File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-01-21.060, message 56

Date: Tue, 21 Jan 1997 01:22:30 -0500 (EST)
Subject: M-I: Dialectics

Dear Professor Austin,

I read with interest your post below which I must admit is quite
hard reading due to the heavy "jargon" (as you say) used. On this score,
I am having some difficulty in understanding the contents of the
posts, some of them quite voluminous and abstruse, which our resident
scholars on M-I frequently write to this list. However, I can read and
understand Marx, Engles, Lenin, and Mao. How in heavens are you
all going to explain this stuff to the proletariat!

I will just deal with your grudge (as I see it) with dialectical mater-
ialism which you are not willing to grant the same status as historical
materialism, which you are prepared to give "conditional" respect.
Noam Chomsky, in a recent interview with Michael Albert in Z
Magazine, also dismissed dialectical materialism as pseudo-science.

The three laws of dialectics deal with:

1. The transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa
2. The interpenetration of opposites
3. The negation of the negation

I will not get into a detailed explanation of these laws since that has
been done elsewhere. First we must understand what is meant by a law
of nature. Simply put, a law of nature is a concise expression of
that serves to unify a large body of various apparently random phenomena
that has been empirically observed over time (often centuries).
For example, in mechanics we have the the 3 Newtonian Laws of motion,
in optics there are the wave and the corpuscular theories of light,
in thermodynamics we have the 3 laws - conservation of energy, limitation
on the direction of energy conversion, and the non-zero entropy of
crystalline substances at absolute zero temperature.

Can such laws of nature be proved in a mathematical sense? No, but
they can be experimentally verified. One cannot prove "mathematically"
the law of conservation of energy but in countless situations this
law has been found to hold and it is used extensively in many branches
of engineering in concrete applications.

Now the dialectical laws are supposed to hold for both the world of
human beings (i.e., social relations and their transformations) and
the natural world. What is meant by this? That these laws summarize
our experiences and are able to explain a wide variety of phenomena.
Thus, they are not something mysterious. However, if I suddenly
write these 3 laws down on a blackboard in front of a class of
seniors, without much of an explanation, they *would* appear
mysterious. This is, unfortunately, how the subject of thermodynamics
is presently taught, which makes it very hard to grasp. 

The application of dialectics to historical processes gives us
historical materialism. This had been brillinatly done by Marx and
his later followers. The application and use of dialectics in
natural science and engineering, is however, not at all common. It's
use in these realms is complicated by the indoctrination which
scientists go through in their education process which often has
a tendency to make them think in a mechanical and idealist fashion.
All of this, I think, is highly unfortunate. For I am quite convinced
now that in a wide variety of physical phenomena, dialectical
thinking and reasoning can be very fruitful.

There is a class of processes studied in chemical and mechanical
engineering which go by the name of "momentum, heat and mass transfer"
phenomena. These phenomena are at the heart of numerous processes
which go on in chemical reactors, fluid pipelines, distillation and
absorption towers (the tall columns you see in a refinery or a chemical
factory), etc. These subjects are routinely taught to engineers in
a blind, mechanical and rote fashion.

But what if I told you that the essence of such processes is governed
by the second law of dialectics (the interpenetration of opposites)
which I have only very recently realized! You would most likely dismiss
me as a crank! In fact, Newton's law, Fourier's Law and Fick's Law
which are at the heart of fluid dynamics, heat and mass transfer are
quantitative expressions of the second law of dialectics - expressing
the flow of fluid, heat or mass as occuring under two main aspects of
a contradiction.

Not only this, but their dynamic formulations which express how these
processes develop over time - given by what are called partial
differential equations - actually describe how these dialectical
processes evolve over time from one equilibrium state to another!
Such differential equations go by the name of the Navier-Stokes
equations (fluid dynamics or momentum transfer) and Convective Diffusion
equation (in heat and mass transfer). I plan to present more details
of this to the lists in the near future. One of them can be easily
titled the "Dialectics of Diffusion" (and I am utterly serious here).

Recently, I broached these ideas to a colleague who was "dumb-founded"
to say the least. He had never thought of these processes in this way
before. It is correct that any process whether in the social or physical
realm is highly complex and there are numerous synergistic and
counteracting fractors (i.e., contradictions) which governs how the
process evolves over time. However, the trick, as Mao-Tse Tung pointed
out in "On Contradiction", is to grasp the principal or main
contradiction. This is also commonly accepted scientific practice
when in the laboratory or in a theory, the main features of a phenomena
are studied with the secondary or tertiary phenomena screened out. Not
only the main contradiction, but the two or more aspects of the
contradiction have also to be grasped properly. As the process evolves
dynamically, the aspects of the contradiction may become stronger
or weaker vis a vis one another - one eventually replacing the other
or both of them ultimately reaching a new equilibrium level where the
contradiction is annhilated by the mutual balancing of its
two aspects to be replaced by a new contradiction subject to a change
in the external conditions. 

It is only with hindsight that I now also realize that many experimental
observations and mathematical solutions I have worked on in the past
actually show this behavior in vivid graphic detail. The subject of
dialectical materialism should be taught from the high-school level.
It will give a three-dimensional picture of reality, would unify
the apparently random phenomena occurring in nature and history, and
provide a much needed link between the hard and the soft sciences. It
would enable one, from a very young age, to dive below the
surface appearance of things and penetrate to their essence as
Marx explained the purpose of true science is.

I think now that the great figures of human history, those who had
penetrating insight into the nature of reality, used this method in
their investigations and actions, either consciously or unconsciously.

S. Chatterjee         




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