by Ralph Dumain

Dedicated in memoriam to Lisa Rogers
25 August 1961 - 15 September 1996

Emergence may be the key ontological topic of our time. The notion of emergent properties is not a new one, but there seems to be more technical work on the concept than ever before. This blog tracks my ongoing information-gathering and commentary on the philosophical, ideological, and social issues surrounding emergence, and constitutes one segment of a larger project. I make no pretense of contributing to the technical development of emergentist formulations. My focus is on the historical reconstruction and the philosophical and ideological role of emergentism in the social ecology of ideas.

Curiously, much of the literature on the subject—including encyclopedia articles—is spotty and heavily biased in citing its history.  In standard reference sources there is a focus on the British emergentists, and no mention at all of Hegel, Engels, or any Soviet work.  Part of this I think is due to the provincialism of Anglo-American philosophy.  Another failure of the literature is to make a clear distinction between the mystical idealist versions of emergentism and emergent materialism. 

While I believe in the fruitfulness of emergent materialism, I remain wary of speculative/idealist/mystical constructions of the concept. I will also make reference to the increasing focus on "cosmic evolution" (especially in the more sensationalist popularizations of cosmology) at the one end and cognitive science / artificial intelligence at the other end of the scientific spectrum , which relate directly or indirectly to emergentism. Emergentism in its materialist role may provide resolutions to certain dilemmas while in its mystifying role create new problems. Tracking emergentism and its constellation of issues is another way of tracking the philosophical dualisms that pervade our intellectual culture and the legitimate and mystifying ways in which scientists and philosophers attempt to transcend them.

In line with the issue of mystification is the notion of alienated consciousness and social existence of technical specialists, which may be manifested in their intellectual work, and/or in the face they present to the general public. The widest social perspective pertains to the role of scientists, philosophers, and other intellectuals in the social division of labor as well the role of the intellectual disciplines themselves. Emergence thus fits as a component into my larger work in progress on the place of science and scientific ideologies in the cultural system as a whole since the Scientific Revolution. One tie-in is a novel interpretation and application of Marx's early remarks on science. If there is any originality in this project, it is in the specific way I am attempting to relate all these elements.

This is an edited compilation of a series of e-mails written for various discussion lists.  This will serve as raw material for a more coherent presentation at some point.  Identifying information of discussants other than myself has been almost entirely removed. Anyone wishing his/her name to be associated with quoted comments please inform me. This collective compilation begins with a big chunk of e-mails up to 25 February 2005.  Subsequent entries will be added individually, many also edited from various e-mails. (RD—27 Feb 2005)



17 June 2006 - 3 Feb 2007

2 June 2005 - 14 August 2005

23 Feb 2005 -
3 June 2005
(this page)


Date: Fri, 03 Jun 2005 20:52:38 -0400
Subject: Re: O, Dialectics! nearing the end game

At 07:17 PM 6/3/2005 -0400, chris wright wrote:
Materialism is not irrelevant, but abstract materialism is not terribly relevant. Of course, being in the physics stuff it may be more important. The dominant tendency in biology, sociobiology, is defiantly materialist, however, and on creationism as utter nonsense, the sociobiologists and the radicals have no disagreement. And it needs to be fought, but it is fought on the grounds of the specific science and the politics behind it is not always clear to the scientists at all. There is an interesting discussion of the different attitude towards religious sentiment by the Gould faction and the sociobiology lot in The Darwin Wars and it is very interesting. The real problem with the religious stuff, IMO, is not the theism, per se, but the "why now" kind of stuff.

Gould was much too soft on religion and philosophically incoherent. The liberals who fight creationism know that it is right-wing, and in any case the battle for secularism must be a united front. My guess is your criticism is that the defenders of evolutionary biology have no explanation as to why the right is in ascendancy and irrationalism dominates. However, my guess is that an anti-capitalist rant is no more likely to be successful than a militant atheist one, in the USA, at any rate.

I am not confusing them unintentionally. The point of matter is that some kinds of objectively existing matter only exists because of us . . . . . . . . Do you expect me to believe that that transformation took place without human thought? Is the manipulation merely physical?

Well, strictly, speaking, manipulation of the physical world is physical. But then, when you bring in human activity, we are back to the mind-body problem, as to how intelligent action is effected. That's a different issue, though.

Hardly, this is exactly where the treatment of the objective material world as "matter" is rather metaphysical. It tends to involve an infinite regress: what is the fundamental particle? Where does it stop? If we treat the problem in this fashion, that is where we end up and that is not very fruitful.

This is a distraction. If the material world = matter + energy, it is still not ideal or spiritual. The fundamental particle is not even at issue here. Damn, this sounds like my Popperian friends.

Do they? If so where? And theory would then undergird that theory? This is where practical reflexivity comes into play, and I think the point is in line with that idea.

Well, don't both Marx and Hegel recognize that the emergence of their theorizing at their specific points in time is determined by social conditions?

But that is a relatively different matter. Is our problem to have a correct theory of our own to put forward, or to have a standpoint from which to challenge or critique theorizing? After all, the limit of Gil's point is that we also critique the abstract materialists, and just as harshly. Is it a wonder that sociobiology's materialism itself ends up rather religious in sentiment, following on the critique of abstract atheism, of which Dennet, for example, is extremely guilty?

Dawkins is just as bad with his memes. He has an ethical ideal of human conduct, which for him is contrary to his view of evolution. There's a dualism there he can't seem to get beyond.

. . . . I don't know what a Marxist critique vs. a generic critique is supposed to be, unless a Marxist critique provides a sociological explanation for positivist tendencies.

Yeah, I was aiming to paraphrase what a proper critique of Mach would do, which would be to develop from the actual relations of life from the corresponding philosophical forms of those relations.

Again, the only thing this could mean to me is a sociological accounting for the positivism of the 19th century.

Indeed, but then is Marxism's domain galaxies? No, as you said above. So our interest in science is not in providing an ontology for it, but in it as a form of social practice.

I'm not sure if I've forwarded all my critiques of the ridiculous popular lectures on cosmology I've attended over the past year. There is an intermediate step you've overlooked, though it's implicit in your critique of sociobiology. The "social practice" of science is not a clear term, for it includes everything from the scientific content to the economic and social organization of research. But part of critique is critique of cognitive content when it goes awry. If there is social content to the pervasiveness of obscurantism, e.g. per Michio Kaku, then that would be an object of investigation for Marxism, too. I think there is a relationship between social disintegration and intellectual disintegration. It is palpable to me every time I attend a lecture.

Indeed, I never claimed they weren't liberals. They are mostly materialists and exactly of the kind defending metaphysical materialist critiques of religion and theism of the sort taken up in the article I posted a link to at the end of all this.

The liberal secular humanist movement has never been able to get to the bottom of the social roots of irrationality. Their critiques are valid as far as they go, but they have no social theory.

But are we clear? And on what terms do we differentiate that reality? The discussion really revolves around what constitutes idealism versus materialism, and my argument is that a rigorous objective idealism can be as sanguine about the objectively existing material world of nature as an abstract materialist. Once we pass perceptualism and sensationalism, we are into different territory. As such, to claim Lenin's point as sufficient for materialism strikes me as actually wholly inadequate except at a rather crude level. As such, Lenin goes no further than the sociobiology folks.

Well, this depends on the range of Lenin's claims. I don't know where he does it, but Lenin doesn't hold to strict physicalism. As for the differentiation of materialism and objective idealism, the key ontological question is whether the material world is a product of an ideal realm, or whether ideality is a product of the material world. The epistemological question is the validity of the basis of our categorization and conceptual structures of the entities and relations of the world.

Reference: The Darwin Wars: The Scientific Battle for the Soul of Man by Andrew Brown (Simon & Schuster, October 5, 2001).

Date: Thu, 02 Jun 2005 13:14:27 -0400
Subject: Re: O, Dialectics!

I'm several steps behind in this thread. But beginning from the beginning . . . .

The initial "problem" here is the lack of specificity of the assertion, but it's more of a problem when people don't pay careful attention to the wording.

Note the double-assertion here:

(1) People distinguish themselves from animals by means of labor (the essential defining characteristic)

(2) This distinction is "conditioned by their physical organisation."

So actually, labor is not the defining characteristic as a bare abstraction. The qualification about physiology implies all the old stuff: Man is distinguished by language, brain capacity, opposable thumbs, upright gait, menstrual cycle, etc. Indeed, labor for humans as opposed to beavers is an impossibility without the requisite physiology, which is a problem for evolutionary biology to solve.

So Charles begins with a correction:

What distinguishes humans from other animials is culture, language and methods of passing on experiences from one generation to the next.

This is the essential point. The question about subsistence/foraging is a subsidiary though important issue. If one uses the concept of labor loosely, then it legitimately becomes the starting point for the conception of historical materialism, which ultimately has to be united with evolutionary theory (Marx wrote this before Darwin hit the bookstands, let's remember), but which stands on its own as a methodology of social scientific explanation. The "one science" Marx cryptically alludes to in the 1944 mss is still not here, and it will not be the science of history as we know 'history'. All we have so far is the simple-minded conceptions of sociobiology, which oversimplifies a systems approach to the interaction of nature and culture. It also elides the mediating factor of conscious activity, and its historicity, in the relation of man and nature.

