Here is my long overdue demolition of Engels's 'First Law':
Engels and Mickey Mouse Science
Anyone who has studied or practiced genuine science knows the great care and attention to detail that has to be devoted by researchers, often over many years or decades, if they want to add to or alter even relatively minor areas of current knowledge, let alone establish a new law. This was the case in Engels's day, just as it is the case today. Moreover, the concepts employed by scientists have to be analytically sound, and supported wherever possible by relevant mathematics. The quotation of primary data is also essential -- or it has at least to be reviewed and/or referenced by the scientists involved; supporting evidence has to be precise, detailed, meticulously recorded, and subject not only to public scrutiny, but also to peer review.
[DM = Dialectical Materialism.]
In contrast, the sort of Mickey Mouse Science one finds in Creationist literature is rightly the target of derision by scientists and Marxists alike. And yet, when it comes to DM, we find in Engels's writings (and those of subsequent dialecticians) little other than Mickey Mouse Science. Engels provided his readers with no original data, and what little evidence he offered in support of his 'Laws' would have been rejected as amateurish in the extreme if it had appeared in an undergraduate science paper, never mind a research document --, even in his day! It is salutary, therefore, to compare Engels's approach to scientific proof with that of Darwin, whose classic work is a model of clarity and original research. Darwin presented the scientific community with extensive evidence and novel data, which has been expanded upon greatly over the last 150 years.
Contrast, DM-Mickey Mouse Science with the real thing -- here, for example, is one report of the accuracy achieved by the instruments aboard the recently launched Gaia satellite:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-26073173"'Gaia was not designed to take Hubble-like pictures; this is not its operating mode at all. What it will eventually do is draw little boxes around each of the stars you see in this picture and send just that information to the ground.'
"The satellite has been given an initial mission duration of five years to make its 3D map of the sky.
"By repeatedly viewing its targets, it should get to know the brightest stars' coordinates down to an error of just seven micro-arcseconds -- an angle equivalent to a euro coin on the Moon being observed from Earth." [Bold emphasis added.]
Even back in the 16th century, astronomers were concerned with accuracy and precision; Tycho Brahe, for instance, was able to observe the heavens with the naked eye to an accuracy of one arcminute (1/60th of a degree!). Once again, this is typical of genuine science, which, naturally, sharply distinguishes it from the 'science' we find associated with DM.
Hence, the picture is almost the exact opposite when we turn to consider not just the paucity of evidence illustrating (it certainly does not prove) Engels's first 'Law', 'the transformation of quantity into quality' [Q/Q], but also the total lack of clarity in the concepts employed (on that, see below). In Anti-Dühring and Dialectics of Nature, for example, we aren't told what a "quality" is, nor how long a dialectical "node" is supposed to last. Furthermore, we are left completely in the dark what the phrase "addition" of matter and energy means, nor are we told what the energetic (thermodynamic) boundaries are (or if there are any!) to the systems under consideration. Indeed, we aren't even told what constitutes a system/body, nor what counts as that system/body "developing"!
Moreover, supporting 'evidence' alone is considered; problem cases are just ignored. In this, too, DM further resembles 'Creation Science'.
Again, unlike genuine science, this situation hasn't changed much in dialectical circles over the last 140 years. This prompted me to observe (below):
Any who doubt this should compare the average DM-text (even those that sincerely try to prove there is a dialectic of nature, such as Woods and Grant's Reason in Revolt [henceforth, WG], or Gollobin (1986)) with a bona fide scientific/technical paper that has been published in any randomly chosen issue of, say, Nature. The difference between Mickey Mouse Dialectical Science and genuine science will immediately be apparent.Moreover, this Law is so vaguely worded that dialecticians can use it in whatever way they please. If this is difficult to believe, ask the very next dialectician you meet precisely how long a "nodal point" is supposed to last. As seems clear, if no one knows, anything from a Geological Age to an instantaneous quantum leap could be "nodal"!
[UO = unity of Opposites; FL = Formal Logic.]
