Essay Eleven Part One: The "Totality", A Complete Mystery -- Even To Dialecticians




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I have moved the Appendix to this Essay to a new location.




Apart from Essay Three Part Two, this has been one of the most difficult to write. That is partly because so little has been published by dialecticians over the last 200 years that is of any help for bemused readers in the endeavour to understand what Dialectical Materialists mean by "the Totality", as will soon become apparent to anyone is tempted to think otherwise -- and who bothers to read this Essay. In fact, tackling this particular topic is rather like trying to swim through syrup -- but even then, one would at least have something to struggle against. In the present case, with respect to "the Totality", there is precious little. Dialecticians, of course, have made a few rather vague gestures at explaining what "the Totality" is, but beyond that, as we will see, puzzled onlookers largely face largely blank pages, compounded by no little prevarication and dissembling on the part of DM-theorists themselves.


However, in what follows I won't be considering Holist explanations of human social and economic development (unless, of course, this involves the use of Hegelian concepts), since that would introduce issues relevant to Historical Materialism [HM], a theory I largely ignore in these Essays -- for reasons outlined here. In that case, both Parts of Essay Eleven are largely concerned with Holist theories applied to the natural world.


Unfortunately, some parts of this Essay are a little repetitive; I will endeavour to correct this relatively minor fault in future re-writes. Having said that, books and articles devoted to Dialectical Materialism [DM] are themselves highly repetitive, so any criticism of them can scarcely avoid some form of repetition.




As is the case with all my work, nothing here should be read as an attack either on 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 DM and HM, as I see it, is explained here.


It is also worth adding that a good 50% of my case against DM has been relegated to the End Notes. This has been done to allow the main body of the Essay to flow a little more smoothly. This means that if readers want to appreciate fully my case against DM, they will need to consult this additional material. In many cases, I have qualified my comments (often adding greater detail and additional supporting evidence); I have even raised objections (some obvious, many not -- and some that will have perhaps occurred to the reader) to my own arguments -- which I have then answered. I explain why I have adopted this tactic in Essay One.


If readers skip this material, then my answers to any objections they might have will be missed, as will this extra evidence, qualifications and argument.


Since I have been debating this theory with comrades for well over 25 years, I've heard all the objections there are! [I have linked to many of the more recent on-line debates here.]


Finally, 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.]




As of December 2017, this Essay is just under 98,000 words long -- a block of approximately 40,000 words from the old Appendix to this essay has been moved to a new page, which I am currently re-formatting. A much shorter summary of some of the main ideas expressed below can now be accessed here.




The material below does not represent my final view of any of the issues raised; it is merely 'work in progress'.


[Latest Update: 05/12/17.]


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


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(1)  The Mysterious "Totality"


(a) Hamlet Without The Prince


(b) 'God', The "Totality", And Negative Theology


(c) The "It's Everything" Gambit


(2)  What Do The Dialectical Classics Say?


(a) Totally Empty


(3)  Where The Shoe Originally Pinched -- John Rees's Theory


(a) Where This Project Began


(b) John Rees Bottles It


(c) Putting The Part Before The Horse


(4)  It's An Awful Job, But Someone Has To Do It


(a) Defining The Indefinable


(b) Totalitarian Ontology


(c) A Whole With A Huge Hole In The Middle


(d) A Fit-Up?


(e) Is The Past Ideal?


(f) The Elusive Membership List


(g) An Ontological Blank Cheque For Scientists?


(h) 'Objectively' On, Then Off, The Cosmic Membership List


(i) A Totally Porous Boundary


(5)  Universal Interconnection -- Fact Or Fantasy?


(a) Precisely What Is interconnected With What?


(b) Interconnectionism Comes Apart At The Seams


(c) Maximal Interconnectionism


(d) Non-Maximal Interconnectionism


(e) Universal Interconnection Incompatible With Change Through 'Internal Contradiction'


(6)  The Epistemological Definition


(a) What Do We Know?


(b) Kant's 'Noumenon' By Any Other Name


(c) Engels's Quasi-Theology


(7)  The "Totality" -- Universal And A Priori


(a) Surely Not


(b) What Else Could A "Totality" Be?


(c) Is Dialectical Materialism A Conventionalist Theory?


(d) Is Dialectical Materialism A Metaphysical Theory?


(e) Dialectical Materialism -- A Scientific Theory?


(f) Guilty As Charged -- Dialectical Materialism Isn't A Scientific Theory


(g) Dialectical Materialism In Hot Water


(8)  The Fetishism Of The Word


(a) The Regular Collapse Of DM-Theses Into Absurdity


(b) Is DM Just A 'Method'?


(9)  Pick Your Mystic


(10) Are 'Dialectical Contradictions' Different?


(a) Contradictions And Defective Theories


(b) The Dialecticians' Dilemma


(11) The 'Heraclitean Flux' -- Fact Or Fancy?


(a) Maximal Heracliteanism -- Or: Cratylean Change


(b) Mao To The Rescue?


(c) Minimal Heracliteanism


(d) A Few Straws Worth Clutching?


(12) Via Negativa? -- Or Viagra?


(13) Notes


(14) Appendix A -- Scientists Change Their Minds (New Location)


(15) References


Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism


Abbreviations Used At This Site


Return To The Main Index Page


Contact Me


So, What Is It?


The aim of Parts One and Two of this Essay is to try to discover what DM-theorists mean by (1) "The Totality", (2) 'Universal Interconnection', and (3) The obscure but oft repeated thesis: "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts; the parts make the whole and the whole makes the parts" -- i.e, DM-Wholism.


The first two of the above will be covered here, in Part One; the third will be tackled in Part Two.


Hamlet Without The Prince


Imagine for a moment, if you will, Hamlet without its main character, the Prince, or at least without a single description of 'him' -- such as, whether 'he' is indeed a Prince, is male or female, or even if 'he' is a human being. Questions would rightly be asked about what role this 'character' could possibly have in a play supposedly about 'him', just as doubts would be raised about the competence or even the sanity of its author, William Shakespeare.


Fortunately, we needn't indulge in such flights-of-fancy.


Imagine now, if you can, a theory which its supporters tell us is among other things: (1) The "world-view" of the proletariat; (2) A completely general theory of everything in existence, how it develops and changes, (or which is a 'method' aimed to that end); (3) An explanation how everything is interconnected with everything else in something called "The Totality"; and that (4) "The Totality" is itself a centrally-important concept, to such an extent that nothing can be fully understood without reference to, or in connection with, it.


Consider, too, the following rather odd fact: every single one of its theorists studiously refuses to say what this "Totality" actually is, or what its supposed "interconnections" are --, or even how they know so much (or, rather, so little) about this terminally obscure 'object'/process.


Ponder no more! For that theory is DM, those theorists are Dialectical Marxists, and they are world champion prevaricators.


[DM = Dialectical Materialism/Materialist depending on the context.]


If you still harbour doubts, I invite you, dear reader, to search through their writings (and, for my sins, I have had to do just that!). Even if you are the slightest bit interested, you will find precious little to help you decide what DM is in fact about, for its most avid supporters have yet to tell anyone (least of all one another) what this mysterious "Totality" actually is!


So, this isn't so much Hamlet without the Prince, it is Hamlet without the..., er..., well..., er..., what?


Indeed, over the last thirty years or so I have made a point of asking the many DM-fans I know or have met (personally, or on the Internet) what they think the "Totality" actually is. Of those who could be bothered to reply, most were either puzzled (or slightly annoyed) that I even thought to ask such an impertinent question. Some responded with "Nature, what else?", but refused to say any more (perhaps because, as we will soon discover, there is no more to be said). Others gestured airily toward the heavens, saying "All that!" -- rather like those parents who try to explain to small children where 'God' is with an "He's up there, in heaven", wafting their hands vaguely skywards. Still others confessed they didn't know, but declared that they still believed in it, just like those children with hand-waving parents.


Others of a more scientific frame-of-mind referred me to the "Big Bang", forgetting that this is a theory of origins; it tells us nothing about "everything", as we will also soon find out.


At this point, readers of a more kindly or tolerant disposition might be tempted to respond: "This can't be so! Surely someone has specified clearly what the DM-"Totality" actually is. After all, dialecticians have had at least 150 years to come up with something!"


To be sure, a handful of DM-theorists have outlined a few vague ideas about this mysterious 'entity' --, but beyond the bare bones they have either sat on their hands or nervously looked the other way.


I suspect these guys could prevaricate for their country.


Indeed, dialecticians are remarkably coy about their "Totality", and it isn't difficult to see why: There isn't one.


Or, rather: there is in fact no way of referring to whatever it is they think they want to refer to as the "Totality"!


This entity was born out of mysticism, and there it remains entombed to this day.


No wonder no one can tell us what it is!


"God", The "Totality", And The Via Negativa


Just as it is impossible to say who or what 'God' is, it is no less difficult to say what the "Totality" is, either. That isn't so much because of what these two words might appear to mean, but because both are in fact devoid of meaning -- and this is so for remarkably similar reasons.


For believers, 'God' is unlike anything you or I or anyone else could possibly imagine, conceive, or sensibly put into words. Those tempted to think otherwise have simply latched onto an inferior sort of 'being' in whose 'name' it wouldn't be worth persecuting a single infidel.


Naturally, this means that the faithful have found it impossible to speak about 'God' without using inappropriate metaphors and misleading analogies; theologians have for many centuries used linguistic tricks and dodges like this in their vain endeavour to make 'God'-talk vaguely comprehensible. Unfortunately, even though some of the mediating terms they have employed are well enough understood (such as "father", or "son"), the intentional target of all this analogising isn't. What precisely is being analogised?


The response? Yet more gobbledygook or deafening silence...


In fact, it is impossible to answer that question without demoting 'God' so that 'He' is now on a level with 'His' alleged creation, for if you have to compare 'God' to one of 'His' creatures in order to understand 'His' nature, 'He' can no longer be distinguished from them (except, perhaps, in terms of 'His' magnitude, which would mean 'He' resembled, say, a huge star when compared to a smaller one). On the other hand, if 'He' is to be distinguished from 'His' supposed creation, then any words used to describe 'His' inferior creation cannot be used to characterise 'Him' without implicating 'Him' in just such an ignominious ontological demotion.


The gap between the 'Divine' and the mundane is infinite, so we are told, and any attempt to bridge it would be tantamount to blasphemy, for it will either identify 'The Creation' with the 'Divine' or reduce the 'Divine' to the mundane.


Both approaches having failed, believers often fall back on the time-honoured via negativa, beloved of Christian Mystics. For them, 'God' is not this, not that, not...


As that lapsed, right-wing atheist, the late Anthony Flew, once observed: in this way 'God' suffers "death by a thousand qualifications". In the end, it becomes impossible to distinguish 'God' from nothing.01


But, if we know nothing whatsoever about 'God' (except we demote 'Him' in the above manner), if 'He' is indeed indistinguishable from 'nothing', how is the use of "God" any different from employing, say, "Slithy Tove"? Other than an appeal to a rather questionable tradition --, wherein the word "God" has been attached to all manner of things (ranging from money to natural powers and forces, from assorted Roman Emperors to...,  yes..., even Eric Clapton) --, what can the faithful point to in order to explain this word to those who simply see before them on the page three perfectly ordinary letters ("G", "o", and "d") knitted together into an inky sort of Trinity --, "God"?



Figure One: Is Clapton 'God'?




Figure Two: This Album Says "Maybe!"


In like manner, to what can the DM-faithful appeal in order to help us non-believers comprehend their own invisible, incomprehensible 'Being'?


As we will soon find out, this 'inverted' DM-Deity -- the "Totality" -- will also die the death of a thousand qualifications.


Or, to be more honest, the death of a thousand prevarications...


The "It's Everything" Gambit


At this point, some readers might be tempted to respond with the "It's everything" ploy (as in "Damn it, it's perfectly clear what that the Totality is: it's everything!").


Unfortunately, that reply is little help since it would simply prompt the next question: "And what does that include?"


As we are about to discover as this Essay unfolds, there is no way to answer that particular query that won't sink DM one millimetre per second slower than it has already sunk Theology.


For instance, does this "everything" include (i) All that exists now? or (ii) All that has once existed? (iii) All that will one day exist? (iv) All that could exist? or (v) All that might have existed? (vi) Does it include everything that has been thought about? (vii) Not thought about? (viii) Discovered? (ix) Not discovered? (x) Found then lost (like Phlogiston)? (xi) Lost then found, then lost again (like Democritus's and then Dalton's indivisible atoms)? (xii) Does it include the 'Gods' of the Apache Nation -- surely they are part of 'everything'..., or are they? (xiii) The mythical beasts of yore? or (xiv) The entire lot?


[Who knows, scientists might one day unearth some of the aforementioned mythical beasts. After all, consider the discovery of the Coelacanth, glypheoid lobsters, jurodid beetles.]


Does the "Totality" include, for example, the edge of the universe? Indeed, does the universe/'everything' have a boundary? If it doesn't, how can it be a totality (as opposed an open-ended infinite sort of ontological conglomeration)? On the other hand, if it has a boundary, is that boundary itself part of 'everything'? If it isn't, it can't be the boundary of 'everything', can it? [Otherwise it would have to be the boundary of itself!] Alternatively, once more, if it is the boundary of 'everything', then does this new ensemble (i.e., 'everything' plus its boundary) have a boundary, too, and does that, and that, and...?


At this point, the patience of some readers might be way past 'running on fumes', as it were. In which case, they are encouraged to switch to reserve power since the point of all these rather odd questions will soon become apparent.


In fact, several more increasingly problematic, but mercifully less annoying questions will emerge to make those posed above seem rather trite and trivial in comparison.


[TOR = Theory of Relativity.]


Some might direct our attention to the TOR, pointing out that the universe is in fact finite and unbounded. This is the "Totality", they might tell us. Now, I don't wish to question the TOR, but since we do not as yet know whether this mathematical aspect of the TOR applies to our universe (i.e, that it is indeed finite and unbounded), it can hardly feature in any attempt to understand what the "Totality" is.


[As physicist, Paul Davies, once observed: "Cynics often say that there is speculation, speculation squared, and cosmology."] 


Anyway, as we will soon see, the TOR itself is no friend of DM (with or without the "Totality" thrown in).


To cap it all, there have been, and still are, DM-theorists who reject the idea that the universe is finite, and who deny, therefore, that it is bounded. [More on that below.]


Indeed, as I aim to show, even if it were possible to find, or elicit, answers to these perplexing questions, our problems would only just be beginning, for as Russell's Paradox has taught us, unless we define "everything" with due care (and, it is worth adding, completely arbitrarily) we will end up with a "Totality" that contains things it doesn't contain!


[A recent criticism of what has come to be known as "universally unrestricted quantification" can be found in Hellman (2006).]


At this point, it is worth noting that we are beginning to encounter the same sort of problems in connection with the "Totality" that confront Believers-in-The-Almighty, who also employ obscure metaphors and vague analogies to try to describe the nature of 'God'. Keep that thought in mind as this Essay unfolds.


So, down this road, one suspects, lies our very own dialectical via negativa, as DM-theorists tell us time and again, "No, the "Totality" does not include this, or that, or this, or...".


On the other hand, even if DM-theorists managed to define their "Totality" carefully, or even fully, it would plainly be a creature of convention --, and, like "God", a human invention.


No wonder DM-fans fall silent when asked to fill in the details about their 'God'..., er, sorry, their "Totality".


Given the predicament they are in, I think I would do likewise!


[I return to consider the "It's everything!" ploy in much more detail, below.]


Well, What Do The Dialectical Classics Have To Say?


Totally Empty


The short answer is "Not a lot".


The long answer is "Well..., er..., not a lot, squared."


Well, what do they say? Engels, as usual, writes much, but manages to say little that is of any use:


"When we consider and reflect upon Nature at large, or the history of mankind, or our own intellectual activity, at first we see the picture of an endless entanglement of relations and reactions, permutations and combinations, in which nothing remains what, where and as it was, but everything moves, changes, comes into being and passes away....


"We see, therefore, at first the picture as a whole, with its individual parts still more or less kept in the background; we observe the movements, transitions, connections, rather than the things that move, combine, and are connected. This primitive, naive but intrinsically correct conception of the world is that of ancient Greek philosophy, and was first clearly formulated by Heraclitus: everything is and is not, for everything is fluid, is constantly changing, constantly coming into being and passing away....


"[The] new German philosophy culminated in the Hegelian system. In this system -- and herein is its great merit -- for the first time the whole world, natural, historical, intellectual, is represented as a process -- i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, development; and the attempt is made to trace out the internal connection that makes a continuous whole of all this movement and development." [Engels (1892), pp.405-08.]


"The whole of nature accessible to us forms a system, an interconnected totality of bodies, and by bodies we understand here all material existences extending from stars to atoms, indeed right to ether particles, in so far as one grants the existence of the last named. In the fact that these bodies are interconnected is already included that they react on one another, and it is precisely this mutual reaction that constitutes motion. It already becomes evident that matter is unthinkable without motion." [Engels (1954), p.70.]


So, no clearer then.


Perhaps 'The Great Teacher', Stalin, will prove to be of assistance?


"Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics does not regard Nature as an accidental agglomeration of things, of phenomena, unconnected with, isolated from, and independent of, each other, but as a connected and integral whole, in which things…are organically connected with, dependent on, and determined by, each other.


"The dialectical method therefore holds that no phenomenon in Nature can be understood if taken by itself, isolated from surrounding phenomena….


"The dialectical method therefore requires that phenomena should be considered not only from the standpoint of their interconnection and interdependence, but also from the standpoint of their movement, their change, their development, their coming into being and going out of being….


"Speaking of the materialist views of the ancient philosopher Heraclitus, who held that 'the world, the all is one...,' Lenin comments: 'A very good exposition of the rudiments of dialectical materialism.' [Lenin (1961), p.347.]" [Stalin (1941), pp.837-38, 845. I have used a different edition of Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks here.]


Plainly not.


What about Bukharin?


"I am now writing on paper with a pen. I thus impart pressures to the table; the table presses on the earth, calling forth a number of further changes. I move my hand, vibrate as I breathe, and these motions pass on in slight impulses ending Lord knows where. The fact that these may be but small changes does not change the essential nature of the matter. All things in the universe are connected with an indissoluble bond…." [Bukharin (1925), p.66.]


We needn't labour the point.1 There is little, to nothing, in the DM-classics to help the bemused reader understand what dialecticians are banging on about when they talk about the "Totality".


A few years ago, Martin Jay published an excellent book entitled Marxism And Totality. The Adventures Of A Concept From Lukács To Habermas [i.e., Jay (1984)] -- but, in over 500 pages he studiously omitted to tell us what his book was actually about!


To be sure, in Chapter One, Jay very helpfully summarised classic and early modern Holist theories of nature and society, but these theories are themselves no less vague. Perhaps because he found little material in the DM-classics (or, indeed, in the writings of 'systematic' and other academic dialecticians) to help him explain this vague concept, Jay ducked the question whether Ancient Greek and Early Modern theories of nature -- or, of 'the Whole' -- were the same as, or were different from, one another --, or, indeed, were the same as, or were different from, the DM-"Totality".


After all: how would anyone be able to decide?


[LOI = Law of Identity.]


For instance, how would it be possible to ascertain whether or not Hegel's 'Whole' is the same as, or is different from, say, Plato's? [Especially given the fact that Hegel went out of his way to undermine the 'dread' LOI, how could they be the same?] Or, Plotinus's? Or, Aristotle's? Or, any of the many and varied "Wholes" that litter most of the world's mystical belief systems?


Here, for example, is Alan Watts (on The Totality Of All Being):



Video One: Alan Watts -- A DM-Allie? Or A DM-Embarrassment?


Are you any clearer?


E-mail me if you think are.


Admittedly, those aforementioned mystics all use, or have used, typographically similar-looking words (such as, "Being", "The Whole", "The Totality", etc.), but, if the use of similar-looking words were enough to equate whatever they supposedly depicted, we would surely be able to conclude that, for example, Plato's "Forms" were identical to those complicated, pre-printed sheets of paper you have to complete in order to apply for a job, obtain a driving licence or secure a credit card. Plainly, the use of typographically similar-looking words isn't sufficient to identify the many 'Wholes' that Traditional Thinkers have concocted over the last two-and-a-half millennia.


After all, does anyone have access to an Identikit picture of the "Totality" that enables them to pick this mysterious object out of a Cosmic line-up of likely candidates? Has anyone seen its likeness etched in the sand, shaped in the clouds, or formed on the surface of Mars -- in the way that some claim to have spotted images of Jesus or The Virgin Mary in a slice of toast or on a grape?


Indeed, precisely what is the criterion of identity for mystical and/or 'dialectical' "Totalities"?


Worse still: we don't even possess so much as a partial description of a single "Totality", ancient or modern, to assist us in this rather futile quest. Can you imagine trying to decide whether or not two individuals -- say, Woodruff Durfendorfer and Arthur Farfenickle -- were the same or were different if you were given no clear description to work with, no picture to guide you, and no DNA to rely on? But even then you would at least have something to work with: the knowledge that they are supposed to be human beings. And yet, in relation to the various "Wholes" and "Totalities" that assorted mystics have invented we don't even have this much to go on -- we have no idea what kind of 'entity' we are dealing with, the existence and identity of which we are being asked to contemplate. We have nothing at all to assist us. No good doing a Google search or consulting Wikipedia


Of course, as noted above, this puzzle isn't helped by the fact that not a single one of those ancient 'thinkers' was all that specific about the nature and extent of his/her particular "Whole" -- neither were the ancient (or modern) mystics, and for obvious reasons. After all, a crystal clear mystic would lose his or her licence to confuse.


But, in relation to the entire confusion of obscure "Wholists", ancient and modern -- "confusion" is the collective noun I have just invented for such Mystics and Wholists --, the Dialectical Mystics are easily the vaguest, most equivocal and evasive. Prevarication and obfuscation taken way beyond the call of duty.


The rest of Jay's book is devoted to expounding what various prolix and studiously incomprehensible dialecticians have or haven't thought about history, society and the economy -- as possible examples of what can only be called, 'sub-totalities'. However, as far as can be ascertained, and except for the opening chapter, the "Totality" itself is conspicuous by its absence, which is, of course, quite remarkable in itself. Indeed, it is decidedly odd, just as odd as it would have been had Darwin forgotten to mention natural selection, or had omitted all talk of species, past, present or future, from On The Origin Of Species.


This isn't to pick on Jay, since his book is an excellent guide in its own way -- a sort of Dialectician's Alice, as it were. To be sure, if anyone wants to know what Dialectical Marxists think about social wholes (albeit, expressed in what looks for all the world like an obscure Venusian dialect), this is the book to consult.


[HCD = High Church Dialectician. That term is explained here.]


Not even card-carrying HCDs seem able to tell us what their "Totality" is. Here is Alan Norrie (attempting to translate the obscure Venusian dialect one finds in the late Roy Bhaskar's work, into English):


"Totality, then, is the place where different things are seen in their connection and are viewed as a whole." [Norrie (2010), p.87. I return to Norrie's book in Essay Nine Part Two.]


Well, that clears things up, and no mistake! "Totality" is the "place" where all the 'dialectical' action transpires, it seems. This suggests that "Totality" for Norrie (and Bhaskar) is a methodological concept, which, for all we know -- or, rather, for all that Norrie and Bhaskar know -- might be no more 'real' than the Crystalline Spheres of medieval astronomy -- or even the Tooth Fairy, another 'methodological device' to which those hand-waving parents (we met earlier) sometimes appeal in order to 'explain' to their offspring why infant teeth often vanish. [I turn to Bhaskar's work briefly, below, and in Essays Eight Part Three, and Nine Part Two, but more extensively in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]


In which case, Dialectical Marxism is still missing its Prince of Denmark.


Several in the audience are getting restless.


They want their money back.


Where The Shoe Originally Pinched


Where This Project Began


This project began back in 1998 as an extended review of John Rees's book The Algebra Of Revolution [Rees (1998a), or TAR], which, for all its faults, has proven to be widely influential in one of the most geographically-extensive Trotskyist Tendencies on the planet (the IST/UK-SWP). In that case, his book is well placed to do real damage.


[However, since the above was first written, Rees has resigned from the UK-SWP and now helps run Counterfire, which means that his ideas are no longer viewed by the IST as ideologically sound; comrades who at one time lauded this book now either do the opposite, or they simply ignore it! An ironic fate for any book on dialectics to have to endure.]


Anyway, since Rees is one of the more recent DM-authors to put the "Totality" right at the centre of his ideas, it still seems a reasonably good place to start.


Unfortunately, as we will soon see, it doesn't matter where we start, the superficial 'descriptions' of this mysterious entity -- advanced by DM-fans, drawn from all wings of Dialectical Marxism -- turn out to be thinner than an anorexic flatworm!



Figure Three: Flatworm -- Rather Substantial In Comparison


Rees Bottles It


In view of the foregoing, it is no surprise therefore to find that even though Rees clearly believes the "Totality" is a centrally-important DM-concept [Rees (1998a), pp.5-8], or 'entity', apart from a few rather vague gestures at defining this term, or describing this 'object', he never really tells us what the "Totality" is!


One of his few attempts to explain this notion is the following:


"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 (1998a), p.5.]


There seems to be something wrong with this passage since it tells us that the "Totality" is in fact an "insistence".


Can this be what "everything" is, an "insistence"?


Is this what the Big Bang ushered forth? An ever-expanding "insistence"?


Of course, if this rather odd passage were to be interpreted much less unsympathetically, it would seem to suggest that Rees intends the word "Totality" to be understood methodologically, which would in turn imply that the idea that nature is a unified whole is in fact either (a) a useful fiction, (b) a regulative idea (i.e., it expresses a rule DM-theorists like Rees utilise in order to help understand nature and society), or (c) it merely serves as some sort of statement of theoretical intent.


Even so, we aren't told what the "relations" Rees mentions actually are, even though they are supposed to interconnect objects and processes in the "Totality", nor whether every such object and process is interlinked with every other, or only with some -- nor, indeed, specifically in what way they are inter-related. [Much more on this below.]


Unfortunately, there are few other clues apparent in TAR that help the bemused reader understand the nature of this key DM-concept.


One such hint appears in a passage that attempts to link the "Totality" with "universal interconnectedness" itself, which is something other DM-theorists also underline (on that see here and here):


"Lenin's worry is that previous explanations of dialectics have simply shown that reality forms a totality and that things which are assumed to be opposites are in reality connected with one another. But they have not stressed that reality is a contradictory totality or that it is the mutually antagonistic relationship between the parts of the totality which are the motor force of its change and development....


"[The] natural and social world [form] a single totality developing over time as a result of…internal contradictions….


"[N]ature is an interconnected system that developed for millions of years before humans." [Ibid., pp.186, 285-86. Italic emphasis in the original.]2


This appears to equate the "Totality" with all of (interconnected) nature -- indeed, with all of "reality" -- but, as we shall soon see, these terms are far too vague to be of much use to anyone other than a child.


Worse still: this doesn't really distinguish DM from, for instance, Mystical Hermeticism:


"Another parallel between Hermeticism and Hegel is the doctrine of internal relations. For the Hermeticists, the cosmos is not a loosely connected, or to use Hegelian language, externally related set of particulars. Rather, everything in the cosmos is internally related, bound up with everything else.... This principle is most clearly expressed in the so-called Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, which begins with the famous lines 'As above, so below.' This maxim became the central tenet of Western occultism, for it laid the basis for a doctrine of the unity of the cosmos through sympathies and correspondences between its various levels. The most important implication of this doctrine is the idea that man is the microcosm, in which the whole of the macrocosm is reflected.


"...The universe is an internally related whole pervaded by cosmic energies." [Magee (2008), p.13. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. More on this topic here.]


Rees in fact had an answer to the allegation that Mystics also have their own theories of, or ideas about, the "Totality":


"Totality alone is not, however, a sufficient definition of the dialectic. Many undialectical views of society make use of the idea of totality. The Catholic Church has its own mystical view of the all-embracing nature of God's creation and a very practical view of the temporal hierarchy that goes with it. 'The Taoist tradition in China shares with dialectics the emphasis on wholeness, the whole being maintained by the balance of opposites such as yin and yang.'... [Rees is here quoting Levins and Lewontin (1985), p.275.]


"What unites all these explanations is that they see the totality as static.... What they lack is any notion of a totality as a process of change. And even where such systems grant the possibility of instability and change, it is considered merely as a prelude to a restored equilibrium....


"Change, development, instability, on the other hand, are the very conditions for which a dialectical approach is designed to account." [Rees (1998a), p.6.]


However, there are dozens of mystical systems that view the world almost exactly as DM-theorists do: an unstable, developing and changing Whole (existing in states of permanent or semi-impermanent change), constituted by countless 'unities of opposites'. For example, this is how the Kybalion (reputably the third most important book of Hermetic Philosophy) puts things:


"'CHAPTER X POLARITY Everything is dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.' -- The Kybalion.


"The great Fourth Hermetic Principle -- the Principle of Polarity -- embodies the truth that all manifested things have 'two sides'; 'two aspects'; 'two poles'; a 'pair of opposites,' with manifold degrees between the two extremes. The old paradoxes, which have ever perplexed the mind of men, are explained by an understanding of this Principle. Man has always recognized something akin to this Principle, and has endeavoured to express it by such sayings, maxims and aphorisms as the following: 'Everything is and isn't, at the same time'; 'all truths are but half-truths'; 'every truth is half-false'; 'there are two sides to everything'; 'there is a reverse side to every shield,' etc., etc. The Hermetic Teachings are to the effect that the difference between things seemingly diametrically opposed to each is merely a matter of degree. It teaches that 'the pairs of opposites may be reconciled,' and that 'thesis and antithesis are identical in nature, but different in degree'; and that the 'universal reconciliation of opposites' is effected by a recognition of this Principle of Polarity. The teachers claim that illustrations of this Principle may be had on every hand, and from an examination into the real nature of anything....


"CHAPTER IX VIBRATION 'Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.' -- The Kybalion.


"The great Third Hermetic Principle -- the Principle of Vibration -- embodies the truth that Motion is manifest in everything in the Universe -- that nothing is at rest -- that everything moves, vibrates, and circles. This Hermetic Principle was recognized by some of the early Greek philosophers who embodied it in their systems. But, then, for centuries it was lost sight of by the thinkers outside of the Hermetic ranks. But in the Nineteenth Century physical science re-discovered the truth and the Twentieth Century scientific discoveries have added additional proof of the correctness and truth of this centuries-old Hermetic doctrine.


"The Hermetic Teachings are that not only is everything in constant movement and vibration, but that the 'differences' between the various manifestations of the universal power are due entirely to the varying rate and mode of vibrations. Not only this, but that even THE ALL, in itself, manifests a constant vibration of such an infinite degree of intensity and rapid motion that it may be practically considered as at rest, the teachers directing the attention of the students to the fact that even on the physical plane a rapidly moving object (such as a revolving wheel) seems to be at rest. The Teachings are to the effect that Spirit is at one end of the Pole of Vibration, the other Pole being certain extremely gross forms of Matter. Between these two poles are millions upon millions of different rates and modes of vibration.


"Modern Science has proven that all that we call Matter and Energy are but 'modes of vibratory motion,' and some of the more advanced scientists are rapidly moving toward the positions of the occultists who hold that the phenomena of Mind are likewise modes of vibration or motion. Let us see what science has to say regarding the question of vibrations in matter and energy.


"In the first place, science teaches that all matter manifests, in some degree, the vibrations arising from temperature or heat. Be an object cold or hot-both being but degrees of the same things -- it manifests certain heat vibrations, and in that sense is in motion and vibration. Then all particles of Matter are in circular movement, from corpuscle to suns. The planets revolve around suns, and many of them turn on their axes. The suns move around greater central points, and these are believed to move around still greater, and so on, ad infinitum. The molecules of which the particular kinds of Matter are composed are in a state of constant vibration and movement around each other and against each other. The molecules are composed of Atoms, which, likewise, are in a state of constant movement and vibration. The atoms are composed of Corpuscles, sometimes called 'electrons,' 'ions,' etc., which also are in a state of rapid motion, revolving around each other, and which manifest a very rapid state and mode of vibration. And, so we see that all forms of Matter manifest Vibration, in accordance with the Hermetic Principle of Vibration." [Anonymous (2005), pp.59-62, 55-58. The first passage can be accessed here; the second, here. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


And, here is the Corpus Hermeticum itself:


"For everything must be the product of opposition and contrariety, and it cannot be otherwise." [Copenhaver (1995), p.32. Bold emphasis added.]


The on-line version renders this passage slightly differently:


"For all things must consist out of antithesis and contrariety; and this can otherwise not be." [Quoted from here. Bold emphasis added.]


Moreover, the Hermetic 'God' isn't external to the universe, but is immanent to it (and hence 'He/She/It' also changes), which is, of course, where Hegel obtained this idea.


Here is Alan Watts again:


"Buddhist enlightenment consists simply in knowing the secret of the unity of opposites -- the unity of the inner and outer worlds....


"The principle is that all dualities and opposites are not disjoined but polar; they do not encounter and confront one another from afar; they exfoliate from a common centre. Ordinary thinking conceals polarity and relativity because it employs terms, the terminals or ends, the poles, neglecting what lies between them. The difference of front and back, to be and not to be, hides their unity and mutuality." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases alone added.]


We also learn the following about the Hindu view of 'God':


"The three major gods of Hinduism are Brahma (the creator; paradoxically of minor importance in actual practice -- possibly, since his work is completed), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer), each with a wife, to symbolize the androgyny of ultimate reality. By theologians and educated Hindus in general, these gods and their innumerable manifestations are viewed as pointing toward one transcendent reality beyond existence and non-existence, the impersonal world-spirit Brahman, the absolute unity of all opposites....


"Hindus envision the cosmic process as the growth of one mighty organism, the self-actualization of divinity which contains within itself all opposites." [Quoted from here. (This links to a PDF.) Bold emphases added.]


And this about Sufist ideas:


"Sufism is usually associated with Islam. It has developed Bhakti to a high point with erotic imagery symbolising the unity of opposites. The subtle anatomy and microcosm-macrocosm model also found in Tantra and Taoism is used by it, dressed in its own symbols. Certain orders use ecstatic music and/or dance which reminds one of the Tantric celebration of the senses. Sometimes, the union of opposites is seen as a kind of gnosis. This is similar to Jnani Yoga." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]


Furthermore, and as noted above, Hegel was, of course, a Hermetic Philosopher par excellence, a died-in-the-wool Wholist, who believed in change through contradiction (which fact, oddly enough, Rees seems to have forgotten!). [On this, see here, and Note 4, below.]


Incidentally, it is worth adding that even fascist mystics have embraced this ancient metaphysic:


"The cosmos operates through polarities, and the interaction of these polarities causes change and evolution." [White Order of Thule, quoted from here. However, you might need to take a shower if you follow that link!]


Which is ironic in view of the fact that Jewish Mysticism also acknowledges the same metaphysic!


Finally, there is this revealing comment:


"The ancient Egyptians believed that a totality must consist of the union of opposites. A similar premise, that the interaction between yin (the female principle) and yang (the male principle) underlies the workings of the universe, is at the heart of much Chinese thinking. The idea has been central to Taoist philosophy from the fourth century B.C. to the present day and is still embraced by many Chinese who are not Taoists. Nor is the idea confined to the Egyptians and the Chinese. Peoples all over the world, in Eurasia, Africa and the Americas, have come to the conclusion that the cosmos is a combining of opposites...." [Maybury-Lewis (1992), pp.125-26. Bold emphases added.]


It wouldn't be difficult to extend this list indefinitely until it became plain that practically every Mystic who has ever walked the earth thought (or thinks) 'dialectically'.


What was that again about "the ideas of the ruling class..."?


[A more comprehensive list of examples like these -- drawn from mystical systems across the planet -- can be found here and here. Many more will be given in Essay Fourteen Part One when it is published.]


So, the "Totality", change and contradiction are just as much at home in Mystical Hermeticism (and other similar systems) as they are in DM -- which is hardly surprising given the fact that the latter developed out of the former.


Finally, and ironically, we have also seen that, contrary to what Rees asserts, DM itself cannot cope with change!


Be this as it may, in an article about Engels, Rees added these thoughts:


"Here the key is to see all the different aspects of society and nature as interconnected. They are not separate, discrete processes which develop in isolation from each other. Mainstream sociological and scientific thought 'has bequeathed us the habit of observing natural objects and processes in isolation, detached from the general context'. Much of our schooling today still follows this pattern -- the development of the arts is separated from that of the sciences, and 'technical' subjects are separated from languages, history and geography. Our newspapers and TV news programmes divide the world up in the same artificial way -- poverty levels and stock exchange news, wars and company profit figures, strikes and government policy, suicide statistics and the unemployment rate are all reported in their own little compartments as if they are only distantly related, if at all. A dialectical analysis tries to re-establish the real connections between these elements, 'to show internal connections'. It tries, in the jargon of dialectics, to see the world as 'a totality', 'a unity'.


"To see society and nature as an interconnected totality which is in a process of constant change still leaves one vital question unanswered. What makes this whole process develop? Why does it change? There are any number of religious and philosophical theories which try to answer this question by insisting that the motor of change lies outside the historical process -- with god, or in the unchanging pattern of human nature or in the eternal features of the human soul. Marx and Engels rejected these approaches as mystical and, literally, supernatural. They insisted that the processes which drove the development of nature and society forward must be internal contradictions, not supersensible entities like god, the soul or, as Hegel had argued, the general essence of human consciousness existing somewhere in the ether beyond the consciousness of actual living human beings." [Rees (1994), p.62.]


We have already seen that no sense can be made of these 'contradictions' -- i.e., those that supposedly exist in nature and society (on that, see here, here, here, and here).


Independently of this, the alleged social aspects of the "Totality" are clearly part of HM, discussion of which will largely be omitted from this Essay. Since I do not deny that HM relies on factors governing the whole of human history, there is nothing much for me to question in this regard.3


[HM = Historical Materialism.]


Nevertheless, one important aspect of Rees's use of this (yet-to-be-explained) concept is the relationship that he and other dialecticians claim exists between parts and wholes:


"In a dialectical system, the entire nature of the part is determined by its relationship 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 the whole…." [Ibid., p.5.]4


The problem with this is that it still fails to tell us what the "Totality" is, or what it encompasses --, nor is it clear what its "parts" are, either!


As far as can be ascertained, this is practically all that Rees had to say about this supposedly important topic.5 Clearly, this creates serious problems from the start; the 'uninitiated' have no clear idea what Rees and what other DM-theorists are actually referring to, or talking about. And, as we have seen, they will search in vain through other DM-texts for further elucidation.


Naturally, this means that DM-theorists themselves have no idea what they are actually referring to, or talking about, either!6


Putting The Part Before The Horse


[The above sub-heading isn't a typo!]


Anyway, if, according to Rees, "the part makes the whole, and the whole makes the parts", it would in fact be impossible for anyone to determine exactly what this mysterious "whole" amounted to before they were clear about the nature of every single part of it.


Indeed, Engels himself said as much (in unpublished preparatory material for his book, Anti-Dühring):


"Systematics impossible after Hegel. The world clearly constitutes a single system, i.e., a coherent whole, but the knowledge of this system presupposes a knowledge of all of nature and history, which man will never attain. Hence he who makes systems must fill in the countless gaps with figments of his own imagination, i.e., engage in irrational fancies, ideologise." [Marx and Engels (1987), p.597. Italic emphases in the original.]


It is a pity, therefore, that Engels didn't call this to mind when he, too, began to speculate and fill his work with "figments" of his own (or rather, Hegel's) imagination. [Many of these "figments" are itemised and then dissected in Essays Seven Part One and Eight Part Three.]


Plainly, if the above neat saying about parts and wholes were true, it would be impossible to determine the nature of any one of the parts before the nature of entire whole had been ascertained and comprehended.


Clearly, this means it is impossible for anyone to grasp a single rudimentary fact about part or whole since no one would know anything about either before they knew everything about both. [I discuss this aspect of DM in much greater detail in Part Two, where I have responded to several obvious objections.]