This is the issue I was fighting with Lisa about around the time of her death. As you may recall, Lisa was an evolutionary biologist. She was in the process of sussing out Engels' murky dialectics of nature, which she did not see as terribly productive—correctly—but she was also resistant to the importance of consciousness as a distinguishing characteristic of the human species. I pointed out to her "activity theory" as a perspective (I had recently heard Ethel Tobach speak about it at an APA meeting), but she was unsympathetic to the idea. Her speciality, BTW, was foraging (hunting and gathering) societies. Anyway, this was one of the last topics we discussed before her sudden death. Her efforts toward synthesis were, I think, inhibited by the philosophical naivete of evolutionary biologists and the scientific naivete of Marxists.

A few remarks now about emergent materialism. Note that Marx does not develop an ontology in the way that Engels does later on. Marx engages the mind-body problem and social organization as an emergent phenomenon to the extent he needs to do so to explain human activity and the nature of the money economy, in distinction to physical objects—artifacts which participate in a system of social relations, which cannot be grasped via the physical properties of the objects alone). Functionally, physicalism would be entirely useless as an ontological foundation of historical materialism and the analysis of political economy. This didn't stop Otto Neurath from adopting physicalism as the basis of his Marxism, which he attempts to justify in an essay on sociology anthologized in Ayer's Logical Positivism. I think it's [nonsense] myself. I've not read Neurath's book on the subject. But to reiterate, Marx doesn't get to a technical analysis of the mind-body problem; he begins from the observation that man is a conscious physical organism and proceeds from a conception of the nature of human activity historically conditioned by the social organization necessary to produce and reproduce his material existence.

Remember, by the time Engels' Anti-Duhring rolls around, the intelligentsia is filled up with pseudo-evolutionist muck-a-muck oozing out of all its orifices. This is what he has to contend with, and thus he has to tackle a set of problems that Marx didn't have to worry much about in the 1840s and 1850s.

Let us also remember that the positivist tendencies of the late 19th century yielded a variety of rebellions, including those of irrationalism (Nietzsche and lebensphilosophie), phenomenology (Husserl), and a backlash from the Catholic Church (ultimately Neo-Thomism). Only Marxism—with all of its defects under the 2nd International—held the line against both positivism and irrationalism. But 'Marxism', an artifact of German social democracy, in staking out and defending its territory, was no more positioned to engage in a total synthesis of human knowledge any more than mainstream bourgeois thought was capable of accommodating Marxism. The other conceptual revolution of the time was in logic and foundations of mathematics, which, apart from its intrinsic evolution, was co-opted philosophically by the emergence of the analytical tradition, which adopted logic as its foundation while drowning in utter confusion on matters ontological, naively thinking it could simply sweep away metaphysics. The mess of the late 19th century set the stage for the philosophical developments of the 20th. We have still not overcome the consequences of fragmentation because we have yet to complete the reconstruction of intellectual history as an antidote to the intellectual historical amnesia from which we are all suffering. In Anglo-American philosophy we have this phony dichotomy of analytical and continental philosophy. The overcoming of this split is even phonier; it is predicated on the incursion of irrationalism into American philosophy on the one hand, and on the other, the tokenistic accommodation of irrationalism by the analytical establishment.

At 04:11 PM 5/31/2005 -0400, Charles Brown wrote:

[Quote from Marx:]
Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.

Actually this isn't quite true. The first human modes of production are termed "hunting and gathering" because humans do not produce their own subsistence, but rather gather what nature has produced without human intervention. , so to speak. That doesn't happen until tens of thousands of years after the origin of the human species with horticulture, farming and domestication of animals. . . .

Date: Wed, 25 May 2005 21:58:25 -0400
Subject: Re: Levins & Lewontin (was O, Dialectics!)

"Dialectical Nature: Reflections in Honor of the Twentieth Anniversary of Levins and Lewontin’s The Dialectical Biologist" by Brett Clark and Richard York (Monthly Review, vol. 57, no.1 , May 2005).

A couple of caveats:

Marx, through his studies of Greek natural philosophy—in particular Epicurus—and the development of the natural sciences, arrived at a materialist conception of nature to which his materialist conception of history was organically and inextricably linked.

I don't like this sentence at all.

These British scientists—Hyman Levy, Lancelot Hogben, J. D. Bernal, Joseph Needham, J. B. S. Haldane, and historian/philosopher of science Benjamin Farrington—struggled to retain within the emerging natural sciences the possibility of dialectical uncertainty, and within the ecological sciences a materialism that yet allowed for human action. Much of their work served as a critique of and challenge to the renewed idealism in the form of a vitalism that (while godless) was immersed in notions of a predetermined direction in natural and social evolution. While change was part of this vitalistic holism, the unfolding of the universe was seen by many as being guided by an inner purpose or teleology."

I've read of late that Needham was in fact influenced by holist, organicist, and vitalist philosophies at some point, such as Whitehead, Teilhard de Chardin, Taoism . . .

Bourgeois ideology, with its opposite poles of vitalism and mechanism, sought to justify existing social hierarchies, in terms of domination that was biologically derived and teleologically predetermined—whether in terms of racism, sexism, or some other form. The Marxist scientists in Britain fought against these distorted developments, and particularly against vitalistic views, advancing an approach that combined materialism with dialectics, scientific critique with radical worker education. Their focus on the dialectics of nature, though undeveloped and still at times insufficiently dialectical, was thus not a strange, deviant tangent of science as often alleged. It was central to many of the major scientific discoveries of the time and a source of critique of social dogmas.

We should learn more about how dialectics was central, and how it was underdeveloped. I'm not sure the proper term for the opposite of "vitalism" is "mechanism", but it's certainly the case that this polarity undergirds much of bourgeois ideology. The first issue is one of mystification, whether or not specific instances of either justify existing social hierarchies.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the article, at least as an introduction to its subject matter.

Date: Wed, 25 May 2005 13:57:21 -0400
Subject: Re: O, Dialectics! (and spleen)

On the second article referenced: Sociobiology: The New Religion by Dr. Richard J. Blackwell Department of Philosophy [presented at the ITEST Conference on The State of the Art in March, 1980].

The author lucidly outlines the dilemmas involved in Wilson's position, but I find his argument inconclusive. Scientific materialism is not a religion, and if a certain brand of scientist can only assert it as a form of faith, I conclude that the scientist as well as the religionist has failed to transcend the philosophical antinomies of bourgeois society, which come to a head at the point at which natural science meets the subject-object relation. Marx addressed this issue philosophically (though not in a full-blown scientific manner) in the 1844 manuscripts. Engels was essentially engaged in trying to formulate a non-mystical materialist emergentism combatting the pseudo-scientific evolutionary confusionisms of the late 19th century. The author of this article breaks off just at the point where he needs to begin to analyze why Wilson's attempt to analyze religion as a branch of genetics cannot succeed.

Date: Wed, 25 May 2005 13:39:20 -0400
Subject: Re: O, Dialectics! (and spleen)

Just a note on "Against Sociobiology" by Tom Bethell (First Things 109 (January 2001): 18-24) (a reactionary Catholic mag, right?). The article is remarkably lucid, but I want to call attention to a couple of paragraphs:

You might think that the left would welcome the inclusion of altruism and cooperation in the Darwinian scheme. But sociobiologists had framed the argument in terms of genes, which seemed too deterministic. How could a New Society be built if our tiny masters, lurking inside every cell, hold us (as Wilson said) “on a leash”? Such a vision could only discourage the advocates of revolutionary change.

This misrepresents the intrinsic logic of the problem, though it may well represent the actual leftist response.

The left­wing animus against sociobiology becomes understandable once we look at its major defect in a political light. Sociobiology “explains” (in a very weak sense of that word) whatever exists. But as Marx said, the left wants to change the world, not explain it. The world that exists, filled as it is with injustice, must be replaced by something better; a world without inequality, for example. Existing qualities of human nature—the dissimilar attitudes of men and women toward sexual intercourse, for example—can be explained by the usual, unvarying, and unfalsifiable formula. The trait arose by accident, then was selected for. But the raison d’être of the left is to champion states, conditions, and attitudes that do not exist—gender egalitarianism, say. The sociobiologists’ retort that these things don’t exist either because the requisite genes never did exist, or (fatal flaw) were not selected for, puts the left on the defensive. So the whole field of sociobiology suffers from a bias against the potential and in favor of the actual, and in that sense it’s true that it does have a “conservative” bias.

While part of this argument is sound, there's a fatal flaw: that the reason for objection to sociobiology is one solely of political will, not scientific method itself, though this is part of the argument as well. I strongly object to this statement: "But as Marx said, the left wants to change the world, not explain it." It's wrong about Marx, and it's wrong about the issue. As to the "left", well, we need to get down to cases.

The article shows its Catholic bias by fingering materialism as the weakness of the leftist scientists who would endanger Darwinism itself by attacking sociobiology, and thus they must weaken their own case. (Lewontin taught a class on heritability and scientific racism I attended in 1975. I have at least one of his books, but I'm not up to date on him.) Otherwise, the article is quite good, though the conclusion as to the coexistence of religion and science is deceptive.

Now, if you put together the analysis in this article with the conceptually confused debates on "dialectics" here, perhaps, with luck, you will see what the issues really are. As a side benefit, the article shows up the strengths and weaknesses of Popper, and also implicitly demonstrates the relationship between testability and the structure of theoretical concepts. Hegel, Marx, and Engels addressed the structuring of theories, outstripping the naive empiricist conceits of the time. Marx addressed the theoretical deficiencies of German idealism and political economy. Engels furthermore had to combat the pseudo-evolutionary concoctions of the latter third of the 19th century in order to defend a coherent historical materialist sociological conception. Sad to say, the fragmented development of philosophy in the past 150 years, replicating the fragmentation of the social world itself, has not fostered a situation in which the accumulated history of conceptual confusion could be straightened out once and for all.

