfortunately, once this metaphysical roller-coaster starts moving it takes something a little more substantial than DL to stop it.
If DM is not to be imposed on the world, but read from it -- as its supporters constantly intone -- then, as it now turns out, DM-advocates cannot consistently stipulate what their "Totality" does or does not contain ahead of an empirical investigation to that end.
Others might be able to do this, but they cannot.
This is their millstone; they should wear it with pride.
Hence any attempt to rule out of existence one or more of the contradictory objects listed above would trap DM-theorist between that millstone and yet another hard place: FL.
Now, those of us who are not wedded to a crazy system of logic -- i.e., DL -- not only can, but do in fact, rule out of existence certain things because of principles expressed in FL and/or in ordinary language. And we are right to do so.
[However, it is better to say that it makes no sense to suppose such things exist.]
On similar grounds we may legitimately and consistently deny the veracity of DM-propositions that report the existence of 'contradictions' in nature, as has been done in these Essays.
However, that avenue is closed-off to DM-theorists who claim that humanity has to wait upon the deliverances of their infinite meander through epistemological space (and toward 'Absolute Knowledge') before anyone is in a position to decide whether such propositions are fully true.
If so, dialecticians may not now complain about the allegation that their "Totality" might contain some or all of the odd things listed above -- the possible existence of which is predicated on the cavalier DM-rejection of the protocols of FL and ordinary language.
The dilemma that DM-theorists now face is quite stark: either they continue to disdain FL -- the repudiation of which partially created this problem --, thus admitting the possible existence of all manner of contradictory objects, events and processes; or they reject the existence of such things (and abandon the idea that contradictions exist in nature) because of rules codified in FL and expressed discursively in ordinary language.
What seems certain, however, is that the unwise rejection of specific tenets of FL has left the DM-"Totality" wide open to infestation by countless weird and wonderful 'entities', the elimination of which requires rapid inoculation with a belated dose of those very same FL-tenets, and the adoption of a believable/workable theory of knowledge.
Hence, as a result of yet another dialectical inversion, FL would be required to rescue DM-theorists from the contradictory "Totality" they summoned into existence; a Whole that could include, for all we know -- or for all they know -- the complete Hindu pantheon, all the Norse gods, the departed spirits of the entire Apache nation, and possibly even the Evil One Himself.
[It is important to note here that I accept that human society and history can quite rightly be viewed scientifically as a total system, as a whole; but we do not need to use obscure Hegelian ideas to conclude that. Remember, these Essays are primarily attacking the idea that there is a dialectic in nature; in that case, whether there is a totality in human affairs is not open to doubt.]
The Contradictory Totality
Other themes are examined in detail in this Essay: (1) the universally confused use of the word "contradiction" in DM-texts (where it is often confused with "contrary"); and (2) the belief that everything is interconnected.
Criticism of (1) is partly based on the observation that if nature is fundamentally contradictory then any evidence drawn from the world must simultaneously refute and confirm the predictions of whatever theory is being tested. The options available to DM-theorists to paint their way out of this corner are examined in detail; all are shown to fail.
The best spin that can be put on this whole idea is that in DM-propositions containing the word "contradiction" must be figurative -- unless, that is, we are to suppose that objects and processes in nature and society literally argue with one another, anthropomorphising reality to suite.
Moreover, contrary to what is usually claimed, the LOC makes no existential claims; it merely says that if one proposition is true its contradictory is false. [This works with non-existents, too: the proposition that Sherlock Holmes is a detective is contradicted by the proposition that he is not.] To be sure, dialecticians reject this (where it suits them), but they can do so only on the basis of the above figurative extension to the content of sentences using the word "contradiction".
[LOC = Law of Non-Contradiction.]
In response to this, it is of little help being told that "contradiction" really means "conflict" or "struggle" since these words gain whatever sense they have from their use in connection with agents. In which case, unless we are prepared to populate the entire universe with literal agents, sentences containing the words "conflict" or "struggle" can only be understood figuratively, too. Hence, it is not possible to make literal sense of the use of the word "contradiction" in dialectics.
The etymology of the word "conflict", from the Latin, supports this view: conflictus: 'a contest', is defined here.