In the place of hard evidence, what we invariably find in DM-texts are the same hackneyed examples dredged up year-in year-out. These include the following hardy perennials: boiling and/or freezing water, cells that are somehow both alive and dead, grains of barley that 'negate' themselves, magnets that are UOs, Mamelukes' ambiguous fighting ability when matched against French soldiers, Mendeleyev's Table, the sentence "John is a man", homilies about parts and wholes (e.g., "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts", etc., etc.), characters from Molière who discover they have been speaking prose all their lives, laughably weak and misguided attempts to depict the principles of FL, "Yay, Yay", and "Nay, Nay", anything more than this "cometh of evil", wave/particle 'duality', 'emergent' properties popping into existence all over the place, etc., etc., etc.
[In fact, in the Essay to which I have linked below (see the next section), I show that not even these examples work!]
Even then, we are never given a scientific report on any of these phenomena; all we find in DM-texts are a few brief, amateurish and impressionistic sentences (or, at most, a handful of paragraphs) on each example. At its best (in, say, WG, or Gollobin (1986)), all we encounter are a few brief chapters of secondary or tertiary evidence, specially-selected, and heavily slanted in the favoured direction. No contrary evidence is even so much as mentioned.
In contrast, and in relation to, say, economics, politics, history, or current affairs, Marxists are keen to provide countless pages of primary and secondary data and analysis (much of it original), which they update regularly. But, when it comes to dialectics all we are presented with is watery-thin 'evidence', and even thinner reasoning. Small wonder then that to its Marxist opponents, like myself, this area of theory is regarded as risibly weak and is treated with the contempt it deserves.
[a] Nodal Logic?
In what follows, I will confine myself to outlining what I consider to be the most obvious and glaring faults in Engels's 'First Law', the change of 'Quantity into Quality'.
[I have already shown that if, per impossible, the 'Second Law' (i.e., the 'Unity and Interpenetration of Opposites', or 'Development Through Internal Contradiction') were true, change and development would in fact be impossible. Since the 'Third Law' (i.e., the 'Negation of the Negation') is intimately bound up with the second, this means that these 'Laws' are, at best, hopelessly confused, at worst, incoherent non-sense.]
Comrades should remember that the material here is only a summary of my objections to this 'Law'. However, I have entered into this topic in unprecedented detail here:
Now, Engels famously asserted the following:
https://www.marxists.org/archive/mar...3/don/ch02.htm...[T]he transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. For our purpose, we could express this by saying that in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy)…. Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e. without quantitative alteration of the body concerned. [Engels Dialectics of Nature, p.63. Bold emphasis alone added.]
Moreover, these changes aren't smooth or gradual:
https://www.marxists.org/archive/ple...nist/ch05b.htmIt will be understood without difficulty by anyone who is in the least capable of dialectical thinking...[that] quantitative changes, accumulating gradually, lead in the end to changes of quality, and that these changes of quality represent leaps, interruptions in gradualness…. That is how all Nature acts…. [Plekhanov The Development of the Monist View of History, p.613. Bold emphasis alone added.]
https://www.marxists.org/archive/len...-lect/ch03.htmWhat distinguishes the dialectical transition from the undialectical transition? The leap. The contradiction. The interruption of gradualness.... [Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks, p.282. Bold emphases added.]
But, there are many things in nature that change smoothly with no 'leap'/'node' anywhere in sight; think of melting metal, rock, glass, plastic, butter, resin, toffee and chocolate. Here, the change in 'quality' from solid to liquid is gradual and not at all sudden. When heated, metals, for instance, gradually soften and become liquid; there is no sudden "leap" from solid to liquid. Sure, many things do change 'nodally' (i.e., in "leaps"), but many others do not. So, the 'nodal' aspect of this 'Law' is defective.
Some might want to appeal to the exact melting points of solids -- which are unique for each substance -- as clear examples of 'nodal' changes ("leaps") -- however, this is what we read about the so-called "amorphous solids" (such as glasses, gels, and plastics):
Amorphous solids do not have a sharp melting point; they are softened in a range of temperature. [Bold emphasis added.]Furthermore:In an amorphous solid, the local environment, including both the distances to neighbouring units and the numbers of neighbours, varies throughout the material. Different amounts of thermal energy are needed to overcome these different interactions. Consequently, amorphous solids tend to soften slowly over a wide temperature range rather than having a well-defined melting point like a crystalline solid. [Bold emphasis added; spelling altered to UK English.]
Hence, this must mean that "almost any substance" lacks a melting point if cooled in the above way. In turn, this implies that there are countless non-'nodal' (non-"leap"-like) changes in nature.Almost any substance can solidify in amorphous form if the liquid phase is cooled rapidly enough....