Date: Mon, 23 May 2005 23:57:13 -0400
Subject: Re: O, Dialectics!

Any of these in turn: false, trivial, elementary. The silliest examples are those which make little sense: the seed is the negation of the negation; imaginary numbers are the negation of the negation. There are better examples which never get beyond the elementary: water -> steam = quantitative -> qualitative change. I'm not bothered by this, though Sartre has an interesting counter-argument in his 1946 essay "Materialism and Revolution." The problem is, what use is it to prove the truth of a dialectical law by means of such isolated examples? There has to be some overall systematic way in which an analysis makes a difference to adopt a dialectical conception. Most of these examples taken from natural phenomena are either logically flawed or fairly trivial or both. Hence "silly".

A more productive approach would be to criticize the logical structure of an interlocking system of concepts as being an inadequate characterization of a complex whole. But this has nothing to do with putting some real world event in one-to-one correspondence with some dialectical law.

The second consideration is the type of phenomenon under investigation. Engels' unfortunate formulation of a unified system of dialectical laws governing nature, society, and thought obscures the issues and vitiates whatever virtues can be found in his version of emergent materialism, which was historically important in delineating qualitative distinctions that would show how historical materialism—the analysis of social organization and its development—functioned as opposed to the confused logical structure of the vulgar biologism and ersatz evolutionism that ran rampant in the second half of the 19th century. Biologism and evolution became master metaphors at that time as mechanics had become earlier, and thus the formation of a proper unified scientific perspective as biology was added to the scientific revolutions in physics and chemistry, and social theory/science (beyond political economy) was in its embryonic stages.

A pure dialectic of nature sans society and mind (which is where emergent materialism becomes most crucial and remains so) may serve some function, as a counter to mystification and philosophical confusion, but the generic issues involved are not so easily formulated in concrete terms, and the non-sociological (i.e. theological, metaphysical, epistemological) mystifications matter in a more general world-view sense. For example, the late 19th century saw a more unified picture of forms of energy (though I can't recall whether electromagnetism and kinetic energy fit into a consistent unified system at the time—I've lost the relevant brain cells), a unity which Engels for reasons I don't recall felt the need to address. And this was before the crisis in physics that led to the revolutionary developments of the 20th century kicked in, though a questioning of basic concepts was afoot. In what sense can we say that Engels latched onto the key philosophical dilemmas embedded in the physical world picture? What mystifications did he address and what conceptual developments did he anticipate (that involve only physics and chemistry—for the purpose of argument)?

Let's fast-forward to Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Lenin attacks the mystifications surrounding of recent philosophies of science and the nascent mystifications of brand-new developments. He claims that a conceptual revolution is under way that will radically change our picture of the physical world and understanding of its basic elements and their interrelations. These conceptual difficulties show that a dialectical world picture of the physical world must emerge. In a vague, generic sense his prediction was correct--the interconvertibility of mass and energy, the intimate relation of space and time and ultimately matter/energy, wave-particle duality, the uncertainty principle, the principle of complementarity. Paradox upon paradox builds up as physics evolves in the next century.

My point here is: to analyze the structure of whole systems of concepts and physical interrelationships is a far more sophisticated endeavor that to take isolated examples of specific entities and transformations as validating instances of a dialectical law. The problem is then to match up in a systematic and sufficiently delineated manner the logical relationships implicit from a dialectical perspective with the specific logical structures of scientific theories. This is customarily not done, because the customary practice is to match up nebulous philosophical sloganeering with empirical or theoretical scientific examples. Hence dialectics never has more than an intuitive feel, or, alternatively, bogs down in crudely delineated logical arguments.

And remember that so far I am restricting the discussion to physics and chemistry. "Marxism" has a world-view interest in what goes on here, even though it lacks a direct scientific competence in these areas and a mandate to interfere. And of course natural scientific knowledge is an ineluctable component of the overall world picture and cannot be sundered from social scientific and culturological knowledge, though qualitative distinctions are discernable. And there there is the role of science—and images of science—in the overall ideological life of society, which is where metaphorical extension and mystification play a part. "Marxism" wants to know why scientific theory turns into mysticism at the hands of bargain basement philosophers and popularizers.

Once we get to the more arcane problems of biological entities, including the emergence of conscious, intelligent life—mind and society—the urgency of an emergent materialist perspective (one aspect of dialectics) and the structural interrelationships within complex phenomena (also codified in the word "dialectics") becomes more serious and the arguments more compelling.

The basic flaw in the kindergarten arguments to which we are accustomed lies in a simple minded triangulation of formal logic, 'dialectical logic', and empirical examples. But, I argue, what makes dialectics 'dialectical' is a categorial overview of conceptual structures on a systemic scale--the structural interrelationships of systems of concepts and their interpretation.

Sorry for the profusion of rather abstract, nebulous language, but I can't find another way to sketch what I'm getting at with as much brevity.

At 03:50 PM 5/17/2005 -0400, Charles Brown wrote:

[Dumain:] Engels characterized dialectics as the science of universal interconnection and elsewhere as the process of analysis and synthesis. He had the right idea, which entails a far more subtle level of analysis than the infamous three dialectical laws and hosts of silly examples. Lenin characterized dialectics as the breaking up of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts, which, while not very specific, captures the spirit of the thing.

CB: Serious question: In what sense can an example of dialectic be "silly" ? Do you mean "elementary" ? "Trivial" ? "False" ?

Date: Fri, 20 May 2005 13:14:08 -0400
Subject: Re: O, Dialectics!

Some comments interleaved:

At 12:16 PM 5/20/2005 -0400, Charles Brown wrote:
The demonstration that Mach is an idealist in general is the main thesis of Lenin's book Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. I don't know whether a reiteration of the main arguments is worthwhile here. .........................

One thinks of Marx's comments about the need for abstraction to make up for inability to directly observe in certain aspects of science. Marx was talking about political economy, but it applies to natural sciences. Just as the fact that we cannot as individuals directly observe the whole of economic life doesn't thwart a science of it, neither does the indirect inference of the existence of atoms mean that they are metaphysical concepts. Much of astronomy involves indirect observation and inference. Basically anytime instruments such as microscopes and telescopes are used, there is an inference, not a direct observation.

I don't think it was just the existence of atoms at stake. Mach was stuck in the rut of phenomenalism. Dodging the materialist position, Mach attempted to redefine matter as permanent possibilities of sensation.

Einstein essentially has the same position as Lenin on the philosophical dispute Lenin takes up in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism


Our terminology is that Einstein is a "materialist", with respect to atoms. . . . upholding the absoluteness of space and time are not part of what defines a materialist position. Lenin defines materlialism as belief in objective reality outside of our thoughts, not belief in absolute space and time.

I believe you are correct here.

Never said Einstein had a preconceived ideology. In fact, the point to be made here is that Einstein's arriving at a materialist ( your "realist") position based on, as you say, the dictation of science, is pretty powerful independent corroboration of the Engels-Lenin philosophy of science positions. Without starting out thinking as Engels and Lenin, the great thinker and scientist, Einstein, arrives at the same conclusions as Engels and Lenin, and based on actual scientific work, very high quality scientific experience.

I would word this differently. First, scientific conclusions and philosophical conclusions are not identical. Einstein in many respects converged with the (Marxist) materialist position in rejecting empiricism and inductivism. His early interest in Mach was based on the operationalization of basic concepts, hence a rethinking of the empirical meaning of time. Beyond that, Einstein rejected Mach's positivist philosophy. Einstein himself said that scientists are philosophical opportunists, taking from various philosophies what is useful to them. But yes, generically he can certainly be classified as a materialist. Einstein was a physicist, let's not forget, and while he wrote about economics and social affairs, and occasionally commented on the mind-body problem, he never worked out a position and thus never had anything to say about emergentism that I'm aware of. Engels & Lenin corroborate Einstein in the generic sense that both realized early on that scientific developments were going to force a new conception of science. This has happened in a variety of ways. See for example Milic Capek's (1961?) book on the philosophical impact of contemporary physics, as only one example. Now physics and cosmology are in a turmoil, and physicists are openly admitting the need for a revolutionary new theory to account for dark matter/energy. They seem to be tremendously naive philosophically, but the beauty of even the most confused science are the mechanisms of accountability for making empirical data cohere with mathematical formalisms, constructing some kind of physical models, however bizarre, so that science can progress even when people don't really know what they're talking about.


What scientific theory does Lenin dismiss on philosophical grounds in M&EC? None. He criticizes empirio-criticism, a philosophical theory. He doesn't criticize any physical theories, Mach's or others, in M&EC. He only says the new physical theories of that period are not a basis for ditching materialism ( your realism), as Mach does.

I believe you are correct here.

As for Einstein's "realism" it was case by case. Einstein took no position on "materialism," the idea that everything in the world is in some sense material.

Lenin's definition of materialism in M&EC is belief in the existence of objective reality. Einstein believes in the objective reality of atoms, which he specifically disputed with Mach, who coincidently was the main target of Lenin's book on the general issue that the atoms issue is a specific example of.

Einstein made some statements that evince belief in God. That would be non-materialism.

Lenin terms Mach a Kantian , i.e. dualist, shamefaced materialist, agnostic. Einstein may have been more dualist, just not on atoms.