As is well-known, this was just one of the epistemological holes into which Hegelian Idealism dropped itself -- along with anyone gullible enough to give credence to anything Hegel ever wrote.7


But, whatever steps subsequent Hegelians finally took (or might still take) in order to haul themselves out of this bottomless pit -- and whether or not these were/are successful --, they don't appear to be available to DM-theorists. That is because they at least must base their comments on evidence, not on conceptual chicanery -- indeed, as George Novack pointed out:


"A consistent materialism cannot proceed from principles which are validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source. Idealisms may do this. But the materialist philosophy has to be based upon evidence taken from objective material sources and verified by demonstration in practice...." [Novack (1965), p.17. Bold emphasis added. This echoes what Engels also had to say, reproduced below.]


And yet, what sort of evidence could DM-fans produce that hadn't already been compromised? Manifestly, since relevant evidence itself relates to, and is comprised of such 'parts' -- i.e., it is comprised of, or expresses, certain supposed facts, which one must assume are also part of the 'Whole' (they are manifestly not external to the universe!) --, the nature of each of the 'parts'/facts that constitutes this evidence itself couldn't, on this view, be ascertained or comprehended until the 'Whole' had been, nor vice versa.


In short: the import of any such 'evidence' would be unclear until the nature of the 'Whole' had been ascertained, and, in turn, the nature of the 'Whole' would be unclear until the nature of each part/each fact presented as evidence had already been ascertained/comprehended.


There seems to be no way of breaking into this Idealist circle: the status of any and all evidence cannot be known/ascertained until the 'Whole' had been, and the nature of the 'Whole' cannot be grasped as a material whole (or any other sort of whole) if no determinate physical evidence is available, or comprehensible, in order to do just that.8


An appeal to 'approximate' or 'relative' truth here would be to no avail, either, since the nature even of 'approximate' and 'relative' truth cannot be ascertained until the nature of the 'Whole' had been, if the above neat slogan is to be believed. Nor would an appeal to a series of 'developing approximations' which are supposedly closer to the 'Whole Truth' -- or closer even to 'relative truth' -- be of any help. According to this theory, unless we knew the entire truth about everything, no one would be in any position to know that these were indeed even approximations -- or, for that matter, whether there was such a thing as 'The Whole Truth', to begin with.


Unless we possess a clear idea of what would count as 'Absolute Truth', or 'The Whole Truth' -- or we had access to one or other --, we would be in no position to declare that 'relative' truth had approximated to this Ideal. An approximation only makes sense if we know with what it is that it approximates; but, for us to know that, we would have to know what constituted 'Absolute Truth'; according to DM-theorists, that is something we will never know.


Again, as Engels pointed out:


"[T]he knowledge of this system presupposes a knowledge of all of nature and history, which man will never attain. Hence he who makes systems must fill in the countless gaps with figments of his own imagination, i.e., engage in irrational fancies, ideologise." [Marx and Engels (1987), p.597. Italic emphases in the original.]


[More on this below.]


In that case, the obscure nature of each DM-part undermines the DM-'Whole', just as the obscure nature of the DM-'Whole' undermines each DM-part, the exact reverse of what the neat slogan attempts to tell us.


[Which is yet another ironic 'dialectical inversion' for readers to ponder.]


This might explain why Rees was so cagey about the "Totality", and why his 'definition' amounted to little more than a throw-away, half-hearted gesture: there is nothing that could have been said about this nebulous concept, or its obscure parts that would be consonant either with a believable form of materialism, or which didn't automatically undermine this theory itself, as we have just seem.9


Nevertheless, even though it seems clear that nothing could be said about the "Totality" or its parts before everything was known about both it is also worth remembering that (if DM is to be believed) it isn't possible even to attempt to say anything truthful about anything, since, ex hypothesi, nothing would be known about the parts (and hence about the Whole) until the end of an infinite epistemological meander:


"'Fundamentally, we can know only the infinite.' In fact all real exhaustive knowledge consists solely in raising the individual thing in thought from individuality into particularity and from this into universality, in seeking and establishing the infinite in the finite, the eternal in the transitory…. All true knowledge of nature is knowledge of the eternal, the infinite, and essentially absolute… The cognition of the infinite…can only take place in an infinite asymptotic progress." [Engels (1954), pp.233-35. Bold emphasis added.]


"The reproaches you make against the law of value apply to all concepts, regarded from the standpoint of reality. The identity of thought and being, to express myself in Hegelian fashion, everywhere coincides with your example of the circle and the polygon. Or the two of them, the concept of a thing and its reality, run side by side like two asymptotes, always approaching each other yet never meeting. This difference between the two is the very difference which prevents the concept from being directly and immediately reality and reality from being immediately its own concept. But although a concept has the essential nature of a concept and cannot therefore prima facie directly coincide with reality, from which it must first be abstracted, it is still something more than a fiction, unless you are going to declare all the results of thought fictions because reality has to go a long way round before it corresponds to them, and even then only corresponds to them with asymptotic approximation." [Engels to Conrad Schmidt (12/03/1895), in Marx and Engels (2004), pp.463-64. Bold emphasis added. I have used the on-line version here, which differs slightly from the published copy.]


"Systematics impossible after Hegel. The world clearly constitutes a single system, i.e., a coherent whole, but the knowledge of this system presupposes a knowledge of all of nature and history, which man will never attain. Hence he who makes systems must fill in the countless gaps with figments of his own imagination, i.e., engage in irrational fancies, ideologise." [Marx and Engels (1987), p.597. Italic emphases in the original.]


"But there are more than these two properties and qualities or facets to [any material object]; there are an infinite number of them, an infinite number of 'mediacies' and inter-relationships with the rest of the world….


"[I]f we are to have true knowledge of an object we must look at and examine all its facets, its connections and 'mediacies'. That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve completely…. [D]ialectical logic requires that an object should be taken in development, in change, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it). This is not immediately obvious in respect of such an object as a tumbler, but it, too, is in flux, and this holds especially true for its purpose, use and connection with the surrounding world." [Lenin (1921), pp.92-93. Bold emphases alone added.]


"Idealism and mechanical materialism, opportunism and adventurism, are all characterized by the breach between the subjective and the objective, by the separation of knowledge from practice. The Marxist-Leninist theory of knowledge, characterized as it is by scientific social practice, cannot but resolutely oppose these wrong ideologies. Marxists recognize that in the absolute and general process of development of the universe, the development of each particular process is relative, and that hence, in the endless flow of absolute truth, man's knowledge of a particular process at any given stage of development is only relative truth. The sum total of innumerable relative truths constitutes absolute truth. The development of an objective process is full of contradictions and struggles, and so is the development of the movement of human knowledge. All the dialectical movements of the objective world can sooner or later be reflected in human knowledge. In social practice, the process of coming into being, developing and passing away is infinite, and so is the process of coming into being, developing and passing away in human knowledge. As man's practice which changes objective reality in accordance with given ideas, theories, plans or programmes, advances further and further, his knowledge of objective reality likewise becomes deeper and deeper. The movement of change in the world of objective reality is never-ending and so is man's cognition of truth through practice. Marxism-Leninism has in no way exhausted truth but ceaselessly opens up roads to the knowledge of truth in the course of practice. Our conclusion is the concrete, historical unity of the subjective and the objective, of theory and practice, of knowing ant doing, and we are opposed to all erroneous ideologies, whether 'Left' or Right, which depart from concrete history." [Mao (1961c), pp.307-08. Bold emphasis added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


An appeal to practice here would be to no avail, either, and that is for reasons set out in Essay Ten Part One.


This is, of course, one of the least appreciated consequences of trying to 'invert' Hegelian Idealism: material reality may only be 'comprehended' by beginning at the end!


Hence, not even the Owl of Minerva would be securely identifiable until Epistemological Judgement Day has dawned, by which time who would be left to care whether or not it flew?


[More on this topic, here.]


It's An Awful Job, But Someone Has to Do It


Defining The Indefinable


In the absence of anything even remotely resembling a superficial characterisation (let alone a definition) of this obscure DM-'object', the "Totality", we are forced to press the question DM-theorists consistently avoid or deflect: What exactly is the DM-"Totality"?


I propose to examine two possible approaches to this problem. The first introduces what I shall call the "Ontological Definition" of the "Totality" (because it involves a consideration of what might comprise a plausible contents list); the second I propose to call the "Epistemological Definition" (since it aims to link this mysterious 'entity' to the contemporaneous extent of human knowledge, experience and practice).


[However, my use of the word "definition" here is slightly misleading, and that is because the material below in no way constitutes a definition! In my defence, I can only pass the blame on to DM-theorists whose job this should have been, not mine!]


Totalitarian Ontology


In response to the above, it could be objected that it is perfectly clear that the "Totality" includes everything in the Universe --, or everything in existence.


End of story.


Er..., not so fast, comrade!


Does this "everything" include "Possible Worlds", which some philosophers and scientists certainly believe are actual? [Cf., Lewis (1986). See also Divers (2002).]


Possibly not; but how do we know?


Be this at it may, the problem with the hasty "End of story" response above is that (a) It is somewhat vague itself, and (b) It is far too generous.


How and why both of these apply will now be examined.


The 'Polo Mint' Totality: A Whole With A Gaping Hole In The Middle


If the "Totality" is supposed to include everything that exists, several awkward questions immediately force themselves upon us. For instance: Does the "Totality" comprise (i) All that exists in the present, (ii) All that 'exists', or which has existed, in the past, or (iii) Both?


Since DM-theorists seek an historical explanation of the development of class society (etc.), and because they think everything in nature and society is interconnected, it seems they must accept option (iii) above, and regard the past and the present as part of the "Totality".


But, if (as seems to be the case) the past is no more, how can it be part of anything, let alone the "Totality"? In what sense can something that does not exist be a part of anything?10


More problematic, however, is the following question implied by the above: If the "Totality" does include the past, that must mean the "Totality" contains a host of things that don't actually exist -- unless, that is, we are to suppose that things in the past still exist.


Moreover, if objects and processes in the past don't exist, then the "Totality" must contain some things that 'exist' only as ideas about the past entertained in the minds of those stuck in the ephemeral present. And if that is so, it would appear to mean that the "Totality" is part material and part Ideal.


Even if the above conclusions are misguided in some way, and it turns out that everything in the "Totality" is interconnected, another question immediately poses itself: How is it possible for ideas of the past -- or even the past itself -- to be inter-linked with everything that now exists? Indeed, what was the past interconnected with before any ideas about it were formed --, i.e., before conscious or sentient life evolved?


Now, while the past might be connected with the present (we'll let that one slide for now), it cannot be "interconnected" with it; that is, the present cannot be back-connected with the past in any obvious sense (which it would have to be for the past and the present to be interconnected and not just connected). But, if the past and the present aren't interconnected, and if the "Totality" contains only interconnected objects and processes, then plainly the past cannot be part of the "Totality", after all!11


Furthermore, and more worryingly, any ideas we now form, or which we now entertain, of the past will plainly correspond with nothing at all, since the past doesn't exist for anything to correspond with 'it' -- except, perhaps, with yet more ideas about 'it'. Hence, the "Totality" cannot even be objectively Ideal -- at least, not with respect to the past --, let alone material.


In that case, one half of the supposed correspondence relation between our ideas of the past and the past itself wouldn't (or couldn't) exist (or rather, couldn't obtain), if this interpretation of the DM-"Totality" is correct. This in turn would mean that there could be no 'objective' relationship between our ideas of the past and the past itself --, certainly not one of correspondence.


In order to avoid these intractable problems, we might be tempted to restrict the "Totality" to things that exist only in the present, to objects and processes that enjoy contemporary material existence, wherever they happen to be.


But, this option now generates several serious problems of its own. For example, the "Totality" would contain no historically significant events (or, worse still, no historical events at all!), without which nothing that happens in the present will have taken place. Depicted this way, the "Totality" would surely become explanatorily useless, since an appeal would now have to be made to (Ideal) 'objects and processes' outside the "Totality" to account for those inside it!


Indeed, if the "Totality" were circumscribed, or curtailed, in this way, it would become precariously ephemeral. That is because the present is of extremely limited duration (if it has any duration at all). Thus, a very slender (if not terminally anorexic) "Totality" would clearly be implied by this option, whether or not it were correct.


Is the DM-Totality, therefore, a Whole with a huge hole in it? Is there no substance to it at all?




Figure Four: The Totality -- All Hole, Little Substance?


A Fit-Up?


Some readers might be forgiven their impatience at this point, for it would seem that the present author is putting words in the mouths of Dialectical Marxists (no pun involving Polo Mints intended).


Unfortunately, speculation like this has been forced upon us because of the extremely limited information to be found in DM-writings, even of the few that do manage to address the "Totality". This is an informational black hole the nature of which is further compounded by the dogged reluctance of dialecticians to come clean. [Apologies for that mixed metaphor!]


Others might conclude that all this is just another example of Ms Lichtenstein's pedantry. (On that, see here.) That complaint would, of course, only serve to confirm an earlier allegation that when pressed on this topic, DM-fans become evasive.


Moreover, it would also demonstrate that not even the aforementioned, but un-named, 'others' know what their "Totality" actually is or contains!


Is The Past Ideal?


To continue, and as noted above: If the past, which now exists only as an idea (or better still, which now only 'exists' conceptually -- perhaps in our use of language, or as part of our thoughts about it), is to be included in the Whole, then the vast bulk of the "Totality" must be Ideal. That is because, of course, the duration of the past is far longer than that of the present (and possibly by countless orders of magnitude). In turn, that is because, according to many, the present has no duration at all; as Augustine pointed out, if it had any duration it would have its own temporal parts, a 'before' and an 'after', a 'later' and an 'earlier'. That would, of course, further imply that the present was in fact part past and part future.


[I hasten to add that I reject the above metaphysical argument (the one derived from Augustine), but I can see no way that DM-fans will be able to counter it.]


These seemingly contradictory results might prove to be yet more grist to the DM-mill, in that they would seem to confirm the 'contradictory' nature of 'reality', but apart from labelling this metaphysical 'problem' with an even more obscure term (i.e., 'dialectical contradiction'), how would it help anyone understand either time or the nature of the present?


Several other rather surprising conclusions now follow from this, and from the CTT -- a theory of truth widely accepted in DM-circles. [More on this in Essays Three Part Four and Ten Part Two when they are published.]


If propositions about the past are true just in case they correspond with events in the past, then it would surely be impossible to declare them true. That is because, as noted above, there is nothing with which they could correspond -- other than yet more ideas, or, indeed, more propositions about the past --, since the past is no more.


[CTT = Correspondence Theory of Truth.]


To be sure, we may draw true or false conclusions about the past from the evidence now before us, but such evidence (of necessity) only exists, directly or indirectly, in the present. Moreover, whatever it was that this evidence once related to plainly no longer exists, so it is difficult to see how such non-existents could form part of a correspondence relation with anything whatsoever -- at least, in any obvious sense of that word -- that is, this side of a damaging retreat into Idealism, once more.


In response, it could be argued that the past is an objective feature of reality; hence the above conclusions are completely misguided.


However, the meaning of the term "objective" is itself at best hopelessly vague, at worst, terminally obscure -- that was demonstrated in Essay Thirteen Part One --, but, whatever it does mean (if anything), it would be of little help, anyway. That is because it would still be unclear how anything (such as the past) could be "objective" if it doesn't exist. 'Objectivity' -- according to Lenin, at least -- has something to do with existence independent of the human mind, and yet we appear to have something here (the past) that doesn't exist except we form ideas about it.


"To be a materialist is to acknowledge objective truth, which is revealed to us by our sense-organs. To acknowledge objective truth, i.e., truth not dependent upon man and mankind, is, in one way or another, to recognise absolute truth." [Lenin (1972), p.148. Bold emphasis added.]


"Knowledge can be useful biologically, useful in human practice, useful for the preservation of life, for the preservation of the species, only when it reflects objective truth, truth which is independent of man." [Ibid., p.157. Bold emphasis added.]


In which case, the past isn't independent of the mind (and, in Lenin's sense, it cannot be 'outside' the mind, either), and so it cannot be "objective" -- if Lenin is to be believed.


Again, it could be argued that our beliefs about the past are true just in case they correspond with past events. The existence of the latter might in turn be confirmed (or confuted) by an appeal to evidence in the form of documents, artefacts and assorted remains, etc.


But, this doesn't alter the fact that the past no longer exists, nor does it affect the fact that the confirmation of claims about the past requires the use of contemporaneous objects and events -- that is, it necessitates the use of evidence situated in the present, consideration of which is augmented by a judicious use of past tense verbs. Naturally, that is because such evidence (i.e., in the shape of the aforementioned documents, artefacts and assorted remains) clearly exists in the present. Without easy access to a working time machine, we would have no body evidence from the past that is still located there, in the past!


Truths about the present are quite unlike those about the past -- whatever we finally conclude about the nature of any supporting evidence pertaining to one or both. This can be seen by the way we form sentences relevant to each: we use expressions with differentially tensed verbs. This is partly where the attempted rebuttal recorded above itself went astray: it failed to explain -- as similar attempts must always fail to explain without the use of suitably tensed verbs -- precisely with what it is that contemporary propositions about the past are supposed to correspond if one half of the alleged relation does not now exist.12


To be sure, these 'difficulties' don't just plague the CTT when the latter is applied to past events; the CTT collapses into some form of Idealism whatever time frame is chosen for it (as will be demonstrated in Essays Three Part Four and Ten Part Two, when they are published).


Philosophical 'problems' like this (concerning past, present and future) invariably arise out of an inappropriate interpretation of phrases like "The past", "The present" and "The future".12a It has thus seemed to some that if such expressions resemble, or seem to operate as names (or if they appear to be words that are, or can be used, referentially), then they must designate or name something, which 'something' must therefore exist --, er..., somewhere. A philosophical search is then initiated to locate these pseudo-entities, which are manifestly the creation of an over-active mind bewitched by an egregious misuse of language.13


Plainly, if the past exists, we are forced to use the present tense to refer to it -- as has just been done in this very sentence. Naturally, if we interpret such words in a similarly crude manner, it would imply that the past is no longer in the past, but in the present(!), which would show that the past had in fact been misnamed, or mis-characterised. [If this point is obscure to some, I have given examples in Note 14.]14


The depiction of the past in this way is thoroughly inappropriate, for it makes it seem that its existence is an empirical issue, a search for which resembles the hunt for, say, Bigfoot -- only far more challenging.


If something exists we should at least (in theory) be able to pin it down, even if we cannot do so at present (no pun intended), or even if only from a distance. Unless we accept the possibility of time travel (a notion that arises precisely out of confusions like this -- more on that in a later Essay -- until then, see Dummett (1993b)), this isn't a viable option.


Clearly, these terminological difficulties have arisen because of an inappropriate and misleading analogy drawn between space and time. This imagery suggests (to some) that just as objects in space can be located somewhere, those in time can be located somewhen, with the latter term being given a new slant by making location in time analogous to location in space, perhaps by means of a fourth axis tacked onto the Cartesian (or some other) co-ordinate system.15


Clearly, an analogy of this sort ought to sanction the following parallel argument: since some future-tense indicative sentences are true now, they must correspond with events which have yet to occur, but which must also now exist in a shadowy form in 'the Future'. Unfortunately, that would situate such 'future events' in the present, too!


[Notice we also had to use the present tense to make this point.]


Naturally, this would mean that all events -- past, present and future -- must co-exist (present tense, again)!


As may readily be appreciated, this would 'solve' the problem by destroying time altogether.16


A metaphysical scorched earth policy like this plainly has no viable future (no pun intended, once more) -- or none worth mentioning in present company.17


The Elusive Membership List


In order to neutralise, or side-step awkward questions like these, we should perhaps simply declare that the "Totality" incorporates everything that exists -- but, maybe, a-temporally?


However, that alternative is of little help since it is decidedly unclear what a-temporal existence could possibly mean -- except, perhaps, the phrase itself might apply to a 'Deity' of some sort.


[That, of course, would link the "Totality" even more closely to our earlier ruminations about "God".]


However, here are the thoughts of a fully paid-up member of the HCD fraternity (in what is a remarkably clear passage for this particular theorist):


"This [i.e.,  a 'transcendental' deduction for totality -- RL] seems relatively easy for social life. Consider once more our paradigmatic the library.... There is an obvious sense in which the book, if recently published, existentially presupposes all, or at least many, of the others, and the spatio-temporal traditions which nurtured it.... That is to say it would have been impossible without the others. Or consider the text itself. It is an internally related totality. As are the elements of a language, or the ebb and flow of a conversation, the sequential 'habitus' of a routine, the systematic interdependencies of the global monetary system, a play, a sculpture, or an experimental project oriented to the demediation of nature. Or consider simply a musical tune, melody, beat or rhythm. Or reflect on the semantic structure of a sentence, bound in a complex of paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations (and metaphoric and metonymic presuppositions). Or on its physical structure -- for instance, the location of the spaces and punctuation marks within it. Not to treat such entities as totalities is to violate norms of descriptive and hermeneutic adequacy." [Bhaskar (1993), pp.123-24. Links added.]


But, what about "totalities" in nature? Bhaskar is far less clear (and decidedly less confident -- the smokescreen of obscure jargon he throws up itself being a dead give-away):


"First, it might be entered that unless there were internal, and specifically dialectical contradictions..., there would be no internal (radically negating) tendencies to change either for individual things or for their types (including natural kinds) or, more drastically, for the world as a whole, so that the emergence of, for example, science would have been impossible. If my first argument turns on the transcendental necessity of ontological change, my second turns on that of the transcendental necessity for taxonomy in science. Thus it could be argued that unless some explanatory significant things had properties which were existentially essential to them, that is, such that they were not just necessarily connected, but internally related, to them, scientific classification, which depends on the possibility of real (as distinct from merely nominal) definitions, would be impossible. Internal relationality, and so the conceptual possibility of the analytic a posteriori, is bound to the Leibnizian level of the identification of natural kinds, as natural necessity is tied to the demonstration of explanatory adequacy in the dialectic of explanatory and taxonomic knowledge in science.... For if classification is justified only on the basis of superficial resemblance rather than real identity of structure, then there is no rationale for the stratification of science. This depends upon grasping suitably groomed structurata (sic) as tokens of real structures, whose intransitive existence and transfactual efficacy is a condition not only of science, but also of life." [Ibid., p.124.]


While there are many things in the above passage with which one might want to take issue (for example, 'internal relations', 'transcendental deductions' and 'natural kinds' -- they will be scrutinised elsewhere at this site), just as there are others that have been challenged in this and other Essays (such as 'dialectical contradictions' and 'natural necessity'), the above passage still fails tell us precisely what the DM-"Totality" actually is -- other than that it is (maybe) a regulative device aimed (perhaps?) at maintaining the morale of scientists. Be this as it may, Bhaskar is silent about the mystical and theological origin of theories like this. [That might explain why he finally unravelled as an open and honest mystic later in life.]


So, maybe we need a membership list? If we knew exactly what we were supposed to talking about, the nature of the elusive "Totality" might become a little clearer. Well, it can only help to raise these issues and then consider the available possibilities.


To that end, it is worth posing questions that DM-fans serially fail to ask: Does the "Totality" include every material object? Or, does it exclude non-material 'abstractions' -- like courage, generosity, justice and equality?


[However, as we saw in Essay Two and Essay Three Parts One and Two, DM-theorists have yet to tell us exactly with what (in this universe) such 'abstractions' do in fact correspond!]


So, it might be wise to throw these spurious creations of Ancient Greek Grammar (i.e., these 'abstractions') overboard. And yet doing that would scupper the entire 'dialectical theory of knowledge', which relies heavily on 'abstraction'. The only viable alternative for dialecticians, it would seem, is to suppose that the DM-"Totality" must contain abstractions, the natures of which are, alas, just as obscure as the "Totality" itself!


But, dear reader, do not presume to ask where such abstractions reside or are to be found. [In 'heaven', with 'God'? In your head? In objects and processes themselves?] Puzzled onlookers who might be tempted to ignore that sound advice should contact their local DM-Soothsayer, who, in response to an impertinent enquiry such as this will once again wave his/her arms vaguely heavenward -- if you are lucky -- or, what is far more likely, accuse you of not "understanding" dialectics -- if you aren't.


And, if you are a child, you will believe everything you are told.


Even worse, we have yet to be informed by DM-theorists what matter is (except they inform us that it, too, is an abstraction!). In which case, being told that the "Totality" contains, or is comprised only of, material objects is no help at all, since that would mean it contains only abstract objects!


Moving rapidly on: what about scientific or theoretical entities such as Quarks, Superstrings, Wormholes, energy, force, genes, species, and genera? Do these inhabit the "Totality"? Are mathematical concepts and objects -- such as, π, e, Matrices, Complex Numbers, Partial Derivatives, Banach Space, Hermite Polynomials, the Kronecker Delta, Abelian Groups, Transfinite Cardinals (etc.) -- to be excluded, or included?


[The word "theoretical" here doesn't imply the present author doubts the existence of any of the above scientific 'entities', only that they are defined as part of complex and (so we are told) well-founded bodies of theory. So, each of their natures is integral to the theories to which they belong.]


Well then, what about the properties of objects that depend either on their disposition or on their relation to other bodies, such as size, velocity, weight, and hardness? Do these make the Mega Inventory? If so, shouldn't we also rope in the apparent properties of matter, such as solidity, liquidity, colour, smell, taste, and sound? But, according to some, these depend solely on their being perceived by sentient beings, which would mean that they aren't -- according to Lenin -- 'objective', even though they seem to exercise some sort of causal influence on other material bodies independently of our sensory modalities. Is that sufficient reason to strike them from the Cosmic Roll Call, or not?


What then should we decide about genuine oddities, such as corners, surfaces and shapes? These strange 'beings' seem to disappear at the micro-level, and several even depend on the point of view of the observer. In that case, can they really be part of an 'objective' "Totality"?18


But, what then are we to conclude about those aspects of reality whose natures are even more obscure? For example, what are we to make of mathematical fictions like the average worker, the mean square velocity of (a body of) gas molecules (in, for instance, the Kinetic Theory of Gases), the probability of an event, Spearman's Rank Correlation Coefficient, the Centre of Mass of the Solar System, or the moment of a force? Despite the fact that these are human constructs, some of them also appear to exercise a significant causal influence on material objects. In which case, are they 'objective', 'subjective', both or neither?


And, what are we to say of those things whose status is far more problematic, such as vacua, mirages, illusions, holes, shadows, 'The Unconscious', mirror and lens images, reflections, refractions, para-reflections, the perspectival properties of bodies, phantom limbs (or the 'phantom perception' of false limbs), dreams, rainbows, fogbows, The Brocken Spectre, Heilgenschein, The Glory, The Bishop's Ring, Ice Halos, pains, hallucinations, memories and emotions? And what about things whose nature and existence are either dubious or are highly problematic: Phlogiston, Caloric, the Ether, the mysterious powers of the Echeneis fish (once widely believed by scientists to be able to halt the passage of ships), N Rays, Orgone, Bio-Energy and Polywater?19


If we disallow some, any or all of these, how can we consistently admit others that are themselves merely theoretical, or are of a highly speculative nature -- such as Superstrings, Spacetime, n-dimensional space, branched time zones, Axions, Branes and Black Holes --, but which are, even in comparison with several of the items listed above, decidedly weird?


Are we to be catholic or exclusive in the way we draw up the membership list -- Bolshevik or Menshevik?


An Ontological Blank Cheque?


It could be countered that we should admit into the "Totality" all and only those entities that scientists acknowledge -- either now or in the future --, supported by the weight of evidence.19a


[This is, indeed, what John Somerville, for example, argues here. (This is Somerville (1967), pp.3-32.) John Molyneux appears to agree; Molyneux (2012), pp.40-41.]


The problem with this response is that it would present scientists with what amounted to rather generous ontological 'blank cheque', as it were.19b In fact, if this were the adopted policy, far too many (of what are assumed to be) objects and processes in the "Totality" would possess a somewhat precarious -- if not alarmingly fleeting -- 'existence'. Just as soon as scientists changed their minds over the nature and existence of these ephemeral 'entities' (as they regularly do), their 'temporary residence permits' would have to be revoked.


In addition to several of the items already mentioned (which we might describe as 'virtual', or even 'honorary' members of the "Totality"), the following would possess (or would have possessed) only transient squatters' rights: indivisible atoms, the four forms of matter, entelechies, the fifth element, homunculi, the music of the spheres, the celestial spheres themselves, mermaids, humours, cosmic vortices, substantial forms, effluvia, miasmas, witches and demons.


As is well-known, at one time scientists entertained the existence of many of the above, often for several centuries.


Not only that, we can add to the list items whose status is at present either somewhat dubious, highly questionable, or which might become one or both any day soon: the Higgs Boson, 'selfish' genes, I.Q., race, Morphogenic Fields, so-called "homeopathic" phenomena, "The Placebo Effect", the graviton, gravitational waves, tachyons, and Gaia.




Video Two: Placebo Effect -- Real Or Imaginary?


[Update July 2012: I will add a few comments about the recent 'discovery' of a particle (or supposed particle) in the energy range where the Higgs Boson is supposed to exist when it has become a little clearer what exactly has been found. (See also the Appendix article on this.) More-or-less the same can be said about the recent discovery of 'gravitational waves'.]


It is worth recalling that Stephen Hawking once laid a bet that the Higgs Boson would never be found. Even though he has now conceded that he has lost the bet, it is still a little too early for anyone finally to agree with him.


Even worse, Physicists seem not to be able to make their minds up whether or not the Higgs Boson explains all the mass in the universe:


"So, the Higgs boson has been discovered! That's good news. You may have also heard that the Higgs gives mass to everything in the Universe, and that it's a field.


"The odd thing is that all of these things are true, if not intuitive. There are some attempts to explain it simply, but as you can see, even the top ones are not very clear. So let's give you something to sink your teeth into: How do fundamental particles, including the Higgs boson, get their mass?" [Quoted from here. Emphases in the original.]


"But how did the electrons and quarks that make up all the matter in the universe (for technical reasons, perhaps except for neutrinos) get their mass? That we still don't know. But once we understand how the Ws and the Z gain their mass from their interaction with the Higgs field, we assume that we also know how mass in general is created: through the same 'Higgs mechanism,' and that this primeval cosmic event shortly after the Big Bang has thus created the mass of the universe: electrons, quarks, stars, galaxies, planets, trees, animals, and us." [Quoted from here. Emphases in the original.]


"In all the recent hoopla about the long-sought Higgs boson, you often hear it said that it is responsible for the mass of the universe. This is not true. Assuming it exists, the Higgs boson is actually responsible for only a small fraction of the total mass of the universe.


"This is not to say that the Higgs boson is not important. The main role of the Higgs in the standard model of elementary particles is to provide for the symmetry breaking of the unified electroweak force by giving mass to the weak bosons and splitting the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces. It also gives mass to the other elementary particles. If elementary particles did not have mass, they would all be moving at the speed of light and never stick together to form stuff like stars, cats, and you and me.


"The mass of the universe, however, is not simply the sum of the masses of the elementary particles that constitute matter. Einstein showed that the mass of a body is equal to its rest energy. If that body is not elementary but composed of parts, then its rest energy as a whole will be the sum of all the energies of its parts. This sum will include the kinetic and potential energies of the parts in addition to their individual rest energies." [Quoted from here. Links added to both of the above.]


Moreover, as is the case in other areas of science, the temptation is to try to account for mass in terms of several inappropriate metaphors -- for example, referring to the "syrupy Higgs Field":


"Our theory says that matter, at a fundamental level, is made up of particles called quarks and leptons. The quarks make up protons, and protons make up atoms. Mathematically, it's easy to build a theory where the quarks have no mass at all, and in fact they may have been mass-less at the time of the Big Bang, when they came into existence. But clearly they do have mass now. Why?


"In the 1960s, Peter Higgs [a British physicist] and others found a kind of mathematical trick to explain it. We now imagine there is a field permeating all of space -- we call it the Higgs field -- and as particles interact with that field, they acquire mass. Think of it like a syrup that the particles have to push their way through. So it's that interaction with the syrup that we see as mass. And the Higgs boson is the 'unit' that makes up this Higgs field." [Physicist Robert Orr, quoted from here. Paragraphs merged to save space; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links added. Physics Professor Jim Al-Khalili also appeals to this useless metaphor/analogy in this BBC video, at about 08:30; he also asserts several times that the Higgs gives mass to "every other particle" --, for example, at 36:25 and 37:10.]


But, as seems obvious, a syrup would bring all movement to a halt. So, the Higgs Field is nothing like a syrup. Nor are the following metaphors much use, either:


"A Higgs field (named after a Scottish physicist Peter Higgs) is a field supposed to be responsible for the genesis of inertial mass (and, because of Einstein's equivalence principle, gravitational mass). When the universe is extremely hot, a Higgs field (which is supposed to have a certain curve of potential energy; as regards the shape of this curve, there is no unique consensus, except for a certain general feature, among the physicists) exerts a wild influence; but we will neglect this here. Once the universe cools down enough, below a certain temperature, the Higgs field assumes a certain value (i.e. a value of the Higgs field) which corresponds to the lowest energy level (i.e. the potential energy is zero, but the value of the Higgs field is nonzero; this level may be called vacuum). And this energy level continues to prevail throughout the whole universe (uniform, nonzero Higgs field).


"Now, suppose a quark or electron moves (supposed fundamental particles which make up composite particles such as proton, neutron, or various atoms) in this uniform Higgs field. If that particle changes its velocity of movement, that is, if it accelerates, then the Higgs field is supposed to exert a certain amount of resistance or drag, and that is the origin of inertial mass. In a slightly more precise terminology, inertial mass is generated by interactions between a particle and the (nonzero) Higgs field. In a nutshell, this is the origin of inertial mass. Of course, other kinds of interaction, such as the strong interaction (governed by the force of gluons, particles gluing quarks together into a proton, say) may contribute significantly to the resulting mass. Moreover, the degree of resistance (drag) of the Higgs field is different depending on the kinds of fundamental particles, and this generates the difference between the mass of electron and that of a quark." [Quoted from here. Bold emphasis and links added. Italic emphasis in the original.]


As we will see in Essay Eight Parts One and Two (links below), a mathematical object like a field cannot exert "drag forces" unless it has a physical presence of some sort and is thus made of something (but what?).


Now, if that comment is itself mistaken in some way, and a field is capable of exerting "drag forces" (but how?), that would simply push the problem further back. A mathematical object, so characterised, would be comprised, or be part, of a scalar, vector or tensor field. But, mathematical structures like these have no physical presence and so on their own can have no effect on anything -- other than, of course, on those who might want to employ them to attempt to account for phenomena (objects and processes) in nature. To be sure, we might try to represent each field by, for example, lines of force, or by constructing a tangent/slope field, etc. However, lines of force are 'infinitely thin' and yet absolutely unbreakable -- and, even worse, misrepresent the continuous nature of the field! On top of that, such lines (or whatever a field is supposed to be composed of) must allow particles to pass through, all the while remaining coherent themselves -- even though they are in fact made of nothing. Otherwise we should have to appeal to forces of cohesion to account for the coherence of these lines (or whatever a field is supposed to be composed of), and their capacity to resist motion, as well as their permeability. Once again, this simply reproduces the same problems one stage further back, for we should now have to account for these new 'cohesive forces', and so on. Moreover, if the field is continuous in nature (and isn't made of discrete 'lines of force' -- or whatever it is supposed to be composed of), it would seem to be even less capable of resisting motion unless it were in some way particulate (however, on that option, see the links posted below).


This is, of course, just a contemporary version of a classical problem, which, as Leibniz noted, afflicts all forms of mechanical atomism (or, indeed, mathematical atomism). Translating it into what amounts to Bargain Basement Platonism (whereby, in modern Physics, the universe is viewed as fundamentally mathematical) would plainly be no use at all.


[On this, see the comments posted here, here, and here. Also see my remarks over at Wikipedia, here and here.]


The question now is: Does the "Totality" have a sort of 'metaphysical revolving door', or maybe an ethereal antechamber, to cater for ephemeral and itinerant objects and processes such as these?


[The 'discovery' of the Higgs Boson and 'gravitational waves' -- or, whatever has been found -- only serves to underline this point.]20


Finally, what are we to say of the following theoretical entities and processes (whose material nature is problematic, or whose physical existence is decidedly questionable): gemmules, singularities, elementary particles, electrons travelling backward in time, tetraneutrons, phase space, Red Mercury, Dark Matter, (Cold or even Warm) Dark Energy -- indeed, energy itself -- "the Field", strange attractors, the magnetic monopole, gluinos, photinos, winos, binos, zinos, Cold Fusion, MACHOs and WIMPs?21


Either the existence of all of these should be entertained, or those that supposedly don't enjoy 'objectivity' should be filtered out, the rest put on hold or consigned to 'limbo'. But, which are to be discarded and which retained? And on what basis?21a


More importantly: which unfortunate comrade is going to chair the Dialectical Selection Panel?22


'Objectively' On -- Then Off -- The Cosmic Membership List


Worse still, what should we decide when scientists revise their theories, or change their minds -- as they continually do? Would this mean that (i) The "Totality" itself changes whenever the scientific community ceases to acknowledge, or even rejects, the existence of what had once been considered to be 'objective' objects and processes? Or, would this: (ii) Show that scientists' beliefs about 'objectivity' itself had altered? If one or both of these were the case, would this not in turn suggest: (iii) That some (perhaps all?) 'objective' ideas are really only 'subjective'? Wouldn't this cast a shadow over the 'objectivity' of science itself?


In view of the above, is it possible to maintain the superior 'objectivity' of any (current or universal) contents list of the "Totality" if yet more 'ontological re-edits' are only to be expected a few years down the line -- once again, as invariably happens in science?22aa


Conversely, if option (i) were the case, wouldn't that mean the actual contents list of the "Totality" depends on decisions made by fallible human beings? Did the "Totality" change, for example, when early modern scientists decided that the "fifth element" no longer made it on to the bench? Or the Luminiferous Ether?


Recall, we have already seen that Engels defined the "Totality" in the following way (including in his version of it the now defunct Ether):


"The whole of nature accessible to us forms a system, an interconnected totality of bodies, and by bodies we understand here all material existences extending from stars to atoms, indeed right to ether particles, in so far as one grants the existence of the last named. In the fact that these bodies are interconnected is already included that they react on one another, and it is precisely this mutual reaction that constitutes motion. It already becomes evident that matter is unthinkable without motion." [Engels (1954), p.70. Bold emphasis added.]


But, if the decisions of scientists determine what constitutes an 'objective' membership list, then the "Totality" itself must change in line with scientific fashion. Did it change again when scientists concluded that Phlogiston and the Planet Vulcan (this isn't the planet on Star Trek!) were imaginary? Perhaps Vulcan was suspended in some form of 'objective/subjective limbo' world (subsisting away in a sort of Meinongian ante-chamber somewhere), while researchers finally made up their minds? Will the "Totality" mutate once more if, someday, Superstrings are granted (or denied) 'objective existence'? [They have already been partially transmogrified into Branes, and the background theory itself into M-Theory!]


Is, therefore, the "Totality" an artefact of whim? Is it 'objective' in a 'subjective' sort of sense? Does it depend on who is on the Metaphysical Review Board? Is it Selection Panel sensitive?


A Totally Porous Boundary


This isn't a very promising start -- but, and alas for DM-fans, it gets 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?22a


This latest possibility now poses far more serious problems for any attempt to construct an Ontological Definition of the "Totality". That is because several DM-theses imply the 'perimeter fence' (as it were) encircling the "Totality" is full of holes.


In fact, the DM-Totality more closely resembles a colander than it does a wok.



Figure Five: Is This The "Totality"? Maybe Not -- Since

It Has Too Few Holes.


While rival ontological systems often operate with some sort of closed-border policy -- admitting the existence of certain things, disallowing others -- it turns out that DM-theorists can't reject anything at all, since they openly admit (if not adamantly insist upon) the existence of countless contradictions (as well as paradoxes) -- and endless trillions of them -- indeed, possibly hundreds, if not thousands in each and every atom in the entire universe!


Hence, the 'DM-boundary-fence' isn't so much porous as non-existent. It is about as effective as the "perimeters" the cops regularly set up in 24, the TV film series; the miscreants always manage to get through. 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, the Olympian Gods, the end of the rainbow, and perhaps even the Adhedral Triangle?22b


Anyone tempted to respond that the above list is absurd since it contains contradictory items, which can be ruled out in advance, should once again consult their local DM-Soothsayer before they jump to that hasty conclusion. In fact, given well-known DM-principles, it isn't easy to see how any of the above (and many more besides) may be rejected on such a peremptory, a priori basis.


Thus, if the DM-"Totality" is to be rescued from oblivion, some way must be found to stop these and countless other absurdities before they cross its recklessly permeable boundary.