[Of course, this is not to deny that there are profound and fundamental conflicts in class society; but here there are agents -- and they can contradict one another, just as they can enter into conflict with one another, and thus power the class war.]
Finally, it is difficult to see how such figurative "contradictions" could actually cause change -- any more than, say, the depiction of an uncouth man as a "pig" can create rashers of bacon.
Interconnected -- Or Hermetically Sealed Units?
As far as (2) is concerned, serious questions are raised as to how DM-theorists can possibly know that everything in reality is interconnected, what the boundaries are to this claim (Is the past included? If not, how can the present be explained?) and what exactly is the nature of these interconnections. Are they instantaneous, across all regions of space and time? If so, how might this be confirmed? If not, what are their limits? Are they transmitted faster than light?
These worries are then linked to concerns raised in Essay Eight Part One: if everything is indeed interconnected, change cannot arise from "internal contradictions", as DM-theorists insist. Conversely, if change does result from a dynamic internal to each object and process, nothing in the universe could be interconnected (except in the most trivial of senses). [More details can be found here.]
The Whole Truth?
Furthermore, DM-holism has more holes in it than a New Labour Intelligence Dossier. TAR depicts this doctrine as follows:
"In a dialectical system, the entire nature of the part is determined by its relationships with the other parts and so with the whole. The part makes the whole, and the whole makes the parts…. In this analysis, it is not just the case that the whole is more than the sum of the parts but also that the parts become more than they are individually by being part of a whole…. [F]or dialectical materialists the whole is more than the simple sum of its parts." [Rees (1998), pp.5, 77.]
However, DM-holism rests on little more than a few trite and superficial maxims (such as "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts", etc.); in this case, therefore, profound truths about nature will now have been derived from a handful of catch phrases. Not only do these home-spun proverbs fall apart on examination, they are not even empirically true -- many examples are given in Essay Eleven Part Two where material parts are greater than wholes.
One or two instances will suffice here:
(1) If a set of non-zero forces is aligned in a couple so that their resultant is zero, then each part is greater than the whole (which is zero), and on one view the whole is equal to, but not greater than the sum of the parts. On another, it is less than the sum of the parts (the whole being zero).
(2) Imagine a rope that is made from, say, 1000 strands of material and each strand is, say, 0.5 metres long. Assume that these strands overlap one another for approximately 90% of their length. Collectively, because of this overlap, the fibres stretch (as part of the whole rope) for only 50 metres. However, the sum of the lengths of these strands taken individually is 500 metres -- which would be their total length had they not been woven into that rope. Here the whole is considerably less than the sum of the parts (even if the strength of the rope is equal to but not greater than the sum of the individual strengths of the parts).
Indeed, every item of clothing is a counter-example to this trite rule, for in each case the total length of all the strands of fibre constituting any garment is greater than the length of that garment as a whole. And what goes for garments goes for most manufactured goods, as well, just as it applies to the parts of organisms: hence, the total length of all the muscle fibres in a wombat, say, is greater than the length of a whole wombat. And we need not stop at fury rodents: the total length of all the xylem tubes in a tree is greater than the length of that tree, and so on.
Finally, of course, the universe is equal to, but not greater than the sum of its parts.
It is only the extremely vague use of terms in dialectics that allows these counterexamples to stand. Of course, if the definitions dialecticians use were tightened to exclude these and other examples, we would once again have a DM-thesis made true (in a thoroughly traditional way) by yet more linguistic tinkering.
Furthermore, it is not too clear how the very same part can be "more" than it used to be before it was incorporated into the whole of which it is a part -- if this were true, it would not be the same part. Of course, if "the entire nature of the part is determined by its relationships with the other parts and so with the whole", then it cannot be the same part anyway, or even remotely like it.
Moreover, it is also far from clear how anything could become "more" than it used to be before it was incorporated into the whole of which it is a part, since everything is always part of the "Totality", and since its "entire nature" is "determined by its relationships with the other parts and so with the whole", its entire nature must determined by its relation to the "Totality" either side of incorporation into any sub-whole.