I don't recall whether Einstein said it explicitly, but I'm pretty sure Einstein did think that everything in the world was material. As for belief in God, Einstein was a Spinozist, and thus his "God" was a vague impersonal concept. But I don't recall Einstein suggesting that God was non-material or spiritual in nature. I don't think Einstein really thought out this position very carefully.

Date: Mon, 16 May 2005 13:25:15 -0400
Subject: Re: O, Dialectics!

My recent encounters with Popperians and others reared in dominant traditions of Anglo-American philosophy of science, from which Marxism is excluded, have convinced me that a whole different approach is required. Indeed, a rapprochement between analytical philosophy and dialectical traditions is badly needed, but I envision the task differently from Philipp Frank as well as from the classic expositions of dialectics of nature.

Dialectics thinks the totality, the relationships connecting categories, and the structural relations and dependencies of concepts. This is precisely what bourgeois scientific philosophy lacks, and in the social sciences, the lack is egregious. The old (Popperian) saws of testability, criticizability, prediction, etc. are impoverished canons of scientificity, and we need to dig deeper. What matters about dialectics is its overall view of conceptual interrelationships, and for this the old shibboleths of dialectics of nature are kindergarten exercises.

But dialectics is also needed to combat the flip side of bourgeois philosophy, mystical organicism a la Bradley, Whitehead, biosemiotics, etc.

Engels characterized dialectics as the science of universal interconnection and elsewhere as the process of analysis and synthesis. He had the right idea, which entails a far more subtle level of analysis than the infamous three dialectical laws and hosts of silly examples. Lenin characterized dialectics as the breaking up of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts, which, while not very specific, captures the spirit of the thing.

This past weekend our local philosophy group, populated by both camps of bourgeois philosophy, debated the topic of the relationship of philosophy and science. I could not be present due to personal tragedy, but from the synopsis I heard the discussion was pretty sterile. I can thus see the urgency of combining a dialectical perspective with serious (but confused and incomplete) mainstream philosophy of science. Bourgeois thought, including pragmatism, is bankrupt, but it provides the raw materials for a working over by a more comprehensive approach.

Further comments interleaved:

At 12:08 PM 5/16/2005 -0400, Crosspost :)
O, Dialectics!
Jim Farmelant
It looks like that we are getting on Marxmail, reprisals of some of the great debates concerning Marxist philosophy. In this case, debates over the nature and scope of dialectics and whether or not there is such a thing as the dialectics of nature. Certainly, we have seen from both sides, arguments more than a little reminiscent of the ones featured in the debates of the German Social Democrats of the late 19th century, when Engels and Duhring were duking it out, as well as later on when Lenin and Bogdanov fought over the compatibility of Marxism with Machism, and later when the Mechanists and the Dialecticians fought it out in the Soviet Union during the 1920s (http://www.mail-archive.com/marxism-thaxis@lists.econ.utah.edu/msg00529.html).

It is interesting to note that the logical empiricist physicist/philosopher, Philipp Frank proposed a rapproachment between Machism and dialectical materialism in his 1940s book, Modern Science and Its Philosophy. He was certainly critical of diamat as a philosophy of science, regarding it as inferior to his own logical empiricism. On the other hand, like Otto Neurath before him, he was not unsympathetic towards Marxism, at least in its Austro-Marxist form. In Modern Science and Its Philosophy, he had a chapter, "Logical empiricism and the philosophy of the Soviet Union," in which he presented a surprisingly sympathetic account of diamat; basically treating it as an allied philosophy with logical empiricism. Indeed, he seemed to think that dialectical materialists had always overstated their differences with Machism and that: "In reality, Lenin took issue with Machism because it is in many respects related to diamat, and he considered it especially suitable for him to bring out his own teachings very sharply by means of a polemic against it."

In Frank's view, the two-sided war that the dialectical materialists were carrying out against both idealism and mechanistic materialism was the very same one that the logical empiricists were engaged in at the same time.

This seems like an odd assertion. Carnap completely dismissed all metaphysical concerns, and I don't recall the others in a war with mechanistic materialism.

In his view, the dialectical materialists were hampered in this war by their embracing of Engels' three laws of dialectics, which in Frank's view carried the "germ of idealism," and which led necessitated, even within the Soviet Union, a perpetual struggle against "idealistic deviations."

Well, they were hampered in the way they took Engels' formulations as holy writ. And those real scientists who embraced diamat were rendered incapable of rendering their notions sufficiently precise. They understood the general sensibility, but stuck with the authority assumed by the USSR, they traded off of ambiguity while tailing dogmatism.

In Frank's opinion a rapproachment between diamat and logical empiricism was possible to the extent that dialectical materialists would be willing to deemphasize the three laws of dialectics and to the extent that they would be willing to avoid describing matter as something that exists objectively, as opposed to instead of speaking in terms of intersubjective propositions.

But this is all wrong. Dialectical laws aside, the Marxist position on matter is the correct one, and Frank is full of beans.

Likewise, logical empiricists, in Frank's view ought to be willing to admit the usefulness of dialectical thinking.

Meaning what, though?

Both dialectical materialists and logical empiricists should, for Frank, be willing to endorse what he called the "doctrine of concrete truth," in which the truth of propositions is judged in terms of the practical conclusions that follow from them, with their validity being assessed in terms of their consequences for practical life.

I don't think this is a valid conception of concreteness. I recognize an implicit reference to Lenin, but even there the analogy is naive.

Frank noted the similarities of the "doctrine of concrete truth" to the doctrines of the American pragmatists, and so he suggested that logical empiricism, pragmatism, and dialectical materialism ought to be regarded as allied philosophies.

What nonsense. Of course, we have a one-man example of the alliance of the latter two in young Sidney Hook.

Of course it should be noted that there was a history between Frank and Lenin. When Frank was only about 24 years old, Lenin singled him out for criticism in his Materialism and Empiriocriticism, when he attacked him as a Kantian, for having embraced Poincare's conventionalism.

(There is a story, that decades later during the McCarthy period, when Frank came under investigation by the FBI for his support for progressive causes, Frank pointed out this passage to the special agents who were assigned to speak with him, and that seemed to leave them satisfied).

On the other hand, it seems to me that the dialectical materialist tradition addressed certain issues that were not necessarily dealt with in the most satisfactory manner in the logical empiricist and analytical philosophy traditions: for example the issue of emergentism versus reductionism. I remember Ralph Dumain pointing out . . . that most of the anglophone literature on this issue neglects the contributions of Hegel, Engels and indeed of the Soviets, while focusing most of its attention to the British emergentists.

Right, and I also said the standard reference works fail to distinguish between materialist and idealist emergentism. We have representative of both in our group. I will add that our main Popperian, following Popper, rejects "materialism" as a label for his position based on the very limited way the term is usually applied in this neck of the woods.

The overall point is that all wings of bourgeois philosophy are inadequate for fulfilling the synthetic functions of philosophy. The Soviets had their limits and were severely held back by dogmatism and repression, but the very fact that they had to show themselves superior to the dominant ideologies of the west meant that they could at least criticize the assumptions, structures, and dynamics of the various schools of bourgeois philosophy. Immersed in the bourgeois capital of the world, and coming into contact with the type of intellectuals I do, I can testify to their bankruptcy on all profound issues. And I'll add I've never met a pragmatist who was capable of stringing two coherent thoughts together.

Date: Tue, 10 May 2005 11:13:53 -0400
Subject: Re: May 9 book talk: is pop culture making us smarter?

Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson's book talk was videotaped and will probably end up on C-Span. He gave an overview of his book, beginning with an autobiographical account of a baseball dice game he played as a child back in the 1970s, before the age of video games, which, although its content was banal, exercised his mental operations to the point where he is convinced his intellectual faculties were improved as a result. His book is an attempt to interject a different viewpoint into the debate whether key aspects of popular culture—video games and television—are bad or worse. Television reached its nadir in the late '70s, when network executives programmed dullness and banality under the assumptions of Least Offensive Programming, but the market now operates on longevity (syndication, DVD sales, weblogs, etc.) and capitalizes on the fact that people really want to be challenged. Television, for example, has become much more complex and challenging, since the days when Hill Street Blues first baffled the critics with its plot complexities. In fact, people have become capable of processing exceedingly complex plot structures with subtle allusions to past events, and are willing to watch their favorite shows over and over in syndication or via videotapes and DVDs to capture all the nuances. An argument can be made that the interactivity of these media exercise the brain in ways in which print media cannot. IQ scores are up, and there are other indicators that people are becoming more intelligent, not less. As for the socially deleterious fallout from this culture—too much violence and exploitative sex—an argument can also be made that TV and video as causal factors really don't really count and that violent crime is down and moral values have not disappeared.

At the end of the book, and to a lesser extent in the talk, Johnson also engaged the downside, i.e. the virtues of print culture that video culture cannot match: the value of books for long involved logical argument, and the superiority of novels for detailing the inner life. He talked about the modernist novel and 19th century Russian novels and his own engagement with literature.

All this was interesting, and, within the parameters of his specific argument, intelligently argued. However, there was a fundamental contradiction in his thesis that I pointed out to him in the Q & A. (Most of the questioners were oldsters and skeptics.) His emphasis was on the exercise of formal cognitive operations (by which we exercise and thus develop our intelligence), but he admitted the sacrifice of content. Beginning with his noncomputerized baseball dice game, and moving on to the exceeding complexity and problem-solving requirements of computer games, and then to the complexities of contemporary television, all of this thrives on being challenged rather than dull and passive and in this respect develop's one's cognitive faculties. As with chess, the content doesn't matter, but rather the complexity of structural relationships. I made a mental note of this, and when he pointed out diagrams in the book by which one could compare the social mapping required to follow the TV series Dallas over two decades ago with the far more intricate structural relationships between characters in a contemporary TV series, it all came together for me.