It could be objected once again that this is just ridiculous; dialecticians only acknowledge the existence of contradictions that can be empirically verified. Hence, they don't countenance the actuality of 'theoretical' contradictions and assorted absurdities, nor do they admit the mere existence of all 'contradictory', imaginary, and impossible objects.


But, this counter-claim is demonstrably incorrect, as we will soon see. Anyway, even if it were the case that DM-theorists do not admit the existence of such entities, there is in fact nothing in their 'logic' that rules them out.


Again, it could be argued that 'contradictory objects' are easily excluded because they aren't material, and do not represent verifiable material forces.


But, who says? How do we know that scientists might not one day discover weird things like these? They already have rather too many of their own to contend with; several of those were listed above. Would anyone like to tell them that electrons travelling 'backwards' in time are impossible, or that 'quantum objects' can't be in two places at once?


[UO = Unity of Opposites; DL = Dialectical Logic; FL = Formal Logic.]


Even worse still, as noted earlier: objects and processes like these cannot be ruled out by anyone wielding the terminally obscure notions DL supplies its adepts. Because of that, DM-theorists openly admit the existence of countless billion contradictions and other assorted 'impossibilities', right throughout the entire universe (the existence of which cannot be verified by empirical means, either). [On that, see below.]


In fact, if everything in existence were a UO (as the DM-classics tell us) then there should be at least as many contradictions in reality as there are sub-atomic particles (and possibly more). Hence, the aforementioned 'impossibilities' cannot be ruled out in advance of all the evidence having been considered, certainly not as a result of 'principles' exclusive to DL.


Indeed, DM-theorists already acknowledge the actual existence of contradictory objects, processes and assorted 'impossibilities' prior to all (or even most) of the evidence having been collected (and, in many cases, in abeyance of any evidence at all!), since those who agree with Lenin and Hegel insist that everything and every process is, or 'contains' a UO.


[The reason for the 'scare' quotes around "contains" is explained in Essay Eight Part One.]


If so, for all that even dialecticians know, the "Totality" could contain countless as-yet-undiscovered absurdities. And this is all the more so since DM-theorists themselves already confuse contradictions with absurdities, alongside a host of other oddities, to boot.


Furthermore, if Engels and Lenin are to be believed, an infinite amount of knowledge still awaits discovery. Hence, 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, or the "Totality" (that is, if there is such a 'thing'). That being the case, those who rely on DL are in no position to rule such absurdities out with anything other than almost infinite uncertainty. The only way such oddities could be excluded would be on the back of an a priori appeal to principles exclusive to FL -- or, indeed, exclusive to ordinary language --, and thus on the basis of rules that are incompatible with those found in DL. [On that, see Essay Four.]


As we have already seen (in connection with Engels's analysis of motion and several other core DM-theses, here, here, here, here, here and here), DM-theorists already acknowledge the existence of contradictory objects and events. Examples include the unity of opposite poles in a magnet, 'contradictory' opposing forces throughout nature (at both the macro-, and micro-level), 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 a determinate existent) and which does not terminate), the fundamentally contradictory nature of matter (in that it is both wave and particle, continuous and discontinuous, all at once), and contradictory cells (that are somehow alive and dead at the same time -- or they are teetering on the edge of, or they are caught between, both), and so on.


Once again, if Lenin is to be believed, reality is fundamentally contradictory, and everything is a UO. And, Lenin asserted this in the absence of any evidence at all.23


"[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. Original emphases removed, bold added.]


This means that DM-theorists cannot consistently exclude any of the contradictory and unlikely entities listed earlier solely on the basis of their assumed 'contradictory' nature(s). Theorists who postulate the existence of contradictions everywhere, but who suddenly become arbitrarily fastidious just when it suits them, shouldn't expect to be taken seriously.


But, what could be more contradictory than a "Totality" that admits among its denizens things that not only do not exist (like the past), but also those that cannot exist (like DM-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 isn't to be imposed on the world, but read from it -- as its supporters constantly intone -- then, as it now turns out, DM-theorists cannot consistently stipulate what their "Totality" does or does not contain ahead of an empirical investigation to that end.23a


Others might be able to do this, but they can't.


This is their millstone; they should wear it with pride.


Hence, any attempt to rule out of existence one or more of the contradictory or absurd objects listed above would trap DM-theorists between the above millstone and yet another hard place: FL.


Now, those of us who aren't, shall we say, favourably disposed to this crazy system of 'logic' -- i.e., DL -- not only can, but do rule out of existence certain things because of principles expressed in FL and/or ordinary language. And we are right to do so.


[In fact, it is better to say that it makes no sense to suppose such things exist. More on that here. On similar grounds, therefore, we may legitimately and consistently deny the legitimacy of DM-propositions that report the existence of 'contradictions' in nature, for example.]


However, as noted above, this defence is unavailable to DM-theorists who claim that humanity has to wait upon the deliverances of an infinite meander through epistemological space, along the Yellow Brick Road to 'Epistemological Valhalla' that supposedly leads toward 'Absolute Knowledge', before anyone would be in a position to decide whether such propositions are 'fully true' -- or, indeed, whether they are true at all.


If so, dialecticians have no valid reason to 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 their cavalier rejection of the protocols of FL and ordinary language.


The dilemma now facing DM-theorists is quite stark: either (a) They continue to disdain FL -- the repudiation of which helped create this problem --, thus admitting the possible existence of all manner of contradictory objects, events and processes --; or (b) They reject their existence (and hence abandon the idea that contradictions exist everywhere in nature), because of rules codified in FL, and expressed discursively in ordinary language.24


What seems certain, however, is that the unwise rejection of core FL-principles 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-protocols, alongside the adoption of a believable and/or workable theory of knowledge.


Hence, as a result of yet another dialectical inversion, FL would now be required to rescue DM-theorists from the contradictory "Totality" they rashly summoned into existence; a Whole that could include, for all we know -- or, for all they know -- characters from Alice in Wonderland and the nonsense rhymes of Edward Lear.24a


Universal Interconnection -- Fact Or Fantasy?


Precisely What Is Interconnected With What?


In addition to and compounding the difficulties outlined above, there remains the unresolved problem of the exact nature and extent of the relations that are alleged to exist between the objects and processes in the nebulous DM-"Totality" --, should we ever be told what the latter is, of course.


From what little we 'know', the "Totality" is supposed to be interconnected, contradictory and constantly changing (because of its countless UOs). Earlier we saw Lenin declare the following:


"[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….


"To begin with what is the simplest, most ordinary, common, etc., [sic] with any proposition...: [like] John is a man…. Here we already have dialectics (as Hegel's genius recognized): the individual is the universal…. Consequently, the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. Every universal only approximately embraces all the individual objects. Every individual enters incompletely into the universal, etc., etc. Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes), etc. Here already we have the elements, the germs of the concept of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc...." [Lenin (1961), pp.221, 359-60. Emphases in the original.]


However, he was also disarmingly honest about where he obtained these ideas:


"Hegel brilliantly divined the dialectics of things (phenomena, the world, nature) in the dialectics of concepts…. This aphorism should be expressed more popularly, without the word dialectics: approximately as follows: In the alternation, reciprocal dependence of all notions, in the identity of their opposites, in the transitions of one notion into another, in the eternal change, movement of notions, Hegel brilliantly divined precisely this relation of things to nature…. [W]hat constitutes dialectics?…. [M]utual dependence of notions all without exception…. Every notion occurs in a certain relation, in a certain connection with all the others." [Lenin (1961), pp.196-97. Emphases in the original.]25


This means that Lenin derived these ideas, not from a scientific study of the universe, but from a Christian Mystic.


[It is also worth noting that Hegel hasn't gone down in history as a great experimental scientist, either.]


Be this as it may, the nature and extent of these 'universal interconnections' is still far from clear. For instance: does every object and process in the "Totality" influence every other object and process instantaneously across vast expanses of space and time, all the time. Does each object and process do this equally or differentially? That is, do objects and processes on the far side of the universe affect those on the Earth equally as much as, or less than those on this planet affect one another, or as much the latter affect in return those on the far side of the universe? As we will see in Part Two, and odd though this might seem, given the Hegelian doctrine of 'internal relations', the answer should be "equally as much", in both directions!


Even more perplexing: how are interconnections like this even possible?


More importantly, how might any of this be confirmed?


At this point it is worth recalling once more what Engels, Maurice Cornforth, and George Novack had to say:


"All three are developed by Hegel in his idealist fashion as mere laws of thought: the first, in the first part of his Logic, in the Doctrine of Being; the second fills the whole of the second and by far the most important part of his Logic, the Doctrine of Essence; finally the third figures as the fundamental law for the construction of the whole system. The mistake lies in the fact that these laws are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them. This is the source of the whole forced and often outrageous treatment; the universe, willy-nilly, is made out to be arranged in accordance with a system of thought which itself is only the product of a definite stage of evolution of human thought." [Engels (1954), p.62. Bold emphasis alone added.]


"The general results of the investigation of the world are obtained at the end of this investigation, hence are not principles, points of departure, but results, conclusions. To construct the latter in one's head, take them as the basis from which to start, and then reconstruct the world from them in one's head is ideology, an ideology which tainted every species of materialism hitherto existing.... As Dühring proceeds from 'principles' instead of facts he is an ideologist, and can screen his being one only by formulating his propositions in such general and vacuous terms that they appear axiomatic, flat. Moreover, nothing can be concluded from them; one can only read something into them...." [Marx and Engels (1987), Volume 25, p.597. Italic emphases in the original; bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


"Our party philosophy, then, has a right to lay claim to truth. For it is the only philosophy which is based on a standpoint which demands that we should always seek to understand things just as they are…without disguises and without fantasy….


"Marxism, therefore, seeks to base our ideas of things on nothing but the actual investigation of them, arising from and tested by experience and practice. It does not invent a 'system' as previous philosophers have done, and then try to make everything fit into it…." [Cornforth (1976), pp.14-15. Bold emphases added.]


"A consistent materialism cannot proceed from principles which are validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source. Idealisms may do this. But the materialist philosophy has to be based upon evidence taken from objective material sources and verified by demonstration in practice...." [Novack (1965), p.17. Bold emphasis added.]


But, isn't this what DM-fans have been doing from day one -- the day they first opened Hegel's 'Logic' and believed far more than was good for them?


Interconnectionism Comes Apart At The Seams


Nevertheless, as with so many other DM-theses, the idea that everything in the universe is interconnected soon unravels when it is subjected to close scrutiny. To that end, it is worth asking: Exactly which parts of the Universe are inter-related, to what extent, and in what way?


Do these interconnections extend across all regions of space and time, instantaneously, or is this true only of some? Is there some sort of time-delay affecting them all --, or again, only some? If so, does this 'delay' mean that the past, for instance, is currently interconnected with the present -- perhaps by means of light and/or gravitational waves, as one or other travel across these vast distances? Or, do these interconnections operate only between contemporaneous states of affairs thereby ruling out significant delays like this? That is, are only presently existing objects and processes interconnected?


On the other hand, does this doctrine imply that events in the past are (now) interconnected with other events belonging to the same, or different, time zones? In that case, is, say, the election of Tony Blair in 1997 still interconnected with the sinking of the Bismarck, the discovery of Gold in the Klondike, King John's loss of the Crown Jewels in 1216, and the near extinction of life at the end of the Permian? If not, which time zones are inter-linked and which aren't? And on what basis? If they are still interconnected, precisely what is it that interlinks events that no longer exist? Does this interconnecting 'force' (or 'energy', or whatever it is) -- which links objects and processes that don't now exist -- itself exist in the present? If not, how is it able to it link anything? If it does exist in the here-and-now, how is it able to connect objects and events that don't?


Even supposing such questions could be answered (should a single DM-supporter bother to do so), we would still be in the dark as to how this 'force', this 'energy', or this 'we-know-not-what', actually manages to do the interconnecting.


Bemused readers will search long and hard through DM-texts (and once more to no avail), as well as those written by Mystics who also dote on this obscure 'theory' (about the "Totality"), for any answers to these and other awkward questions -- or, for any sign they are even vaguely aware such problems exist.


Anyway, and to spoil the fun: we already know (from certain principles enshrined in Relativity) that there are parts of the universe that can't (physically can't) be connected, let alone interconnected.


Conversely, in view of the fact that the past doesn't exist, shouldn't such connections across time zones be disallowed? That is because it would seem to be impossible for anything to be connected (let alone interconnected) with something that doesn't exist. However, if the past isn't connected (or interconnected) with the present, how would it be possible to give an historical account, say, of the origin of class society, or of the demise of Feudalism?


Of course, it is always possible to argue that there is a causal chain of events that connects the past with the present. But, even if that were so, this supposed chain of causes can't interconnect the past with the present if one of them doesn't exist. To be sure, the present might be connected with the past (via such a causal chain, for instance), but it can't be interconnected with it (anymore than you, dear reader, can be interconnected with The Battle of the Little Bighorn, or The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), in the sense that you are now back-linked to it. Either we acknowledge this limitation or we admit to the existence of backward causation, and, indeed, with objects and processes that no longer exist. Moreover, as we saw earlier, no single element in this causal chain, except perhaps the last one, now exists. If so, how can such an insubstantial chain of non-existent causes connect something that does exist (the present) with something that does not (the past)? At best, this would make this chain and those links Ideal, and thus not the least bit "objective".


Hence, at the very most, if the past is connected with the present by an Ideal sort of causal link, that would make the "Totality" (so depicted) an Ideally connected 'Whole'. Even then, it would still fail to be an interconnected 'Whole' -- still less a physically-connected whole.


One is tempted to respond to hard-core DM-fans (who might at this point be heard to mutter through clenched teeth: "Of course such things are interconnected!") along the following lines: "And which minor deity informed you of that supposed fact?" --, a few seconds before reminding them that only Idealists impose theses like this on nature, something they themselves have sworn never to do. That was the point of quoting the following DM-worthies a few paragraphs back:


"All three are developed by Hegel in his idealist fashion as mere laws of thought: the first, in the first part of his Logic, in the Doctrine of Being; the second fills the whole of the second and by far the most important part of his Logic, the Doctrine of Essence; finally the third figures as the fundamental law for the construction of the whole system. The mistake lies in the fact that these laws are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them. This is the source of the whole forced and often outrageous treatment; the universe, willy-nilly, is made out to be arranged in accordance with a system of thought which itself is only the product of a definite stage of evolution of human thought." [Engels (1954), p.62. Bold emphasis alone added.]


"The general results of the investigation of the world are obtained at the end of this investigation, hence are not principles, points of departure, but results, conclusions. To construct the latter in one's head, take them as the basis from which to start, and then reconstruct the world from them in one's head is ideology, an ideology which tainted every species of materialism hitherto existing.... As Dühring proceeds from 'principles' instead of facts he is an ideologist, and can screen his being one only by formulating his propositions in such general and vacuous terms that they appear axiomatic, flat. Moreover, nothing can be concluded from them; one can only read something into them...." [Marx and Engels (1987), Volume 25, p.597. Italic emphases in the original; bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


"Our party philosophy, then, has a right to lay claim to truth. For it is the only philosophy which is based on a standpoint which demands that we should always seek to understand things just as they are…without disguises and without fantasy….


"Marxism, therefore, seeks to base our ideas of things on nothing but the actual investigation of them, arising from and tested by experience and practice. It does not invent a 'system' as previous philosophers have done, and then try to make everything fit into it…." [Cornforth (1976), pp.14-15. Bold emphases added.]


"A consistent materialism cannot proceed from principles which are validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source. Idealisms may do this. But the materialist philosophy has to be based upon evidence taken from objective material sources and verified by demonstration in practice...." [Novack (1965), p.17. Bold emphasis added.]


[Plenty more of the same can be found in Essay Two.]


However, in order to further our enquiry, and perhaps help resolve such problems, let us call the following thesis, "Maximal-Interconnectedness" (or, MIC):


MIC: [A] All events and processes in the "Totality" are always and instantaneously interconnected across every time zone.


Conversely, let us stipulate that an attenuated version of MIC be called "Non-Maximal-Interconnectedness" (or, NMIC):


NMIC: [B] The "Totality" is interconnected, but not everything that has existed, or will exist, or now exits, is permanently inter-linked instantaneously with everything else.


Taking The MIC


Considering MIC first: It is difficult to see how this option could possibly be true. If it were, then it would imply that every object, event and process in the entire history of the universe (and perhaps beyond?) is now, always has been, and always will be interconnected with every other object, event and process across every time zone, permanently and instantaneously -- whether or not they still exist!


Taking three such objects or events at random: it would mean that, say, the median price of coffee grinders in Brazil on the first of June 2003, the mean number of grains of sand on Bondi beach between 10:00 and 10:01 am (local time) on the 2nd of July 1742, and the modal oscillation frequency of a handful of atoms of Helium in a small pocket of gas in The Cartwheel Galaxy some 500 million or so light years distant, but exactly 25.356567860984443 million years ago, are all interconnected with one another, permanently and instantaneously.


Indeed, if everything in reality is interconnected, then the above seemingly insignificant events and processes would have to be taken into account in the scientific explanation of what might otherwise seem to be unrelated events, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, for instance. Historians and scientists would have to include such considerations (as well as countless others) in any explanation they might have of Lincoln's death. [Issues concerning 'relevance' will be considered presently.]


For example, if MIC were true then the taste of sugar, say, would have to have something to do with the angular velocity of stars in neighbouring and distant galaxies (at all times), and with the other three items mentioned above -- as well as the smell of diesel oil, and the mean weight of all Fiddler Crabs in the Southern Hemisphere eaten by predators on or before 17:02 (local time), June 15th 1247 (Julian Calendar), and with the effect of Selenium Sulphide on the dandruff of Chelsea FC supporters who own Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul guitars (2006 issue) -- if there are any(!).


In fact, all of these (and gazillions more like them) would have to be taken into account by scientists trying to explain the demise of, say, the dinosaurs or the properties of Tungsten (and vice versa), if MIC were the case.



Figure Six: Is Bondi Beach Still Interconnected

With Napoleon's Left Foot? And Yours?




Figure Seven: Are Ageing Coffee Grinders Still Interlinked With

The End Of The Last Ice Age?



Figure Eight: Is The Cartwheel Galaxy Still Interconnected

With Attila The Hun's Favourite Sword?



Figure Nine: Owned By A Chelsea FC Fan? But Is This Gibson Les Paul

Cherry Sunburst Guitar Still Inter-related With Julius Caesar's

Last Ever Glass Of Wine (Before And After It Was Quaffed)?



Figure Ten: Still Interlinked With The Origin Of The Crab Nebula?


Some might object at this point that dialecticians do not hold such simple-minded and ridiculous beliefs; not only that, but the above comments ignore relative connectedness (and hence considerations of 'relevance').


[Once again, these conveniently vague notions will also be examined presently.]


In advance of that, it is worth reminding ourselves that (i) This sub-section is dealing with MIC, and that (ii) Speculation like this has been forced upon us because DM-fans have consistently failed, or have refused, to say beyond vague banalities, what their theory actually implies. Any who still object clearly don't accept MIC, but the question still remains: Is MIC what classical-DM implies?


In which case, the above DM-complaint is itself misplaced.


Furthermore, because MIC specifically postulates instantaneous influences, continually operating across every region of space and time, inverse square law drop-off rates don't apply -- that is, if inverse square law drop off-rates are what "relative connectedness" implies. But, once more, who can say? Certainly not DM-theorists. They have retreated into a non-dialectical corner and assumed a protracted, dogmatic sulk.


Moreover, even if interconnectedness were relativised in the above manner, what it postulates are still links -- albeit links that have, on this revised assumption, insignificant effects on much that is distantly connected to them --, and it is the links themselves that remain obscure.


[The idea that "internal relations" decrease with distance (so that 'remote effects' can be ignored as irrelevant) has been subjected to destructive examination in Part Two of this Essay. The reader is directed there for more details.]


Again, even if these links were relativised in the above manner, that would still fail explain how everything is in fact interconnected. For example, and once again: how are objects and processes in the past inter-linked with those in the present, or, indeed, with those that supposedly lie in the future? Are these causal links, or are they something more esoteric?


To be sure, according to current theory, it takes many light years for the vanishingly small gravitational effects of distant objects, for instance, to reach our planet, but when they do reach us these effects are manifestly located in the present. The question is: What influence do extremely remote objects, some 10-12 billion light years away -- which objects might no longer exist --, have on the earth right now? Admittedly, light from these distant regions might have some effect (or it will do so when it reaches us), but for MIC to be true, these objects must influence earth instantaneously across immense distances even before the aforementioned physical effects arrive in our vicinity, and for this to be true in reverse!


Of course, it is reasonably clear that if DM-theorists were to adopt MIC, it would be impossible to confirm their theory.


Where would one even begin?


More incredible still: whatever interconnections are imagined to exist between events and processes, the connections themselves can't change and neither could the elements so inter-linked.


To see this, consider an earlier sentence:


T1: The median price of coffee grinders in Brazil on the first of June 2003, the mean number of grains of sand on Bondi beach between 10:00 and 10:01 am (local time) on the 2nd of July 1742, and the modal oscillation frequency of a handful of atoms of Helium in a small pocket of gas in The Cartwheel Galaxy some 500 million or so light years distant, but exactly 25.356567860984443 million years ago...


If it is now true that there are such interconnections between the above items -- call this set of connections, MICA --, then since MICA has been relativised to, and identified by means of, the times so specified, it must always remain the same.


On the other hand, if it were incorrect to say this -- and MICA were susceptible to change -- then at any point in time it would be false to say that the said relation expressed in T1 was MICA, and the items mentioned wouldn't be so inter-linked. But, if it is now true to say this of them, it must be true to say the same tomorrow (or at any time) about that set of relations today.


Recall, MIC connects everything to everything else, constantly and instantaneously throughout all of time, irrespective of whether it now exists, including the very words used to make this very point.


It could be argued that this implausible conclusion can't apply here since dialecticians are committed to universal change. Hence, the above relation must change as the events it connects themselves alter.


But, is this a safe inference given this view of MIC? In fact, MIC excludes DM-change. That is because, of course, the items in this triple relation do not now exist, and so can't change. In that case, MICA can't change either, and neither can the relation between them.


So, since the events in question were time-stamped to make them determinate, this means that MICA can't change -- since a specific date-stamp identified each element of that set.


If we generalise the above analysis (to take into account every event and process in the entire universe, including those not now in existence (otherwise, this widened set wouldn't comprise all of 'reality'), we obtain the same result. Hence, if MIC were true, DM-change would be impossible. If every event in the past is now inter-related to every event in both the present and the future (MIC-style), nothing could alter. Otherwise we would lose all contact with our capacity to refer to them, and so link them.


Of course, it is possible to argue that this is thoroughly misguided since nature takes no heed of our capacity to refer to such things, or of our ability to link them. Hence, the above argument clearly implies Ms Lichtenstein is an Idealist.


In response, it is worth reminding the reader once again that all this speculation has been forced upon us because dialecticians refuse to say what the "Totality" is, or be specific about the interconnections they say exist throughout nature. Hence, I'm not reporting my own beliefs!


Now, if the universe is changeable, then one implication of the above argument is that not only would we not be able to describe it, we couldn't describe these hypothetical DM-interconnections either. In that case, the above argument presents DM-theorists with the following dilemma (that is, always assuming they accept MIC):


(1) If the DM-universe is describable, and MIC is valid, then no change could occur;




(2) If the DM-universe changes, it can't be described.


[There is more on this here.]


Option (1) above is in fact the Block View of Time, only rather badly expressed.


A somewhat similar problem afflicts relativistic Physics: If the universe is a four-dimensional 'object' (or, rather, manifold) in Spacetime, then each 'event' would in effect be a proper part of an orthogonal three-dimensional 'slice' (i.e., a hyperplane) through that 'object'/manifold, as it is embedded in 4-space. In that case, change couldn't take place -- or, rather change would, at best, represent our subjective view of the world, meaning there would be no such thing as 'objective' change.


[However, if Special Relativity is to be believed, there are problems constructing such a hyperplane through all points simultaneously. If correct, that would make our view of the world even more subjective and parochial. On that, see Saunders (2002).]


Of course, this just means that Relativity is no friend of DM; indeed, the Big Bang itself (since it is predicated on the latter theory) is its mortal enemy. So, when dialecticians refer us to the Big Bang to account for both the "Totality" and interconnectedness, they are in fact drawing a viper to their collective bosom. As was noted here, this is just one reason why earlier generations of Dialectical Marxists opposed, and some still oppose, the revolutionary new Physics that emerged in the first few decades of the 20th century.


However, let us now suppose that:


(a) There is some way of avoiding all of the paradoxical conclusions mentioned above;


And hence that,


(b) MIC is compatible with change, after all.


Even then, MIC would still face formidable problems. For example, MIC would appear to imply the existence of instantaneous effects across vast expanses of space and time -- all the time --, not least those between things that do not now exist and those that do. This, in turn, would require the existence of non-relativistic effects 'travelling' back and forth between such regions at unimaginably large superluminal velocities (leaving the 'warp' speeds of Star Trek gasping for breath). Either that, or this would have to involve (in most cases) inordinate time-delays for all relevant reciprocal influences to work, undermining MIC in the process. [Since, in that case, many wouldn't in fact be interconnected.]


Hence, it looks like MIC presents DM-fans with far too many dialectical-headaches. In that case, if DM is to be taken seriously, its adherents would be well advised to avoid MIC like the plague.


Because of that, I will consider MIC no more in this Essay (except, of course, in the next paragraph); any dialecticians still enamoured of it are welcome to make what sense of it they can.


[Even so, if such individuals want to retain some form of commitment to MIC, they will have to abandon the idea that their theses are acceptable only if they have been confirmed in some way. That is because MIC is as impossible to verify as it is to believe.]




Let us assume, therefore, that some form of NMIC is more acceptable to DM-theorists. To that end, it might be helpful if we continue to suppose that the "Totality" is in fact interconnected. From earlier we saw that NMIC is the following:


[B] The "Totality" is interconnected, but not everything that has existed, or will exist, or now exits, is permanently inter-linked, instantaneously with everything else.


However, NMIC is itself rather vague (the above characterisation is clearly my own offering, once more forced upon me because the meagre and threadbare details offered up by DM-fans are about as useful as a chocolate fire engine). The extent and nature of these interconnections are still unclear, and it isn't easy to see how this defect can be rectified -- except, perhaps, only on a dogmatic, a priori or stipulative basis.


But, even if the opposite were the case, and NMIC were entirely perspicuous, it would still face serious problems of its own. For example, some of the aforementioned Helium atoms in the distant Galaxy (mentioned in T1, above, reproduced below) could have decayed by the time their vanishingly small effects had travelled very far -- in which case, those atoms, at least, would no longer exist for them to be interconnected with anything. Furthermore, the energy they released could fail to reach certain parts of the Universe because of absorption elsewhere. And what is true of them will be true of countless other objects and processes.


T1: The median price of coffee grinders in Brazil on the first of June 2003, the mean number of grains of sand on Bondi beach between 10:00 and 10:01 am (local time) on the 2nd of July 1742, and the modal oscillation frequency of a handful of atoms of Helium in a small pocket of gas in The Cartwheel Galaxy some 500 million or so light years distant, but exactly 25.356567860984443 million years ago...


In addition, NMIC also faces the Light Cone problem (also alluded to earlier): there are parts of nature that cannot now interact with one another (if Special Relativity is to be believed).


Further questions force themselves upon us: Do these hypothetical 'travelling effects' influence other 'travelling effects' (even if they happen to be moving in opposite directions), and at all times? Does the energy from distant Galaxies travelling away from the Earth (never to interact with our planet -- that is, if we assume the universe is infinite and unbounded (and assuming it isn't absorbed somewhere, which means it won't affect the earth, anyway)) have an effect on energy radiating from the Earth and similarly moving in the opposite direction, away from those Galaxies? If not, how can these particular aspects of nature be interconnected?


Is there some sort of hierarchy of levels within and among these interconnections, with some things affecting others more than they do the rest? Does an inverse square law operate in this case?


More to the point: has a single DM-theorist attempted to work out the mathematical details of any of this, let alone consider any of the above questions?


Worse still, is there any evidence supporting the idea that most, or even every, sub-atomic particle in the Universe are/is interconnected with most/every other for most/all of time?


Of course, one possible response to the above might involve pointing out that all of nature is subject to the same laws because everything originated in the "Big Bang" billions of years ago. That would seem to mean that everything in the universe is related "by birth and by law", as it were, to everything else. Indeed, there are well-known theories in Modern Physics that appear to support the idea that the entire Universe is interconnected because of its unique origin and what has come to be called "quantum entanglement". [However, on the latter, see Note 28.]


[DM-supporters who believe that the universe is infinite (and thus that there was no "Big Bang") will plainly have a hard time explaining how everything in an infinite universe could be connected, let alone interconnected!]


But, even if these modern theories were correct (and we supposed for a moment that scientists never change their minds -- but see below), that would still fail to show that everything is now interconnected, or will always remain so. For that conclusion itself to be correct we should need argument and evidence, certainly more than has been offered so far -- which is precious little.


However, despite the fact that the aforementioned theories in Modern Physics seem to lend support to the idea that certain parts or aspects of nature are interconnected, the evidence in their favour is alarmingly thin.26


Incidentally, the above response (that everything arose from the "Big Bang") would fail to explain precisely which laws actually connect the aforementioned price of coffee grinders in Brazil to remote atoms of Helium, let alone the number of grains of sand on beaches in the antipodes, mentioned in T1 above -- to say nothing of every other trivial event in the history of the universe --, or, worse, how such links might be confirmed in any meaningful way.


Nevertheless, and despite this, there are several comrades -- whose ideas will be examined elsewhere at this site -- who question the standard account of the origin of the universe; for example, Michael Gimbel [Gimbel (2011)], and our old friends: Woods and Grant (1995/2007).27


According to these comrades, the Universe is infinite in duration and size, macroscopically and microscopically, stretching on 'forever', and is 'infinitely divisible' -- although Woods and Grant don't actually say this (but, Gimbel does), as far as I am aware, even though it appears to be an implication of the idea that the universe is infinite in extent and intent. Again, if that were so, it would mean that most of reality couldn't be interconnected since nothing would have had a common origin; because on this view there was no origin of the universe -- although oddly enough these two comrades failed to spot this fatal corollary of their theory -- and hence the Universe couldn't be a "Totality".


[Imagine asking, say, a waitress to tell you what the total bill for a meal is only to be informed that it is an "infinite bill"; it can have no total. Some might object that this is an inapt analogy. Maybe it is, but until we are told with some clarity what DM-fans mean by "Totality" it will have to do.]


Anyway, exactly how these three comrades know that the universe is infinite in extent and had no origin they forgot to share -- although, Gimble does offer his readers several arguments in favour of this view, but his main reason appears to be that Engels and Lenin held this idea. Nevertheless, it appears to run counter to this advice from Engels:


"The general results of the investigation of the world are obtained at the end of this investigation, hence are not principles, points of departure, but results, conclusions. To construct the latter in one's head, take them as the basis from which to start, and then reconstruct the world from them in one's head is ideology, an ideology which tainted every species of materialism hitherto existing.... As Dühring proceeds from 'principles' instead of facts he is an ideologist, and can screen his being one only by formulating his propositions in such general and vacuous terms that they appear axiomatic, flat. Moreover, nothing can be concluded from them; one can only read something into them...." [Marx and Engels (1987), Volume 25, p.597. Italic emphases in the original; bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


In fact, these theories don't "proceed...from facts", but from ideas inherited from post-Renaissance Hermeticism (where an 'infinite universe' was interpreted as a fitting analogy for 'God'; belief in anything else would be to demean or downgrade 'Him' -- on this, see Bruno (1998), De León-Jones (1997), Koyré (1957), Lovejoy (1964) and Yates (1991)) -- just as they omitted the "careful empirical" work which substantiates the idea that the universe is infinite, as opposed to its being merely finite, but very large and very old. An obvious point here, but it is worth repeating: this is something that should be settled by research not dogma. Indeed, like so many of the other things Woods and Grant say about nature (and, to a certain extent, this also applies to Gimbel's ex cathedra pronouncements) -- and, as is the case, too, with so many other DM-fans -- they seem quite happy to impose these quasi-theological doctrines on reality.27a


Another possible reaction to the above 'difficulties' might run along the following lines: While we are at present ignorant of these interconnections, that doesn't imply there are none. The history of science has shown that explanations of the Universe have always been framed in increasingly general terms, and that over time the laws scientists discover confirm the fact that countless objects and processes in nature are indeed interconnected in the way that DM-theorists suppose. Indeed, the development of scientific knowledge shows that the more we discover about nature the more interconnections we find.


However, that response doesn't even begin to tackle the vast bulk of the problems raised earlier. For example, if interconnections within the "Totality" involve instantaneous effects across vast expanses -- measured in billions of light years --, several of the aforementioned scientific laws and principles are plainly incorrect (namely, those that depend on Special Relativity). Worse still, as has also been noted, the universal existence of such effects will never be verified. How, for example, will it be possible to test the entanglement of two photons sent on their way and then observed when they are a billion light year apart? Who is going to be around to do the observing at such massive separation distances (good luck with that one!), even assuming the human race survives that long, and there is anyone around to care, or even to remember they were supposed to keep track of them? So, based on the sort of DM-principles mentioned earlier (relating to the allegedly non-negotiable pre-requisite that theories have to have empirical support, and mustn't be foisted on nature), dialecticians themselves cannot consistently accept this up-beat view of things since (as has been pointed out several times) it cannot be confirmed, ever.


Indeed, Einstein called such an idea "spooky". Not only did it appear to violate certain tenets of Special Relativity, it also seemed impossible to believe -- because of the absence of: (a) any conceivable causal explanation, and (b) an intervening medium.28


More worrying still, this latest (volunteered) reply is itself based on a metaphysical view of science. There are, of course, deep issues at stake here -- for example, those connected with how Scientific Realism itself should be interpreted, as well as those arising from any attempt to translate highly technical areas of science into ordinary language --, or, indeed, render them compatible with 'commonsense', should anyone want to do so. Some of these issues were discussed in Essay Eight Part Two, others will be dealt with in Essay Thirteen Part Two (to be published in 2016).


Universal Interconnection Incompatible With Change Through 'Internal Contradiction'


Quite apart from all this, even if a plausible version of interconnectedness were forthcoming, it would still appear to be inconsistent with other DM-theses. For example: if, according to dialecticians, all change is internally-driven and based on inner conflicts allegedly initiated by the dynamic relation between constituent UOs present in an object or process, then it cannot also be externally-motivated. But, what else does the doctrine of universal interconnectedness amount to except an appeal to the existence of more complex and remote external causes/'mediations'? Hence, if universal interconnections exist, change cannot be wholly internal to an object or system. On the other hand, if change were entirely the result of the conflict between the 'internal opposites' within objects, processes and systems, interconnectedness could only be local, at best -- it certainly wouldn't be universal.


[It is worth pointing out that there is a fatal equivocation lying right at the heart of the DM-idea that change is the result of 'internal contradictions'. On that see here, here, and here. This topic is more fully discussed in Essay Eight Part One (along with the idea that there is a 'dialectical' interplay between internal and external 'contradictions'), and will be dealt with again in Part Two of this Essay.]


In that case, if dialecticians are determined to cling to their belief in this yet-to-be-defined "Totality", along with its universal interconnections, the doctrine that change is exclusively generated by 'internal contradictions' will have to be abandoned. Conversely, vice versa.


Either way, DM would suffer yet another serious body blow.


The Epistemological Definition


What Do We Know?


If any aspect of this maximally-interconnected "Totality" is to be rejected (along with the idea that every atom past present and future has a direct effect on every other, instantaneously, for all of time across the entire universe), then what interpretation can be put upon 'interconnectedness' that doesn't amount to a simple act of faith?


Unless we can fill in the details, faith seems to be the only option available to loyal acolytes of The Church of Dialectics.


That is because, as has already been pointed out, universal and omni-temporal interconnections are incapable of being confirmed.28a


Now, this is where the "Epistemological Definition" might offer some assistance to beleaguered DM-fans, enabling them to find a solution to the above conundrums that is conducive to a non-mystical view of the universe.


Plainly, this alternative conception of the "Totality" re-directs attention away from speculative Ontology (or even perhaps the above 'contents list'), and re-focuses it on other areas -- on a consideration of what is known about the Whole as it has been conceived, or might be conceived, at any point in history. Indeed, this seems to be the definition John Rees prefers; we saw him referring his readers to an "insistence" (recorded above), and he later alluded to the "totality of human experience and knowledge", which appears to have something to do with the "Totality", too. [Rees (1998a), pp.5, 236.] In what follows I will simply assume it does.


Unfortunately, this switch of emphasis away from the supposed object of knowledge onto our knowledge of 'it' only creates further problems for the DM-faithful, should they choose to adopt it.


Kant's NOUMENON By Any Other Name


As seems reasonably clear, unless it is possible to say something (anything?) about the object of knowledge, claims about 'it' will be entirely empty. But, DM-theorists cannot (or will not) ante-up here; beyond oft-repeated banalities, they have remained studiously unspecific about the supposed object of their claims for nigh on 150 years. And, it looks like they intend to maintain this tight-lipped policy into the next 150. This Essay certainly won't budge them, even if they bothered to read it!


Why are they so reticent? Why do they refuse to tell the world the good news about their semi-divine "Totality"?


This, they say, is because they will be accused of imposing their ideas on nature. But, that reply is rather odd, since that is what they finally end up doing!


They tell us that everything is a "Totality" (but refrain from informing us what that assertion actually involves), and then happily impose that ancient, mystical idea on nature, valid for all of space and time!


Beyond alleging there is a vague sort of "dialectical unity" between the "knower and the known", and apart from giving the whole shebang a quasi-religious label (viz., "The Totality"), it looks like there's little else they could say, and, as noted above, there is precious little they have said about this nebulous "Totality" -- even to one another!


An analogous predicament has plagued previous epistemologically-driven theories of nature -- whose advocates found they had to appeal (implicitly or explicitly) either to an a priori, or to an a posteriori, ontology of some sort to bail them out. Without something like this to firm things up, still others have meandered off into a Phenomenalist quagmire.


In fact, the DM-classicists merely gestured at a solution to the above dilemma -- i.e., either (a) they impose a specific ontology on nature or (b) they face re-classification as a sub-branch of Phenomenalism, or even Subjective Idealism -- half-opting for the first alternative by appealing to a vague and attenuated sort of ontology -- and one that was hopelessly compromised by Lenin's refusal to commit DM to any firm ideas in this area, even about the nature of matter! -- the whole sorry mess hived-off into the sciences. We saw earlier that that wasn't a wise move, either.


As we will see (in Essay Thirteen Part One), DM-fans are completely unspecific about what they mean -- even by the word "matter" or "material". In the event, they utilise materialist-sounding phrases that collapse alarmingly quickly into some form of Idealism. Of course, they certainly intend their ontology to be materialist, but the asymptotic road to Dialectical Nirvana, along which they are all trudging, is paved with intentional, but no less ideal, bricks, upon which it is impossible to build anything even remotely secure.


Indeed, there doesn't appear to be a single DM-theorist on the planet (now or in the past) who is either willing or capable of telling us (or even her/his fellow adepts) what matter actually is, beyond describing it as an 'abstraction'!


Unfortunately, as noted earlier, this puts dialecticians in the same bind as theologians, who similarly cannot tell us anything about the nature of 'God' -- save both of them offer us their own via negativa: i.e., 'God'(/'matter') is not this, not that, not this, not…


So, without a clear idea what these 'coy materialists' think matter is, their "Totality" is indeed like Hamlet without the…, er..., well what?


It is no surprise, therefore, to discover that this perennially equivocal approach to ontology means that the aforementioned dilemma -- involving a choice between an a priori, or an a posteriori, membership list -- re-surfaces in several different forms elsewhere in DM.


On the one hand, DM-theorists maintain the pretence that they haven't imposed their ideas on reality, but have merely read them from it; on the other, they phrase these ideas in terms which reveal that they have foisted them on the world --, which clearly suggests their ontology (if such it may be called) is a priori, after all.


[These allegations were substantiated in Essay Two; they will be examined in more detail in Essay Twelve (summary here) and Essay Thirteen Part One.]