[Notice: I am not arguing that there are no sudden changes in nature and society, only that not everything changes this way.]
Unfortunately, this means that this 'Law' can't be used to argue that the transformation from capitalism to socialism must be 'nodal' (i.e., sudden) (which is one of the main reasons for adopting and promoting this 'Law' among Dialectical Marxists), for we have no idea whether or not this particular transformation will be one of its many exceptions. Plainly, we could only appeal to this 'Law' in this case if it had no exceptions whatsoever.
This means that the whole point of adopting this 'Law' in the first place has now vanished.
[It is important to add that I certainly do not believe that the revolutionary transformation of society will be gradual; but then I don't accept this 'Law'!]
'Quantity' and 'Quality'
Unfortunately for DM-supporters, not all qualitative differences are caused in the way Engels says, so this 'Law' can't therefore be a law.
For example, the order in which events take place can effect quality, too. Try crossing a busy main road first and looking second. Now, try it the other way round. If you survive, you might notice the difference! Furthermore, anyone (not wearing protective clothing) who pours half a litre of water slowly into a litre of concentrated sulphuric acid will face a long and painful stay in hospital, whereas the reverse action is perfectly safe.
When confronted with examples like these, or even those given below, DM-fans generally respond in the following way:
They simply ignore them!
In fact, it turns out that this 'Law' is so vaguely worded that dialecticians can (and do!) use it in whichever way they please. If comrades find that difficult to believe, they should try the following two experiments:
(A) Ask the very next dialectician you meet precisely how long a "nodal point"/"leap" is supposed to last. You will receive no answer! But, if no one knows, then anything from a Geological Age to an instantaneous quantum leap could be "nodal"! Is a ten thousand year change really all that "sudden"?
Plainly, this introduces a fundamental element of arbitrariness into what dialecticians claim is an objective 'Law'.
And, it isn't good enough for dialecticians to dismiss this as mere "pedantry". Can you imagine a genuine scientist refusing to say how long a crucially important time period in her theory is supposed to last, accusing you of "pedantry" for even thinking to ask?
(B) Next, enquire precisely what a "quality" is supposed to be. If your respondent knows their theory, you might be told that it is a property the change of which alters a process/object into something novel; a "new kind of thing". But, more often than not you will be fobbed off, or just ignored, once more.
Now, the above 'definition' of "quality" was in fact borrowed from Aristotle, via Hegel.
Unfortunately, given this 'definition', many of the examples DM-theorists themselves use to illustrate their 'Law' actually fail to do so.
For instance, the most hackneyed (overused) example is water turning to ice or steam, when cooled or heated. But, given the above 'definition' this wouldn't in fact be an example of 'qualitative change', since water as a solid (ice), a liquid, or a gas (steam) is still H2O -- no "new kind of thing" has emerged. Quantitative addition or subtraction of energy doesn't result in a qualitative change of the required sort; nothing substantially new has emerged. This substance remains H2O throughout.
Consider several more examples: When heated beyond its melting point, Iron remains Iron, even as a liquid. The same goes for all the other elements. Liquid Nitrogen is no less Nitrogen than its gaseous or solid forms are. Sulphur is still Sulphur as a liquid and as a solid. Again, nothing substantially new has arisen.
Finally, there are substances studied in Chemistry called Isomers. These are molecules with exactly the same number and type of atoms, but their geometrical orientation is different, which lends to each their different properties. So, here we have yet another change in 'quality' caused by a change in geometry, but with the addition of no new matter or energy -- contradicting Engels:
http://www.chemeddl.org/resources/st...initions16.htm[Q]ualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy)…. Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e. without quantitative alteration of the body concerned. [Engels Dialectics of Nature, p.63. Bold emphases added.]
Engels's First 'Law' is either defective from beginning to end, or it is hopelessly vague and confused. In which case, it is of no use in helping develop revolutionary theory, and so it has no role to play in changing society.
High time we ditched this useless and failed 'theory'.
Gollobin, I. (1986), Dialectical Materialism. Its Laws, Categories And Practice (Petras Press).
Woods, A., and Grant, T. (1995/2007), Reason In Revolt. Marxism And Modern Science (Wellred Publications).