And this is where I challenged him. I told him: you admit that the complexity of formal operations comes at the cost of content, but this is precisely the issue. Who cares how complex the formal structures of contemporary entertainment when the content becomes more and more infantile and idiotic? And you've left out the factor of critical thinking, which is exercised less and less. If you go back to the early 60s when I was growing up, you'll find, in spite of severe censorship and social restrictions, far better dramatic writing and developed characters. Television series had more real people in them, the acting was better and more focused, and the writing was more literate. The best dramatic series in American television was Route 66, with the most literate writing, the most pathos, the most intensity, the most human character, and that's what you don't have in the cartoonish world of today. Why? Because people who wrote for television did not grow up watching television and then got degrees in media studies; they grew up reading books and then lived real lives. Furthermore, literacy is the only means by which people have ever developed critical thought and personal identity. It is print culture that lifted people out of poverty and gave them individual identity.

While Johnson had no argument with the value of print culture, he disagreed with me on every other point. Tellingly, he was capable of referencing only the bad television of the '70s (and it was a low point, I wasn't even watching), and admitted he wasn't talking about the 'golden era' of TV in the '50s, to which he added the early '60s to cover my objection. I'm not sure how old he is, but obviously he's a good decade younger than me, which means his memory is shorter and his perspective different.

My guess is that the limitation of his perspective here has some deep relation with the likely content of his book on emergence. Both thrive on an uncritical relationship to the contemporary capitalist marketplace and the overarching political and economic logic of our time. His claim that we are better equipped to navigate contemporary complexities of social organization only means, as in video games, we are better equipped to survive a death-dealing structural complex without getting shot down, rather than to change it or even critically question its assumptions. And this is moral bankruptcy of the highest order.

Date: Mon, 09 May 2005 21:53:36 -0400
Subject: May 9 book talk: is pop culture making us smarter?

I just returned home from the book talk. I'll have more to say about it later. The author gave an oral overview of his argument. Most of the Q&A came from the older generation, not completely buying the argument. I pointed out a fundamental contradiction in the author's thesis. More on that to come.

For now, I should mention that not only do I not subscribe to conservative objectors to media/pop culture, but I also don't belong to the liberal (if that's what they are) fuddy-duddies like Neil Postman whose complaints about 'amusing ourselves to death' may contain valid objections but a rather superficial analytical basis. I know a little about Postman's media ecology graduate program and the socially responsible yuppies it attracts, and I find something about it as superficial as the video game culture it criticizes. But that too requires another disquisition.

Date: Mon, 09 May 2005 13:25:12 -0400
Subject: Re: May 9 book talk: is pop culture making us smarter?

You are referring to Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson. I think I have run across this title somewhere before. Frankly, it looks like hype and drivel to me, which seems to be what this author is into. I wonder how old he is, because he exhibits the superficiality so characteristic of the younger generation, that knows nothing but hype, bullshit, and meaningless distraction. . . .

. . . The problem I see here is a conflation of two meanings or applications of the term I tend to think of as different. This book apparently deals with emergent behavior, or the unpredictable patterns emerging from complex interactions. I think though that emergent properties historically referred to more fundamental ontological questions about the levels of organization of matter, studied by the sciences of physics, chemistry, biology, and the social and behavioral sciences. I don't see these two uses of the term 'emergence' as having the same referents. Emergent behavioral patterns, emergent entities, emergent laws of nature—are these all the same thing? I have my doubts, apart from the propagandistic dimension that this book seems to embody.

Date: Mon, 09 May 2005 05:47:57 -0400
Subject: Re: May 9 book talk: is pop culture making us smarter?

Upcoming book talk: Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson.

Aside from speed, stimulation of brain areas, etc., there are issues of the level of mental activity, reflectiveness, depth, and nervous distraction. (I doubt, BTW, that anyone found anything different about Einstein's brain once Einstein was no longer in it.) The video game mentality has proven quite useful for bombing civilian populations into oblivion on behalf of imperialist adventurism.

Otherwise, I see it as a harmful distraction for people rendered incapable of just being, of savoring their environment and the companionship of their neighbors, of keeping their minds clear of noise and chatter. I can still vaguely recall when the first computerized arcade games came out in the late 70s, at a time when I didn't own a television and spent time hiking in the woods. I had a bad feeling about this phenomenon then. I was reminded of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, which, inter alia, constituted criticism of just this mentality three decades earlier. But I guess I missed out on developing lightning fast reflexes suitable for participating in bombing raids and drive-by shootings. However, I have been told that I engage in lightning-fast thinking on a whole different level.

What this dumbass author describes is just the problem of the current "postmodern" generation: all stimuli are on the same level, there is no coherence, no reflectiveness, or depth, just navigating uncritically the surface-level logistics of a world gone psychotic. Really, it's sickening.

At 06:01 PM 5/7/2005 -0400, you wrote:
The same author has also written a book on emergence:
[Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson]

Fri, 29 Apr 2005 09:40:10 -0400
string theory lecture

I attended this lecture yesterday evening. The food at the reception was great, and not just the stuffed grape leaves. Eating too much of it made me drowsy and I lost consciousness a few times while listening to Nima Arkani-Hamed's presentation, and he talked overtime for 20-30 minutes. You should check the web page indicated for an abstract of his talk. Perhaps another time I'll attempt to elaborate on what I understood of 'naturalness', "fine tuning', the three scales, and the nature of the multiverse. Key to all this is the search for new physical principles to explain what goes on inside the Big Bang, as space and time are now seen as emergent properties, and the shift in what needs to be explained by physics overall, which is not physical laws as of old, but the parameters which govern them.

I always have doubts about popularizations of cosmologies, as most are very dubious, but this one was reasonably responsible, with minimal dipping into the actual science (a few equations). I remain philosophically skeptical of many claims, but the speaker emphasized the need for empirical testability of key aspects of the new string and supersymmetry theories. which will be enabled by the Large Hadron Collider in 2007. I've written elsewhere of what bothers me about strict mathematical/observational/experimental empiricism on one end running off into naive metaphysics at the other, but this was a more interesting presentation than most. However, I lost the logic of the discussion near the end when the speaker discussed the Anthropic Principle and declared himself an atheist in opposition. In the multiverse, a stable universe like ours is a rarity, just like intelligent life on a habitable planet is a rare accident in our universe, not necessarily requiring any deep explanation to explain its possibility (this is where parameters come in), so in terms of physical theory, our existence "matters" even less with the multiverse.

I'm assuming the reason he threw this in was because of the nature of the series of which this lecture was a part: AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion Seminar Series.

The physicist's lecture should have been enough for one evening, esp. since I was groggy digesting my food, but the second speaker, James B. Miller, took up the theology angle. While this very fact alone would have made me furious, he was pretty decent for the most part, disavowing all arguments for intelligent design and natural theology (e.g. Paley, 1802). He said this was the cardinal error of all attempts to colonize science for religion, to look for evidences of God from facts and theories about nature. Positive natural theology is a loser. But there is another kind, negative or 'postmodern', which has a different aim, to use the progress of science to falsify conceptions about God and the universe rendered obsolete by scientific knowledge, and to alter the metaphorical landscape of God talk. But finally he justified being 'religious' (spirituality) as opposed to 'religion' by indulging in semantic weaseling.

Finally, after all this, there were some questions from the audience. A former member of Café Philo, who was into Jung and 'ontology' (part of the 'anti-scientific wing' of Philo in its earlier days), was one of the questioners. I took off from Miller's tacit confession that religion has no place in science to question the need for Arkani-Hamed to even discuss it. Miller weaseled out of his confession with his ambiguous definition of religion, and Arkani-Hamed explained once again why accounting for parameters is the cutting edge of science now. Then, some obnoxious woman sounded like she was a product of a Great Books program declared herself a philosopher and took too much time arguing with both the speakers on science and the existence of God. Arkani-Hamed admitted he could tolerate deism, but as a pragmatist only cared about the issue insofar as religion treads on science's turf. I don't think this was an adequate response, but I also don't think many scientists are profound philosophers, which brings me to my next point.

If there were to be a dialogue at all, I think a philosopher of science should have participated, esp. in light of the perpetual problems of popularization in America, which is rarely divorced from religious obscurantism. This is a nation of illiterate know-nothing ignoramuses that need a good kick in the ass rather than a coddling. I am opposed to any dialogue of any kind between science and religion, and I take it as an alarming sign of the times when scientific societies waste their time with such nonsense. But AAAS is hip deep in such endeavors. There was a literature table outside the auditorium, on which there were several AAAS books, some just on evolution, others on science and religion. There was also promotional literature for the series, including several bookmarks, including a deceptive quotation from Einstein on the complementarity of science and religion. (Deceptive because Einstein was a Spinozist, and disavowed any reconciliation between science and 'religion' as we know it.) This is very dangerous business and to me represents cowardice in the face of the right-wing takeover of American society. I saw the same thing at work in the recent AAAS convention in which keynote speaker African-American physicist J. Sylvester Gates called for a respectful dialogue with religionists over evolution given the fact that the majority of Southern blacks are Baptists and that there should be no conflict between science and religion in their proper spheres. Behold the intellectual and moral bankruptcy into which the intellectuals this society produces has fallen.