Trapped inside a metaphysic that has no clear conception of the "Totality" (or of what it contains), and possessing an ontology that reifies and then reconfigures the products of social interaction (language) as fundamental aspects of reality (all those 'contradictions' and 'negations', for example), DM-theorists find themselves saddled with their own version of Kant's Noumenon.


If ordinary language is inadequate to the task of capturing final truths about the world (a DM-thesis we saw confirmed here and here), and if humanity is locked in an infinite/eternal "asymptotic" search for absolute truth (the nature of which must forever escape us), then human 'knowledge' must always remain 'infinitely incorrect' -- 'infinitely' far from the truth.


In that case, for all that DM-theorists know, their quest for 'absolute' truth could be going in entirely the wrong direction! Given their theory, humanity is and will be permanently and infinitely ignorant of everything and anything at each and every stage in its history. Hence, the probability that the search for knowledge is progressing in the 'right' direction will always be vanishingly small (indeed, it must be 'infinitely' small) --, even if there were such a thing as "knowledge" (which, given this theory, there couldn't be!).


On this account, humanity will always be infinitely removed from Absolute Truth, and hence infinitely ignorant. If DM-epistemology were correct, human beings would find it impossible even to build a secure platform from which to launch a scientific search for knowledge, let alone approach truth 'asymptotically'. As we saw in Essay Ten Part One, the DM 'convergence' theory of knowledge readily collapses into scepticism; we also we saw that an appeal to practice to shore-up the infinitely insubstantial sands upon which DM-epistemology has been erected (the same sands, incidentally, into which many a dialectical head has been inserted), was equally ill-advised.


In fact, there might be no such thing as 'Absolute Truth' for anyone to aim for, let alone approach 'asymptotically'! Certainly neither Engels nor Lenin even so much as attempted to show that there is such a thing (and neither did Hegel, in relation to his 'Absolute'). Moreover, since human knowledge is always infinitely far from 'The Truth' -- according to DM-theorists -- the claim that there is such a thing as partial/relative truth has an infinitely high probability of being mistaken, too.


Hence, the Epistemological Definition fatally compromises DM-theorists' claim that their theory is capable of delivering even partial and/or relative knowledge about anything, let alone the "Totality" (should we ever be told what it is!).


Engels's Quasi-Theology


The above accusations might appear to some to be rather wild, if not downright misleading and impertinent; nevertheless, a consideration of Engels's description of the "Totality" should give pause:


"'Fundamentally, we can know only the infinite.' In fact all real exhaustive knowledge consists solely in raising the individual thing in thought from individuality into particularity and from this into universality, in seeking and establishing the infinite in the finite, the eternal in the transitory…. All true knowledge of nature is knowledge of the eternal, the infinite, and essentially absolute…. The cognition of the infinite…can only take place in an infinite asymptotic progress." [Engels (1954), pp.234-35.]29


Compare the above with the following:


"The identity of thinking and being, to use Hegelian language, everywhere coincides with your example of the circle and the polygon. Or the two of them, the concept of a thing and its reality, run side by side like two asymptotes, always approaching each other but never meeting. This difference between the two is the very difference which prevents the concept from being directly and immediately reality and reality from being immediately its own concept. Because a concept has the essential nature of the concept and does not therefore prima facie directly coincide with reality, from which it had to be abstracted in the first place, it is nevertheless more than a fiction, unless you declare that all the results of thought are fictions because reality corresponds to them only very circuitously, and even then approaching it only asymptotically…. In other words, the unity of concept and phenomenon manifests itself as an essentially infinite process, and that is what it is, in this case as in all others." [Engels to Schmidt (12/03/1895), in Marx and Engels (1975), pp.457-58, and Marx and Engels (2004), pp.463-64. Bold emphases alone added.]


While Engels doesn't actually use the term here, his words clearly relate to the "Totality" (or, rather, to our knowledge of 'it'), only now expressed in quasi-mystical terms. Admittedly, these passages come from unpublished sources, but they succeed in revealing how close Engels came to overt Idealism in private.30


These 'impertinent' observations will be further substantiated in what follows.


The "Totality" -- Universal And A Priori


Surely Not!


The language DM-theorists use in order to refer to their "Totality" clearly reveals that despite protestations to the contrary they regard it as an a priori concept/'object'/'process'. Indeed, as noted above, it is little more than a pale reflection of Hegel's Absolute, and thus of 'God'.


The fact that this isn't a baseless allegation can be seen from a consideration of the answers that might be given to the following questions:


(1) How do DM-theorists know that reality is restricted to just one "Totality"? Might there not be several? Leaving out of consideration sub-"Totalities" for the present, might there not be countless intermingled or intercalated "Totalities"? Indeed, how exactly do DM-theorists count "Totalities" so that they know they should stop at one?31


(2) Following on from (1), how do DM-theorists know that there aren't at least two "Totalities" (or even sub-"Totalities") which are completely unrelated to one another?


(3) If we now confine our attention to the known Universe, how do dialecticians know that each and every part of nature is interconnected with all the rest, all the time? Might there not be parts of the world that are totally unrelated to anything else, or which are connected to only relatively few other objects and processes? Why is either option impossible?32


(4) What gives DM-theorists the confidence to "insist" in advance of all (or even most) of the evidence has been gathered that what they say must be true of every last particle in the universe, and for all of time?


Beyond 'divine' revelation, there are only two approaches to 'knowledge' that would allow DM-theorists to answer the above questions in the way that they actually do: (a) DM is a dogmatic, metaphysical theory, or (b) DM is a conventionalised theory founded upon a standardised, definitional or stipulative use of certain words.


Again, these allegations might strike some readers as somewhat controversial, if not patently false, so the rest of this section will be devoted to substantiating them.33


Well, What Else Could A "Totality" Be?


Question One: How Do We Know That There Is Only One "Totality"?


One obvious response to this question -- indeed, it might even have occurred to the reader -- is: "Well, that's what the word "Totality" means. There can't be more than one Totality, by definition."


There are at least two ways of understanding this rejoinder, each of which corresponds to one or other of the two Options, a or b, above:


(1) If the standard, 'official', vague and loose DM-characterisation of the "Totality" means that this concept, or rule (if it is either one of these) must be employed as a way of deciding what the contents of reality are supposed to be (operating as a sort of methodological filter or theoretical sieve) --, or as a way of constituting a set of necessary, or even scientific truths about it --, then that would clearly make DM metaphysical. That is because this approach will have confused a rule or a  concept with 'reality itself'. Why that is so is explored at length in Essay Twelve Part One (summary here).


Moreover, this would confirm an earlier suspicion that well before even a vanishingly small fraction of the evidence has been collected or assessed, the idea that 'everything' must be viewed along DM-lines --, i.e., as part of an interconnected unitary whole -- had already been decided upon, and that the remaining evidence (such as it is) must be shoe-horned to fit this world view. But, what else would this amount to except a crude way of imposing a favoured structure on reality, and one based solely on the supposed meaning of a word (i.e., "Totality"), the very thing DM-theorists have always effected to disavow?


The fact that this is what has happened -- and isn't just a prejudice of the present author -- can be seen from the way that the above volunteered response suggests that universally valid facts about the world can be, or have been derived from the meaning of a word: "Totality" -- or, to be more honest, derived from a highly superficial gesture at a loose 'definition' of it.


Even if the "Totality" had been defined clearly, and we knew what DM-theorists were banging on about, we would still require, at the very least, a convincing argument justifying the derivation of a set of universal truths from a single word and/or its 'definition'.


Anyway, the provision of such an argument would automatically concede the point made earlier: that a particular view of the world had been imposed on nature -- and which was indeed based on a vague and imprecise 'sort of definition' -- instead of having been read from it as had been advertised all along.


Of course, it isn't as if we don't already know where this idea came from; it was imported from Christian and Hermetic Mystics, who very helpfully "divined" this idea long before any evidence to speak of was available.


(2) On the other hand, if the word "Totality" (and its associated terminology) is to be used as a "form of representation" -- that is, as a formal way of interpreting experience and legitimating what appear to be a set of scientific inferences -- it would at least be clear that it was a creature of convention.34


Of course, the first of the above two Options would suggest that DM is just another form of LIE (that is, it is just one part of a family of doctrines based upon the idea that substantive truths about the world can be derived solely from the alleged meanings of words). The second alternative would imply that DM appears superficially to resemble science, but only at considerable cost.


That is because, as noted above, it would confirm that DM is conventional, after all.35


[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]


As it turns out, DM-theorists (inadvertently) adopt Option (1), but they do so in a way that collapses it back into (2).36


Is DM A Conventionalist Theory?


To be sure, there are many different versions of Conventionalism. Less plausible varieties are based on some form of stipulation.37 Less implausible versions are anthropological in origin, and are thus founded on the many and varied material and collective practices that have helped drive human social development.38


Perhaps DM is conventional in one of these senses? If so, the idea that reality forms a contradictory "Totality" could then only be based on one of the following: (i) An agreement of some kind; (ii) An implicit or explicit stipulation to that effect; or (iii) Norms derived from, or constitutive of (collective) material practices, of some sort. Admittedly, the adoption of any one of these would simply confirm the fact that DM hadn't been read from the world (as had been claimed), but had been imposed on it. That would certainly account for the dogmatic, a priori nature of DM-theses, supposedly true for all of space and time.


Unfortunately however, stipulative conventions are no more capable of being empirically true than are rules. A straightforward example of this sort of convention might be the conversion rule: 1000kg = 1 tonne. Clearly, this type of convention is of little use to dialecticians in this context, since, although it is correct to say that one tonne is one thousand kilograms (or, rather, that any object weighing 1000kg will automatically weigh 1 tonne, so that an empirical statement to that effect about some object or other would itself be true), this conventional fact doesn't derive from the 'nature' of the world (even though it is connected with it in other ways, via practice), nor has it been read from it. It is based on a series of agreements and stipulations introduced and adopted a couple of centuries ago. Hence, if this conversion rule is 'true', it isn't empirically true. [In fact, it is better to call it "practical" or "useful" rather than true. (I have said more about such rules, here.)]


None but the radically confused would dream of checking this rule by measuring something; it cannot be tested in practice (although practice certainly tells us whether such rules are practical and useful, or not, and the rule can obviously inform us if a measurement has been converted correctly between units). Indeed, rules like this tell us when a practical interface with the world has been carried out properly according to the explicit (and/or the implicit) criteria for their application. [On this, see Polanyi (1962, 1983).]


In that case, if something is empirically true, stipulating it as true would be wasted effort. On the other hand, if something is empirically false, a stipulation to that effect (or its opposite) would be either pointless or misleading.


Of course, in contrast to the above, social/anthropological conventions are more complex and they (typically) aren't based on an explicit agreement, but that doesn't affect the point being made.


Plainly, the truth-value of an empirical proposition depends on the way the world happens to be. However, the fact that such propositions are capable of possessing truth-values (i.e., the fact that they have truth-conditions) is a consequence of the conventionalised linguistic practices human beings have developed over the course of their history. How could it be otherwise?


As will be argued In Essay Twelve Part One, previous philosophical and ideologically-motivated attempts to give inappropriate linguistic expression to these conventions -- along with their subsequent mis-interpretation as super-empirical truths about reality -- gave birth Metaphysics, first of all (in the 'West') in Ancient Greece. [There were somewhat similar developments in the 'East' at or around the same time.] Because metaphysical propositions are based on just such a misconstrual and misrepresentation of the linguistic products of social relations (as if they pictured or represented the real relation among things, or, indeed, as if they were those things themselves), they are incapable of being true or false.38a


Since they are incapable of being true or false (because they are based on a misconstrual of linguistic rules as if they were factual propositions themselves, and because they mistake what is a social form for reality itself), the theses that metaphysicians concoct aren't just non-sensical, they are fetishised and incoherent non-sense. Furthermore, metaphysicians adopted this method of enquiry for ideological reasons -- in order to uncover the 'essential' nature and 'logical form' of 'Reality' which the state (with all its inequality and class divisions) was supposed to mirror -- which assumption was then imposed on nature.


DM-theorists buy into in this ancient, ruling-class approach to Philosophy when they, too, misconstrue the nature of the theses Hegel bequeathed to those who unwisely took him seriously -- and in the case of DM-theorists, whether or not this importation is upside down or 'the right way up'. Dialecticians indulge in metaphysical speculation whenever they misinterpret the products of the social relations among human beings (i.e., certain words) as if they represented the real relations among things -- or, were those things themselves --, an unfortunate intellectual malady compounded by a misidentification of the origin of language as 'natural', based on "reflection", "inner representations", and/or "images" (etc.) --, reified now into 'mental' objects and/or processes (a view that is itself the result of an incautious, distorted use of words like "consciousness", "thought", and "cognition").39


Nevertheless, this characterisation of DM will clearly be unacceptable to its adherents, since they claim that even though their theory may only be partially/relatively true, it is nonetheless an empirically valid and objective theory about the world and how to transform it, verified in practice.


[Whether or not DM is merely a "method" will be examined presently.]


So, despite the fact that it carries all the hallmarks of Conventionalism -- in that its adherents are quite happy to "insist", or "demand" that this or that DM-thesis is valid throughout nature, for all of time, based on a set of idiosyncratic stipulations and inferences drawn from a set of specially-selected words/concepts -- DM, it seems, cannot be a conventional theory.40


DM: A Metaphysical Theory?


The only other way to account for DM-theorists' habit of advancing a priori, dogmatic and universal claims about reality is to conclude that DM is a metaphysical theory. Of course, this begs the question concerning the 'correct' definition of Metaphysics --; that particular topic is discussed in Essay Twelve Part One.


However, given Engels's own rather loose 'definition' of the term, dialecticians are abundantly clear that DM isn't metaphysical. On the contrary, they regard DM as a scientific, materialist theory of the world and how to change it.41


IS DM A Scientific Theory?


So, it could be argued that DM is in fact a scientific theory.


But, if that is so, what are we to make of the numerous universal, a priori theses --, to say nothing of the many "insistences" and "demands" -- its adepts constantly impose on nature?


It could be argued that DM-theses are merely hypothetical. But, this doesn't seem to be even remotely plausible. Whatever else they are, DM-theses aren't hypothetical; they don't even look hypothetical. They are worded in ways that cannot under any stretch of the imagination be interpreted as hypothetical. Even leaving aside all the many aforementioned "demands", "unthinkables" and "insistences", as well as the use of "musts", "eternals", "impossibles" and "never anywhere"s all over the place, DM-theses are described by dialecticians themselves as "laws of cognition", "objective" and as the most "general laws" there are. [On this see Essay Two, especially here.]


Indeed, if DM-theses are simply "hypothetical", the meaning of "hypothetical" must have changed.


Here are just few examples of DM-'hypotheses':




"Dialectics…prevails throughout nature…. [T]he motion through opposites which asserts itself everywhere in nature, and which by the continual conflict of the opposites…determines the life of nature."


"The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa…[operates] in nature, in a manner fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or quantitative subtraction of matter or motion….


"Hence, it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion…. In this form, therefore, Hegel's mysterious principle appears not only quite rational but even rather obvious." [Engels (1954), pp.211, 62. Bold emphases 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 added.]




"According to Hegel, dialectics is the principle of all life…. [M]an has two qualities: first being alive, and secondly of also being mortal. But on closer examination it turns out that life itself bears in itself the germ of death, and that in general any phenomenon is contradictory, in the sense that it develops out of itself the elements which, sooner or later, will put an end to its existence and will transform it into its opposite. Everything flows, everything changes; and there is no force capable of holding back this constant flux, or arresting its eternal movement. There is no force capable of resisting the dialectics of phenomena….


"At a particular moment a moving body is at a particular spot, but at the same time it is outside it as well because, if it were only in that spot, it would, at least for that moment, become motionless. Every motion is a dialectical process, a living contradiction, and as there is not a single phenomenon of nature in explaining which we do not have in the long run to appeal to motion, we have to agree with Hegel, who said that dialectics is the soul of any scientific cognition. And this applies not only to cognition of nature….


"And so every phenomenon, by the action of those same forces which condition its existence, sooner or later, but inevitably, is transformed into its own opposite….


"When you apply the dialectical method to the study of phenomena, you need to remember that forms change eternally in consequence of the 'higher development of their content….'


"In the words of Engels, Hegel's merit consists in the fact that he was the first to regard all phenomena from the point of view of their development, from the point of view of their origin and destruction….


"[M]odern science confirms at every step the idea expressed with such genius by Hegel, that quantity passes into quality….


"[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 emphases alone added.]




"Flexibility, applied objectively, i.e., reflecting the all-sidedness of the material process and its unity, is dialectics, is the correct reflection of the eternal development of the world.


"Hegel brilliantly divined the dialectics of things (phenomena, the world, nature) in the dialectics of concepts…. This aphorism should be expressed more popularly, without the word dialectics: approximately as follows: In the alternation, reciprocal dependence of all notions, in the identity of their opposites, in the transitions of one notion into another, in the eternal change, movement of notions, Hegel brilliantly divined precisely this relation of things to nature…. [W]hat constitutes dialectics?…. [M]utual dependence of notions all without exception…. Every notion occurs in a certain relation, in a certain connection with all the others."


"[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….


"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….


"To begin with what is the simplest, most ordinary, common, etc., [sic] with any proposition...: [like] John is a man…. Here we already have dialectics (as Hegel's genius recognized): the individual is the universal…. Consequently, the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. Every universal only approximately embraces all the individual objects. Every individual enters incompletely into the universal, etc., etc. Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes), etc. Here already we have the elements, the germs of the concept of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say John is a man…we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other….


"Thus in any proposition we can (and must) disclose as a 'nucleus' ('cell') the germs of all the elements of dialectics, and thereby show that dialectics is a property of all human knowledge in general." [Lenin (1961), pp.110, 196-97, 221-22, 357-58, 359-60. Italic emphases in the original; bold emphases added.]


"Dialectics requires an all-round consideration of relationships in their concrete development…. Dialectical logic demands that we go further…. [It] requires that an object should be taken in development, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it)….


"[D]ialectical logic holds that 'truth' is always concrete, never abstract, as the late Plekhanov liked to say after Hegel." [Lenin (1921), pp.90, 93. Bold emphases added.]


"Nowadays, the ideas of development…as formulated by Marx and Engels on the basis of Hegel…[encompass a process] that seemingly repeats the stages already passed, but repeats them otherwise, on a higher basis ('negation of negation'), a development, so to speak, in spirals, not in a straight line; -- a development by leaps, catastrophes, revolutions; -- 'breaks in continuity'; the transformation of quantity into quality; -- the inner impulses to development, imparted by the contradiction and conflict of the various forces and tendencies acting on a given body, or within a given phenomenon, or within a given society; -- the interdependence and the closest, indissoluble connection of all sides of every phenomenon…, a connection that provides a uniform, law-governed, universal process of motion -– such are some of the features of dialectics as a richer (than the ordinary) doctrine of development." [Lenin (1914), pp.12-13. Bold emphases added.]




"[A]ll bodies change uninterruptedly in size, weight, colour etc. They are never equal to themselves…. [T]he axiom 'A' is equal to 'A' signifies that a thing is equal to itself if it does not change, that is, if it does not exist…. For concepts there also exists 'tolerance' which is established not by formal logic…, but by the dialectical logic issuing from the axiom that everything is always changing…. Hegel in his Logic established a series of laws: change of quantity into quality, development through contradiction, conflict and form, interruption of continuity, change of possibility into inevitability, etc…." [Trotsky (1971), pp.64-66. Bold emphases added.]


"It must be recognized that the fundamental law of dialectics is the conversion of quantity into quality, for it gives [us] the general formula of all evolutionary processes -– of nature as well as of society.


"…The principle of the transformation of quantity into quality has universal significance, insofar as we view the entire universe -- without any exception -- as a product of formation and transformation….


"In these abstract formulas we have the most general laws (forms) of motion, change, the transformation of the stars of the heaven, of the earth, nature and human society.


"…Dialectics is the logic of development. It examines the world -- completely without exception -– not as a result of creation, of a sudden beginning, the realisation of a plan, but as a result of motion, of transformation. Everything that is became the way it is as a result of lawlike development." [Trotsky (1986), pp.88, 90, 96. Bold emphases added.]




"The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the basic law of materialist dialectics....


"As opposed to the metaphysical world outlook, the world outlook of materialist dialectics holds that in order to understand the development of a thing we should study it internally and in its relations with other things; in other words, the development of things should be seen as their internal and necessary self-movement, while each thing in its movement is interrelated with and interacts on the things around it. The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing. There is internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development....


"The universality or absoluteness of contradiction has a twofold meaning. One is that contradiction exists in the process of development of all things, and the other is that in the process of development of each thing a movement of opposites exists from beginning to end....


"...There is nothing that does not contain contradictions; without contradiction nothing would exist....


"Thus it is already clear that contradiction exists universally and is in all processes, whether in the simple or in the complex forms of motion, whether in objective phenomena or ideological phenomena....


"...Contradiction is universal and absolute, it is present in the process of the development of all things and permeates every process from beginning to end...." [Mao (1961b), pp.311-18. Bold emphases added.]


Dozens more -- no less dogmatic -- passages from the DM-classics, and from more recent 'lesser' dialecticians, have been quoted in Essay Two.


Despite this, DM-theorists claim that their theory deals with 'real material forces', as opposed to 'static', 'abstract' entities, which means that their main concern is with the inter-relationship between concretely developing and historically-conditioned objects and processes within the "Totality" (even if abstraction has to be employed (dialectically) to assist them to that end). Moreover, and once again, such theorising is undertaken as part of a strategy to further the revolutionary transformation of society.


Given that view, objects and processes in the "Totality" are said to change as a result both of their contradictory nature and their interconnection with other objects and processes -- i.e., because of the antagonistic forces at work within the whole.42 But, as DM-theorists themselves frequently insist, this doesn't spare them the difficult task of constantly checking their ideas against experience, testing them in practice.


Unfortunately, the above characterisation simply catapults DM back into the metaphysical camp, once more. That is because its theorists insist that everything in the "Totality" is related to (or mediated by) by something -- or perhaps everything -- else (depending on the approach adopted by the particular DM-theorist in question), subject to change through 'internal contradiction', and so on --, even before so much as a vanishingly small fraction of the evidence has been collected. Once more, that explains all the above DM-"insistences", "musts", "impossibles", "absolutes", and "demands" along with those references to "laws of cognition" and "general laws".


Naturally, if there were proof (and dialecticians were in possession of it), "insistences" and "demands" wouldn't be needed.


In fact, if this weren't so there would seem to be little point arguing as Rees does:


"[W]hen we bring these terms [belonging to the Totality] into relation with each other their meaning is transformed…. 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 that 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 (1998a), pp.5, 77.]42a0


The reason for saying this is that if parts and wholes are in fact interdependent (in the manner suggested), then DM-theorists would have no choice but to regard their system as an a priori construct. That is because no amount of evidence could confirm the truth of the above passage (or the many other quotations reproduced a few paragraphs back and which are also found throughout the DM-cannon).


If the entire nature of the part is determined by the whole (and vice versa) then that fact could itself only be confirmed when humanity knows everything about everything. After all, only when the whole is known would the nature of any part be understood.


Indeed, this is the import of Lenin's words:


"[I]f we are to have true knowledge of an object we must look at and examine all its facets, its connections and 'mediacies'. That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve completely, but the rule of comprehensiveness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity….


"[D]ialectical logic requires that an object should be taken in development, in change, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it). This is not immediately obvious in respect of such an object as a tumbler, but it, too, is in flux, and this holds especially true for its purpose, use and connection with the surrounding world." [Lenin (1921), p.93. Italic emphasis in the original.]


Short of this -- according to what the above passages (as well as these and these) say -- no one would or could know the full truth about anything. But, until humanity knows that much (which blessed state we have just been told by Lenin will never come to pass), no one would be able to assert anything about the whole -- even, for instance, that there is a whole, that it is indeed a whole, or even a whole --, with anything other than infinite uncertainty. [On this, see here, and Part Two of this Essay.]


Hence, when DM-theorists assert things about parts and wholes (even granting that these assertions are only 'partial' or 'relative' truths), they would have to have access to knowledge that only the postulated epistemological end-state could ever deliver (i.e., the state which constitutes complete or absolute knowledge). Again, short of that, DM-theorists can't say with anything other than almost zero confidence that what they now have is even 'relative'/'partial' knowledge.


That is because even the assertion that there are such things as parts and wholes (or that knowledge is merely 'partial', or 'relative' -- or whatever) requires complete knowledge. If the entire nature of the part -- including at least this part of the total picture, that is, this part here in this Essay (or in TAR, or in PN -- or anywhere else, for that matter), written in words (including what they seem to express) on this page/screen (or on any page/screen) about 'partial knowledge' itself -- were determined by the whole (and vice versa), then we would be in no position to assert even this 'partial' truth (if such it be) until 'epistemological judgement day' had arrived, and all was revealed to the congregated DM-Elect.


[PN = Philosophical Notebooks; i.e., Lenin (1961); TAR = The Algebra of Revolution (i.e., Rees (1998a).]


On the other hand, if the idea that there are parts and wholes that completely inter-condition one another isn't itself a 'partial' truth (and hence isn't subject to the above strictures), it must be an 'absolute' truth, and clearly one whose status has been decided upon before every genuine 'partial' truth has been formulated, let alone apprehended. But, this would then refute the content of that very notion itself (i.e., that parts and wholes, and that they condition one another completely). That is because, on this view, at least one part (i.e., this view of the whole, or this view that is dependent on the whole being 'true') wouldn't itself be conditioned by all the other parts, since, plainly, the latter do not yet exist as items of knowledge. Hence, the entire nature of at least one part (i.e., this one, this 'absolute truth') wouldn't be dependent on every other part.


Once more, if this were to be denied -- and, if we accept DM-epistemology, that rejection itself would have been advanced in abeyance of the infinite amount of evidence required to support such a contrary opinion --, it would be clear that that denial itself will have been imposed on part and whole alike, not derived from either. [More on this in Part Two of this Essay.]


In short, sweep-of-the-hand Wholism (of this sort) is just a disguised form of apriorism.


And badly disguised it is, too.


Be this as it may, and despite what DM-theorists might maintain, it is possible to show that DM-theses haven't been checked against the available evidence in anything like the manner claimed, nor have these 'super-verities' been derived from this evidence, such as it is.


Consider a typical DM-assertion, taken from the opening sentence of TAR:


"The very possibility of human life is governed by contradictions." [Rees (1998a), p.1.]


[As we saw in Essay Two, DM-books and articles are full of sweeping assertions like this, most of whose authors help themselves to this word -- "contradiction" -- without once defining it.]


Admittedly, Rees lists several examples of contradictions he thought supported this claim (which turn out not to be contradictions to begin with; on that see here). However, the above (general) claim cannot be -- and in TAR certainly wasn't -- verified, or supported, by a careful analysis of all the evidence (or even a sizeable or representative proportion of it). Indeed, no matter how much evidence DM-theorists amassed it would still only represent a tiny fraction of all the facts necessary to justify a generalisation about "the very possibility of human life" and what governs it. Moreover, as noted earlier, given DM-epistemology, the gap between any large finite body of knowledge and Absolute Knowledge is itself infinite.


And, this isn't to pick on TAR; this yawning epistemological gap is a universal feature of the theses one finds littering Dialectical Marxism. [That was established a posteriori, here and here.]


Nevertheless, the existence of this gaping chasm of infinite ignorance (that is, if DM-epistemology itself were true) hasn't deterred dialecticians from advancing any number of "demands", "requirements" and "insistences" about all of reality, for all of time -- i.e., that it is unified, 'contradictory', interconnected, "mediated", and that every last particle is constantly changing. The vast majority of these claims go way beyond what could reasonably be justified by an appeal even to a large finite body of evidence (certainly a body far in excess of what is available today, and vastly more still than DM-theorists themselves either quote or reference, which is precious little). As we shall see, some of these theses cannot be verified, let alone tested in practice.42a


In fact, claims like these clearly function in a different way, and to a specific end: they 'allow' those who propound them to stipulate, or lay-down, theoretical criteria delineating the approach they intend to take with respect to their interpretation of specific aspects of nature and society. Indeed, as noted above, they form part of a fetishised "form of representation". [More on the latter, later; until then, see Glock (1996), pp.129-35.]


[The political and/or contingent psychological motivation for DM-manoeuvres like these are exposed in Essays Nine Part Two and Twelve (summary here).]


Verdict: Guilty As Charged -- DM Isn't A Science


It could still be insisted that DM is a science, and that its supporters appropriate and use the latest results of research to support the claims they make about nature and society, as well as the tactics they adopt in order to change it.


Despite this counterclaim, the fact that DM is conventional in form -- but metaphysical in both intent and content, all the while failing to be a science -- can be seen by examining the way DM-advocates themselves try to relate their ideas to the natural and social world.


DM-theorists take it as read that the world exists independently of our knowledge of it, but they are nevertheless quite happy to insist that they know in advance what its most general characteristics must be.


Indeed, this dogmatic approach began in the 'West', as far as we know, in Ancient Greece, with Heraclitus, who was happy to tell us what must be true of all of reality, for all of time, based on what he thought was true about stepping into a river!


Moreover, as a matter of historical record, these general features weren't derived by DM-theorists from a scientific examination of reality, nor are they now a representative summary of the whole of human experience. As we have seen, they were lifted from Hegel, who inherited them from previous generations of mystics (like Heraclitus), who in turn concocted them at a time when there was hardly any evidence at all! Despite this, these mystics were happy to impose their ideas on nature, just like DM-theorists. [More on this in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here).]


To be sure, DM-theorists claim that these ideas have been given a materialist flip (which inversion turns out to be about as genuine as a nine bob note --, or a 61 cent coin, if you are reading this in the United States!).43 Despite this, because these general concepts supposedly relate to the "Totality", for all of space and time, they cannot have been obtained by anything other than a priori means, whoever dreamt them up, or through howsoever many degrees they have supposedly been rotated.


Of course, it could always be objected that wider theoretical considerations determine the validity of the conclusions drawn by DM-theorists. Indeed, it could also be maintained that this is exactly how scientists themselves make use of universal laws, which are likewise thought to operate across all of time and space. In that sense, if this approach to nature is based on centuries of experience, knowledge and increasing levels of 'abstraction' -- and if this isn't a problem for scientists -- then it can't be one for dialecticians, either.


Or, so it could be argued.


However, leaving aside the obvious point that this response undermines completely the claim that DM hasn't been imposed on nature (for it openly admits it!), DM isn't like any known or conceivable science. Although the criteria distinguishing science from pseudo-science are somewhat controversial, one thing is reasonably clear: scientists cannot claim that the world is contradictory -- in whole or in part.


This idea cannot be entertained -- not because of an assumed adherence to bourgeois ideology, nor as a result of an alleged excessive "tenderness" toward the world -- but because it would make scientific description and research impossible.44


A scientific theory that admits reality is contradictory would lose its ability to explain anything. That is because any theory that contemplated the existence of contradictions everywhere would make it impossible to distinguish confirmation from refutation. If an empirical proposition and its contradictory were both true, or could both be true, confirmation and refutation would be all of a piece.45


[The handful of options available to DM-supporters that might seem (to some) capable of avoiding or neutralising that fatal conclusion are closed-off in Note 45.]


To be sure, on its own this doesn't prove that DM is itself misconceived, but it does show that it can't be a science. And, as we will soon see, DM isn't even remotely like a science. In fact, if DM were correct, scientific research would be impossible -- and for the reasons just aired (and about to be aired some more).46


DM In Hot Water


DM isn't even remotely like a science because its theoretical and its empirical propositions actually say nothing at all (if they are taken as they were intended by their authors), unlike scientific/empirical propositions. The latter, however, present us with certain material possibilities, automatically excluding others.


For instance, consider the following rather straight-forward example:46a


S1: Water boils at 100°C.


[Of course, propositions like S1 are these days usually expressed as universally quantified conditionals.]


Given the usual ceteris paribus (i.e., "all things being equal") clauses, the truth of S1 makes the following sentence false (and vice versa):


S2: It is not the case that water boils at 100°C.


If the aforementioned ceteris paribus clauses (such as "under normal conditions of pressure and solvent purity", etc.) are ignored, S2 might become true under different circumstances -- e.g., if the water in question contained impurities, or if the ambient pressure changed (etc.). But, even then, what S2 expresses would still rule out the truth of S1. Against the required background conditions -- or even without them -- when S1 is true, S2 is false, and when S1 is false, S2 is true.47


Compare this with a typical 'proposition' taken from DM (or at least from Trotsky's version of it):


S3: This bag of sugar weighs 1 kg and it doesn't weigh 1 kg.


Or, for those who aren't Trotskyists:


S3a: This moving object is both here and not here at the same time.


Whatever background is supplied for them, because S3 and S3a rule nothing out, they actually say nothing. [Why that is so will be explained presently.]


The import of the above comments wouldn't change even if S1 were replaced by a more specific example:


S4: This particular mass/body/volume interval of water boils at 100°C.


In that case, based on S4, the temptation might be to think that further qualifications could allow both S1 and S2 to be true at once, as in the following:


S5: Parts of this body of water boil at 100°C, and parts of it do not. [Yielding what is called a "mixed phase".]


S6: The same body of water may boil at 99.999°C on one occasion, and at 100.001°C on another, and parts of it might do both or neither at the same time.


[S3: This bag of sugar weighs 1 kg and it does not weigh 1 kg.


S3a: This moving object is both here and not here at the same time.]


Clearly, that is because the predicate "ξ boils at 100°C" is vague.** However, while this is an apparent fault of the language we have to use in such circumstances -- which shortcoming can be remedied to some extent by greater precision -- the status of S3/S3a doesn't depend on such equivocation (that is, given the way DM-theorists themselves see such things). That explains why dialecticians would resist any attempt to correct S3/S3a on linguistic grounds alone (even to the extent that they would accuse anyone who tried to do this of "pedantry", of indulging in "semantics" --, or maybe even of "sophistry" and "logic-chopping"). They view what it says as a report of the objective features of a constantly changing world. But, this just means that the dialectically-inspired flouting of certain linguistic conventions (in this case those expressed or formalised by the LOC) denies S3/S3a a sense. That is because whatever occurs will both refute and confirm S3/S3a. Even though this fatal DM-defect is self-inflicted, it still wouldn't be one of vagueness (again, as DM-fans see such things).


[**The use of Greek symbols like "ξ" is explained here. If this presents a problem for any readers, just view the predicate as "...boils at 100°C", or even "x boils at 100°C".]


[LOC = Law of Non-contradiction.]


It could be argued: despite this, isn't it the case that S6 is still true? And, isn't "ξ weighs 1 Kg" vague, too? Indeed, but S6 can be resolved to some extent purely linguistically (as can this particular predicable; i.e., "ξ weighs 1 Kg"). No DM-fan would accept the same for S3/S3a.


S6: The same body of water may boil at 99.999°C on one occasion, and at 100.001°C on another, and parts of it might do both or neither at the same time.


S3: This bag of sugar weighs 1 kg and it does not weigh 1 kg.


S3a: This moving object is both here and not here at the same time.


And that is why anyone who sought to advance the above DM-response would no doubt also object to the way that most, if not all of the alleged contradictions --, which they claim exist in nature and society -- have been analysed away on purely linguistic grounds in other Essays published at this site; for example, in Essays Four to Eight Part Three. For such potential and/or prospective DM-objectors, these aren't linguistic issues plain and simple; they certainly do not view them this way. But, as we have also seen, dialecticians can only make such claims because of their own sloppy use of language and logic -- indeed, rather like Hegel himself.


[I develop this argument further in the next section.]


The Fetishism Of The Word


The Regular Collapse Of DM-Theses Into Absurdity


Nevertheless, this partly explains why several earlier attempts (made here and here) to correct or improve Engels and Trotsky's formulations of DM-type 'propositions' failed whatever was done with, or to, them. They either collapsed into banal and vacuous platitudes, or they fell apart as incoherent non-sense. This isn't a fate that ordinary empirical or scientific propositions ever have to endure.


Consider another example: according to Trotsky (and, with more apparent sophistication, according to Hegel) it is impossible to express the LOI by means of true propositions that relate to concrete reality; that is, he claimed it is never true that "A is equal to A".


[Of course, this is a gross misrepresentation of Hegel. Plainly, that is because Hegel beat about the non-dialectical bush a lot more, to such an extent that it is impossible to decide exactly what he was trying to do with, or what he was attempting to conclude about, this 'law', a dialectical conundrum attested to by the further fact that not even Hegel scholars can make their minds up about this! Nevertheless, his ideas fall apart for other reasons; more on this in Essay Twelve -- until then, see here and here.]


However, if Trotsky were right, it would in fact be impossible to deny the truth of the LOI, as he attempted to do, at least as it is supposed to apply to 'concrete' reality. That is because, if anyone knowingly denied that the LOI was true (for whatever reason), they would first have to possess some understanding of what it entailed; they would have to know what would be the case if the LOI were true -- even if only so that they could then rule that possibility out, as it applies to 'concrete' reality, for instance.


Clearly, this is something that can be (and typically is) done with respect to empirical propositions (i.e., it is possible to specify in advance of knowing they are true what circumstances would make them true).47a So, although A1 below is false, it is quite easy to describe what would make it true, namely the falsehood of A2 and/or A3.


A1: The Potomac is longer than the Mississippi.


A2: The Mississippi is longer than, or equal in length to, the Potomac.


A3: The Mississippi is 2340 miles (3770 Km) long, while the Potomac is 405 miles (652 Km) long. 


A4: Julius Caesar ate an apple between 3:00 pm and 4:00 pm (local time) on the 5th of March, 55BC (Julian Calendar).


Of course, no one knows whether or not A4 is/was true, but it is quite easy to specify what would make it, or would have made it, true --, and, indeed, what would make it, or would have made it, false (even if we never find out which of these is the case, or even want to find out).


But, if the LOI never applies to anything concrete -- and never could so apply -- its denial rules nothing out, and that presents us with no truth claims at all.


So, according to DM-theorists, the LOI can never be true (or absolutely true in 'concrete' reality). Paradoxically, therefore, anyone who repudiates the LOI in this way actually rejects nothing substantive -- for, plainly, such a denial would have to rule out the truth of whatever it was that was being rejected. But, if it is impossible to say in a true proposition what the LOI proposes, then its 'denial' will achieve nothing at all. The whole charade is just an empty ritual.48


Moreover, we know that it is impossible to say in true propositions what the LOI proposes (if Trotsky and Hegel are to be believed) since we were told:


"In reality 'A' is not equal to 'A'. This is easy to prove if we observe these two letters under a lens -- they are quite different to each other. But one can object, the question is not the size or the form of the letters, since they are only symbols for equal quantities, for instance, a pound of sugar. The objection is beside the point; in reality a pound of sugar is never equal to a pound of sugar -- a more delicate scale always discloses a difference. Again one can object: but a pound of sugar is equal to itself. Neither is true -- all bodies change uninterruptedly in size, weight, colour etc. They are never equal to themselves." [Trotsky (1971), pp.63-64. Bold emphases added.]


[Dozens of other DM-theorists say the same sort of thing; on that see Essay Six.]


So, if:


A5: A is never equal to itself,


is true, then A5 is never equal to itself, either. If one letter ("A") is never equal to itself, a whole sentence stands no chance. In that case, what A5 says is never equal to itself, either, and if that is so, nothing determinate can be inferred from it since we shouldn't know from moment to moment what A5 committed anyone to, or was saying.


[Indeed, if A5 is true, then just as soon as it what it was saying had been determined, that would have changed, too!]


Consequently, if we take A6 to represent the LOI, it is impossible to say in true propositions what it proposes -- again, if Trotsky and Hegel are right --, since A6 suffers from the same defects as A5.


A6: A is equal to A.


[Several objections to this line of reasoning are neutralised in Note 48, but more fully in Essay Six.]