In addition, it is not easy to see how a whole could be greater than the sum of its parts if that whole did not exist before the parts became its parts. It is not as if the whole was a certain size (or whatever) before it had any parts, but then grew larger (or whatever) when it gained them. But, if not, then what is the force of words like "greater" or "more", here? What becomes "greater", or "more", and in what respect?
Of course, those committed to a belief in this sort of Holism often appeal to the existence of organic composites wherein the parts interconnect, so that, for example, a heart in a living organism is "more" than it would have been had it not been part of that organism.
But, in nature, no actual heart is related to organisms in this way; all normal hearts are parts of such animals from day one. No one supposes that hearts somehow sneak into living bodies and thus become "more" as a result of this underhand invasion. So how can such hearts be "more" if they were never "less"? And, when invasive surgery (etc.) is taken into account, are we to say that a heart waiting transplantation into a new body, for instance, is less of a heart? Why transplant it then? Or that blood waiting transfusion is not really blood? Where do we stop? Are artificial legs not legs until they are attached? Is a coat not a coat until it is worn?
The few examples DM-Holists produce in support of their theory are also shown to fail (as we saw with respect to the heart example, above). Indeed, if the entire nature of each part were dependent on the whole, and vice versa, human beings would experience significant changes every time they had their hair cut, teeth drilled or nails trimmed.
Worse still, mundane events like these would have profound effects on distant stars and galaxies (if everything is interconnected and if the entire nature of each part is dependent on the whole, and vice versa). Does anyone believe this? If not, what is the point of asserting the trite maxims beloved of DM-holists? Are they merely being whimsical?
It could also be argued that even if the entire nature of each part in the "Totality" is determined by its relation to other parts and the whole, that does not mean that all such influences are of equal significance. In that case, parts that are separated by billions of light years, say, would have vanishingly small effects on each another, which could safely be ignored because of their negligible impact.
This response would be effective if it had been made by anyone other than a DM-fan. This is because they hold that these 'influences' are not external and/or causal, but "internal" and dialectical-logical. This means that remoteness has no effect on the inter-linkages imagined to exist part on part, whole on part or whole on whole.
Consider a legitimate logical connection: are husband and wife less married if one goes off on a world cruise, or into outer space? Consider another, is a mile on Jupiter shorter than one on Earth?
[DB = The Dialectical Biologist, i.e., Levins and Lewontin (1985).]
More specifically, Rees and other DM-theorists provide few concrete examples to illustrate the rule they claim operates between parts and wholes throughout the universe, instances that would suggest they are dialectically linked in the intended manner. However, one example that Rees does mention was in fact lifted from DB, and even this turns out to be a rather unhappy choice. As we saw above, this particular explication of the part/whole relation is itself connected to the following (hackneyed) formula that Holists incant from generation to generation:
"For dialectical materialists the whole is more than the simple sum of its parts." [Rees (1998), p.77.]
To this the authors of DB added:
"The fact is that the parts have properties that are characteristic of them only as they are parts of wholes; the properties come into existence in the interactions that makes the whole. A person cannot fly by flapping her arms simultaneously. But people do fly, as a consequence of the social organisation that has created airplanes, pilots and fuel. It is not that society flies, however, but individuals in society, who have acquired a property they do not have outside society. The limitations of individual physical beings are negated by social interactions. The whole, thus, is not simply the object of interaction of the parts but is the subject of action of the parts." [Levins and Lewontin (1985), p.273.]
The general idea appears to be that novel properties "emerge" (out of nowhere, it seems; they certainly cannot be reduced to the microstructures of each part, according to Rees: TAR, pp.5-8) because of the new relationships that parts enter into as they become parts of wholes; this will be examined presently.
The above passage seems to be claiming that when human beings act as individuals (or, is it in less developed social wholes?) they lack certain properties --, in this case, that of flight. Nevertheless, as a result of their social organization, human beings apparently gain this new 'property' collectively -- even though as individuals they still cannot fly. The conclusion (if there is one) seems to be that as a result of economic and social development (etc.) people acquire characteristics that they would not have had otherwise --, which appears to indicate that when they are appropriately socially-organised human beings become "more" than they would have been otherwise.
But, in what sense are human beings "more" than they were before flight became possible? Manifestly, they still cannot fly. They do not sprout wings, develop engines or grow sophisticated landing gear.