At 11:41 AM 4/28/2005 -0400, Ralph Dumain wrote:
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Reception 5:15 p.m.
Lecture and Discussion 6:00-8:00 p.m.
American Association for the Advancement of Science
AAAS auditorium located at 1200 New York Avenue, NW
Naturalness versus the Superstring Landscape, or, Why Does The Universe Appear Finely Tuned?

Wed, 23 Mar 2005 09:01:35 -0500 (GMT-05:00)
Emergence, Pierce & pragmatism

Just stumbled onto this paper:

"Emergence Theories and Pragmatic Realism" (Draft version, February 2002. Comments welcome. Please do not quote.)

Date: Wed, 09 Mar 2005 14:38:54 -0500
Re: Van Heijenoort's critique of Engels

At 10:28 AM 3/9/2005 -0800, andie nachgeborenen wrote:
Lewontin, Kamin, and Rose are all first rate scholars, and the book is quite good in its substantive parts. But the so-called dialectics is some sort of ritual chant, and the history is potted and not altogether accurate.

Vitalism of any sort has been dead dead dead since the mid-late 19th century. Certainly no serious biologist has maintained any such notion in this century. Everyone agrees that there are no special vital properties that explain why organisms are alive. The dispute has been between crude reductionism and variants of sophisticated reductionism and emergent antireductionism. It is very hard to tell these positions apart when they are suitably qualified.

Well, there was Driesch in the '20s, but I suppose that wasn't serious. But some of this stuff—biosemiotics—is highly suspect, and I'm suspicious of process philosophy as well.

Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If dialectics can help, I'm in favor of it, though I have not seen any evidence that dialectics itself is more than an emergent property of a certain sort of usefully holistic thinking. I mean, it's a real enough phenomenon. Hegel, Marx, Lukacs, Gramsci are clearly dialectical thinkers. But I don't think they came to their subject matters with an antecedent dialectical method they could apply to those subject matters. They thought about things in a manner that was dialectical. Better to try to follow their example in their concrete analyses than to extract a method from their procedures.

Yes, I agree. I was trying to get at the same thing. And of course for Marx, Lukacs, and Gramsci, dialectics of natural processes was irrelevant.

Fair enough. But analytical philosophers certainly developed versions, e.g. Moore's theory of supervenient properties—the good being (he thought) a non-natural property that supervened on natural ones, such that two actions/people could not be alike in all natural properties but differ in whether they were good or not.

"Perhaps though another thing to look at is the dominant schools of bourgeois philosophy in the teens and '20s—what was the competition doing"

Well, there is what it looks like now and what it looked like then. And what it to liked to them as opposed to what it looked like, e.g., to Russell or Dewey or even to Gramsci or Lukacs or Weber.

I'm not sure what you mean, but of course there's a different perspective at that moment and retrospectively. Perhaps the historical research being done now will help. I think for example of The Parting of the Ways, which is about Carnap, Heidegger, and Cassirer.

I don't know MacMurray, but the other examples are like the Jones Junior High vs. the Green bay Packers, just in terms of sheer candlepower. Bernal was no second-rater, though, at least in his biology and history.

Date: Wed, 09 Mar 2005 13:17:31 -0500
Re: Van Heijenoort's critique of Engels

I can't speak to The Dialectical Biologist, as I haven't read it, though it is gathering dust somewhere. The Dialectics of Biology group produced a couple of interesting books, mostly without mumbo jumbo, as I recall. . . .

As for dialectics and emergence, I think there is an essential distinction to be made between emergent materialism and idealist/vitalist notions. Here a different sort of "dialectical" perspective will be useful. If you look at my emergence blog, you will see a criticism of an effort to use process philosophy in a theory of emergence, with respect to quantum physics. I've been reading some nonsense about biosemiotics. There's a lot of metaphysical junk going on—at the scientific as well as the popular level, apparently—mucking up synthetic perspectives of cosmic evolution and biological evolution. The upshot is that there is something categorically wrong with much of this material, and here dialectics—by which I'm referring to the relationships between philosophical categories—may serve to demystify rather than remystify the issues.

Indeed, the half-assed vulgarities of our day are different.

I'm not sure what you mean that the concept of emergence was developed by analytical philosophers. A lot of different people were in on this from a variety of perspectives.

Soviet tampering with the various sciences and disciplines is not news. I just happened to read an interesting article in a festschrift to Robert Cohen that sums them up historically. Not surprisingly, philosophy itself was hit the first and hardest of all disciplines. All the idealist philosophers were shipped out of the country. Having read Berdyaev, I'd say that was no loss. The problem is, lacking any institutional experience of methodological pluralism, the Soviets made a mess by bureaucratically imposing an immature philosophy as mandatory for everyone, especially prior to the stage of synthesizing existing results from a variety of traditions, including, of course, innovations in logic. This was of course tied into the Soviets' dilemma with respect to "red vs. expert." They felt the imperative to institute their own hegemony, in a situation in which the inherited intelligentsia was not trusted. But in the process of so doing, they induced certain institutional and intellectual bad habits which already created problems in the relatively loose 1920s, even before the horrors of the Stalin period. Perhaps though another thing to look at is the dominant schools of bourgeois philosophy in the teens and '20s—what was the competition doing?

On dogmatism and stagnancy: the examples are legion. The allegiance to the Soviets, Trotsky, Mao—the whole pattern of adherence to authority—has wreaked untold damage. Where sympathetic critics try to refine the concepts, they are constantly beaten back by intellectual ineptitude and dogmatism, whether it is Bernal against Macmurray, Novack against Van Heijenoort, Sayers against Norman . . . . The record is dismal.

Date: Wed, 09 Mar 2005 08:25:02 -0500
Re: Van Heijenoort's critique of Engels

I'm still waiting for your account of biosemiotics. From what I've found on the web, it looks like crackpot mystical pseudoscience to me. As for current objectives, one ought to consider refining one's tools rather than repeating the same old crap from a century ago. Marxism-Leninism continues to wreak its harm from beyond the grave—what a shame.

At 01:18 PM 3/9/2005 +0200, Oudeyis wrote:
As I, hopefully with some success, indicated above, method cannot be divorced from the objectives. The theory of Natural Selection certainly works. Combined with population genetics it has become the foundation of some of the most dramatic and disturbing social and cultural changes yet encountered by man (including even the effect of Newtonian physics and 18th and 19th century chemistry on industrial process in the early 19th century). Yet it is a very simple (and very abstract) theory that is almost entirely restricted to explaining the fact of change without any value for understanding the formal changes in the development of organisms. It is the very modesty of the objectives of Darwin's theory that lies at the heart of its gradualism. If you wish to explain how the relative distribution of populations of species changes over time, Natural Selection is a more than adequate model. In Natural Selection theory everything having to do with formal changes or even in adaptive interaction of life forms with their environment is relegated to absolute chance and therefore totally outside the ken of serious investigation. Even the integration of evolutionary theory with genetics does no more than explain the changes in the relative distribution of known genes and genetic combinations. The actual development of anatomical and behavioural formations is regarded as the function of improbable mutations and of equally fortuitous environmental conditions completely external to the useful interaction of statistically measureable inputs and outputs of the selective process.

I doubt whether punctuated equilibrium alone is an adequate basis for introducing the dialectic into evolutionary theory. By and large it is based on the same kind of statistical considerations that are important to standard evolutionary theory. Dan Dennett in his Darwin's Dangerous Idea does a fairly thorough job on Punctuated Evolution (see chapter 11, 3, Punctuated Equilibrium: A hopeful Monster pp. 282 -298 and 4, Tinker to Evers to Chance: The Burgess Shale Double-Play Mystery pp 299-312. Rather I see the potential for a dialectical understanding of evolutionary process in the research on the mechanisms of adaptation, coevolution, and organic symmetry (both in anatomical form and in activity). Stuart Kauffman is the most prominent of theoreticians in this field, but far from being the only one. Others, including Varela and Maturana (Maturana uses some dialectics—Marxist dialectics in his formulations) on autopoiesis, Salthe's (also much influenced by Hegel) on hierarchies of being and emergent systems, and Mark Bedau who formulates conditions for artificial life. Despite the nearly frantic exploration for the theoretical formulation that will unite the disparate and far-ranging investigations on the development of life forms, we have yet to see a thinker in this area on the level of Marx who can produce a satisfactory general paradigm for the development of life forms. I suspect that the philosopher of science who will effect such a synthesis has already been born and may be even well on his way to producing such a theory.

Dennett, always the champion of evolutionary theory, argues that Stuart's ideas do not really contradict "Darwin's Dangerous Idea", since the object of his work concerns the restrictions on the development of organic design rather than the changes in the relative distribution of genetically defined populations over time. Just as the gradualist model of the transformation of liquid to gas doesn't contradict the negation of Magnitude by Quantity, nor should the gradualist theory of Natural Selection contradict a dialectical theory of the development of organic form, the practical objectives of these theories (and the circumstances involved in the realization of these objects) are entirely different. Lenin's idea of a unified, universal science is engendered by his failure to realize that adherence to an uncompromising theory of the material nature of being was in fact in direct contradiction with Marx and Engel's view that labour, the unity of thought and activity, is the paradigm for the understanding of the development of human activity, collective and individual, in human history. To argue that all practice must be based on dialectical method is much like asserting that one needs to adopt the same factory system for boiling a pot of tea for guests as for the production of teapots for marketing purposes.