An appeal to the alleged defects of language (as part of an explanation why the above is the case) would be to no avail, either. Even if it were the case that our words for identity were only "approximately true" -- or "true only within certain limits" --, that would still not help. That is because, for this counter-claim to work, we would still have to have some comprehension of the words contained in any expression of the LOI (even if only as an approximation to it). In turn, that is because we would need to recognise those words as expressing an approximation to genuine identity, as opposed to their expressing an approximation perhaps to something completely different --, such as courage, fortitude or cowardice, for example. Hence, even dialecticians will need to have some grasp of genuine identity statements to know whether or not these alleged approximations were indeed approximations to 'identity' -- that is, by how much or how far they fell short of absolute identity itself --, and not to something else. Otherwise they wouldn't be approximations to absolute identity, but to something entirely different (no pun intended).48a


This much was at least clear to Plato 2500 years ago (even if he drew all the wrong conclusions from it).49


Again, it could be objected that language is "relatively stable" so the above comments are misguided. Here is what I have argued in response to this in Essay Six:


But, how could anyone committed to this theory know whether or not language is 'relatively stable' -- especially if they also believe that everything is in the grip of the Heraclitean Flux? In fact, as soon as language itself is implicated in this 'Flux', everything semantically solid melts into thin air. In that case, it would be no good appealing to evidence (drawn from dictionaries, textbooks, personal memory, common usage, etc.) in support of the claim that language is 'relatively stable', for if everything is changing then so is the language in which this evidence is itself expressed, so are the notebooks and/or primary data sheets from which it has been retrieved, and so are the memories upon which all of these depend. Given this way of looking at things, for all anyone knows, every single word could change its meaning every fraction of a second (along with any and all memories of, or about, the objects that seem familiar to us, like dictionaries, journals and textbooks)....


Indeed, as Plato himself recognised, the Heraclitean Flux is no respecter of theories; in fact it completely mangles them.


This argument was developed in even more detail in Note 15 of Essay Six:


Again, it could be argued that all Trotsky requires is the relative stability of the words he used, which won't have changed significantly during the short intervals involved.


Unfortunately, Trotsky holed that response well below the water line, declaring that:


"[A]ll bodies change uninterruptedly in size, weight, colour etc. They are never equal to themselves… But everything exists in time; and existence itself is an uninterrupted process of transformation…. Thus the axiom 'A' is equal to 'A' signifies that a thing is equal to itself if it does not change, that is if it does not exist." [Trotsky (1971), p.64.]


In that case, since words, too, are material objects, they must "change uninterruptedly" (as must their meanings). If, according to Trotsky, no single letter "A" is immune, second-to-second, from the Heraclitean Flux, words stand no chance. If so, DM implies that there is no way of knowing whether or not words (or their meanings) have changed dramatically, even while they are being uttered -- including any of the words that might be used to argue for or against either possibility. [We saw earlier that Voloshinov seemed to hold this view.]


Consequently, the word "identity" (and its meaning) must itself fail to be self-identical at one and the same moment (if Trotsky is to be believed), since everything (including every meaning, one supposes) is a unity of itself and its 'opposite' (its "other", according to Hegel and Lenin). Plainly, this implies that the word "identical" must also mean and not mean "not identical", at the same time!


If this weren't the case, then dialecticians would have no way of accounting for the change in meaning of the word "identity" itself, which, according to their own theory, has to change, and it can only do so because of one or more of the following: (i) Its own 'internal contradictions', (ii) The 'internal contradictions' of (or in) the meanings we attribute to it, or (ii) A response to those in society-at-large (which we are told a reflected in our language). So, given DM, unless "identical" now means and does not mean "not identical" its meaning couldn't change. Hence, if all things are changing all the time, then that word must now mean and not mean "not identical".


The same argument in turn applies to anyone who uses this word -- by "identical" they, too, must mean and not mean "identical", as well as "not identical". Moreover, if DM is true, it isn't easy to see how the understanding of these changed meanings and altered intentions could possibly be coordinated across an entire population of dialecticians, let alone the wider population. Naturally, this would completely undermine inter-personal communication, which in turn would prevent DM-theorists communicating their ideas to the rest of humanity, or even to one another, since they would all mean something different by their use of this, or, indeed, every word. Clearly, that would imply that no one would, or could, "understand" dialectics -- not Hegel, not Marx, not Engels, not Plekhanov, not Lenin, not Trotsky..., since the meaning of all its terms would be subject to unspecified change and hence consequent indeterminacies. Moreover, given DM, there is nothing that can be done to rectify the situation; any attempt to do so would be subject to the tender mercies of the dread Heraclitean Mangle.


[On this, also see Essays Three Part Two, Eleven Part One, and Thirteen Part Three.]


The only way to avoid this ridiculous conclusion is to abandon the doctrine that all things change all the time (as a result of their 'internal contradictions') --, or admit that some things remain identical (namely, the word "identical" and its meaning), indefinitely. Either way, DM would suffer yet another body blow.


Hence, in order to avoid the unremitting confusion that this doctrine would introduce into DM itself, Trotsky needed the LOI to apply to his own words (and their meanings, as a rule of language or of practice) while he was using them -- and, this would have to have been the case for many years (possibly centuries thereafter, too -- so that his supporters could understand him correctly (or at all)); specifically when he employed these words to question the application of the very same law to letter "A"s and bags of sugar! [Irony intended.] Otherwise, all his words and their meanings could be, for all he knew, non-self-identical from moment-to-moment. [His theory implies this anyway.]


In addition, anyone consulting his words today must be able to read them now with their original meanings implied, or they wouldn't be able to agree with their intended content, and hence with what Trotsky had attempted to argue. In that case, contemporary dialecticians who read Trotsky's words (or, indeed, Hegel's) must in effect take the argument against the material application of the strict version of the LOI with a pinch of salt, or risk failing to grasp the exact message Trotsky (or Hegel) had intended -- or, perhaps, admitting that it can't be grasped by anyone if it were valid. For if Trotsky and Hegel's words about change (etc.) were correct, then the message they intended to convey wouldn't now be accessible, having changed in untold ways over the years -- and possibly (probably!) even into its opposite! [Indeed, definitely into its opposite, if we are to believe the DM-classics.]


It could be objected that our words do in fact remain relatively stable, so the above comments are entirely misguided. However, if Hegel and Trotsky are right, then there would be no way that either of them (or anyone else for that matter) could possibly tell whether or not our words do in fact remain relatively stable. Indeed, if their theory is correct, even the words in the previous sentence, along with their meanings, must have changed, too!


As should now seem obvious, if DM were true, there would be nothing to which anyone could appeal to ground a single safe thought. On the other hand, if there were something upon which they could ground their thoughts, then Trotsky, Hegel and Heraclitus must be mistaken, since, in that case, at least one thing would remain unchanged long enough for it to be of any use -- namely whatever it is that we can ground that thought upon. So, given the truth of what Trotsky argued -- that nothing stays the same, and that all things change uninterruptedly and are never equal to themselves, they are never self-identical -- it doesn't look like there could be such a grounding. An appeal to the same memory of, for example, a given word and its use or its meaning would not only be to no avail, it would in fact be impossible. If everything is changeable, and changing, memory itself can hardly escape unscathed. Not even Cartesian 'clear and distinct ideas' would be available to anchor a single cognition on solid epistemological bedrock, for the words, concepts, and ideas retrieved in order to formulate these comforting 'certainties' would be non-self-identical from moment-to-moment, too, and thereby liable to continual change.


A moment's thought (no pun intended!) will confirm that even the phrase "relatively stable" is no less subject to change, too. How can DM-theorists rule this out? Indeed, and once more, it is implied by their theory. This must be so if everything changes all the time in the way Heraclitus, Hegel, Lenin and Trotsky imagined. And yet, it is the DM-doctrine of universal and constant change that must be rejected to save this theory from its own absurd implications, and easy self-refutation. But, the only viable way to do that involves an invocation of the LOI -- interpreted now as a rule of language or practice, and not as a metaphysical, or any other, truth.


Once again, DM-fans would have to appeal to FL and/or ordinary language to rescue their theory from itself.


On the other hand, if it is indeed a fact that language is stable, then the DM-account of change must be wrong (and for reasons rehearsed above; see also here and here) -- since, at a minimum, A will equal A, even if only instantaneously, thus refuting Trotsky and Hegel!


Hence, DM-type propositions say nothing because they rule nothing (material) out, and hence nothing in.50


Of course, as is the case with other linguistically competent human beings, DM-apologists understand perfectly well how to use words for identity –- such as, "similar", "equal", "equivalent", "same", and "identical" -- along with their appropriate qualifiers (e.g., "exactly", "precisely", "very", "nearly", and "almost"). A grasp of such terms comes courtesy of their employment in everyday life, not from a supposed 'law'. Nor does this facility arise from the 'negation', nor yet the double 'negation' of the LOI. [More on this here.] In fact, this everyday facility with words for identity (etc.) is what enables DM-theorists themselves to engage in the (often genuine) pretence that they think the LOI is either false or only 'approximately true' when it is applied to objects and processes in concrete reality. They understand the LOI because they are language-users, and yet it is their subsequent misconstrual of the socially-conditioned rules for the use of such words as empirical truths that ultimately misleads them.


In short: dialecticians mistake the misinterpreted content of a social norm for reality itself, and then make a fetish of the result.


[How and why this occurs will be explained in Essay Nine Parts One and Two, and Essay Twelve.]


It is also worth pointing out that DM-theorists aren't alone in doing this. Because the LOI itself says nothing (i.e., it has no empirical content since it is a misleading expression of a rule of language) -- and because of its status in Traditional Philosophy where it had been viewed as a 'necessary truth' --, metaphysicians and theorists in general (and this includes Hegel) have also mistaken the supposed content of a social norm/rule for reality itself. Viewed in this way, the LOI was traditionally supposed to reflect an 'industrial-strength' truth, as it were, which applied to everything in existence (in so far as each object or process is allegedly related to itself in the way this 'Law' seems to indicate). It thus appears to tell us how things are and must be, and how they cannot be conceived of otherwise.


Thus, the misconstrual of the way we use words for sameness and difference was transmogrified into a 'Law' that 'allowed' philosophers to derive supposedly fundamental truths about 'reality' from thought, or from words, alone -- which is, of course, why metaphysicians thought the LOI could be declared true (a priori) independently of any state of the world.


Indeed, this is also why DM-theorists pretend they can deny the absolute truth of this 'law' (when it is applied to concrete reality) also by means of thought alone -- that is, by an appeal to certain 'thought experiments' (à la Trotsky and/or à la Hegel), and/or as a result of a series of verbal tricks.


These are just two sides of the same tarnished metaphysical coin.


Interpreted like this, the LOI seems to rule certain things in as 'necessarily true'; others it appears to rule out as 'necessarily false'. Unfortunately, it is impossible to deny successfully the 'truth' of the LOI in any language whatsoever -- that is, in those that possess the required vocabulary -- without also having to use that very same 'law' (as a linguistic rule) in the very act of attempting to do just that!


Again, we saw this in Essay Six, where it was shown that Trotsky had to rely on the identity of temporal instants in order to deny the absolute identity of bags of sugar --, i.e., he was forced to do this so he could refer to the same moment in time during which an object or process wasn't self-identical!


Clearly, it is impossible to say what (1) the LOI rules out as 'false' -- and hence, (2) what it rules in as 'true'. As we have seen, trying to do either of these would be to misinterpret this rule as a super-empirical proposition that purports to inform us about fundamental features of reality. If option (2) cannot even be attempted without falling into confusion, then neither can (1) -- at least, not by means of empirical propositions. [Why that is so is explained in detail here; the argument is summarised here and here.]


Now, as argued in Essay Three Part One, 'problems' like these arose in Ancient Greece when philosophers attempted to conjure into existence certain specific 'concepts' by means of a process of 'abstraction', which in the end turned these 'concepts' into 'Abstract Particulars'. In this specific case, a universal and super-empirical 'Law' (that is, a 'Law' supposedly 'true' of every object in reality as it relates to itself) was 'abstracted' from the ordinary use of words for sameness and difference.50aa


[On this, see Essay Six, again.]


This ancient, false step helped construct the 'necessary' truth this 'Law' supposedly expresses. In this way, therefore, the ordinary application of everyday words for identity was transformed into a general thesis about the ultimate, abstract structure of reality -- or, rather, the socialised rules governing the use of certain words were reified and then expressed in written form as the LOI. It was this physical form which was then misconstrued (by Hegel) as a super-empirical 'truth of abstract reason', which supposedly revealed fundamental aspects of reality, valid for all of space and time, and which he attempted to criticise.


Dialecticians subsequently bought into this fetishisation of the written word, making the opposite error of supposing this reified social norm was a 'Law', which is only 'partially true' (or, which is 'both true and not true' -- or, indeed, possibly completely false (depending on which DM-fan is recounting this fairytale)) of everything in reality that is 'concrete'.


Once again, these are but two sides of the same bent metaphysical coin.


However, in order to establish either result (i.e., that which (i) appertains to the 'truth' of the traditional 'Law' and that which (ii) encapsulates its DM-'repudiation'/qualification), one specific semantic feature of language relating to truth and falsehood has had to be promoted at the expense of another. In this case, truth was promoted at the expense of its logical twin, falsehood.


[With other metaphysical theses this might, of course, be the other way round.]


Traditionally, the LOI was allegedly aimed at accounting for the truth of identity statements -- and only for their truth --, since the LOI was a 'law of reason'. However, this move only succeeded in undermining the paired semantic foundations of empirical propositions. In the end, by emphasizing truth and ignoring falsehood, both end up being compromised.


That is because empirical propositions (i.e., those pertaining to facts of the matter) leave it open as to whether they are true or false -- which is why their truth-values cannot simply be read-off from their content, why evidence is required in order to determine their semantic status, and why it is possible to understand them before their truth or falsehood has been ascertained.


[The reasoning underlying these seemingly controversial statements can be found in Essay Twelve Part One, again, summarised here and here.]


When this isn't the case -- i.e., when either option (truth or falsehood) is closed-off, when propositions are said to be "necessarily true", or "necessarily false" -- evidence clearly becomes irrelevant. As a result, such propositions lose the capacity they once seemed to have of expressing truth or falsehood -- they become non-sensical.


In order to see why this is so, consider the following sentence (M1) taken from Lenin's MEC. Because he maintained its truth, he would presumably have declared M2 necessarily false (if not "unthinkable"):


M1: Matter without motion is unthinkable.


M2: Matter can sometimes exist without motion.


Unfortunately for Lenin, in order to declare M2 necessarily (and always) false, the possibility of its truth must first be entertained. That is because, if the truth of M2 is to be permanently excluded by holding it as necessarily false (or "unthinkable"), then whatever would make it true has to be ruled out conclusively. But, anyone doing that would have to know what M2 rules in (i.e., what makes it true) so that they could comprehend what M1 was ruling out as always and necessarily false. And yet, this is precisely what cannot be done if what M2 itself says is permanently ruled out by M1 on conceptual grounds alone.


Consequently, if a proposition like M2 is necessarily false, this charade (i.e., the permanent exclusion of its truth) cannot take place -- since it would be impossible to say (or to think) what could count as making M2 true.


However, because the truth of M2 cannot even be conceived, Lenin was in no position to say what was excluded by its rejection (by means of M1). If M2 can never be true, and never even thought to be true (because of M1), then it cannot be thought not true (since, plainly, "not true" is semantically the same as "false").50ab


Unfortunately, this prevents any account being given of what would make M2 false, let alone 'necessarily' false. Given this twist, M2 would now be necessarily false if and only if it wasn't capable of being thought of as necessarily false!


Hence, while it might seem that M2 could be thought of as necessarily false if and only if what would make it true could at least be entertained, so that it could then be ruled out as necessarily false, this isn't so. According to Lenin, the conditions that would make M2 true cannot even be conceived, so this train of thought cannot be joined at any point. In that case, if the truth of M2 -- or the conditions under which it would be true, or which would make it true -- cannot be conceived, then neither can its falsehood, for we would not then know what was being ruled out.


This means that whoever propounds a thesis like M1 would have to know what a proposition using "matter without motion" (in this way) rules in so that they knew exactly what it rules out as always and necessarily false. And yet, this is precisely what cannot be done if the content of a proposition using "matter without motion" (in this way) is "unthinkable".


Such Super-Empirical theses thus collapse under the weight of their own defective use of language. They become non-sensical.


Which perhaps illustrates why Marx was right to say the following:


"The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphases added.]


[I am not suggesting that Marx saw things this way, or would even have acknowledged the argument that precedes it, as in any way representative of what he intended; clearly, that would be anachronistic. What I am arguing is that the above argument illustrates why Marx was right to say what he did.]


Once more: by emphasizing one semantic feature of language ('necessary' truth, or 'necessary' falsehood), both options become non-viable.


A similar fate awaits all such 'necessary' truths (or 'necessary' falsehoods) -- as will be demonstrated in Essay Twelve Part One.


In this way, therefore, the 'necessary truth' the LOI supposedly expresses undermines itself -- and because of this it fails even to be an empirical proposition (true or false). Just like the other pseudo-propositions that litter Metaphysics, the above semantic antics deprive both this 'law', and its denial, of all content. The LOI (as it has been understood at this site) asserts nothing true and nothing false of reality (for it is a linguistic rule that encapsulates how we use certain words --, and rules can neither be true nor false, only useful or not, practical or impractical).


The LOI lacks an empirical sense because it presents no truth conditions -- that is, it expresses no conditions that must obtain for it to be true, or that must obtain for it to be false. [Of course, that is why Traditional Theorists thought they could establish the supposed 'necessary' truth of this 'law' on purely conceptual and/or linguistic grounds, independently of any evidence, independently of the way the world happened to be.]50a


Empirical propositions are different in this respect: their semantic status is sensitive to evidence; truth or falsehood cannot simply be read-off from the words they contain. They have to face the facts in order to be declared one way or the other. No amount of 'pure thought' will confirm their truth-value; so, it isn't possible to ascertain the truth or the falsehood of, say, "The Nile is longer than the Volga" merely by thinking about it.


Linguistic rules -- or the expression thereof, such as the LOI or the LOC -- become metaphysical when they are misconstrued in the above manner; i.e., when it is imagined that their actual or permanent truth-status can be read off (solely) from the words they contain -- which is how the vast majority of Traditional Theorists (including dialecticians) have conceived them.


Thus, metaphysicians throughout history have concentrated their efforts on devising theories about reality that could only be true (as they saw things), and never false. Unfortunately, by doing this, they have actually prevented their theories from being either of these.


In everyday life, our use of ordinary words for identity isn't defective in this way. The employment of such words isn't predicated on the existence of super-empirical 'truths' about the world, but is based on socially-conditioned practices (which cannot be true or false, as we have seen).


This specialised feature of language (i.e., in relation to which truth-conditions don't apply) also informs the LOC. As is the case with the LOI, the LOC doesn't express a deep metaphysical truth about the world -- since it isn't a true proposition to begin with. It expresses a rule of language and/or logic that formalises a social convention for the use of the negative particle, which rule is impossible to abrogate without discourse degenerating into incoherent non-sense -- or, as Aristotle himself noted, without communication and rationality breaking down.


Of course, DM-theorists have simply compounded the error of construing the LOC, not as a 'rule', but as an 'abstract truth' that is always (or often) concretely false. Small wonder then that over the last 150 years they have found it impossible to communicate their ideas clearly to anyone --, least of all one another -- again, as Aristotle forewarned 2400 years ago. [On this see Essays Four through Eight Part Three.]


In short, metaphysical theses masquerade as empirical propositions (often by their use of the indicative mood); by aping the latter they purport to reveal or express certain truths about the world. However, they are, or were, promulgated by their inventors as if they expressed deeper, more profound universal verities, posing as super-empirical, necessary or industrial strength truths about 'reality itself', or 'Being'. But, this is precisely what denies them any sense: in so far as they are based on a misconstrual of the rules we use to make sense of the world, and of one another, they rapidly collapse into incoherent non-sense, and are hence incapable of being either true or false.


So, this is why DM cannot be a science: its 'propositions' do not just say nothing about the world, they say nothing about anything (except, of course, indirectly about the gullibility of those who imagine Hegel had anything useful to say). As is the case with the above metaphysicians, dialecticians misconstrue linguistic rules -- which enable genuinely substantive truths about the world to be stated by means of empirical propositions --, as if they were super-empirical truths, an error they then compound by employing impenetrable jargon lifted from the mystical logico-babble found in Hegel's Logic; as a result, their theses aren't just non-sensical, they are incoherent non-sense.


DM: Just A 'Method'?


If DM is neither conventional nor metaphysical -- and it isn't a science -- then perhaps it is simply a method? However, few DM-theorists appear willing to accept such a deflationary conclusion.51


This is quite apart from the fact that if DM (or 'Materialist Dialectics') were simply a method, it couldn't be "objective", as Lenin inadvertently noted:


"To be a materialist is to acknowledge objective truth, which is revealed to us by our sense-organs. To acknowledge objective truth, i.e., truth not dependent upon man and mankind, is, in one way or another, to recognise absolute truth." [Lenin (1972), p.148. Bold emphasis added.]


"Knowledge can be useful biologically, useful in human practice, useful for the preservation of life, for the preservation of the species, only when it reflects objective truth, truth which is independent of man." [Ibid., p.157. Bold emphasis added.]


Plainly, a 'method' isn't "independent of man".


It could be objected that the dialectical method enables those who use it correctly to ascertain objective truths about the world. Quite apart from the fact that there is no objective way of deciding whether or not the 'dialectical method' has been used "correctly" (or even if it can be used "correctly"!) -- on that, see here -- if DM is just a method, it is a particularly useless one, since it would make change impossible.


Pick Your Mystic


I began this Essay with several impertinent remarks about the obvious similarities that exist between the DM-"Totality" and 'God'. Now that we are nearing the end we are perhaps in a better position to re-assert those remarks, but without the initial and peremptory impertinences tacked on. In fact, we can now see why those comments were fully justified.


Every mystical system of which we have any knowledge has appealed in one form or another to a Whole, or a "Totality"52 -- often openly identified with 'God' --, to account for 'Reality', "Being", and also even for change and development. [See, for example, here and here, but a complete list of examples would be almost endless. I have constructed two greatly shortened lists here and here.]


Be this as it may, Traditional Theorists soon found it impossible to relate, or to connect, each 'mortal soul' caught up in the metaphysical machinery (they had just invented) to the supposedly 'infinite cause' responsible for their existence, and thus they found it impossible to relate them to their own version of the "Totality" without either: (a) Denying the limited nature of the former -- thereby turning each 'soul' into a infinite being, or perhaps an 'aspect'/'emanation' of, or from, 'God', or without (b) Demoting or downgrading the nature of 'God', equating 'Him'/'Her'/'It' with 'His'/'Her'/'Its' creation. Hence, as a result, human being either become 'gods', or 'God' becomes human.


This self-inflicted insoluble conundrum later re-surfaced in a different form as the "central problematic of German Idealism" (i.e., it reappeared as part of the pseudo-problem, "subject-object identity". [Beiser (1993b, 2002).] We saw above that this idea is also central to Zen Buddhism),53 and this 'problematic' reappeared in Engels's, and later in Lenin and Mao's work, in the following form:


"'Fundamentally, we can know only the infinite.' In fact all real exhaustive knowledge consists solely in raising the individual thing in thought from individuality into particularity and from this into universality, in seeking and establishing the infinite in the finite, the eternal in the transitory…. All true knowledge of nature is knowledge of the eternal, the infinite, and essentially absolute… The cognition of the infinite…can only take place in an infinite asymptotic progress." [Engels (1954), pp.233-35. Bold emphasis added.]


"The reproaches you make against the law of value apply to all concepts, regarded from the standpoint of reality. The identity of thought and being, to express myself in Hegelian fashion, everywhere coincides with your example of the circle and the polygon. Or the two of them, the concept of a thing and its reality, run side by side like two asymptotes, always approaching each other yet never meeting. This difference between the two is the very difference which prevents the concept from being directly and immediately reality and reality from being immediately its own concept. But although a concept has the essential nature of a concept and cannot therefore prima facie directly coincide with reality, from which it must first be abstracted, it is still something more than a fiction, unless you are going to declare all the results of thought fictions because reality has to go a long way round before it corresponds to them, and even then only corresponds to them with asymptotic approximation." [Engels to Conrad Schmidt (12/03/1895), in Marx and Engels (2004), pp.463-64. Bold emphasis added. I have used the on-line version here, which differs slightly from the published copy.]


"The great basic question of all philosophy, especially of more recent philosophy, is that concerning the relation of thinking and being." [Engels (1888), p.593.]


"But there are more than these two properties and qualities or facets to [any material object]; there are an infinite number of them, an infinite number of 'mediacies' and inter-relationships with the rest of the world….


"[I]f we are to have true knowledge of an object we must look at and examine all its facets, its connections and 'mediacies'. That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve completely…. [D]ialectical logic requires that an object should be taken in development, in change, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it). This is not immediately obvious in respect of such an object as a tumbler, but it, too, is in flux, and this holds especially true for its purpose, use and connection with the surrounding world." [Lenin (1921), pp.92-93. Bold emphasis added.]


"To begin with what is the simplest, most ordinary, common, etc., with (sic) any proposition…. Here we already have dialectics (as Hegel's genius recognized): the individual is the universal…. Consequently, the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical; the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a fragment, or aspect, or the essence of) an individual." [Lenin (1961), p.359.]


"Knowledge is the reflection of nature by man. But this is not simple, not an immediate, not a complete reflection, but the process of a series of abstractions, the formation and development of concepts, laws, etc., and these concepts, laws, etc., (thought, science = 'the logical Idea') embrace conditionally, approximately, the universal, law-governed character of eternally moving and developing nature.... Man cannot comprehend = reflect = mirror nature as a whole, in its completeness, its 'immediate totality,' he can only eternally come closer to this, creating abstractions, concepts, laws, a scientific picture of the world...." [Ibid., p.182. Bold emphasis alone added.]


"Idealism and mechanical materialism, opportunism and adventurism, are all characterized by the breach between the subjective and the objective, by the separation of knowledge from practice. The Marxist-Leninist theory of knowledge, characterized as it is by scientific social practice, cannot but resolutely oppose these wrong ideologies. Marxists recognize that in the absolute and general process of development of the universe, the development of each particular process is relative, and that hence, in the endless flow of absolute truth, man's knowledge of a particular process at any given stage of development is only relative truth. The sum total of innumerable relative truths constitutes absolute truth. The development of an objective process is full of contradictions and struggles, and so is the development of the movement of human knowledge. All the dialectical movements of the objective world can sooner or later be reflected in human knowledge. In social practice, the process of coming into being, developing and passing away is infinite, and so is the process of coming into being, developing and passing away in human knowledge. As man's practice which changes objective reality in accordance with given ideas, theories, plans or programmes, advances further and further, his knowledge of objective reality likewise becomes deeper and deeper. The movement of change in the world of objective reality is never-ending and so is man's cognition of truth through practice. Marxism-Leninism has in no way exhausted truth but ceaselessly opens up roads to the knowledge of truth in the course of practice. Our conclusion is the concrete, historical unity of the subjective and the objective, of theory and practice, of knowing ant doing, and we are opposed to all erroneous ideologies, whether 'Left' or Right, which depart from concrete history." [Mao (1961c), pp.307-08. Bold emphasis added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

In DM, this "problematic" also re-surfaced in an epistemological form, but expressed in a way that sent the DM-'theory of knowledge' off on a 'wild-concept-chase' (analysed in more detail in Essay Three Parts One to Six). In MEC, Lenin tried (and failed) to bridge the artificial gap this ancient dichotomy (i.e., "subject-object identity") had inflicted on DM-epistemology; but it is obvious by the way he aimlessly thrashed about that he hadn't a clue how to resolve it. Nor has anyone since. [Lenin's rather desperate moves were exposed in Essay Thirteen Part One.]


This unresolved 'problem' still dogs DM-epistemology, which is just one of the reasons why the writings of HCDs, for example, are impenetrably obscure (since it all the easier to hide the fact that you are hoplessly lost if you bury that fact in incomprehensible gobbledygook), while those of LCDs are impressively superficial.


[MEC = Materialism And Empirio-Criticism (i.e., Lenin (1972); HCD = High Church Dialectician; LCD = Low Church Dialectician; follow the above links for an explanation.]


In a mystical system, not only is it impossible to comprehend either side of the 'Ontological Grand Canyon' that now separates 'Being' from 'You-or-Me-ing', it is even more difficult to re-connect them.


So, it seems that this smashed Cosmic Egg cannot be put back together again.



Figure Eleven: The Central 'Problematic'

Of German Idealism?


No wonder then that DM-theorists prevaricate on this and other issues, and are so vague, confused and repetitive.


[This might also form part of the reason why many of those who rise to the 'top' of whatever Marxist party they joined or had formed behave as if they were minor deities and were thus able to treat their 'underlings' with dismissive contempt, and no little personal and sexual abuse -- and why they feel they are justified in concocting theories that reveal fundamental truths about reality, valid for all of space and time -- a character trait which is in some cases made far worse by the 'god'-like power they have over life and death. This is just one more trait they share with assorted religious 'gurus', also known to abuse their followers because they declared themselves to be 'prophets' or representatives of 'god' on earth, and who are also fond of the odd execution or ten.]


This Wholist Metaphysic is indeed one "ruling idea" that has dominated human thought, 'East' and 'West', for over two thousand years, just as it is a thought-form that Dialectical Marxists have yet to recognise for what it is, let alone cast it aside.


This is how Marx depicted things:


"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch...." [Marx and Engels (1970), pp.64-65. Quoted from here. Bold emphasis added.]


Given the above, it hard to resist the conclusion that this, and other areas of DM are indeed part of the "ruling ideas" about which Marx was speaking.


Be this as it may, dialecticians certainly reject the accusation that their system is mystical; in fact they become quite offended by it. That is partly because it has been thrown at them so many times, partly because they claim to have neutralised the mystical influence Hegel's system brought in its train, by up-ending it and leaving behind its "rational core", and partly because they view their theory as quintessentially scientific.


As these Essays have shown, the last two of the above responses are so wide of the mark that the resulting gap makes the Grand Canyon look like a tiny crack in a Cornish Pasty in comparison.



Figure Twelve: Half-Baked Theory?


The first of the above responses is, of course, their problem; they invited this accusation the day they began to take Hegel seriously (upside down, or 'the right way up').


However, Rees does at least try extricate himself from this Hermetic Hole:


"Totality alone is not, however, a sufficient definition of the dialectic. Many undialectical views of society make use of the idea of totality. The Catholic Church has its own mystical view of the all-embracing nature of God's creation.... 'The Taoist tradition in China shares with dialectics the emphasis on wholeness, the whole being maintained by the balance of opposites such as yin and yang.' [Quoting Levins and Lewontin (1985), pp.274-75.]


"...What unites all these explanations is that they see the totality as static. Beneath all the superficial bustle of the world lies an enduring eternal truth, the unchanging face of God, the ceaseless search for balance between yin and yang.... What they lack is any notion of totality as a process of change. And even where such system grant the possibility of instability, it is considered merely a prelude to he restored equilibrium....


"But, even taken together, change and totality are not sufficient to define a dialectical system. In addition we have to provide some general indication of how such change originates....


"A dialectical approach seeks to find the cause of change within the system.... If change is internally generated it must be a result of contradiction, of instability and development as inherent properties of the system itself." [Rees (1998a), pp.6-7.]


But, as we have seen, there are countless mystical systems that appeal to the sorts of things Rees denies of them in order to account for change -- Hegel's being the most obvious(!), and which see the world, and even 'god', as a process of some sort. A long list will be given in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here); until that is published, some of this material can be found here.


However, the opposite view to that advanced by Rees is summarised for us in the following passage (quoted earlier):


"The ancient Egyptians believed that a totality must consist of the union of opposites. A similar premise, that the interaction between yin (the female principle) and yang (the male principle) underlies the workings of the universe, is at the heart of much Chinese thinking. The idea has been central to Taoist philosophy from the fourth century B.C. to the present day and is still embraced by many Chinese who are not Taoists. Nor is the idea confined to the Egyptians and the Chinese. Peoples all over the world, in Eurasia, Africa and the Americas, have come to the conclusion that the cosmos is a combining of opposites and that one of the most important aspects of this dualism is the opposition between male and female." [Maybury-Lewis (1992), pp.125-26. Bold emphases added.]


Again: what was that about "the ideas of the ruling-class..."?


Via Negativa? -- Or Viagra?


We have now reached the last and desperate 'scraping stage', right at the bottom of the DM-barrel, but still no DM-'Hamlet'.


Nevertheless, we do know a little more about what the "Totality" isn't -- chief among which is that it isn't at all clear what it is.


At best, this 'DM-non-Hamlet' has failed to make 'its' entrance stage left, and in the face of the above via negativa, 'it' is seemingly in need of some Viagra to revive his flagging fortunes.


Indeed, I rather think there is something rotten in the State of Dialectics.




But wait! Perhaps this is too quick? Maybe the above conclusions are a result of the present author trying to analyse each dialectical thesis one-by-one, all the while ignoring the holistic and "mediated" nature of reality, wherein everything is conditioned by everything else?


There is some truth in this counter-allegation, but fortunately, not much.


By the end of Part Two of this Essay, even this faint ray of dialectical hope will have been extinguished.


There, this 'DM-non-Hamlet' (the "Totality") will be put out of its mediated misery, and then covered with a six foot deep soil blanket.


May the non-existent deity have no mercy on its insubstantial soul...




01. On this, see Flew (1963), p.97. Flew's alleged 'conversion' to Christianity -- but see here -- was based on flawed science, anyway.  


1. The comments of other DM-luminaries on this particular topic have been reproduced in Note 25, below. Of course, several of the latter declare that they cannot actually tell us what the "Totality" is since that would pin reality down, rendering DM formalistic. However, as we have seen, dialecticians in fact end up doing the exact opposite: tying nature down with several DM-theses they are only too happy to impose on nature and society.


So, this latest excuse is as bogus as much else found in Dialectical Marxism.


[HM = Historical Materialism.]


Georg Novack, for example, waxed indignant in his heroic struggle against the 'forces of unreason', which apparently (and unfairly) required him to tell them exactly what he believed. [Of course, he stoutly resisted such impertinences!] And yet, he was quite happy to demand of them the sorts things he denied that they were able to require of him in return: concrete details and some level of clarity. [On this, see Novack (1971), pp.69-83. Several more comments on this topic will be added at a later date.]


Some of those who have made it this far (and apparently no further) have complained that I haven't quoted more recent dialecticians on this topic. The reason for that 'omission' is quite plain (indeed, I covered this very point in the main body of this Essay, here): search as hard as I might, I couldn't find anyone, or any recent books and articles, to quote that didn't merely repeat more-or-less exactly what the DM-classicists had to say about the "Totality" -- i.e., not a lot -- or who ignored this core 'concept'! Sure, many had much to say about social wholes (but, even then, we still haven't been told precisely what constitutes a social whole, either), but, as this form of holism isn't being questioned here (since it is plainly part of HM, a scientific theory I fully accept), it is hardly relevant to the aims of this Essay.


Moreover, since there are few books and articles on this nebulous theory (published in English) that I haven't read, the mystery deepens. Certainly, these critics failed to point me in the direction of more recent DM-works that cover this topic in any detail (or at all!).


2. Rees also had this to say:


"[N]ature forms a totality, which it must unless we depart from materialism completely and become believers in the supernatural…." [Rees (1998a), p.78. Italics in the original.]


Alas, this doesn't add much to our knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of the "Totality", but it does confirm the suspicion that Rees probably does identify it with nature. Or, rather, since he says that nature forms a totality, it is reasonable to assume he intends this to be the DM-"Totality". Nevertheless, it is still impossible to say for sure whether or not Rees thinks nature forms the whole of this "Totality", or only part of it --, since he doesn't, either.


3. This means that much of what appears in Jay (1984), after the opening chapter, isn't relevant to the aims of this Essay, or this site.


4. Of course, Rees isn't the only one to advance such claims; on this, see Note 25.


It might still be argued that this is unfair since Rees points out that these mystical systems don't appeal to "internal contradictions" in order to account for change, but that isn't so. As we saw above (and again, here), rarely does a mystic fail to appeal to "unities of opposites" to account for change and stability. Sure, they might not be called "contradictions" (however, in Buddhism and Jewish Mysticism they are), but then again a rose by any other name...


On contradictions in Buddhism, see this on-line article (a PDF) by Yasuo Deguchi, Jay Garfield and Graham Priest.


[LOC = Law of Non-Contradiction; LEM = Law of Excluded Middle.]


Furthermore, this is what The Buddhist Channel had to say about the LOC and the LEM:


"In Buddhist logic, the origin of every judgment and concept from data of our senses starts with the act of running through the manifold of undetermined pure sensations first before we fasten upon one point of that series of pure sensations, a point with regard to which the rest will be divided in two.


"On the one side we have a comparatively limited number of similar things, on the other the less limited number of dissimilar ones. Both parts mutually represent the absence of each other. Therefore, every [part/aspect? -- RL] of our conscious thought or cognition thus represents a division into two parts. Thus, our cognition begins with an act of dichotomy.


"As soon as our intellectual eye begins to 'see', our thought is already beset with contradiction. Once our thought has stopped running and has fixed upon an external point, to produce a judgment said (sic), 'this is blue', we have already separated the universe of discourse into two unequal halves, the part that is blue and the infinite part that is non-blue.


"Both parts are relative to each other. There is actually nothing blue in itself. The Law of Contradiction is an expression of the fact that all cognition is dichotomizing and relative. We can only cognize or determine a thing by opposing it to what it is not.


"Now, everything be it real or imagined, is subject to the Law of Otherness also. Otherness and opposition are realized as representing the negation of the similar. Differences and the contraries cannot be conceived so long as the non-existence of the similar is not realized. Otherness and opposition is the absence of the similar indirectly.


"Contradiction can be conceived in its logical or dynamic forms. View[ed] logically it is a complete mutual exclusion such as e.g., blue and non-blue. They can co-exist in close proximity with each other without interference with each others' (sic) existence. This mutual exclusion can also be referred to as the Law of Excluded Middle. In its dynamic form, both the opposing parts are mutually endeavouring to oust one another out of their mutual opposition. Light and darkness is such an example as each is a complete negation of the other. They cannot peacefully co-exist in close proximity with each other. They appear and disappear due to the totally of causes. This is the Buddhist theory of causation. The Law of Excluded Middle also fully applied here as well.


"In real phenomena, there is always something in the middle. If light appears all of a sudden, there is always an intermediate moment of twilight between darkness and light. This is different in the case of logical opposition between light and non-light, the opposition is complete without an intermediate twilight moment. Here, it can also be mentioned that the Theravada tradition maintained that between pleasure and pain there is the third position of Indifferent feeling in the middle. To the Buddhist logician, the last moment of the series of darkness is the cause (in the sense of dependent origination) of the first moment of light. Real causation belongs to a single moment only. On the other hand, efficient opposition is between one set of moments (duration of time) and another set which is constructed by our intellect. It is not ultimate reality. It is constructed phenomena.


"The Laws of Contradiction is one of the main tools used by the Buddhist logicians in establishing their theory of Instantaneous Being, for Instantaneousness is the very essence of every real thing. The logical law of contradiction does not apply to the 'Things-in[-]Themselves', as logic is thought and thought is imagination and not ultimate reality. Ultimate reality in Buddhist philosophy is the reality of a point instant. It is the efficiency of a point instant. There is no relation of opposition between entities." [Aik Theng Chong, The Buddhist Channel, May 31, 2011. Formatting and spelling altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Accessed 18/07/2011. Link added.]


We can see from this that Buddhist thinkers make nearly as many mistakes about logic and philosophy as DM-fans. Be this as it may, anyone reading the above can't fail to recognise the similarities between its line-of-thought and much that passes for 'rational thought' in the Hegelian tradition. [On Hegel and Buddhism, see Morton (ND).]


And here is what Ha Tai Kim had to say about Hegel and Zen Buddhism:


"The paradoxical nature of Zen manifests itself in its ignoring of the law of contradiction. It does not attempt to invalidate the law of contradiction, but ignores it only to illuminate the law of identity. Thus the logical proposition of illogical Zen is: 'A is not-A; therefore, A is A.' Zen believes that the true meaning of the proposition 'A is A' will be realized only when 'A is not-A.' The Zen way of thinking is to assert that to be itself is not to be itself, and also that I am really I only by negating myself.


"The philosophical 'fun' of contradiction manifested in the logic of illogical Zen seems to have two intended purposes. First, Zen believes that the logical dissection of reality will never bring about the unitive point of view, the only method by which reality can be presented as it is. The unitive point of view achieved by the intuitive method transcends not only subject and object but also all logical categories, including affirmation and negation. Zen masters frequently resort to the following pattern of argument: 'Do not call this a staff; if you do, it is an affirmation; if you do not, it is a negation. Apart from affirmation and negation say a word, quick, quick.' Zen aims at acquiring the pure experience in which subject and object are not yet separated.