The only way that human beings would be "more" than they used to be would be as a group. Hence, as a group, humanity would now have a 'property' that they did not used to have, that of flight. Of course, human beings as a group still cannot fly; clearly it is the machines they build that take off! So, humanity itself still lacks this 'property'.
If it is now argued that humans can do something they could not do before (namely, fly through space), even this is not entirely correct. Since we now know that the earth moves, humanity has in fact been travelling through space for hundreds of thousands of years.
Again, it could be countered that since the invention of balloons and aeroplanes, human beings can do things earlier generations could not: leave the surface of the earth at will, and move about the place at great speed, flying to destinations that would have been unimaginable over 100 years ago.
But, once more, it is only in aeroplanes (etc.) that they can do this. If this is so, it still seems that it isn't humanity which has this new 'property', but the new artefacts (i.e., these aeroplanes, whose properties are reducible to their parts –- try taking off without engines made of heat resistant materials, for example) that they have built which do. Human beings just hitch a ride, as it were. So what exactly is the new 'property' they have gained? The ability to hitch new sorts of rides? Or, perhaps form queues at check-in desks?
Moreover, whatever meaning can be given to the "more" that these passengers supposedly become, it can't have resulted from the part/whole relation. This is because immediately before or after flight finally became possible, no new wholes or parts actually came into existence -- nor did these parts and allegedly novel wholes become newly related. Did anyone notice anything new about humanity as a whole just as the Wright Brothers took off on the 17th of December 1903? Hence, even if the hackneyed saying above were true, this would not be one of its exemplars.
It could be objected here that the above is incorrect. The point is that as the forces and relations of production develop human beings enter into new relations with one another, ones that generate novel capacities and possibilities that were unavailable to them in earlier modes of production.
Now, this way of putting things will not be controverted here, but it is worth pointing out that this HM-style re-formulation only works because the part-whole metaphysic has been dropped. This can be seen by the way that the language used in the above rejoinder only becomes available when the unhelpful metaphysical notions under review in this Essay have been discarded. There is no mystery about the details of the social organisation of production and the new capacities it makes available to human beings. This has nothing to do with 'parts' and 'wholes', for reasons given in previous paragraphs.
Summarising the above DM-claims, we have:
G1: The entire nature of a part is determined by its relation with the other parts and with the whole.
G2: The part makes the whole and the whole makes the parts.
G3: The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
G4: Each part becomes more when it is part of a whole than it would otherwise have been (individually) apart from that whole.
Despite this, it is worth wondering how the above aeronautical scenario (from DB) could be made consistent with G1. Are we really meant to believe that the entire nature of passenger NN, say, is determined by her relationship with the aeroplane she has just boarded? [Or is it some other whole? The airport? The travel company that booked the flight? The part of the continent she is in?]
Conversely, is the nature of this or any other new aeroplane/passenger ensemble determined in return by passenger NN? What if she missed the flight and passenger MM had taken her place? Would the aeroplane itself be any different? Would the other passengers?
And, in all this, where is the part and where the whole? Is the entire nature of an airline passenger determined by his/her relation with the aeroplane, the Airline, the Airport, the flight controller, the factory that built the aeroplane, the other passengers, the man at the check-in desk (and his sick grandmother), the entire earth and its history, the cluster of galaxies of which ours is a part…?
Which parts and which wholes are in the end entirely constitutive of, say, passenger NM in seat 26 -- minus his toupee and copy of The Da Vinci Code? What if he hadn't have forgotten either? And, is the aeroplane more of an aeroplane because there are 100 people on board as opposed to 99? Is the airport itself greater than it would otherwise have been had passenger MN not checked in last Sunday at 19:02?
[Richard Lewontin is a great scientist, so it is rather dismaying to see him accept the validity of such ill-defined concepts. There is no way that he would have accepted sloppy thought like this from one of his PhD students.]