Date: 9 March 2005
Cybernetics, emergence, & mind

Similarly, cybernetics has demystified holism, at least in a large and important class of cases. There is no doubt that a cybernetic system behaves holistically. First of all, the goal states are ordered states, in which correlations are sustained among parts that frequently are spatially far separated. Furthermore, the subsystems which make the achievement of goal states highly probable—the devices for internal representation, monitoring, and control—are designed either by an engineer or by natural selection to mesh with each other in intricate ways. Nevertheless, when one examines specific instances of cybernetic systems, one often finds non-holistic explanations of holistic behavior. In the case of mechanical, thermal, and electrical servo-mechanisms, each part of the cybernetic system operates in accordance with physical laws, constrained by local boundary and initial conditions, but the design of the system ensures the proper meshing of these conditions, so as to eventuate in the cooperative behavior of the system as a whole. Much more remarkable is the fact that the holistic behavior of the organic cell is well understood in terms of the physical interactions among its constituent molecules (Monod, 1971, especially ch. 4; Ptashne, 1986). Molecular biology has provided very strong evidence against the need for new laws on a biological level that are irreducible in principle to the laws of physics. When we come to the holistic behavior of multicellular organisms, the evidence for the reducibility to physics is less compelling, just because of the complexity of the systems, but most biologists see no obstacle in principle to the progressive realization of the reductionist program until we arrive at the level of mentality. Many scientists and philosophers (myself included) are anti-reductionist concerning mentality, since feelings and thoughts differ in character from the neurophysiological entities with which they are correlated. The complex discussion of holism can be summarized by saying that the general conception of a cybernetic system does not entail that the holistic behavior of the system is inexplicable in terms of the laws governing its parts and their interactions; whether the mystery of holism can be exorcized in a specific kind of cybernetic system depends upon its detailed character. In physical servo-mechanisms and in simple biological systems the mystery can be exorcized, whereas in systems endowed with mentality it seems to me to persist. Whether the holism of social cybernetic systems is explicable in terms of the laws governing individual human beings, once their mentality is acknowledged to be ontologically fundamental, is one of the central concerns of this paper. A positive answer will be given in Section 5.

Shimony, Abner. "Cybernetics and Social Entities," in: Science, Politics, and Social Practice: Essays on Marxism and Science, Philosophy of Culture and the Social Sciences: In Honor of Robert S. Cohen, edited by Kostas Gavroglu, John Stachel, Marx W. Wartofsky (Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995), pp. 181-196. (Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science; v. 164) Quote: pp. 182-183.

See also: Shimony, Abner. 1993. "Some Proposals Concerning Parts and Wholes," in Search for a Naturalistic World View II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Date: 9 March 2005

Biosemiotics is also related to emergence. However, from what I've seen so far, it belongs to the obscurantist, idealist metaphysical wing. You will notive the recurring themes if you do a google search on this word. Here are a few results. See:


I'm not up on biology these days, but I do know bad philosophy, and I can easily spot half-based mystical idealism. This article is such a lame undergrad specimen of cheesy philosophical reasoning I can't believe my eyes:

Biosemiotics: Towards a New Synthesis in Biology

The idea that semiosis pervades all of organic life and even all of nature has got to be mystical vitalism in the end. This is—no pun intended—a bad sign for our civilization.

Date: 7 March 2005
More links on this web site

Karl Popper's conception of Three Worlds is also relevant to the concept of emergence. I cover Popper in this bibliography:

Vienna Circle, Karl Popper, Frankfurt School, Marxism, McCarthyism & American Philosophy: Selected Bibliography

David Dubrovsky's book on ideality also covers emergence. Someone will put this book on the web eventually. For the moment, see the table of contents:

The Problem of the Ideal: Contents by David Dubrovsky

Date: Sun, 06 Mar 2005 15:54:42 -0500
Re: Van Heijenoort's critique of Engels

This is very interesting, but I still do not understand biosemiology. To me the following is complete nonsense:

. . . the suggestion that symbolic representation is at very least coterminous with the emergence of life forms and that its initial functional relation to material conditions is self-replication suggests an interesting potential avenue of development of Marx's basic theory of human labour. Rocha's work suggests that it is possible to build a dialectic of the material foundations of symbolic representation that is closely connected (at the initial stage even identical) to the self-perpetuating activity by which Marx defines life forms and which serves as the fundamental material foundation of his dialectical representation of the development of human labour activity.

I see no semiotic meaning in the genetic code or connection to human labor. Is there anything more to this than the shoddiest reasoning by analogy, akin to the mystical medieval systems of correspondences? I see nothing here but empty verbiage. What am I missing?

At 07:23 PM 3/6/2005 +0200, Oudeyis wrote:
Memics and Lysenkian dialectical "theories" of organic development are both examples of the forced appropriation of objectives (hence means) to issues very alien to the subjects of theory.

The memecists employ the priniciple of Natural Selection of Species, invented and developed to represent the impact of a concrete universal, i.e. Nature, on extant organic forms in order to explicate the principle of the emergence of particularities in organic life. While evolutionary theory has been very useful for explaining the diversification of life forms, but it is a very simple concept and barely explains, if at all, the the principles that govern the formal developments of life. Combined with genetic theory, the theory of Natural Selection has made great advances in explaining the mechanisms of species divergence and of the mechanical relations between population structures and the differential distribution and magnitudes of genetically defined populations. The key word here is of course, mechanism. Population genetics (the parent of memism) is a theory only of the relation between independent parts. Virtually all determinates of form, selection, mutation, cross-over etc. are regarded as fundamentally indeterminate, their only contribution to the evolutionary process being the selection, introduction, and combination of new forms.

Population genetics is fine for Lego breeding and cloning , for producing geneologies of extant life forms, and for searching for fittest solutions to determined problems among a population of known diversities. Ecologically oriented biologists such as Stu Kauffman, D. J. Futuyama, and Emmeche find Population genetics woefully inadequate and even misleading regarding their own objectives of which not a few involve the determination of principles of organic form. Their objectives are much more similar, though not at all identical, to ours, than those of the Population geneticist. They are more interested in finding those essential relations that restrict the kinds of interactions life forms may enact with their environment and how these essential relations, processes, limit the forms and activities of organisms and, finally, how these produce conditions relevant to the future state of these forms and their relations to their environment. The result is the production of a chain of exciting ideas (some of which appear to be identical to those of historical science, but are surely not) such as hierarchy theory, emergence, autopoiesis, coevolution, and biosemiology (we'll get back to that shortly).

The inability of Population genetics to provide useful tools for ecology, a sister biological science which shares the same subject if not the same concerns, should strongly suggest the inadequacy of Population Genetics models for the science of human history. One need not be a Marxist or even an Objective Idealist to realize that the objectives of the social-historical sciences are to influence the development of the forms of human conscious activity, and that this is at very least a matter of process rather than mechanics. Whatever the mechanics involved in the development of human conscious activity, they are so deeply sublated in process that an appeal to mechanism to explain historical matters is an exercise in trivialities as is well demonstrated in Pinker's superficial products and the so called "reverse engineering" of evolutionary development of such greats as M Harris (ecological anthropology) and Dan Dennett (bioorganic evolution).

Lysenko's dialectical representation of organic development is a crude but instructive example of how the goal of transforming conscious activity, the formation of a new social order, is conflated with issues of productive process to the detriment ultimately of both. The invention of Lysenkoism was preceded by some 15 years of contention between the Geneticists (called Morganists and roughly affiliated with the dialecticians led by Deborin) and the Lamarckians (naturally, identified with Mechanists such as Bogdanov, though not with Bukharin) and over which theory is most compatible with Historical Materialism. The Lamarckians even mobilized Engels writings to support their position (most of this material is based on Margaret Sheehan's Marxism and the Philosophy of Science1st edition (1985) see http://www.dcu.ie/~comms/hsheehan/mxphsc.htm). In 1935 Lysenko, considerably aided by the philosopher, Prezent, developed what can only be described as a half-assed dialectical model of the development of the cell in interaction with its environment. "Together (Lysenko and Prezent,)they announced a new theory of heredity that rejected the existence of genes and held that the basis of heredity did not lie in some special self-reproducing substance. On the contrary, the cell itself, in their view, developed into an organism, and there was no part of it not subject to evolutionary development. Heredity was based on the interaction between the organism and its environment, through the internalisation of external conditions. They thus recognised no distinction between genotype and phenotype" (Sheehan, Margaret 1985).

The science of genetics was suppressed as reactionary, bourgeois, etc. etc. As Margaret writes, "It was held to be contrary to the Marxist philosophy of dialectical materialism. Its stress on the relative stability of the gene was supposedly a denial of dialectical development as well as an assault on materialism. Its emphasis on internality was thought to be a rejection of the interconnectedness of every aspect of nature. Its notion of the randomness and indirectness of mutation was held to undercut both the determinism of natural processes and man's ability to shape nature in a purposeful way".

Practically speaking, Lysenkoism is not a biological theory at all. It was never effectively demonstrated through experimentation and never became the basis of standard agronomic practice, mostly because its techniques relevance to actual agricultural production were marginal. Its practical value was in its confirmation in Nature of the alterability of organisms through directed environmental change, its affirmation that man could transform the world in whatever way he chose, and in the voluntarism evidenced in Lysenko's "experimental methods". The result was the effective liquidation of the institutions and important researchers that had contributed to the advanced development of genetics in the USSR and the subsequent decline in the state of agro-technology in what was one of the most agriculturally promising economies of the 20th century. Apparently no one raised questions about the relevance of the theory of the development of human history to theories concerning the biotechnology of plant and animal breeding (cloning and genetic engineering were still generations into the future).