"The second purpose of Zen's employment of this method may be detected from the fact that the logic of the illogical accounts for many paradoxical problems of practical philosophy more adequately than does ordinary logic. In a sense, it is a form of practical reason; it is the logic of life. It is reasonable to say that 'living is dying' (A is not-A), as existentialists seem to point out. A fine illustration of this method is Jesus' pronouncement that 'He that findeth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life shall find it' (Matt. 10:39). In the moral and religious sphere, this method is frequently employed. Any idea of the good which is not carefully scrutinized in the light of the practical and concrete situation cannot really be called good; thus, we may say that 'good is not-good.' Only by examining the idea of good to the ultimate extreme can we say that we understand the idea. In order to understand fully the implications of a concept -- for example, philanthropy -- we must allow room for reasonable doubt about the concept, even stating that philanthropy is selfishness, that is, 'A is not-A.'


"The simple proposition 'A is A' does not go beyond the socially accepted meaning of the term: it is limited, and, therefore, infinite possibilities of the meaning of the term are excluded. The proposition excludes all doubt and skepticism. However, in the proposition 'A is not-A' we can travel far beyond the limited and determined meaning of a concept by placing it at the most extreme opposite. A is fully understood as A, because A is scrutinized to the fullest degree, and all possible meanings of A are exhaustively explored. This is precisely the meaning of Hegel's dictum that 'Truth is the whole.' By negating the very meaning of a concept, we are able to move toward the apprehension of the whole. For both Zen and Hegel, the negative method signifies that an affirmative concept contains within it the possibility of a negative.


"We are surprised, at first, to discover that the logic of the illogical in Zen is akin to Hegel's dialectical method. But it is no surprise at all if we note that Hegel's dialectical method is also the logic of life. The 'fun' of contradiction, or 'pretension' of the other, in the act of negating itself, is the comical impersonation of which Loewenberg speaks in describing Hegelian dialectic. 'The logic called dialectical,' writes Loewenberg, 'is the logic of comedy par excellence. It is the logic by which ideas and beliefs are made to whip themselves, as it were, in the process of exhibiting their internal contradictions.'  It is the method of the self-alienation of the Absolute in Hegel's philosophy. Even in his legend, 'The Naked Boy,' Eckhart identifies the Naked Boy with God himself, 'who was having a bit of fun.' As early as 1800, when Hegel wrote his Fragment of a System, he knew that the dialectical method was the logic of life, for he regarded life as the 'union of union and nonunion.' Both Hegel and Zen thinkers assume the absolute viewpoint to be the ground of unity between A and not-A, being and not-being. The only difference is that the universal of universals in Hegel is the Absolute, while in Zen it is Nothing, which is a sort of Absolute itself." [Kim (1955), pp.22-23. Accessed 18/07/2011. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases and links added.]


So, and once again, Zen logicians appear to be about as confused as Hegel is here! Kim clearly failed to notice that if this approach to 'logic' were valid, there would be no such thing as the "unitive point of view, the only method by which reality can be presented as it is", since if it were correct to assert "A and not A" then any method that attempted to show the world "as it is" must at the same time show it as it isn't. How might we disentangle these two contradictory views of 'reality' and decide which was which, which view represents 'reality as it is' and which shows it as it isn't? As soon as we decide it is A, we also must decide (and not decide!) that not A is correct (and incorrect!). Indeed, how on this basis might we decide which is the 'correct' method, for if this view is to be believed, the "unitary method" is also (and it isn't also!) the "non-unitary method"! As Aristotle pointed out, down this road all rational thought decays into irredeemable confusion.


[Anyone who still doubts this is encouraged to consult Note 5, below -- i.e., the sub-section: 'Are Dialectical Contradictions Different'?]


However, later in his paper, Kim makes the mistake of attributing to Hegel ideas that can only be found in Kant and Fichte (concerning the notorious 'Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis' triad). On that, see here.


[Again, the most comprehensive list of examples (of mystical systems that argue along similar lines) can be found here.]


5. Rees does, however, make several more comments about the "Totality" later on in his book, but most of them either relate to the Epistemological Definition (discussed earlier), or to the social and historical ramifications of DM-Holism (which topic, once more, I largely ignore in this Essay). Even so, these additional comments add little or nothing to our knowledge of the "Totality" as this term supposedly applies to the natural or non-social world.


Are Dialectical 'Contradictions' Different?


Contradictions And 'Defective' Theories


[This is a continuation of Note 5.]


[TAR = The Algebra Of Revolution, or Rees (1998a); OT = Orthodox Trotskyist.]


However, even though dialecticians depict the "Totality" as internally 'contradictory', they don't in general regard flatly self-contradictory theories (or propositions) as true (or "fully true") -- as TAR itself acknowledges, for instance on p.235. Indeed, DM-fans are quite happy to regale us with the many internal or absurd contradictions they find in rival theories or systems, which are, in their eyes, sufficient to condemn them.


For example, on p.84 of TAR, the Young Hegelians are criticized for being "self-contradictory", as are bourgeois ideologues in general (p.238). Even Kant himself isn't spared (p.47) -- nor is Kautsky (p.141). Similarly, Engels wasn't averse to rejecting certain theories on the same basis: cf., Engels (1976), pp.26, 63-65, 171, 247, and 324-25. Lenin also took advantage of this tactic: cf., Lenin (1972), pp.76, 94, 95, 97, 195, 256, 274, and 281. More recently, Tony Cliff, for instance, found he was able to dismiss the ideas put about by certain OTs on the basis that they were "contradictory"; cf., Cliff (1999), pp.28-30.


Trotsky himself wasn't above using "contradictory" to criticise Stalin:


"Now we can appraise Stalin's philosophical thesis on the importance of theory.... This totally contradictory, self-devouring thesis finds itself, on top of everything else, in total disarray grammatically....


"The lack of substance of that definition [quoted by Trotsky in the previous paragraph -- RL] and at the same time its contradictory nature betray themselves if we simply ask ourselves, what is Marxism?" [Trotsky (1981b), p.396). Bold emphases added.]


Here is Mao, criticising Khrushchev:


"Constantly beset with innumerable contradictions, Khrushchov (sic) makes frequent changes in his economic policies and often goes back on his own words, thus throwing the Soviet national economy into a state of chaos. Khrushchov (sic) is truly an incorrigible wastrel. He has squandered the grain reserves built up under Stalin and brought great difficulties into the lives of the Soviet people. He has distorted and violated the socialist principle of distribution of 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his work', and enabled a handful of persons to appropriate the fruits of the labour of the broad masses of the Soviet people. These points alone are sufficient to prove that the road taken by Khrushchov (sic) leads away from communism." ['Refutation Of The So-Called Party Of The Whole People' (1964), quoted from here. Bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


The late Chris Harman also found fault with Ernest Mandel's analysis of the former Soviet Union [fSU], alongside the latter's criticisms of State Capitalist Theory, because of its many "contradictions":


"Yet even stranger is Mandel's analysis, developed since, of the reasons for this post-war growth. Apparently, it is because capitalism is undergoing a third 'industrial revolution'. This has' (sic) been possible because 'during the "long period" of stagnation of the capitalist world economy (1913-1940) a great "reserve" of scientific and technological inventions had been built up, whose large-scale productive application was delayed as a result of unfavourable economic circumstances prevailing during that period'. The argument, however, is simply contradictory. One moment these innovations are responsible for the economic expansion: the next they were allowed to accumulate for 30 years because there was no economic expansion. In that case, something other than the innovations must be responsible for their present employment -- otherwise why did they not cause expansion in the thirties? Mandel seems as incapable now as when he wrote his book 10 years ago of identifying what this other cause might be....


"The fashionable Marxists of today are very like the revisionists of Kautsky's time (except that to protect their left flank they usually claim that their 'improvement' of Marxism is a version of the real thing). Mandel has not the method to refute them. Yet he cannot deny the existence of some of the superficial phenomena to which they point. And so he ends up half agreeing and half disagreeing with them. It is this that leads to repeated self contradictions, to an underhand revision of Marxism (as when in order to make concessions to the 'unequal-exchangists' Mandel talks of value based upon 'labour' rather than socially necessary labour time (p.345 & 351)) to absurd claims, and to random predictions....


"This leads him into all sorts of contradictions. He writes that 'the bureaucratic layer monopolises political power just as it does economic power'...and that 'The interests of the mass of producers, the workers and peasants...are opposed to those of the directors/managers...'.


"The Stalinist state bourgeoisies of the East can no more escape from this violent, capitalist dynamic than can the 'private' (more accurately, the state monopoly capitalist) bourgeoisies of the West and Third World. That is what is so exciting about what is happening in the USSR today. But to understand why, you have to move beyond the vague, inconsistent, self contradictory formulations of Mandel, and the best way to do so is to base yourself on Cliff's book." [Quoted from here; accessed 15/08/2012. Bold emphases added.]


By way of contrast, Harman also found he could lionise the contradictions envisaged in and by his own theory, which were somehow quite acceptable!


"Once you miss these interconnections, you miss the dynamic of the system; you can see the system in the manner of the bourgeois economist as made up of the different components of a smooth running machine, even a machine that is subject to accidental breakdowns (in Mandelese 'conjunctural' crises). But you cannot grasp the intrinsic contradictions of the system, contradictions based upon the way in which the total system accumulates, with accumulation producing an aging of the system, and the aging destroying the mainspring of the system's own dynamic.


"For Marx, the categories he developed were significant because they enabled you to see the system as a self-contradicting totality, which is in a permanent process of transformation -- a transformation that must affect the very categories of analysis themselves....


"Nor is Mandel right when he claims that a new wave of innovations brought on steam by this accumulated surplus, makes it possible to evade the inner contradictions of the system as outlined by Marx. The notion of innovation, of the 'third technological revolution' as being able to prevent the drive of the system towards crisis, even for a limited period (25 years) is a notion introduced into Marxism for the first time by Mandel. And it is nonsense. The classical Marxists had no doubt that the effects of accelerated technological progress would be to increase not diminish the contradictions of the system....


"Mandel just doesn't grasp the contradictions in the arms economy. He accuses Mike Kidron of the 'truly astounding discovery that the arms economy is a factor that slows down late capitalist growth.' But you only have to take a cursory glance at the statistics for arms spending and economic growth to see that the economies that have borne the greatest share of the arms burden have been those with the worst growth records....


"What is true is that capitalism is a continually developing system, with innovations and technical progress taking place in some parts of the system before others. Elsewhere in the system the old forms of 'tyranny inside the firm' -- the old methods of capitalist planning -- then no longer correspond with what is needed to keep abreast in the struggle for increased productivity. The law of value then comes into contradiction with the existing forms of organisation of production.

"The contradiction between 'bureaucratic despotism' and the 'law of value' occurs because society is subject to the law of value. Can this be true in the USSR? Only if you accept that the USSR is a commodity producing society, a variant of capitalism." [Quoted from here; accessed 15/08/2012. Bold emphases added.]


Similarly, Ted Grant latched onto the many 'contradictions' he claimed could be found in Cliff's State Capitalist Theory:


"Any analysis of Russian society must start from that basis. Once Cliff admits that while capitalism is declining and decaying on a world scale, yet preserving a progressive role in Russia in relation to the development of the productive forces, then logically he would have to say that state capitalism is the next stage forward for society, or at least for the backward countries. Contradictorily, he shows that the Russian bourgeoisie was not capable of carrying through the role which was fulfilled by the bourgeoisie in the West and consequently the proletarian revolution took place....


"We have seen that if the law of value only applies because of the existence of capitalism in world economy, then it would only apply to those products exchanged on the world market. But Cliff argues two contradictory theses in relation to the Russian economy....


"Cliff gives two contradictory answers to these questions. On the one hand he agrees that it is the law of value on which all calculations and the movement of Russian society develops. On the other, he finds the law of value only operating as the result of pressure from the outside world although how he does not explain in any serious way....


"If one takes into account the fact that this follows the previously quoted passage in the same section where Engels defines capitalist mode of production (as social production, individual appropriation), we must conclude that Engels hopelessly contradicts himself, if we accept Cliff's conclusions." [Grant (1949), quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]


Recently, Alan Thornett, in a review of a book by Martin Empson (Land and Labour: Marxism, Ecology and Human History), expressed the following opinion:


"The section [on rising population -- RL] starts well enough by pointing out the sobering reality that: 'Early in 2012 the world's population hit seven billion. The previous milestone, six billion, was reached in 1999. Only slightly over two centuries ago the world’s population was one billion. The rate of increase has been phenomenal; readers who are over 45 have lived through the doubling of the Earth's population'. (Page 188)


"The conclusion it draws from these rather scary figures, however, is that this presents no problem at all for the ecology of the planet! It is true that this conclusion is contradicted (objectively contradicted) by the content of some of the later sections -- on waste and on the water for example. The overall thesis, however, is that no problem is posed by the current rate of increase or any figure it might eventually reach. This to me is a serious departure from reality." [Quoted from here; accessed 01/09/2014. Bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


Although, I am far from sure what an "objective" contradiction is.


The blurb at the Bookmarks website added these thoughts:


"Martin Empson draws on a Marxist understanding of history to grapple with the contradictory potential of our relationship with our environment. In so doing he shows that human action is key, both to the destruction of nature and to the possibility of a sustainable solution to the ecological crises of the 21st century." [Quoted from here; accessed 01/09/2014. Bold emphasis added.]


It isn't too clear whether this supposedly "contradictory" relationship is a 'fault' of the theory itself or of 'reality'. As we will soon see, this tension (between a theory which postulates 'contradictions' everywhere in nature and society and the reason DM-theorists give for abandoning a given theory (because it is contradictory) in favour of a superior one) is in the end fatal to DM itself.


Even The Great Teacher Himself wasn't above employing this tactic (in his criticism of Bukharin and Trotsky, among others):


"What does all this show? It shows that the opposition has got entangled in contradictions. It has lost the capacity to think logically...." [Stalin (1927), p.78. Bold emphasis added.]


"If now, nearly two years after the ideological struggle in the Party and after the resolution that was adopted at the Fourteenth Party Conference (April 1925), Zinoviev finds it possible in his reply to the discussion at the Fourteenth Party Congress (December 1925) to dig up the old and quite inadequate formula contained in Stalin's pamphlet written in April 1924, and to make it the basis for deciding the already decided question of the victory of socialism in one country -- then this peculiar trick of his only goes to show that he has got completely muddled on this question. To drag the Party back after it has moved forward, to evade the resolution of the Fourteenth Party Conference after it has been confirmed by a Plenum of the Central Committee, means to become hopelessly entangled in contradictions, to have no faith in the cause of building socialism, to abandon the path of Lenin, and to acknowledge one's own defeat." [Quoted from here, Section VI. Bold emphasis added.]


And, Weekly Worker recently exposed all manner of 'contradictions' in the ideas and policies emerging from Socialism 2015, the annual theoretical beano organised by the Socialist Party (England and Wales), an offshoot of the old Militant Tendency.


As we have seen, the very same individuals are remarkably forgiving of -- if not completely blind to -- the many contradictions that litter DM.


[There are countless examples of the above dialectical double standards; more will be added later. Cf., Schaff (1960).]


In fact, this isn't quite right. As we discovered in Essay Nine Part Two, DM-'contradictions' are often called into play whenever a dialectician wants to derive, rationalise or justify an opportunistic or counter-intuitive (if not overtly counter-revolutionary) conclusion, or course of action. In such cases, self-contradiction becomes something to be welcomed, if not glorified. Witness Stalin:


"It may be said that such a presentation of the question is 'contradictory.' But is there not the same 'contradictoriness' in our presentation of the question of the state? We stand for the withering away of the state. At the same time we stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the mightiest and strongest state power that has ever existed. The highest development of state power with the object of preparing the conditions for the withering away of state power -- such is the Marxist formula. Is this 'contradictory'? Yes, it is 'contradictory.' But this contradiction us bound up with life, and it fully reflects Marx's dialectics." [Political Report of the Central Committee to the Sixteenth Congress of the CPSU(B), June 27,1930. Bold emphasis added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


[Many more examples of this convenient tactic were cited here.]


Nevertheless, DM-theorists distinguish "absurd" or "insoluble" contradictions [e.g., Engels (1976), p.154 and p.26, respectively] from their own superior, but mutant, "dialectical" cousins. [My words, not theirs!]


And yet, the only way to tell these two categories of 'contradiction' apart seems to be that the former litter rival theories (often those formulated by DM-theorists from another, competitive Marxist party), while the latter are integral to their own preferred, pure-as-the-driven-snow version of DM!


Moreover, DM-'contradictions' aren't just employed in order to rationalise political expediency, they also serve as a handy way of distinguishing those who "understand" dialectics from those who don't -- and who are then anathematised for their crass infidelity and bourgeois prejudices -- this tactic clearly serving as a handy way of separating the dialectical sheep from the 'formalist' goats.


Of course, mega-kosher DM-'contractions' have simply to be "grasped" -- or Nixoned -- the problems they bring in their train quietly ignored.


Not so with those of their rivals or enemies!


They must trumpeted from the rooftops.


The Dialecticians' Dilemma


This brings us to a knotty problem that threatens to undermine the entire 'dialectical project', if such it may be called. DM-theorists have yet to provide us (or, indeed, their fellow believers) with non-question-begging criteria (or any at all!) that can be used to help distinguish theories that postulate the existence of contradictions everywhere from those that are flatly self-contradictory and are to be rejected because of that.


Indeed, Rees, for example, argues that superior theories are those that are "less internally contradictory" and "more internally coherent" than their inferior rivals [Rees (1998a), pp.235, 237 -- also, see below], among other things. But, this claim is made without any attempt to explain why it must be a defect for a rival theory to be self-contradictory when it isn't a defect for DM-theorists to claim that reality itself is contradictory, with every object and process in existence internally self-contradictory into the bargain. If reality is indeed contradictory, then any even 'partially true' theory that reflected this state of affairs accurately should reproduce those contradictions as part of its theoretical and empirical content, surely? Indeed, one would expect a self-contradictory theory to reflect reality more accurately if reality is in fact contradictory itself -- wouldn't one?


This predicament we might call the Dialectician's Dilemma. [DD]


In order to explain the implications of the DD, let us call those theories that are unambiguously self-contradictory, "defective theories" (DTs, for short). Also, let us say (for the sake of argument) that DTs include all DM's rival theories, or, indeed, theories that attempt to 'refute' DM. Conversely, let all and only those theories that adequately reflect the contradictory nature of reality (such as DM) be called "non-defective theories" (NDTs, henceforth), even if they are still only 'partially' or 'relatively' true.


So, on this basis and in this respect, DM is the one and only NDT; all the rest, the rival and oppositional theories, are DTs.


But, paradoxically, an NDT must also be a DT! That is because, as a consequence of accurately capturing the supposedly contradictory nature of the universe, an NDT must become self-contradictory at some point, or to some extent -- otherwise, it wouldn't be able to mirror reality in all its contradictory glory. Hence, such a theory must be a DT, otherwise it would fail to reflect nature and society accurately!


In that case, there would be no good reason to reject any given DT in favour of an NDT on the basis, at least, that the aforementioned DT is self-contradictory, since both DTs and NDTs must contain, or must have internalised, an unspecified number of contradictions. So, because of their commitment to DM, dialecticians now have no good reason to reject an alternative theory on grounds that it is a DT -- since DM is itself a DT in virtue of its being an NDT!


This is how Rees poses the problem:


"In a certain sense, of course, all truth is relative -- it is just that some theorists do not acknowledge this elementary fact. There is no final, faultless, criterion for truth which hovers, like god, outside the historical process. Neither is there any privileged scientific method which is not shaped by the contours of the society of which it is a part. All that exists are some theories which are less internally contradictory and have a greater explanatory power…. [I]f the truth is the totality, then it is the totality of working class experience, internationally and historically which gives access to the truth…. [A theory's] validity must be proven by its superior explanatory power -- [which means it is] more internally coherent, more widely applicable, capable of greater empirical verification -- in comparison with its competitors. Indeed, this is a condition of it entering the chain of historical forces as an effective power. It is a condition of it being 'proved in practice.' If it is not superior to other theories in this sense, it will not 'seize the masses,' will not become a material force, will not be realized in practice." [Rees (1998a), pp.235-37. Bold emphasis added.]


Clearly, Rees holds that the more accurate the theory, the fewer internal-contradictions it should contain. Thus, the 'more true' DM becomes the fewer contradictions it should either envisage or encompass -- and hence, in turn, the fewer it should picture as existing in nature and society! But, in doing that -- because of the 'DM-world-view' -- 'Materialist Dialectics' would become decreasingly true since, by eliminating its own contradictions, it would less faithfully reflect the 'objective contradictions' that allegedly litter the natural and social world.


This means that when fully true, an NDT like DM ought to depict the fact that there are no contradictions at all in reality! And yet, by its own lights, in doing that it would become completely false. Hence, this particular NDT (i.e., DM) would become a DT once more (and in another sense): it would be defective by failing to reflect the contradictions that dialecticians claim exist in nature and society!


On the other hand, if this weren't so, and if Rees is mistaken and dialecticians shouldn't try to eliminate any (or all) of the contradictions that exist in their theory, then DM would become, or it would remain, a DT, and thus ought to be rejected accordingly (since it would then contain an unspecified number of 'internal contradictions' -- i.e., those that supposedly reflect the many that allegedly exist in nature and society). Indeed, in that case, 'Materialist Dialectics' would have been killed-off by its own internal contradictions!


[This would, of course, represent a fitting and somewhat ironic downfall of a theory that declares that change can only come about through 'internal contradiction' -- including the demise of the theory that says just that!]


[Of course, it could always be argued that dialecticians don't hold that all the contradictions in a given theory should be eliminated -- although I have yet to read anything that supports this particular counter-claim in a classic DM-text, or any other, for that matter --; but, if that were the case, as I have noted here, the advancement of science would grind to a halt as a result. Moreover, if DM were to have only some of its contradictions removed, it would still be a DT.]


Conversely, once more, DTs would become NDTs in yet another sense, should their supporters remove or attempt to remove the internal contradictions they contain. In that case, the DT in question would have had its internal contradictions eliminated and would thereby become an NDT, since it no longer reflected 'objective' reality (that is, as DM-fans see things).


In either case, the DM-thesis that reality is contradictory sends NDTs like DM one way (into oblivion), and DTs the other (into the science textbooks)!


This, then, is the DD.


[DD = Dialecticians' Dilemma; DT = Defective Theory; NDT = Non-Defective Theory; TAR = The Algebra of Revolution (i.e., Rees (1998a).]


[The DD is outlined in more detail, but from a different angle, here. As we will see in Essay Thirteen Part Two (where DM-theorists' ideas about scientific change will be examined in greater detail), a corollary of this dilemma is that the DM-account of scientific change has also been fatally compromised.]


In fact, the full consequences of this dilemma (for dialecticians) are really quite disastrous -- as we are about to find out.


DM-theorists claim that all valid theories are converging on a final Absolute Truth (on this, see below), even if this end point will never actually be attained. If so, it is possible to show that DM is actually going in the wrong direction, moving away from the goal of giving what is even a minimally accurate 'picture of reality'. In fact, given TAR's criterion for theoretical validity, we are in a position to declare -- right now -- that 'reality' is in fact a 'contradiction-free' zone. That is because if DM is to be believed, the truer the theory, the more it must conform with the view that reality contains no contradictions. If the theory in question failed to do this (perhaps because its supporters flatly reject this criticism (and for no good reason)), it would be a DT, and that would be because it would contain internal contradictions. And, as TAR's criterion indicates, such a theory should be rejected as defective.


Alternatively, if we reject Rees's criterion (for whatever reason), the result would be little different. As noted above, if DM is supposed to retain its contradictions (in whole or in part), it would be a DT, and must therefore be rejected. In that case, the 'picture of reality' it painted would be completely false.


Either way, DM can't be progressing toward 'the truth', 'asymptotically' or otherwise.


In order to make these general points more concrete, consider an example: let us suppose for the purposes of argument that motion is in fact contradictory. Unfortunately, if that were so, no partially-, or fully-true theory could afford to admit this 'fact' for fear it would thereby become a DT. Indeed, in order to avoid being stuck with this a label, DM-theorists would have to abandon the idea that motion is contradictory, or risk their theory being classified as a DT. Hence, no NDT -- like DM -- can afford to countenance the supposedly contradictory nature of motion.


Naturally, this just means that those who already reject Engels's analysis of motion are (at this moment) closer to 'the truth' than he was -- or than his epigones now are, or than Hegel was 200 years ago --, for these unnamed opponents already declare that motion isn't contradictory (or, in my case: already declare that such a supposition makes no sense).


Of course, those who don't accept -- or even those who reject -- this particular DM-'contradiction' -- and who prefer to limit 'Materialist Dialectics' to human social development -- should substitute for it the one that Stalin claimed to have discovered in the 'dialectical' nature of his 'Socialist' State --, or, indeed, an almost identical 'contradiction' to the one Ted Grant found there, too:


"The whole contradiction, a contradiction within the society itself and not imposed arbitrarily -- is in the very concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. If one considers the problem in the abstract, one can see that this is a contradictory phenomenon: the abolition of capitalism yet the continuation of classes. The proletariat does not disappear. It raises itself to the position of ruling class and abolishes the capitalist class. But in the intervening period it remains the working class. Therefore, surplus product in the form of surplus value is produced. It is the case today as it was under Lenin and Trotsky. We have only to pose the problem: what was the surplus value produced when Russia was still a workers' state -- though even then with bureaucratic deformations? What was the process by means of which surplus product before 1928 mysteriously became surplus value after 1928?..." [Grant (1949), pp.212-13. Bold emphasis alone added.]


Of course, supporters of Cliff's theory can substitute for the above, the following:


"Dialectical historical development, full of contradictions and surprises, brought it about that the first step the bureaucracy took with the subjective intention of hastening the building of 'socialism in one country' became the foundation of the building of state capitalism." [Cliff (1988), p.166. Bold emphasis added.]


"State capitalism and a workers' state are two stages in the transition period from capitalism to socialism. State capitalism is the extreme opposite of socialism -- they are symmetrically opposed, and they are dialectically united with one another." [Ibid., p.174.]


A theory like DM -- that can be used to 'justify' anything whatsoever, no matter how contradictory it might otherwise seem, and its opposite (often this is done by the very same DM-fan, in the same speech, book, or article, as we saw was the case with Stalin) -- is naturally going to be of great use to opportunists, substitutionists and 'Marxist' counter-revolutionaries of every stripe; which is, of course, one reason why its adepts defend DM to the death -- or, to be more honest, to the death of countless tens of thousands of workers!


The only apparent way of avoiding these fatal defects would be to argue that no theory that truly reflects the contradictions that allegedly exist in reality will be self-contradictory, transforming it from a DT into an NDT as a result.


Fortunately, it is quite easy to show that this counter-claim is itself misguided.


The argument substantiating the above assertion begins with the following innocuous-looking observation:


D1: (a) If DM is correct then reality will contain contradictions. (b) DM postulates the existence of just such contradictions.


Just in case this appears to get things the wrong way round (in that it begins with theory and not with reality), we need only reflect on the fact that since we don't have direct access to 'reality', only an indirect route by way of increasingly less inadequate theories about it -- that is, according to DM-theorists themselves (this isn't my theory, I hasten to add!) --, this is a move dialecticians would have to make. [Indeed, TAR itself appears to concede this point -- e.g., on page 63, paragraph 2. We saw Lenin do something similar in Essay Three Part One.]


Anyway, even if an attempt were made to 'begin from reality' (whatever that means) -- presumably with the unmediated observation of a least one material 'contradiction' in nature (as a result of some sort of languageless, concept-free, 'apperception'/'intuition'/'image'(??)) --, the conclusion would still follow, except perhaps even more quickly, as we will also soon see.


From D1(b), we can obtain this:


D2: At least one of DM's postulates must contain -- or must imply -- a contradiction.


Consider the following schematic representation of one such contradiction:


D3: For at least one moving x, and at least one y, and for the relation R, for some time t, Rxy at t and ~Rxy at t.


[Here, "~" stands for negation, and in the vernacular, the negative particle "not", or "It is not the case that...".]


One interpretation of D3 (partially and then fully colloquialised) could be the following:


D4: For at least one moving cat, and at least one mat, and for the relation R (i.e., "ξ is on ζ"), for some time t, the cat is on the mat at t and the cat is not on the mat at t.


D4a: For at least one moving cat, and at least one mat, the cat is on the mat at one moment and the cat is not on the mat at the very same moment.


[The use of Greek letters is explained here.]


Of course, D4 would normally be -- that is, by us 'dialectical infidels' -- disambiguated to remove this apparent contradiction. And for good reason, too: no theory can live with contradictions.


We are about to see why.


[Reminder: DT = Defective Theory.]


Let us again assume DM-theorists are correct about the contradictory nature of reality; in that case, it is now possible to derive the following fatal conclusion:


D5: No DT is true and all DTs should be rejected. [Assumption.]


D6: A theory that contains a self-contradiction is a DT. [Definition.]


D7: TAR's theoretical structure holds that both D5 and D6 are true.


D8: Assume that D5 and D6 are true.


D9: (a) TAR also says that DM is true. (b) Assume that DM as an integral part of TAR's theoretical structure.


D10: Assume DM is true.


D11: DM contains postulates like D3 (or D4 and/or D4a).


D12: D3 (D4 and/or D4a) is a self-contradiction.


D13: Therefore, DM contains at least one self-contradiction.


D14: Therefore, DM is a DT (by D6).


D15: Hence, DM isn't true (by D5, D13 and D14).


D16: Therefore, TAR contains a DT (by D9 and D14).


D17: Hence, TAR's theoretical structure holds a DT to be true, namely DM (by D9, D6, D7 and D16).


D18: Therefore, TAR holds true a DT which is both true and not true (by D5, D6, D7 and D17).


D19: Thus, TAR's theoretical structure contains a self-contradiction (by D18).


D20: Therefore, TAR's theoretical structure is defective, and hence its version of DM is a DT.


D21: TAR's version of DM should be rejected (by D5).


Admittedly, D5-D21 contain one or two vagaries, which can be cleared up by the addition of a few extra lines, or by the adoption of more precise wording (etc.) -- for example, it might be necessary to substitute "fully true" for "true", above (on that, see below). However, the outcome seems reasonably clear: TAR is correct to argue the case for DM just in case it is incorrect for it to do so. In fact, TAR became defective upon adopting DM!


Now, the fact that TAR is a non-standard DM-text doesn't affect the above argument; the author of TAR only has to hold true one DM-contradiction for it to apply to him.


Of course, what goes for TAR, goes for any other DM-text that argues along similar lines: i.e., that reality is contradictory and that flatly contradictory theories are defective, and should be rejected.


Now, there seem to be only a handful of ways that this fatal conclusion might be avoided. One of these is to deny the validity of FL. But, that would be a rather desperate move -- somewhat akin to a boss attacking the validity of arithmetic just because a strike vote went the 'wrong' way. More to the point, FL hasn't been used above; the argument in fact more closely resembles those found in Informal Logic. Furthermore, even though D3, for example, is expressed in semi-formal terms, D4a isn't.


Another way is to argue that according to DM-theorists, no theory is every fully rejected, or completely false; science "spirals" in on the truth:


"Nowadays, the ideas of development…as formulated by Marx and Engels on the basis of Hegel…[encompass a process] that seemingly repeats the stages already passed, but repeats them otherwise, on a higher basis ('negation of negation'), a development, so to speak, in spirals, not in a straight line; -- a development by leaps, catastrophes, revolutions; -- 'breaks in continuity'; the transformation of quantity into quality; -- the inner impulses to development, imparted by the contradiction and conflict of the various forces and tendencies acting on a given body, or within a given phenomenon, or within a given society; -- the interdependence and the closest, indissoluble connection of all sides of every phenomenon…, a connection that provides a uniform, law-governed, universal process of motion -– such are some of the features of dialectics as a richer (than the ordinary) doctrine of development." [Lenin (1914), pp.12-13. Bold emphases added.]


"Human knowledge is not (or does not follow) a straight line, but a curve, which endlessly approximates a series of circles, a spiral. Any fragment, segment, section of this curve can be transformed (transformed one-sidedly) into an independent, complete, straight line, which then (if one does not see the wood for the trees) leads into the quagmire, into clerical obscurantism (where it is anchored by the class interests of the ruling classes). Rectilinearity and one-sidedness, woodenness and petrification, subjectivism and subjective blindness -- voilà the epistemological roots of idealism. And clerical obscrutantism (= philosophical idealism), of course, has epistemological roots, it is not groundless; it is a sterile flower undoubtedly, but a sterile flower that grows on the living tree of living, fertile, genuine, powerful, omnipotent, objective, absolute human knowledge." [Lenin (1961), p.361. Italic emphases on the original.]


"What then is truth? It is correspondence between ideas and objective reality.


"Such correspondence between our ideas and reality is only gradually established, and then the correspondence is often no more than partial or incomplete.... In such cases, we should not say that our idea was false, but yet it would not be absolutely -- completely and in all respects -- true. Truth, therefore, is not a property which an idea, or a proposition, either possesses or does not possess; it may belong to an idea to a certain degree, within certain limits, in certain respects....


"This characteristic of very well known to science. The laws which science establishes certainly reflect objective processes; they correspond to the real motion and interconnection of things in the external world. Yet science has established few laws which can claim to be absolute truths....


"...[M]any erroneous views in science and philosophy, which have had to be, not modified, but rejected as errors, concealed a certain truth which received in them an erroneous distorted expression....


"We should recognise, then, that certain erroneous views, including idealist views, could represent, in their time, a contribution to truth -- since they were, perhaps, the only ways in which certain truths could first begin to come to expression....


"Complete, full, absolute truth -- the whole truth and nothing but the truth about everything -- is something we can never attain. But it is something toward which we are always approximating...


"...The correspondence is never complete, exact, absolute. But it continually approaches yet is always infinitely distant from that absolute limit as truth and knowledge continually advance...." [Cornforth (1963), pp.135-45. Bold emphases added.]


It could be argued on the basis of the above that DM-epistemology isn't nearly as crude as this Essay or this site suggests. Scientific theory advances by spiralling in on the truth. In which case, knowledge advances by preserving some of the (partial) truths contained in earlier theories, incorporating them in a higher, more accurate theory. This means that some contradictions from an earlier theory might very well be reproduced in these more accurate theories (for example, the contradictory nature of motion), which are then presented in a higher, more objective form. So, it isn't true that dialecticians argue that all previous contradictions should be removed. What is to be rejected and what retained will depend on the theorists concerned, and the deliverances of practice.  


This objection was in fact fielded earlier. It has also been pointed out that this still fails to distinguish those contradictions that are the product of a DT from those that are a genuine 'reflection of reality'. Of course, the theory that motion is contradictory is based solely on a 'though experiment' -- or, rather, solely on word juggling disguised at a thought experiment --, which is impossible to confirm. In that case, this aspect of DM ought to be weeded out, if DM is to conform even to a very basic form of the scientific method.


We have also seen (in Essay Ten Part One) that science in no way 'spirals' in on 'the truth'.


In addition to this avoiding tactic, DM-theorists (such as Lenin and Cornforth) argue that no theory or proposition is either fully true or completely false; all in their own way are closer approximations to the truth, or to 'partial/relative truth'. Quite apart from the fact that no DM-theorist really assents to this crazy idea (on that, see below), the term "partial truth" is itself hopelessly vague (as will be demonstrated in a later Essay).


But, even if this weren't so, the fact that those who assent to less 'partially true' theories aim (at least in theory) to remove certain contradictions (so that the theory in question becomes even less 'partially true'), means that the above result still applies. Hence, even given this way of thinking, a maximally true theory should contain fewer -- perhaps no -- contradictions.


Incidentally, whatever they might say, few 'dialectical' revolutionaries accept in practice the doctrine that there are no completely false theories and/or propositions. Here is Cornforth again:


"Just as truths are for the most part only approximate and contain the possibility of being converted into untruths, so are many errors found not to be absolute falsehoods but to contain a germ of truth....


"We should recognise, then, that certain erroneous views, including idealist views, could represent, in their time, a contribution to truth -- since they were, perhaps, the only ways in which certain truths could first begin to come to expression...." [Cornforth (1963), pp.138-39.]


Despite this, it would be hard to find a "germ of truth" in any of the following:


(1) Ten litres of concentrated Nitric Acid applied directly to unprotected human skin dramatically improves the complexion.


(2) Jews, Eastern Europeans, Arabs, Asians and Africans belong to inferior, sub-human races.


(3) Capitalism is a genuine expression of unchanging human nature, which is selfish.


(4) All women are happy with their oppression and are keen to be reminded of it daily.


(5) Imperialism is 100% progressive everywhere and at all times, and always will be.


(6) The Ku Klux Klan are exemplary leaders in the fight for Black Liberation.


(7) In 2002, Iraq manufactured and stored more WMD than any other country in the entire history of the planet.


(8) The earth is supported by a giant tortoise, on top of a giant locust, on top of a giant crab, on top of a...


(9) Hysteria is caused by a wandering womb.


(10) Karl Marx was a plagiarist from the Planet Mars who copied all his best ideas from George W Bush.


(11) Anyone who wanders about aimlessly on a busy main road while blindfolded will live a long and happy life.


(12) Sherlock Holmes was in fact a nuclear physicist who lived in Atlantis from 812-756BCE.


(13) The world was created about 6000 years ago from a bowl of custard by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.


I suspect that anyone who questioned the truth of, say, (1) would be hard pressed to find a single revolutionary who agrees with (2). Naturally, that makes the negation of (2) absolutely true for all revolutionaries.


On the other hand, if they disagree with one or both of these sentences -- i.e., (1) and (2) -- as they should, they would thereby confirm the point at issue: if either of these sentences is completely false, then there is at least one sentence (namely that one) that is completely false. QED.


And, just in case this Essay attracts the attention of a handful of brass-necked, Hardcore Hegel Honchos, who might want to claim one or more of the above are 'partially true', 'partially false', then they should perhaps consider the following:


H1: There are absolutely no partial truths.


Now, is that 'partially' true?


Another way of avoiding the above conclusions would be to claim that they apply only to formal contradictions, and since DM-theorists postulate only those contradictions that can be shown to exist 'objectively' -- i.e., 'material contradictions' -- their theory is unaffected by the above criticism.


However, this counter-response fails, too. Consider the following additional argument:


D3: For at least one moving x, and at least one y, and for the relation R, for some time t, Rxy at t and ~Rxy at t.


D4: For at least one moving cat, and at least one mat, and for the relation R (i.e., "ξ is on ζ"), for some time t, the cat is on the mat at t and the cat is not on the mat at t.


D4a: For at least one moving cat, and at least one mat, the cat is on the mat at one moment and the cat is not on the mat at the very same moment.


D22: DM postulates only the existence of material contradictions.


D23: D3 (or D4/D4a), when true, reflects just such a material contradiction.


D24: DM postulates the truth of D3 (D4/D4a), but only when instances can be shown to be the case.


D25: Hence, even when instances of D3 (D4/D4a) are found to be the case, they remain self-contradictions.


This means that the rest of D5-D21 still follows.


A retreat into the concrete bunker here (on the lines that the above claims are 'abstract', whereas "all truth is concrete", according to Hegel and Lenin), would be to no avail, either. That is because it would immediately prompt the question: "Is the claim that all truth is concrete itself absolutely true?" If it is, then the point is lost. If it isn't then we can ignore it as an effective reply. [That is, of course, quite apart from the fact that this Hegelian thesis is abstract and hence can't itself be true (if what it says is true)!]


It could be argued that D22-D25 can be disassociated from D5-D21 by rejecting D23 and/or D25; that is, it could be objected that DM-contradictions are different from those found in FL.


D22: DM postulates only the existence of material contradictions.


D23: D3 (or D4/D4a), when true, reflects just such a material contradiction.


D24: DM postulates the truth of D3 (D4/D4a), but only when instances can be shown to be the case.


D25: Hence, even when instances of D3 (D4/D4a) are found to be the case, they remain self-contradictions.


But, this view could only be maintained by repudiating another DM-thesis: that the superiority of DL over FL arises partly out of the former's capacity to account for change through contradiction. This claim would lose all of its force if it were now clear that the contradictions countenanced in DL were completely different from those found in FL. In such an eventuality there would be nothing in common between the two systems for a comparison to latch onto. The much-touted superiority of DL over FL (at least with respect to contradictions) would then be about as accurate as would be an analogous claim that, say, Barclays Bank is a more efficient bank than the Dogger Bank. This is quite apart from the fact that DM-contradictions arose out of Hegel's criticisms of AFL and the LOC, and we have just seen that 'superior' theories, like DM, don't simply reject or discard concepts drawn from earlier theories, they build on them. This wouldn't be the case here if DL contradictions were completely different from those found in FL (as DM-theorists see things).