But, all these would have to be so if the nature of each is determined by all, as G1 and G2 allege. In that case, passenger MN is greater than she would have been had she not flown last Sunday; and so is the airport. But is anything else? Is the entire nature of the universe enhanced as a result? If everything is interconnected (in order for it to be true that the nature of the whole is determined by its relation to the parts), then the universe must be more of a universe that it used to be because MN checked in last Sunday. To be sure, had MN's cosmic significance not escaped her on the day in question, she would surely have been better insured.
Indeed, it is worth asking again: What exactly are the parts and wholes in this example? For instance, is the carpet on a plane one of the parts? Is it now "more" of a carpet than it was before it was laid on the plane? Is it more of a carpet if NN misses the flight? What about the drink dispensers? Is a drinks dispenser "more" of a drinks dispenser on a plane than one in the airport? Have both the carpet and the dispenser also acquired this new property of flight, as it were, parasitically? Is an aeroplane "more" of an aeroplane with a pencil on board than one without? Again, where do we stop? Is a passenger on a 'plane "more" of a passenger if the 'plane she is on has two such dispensers, as opposed to when she is on a 'plane with only one? Does quantity affect property here?
Of course, such questions are obviously crazy -- but, this is only because they arise from a consideration of the use of concepts drawn from DM. The obscure nature of the example given in DB is a direct consequence of the unworkable, metaphysical-Wholist ideas expressed in G1-G4.
In the above passage, the authors of DB referred to the ability to fly as a "property" that humans acquire as a result of social organisation, one that they had not possessed earlier. But, is it correct to call this a "property"? Should we not rather want to call it a "facility", or perhaps a realisable "opportunity"?
In any case, in what sense is flying a property? What if someone carried a parrot onto a plane? Would that bird now have a double property? Or, what if, say, an eagle carried off a rabbit? Would that hapless rodent thereby have acquired a new property of flight -- or one of being eaten by winged assailants? Indeed, would the new eagle/rabbit-whole be symmetrically unified (as far as part/whole determination was concerned, and as G1-G4 seem to suggest)? Do eagles, therefore, acquire anything from rabbits when they enter into such predatory part/whole ensembles? Does, for example, the eagle part of this novel duo acquire the rabbit part's ability to wriggle excessively when carried off by predatory birds?
Again, many of the above arguments are unlikely to impress convinced DM-theorists, or persuade them that their neat formula is unreliable. This is perhaps because the reasoning given here uses analytic techniques uncongenial to DM’s 'wholistic' approach. Fortunately, however, we do not have to appeal to such analytic tactics to demonstrate the weaknesses of DM-style Wholism.
Consider a passage written by Sean Sayers:
"Of course, a living organism is composed of physical and chemical constituents, and nothing more. Nevertheless, it is not a mere collection of such constituents, nor even of anatomical parts. It is these parts unified, organized and acting as a whole. This unity and organization are not only features of our description: they are properties of the thing itself; they are constitutive of it as a biological organism." [Sayers (1996), p.162.]
Now, this argument only looks plausible because it is based on a consideration of biological systems, but, it fails to explain how a generalised sort of Wholism operates throughout non-organic nature, or indeed the rest of the universe. So, even if Sayers were correct, what he says would be of little assistance in trying to understand the vast bulk of the material world in Wholist terms. For example, what sense could be made of the idea that a mountain was only a mountain because of its relation to the whole (which whole?)? Or that, the Sun was only the Sun because of its relation to…, well, what?
Moreover, when a wider selection of examples is considered, further fundamental weaknesses in DM-Holism soon emerge. Consider, for instance, a car. Do its parts cease to be what they once were if they are removed from that vehicle? Does a wheel, for example, cease to be a wheel if it comes off its axle? Is it any less of a wheel? Indeed, does the axle cease to be an axle when it loses a wheel? Is it, too, any less of an axle? What happens if, in the case of a lorry with four doubled-up rear wheels, it loses one while the other three remain on the axle? Would they still be wheels, and would they still be on an axle if the entire nature of a part is determined by its relation others, and to the whole?
In a similar vein, consider the following unlikely conversation in the Parts Department of garage:
A: "Can I have a fan belt?"
B: "Sorry, mate, you can't because fan belts are only fan belts when they are attached to the cooling system of an engine."
Or, another in a café:
C: "Can I have a slice of cake?"