If we regard science as the development of the THEORY IN PRACTICE, then the unification of the Natural Sciences is a matter of determining the contribution of developments in different sciences to each others divergent objectives, rather than the incorporation of all science into any one science. Theory is a unity of object and means, and the attempt to transfer the object of a particular scientific theory, say the genetic manipulation of breeding schedules to produce larger heads of corn to another such as the unionization of black workers in Detroit appears to me to be the very height of absurdity.

Now to biosemiology. Biosemiology has been much on my mind during the last year. I'm acquainted with Emmeche's work, but was especially impressed by Luis Rocha's work: Rocha, Luis[2001]. "The physics and evolution of symbols and codes: reflections on the work of Howard Pattee "Biosystems. Vol. 60, pp. 1-4. [2001]. "Evolution with Material Symbol Systems".Biosystems. Vol. 60, pp. 95-121. LAUR 00-1604. Rocha's papers, as their titles suggest are essays in the foundation of symbolism in genetic coding and of the explanation for the material foundation of the genetic code in physical science. The details aren't too important here, but the suggestion that symbolic representation is at very least coterminous with the emergence of life forms and that its initial functional relation to material conditions is self-replication suggests an interesting potential avenue of development of Marx's basic theory of human labour. Rocha's work suggests that it is possible to build a dialectic of the material foundations of symbolic representation that is closely connected (at the initial stage even identical) to the self-perpetuating activity by which Marx defines life forms and which serves as the fundamental material foundation of his dialectical representation of the development of human labour activity. As such it could

1. anchor the the development of processes of self-perpetuation through transmission and reception of symbolic representations of various kinds to a material base thus producing an even more concrete dialectical representation of the development of labour, than that developed by Marx.

2 provide a material and dialectical theory of the development of symbolizing activity, a subject that is markedly untreated in Marxian theory.

3. present a unified theory of the development of labour and social life founded on the development of the material developments of replication/perpetuation of form through symbolic representation.

What do you think?

Date: Fri, 04 Mar 2005 23:23:22 -0500
Van Heijenoort's critique of Engels

I'm substantially in agreement with you here. Now, if one wants to unify the marxist and natural-scientific perspectives, in place of relegating them to separate perspectives, then one has to rise to that level of abstraction to construct a unified account of both. This ridiculous meme theory is a noteworthy example of the failure of natural scientists to encompass the social. They've still learned nothing. And Marxists also have their work to do. (I just ran into Sohn-Rethel's first blunder: his account of Galileo's concept of inertia.)

BTW, what do you think of this biosemiotics business. . . . I'm very distrustful:

Claus Emmeche. Taking the semiotic turn, or how significant philosophy of biology should be done

Also at this url: http://www.nbi.dk/~emmeche/cePubl/2002b.Wit.Sats.html

Note this key passage:

More and more biologists are beginning to understand that the essence of life is to mean something, to mediate significance, to interpret signs. This already seems to be implicitly present even in orthodox Neo-Darwinism and its recurrent use of terms like "code", "messenger", "genetic information", and so on. These concepts substitute the final causes Darwinists believed to have discarded 150 years ago, they have become firmly established in molecular biology with specific scientific meanings; and yet they the semiotic content or connotations are rarely taken serious by the scientists to the extant that there is a tendency to devaluate their status as being "merely metaphors" when confronted with the question about their implied intentionality or semioticity (cf. Emmeche 1999). This secret language, where "code" seems to be a code for final cause, points to the fact that it might be more honest and productive to attack the problem head-on and to formulate an explicit biological theory taking these recurrent semiotics metaphors serious and discuss them as pointing to real scientific problems. This means that a principal task of biology will be to study signs and sign processes in living systems. This is biosemiotics—the scientific study of biosemiosis. Semiotics, the general science of signs, thus becomes a reservoir of concepts and principles when it is recognized that biology, being about living systems, at the same time is about sign systems. Moreover, semiotics will probably not remain the same after this encounter with biology: both sciences will be transformed fundamentally while gradually being melded into one more comprehensive field.

While many of the ideas adumbrated in this review seem to be quite fruitful, this paragraph is the tipoff that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

At 05:28 PM 3/4/2005 +0200, Oudeyis wrote:
Have been following your discussion with considerable interest. Sorry to lurk so long, but I was occupied in finishing up a paper.

I was particularly interested in your earlier discussion on emergence. I agree strongly with Jay Gould that dialectics; Hegelian and Marxist alike, describe what I suppose would now be called "emergent functions". I have many reservations about Engel's representation of the dialectic and his three so-called "laws" appear to me to be a snobbish attempt to present "Dialectics for the Working Class". Certainly Llyod Spencer and Andrzej Krauze's Hegel for Beginners and Andy Blunden's "Getting to Know Hegel are" much more successful representations of dialectical theory. A search for emergentism in Marxism would be better served by reinvestigating the methods of Hegel (his Logics) and of Marx (Practice, or, better, labour practice) for the mechanics and process whereby they derive emergent complex moments from simpler prior conditions. I suspect that the concretisation of abstraction through successive negation, unity of labour practice and extant condition in the productive process, and sublation of prior syntheses in extant dialectical moments will have more significance for understanding emergence in human history than the hierarchy theories of Salthe, Swenson, and O'Neil, the emergent semiotics of Hoffmeyer and so on. That is not to say that systems, even cybernetic systems, are not relevant to the investigation, but, we must remember that despite Engel's (sometimes brilliant and sometimes embarrassing) adventures in the dialectics of Nature, that Hegel and Marx theoretical interests were exclusively focussed on human activity and human history and were only interested in Nature as a derived function of human inteaction with material conditions. Even Hegel's dialectics on Nature concerned the Natural Sciences and not Nature as such (as the subject of human contemplation).

Which bring us to the problem of Natural science and Marxism.

Certainly the Natural sciences are a component of modern history. They more or less emerge in late Mediaeval Europe together with the development of powerful urban commercial and industrial institutions. From the point of view of Marxist theory, the interesting thing about the Natural sciences is the relation between the moment of their emergence and the concurrent developments of European society in all its aspects. For example, the optical and astronomical discoveries of the earliest Natural scientists were most useful for the long-range navigation needs of Europe's commercial and colonial enterprises while the mathematical developments in geometry, trigonometry and the calculus were important for the development of improved techniques for the prompt and accurate estimations of volume, mass, and weight of goods as well as managing cannon fire. Even the origin of the Social Sciences can be traced to this period; Machiavelli and de Seyselle's practical analyses of government as well as the contemporary development of double entry accounting and . But, note, that the Marxist interest in these developments is in their practical relations to the needs growing out of the urbanization and commercialization of human life and not as representations of contemplated Nature.

Mathematics and the Natural sciences can contribute to the development of Marxist theory, but only in a form that contributes to the objectives of the dialectical explication of historical conditions and events. After all, in Capital, Marx exploits and develops the practices of contemporary accounting to provide mechanical mathematical objectifications of the relations between productive and commercial processes that are critical to the aims of his theory. Marx also demonstrates considerable interest in the physics of machine engineering, but not as an objective description of Nature, but specifically as it relates to the historical development of human productive and social practice. Marx and Engels also adapt contemporary thinking on organism and on pre- and proto-human, behaviour to describe the fundamental material conditions for the development of human practice.

In short, the objectives of the practice of the Natural Sciences are distinct from those of Marxist theory, and their products satisfy needs different from those that engender social historical theory. Even the methods are different insofar as the natural scientist enjoys a bit more distance from the subject of his research (except for quantum indeterminism)than the social-historian. Natural Science can be the subject of investigation by social historical scientists and some of its products can, with suitable modifications, be adopted to the objects of social history, but social history has no more qualifications for determining the practices (theory and activity) of Natural science than do the natural scientists for the determination of the practices of social historical science (e.g. the silly foray of Pinker and Dawkins into Memics).

Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2005
References collected from others

Karen C. Fox, "Does Biology Reduce to Physics? A Look at How the Question Has Been Answered Through Time."

More by R. Keith Sawyer:
Emergence page

R. Keith Sawyer: Home

Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2005 09:00:03 -0500
Subject: Hegelian influence on library classification

"Hegel's Philosophy as Basis for the Dewey Classification Schedule" by Eugene E. Graziano

Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2005 03:22:01 -0500
Subject: Posthuman fantasy life [fwd]

Vernor Vinge on the Singularity

This morning I received a circular with this piece attached, under the subject heading: "Is this a subtle sci-fi hint of Aryan superiority? What do you think?"

My response was:

As white as the people indulging these escapist fantasies are, on the inside and out, no, I don't think it's Aryan superiority. I think it's an alienated evasion of the self-destruction Capitalist America is inflicting on humanity right now, a fantasy of the scientific-technical intelligentsia to perpetuate itself attempting to circumvent the spiraling contradictions of its existence and the calamities to come. I'll forward you folks some other science fantasies to give further indication of the sickness at work.

And I forwarded the group a couple other posts, including my review which I already posted here under the heading: "Michio Kaku, Parallel Worlds: book talk [Warning: religion in science garbage]"

I posted this posthumanist/transhumanist puff piece with Kaku's caca in mind, as part of an ideological analysis I'm shaping up. It was one thing to put up with the naive futurist fantasies of the Arthur C. Clarkes of the world in an earlier era, whose sociological illiteracy perhaps can be excused, but this quest for technocratic immortality in the face of humanity's imminent self-destruction only reveals what a bunch of morons our scientific-intelligentsia really are when it comes to seeing one inch beyond their petty tinkering mentality. . . .


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