Anyway, this is certainly not how Hegel viewed his 'contradictions'. [On that, see here and below.]


[LOC = Law of Non-Contradiction; AFL = Aristotelian FL.]


To be sure, there are DM-theorists who say that neither they nor Hegel reject the LOC (but on this see Essay Four, as well as here), since they actually use FL-contradictions in their endeavour to show that there are real 'dialectical' contradictions in nature and society (thereby transcending these FL-contradictions in order to derive their more comprehensive DL-versions). So these two 'varieties' of contradiction are organically-, or, perhaps, 'dialectically'-connected. DM-contradictions are, indeed, merely 'concrete' versions of the abstractions found in FL. As Trotsky noted:


"The dialectic is...a science of the forms of our thinking insofar as it is not limited to the daily problems of life but attempts to arrive at an understanding of more complicated and drawn-out processes. The dialectic and formal logic bear a relationship similar to that between higher and lower mathematics." [Trotsky (1971), p.63.]


Hence, just like "lower mathematics" --, which treats with numbers, and operations like addition, multiplication and division, as well as employing well-known axioms/rules (commutativity, associativity, distribution, etc.) --, "higher mathematics" does likewise. Numbers, as they feature in the former system are the same as those that appear in the latter, it is just that their use is extended much further, into such areas as Rings, Groups and Fields. [On that, see here.] This isn't, however, to suggest that every single one of the above axioms/rules apply everywhere in 'higher' mathematics; for example, Abelian Groups aren't commutative, nor are Matrices in general.


But, no one suggests that the numbers studied in "lower mathematics" are different from those that make their appearance in "higher mathematics". DL merely enriches our use of numbers, just as it enriches our understanding of contradictions.


Or, so it might be claimed.


Anyway, as we saw here, Hegel was only able to derive his 'contradictions' by confusing letters (or what they supposedly designated: objects, relations and/or processes) with predicates, propositions, concepts, and a host of other things. [Naturally, this means that the allegation that Hegel knew what he was talking about in this area is about as accurate as a similar claim made by, say, George W Bush on any randomly-chosen aspect of High Energy Physics, should he choose to pass an opinion in this area.] Nevertheless, from what he actually committed to paper, Hegel certainly wanted to link his 'contradictions' with their misbegotten cousins which he thought he had located in the bowdlerised version of AFL he had been taught (as a student) and which he then criticised.


[However, having said that, please note the caveats I have posted here.]


Clearly, what DM-theorists need to show is that at least some of the contradictions countenanced by FL are derivable from, or they depict, "real material contradictions" -- otherwise there would be no good reason to call their own contradictions, "contradictions" (as opposed to calling them, say, "bananas") -- or, indeed, for claiming that the former are just static or 'abstract' versions of the latter.


If so, the rejection of one or more of D1-D25 (on the grounds that they refer to or use totally different senses of the word "contradiction") would be to deny DM-theorists an important conceptual innovation they inherited from Hegel (who, once more, doesn't claim his 'contradictions' are of a new type, just a more 'scientific' or 'concrete' form), which is that contradictions in thought (FL-style) mirror real ones in nature and society -- when verified, given a 'concrete' make-over, or flipped the "right way up".


Since FL-contradictions are the formal equivalent of every conceivable contradiction (real or imagined), DM-theorists can't afford to drive a wedge between FL-contradictions and their own DL-"material contradictions". If they were to do this, they couldn't also maintain that thought mirrored the world, and a central plank in DM-epistemology would collapse.


Indeed, this seems to be what Lenin was trying to say:


"Hegel actually proved that logical forms and laws are not an empty shell, but the reflection of the objective world....


"The laws of logic are the reflections of the objective in the subjective consciousness of man." [Lenin (1961), pp.180, 183.]


Anyway, D3 is just a formal version of the sorts of material contradictions found in DM (i.e., D4/D4a). Since D20 and D21 follow from D4/D4a, this latest counter-argument itself fails.


D3: For at least one x, and at least one y, and for the relation R, for some time t, Rxy at t and ~Rxy at t.


D4: For at least one moving cat, and at least one mat, and for the relation R (i.e., "ξ is on ζ"), for some time t, the cat is on the mat at t and the cat is not on the mat at t.


D4a: For at least one moving cat, and at least one mat, the cat is on the mat at one moment and the cat is not on the mat at the very same moment.


At this point, it is worth re-calling that the thesis that nature is contradictory isn't a peripheral, minor, or insignificant aspect of DM; it is one of its core precepts, a consequence of (i) the idea that everything is a UO and (ii) the part-whole dialectic. This is certainly how Rees sees things (see, for example, pp.4-10 of Rees (1998a) -- but compare that with this). [See also the comments posted here.]


And, it is certainly how DM-classicists, like Lenin and Mao, for example, saw things. [On that, see here.]


Hence, if DM is defective here, it is rotten to the core. To be sure, this is the rotten core of Hegel's sub-Aristotelian 'logic'. No amount of spin can change that material fact.


The only other conceivable way to avoid this fatal defect would be to find fault with one or more of the assumptions (implicitly or explicitly) used in the argument above. However, further examination of those real or apparent assumptions would be tantamount to the present author doing DM-theorists' work for them. This is their hole, they can dig their own way out of it.


[Several other factors associated with this topic were examined in Essay Seven Part One, here, here and here.]


6. Other DM-characterisations of the "Totality" -- or, rather, other extremely vague gestures toward that end -- have been quoted in Note 25, below.


7. On this, see Rosen (1982), Chapter Two. Rosen's arguments will be developed in more detail in Part Two of this Essay.


8. It is worth recalling here that the (reasonable) requirement that evidence should be presented in support of each and every DM-thesis isn't my invention. Dialecticians themselves tell us that this is an essential move to prevent their theory from sliding into Idealism. [On that, see here, here, here, and here.]


9. It should no doubt now be apparent that the "Totality" is none other than Hegel's Absolute in disguise, or 'in drag'. And a rather poor disguise it is, too. In fact, it is even less impressive than Clark Kent's.



Figure Thirteen: Is Hegel's 'Absolute' -- The DM-"Totality" -- As

'Well-Disguised' As Superman?


10. Of course, this just scratches at the surface of the 'problems' created by our attempt to understand 'the nature of time', and what can be said to exist when. For example, several of the questions that will be examined presently in the main body of this Essay (no pun intended) were first posed (as far as we know) by Augustine, in his Confessions [Book XI, Sections 14:17-31:41; i.e., Augustine of Hippo (2004), pp.230-45], although, some of his ideas were anticipated by the Stoics. [On this, see Sorabji (1983), pp.21-27. Also see Suter (1989b). The general background can be found in Sorabji, op cit. See also, Note 14.]


Unfortunately, as is the case with my comments in several other Essays, I am forced here to employ the 'metaphysical mode of speech' (of the sort one finds in Augustine's work, as well as the writings of the vast majority of other Traditional Philosophers, for example). This doesn't imply that I accept this jargon makes any sense; in fact, it is being employed here precisely to assist in its demise.


Sentences like: "The past does not exist", "The present does exist", or "The past is no more" appear to use phrases like "The past" or "The present" almost as if they were Proper Names, or labels, that attach to, or which designate, certain specific temporal zones, which they aren't. If they were Proper Names, or operated like Proper Names, for example, it would be possible for someone, somewhere, somewhen to pick out their bearers --, either with a demonstrative (like "this" or "that"), by ostension, or by means of an identifying description (or even by means of a combination one or more of these devices) -- or maybe even by referring to some sort of baptismal/dubbing ceremony (with the word "baptismal" being used here in a non-religious sense!). But, it isn't.


[On this see, Hanna and Harrison (2004); however, the latter should be read in conjunction with Baker and Hacker (2005), pp.227-49.]


It might be objected that it is surely possible to name things that don't exist, and have never existed, for example, mythical and fabulous beasts of yore, fictional characters, the many 'gods' that litter the worlds religions, and such like. This is undeniable, but if the "The Past", "The Present", "The Future" are to be viewed in a similar light, then that will only serve to confirm the conclusions reached about them in this Essay -- at best, they are fictional labels (i.e., they label fictional 'entities').


In addition, it is important to note that an earlier paragraph mentioned descriptions, not definitions. This doesn't mean, of course, that ostensive definitions (of named objects) cannot be given, only that the stage-setting for these rituals is rather complex. Anyway, it is difficult to see how such a 'definition' of "The past" or "The future" might be available without the automatic use of the present tense (as in, for example: "This is the past..."). In cases like these, such identifying descriptions might perhaps gain some purchase in conjunction with the use of certain pictures and photographs, or even by means of various stories that attempted to illustrate how things used to be -- as one might teach a child, for example. [On Ostensive Definitions, see Baker and Hacker (2005), pp.81-106.]


Even supposing this, if anyone took such depictions to be literally true (i.e., for these stories, pictures or photographs to be, or to pick out, the past), they would either be deluding themselves or they would have been misled in some way. In such circumstances, they might mistakenly imagine that the past was a drawing, a series of black and white images on glossy paper, or a set of amusing tales of yore. Either that, or they might entertain the idea that the past exists somewhere now -- in the present(?) -- in a manner similar to the items they had just been shown, the tales they had been told, or the 'definition' they had been given, all of which employ the present tense.


The use of any other tense in such circumstances would, of course, be self-defeating. What sense, for example, could one make of: "The past was this…"? To be sure, one can say things like: "This is how things were in the past", but even then, the present tense of the verb "to be" (namely "is") would still have been employed.


Other well-known problems afflict attempts to 'define' the past in similar ways, since such 'definitions' are forced to employ various forms of the present tense.


[The objection that the verb "to be" here is tenseless will be fielded in Note 14, below.]


On the other hand, a sentence like the following: "This was how things were in the past", doesn't use the present tense -- but then it doesn't imply 'the past' (still) exists, either.


It might now be objected that the above responses manifestly don't deal with "The present"; it might seem that this operates as some sort of Proper Name. But, what is it the Proper Name of? What does it label? To what can anyone point that is or might be the referent of this term? By the time that ceremony might be, or might have been, performed, 'it' (whatever it is) will have gone.


It could be argued that the present is always with us as a sort of a-temporal, or even omni-temporal, now. But, this 'now' must be durationless, otherwise, as Augustine pointed out, if it had any duration it would have its own temporal parts -- a before and an after, a later and an earlier. That would in turn imply that the present was part past and part future. And if that were so, an earlier question would force itself upon us: What is this the Proper Name or label of? To what can anyone point that is or might be the referent of this term? [I am not here suggesting that all attempts to speak about the past are defective, only that certain ways of speaking about it are misleading.]


Be this as it may, if anyone wants to adopt, or even defend, this view of "The present", they are welcome to it. Anyway, this thesis (if such it may be called) is susceptible to the objections raised against any and metaphysical theories, rehearsed in Essay Twelve Part One.


Finally, it could be argued that terms like "The past", or "The future" are definite descriptions; if so, I'd have no objection to this interpretation, since, just like fictional names/labels, definite descriptions are often used in relation to non-existents -- such as "The creator of the universe", "The next President of the United States of America", or even "The individual who succeeded in rendering DM perspicuous".


11. More on this presently (again, no pun intended).


12. That is, not unless the word "correspond" is given a new meaning, perhaps making it analogous to the correspondence between fictional characters and/or events and the 'same' individuals and/or events in the real world -- or the other way round (as one might encounter, say, in a historical novel).


In that sense, of course, characters and/or events do not actually correspond with the characters and/or events they seek to depict, or, plainly, the said work wouldn't be fictional!


It could be argued that in a novel about, for example, Trotsky, the name "Trotsky" would correspond to Trotsky. And if, in that novel, "Trotsky" is expelled from the former USSR, for instance, that would correspond to what actually happened. But, this just re-duplicates the problem, for in that case, both the individual and the described event no longer exist for either of these to correspond with.


More importantly, if the aforementioned novel is indeed a novel, it will depict, describe or feature many things Trotsky never did or said -- otherwise it wouldn't be fiction, it would be a biography! So, if it is a novel, it can't be about Trotsky, but must be about 'Trotsky', a fictional character with a typographically identical name. Indeed, if we now argue that Trotsky is the individual who did, or experienced, E1, E2, E3,..., En (where n is indefinitely large, and "Ek" is a noun or verb phrase (or clause) expressing some event in his life, something he experienced, thought about, or which was true of him (etc.), whether or not we now know about it or them) -- Leibniz might have called this Trotsky's "complete individual concept" -- and the Proper Name "Trotsky" referred to the human being who did or experienced all these things, then this fictional 'Trotsky' (logically) cannot refer to him.


"The nature of an individual substance or of a complete being is to have a notion so complete that it is sufficient to contain and to allow us to deduce from it all the predicates of the subject to which this notion is attributed." [Leibniz, quoted from here.]


12a. Instead of looking at how we use the highly diverse language of time, theorists more often than not attempt to regale us with their impromptu 'intuitions' about the 'real' meaning of phrases such as "The past", "The future", or "The present", augmented (or not) by the alleged implications of the TOR. Small wonder then that they end up with 'paradoxical' or deeply puzzling results. [On that, see Note 13 and Note 14.]


13. Ordinarily, we have no difficulty with using the vocabulary of time. Indeed, we typically manage this every day -- using differentially tensed verbs, augmented by temporal and location-specific adjectives, adverbs and prepositions.


However, certain nominalisations like "Time", "Past", "Future" --, or even, "Present" -- and these are typical, for instance, in relation to the so-called "A-series" in the Philosophy of Time -- merely encourage the invention of spurious problems connected with something called 'the nature of time' (now irreversibly reified into existence in this way). This happens when what appear to be ordinary phrases like these are used with little sensitivity concerning our everyday use of such terms, as is almost invariably the case in this area of Traditional Thought.


It is no accident, therefore, to find that the "A-" and "B-series" were invented by that Idealist (neo-Hegelian) Philosopher, John McTaggart


A classic statement of the approach to the analysis of pseudo-problems like these (adopted at this site) can be found in the opening sections of Wittgenstein's Blue and Brown Books and Philosophical Investigations -- i.e., Wittgenstein (1969, 1958/2009). On this topic in general, cf., Cook (1979), Read (2002, 2003, 2007), Rundle (2009), Suter (1989), pp.157-70, and Westphal (1996, 2002). See also, Anscombe (1950).


14. Notice that using even this locution requires the employment of the present tense, which, if crudely interpreted, might suggest that the past is really a part of the present, only remarkably well hidden!


Now, the above interpretation might seem to some to resemble the following aspect of Augustine's theory of time:


"If future and past events exist I want to know where they are. If I have not the strength to discover the answer, at least I know that wherever they are, they are not there as future or past, but as present. For if there also they are future, they will not be there. If there also they are past, they are no longer there. Therefore, wherever they are, whatever they are, they do not exist except in the present....


"What is by now evident and clear is that neither the future nor the past exist, and it is inexact language to speak of three times -- past, present and future." [Augustine (2004), Book XI, Sections 18:23, 20:26), pp.233, 235. The online translation is somewhat different.]


[On this, see Note 10.]


However, Augustine posed this 'problem' epistemologically and psychologistically, whereas I would rather re-focus discussion of time (as I do in this Essay) on how we actually use tensed verbs (and other associated temporal vocabulary), refusing to theorise or advance an 'ontology' of any sort.


It could be objected that some of the verbs employed in these contexts are tenseless, which would mean that their use carries no implication that the past somehow exists in the present. But, even if this were so (and in such contexts, the verbs themselves cannot tell us what connotations they carry), it would be even less clear what a tenseless depiction of the past actually amounted to. [I say more about this in Essay Thirteen Part One.] How might this interpretation of certain verbs work with a sentence such as: "This is the past", for instance? That particular use of the verb "to be" doesn't look the least bit tenseless.


Of course, as we saw in Essay Three Part One, in predicative propositions, where the word "is" functions as a mere copula, that copula can be paraphrased away, even if this results in some awkwardness. So:


P1: The past is F,


might become (à la Aristotle):


P2: F applies to the past.


[Where "F" stands for a noun or verb phrase. Although there might be a few (not insurmountable) problems connected with 'use and mention', here.]


While P2 is still apparently in the present tense, it doesn't possess the same untoward implications.


On the other hand, if, according to DL, the "is" in P1 is really an "is" of identity, then the above move would no longer be available.


P3: The past is identical with F.


P4: The past = F.


P3 and P4 seem to be super-glued to the present!


I won't speculate how DL-fans might handle this awkward turn of events; they dropped themselves in that particular hole when they began listening to the logical advice doled out by that certified incompetent, Hegel.


[It is important to note that the views expressed here aren't in any way connected with the metaphysical doctrine that currently goes under the name "Presentism". Indeed, my views express no theory at all. There is in fact no single way to depict time; the vernacular allows us to speak about it in countless different ways. Speculation that there is only one 'real meaning' for certain words associated with the language of time, the supposed referents of which are what philosophers or scientists supposedly study (or intend to study), would amount to the imposition of yet another a priori, dogmatic scheme on nature, something DM-theorists, at least, affect to disavow. Of course, if this were so, and there were something called "the real meaning of the language of time", the aforementioned theorists would be studying 'time', as opposed to time -- since in the latter case, the word "time" has many different meanings or uses. In that case, the supposed 'problems' of time (as opposed to the very real problems of 'time') won't have been addressed.]


On that, see also here.


15. The mis-analogy between space and time will be analysed in a later Essay.


The similarly misleading analogy drawn between time and the structure of the Real Numbers has already been addressed, here. There is an excellent discussion of the temptation to reify space and time -- simply because we can represent both of these by a combination of Real Numbers and orthogonal axes (in Mathematics and Physics, for instance) --, in Swartz (1991), pp.145-224. [I hasten to add that I do not agree with everything Professor Swartz has to say!]


16. Aristotle himself considered this 'problem' in his famous Sea Battle Paradox. [On that, see Anscombe (1956).]


17. In order to prevent misunderstanding, it should be emphasised here that the Ideal nature of the past is neither being asserted nor denied in this Essay. That is because both alternatives would form part of a metaphysical theory of this subject matter, and as such they would both be non-sensical and incoherent. 'Propositions' expressing either option (i.e., the assertion, or even the denial, of the Ideal nature of time) result from a misconstrual of ordinary forms of speech supposedly capable of revealing fundamental features of 'reality', when they are in fact incapable of being empirically true or false, and so cannot picture the world in any meaningful sense. [Again, on this, see Essay Twelve Part One.]


However, what is being maintained in this Essay is that DM-theorists themselves cannot consistently deny that the past is Ideal given their commitment both to the CTT and to the 'objectivity' of the claims they make about the past.


[CTT = Correspondence Theory of Truth.]


[Exactly why that is so will be postponed until the CTT itself is discussed in more detail in Essay Ten Part Two, alongside other classical definitions of truth.]


At this point, it is also worth noting that the argument in this Essay bears no relation to recent and fashionable post-modernist (henceforth, PM) 'deconstructions' of historical truth. In fact, the approach adopted here emphatically refuses to deny there are historical truths, nor does it question the occurrence of events in the past. What is being questioned is the Metaphysical-Realist/Idealist slant imposed on one or both.


However, recent attempts made by certain revolutionaries to underline the misguided nature of PM are themselves far from convincing. For example, a view expressed by the late Chris Harman [in Harman (1998)] was clearly influenced by Richard Evans's "Holocaust Argument" [HA], employed in order to refute certain PM-theories of history. [That is, to deny the objectivity of the past is tantamount to denying the Holocaust!] But, Harman's reliance on Evans's book is ill-advised on philosophical grounds alone, if for no other reason. While Evans was rightly critical of any account of the past that falls short of the highest academic or scientific standards, he also seemed happy to base his own philosophical objections to PM on the most superficial refutation of it available to him (the HA). In addition, the only relevant philosophical argument was lifted from Paul Boghossian's review of the by-now-infamous "Sokal Hoax". Boghossian's 'demolition' is itself a rehash of the hackneyed "self-refutation" argument (briefly examined in Essay Thirteen Part Two (not yet published)).


[Cf., Boghossian (1996), re-worked in Boghossian (1998) and in more detail in Boghossian (2006); cf., Evans (1997), pp.220-21. On this, see the extended responses to the above 'hoax' available here.]


Now, whatever weaknesses the entire set of PM-views of history possess, they aren't susceptible to the hackneyed, superficial and often misguided criticisms levelled at them by revolutionaries, whether or not these are 'backed-up' by references to Lenin's philosophically-challenged and monumental waste of ink and paper: MEC.


[MEC = Materialism And Empirio-Criticism; i.e., Lenin (1972) -- examined in detail in Essay Thirteen Part One.]


Alex Callinicos, on the other hand, has published several extensive criticisms of PM -- for example, Callinicos (1989, 1995, 1998). [Some of the issues Callinicos raises will be considered in more detail in a later Essay.]


In addition, Callinicos has summarised his objections to PM and to what he calls "textualism" [(Callinicos (1998); these criticisms are somewhat similar to arguments that appear in Callinicos (1987), pp.126-28.)], a view he claims is associated with various PM-theories of history. According to Callinicos, "textualism" involves an acceptance of the rather bizarre thesis that there is "nothing outside the text" (henceforth, NOTT). Against this, he argues that while it is trivially true that all representations of things in the world are mediated by language, it doesn't follow that they are "constituted by language". Unfortunately, Callinicos forgot to tell us what he meant by this. What would it be for something to be "constituted by language"? Plainly, we would need the answer to that question in order to understand what it was that Callinicos's claim rules in, or, indeed, rules out. The problem is that it seems we would have to do this without the use of language! Otherwise, we wouldn't know what it was that language was operating on, or "constituting", independently of any use of language!


Now, Callinicos might have had in mind the idea that objects and processes in the world are 'pre-linguistic', or 'extra-linguistic', but, if he did intend this, he might find it rather difficult to say what that amounts to without yet another annoying use of language.


It could be argued that that is precisely the point; while our representation of such things has to be linguistic (by-and-large), that trivial fact surely has no effect or bearing on the nature of the objects and processes we seek to represent, which surely exist independently of language. However, quite apart from the fact that even that point has to be made linguistically, it amounts to little more than a flat denial of NOTT. It certainly doesn't show that PM is incorrect in this regard -- plainly because it begs the question.


In order to show that PM is misconceived from beginning to end, it requires recourse to conceptual tools considerably more powerful, reliable and useful than those that have themselves been imported from the same ideologically-compromised source that gave rise to PM-theories in the first place -- i.e., Traditional Philosophy -- and, more specifically, French 'Philosophy'. In the present case, clearly, these 'less reliable' tools are those that would be implicated in any attempt to construct a superior philosophical 'theory' that sought to replace, or refute, PM. But, there is no way that non-sensical and incoherent theories (like PM) can be refuted by the construction of yet more of the same. [Clearly, in order to refute a theory (i.e., show it is false), a critic would have to know what would make that theory true (and thereby what would make it false); but that goal cannot be achieved by the use of yet another a non-sensical theory, let alone one that is incoherent.] Hence, an entirely different approach is required; one such will be aired in a later Essay, but the approach I will adopt was hinted at earlier.


Nevertheless, Callinicos advanced three counter-arguments (or counter-claims) to show that NOTT-type theories are misguided:


(1) Human beings gain information about the world by their physical interaction with it.


[Earlier, we saw Cornforth make similar point, as did Lenin -- albeit in a much cruder way.]


(2) Discourse isn't autonomous; it is a social phenomenon integrated with other aspects of human interaction with the world.


(3) Human beings do not automatically and uncritically accept the deliverances of language; they sort the latter into categories using criteria that help decide which are the "most accurate" depictions of the world. Historians, for example, wouldn't check sources, artefacts, archaeological data, and so on, if texts were hermetically sealed against reality. [Callinicos (1998), p.178.]


It could even be argued that the above points might equally well be directed at certain ideas or criticisms advanced in these Essays, and not just those found in PM. However, that, too, would be a serious mistake.


Callinicos himself acknowledged that (1) above allows for the fact that "information [has to be] articulated linguistically" to make it accessible, but he failed to notice that this concession undermined his overall position. I hasten to add, however, that the extent and validity of that particular point itself depends on what Callinicos meant by "information". If he meant "the content of an empirical proposition", then (1) wouldn't count against anything expressed in any of the Essays at this site. If, on the other hand, he meant "pre-linguistic data", it would still be impossible to assess his argument until that phrase itself had been explained or clarified. Exactly what "pre-linguistic data" amounts to, I haven't a clue -- and I rather suspect Callinicos hasn't either. [The phrase "pre-linguistic data" is, of course, mine, not Callinicos's.] Unfortunately, there is a way of understanding that contentious phrase that undermines the Marxist understanding that language is a social product --, a topic which will be discussed at greater length in Essays Twelve Part One and Thirteen Part Three. Moreover, (1) appears to be about as "trivially true" as the idea that knowledge is mediated by language. [On this topic in general, see Hacker (1987).]


Point (2) above is unexceptionable and is completely consistent with ideas presented in these Essays. Having said that, if (2) were to be interpreted in a way that made it consistent with, or dependent on, the above allusion to "pre-linguistic data", then that would actually render it inimical to HM, and not just to PM -- as well as to the views expressed here. That is because it would represent a serious challenge to the idea that language is a social product, which understanding is integral to HM. [Again, why this is so will be covered in Essays Twelve Part One and Thirteen Part Three.] Since Callinicos neglected to tell us what he meant, it isn't easy to say much more about it.


Finally, (3) isn't inconsistent with any of the views advanced in these Essays, either. However, Callinicos might like to reflect on the nature of the criteria he says we employ in order to modify or correct our use of language. If these criteria are themselves socially-, and linguistically-conditioned, then we are back where we started. But, if they aren't, it is difficult to see how social beings like us could ever have invented them, let alone learnt how to use them.


18. On surfaces, see Stroll (1988), and Varzi (2013); on shapes, see Bennett (2012). Parts and Wholes will be considered in more detail in the second half of this Essay.


19. N rays were 'discovered' by René Blondlot at the turn of the century. Popular accounts of the rise and fall of this formerly 'objective' entity can be found in Dewdney (1997), and in Friedlander (1998). A more wide-ranging, but still popular study of similar scientific oddities is Gratzer (2000). See also Gardner (1957, 1989, 2000), Grant (2006, 2007, 2009), and Shermer (1997).


Details of the mysterious powers of the echeneis fish can be found here; this fable was accepted by philosophers and scientists well into the early modern period. On that, see Easlea (1980).


The, shall we say, 'darker' side of science -- where fraud, deception, and regularly-occurring hoaxes are often mitigated by a Whiggish, post hoc (after the event) desire to re-write the history of science along more favourable lines, but which 'negatives aspects' are further compounded by issues connected with profit, war, and social control, further aggravated by and the internal censorship of new theories and hypotheses --, is only of tangential interest here. However, dialecticians cannot afford to ignore this important area of the history of science for fear that fraudulent and/or class-compromised items might somehow creep unnoticed into their "Totality", which will later have to be unceremoniously evicted from it -- as we saw with, for instance, the Piltdown Hoax. [More examples of fraud in science can be found here.]


On social aspects of science, including fraud, error and enforced 'revision', see the following: Angell (2005), Barnes (1974, 1982, 1985, 1990), Barnes and Bloor (1982), Barnes, Bloor and Henry (1996), Biagioli (1993), Bloor (1991), Broad and Wade (1982), Collins (1975, 1992, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004), Collins and Pinch (1998, 2002), Conner (2005), Cooter (1984), Crewdson (2003), Desmond (1989), Desmond and Moore (1992), Fara (2009), Feyerabend (1975, 1978, 1987, 1991, 1993, 2011), Forman (1971), Fritze (2009), Galison (1987, 2003), Geison (1995), Gieryn (1999), Golinski (1992, 1998), Goldacre (2012), Goliszek (2003), Gooding (1990), Gooding and Pinch (1989), Goodstein (2010), Grant (2006, 2007, 2009), Greenberg (2001, 2007), Judson (2004), Kohn (1986), Latour (1987, 1988), Latour and Woolgar (1986), Lenoir (1997), LeVay (2008), Longino (1990), MacKenzie (1981, 1993), Newton (1977), Park (2000), Pickering (1984, 1995), Porter (1995), Principe, (1998), Redondi (1987), Restivo (1983, 1992), Rudwick (1985), Shapin (1979a, 1979b, 1981, 1982, 1994, 1996), Shapin and Schaffer (1985), Waller (2002, 2004), Wallis (1979), and Youngson (1998).


On some aspects of the psychology underlying all this, see Travis and Aronson (2008). See also here and here. On the manifest weaknesses of the 'peer review' system coupled with its failure to find or prevent fraud (etc.), see Judson (2004), pp.244-86. See also Broad and Wade (1982), as well as here and here.


[Although it should be noted that Goodstein (2010) quite effectively defends Robert Millikan from several of the fraud accusations that have been levelled against him. [See also, here.] Even so, Goodstein also rejects (without explanation) the allegations others have advanced against Ptolemy, Galileo, Newton, Dalton and Mendel (p.44). Plainly, this isn't the place to enter into this complex debate (even though DM-fans will have to do so or risk populating their "Totality" with what could turn out to be fraudulent and/or bogus objects and processes); however, on Ptolemy, see here, here, and here (the latter page isn't too easy to read!). Cf., also Thurston (2002), and Rawlins (2003).]


Update September 2012: See also the long and detailed Guardian newspaper article on the recent unmasking of widespread fraud in psychological research -- most of which in fact passed the peer review system.


Here are the conclusions of a recent (June 2009) on-line report:


"Science Fraud


"As scientists, we like to think that science is a bastion of virtue, untouched by science fraud. The perception is that, other than junk science, science should be beyond reproach, unsullied by lies and propaganda. Results should always be regarded as valid and completely unbiased. Unfortunately, human nature dictates that scientists are human and are always going to be prone to bias and error. Most such mistakes are subconscious, and a result of looking too hard for patterns that are not there.


"Unfortunately, there are a number of more sinister cases, where scientists deliberately fabricated results, usually for personal fame. With the advent of corporate and politically funded research grants, poor results are becoming more dictated by policy than by scientific infallibility.


"Some of the More Common Types of Science Fraud


"There are many types of science fraud, from minor manipulation of results or incorrect causal connections to full-blown fabrication of results and plagiarism of the work of others. There have been cases of researchers stealing the work of their students to obtain all of the credit and kudos.


"There is a well-documented rumour of a scientific referee delaying the work of a rival, to ensure that he received the acclaim and a Nobel award. These allegations are often difficult to prove, as institutions often cover them up and try to sweep science fraud under the carpet. Citations are one area of the scientific process that is coming under increased pressure, especially with the easy availability of information on the internet.


"A citation, or reference, is supposed to credit past research that influenced the current research. Now, a bibliography and list of works cited often becomes a list to impress, readers assuming that the longer the list, the better the paper....


"Some Famous Science Frauds


"Dr. Hwang Woo Suk


"For those who remember, this South Korean announced, to a fanfare, that he had successfully cloned a dog, and also had some success in human cloning. This research was published, passed the tests and then he was subsequently suspected of fraud and ethical violations. He withdrew the paper and, as yet, there is no consensus as to whether the fraud was deliberate or the result of a badly written paper.


"The Piltdown Hoax


"This is probably one of the most famous science frauds of all time, which persisted for many years. A fossilized skull, apparently of the 'missing link' between apes and humans, was discovered in a quarry in Piltdown, Sussex, England. The find was taken to a distinguished palaeontologist, Arthur Smith Woodward, head of the Geological Department at the British Museum.


"He declared the find authentic, but almost straight away, questions were asked, and it gradually came to light that it was made up from bones of at least 3 hominid species, including the jawbone of an Orang-utan with filed down teeth. Poor Woodward was the victim in this fraud, and his otherwise notable career became forgotten, his name forever linked with the fraud. The perpetrators remain unknown, although the discoverer, Charles Dawson is suspected as an attempt to find fame and fortune.


"Institutional Problem


"Institutions are often reluctant to discipline wrongdoers, ignoring it, quietly shifting the fraudster to another department or even disciplining the wrongdoer. Science has a problem that people are reluctant to risk losing their careers to report science fraud. The problem is that it is difficult for reviewers to isolate flawed results without repeating the experiment themselves...." [Quoted from here, accessed 28/08/2014. Several paragraphs merged to save space; spelling altered to conform with UK English. Four links added.]


Although, the above article in the end defends the integrity and efficacy of the "peer review system", other reports (referenced earlier) paint an entirely different picture.


Indeed, here is what The Guardian had to say about this:


"Accusations of fraud spur a revolution in scientific publishing


"Three and a half centuries after the first journal was published, post-publication peer review is shaking up the old system.


"Scientific publishing may be on the brink of a revolution fought, in part, within the chemistry blogosphere. In the past few months it has been the scene of debate about whether the scientific publishing practices initiated by members of the Royal Society almost 350 years ago are still fit for purpose. In 1665, when the first scientific journal rolled off the presses, it was the cutting edge of science communication. The driving force for Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (as it is still known) was the members' desire to share their findings while being assured that no one could fraudulently claim credit for their work.


"To ensure quality, all articles underwent peer review -- a process that is still used by the thousands of journals that fill academic libraries today. The process is simple: authors submit their findings to a journal and editors send them out to be checked by the authors' scientific peers. If those peers deem the science to be valid then the journal publishes the paper.


"But now a system that was designed to share knowledge and stop scientific fraud may be suffering from the very same problems that the pioneering publishers at the Royal Society were trying to overcome, namely fraud and poor communication. By some estimates between 1% and 2% of papers now contain fabricated data and many more are just plain wrong. If papers have flaws then these might get discussed in tea rooms and conferences, but without an organised way of communicating these conversations, the wider world remains ignorant of problems.


"There have been murmurs in scientific circles about these flaws in the publication system for some time. But the issue blew up earlier this year when bloggers started reporting examples of suspicious practices in otherwise reputable journals. At first it was just a report of a throwaway comment accidentally left in a paper's annex: 'Emma, please insert NMR data here! where are they? and for this compound, just make up an elemental analysis....'


"Some interpreted this as an academic inciting his student to commit fraud. Or maybe it was just an instruction to carry out a particular experiment. It was certainly sloppy practice by all concerned, including the editors, peer reviewers and co-authors, all of whom should have spotted the errant sentence. But it is not damning evidence of anything worse than this.


"However, the post opened the floodgates as bloggers received tip-offs about other, more questionable activities. Apparently photoshopped images were found in the journals ACS Nano and Nano letters. Seemingly doctored spectra came to the fore in a paper from Organic Letters. An alleged case of self-plagiarism by an eminent member of the chemistry community was re-examined.


"The debate on the role of blogs and other forms of social media in 'post-publication peer review' was now out in the open. While not everyone was happy with social media being used to 'out' dubious practices, saying the situation had descended into a witch hunt, most were more supportive.


"Ultimately the bloggers' actions were vindicated, to the extent that all the suspect papers have now been withdrawn and investigations into scientific fraud are under way. Nevertheless the debate was largely confined to the blogosphere -- until a few weeks ago when one of the journals responsible for publishing the supposedly photoshopped data, ACS Nano, waded in with a highly critical editorial aimed squarely at bloggers. It was a naive attempt to squeeze the social media genie back into the bottle while simultaneously trying to curtail free speech.


"The article by the journal's editorial board included 'instructions' on how suspected fraud should be dealt with: 'When plagiarism or data manipulation is suspected, accusations should be reported directly to the journal....'


"Then they criticised the use of pseudonyms by bloggers and commenters: 'We strongly suggest that such comments be made without the cloak of anonymity....'


"This seemed ironic since a central tenet of the peer review process is the anonymity of the reviewer, the point being that a reviewer can write what they truly think of a paper without fear of making enemies or losing friends. Why then should those who critique the paper after publication not have the same privilege?


"Finally ACS Nano's editorial board threw some crumbs to the bloggers: 'After we have made our decision, all are welcome to comment on it in any blog, even if they have different opinions; this is their privilege.'


"I thought free speech was a right.


"Of course bloggers responded angrily to the editorial. But the spat did serve to highlight the need for an open and fair mechanism for recording and collating discussion of scientific results. After all, handling cases of suspected fraud on a handful of blogs and Twitter threads is hardly ideal, and the old system of simply removing suspect papers isn't particularly transparent.


"This is where the revolutionary part comes in. Spearheaded by PubPeer, there is now a site that allows anyone to comment on any publications. This may not seem like much in an age where comment threads at the foot of news articles are commonplace. However, all but a few scientific publishers have steadfastly resisted following suit. PubPeer, which is becoming the Reddit of the science world, is attempting to make post-publication commenting the norm.


"It may still be small fry, but bigger fish have taken notice, most notably PubMed, an enormous and well used database of medicine-related articles. When Pubmed, last week, added a commenting facility to its database it gave organised post-publication peer review a huge boost. Given this facility to openly discuss scientific papers, we could be in for a brave new world where scientists are no longer judged on the content of their papers but also on the comment threads that follow.


"Scientists had better grow thick skins, quickly." [The Guardian, 08/11/2013, accessed 28/08/2014. Several paragraphs merged to save space; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. One link added.]


On the widespread fallibility of science, see here, as well as Appendix A. Indeed, there is now a site called Retraction Watch, where such errors can be corrected or withdrawn. Can fans of the DM-"Totality" afford to ignore all of this?


And, of course, there is always this Documentary:



Video Three: Fraud In Science




Other oddities gathering dust in the scientific lumber room include: Phrenology, Animal Magnetism, 'water memory' (reported in Guardian Science, p.3, 15/03/01; even the New Scientist picked up on this), and Mesmerism (Waterfield (2002).


Are these now, or have they ever been, legitimate members of the "Totality"?


The Marxist Un-Dialectical Activities Committee needs to meet as a matter of some urgency.


On holes, shadows (and the like), see Casati (2000), Casati and Varzi (1995, 1999, 2014), Lewis (1970), Sorensen (2008), and Varzi (1997, 2013). On Polywater, see Ball (1999) and Van Brakel (2000), pp.87-97. For para-reflections see Sorensen (2003, 2008). On this topic in general, see Williams (2000), as well as here.


It is also worth remembering that Lenin himself believed in the "objective" existence of the Ether. This was doubly unfortunate in view of the fact that (a) It was rather badly-timed, situated as it was when this 'objective' entity was about to fall through a hole in the Whole, and then off into (possible?) oblivion, and (b) In MEC, it formed an integral part of Lenin's exposition of the "objectivity" of dialectics . [Cf., Lenin (1972), pp.50, 312, 314, 329-31, etc.]


"That is why Engels gave the example of the discovery of alizarin in coal tar and criticised mechanical materialism. In order to present the question in the only correct way, that is, from the dialectical materialist standpoint, we must ask: Do electrons, ether and so on exist as objective realities outside the human mind or not? The scientists will also have to answer this question unhesitatingly; and they do invariably answer it in the affirmative, just as they unhesitatingly recognise that nature existed prior to man and prior to organic matter. Thus, the question is decided in favour of materialism, for the concept matter, as we already stated, epistemologically implies nothing but objective reality existing independently of the human mind and reflected by it." [Lenin (1972), p.312. Bold emphases added.]


Moreover, Lenin was still invoking the Ether several years later, in PN!


"Thus the conjecture about the ether has existed for thousands of years, remaining until now a conjecture. But at the present time there are already a thousand times more subsurface channels leading to a solution of the problem, to a scientific determination of the ether." [Lenin (1961), p.250. Emphases in the original.]


This question forces itself upon us: Is the Ether an 'objective', or a 'subjective' part of the "Totality"? Since the scientists to whom Lenin refers now almost "invariably" answer the first half of his question in the negative, it would seem that the "Totality" must be either be sensitive to their serially fickle decisions, or has somehow lost a significant slice of its own fabric. Is it perhaps the Cheshire Cat of Cosmology?


[PN = Philosophical Notebooks, or Lenin (1961); MEC = Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, or Lenin (1972).]