D: "No, but you can have a slice of non-cake, which used to be cake when it was attached to the whole cake before we sliced it up for you."
If a part is only a part -- and its nature is fully determined in the said manner when it is incorporated in a whole --, the Parts Department in the above example is mis-named. It should be called the "Non-parts Department" -- or, perhaps even:
Or, maybe even:
Interested readers can join in this game and dream up their own 'Dialectical Menu' for the 'Wholist-café' mentioned earlier. [The Parts Department example has probably reached the end of the dialectical road, though.]
It could be objected that things like fan belts are what they are because they have been designed to fit cars, and that it is this intended role that makes them parts of the wholes they later join. But, this would make the part/whole relation impossibly vague, for in that case we would not know what was part and what was whole -- or how they were connected -- until some intention or other had been ascertained. Worse still, this new twist might have untoward teleological implications for the parts of plants and animals, to say nothing of the rest of the Universe.
In addition, consider cases where objects retain their identity (designed or not) even though they feature in a temporary/semi-permanent whole for which they were not actually 'designed'. Examples here would include instances where, say, ordinary tools (such as hammers) are used in non-standard ways -- to prop open doors, deter a rioting Policeman, or smash the windows on buses carrying scabs. Or, where a house brick might be used to weigh some papers down, frighten some more scabs, or re-configure a few Nazis. In the latter case, the brick clearly remains a brick throughout; the fact that it won't lose any of its usual properties if it enters into, say, a new brick/damaged Nazi whole will be one of the reasons why it would be used. Are Nazis any more scum-like (or brick-like) when they are in a new Nazi/brick whole? Would this brick be more of a brick when lobbed at a scab, than it would be if it is thrown at the BNP? Does the said scab get a similar 'Wholistic promotion' because the brick knocks him out? If parts and wholes are entirely determined (by means of "internal relations") in the way specified, all or most of these should be true.
It could be argued that the above are not good counterexamples since the items in question were not designed to feature in such systematic wholes, nor do they assume wider functional roles as working units in their old or new guises. But, we have been here before. A response like this would rule out one or more of the few positive examples that TAR and other DM-fans themselves use. Moreover, it would still fail to account for the altered roles that systematically functioning items often undergo as a result of inter-systemic exchange -- even while they retain their 'identity'.
Take, for instance, a seat from an old car: it could still be used apart from that car as a seat in a house, or as an ornament (but only because it is a seat), or as a display in a museum, or as part of a barricade, still serving as a seat for the barricaders to use. If the properties of parts actually changed as a result of their separation from the wholes they were 'meant' to fit (as this 'theory' implies they should) a seat would no longer be of any use in such new surroundings.
And, we do not have to think up weird and wonderful counter-examples taken from human interaction; consider those cases where animals commandeer parts taken from other animals and use them in the same or nearly the same way their former owners once used them. For example, Hermit Crabs use the shells of other sea creatures as protection. Is such a shell more or less of a shell in this new ensemble? What about holes in the ground or in trees used as 'homes' (but successively occupied by rabbits, foxes, moles, badgers, and assorted birds)? Does a hole, therefore, become "more" of a hole whole when it is part of, say, a new mole/hole whole? Indeed, does that rodent become more of a mole whole in a new mole/hole whole?
Think, too, of wool and feathers gathered by birds to line their nests, used for warmth and padding, and so on. Again, consider the way that human beings use animal skins to keep warm, employing the latter in the same way their former owners used them. Does wool, for example, become more of an insulator when it forms part of a new child/pullover whole than when it was on the original sheep? Does it become more woollen when used as part of a scarf/worker ensemble?
What about the use of animal parts in human beings? Xenotransplantation (as it is called) would be a non-starter if parts and wholes were "internally related" as DM-theorists would have us believe.
Finally, consider a Big Mac being eaten by Little Mick: does the Big Mac become an even Bigger Big Mac or a Smaller Big Mac because of this new Mick Mac Whole -- or does Little Mick become a Bigger Little Mick Mac Whole because of his fondness for cramming Big Macs down his cake hole?
Which part alters which Whole?
Or is this theory so much junk, like the guff Little Mick stuffs down his gullet?
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© Rosa Lichtenstein 2016
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