Incidentally, Engels also appeared to accept the 'objective' existence of the Ether:


"The whole of nature accessible to us forms a system, an interconnected totality of bodies, and by bodies we understand here all material existences extending from stars to atoms, indeed right to ether particles, in so far as one grants the existence of the last named. In the fact that these bodies are interconnected is already included that they react on one another, and it is precisely this mutual reaction that constitutes motion. It already becomes evident that matter is unthinkable without motion." [Engels (1954), p.70. Bold emphasis added. See also, ibid., pp.286-87. In fact, the term appears dozens of times throughout DN -- for example, pp.26-27, 110, 119-21, 243-44, 276, 293.]


[On this, cf., McGarr (1994), p.156.]


And so did Plekhanov -- see, for instance, here.


If, back then, there had been a Marxist Un-Dialectical Activities Committee established and commissioned to decide what the dialectical-contents of the "Totality" were supposed to be, it is to be hoped that Engels, Lenin and Plekhanov were quietly left off the panel.


But, does all this mean that Lenin's "Totality" is different from, say, John Rees's "Totality"? Or, Woods and Grant's? Or Stalin's? Is it the 'same' as, or different from that of Engels and Plekhanov? Or, maybe Trotsky's? Or, has the "Totality" itself changed over the last 80 years, divesting itself of the Ether and countless other formerly 'objective' entities, replacing them with others possessed of equally insecure citizenship (such a 'Dark Matter')? Has the "Totality" progressed since Engels's and Lenin's ex cathedra pronouncements? Or has it regressed?


Even odder still: At one time, Marx showed great interest in the work of Pierre Trémaux, a French architect who thought he could advance human knowledge by rejecting key areas of Darwinian evolutionary theory, alleging that the nature of the soil in a specific region influenced speciation. Well, is this process part of the "Totality", even though Marx himself later abandoned it (probably under the influence of a rare flash of good sense from Engels)? Or, did this rather un-Darwinian process only show its face in the "Totality" for a few months -- as a sort of reverse Cheshire Cat phenomenon -- while Marx was chewing things over? [On this, see Weikart (1998).]


In fact, the above comments are slightly prejudicial; some of Trémaux's ideas anticipated, for example, the work of Gould and Eldredge, among others. Since this Essay was originally written, things seem to have changed once more, and have in some circles swung in favour of Trémaux's ideas. Are his ideas about to be rehabilitated? Is the "Totality" on the verge of changing its 'mind'? Or is it dithering once more? Where is The Marxist Un-Dialectical Activities Committee when we need it!


An even more vexing question for STDs and MISTs to consider is the following: Are Lysenko's ideas (or, at least, to the processes they supposedly related) part of the "Totality", or not? For the best part of thirty years, Soviet (and later Chinese) scientists certainly accepted his ideas as Gospel Truth. Is the "Totality" now sensitive to sectarian splits in Marxism, with us Trotskyists displaying 'reactionary' scepticism while our Stalinist and Maoist brethren plumbed impressive new depths of dialectical gullibility?


[On this, see Grant (2007), Joravsky (1970), Medvedev (1969), and Soyfer (1994). See also my comments on other aspects of 'dialectical science' (including the decidedly odd ideas of Lenin's friend, Olga Lepeshinskaya) in Essay Four Part One.]


Are these genuine parts of the "Totality", or are they merely temporary residents or interlopers?


[STD = Stalinist Dialectician; MIST = Maoist Dialectician.]


Hold the press! In view of the fact that Epigenetic and vaguely Lamarckian theories are slowly regaining favour in some circles, is Lysenko on the verge of being rehabilitated, too? On that, see here.


Even odder still: It now seems that the Ether might one day make a come-back. According to Cantor and Hodge:


"By 1951, however, we find an eminent physicist, P. A. M. Dirac, having to argue in the journal Nature (168:906-7) that although Einstein's 1905 principle of relativity led, reasonably enough, to the ether's generally being abandoned, with the new quantum electrodynamics we may be, after all, 'rather forced to have an aether'.


"...[T]here have been, and still are, many ether theories that, in principle, are perfectly compatible with special relativity and even general relativity. Moreover, quantum theory has led to new conceptions of ether, and not a few physicists have urged the necessity of some form of ether theory." [Cantor and Hodge (1981), pp.ix, 53.]


These two authors even quote Einstein and Dirac as follows:


"More careful reflection teaches us, however, that the special theory of relativity does not compel us to deny ether. We may assume the existence of ether; only we must give up ascribing a definite state of motion to it.... [There] is a weighty argument to be adduced in favour of the ether hypothesis. To deny ether is ultimately to assume that empty space has no physical qualities whatsoever. The fundamental facts of mechanics do not harmonize with this view.... According to the general theory of relativity space without ether is unthinkable; for in such space there would not only be no propagation of light, but also no possibility of the existence of standards of space and time (measuring rods and clocks), nor therefore any space-time intervals in the physical sense". [Ibid., p.54, quoting Einstein (1922a). I have not yet been able to check the latter reference.]


"Physical knowledge has advanced very much since 1905, notably by the arrival of quantum mechanics, and the situation has again changed. If one examines the question in the light of present-day knowledge, one finds that the aether is no longer ruled out by relativity, and good reasons can now be advanced for postulating an aether." [Ibid., p.54, quoting Dirac (1951). Again, I have not yet been able to check this reference.]


[These facts are also reported in the Wikipedia article on the Luminiferous Aether. On this in general, see Kostro (2000).]


Even the New Scientist is getting in on the act; speaking about research into 'Dark Energy', it had this to say:


"Unfortunately, physicists are having trouble finding a way to fit a cosmological constant into their best existing theories. 'A small non-zero dark energy is more difficult to explain than zero,' says Sean Carroll, a cosmologist from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. 'So we are driven to wilder ideas.'


"One of those wild ideas is quintessence, which postulates the existence of a hitherto unsuspected quantum field permeating the universe.... Because this implies that there would also be a new fundamental force of nature, the idea set some physicists thinking: instead of adding a new force, why not modify an old one? Perhaps there are unexpected properties of gravity that appear over gargantuan distances that Einstein's general relativity does not predict....


"By giving us detailed measurements of the acceleration of different parts of the universe, the next generation of surveys could reveal the nature of the dominant component of the universe. Whatever it turns out to be, it will be big news. 'Dark energy could be the ether of the 21st century,' says Carroll. Even if we explain it away, we will learn something profound about the universe.


"It is a viewpoint shared by cosmologists everywhere. 'We are definitely seeing something extra in the universe, we just do not know how to interpret it yet,' says [Ofer Lahav of University College London]. And that has given cosmologists a new sense of purpose. A seismic shift in our understanding of the universe is coming. How soon it will arrive and from what direction it will come -- that's still anyone's guess." [Clark (2007), pp.31-33. Bold emphasis and links added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


Is the Ether, therefore, queuing up somewhere in a sort of 'subsistence anteroom', waiting for rehabilitation, almost as if it were a member of an ethereal version of the Chinese Communist Party?


Perhaps it is, for an earlier edition of the New Scientist reported the following:


"'Ether' returns in a bid to oust dark matter


"Zeeya Merali


"From his office window, Glenn Starkman can see the site where Albert Michelson and Edward Morley carried out their famous 1887 experiment that ruled out the presence of an all-pervading 'aether' in space, setting the stage for Einstein's special theory of relativity. So it seems ironic that Starkman, who is at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, is now proposing a theory that would bring ether back into the reckoning. While this would defy Einstein, Starkman's ether would do away with the need for dark matter.


"Nineteenth-century physicists believed that just as sound waves move through air, light waves must move through an all-pervading physical substance, which they called luminiferous ('light-bearing') ether. However, the Michelson-Morley experiment failed to find any signs of ether, and 18 years after that, Einstein's special relativity argued that light propagates through a vacuum. The idea of ether was abandoned -- but not discarded altogether, it seems.


"Starkman and colleagues Tom Zlosnik and Pedro Ferreira of the University of Oxford are now reincarnating the ether in a new form to solve the puzzle of dark matter, the mysterious substance that was proposed to explain why galaxies seem to contain much more mass than can be accounted for by visible matter. They posit an ether that is a field, rather than a substance, and which pervades space-time. 'If you removed everything else in the universe, the ether would still be there,' says Zlosnik.


"This ether field isn't to do with light, but rather is something that boosts the gravitational pull of stars and galaxies, making them seem heavier, says Starkman. It does this by increasing the flexibility of space-time itself.... 'We usually imagine space-time as a rubber sheet that's warped by a massive object,' says Starkman. 'The ether makes that rubber sheet more bendable in parts, so matter can seem to have a much bigger gravitational effect than you would expect from its weight.' The team's calculations show that this ether-induced gravity boost would explain the observed high velocities of stars in galaxies, currently attributed to the presence of dark matter.


"This is not the first time that physicists have suggested modifying gravity to do away with this unseen dark matter. The idea was originally proposed by Mordehai Milgrom while at Princeton University in the 1980s. He suggested that the inverse-square law of gravity only applies where the acceleration caused by the field is above a certain threshold, say a0. Below that value, the field dissipates more slowly, explaining the observed extra gravity. 'It wasn't really a theory, it was a guess,' says cosmologist Sean Carroll at the University of Chicago in Illinois.


"Then in 2004 this idea of modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) was reconciled with general relativity by Jacob Bekenstein at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel (New Scientist, 22 January 2005, p.10), making MOND a genuine contender in the eyes of some physicists. 'Bekenstein's work was brilliant, but fiendishly complicated, using many different and arbitrary fields and parameters,' says Ferreira. 'We felt that something so complicated couldn't be the final theory.'


"Now Starkman's team has reproduced Bekenstein's results using just one field -- the new ether ( Even more tantalisingly, the calculations reveal a close relationship between the threshold acceleration a0 -- which depends on the ether -- and the rate at which the universe's expansion is accelerating. Astronomers have attributed this acceleration to something called dark energy, so in a sense the ether is related to this entity. 'That they have found this connection is a truly profound thing,' says Bekenstein. The team is now investigating how the ether might cause the universe's expansion to speed up.


"Andreas Albrecht, a cosmologist at the University of California, Davis, believes that this ether model is worth investigating further. 'We've hit some really profound problems with cosmology -- with dark matter and dark energy,' he says. 'That tells us we have to rethink fundamental physics and try something new.'


"Both Bekenstein and Albrecht say Starkman's team must now carefully check whether the ether theory fits with the motions of planets within our solar system, which are known to a high degree of accuracy, and also explain what exactly this ether is. Ferreira agrees: 'The onus is definitely on us to pin this theory down so it doesn't look like yet another fantastical explanation,' he says.


"However, physicists may be reluctant to resurrect any kind of ether because it contradicts special relativity by forming an absolute frame of reference. 'Interestingly, this controversial aspect should make it easy to test for experimentally,' says Carroll." [New Scientist 2566, 25/08/06. Several links added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


In fact, as we have seen, the existence of the Ether neither contradicts Einstein nor Relativity.


So, does this mean that the Ether both is and is not part of the "Totality"? Perhaps its most 'contradictory' aspect, since it seems consecutively to exist and not to exist, or even both concurrently?


At any rate, as we have seen, the Ether has a modern-day analogue --, somewhat disarmingly called by some "The Field", by others merely "Space-Time" ("Space-Time Substantivalism") --, and now even, perhaps, 'Dark Energy' as the above articles hint? [On this, see Granek (2001).]


[Views such as these present yet more examples of the ubiquitous reification of 'mathematical objects' found in modern Physics. More on that in Essay Thirteen Parts One and Two. Even though I disagree with his pro-DM stance, Malek (2011) is very good on this aspect of the Idealism implicit modern Physics -- although, Malek, too, forgot to tell his readers what the "Totality" actually is!]


19a. Anyone tempted to argue that evidence alone is decisive here should read the following, and then perhaps think again:


"...[I]n the historical progression from Aristotelian to Cartesian to Newtonian to contemporary mechanical theories, the evidence available at the time each earlier theory was accepted offered equally strong support to each of the (then-unimagined) later alternatives. The same pattern would seem to obtain in the historical progression from elemental to early corpuscularian chemistry to Stahl's phlogiston theory to Lavoisier's oxygen chemistry to Daltonian atomic and contemporary physical chemistry; from various versions of preformationism to epigenetic theories of embryology; from the caloric theory of heat to later and ultimately contemporary thermodynamic theories; from effluvial theories of electricity and magnetism to theories of the electromagnetic ether and contemporary electromagnetism; from humoral imbalance to miasmatic to contagion and ultimately germ theories of disease; from 18th Century corpuscular theories of light to 19th Century wave theories to contemporary quantum mechanical conception; from Hippocrates's pangenesis to Darwin's blending theory of inheritance (and his own 'gemmule' version of pangenesis) to Wiesmann's germ-plasm theory and Mendelian and contemporary molecular genetics; from Cuvier's theory of functionally integrated and necessarily static biological species or Lamarck's autogenesis to Darwinian evolutionary theory; and so on in a seemingly endless array of theories, the evidence for which ultimately turned out to support one or more unimagined competitors just as well. Thus, the history of scientific enquiry offers a straightforward inductive rationale for thinking that there are alternatives to our best theories equally well-confirmed by the evidence, even when we are unable to conceive of them at the time." [Stanford (2001), p.9.]


Update September 2012: We now read the following in the New Scientist:


"Truth decay: The half-life of facts


"Much of what we believe to be factual has an expiration date, but the good news is that we can see it coming


"In dental school, my grandfather was taught the number of chromosomes in a human cell. But there was a problem.


"Biologists had visualised the nuclei of human cells in 1912 and counted 48 chromosomes, and it was duly entered into the textbooks studied by my grandfather. In 1953, the prominent cell biologist Leo Sachs even said that 'the diploid chromosome number of 48 in man can now be considered as an established fact'.


"Then in 1956, Joe Hin Tjio and Albert Levan tried a new technique for looking at cells. They counted over and over until they were certain they could not be wrong. When they announced their result, other researchers remarked that they had counted the same, but figured they must have made a mistake. Tjio and Levan had counted only 46 chromosomes, and they were right....


"It is obvious that scientific knowledge is continually updated through new discoveries and the replication of studies, but until recent years little attention had been paid to how fast this change occurs. In particular, few had attempted to quantify how long it would take what we know at any given moment to become untrue, or replaced with a closer approximation of the truth.


"Among the first groups to measure this churning of knowledge was a team of researchers at Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, France. To get a handle on it, Thierry Poynard and his colleagues chose to focus on medical fields in which they specialised: cirrhosis and hepatitis, two areas related to liver diseases. They took nearly 500 articles in these fields from over 50 years and gave them to a panel of experts to examine. Each expert was charged with saying whether the paper was factual, out-of-date or disproved (Annals of Internal Medicine, vol 136, p.888).


"Through doing this, Poynard and his colleagues were able to create a simple chart that showed the amount of factual content that had persisted over the previous decades (see diagram). They found something striking: a clear decay in the number of papers that were still valid. Furthermore, it was possible to get a clear measurement for the 'half-life' of facts in these fields by looking at where the curve crosses 50 per cent on this chart: 45 years....


"We can't predict which individual papers will be overturned, of course, just like we can't tell when individual radioactive atoms will decay, but we can observe the aggregate and see that there are rules for how a field changes over time. The cirrhosis and hepatitis results were nearly identical to an earlier study that examined the overturning of information in surgery. Two Australian surgeons found that half of the facts in that field also become false every 45 years (The Lancet, vol 350, p 1752)....


"To understand the decay in the truth of a paper, we can measure how long it takes for people to stop citing the average paper in a field. Whether it is no longer interesting, no longer relevant or has been contradicted by new research, this paper is no longer a part of the living scientific literature. The amount of time it takes for others to stop citing half of the literature in a field is also a half-life of sorts.


"Through this we can begin to get rough estimates of the half-lives of many fields. For example, a study of all the papers in the Physical Review journals, a cluster of periodicals of great importance to physicists, found that the half-life in physics is about 10 years (


"Different publication formats can also have varied half-lives. In 2008, Rong Tang of Simmons College in Boston looked at scholarly books in different fields and found that physics has a longer half-life (13.7 years) than economics (9.4), which in turn outstays mathematics, psychology and history (College & Research Libraries, vol 69, p 356)....


"Extinct in a blink


"It's easy to mistakenly assume that some of the facts in our heads are absolute, especially those learned in the textbooks of our youth (see main story). As a child, I loved learning about dinosaurs. But I have since discovered an incorrect fact that I had lived my childhood assuming was accurate: the name Brontosaurus.


"The four-legged saurischian, with its long neck and tiny head, is iconic. And yet its name is actually Apatosaurus. Why? In 1978, two palaeontologists noticed that the skeleton used to identify the Brontosaurus species had been graced with the skull of a different plant-eating dinosaur. The body belonged to the Apatosaurus. The Brontosaurus never existed.


"Since then, scientists have promoted the name change, and it has gained some currency. Nevertheless, the Brontosaurus myth continues to endure in popular knowledge and books -- no doubt aided by people who missed the expiry of this fact." [Arbesman (2012b), pp.37-39. Emphases in the original. Some links added. Quotation marks and some formatting altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


[More details are given in Arbesman (2012a).]


However, it isn't easy to resist asking the following question: how long will the above conclusions remain 'true'?


Update April 2015: Not long, it seems! The BBC now reports that Brontosaurus has made a dramatic come-back, and within three years of its demise having been announced above.

"Brontosaurus dino name is revived


"By Paul Rincon Science editor, BBC News website


"The iconic name Brontosaurus, once used to describe a family of huge dinosaurs, has been resurrected after being killed off more than a century ago. In 1903, scientists decided Brontosaurus was a more complete specimen of a different dinosaur. But many more specimens of plant-eating sauropod dinosaurs are now known, revealing Brontosaurus to be different enough to warrant its own name. The results have been published in the open access journal PeerJ. The name Brontosaurus goes back to the so-called Bone Wars of the late 1800s, when rival fossil hunters Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope raced new dinosaur names into the scientific literature.


"In their quest for new specimens, Marsh and Cope were drawn to the rich fossil beds of the American west. Marsh's team found two long-necked sauropods. He named one Apatosaurus ajax (Apatosaurus means 'deceptive lizard') and the second skeleton Brontosaurus excelsus (Brontosaurus means 'noble thunder lizard'). Shortly after Marsh's death, a team from the Field Museum of Chicago found another dinosaur skeleton similar to both Apatosaurus ajax and Brontosaurus excelsus, but with features deemed intermediate between the two. This led the scientists to conclude that Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus were just different species within the same scientific genus. Apatosaurus took precedence because it had been named first so, Brontosaurus excelsus became Apatosaurus excelsus.


"But the name Brontosaurus is still known by several generations of schoolchildren. It's not entirely clear why the name stuck, but it may be to do with its origins in the Bone Wars, when there was intense public interest in the discovery of new dinosaurs. It may also be because of the evocative meaning: 'thunder lizard'.


"Now, Emanuel Tschopp from the New University of Lisbon in Portugal and colleagues applied statistical techniques to calculate the differences between species and genera of diplodocid dinosaurs (the large-scale grouping that includes Apatosaurus as well as other long-necked plant eaters). It is only with new finds of dinosaurs similar to Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus in recent years that it became possible to undertake a detailed investigation of how different they were.


"'Until very recently, the claim that Brontosaurus was the same as Apatosaurus was completely reasonable, based on the knowledge we had,' said Mr Tschopp. To their surprise, Brontosaurus emerged from the analysis as a distinct dinosaur.


"The wrong skull


"'The differences we found between Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were at least as numerous as the ones between other closely related genera, and much more than what you normally find between species,' explained Roger Benson, a co-author from the University of Oxford. Thus, the researchers argue that it is now possible to resurrect Brontosaurus as a genus, different from Apatosaurus.


"Prof Paul Barrett, of London's Natural History Museum, who was not involved in the research, told BBC News: 'This paper is the most comprehensive study produced to date on the evolution of Diplodocus and its closest relatives and sets out some really interesting new ideas on how these animals are related, and how they should be classified. The author finds a number of ways in which the original specimens of Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus can be separated from each other and uses these to resurrect Brontosaurus as a separate entity. The conclusions seem entirely reasonable to me, as they are well argued and well supported, and it will be interesting to see how quickly these suggestions are adopted by the community.'


"Marsh's case was not helped by making an incorrect reconstruction of Brontosaurus' skull because of the limited material available at the time. He had assumed it was boxy, like another long-necked dinosaur from the western US known as Camarasaurus. But research in the 1970s showed that Apatosaurus -- and thus 'Brontosaurus' -- would have had a slender, horse-like skull. This gave rise to a popular myth that 'Brontosaurus' was simply an Apatosaurus with the wrong head." [Quoted from here; accessed 07/04/2015. Several paragraphs merged to save space. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Some italic emphases added, since the original article used them inconsistently. Minor spelling mistake corrected. Link in the original, although it now seems to be broken!]


So, it rather looks like much of the "Totality" (should we ever be told what it is) itself has a relatively short half-life. In view of this, one can only wish The Marxist Un-Dialectical Activities Committee charged with deciding what the "Totality" actually contains "good luck"! Any conclusions they might reach stand a reasonably high probability of being rendered obsolete within a couple of generations.


The suggestion made earlier that the DM-"Totality" should be fitted with a revolving door doesn't look like such a bad idea now.


19b. An excellent example of a DM-fan keen to tail-end what appears to be the latest scientific fad is Mason (2012) -- especially Mason's 'Marxism, Materialism and Particle Physics', which has been reprinted in the third edition of his book. [Mason (2012), pp.113-36.]


[I will cite several examples in a future re-write of this Essay.]


20. Much of the following material was written before the scientific community claimed to have found the Higgs Boson. I have, however, commented on that discovery below -- here, here and here.


The elusive Higgs Boson is at present just clinging onto its 'existence'; cf., New Scientist, 08/12/01, pp.4-5. Of course, the existence of the Higgs Boson is merely theoretical (although some Physicists not only deny it exists, they claim it cannot exist because that eventuality depends on the Klein-Gordon equation, which is, apparently, fundamentally flawed); the implications of that particular observation will also be explored in Essay Thirteen Part Two.


Earlier, we were being told (by some) that "Dark Energy" might not exist, either: "Is Dark Energy a mirage?" asks Marcus Chown in the New Scientist (Volume 180, No. 2424, 06/12/03, pp.10-11). [See also, Chown (2003, 2004), and the BBC Horizon programme, "Is Everything We Know About The Universe Wrong?" (broadcast in March 2010).]


In fact, concerning both of the above theoretical entities, a Physicist had this to say in a recent issue of the New Scientist:


"In your article on the search for the Higgs particle, it is implicitly assumed that the Higgs exists (24 July, p.8). This hope is shared by many physicists, and it was one of the main motivations for building the Large Hadron Collider. However, a small group of physicists, myself included, is challenging this view. Some have even gone so far as to bet thousands of dollars that it doesn't exist (though Stephen Hawking has bet only $100).


"It is important to remember that the Higgs mechanism was invented in 1964 as a 'fix' to give mass to the particles called vector bosons, just as dark matter was suggested as a fix to explain the velocities at which galaxies orbit each other in clusters. Neither of these entities has been found." [R van Nieuwenhove, New Scientist 207, 2773, 14/08/2010, p.30. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Some links added.]


The above individual, who wrote that letter before this particle was deemed to have been discovered, might still win his bet, for recent research suggests that this particle hasn't actually been discovered! On that see the Appendix.


Is the "Totality", therefore, about to change -- depending on the result of this latest example of scientific dithering? Must it, too, wait for the next issue of the New Scientist, or of Nature, or of Science Daily, before it is granted at least a temporary residence permit for, and thus a legitimate entry Visa allowing it into, the mysterious "Totality"? [More shady details here.]


Now we are being told that scientists have discovered a huge 'hole' in space [New Scientist 195, 2619, 01/09/07, p.7.], one billion light years across, which, they say, contains nothing at all. 


[Perhaps this is the part of the "Totality" that actually contains Hegel's 'Nothing'? Have we at last found the origin of 'Becoming'?]


And, as if to pile yet more misery on believers in the nebulous "Totality", add to the above the anomalous recent results concerning the so-called "Placebo" and "homeopathic" effects, reported in the New Scientist recently. [Volume 185, 2491, 19/03/05, pp.31-33.] This relates to work done by a sceptical scientist in Belfast who, so the story goes, set out to disprove homeopathy, but in a series of controlled experiments found that perhaps the reverse conclusion was more warranted. According to the report, these results have "profound implications". We are even told that we may "have to rewrite physics and chemistry." Is the "Totality" about to morph yet again? Or, will it fight back and reject such 'New Age' impertinences -- perhaps, by means of death by a thousand peer reviews?


Gravitational waves, predicted by General Relativity, haven't yet been detected..., er,..., or have they? Well, as usual, that depends on who is telling the story. On this, see Collins (1994, 1998, 1999, 2004), and Kennefick (2007). Are there then two competing "Totalities": one in which these waves have been detected, and one in which they still remain elusive?


Or, are these two 'dialectically-united opposite' universes/"Totalities" in 'logical tension' with one another?


Update March 2014: The BBC published this breathless report on its News Website about the aforementioned gravitational waves:


"Cosmic inflation: 'Spectacular' discovery hailed



"Scientists say they have extraordinary new evidence to support a Big Bang Theory for the origin of the Universe. Researchers believe they have found the signal left in the sky by the super-rapid expansion of space that must have occurred just fractions of a second after everything came into being. It takes the form of a distinctive twist in the oldest light detectable with telescopes. The work will be scrutinised carefully, but already there is talk of a Nobel.


"'This is spectacular,' commented Prof Marc Kamionkowski, from Johns Hopkins University. 'I've seen the research; the arguments are persuasive, and the scientists involved are among the most careful and conservative people I know,' he told BBC News.


"The breakthrough was announced by an American team working on a project known as BICEP2. This has been using a telescope at the South Pole to make detailed observations of a small patch of sky. The aim has been to try to find a residual marker for 'inflation' -- the idea that the cosmos experienced an exponential growth spurt in its first trillionth, of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second.



Gravitational waves from inflation put a distinctive twist pattern in the polarisation of the CMB [Cosmic Microwave Background -- RL]


"Theory holds that this would have taken the infant Universe from something unimaginably small to something about the size of a marble. Space has continued to expand for the nearly 14 billion years since.


"Inflation was first proposed in the early 1980s to explain some aspects of Big Bang Theory that appeared to not quite add up, such as why deep space looks broadly the same on all sides of the sky. The contention was that a very rapid expansion early on could have smoothed out any unevenness. But inflation came with a very specific prediction -- that it would be associated with waves of gravitational energy, and that these ripples in the fabric of space would leave an indelible mark on the oldest light in the sky -- the famous Cosmic Microwave Background.


"The BICEP2 team says it has now identified that signal. Scientists call it B-mode polarisation. It is a characteristic twist in the directional properties of the CMB. Only the gravitational waves moving through the Universe in its inflationary phase could have produced such a marker. It is a true 'smoking gun'.


"Speaking at the press conference to announce the results, Prof John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and a leader of the BICEP2 collaboration, said: 'This is opening a window on what we believe to be a new regime of physics -- the physics of what happened in the first unbelievably tiny fraction of a second in the Universe.'


"'Completely astounded'


"The signal is reported to be quite a bit stronger than many scientists had dared hope. This simplifies matters, say experts. It means the more exotic models for how inflation worked are no longer tenable.


"The results also constrain the energies involved -- at 10,000 trillion gigaelectronvolts. This is consistent with ideas for what is termed Grand Unified Theory, the realm where particle physicists believe three of the four fundamental forces in nature can be tied together. But by associating gravitational waves with an epoch when quantum effects were so dominant, scientists are improving their prospects of one day pulling the fourth force -- gravity itself -- into a Theory of Everything.


"The sensational nature of the discovery means the BICEP2 data will be subjected to intense peer review. It is possible for the interaction of CMB light with dust in our galaxy to produce a similar effect, but the BICEP2 group says it has carefully checked its data over the past three years to rule out such a possibility. Other experiments will now race to try to replicate the findings.


"Prof Andrew Jaffe from Imperial College London, UK, works on a rival telescope called POLARBEAR. He commented: 'A lot of this is technology driven. And the next generation of experiments, like the next generation of POLARBEAR, SPIDER and EBEX, and things like that, will have far more detectors and will go after this signal and hopefully drag out much more detail.'


"Assuming the BICEP2 results are confirmed, a Nobel Prize seems assured. Who this would go to is difficult to say, but leading figures on the BICEP2 project and the people who first formulated inflationary theory would be in the running.


"One of those pioneers, Prof Alan Guth from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the BBC: 'I have been completely astounded. I never believed when we started that anybody would ever measure the non-uniformities of the CMB, let alone the polarisation, which is now what we are seeing. I think it is absolutely amazing that it can be measured and also absolutely amazing that it can agree so well with inflation and also the simplest models of inflation -- nature did not have to be so kind and the theory didn't have to be right.'


"British scientist Dr Jo Dunkley, who has been searching through data from the European Planck space telescope for a B-mode signal, commented: 'I can't tell you how exciting this is. Inflation sounds like a crazy idea, but everything that is important, everything we see today -- the galaxies, the stars, the planets -- was imprinted at that moment, in less than a trillionth of a second. If this is confirmed, it's huge.'" [Quoted from here; accessed 28/03/2014. Several paragraphs merged to save space. Quotations marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Some links added.]


However, since inflation violates core principles of the TOR, this might be a case of one step forward, ten back. [Naturally, scientists deny this theory violates the TOR.] But, will this odd idea be ditched like so much else has been in the history of science? How will that affect the mysterious "Totality"?


Update February 2015: It should come as no surprise, therefore, that a recent comprehensive study has shown that the above results were "mistaken". On that, see the Appendix.


Over the next few years, I will be adding to the Appendix several more examples of 'mature science' being ditched as scientists continue to change their minds, or seem to dither. [Also see Note 21, Note 21a, Note 22, and Note 22aa, below.]


21. Once more, it is important to point out that the existence or nature of these entities isn't being questioned here. The point is that scientists themselves are sceptical of many of them (just as they are wont to change their minds constantly -- see Note 19 and Note 20, above).


Incidentally, "Tetraneutrons" were reported in the New Scientist (Volume 185, No. 2491, 19/03/05, pp.34-35), which also records renewed interest in "Cold Fusion", p.37.


On recent work on the "magnetic monopole", see here. On 'Red Mercury', see Grant (2007), pp.130-32.


Update December 2009: A team of US scientists claim to have detected 'Dark Matter' in the shape of WIMPs. Is it too early to tell if this is a genuine detection or just another false alarm? [I hesitate to add links to more recent reports about this illusive 'form of matter' since they seem to change tack almost daily: "Dark Matter has been discovered..., er..., no it hasn't.... Ah! Yes it has..., er..., oh, wait...".]


Update November 2012: Sure enough, the aforementioned 'detection' proved to be yet another false alarm:


"Doubt cast on Fermi's dark matter smoking gun


"Lisa Grossman


"It was hailed as a smoking gun for dark matter, raising hopes that we might finally pinpoint the particle that is thought to make up 80 per cent of the mass in the universe. But purported evidence of dark matter interactions in the centre of our galaxy may not be as solid as hoped.


"Most physicists think dark matter is made of weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs, which only interact with normal matter via gravity. When two WIMPs meet, they should annihilate and spew out new particles, including high-energy gamma rays.


"The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope searches for dark matter by seeking these gamma rays. If it detects more gamma rays of a certain energy than known sources can explain, that would be thought by many to be a sign of WIMPs.


"'This kind of narrow, distinct feature is not really predicted to come from any other process,' says Fermi team member Andrea Albert of Ohio State University.


"That's why scientists were abuzz in April, when Christoph Weniger of the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich, Germany, reported observing a spike in gamma rays at 130 gigaelectronvolts (GeV). These were coming from the Milky Way's centre and had no obvious astrophysical source.


"While not a member of the Fermi team, Weniger was able to analyse publicly available data from 3.5 years of telescope observations. Other physicists looked at the same data and agreed that the signal was strong enough not to be a random fluctuation. Either the telescope was behaving oddly, or it was seeing dark matter particles with energies of 130 GeV.


"'If the latter is true, it would dwarf the Higgs boson discovery,' wrote physics blogger Jester on his blog Resonaances.


"The Fermi team remained quiet about the finding at the time, but their reaction was hotly anticipated. In addition to having a full four years' worth of data to analyse, the team also has access to an important cross-check on any possible signal.


"Dark matter should pool at the galaxy's centre, with negligible amounts surrounding Earth. What Earth does have, however, is a ring of gamma rays produced when cosmic rays strike the atmosphere. If, when Fermi is pointed at this ring, Weniger's 130 GeV gamma ray signal shows up there, it suggests that it isn't a dark matter signal. 'It's a good place for a sanity check,' says Albert.


"The team first had to reprocess their data from the galactic centre to account for a glitch caused by a damaged instrument on the telescope. That revealed that the signal had shifted from 130 to 135 GeV, Albert told the Fourth International Fermi Symposium in Monterey, California, on 2 November. What's more, that signal had faded to statistical insignificance.


"'The feature's gotten a little smaller,' she says. 'It hasn't gone away completely, but we do not see it to be very significant. At this point, we have to cast doubt on this being a dark matter line.'


"The signal also showed up in the ring of gamma rays around Earth, but it seems to account for only half of that detected from the galactic centre, and there is no good way to explain why it is there. 'There is nothing obvious, at least to me, that connects the galactic centre and the [gamma-ray ring],' Weniger says.


"It could be that there is a fault with the Fermi team's data processing methods, or that one line is false and the other is real. For now, though, Weniger thinks there is still room for the line to be a dark matter sign. 'It's difficult to get attached to a feature, because they come and go often,' he says. 'But it could be the real thing. It could be the most exciting discovery of the decade.'" [New Scientist, 10/11/2012, p.15. Links in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site; bold emphases added. The on-line article has a different title to the published version.]


So, should an emergency meeting of The Marxist Un-Dialectical Activities Committee be called in order to decide whether or not Dark Matter is indeed part of the "Totality"?


[On this, also see Appendix A.]


21a. A recent article in Socialist Worker highlights the difficulties DM-fans face over the progress of science:


"Why mass matters: the Higgs boson and particle physics


"Alice Livingstone Boomla explains why we should care about the discovery of the Higgs boson.


"Scientists have discovered a new particle -- which seems likely to be the elusive Higgs boson. They have spent six decades trying to confirm what is called the Standard Model of particle physics. The Higgs boson is the last remaining piece in the jigsaw of particles predicted by the theory.


"It has unhelpfully become known as the God Particle. The hype around it fits into the ideology of a quest for a Theory of Everything -- an idea that carries almost theological significance for some physicists.


"But it's possible the discovery may not neatly confirm the theory, but expose its contradictions and point towards new theories. The theory predicted the existence of a large number of sub-atomic particles, only a few of which can be observed in normal matter. Finding the others meant creating a 'particle soup' through high-energy collisions in gigantic particle accelerators.


"Since 2000 it only remained to discover the Higgs boson, the particle which gives all matter its mass. This was a mammoth task, because the Higgs boson was predicted to decay too quickly to be observed directly. But we can see the particles it decays into.


"Scientists compared the particles they expected to see if the Higgs boson had been present with those they'd expect if it didn't exist. They have discovered a new particle. And this new particle corresponds very closely to the predictions for the Higgs boson. But it also appears to have some properties that don't quite match.


"The discovery points towards new theories and new hunts to embark on. For example the theory of 'supersymmetry' suggests that we may have found just one of five different Higgs bosons. That gives the Large Hadron Collider plenty to do before it shuts for a two year refit at the end of this year.




"Science progresses through contradictions and revolutions. New evidence and new ideas are constantly exposing contradictions within the theories that are widely accepted. These contradictions open the door to overturning the old theory with a new one that fits better -- until the cycle is repeated and a new scientific revolution is needed to go beyond that theory in turn.


"The Standard Model itself came out of an attempt to reconcile one of the fundamental contradictions in 20th century physics -- between Einstein's theory of general relativity and the strange new observations of quantum mechanics.


"It is easy to fall into one of two traps. One is the narrow focus that scientists are often pressured to take in order to prove the practical value of their research for the purpose of funding. The other is the mysticism that saw even Stephen Hawking argue that with the right theory scientists could know 'the mind of God'.


"Frederick Engels argued that 'Natural science developed in the midst of general revolution and was itself thoroughly revolutionary'. [Quoting Engels (1954), p.22 -- RL] The scientific breakthroughs of giants like Galileo and Newton took place in the context of the rise of the capitalist bourgeoisie against the old feudal order.


"New social and productive forces raised new arguments. As Engels put it, although 'production owes to owes infinitely more to production'. [Quoting Engels (1954), p.185 -- RL.]


"Today we also see how capitalism can distort science and hold it back. Duplication of effort between competing scientists, and between states, diverts resources. And to get funding in universities, scientists have to look to research with obvious profitable applications, or which fits in to the most fashionable theories. So while we celebrate the new breakthroughs, we should also look forward to the scientific revolutions that would be possible in a society based on cooperation around human need." [Socialist Worker, 2311, 14/07/2012, p.10. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Several paragraphs merged to save space. Links added.]


[See also the article on this subject in the Appendix.]


Much of the above will be discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two (when it is published). However, anyone who accepts DM must in the end disagree with the above conclusions about the development of science. Here is why (this is an edited version of a letter a supporter of this site sent to Socialist Worker):

If nature is fundamentally contradictory, then dialecticians can't in fact distinguish those contradictions that reflect nature accurately from those that are simply the product of a defective theory, the acceptance of which would hold up scientific development.

On the other hand, if dialecticians think nature is fundamentally contradictory (which they do), then why offer advice to physicists that they should conduct more research to remove contradictions in a theory if that theory reflects the fact that nature is contradictory? Surely, the more 'true' a theory is the more it should reflect the contradictions they think exist in nature. Hence, a 'true' theory should contain more contradictions than one that isn't. But, if science progresses by removing such contradictions, then this should produce theories that tell us that nature isn't contradictory, after all!

Alternatively, if scientists do not remove such contradictions, perhaps on the grounds that a contradictory theory should reflect contradictory nature more accurately (i.e., if they take the advice on offer from dialecticians), then this would permanently hold up the progress of science.

We can call this The Dialecticians' Dilemma, for which there is no solution -- if, that is, we take advice on science and philosophy from Hegel and/or Engels. [More details here and here.]


They chose not to publish it. No prizes for guessing why.


22. By the way, if there is a Marxist Un-Dialectical Activities Committee that decides on such matters, it will need to convene reasonably quickly to decide whether or not the aforementioned Higgs Boson 'objectively' exists. [On this topic, see the last three Notes, above] However, if this theoretical entity is no longer to be considered 'objective' then the Standard Model (already under serious threat, so we are told) cannot survive, and things like the Higgs Field will also need to be tippexed out of the "Totality". [Cf., New Scientist, 08/12/01, Leader Article, p.3.] Alternative, rival theories to the Standard Model have already been constructed, and are waiting patiently in the wings to take over. [On this see here, here, and here.] The problem is: which of these alternatives represents or 'reflects' the 'objective' "Totality"?


Update June 2011: The BBC now reports the following:


"The head of the US' biggest particle physics lab has appointed an expert committee to establish whether or not a new, unanticipated sub-atomic particle has been detected by scientists. Such a discovery, hinted at by experts in April, would mark one of the most radical changes to physics in years. But separate science teams at the Tevatron accelerator are at loggerheads over the matter. The Tevatron is the US rival to Europe's Large Hadron Collider (LHC).


"The American machine is operated by the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois. Two separate multi-purpose detectors -- or experiments -- analyse data from particle collisions at the Tevatron: DZero and CDF. Each can cross-check the other team's discoveries.


"The committee, set up by Fermilab director Pier Oddone, will aim to resolve the differences between scientists working on the CDF and DZero experiments. The panel members will 'compare notes', aiming to determine the cause of the signal seen by CDF team members, but not by DZero physicists. Professor Giovanni Punzi, co-spokesperson for the CDF team, told BBC News: 'DZero did not confirm our result, but it is not clear they reject it either. So we need to do more work and look at more data.'


"He said the estimated size of the 'excess' -- the possible signal of a new particle -- seen by CDF was affected by a large statistical uncertainty. Because of this, he said, 'it is quite likely that the disagreement [between the CDF and DZero analyses] is not nearly as large as it appeared at first glance'.


"Comparing notes


"The CDF team was analysing data from collisions between protons and their anti-matter counterparts antiprotons. In these collisions, particles known as W bosons are produced, along with a pair of 'jets' of other particles. It was in these jets that the