For several years now I consider myself a Marxist. From the beginning I was, and still am, very interested in the philosophical basis of Marxism i.e. Dialectical Materialism. When I recently discovered this forum I quickly discovered the @nti-dialectics sticky made by Rosa Lichtenstein.
It was one of the first times I found such an extensive text against dialectics, so I started reading.
However, I soon found some scientific arguments that aren't correct and wanted to reply to these. The arguments I want to reply to are more of a scientific character than a pure philosophical, so maybe the thread isn't entirely in the right place... I'll leave it to the moderators to judge about this. Let's get on to the serious business.
The first part will be about her "refutation" of the first of three dialectic laws, the law of a change of quantity at a certain stage resulting in a change of quality.
In this part Rosa Liechtenstein claims that the laws of dialectics are imposed on nature and that most of evidence for these laws are over used "clichés". She reproduces one of these often used examples of water boiling by presenting us a quote from the book "Reason in Revolt" by Ted Grant and Alan Woods. (Which is a rather incorrect description of boiling actually)All dialecticians (i.e., the majority who accept these 'Laws') impose them on nature . What little evidence dialecticians supply to substantiate these 'Laws' is not only woefully insufficient, it is highly contentious -- to say the least.
Anyone who has studied and practiced genuine science will know the lengths to which researchers have to go to alter even minor aspects of current theory, let alone justify major changes in the way we view nature.
In stark contrast, and without exception, dialecticians offer a few paragraphs of trite (and over-used) clichés to support their claims. Hence, all we find are hackneyed references to things like boiling water, balding heads, plants 'negating' seeds, Mamelukes fighting the French, a character from Molière suddenly discovering that he speaks prose, and the like, all constantly retailed, year in, year out.
From such banalities, dialecticians suddenly derive universal laws, applicable everywhere and at all times.
The First 'Law', the alleged change of quantity into quality, ignores the many cases in nature where change is not "nodal":
"Hegel invented the nodal line of measure relations, in which small quantitative changes at a certain point give rise to a qualitative leap. The example is often given of water, which boils at 100oC at normal atmospheric pressure. As the temperature nears boiling point, the increase in heat does not immediately cause the water molecules to fly apart. Until it reaches boiling point, the water keeps its volume. It remains water, because of the attraction of the molecules for each other. However, the steady change in temperature has the effect of increasing the motion of the molecules. The volume between the atoms is gradually increased, to the point where the force of attraction is insufficient to hold the molecules together. At precisely 100oC, any increase in heat energy will cause the molecules to fly apart, producing steam." [Woods and Grant (1995), p.49.]
But, not everything in nature changes in this way; consider melting glass, metal, rock, butter and plastic. No nodal points anywhere in sight, here. Do Woods and Grant (do any other DM-theorists) consider these counter-examples? Are you kidding?
She then states that in most cases there aren't even nodal points and gives some examples (Melting: Metal, rock, butter and plastic) which she claims are simply ignored by people who adhere dialectics. Well, let's see if there are any nodal points to find here.
First of all let us look at what a solid is. At a molecular level a solid is characterised by molecules that are bonded together by inter or intra molecular forces which causes the molecules to be very static compared to molecules in the gas or water phase. The only motion these molecules are able to make are oscillations. Because of the different kind of forces between the molecules and because of the different ways they can be orientated, there are different classes of solids: metals, various kinds of crystals, glasses,.... All these classes have there own distinct qualities and quantities.
Now let us return to water, this time in its solid form: ice. When we heat up ice the molecules in the crystal structure gain more energy and begin to oscillate more and more. At a certain point the heat added gives the individual water molecules enough energy to overcome the bonds between themselves and the other molecules (In this case hydrogen bonds) so they can now move freely around(or more scientifically: translate), in other words the solid became a liquid. Everyone knows that relatively pure water melts at 0 °C. Before this temperature we don't see any change, ice doesn't become more and more liquid, on the contrary it changes immediately.
This is the case for any more or less pure substance. It happens so sudden at a given temperature which is specific for every material, in the past the determination of the melting temperature was often used to identify a compound.(Today more easy and accurate methods are used) If the substance is dilutedthis melting point can lower or even not happen at all, we will than find an interval(mostly a couple of degrees) at which the substance melts. This is because of the fact that the different compounds in the substance start to at a different temperature instantly. Therefore this method is often used to see how pure a certain substance is.
Now lets continue and take a look at the examples that were given by Rosa. Let us start with metal. For some reason Rosa claims that metals don't melt like ice does, that it becomes gradually a liquid. First of all this shows she has little knowledge of science and confuses different phenomena.
Melting a metal is quite the same as melting ice, at a certain temperature the metal ions gains enough energy to escape from the crystal structure. What she probably confuses with the process of melting is the fact that metals can be bend and manipulated more easily at higher temperatures. The fact that metals are easier to deform at higher temperatures is a direct consequence of the nature of the metal bonding. In a metal the individual atom has released some of its outer shell electrons. These positive charged atoms are called ions and are organised in a crystal structure, around these ions the electrons they gave away move freely. One of the effects is that this kind of bond is extremely durable, but also can be bended because the space and orientation of the metal ions can change without breaking the bond.
If we heat up the metal the bonds become less strong and so we are able to change the place the ions more simply. However, this doesn't make the metal a liquid. The ions are still firmly on their place and if we don't exert any force will stay there.
Now lets look at glass. Glasses are class of solid on there own, they're characterised by an amorphous structure.(They aren't arranged in a crystal structure). Rosa confused in this case the same phenomena. This time the flexibility of the product to bending at higher temperatures is a consequence of the structure and not the type of bonding. A crystal would mostly brake if we tried to bend it, even at higher temperatures. The fact it is amorphous makes it possible for the molecules in the solid to change place when bend without necessarily breaking the bond. It's kind of analogue to the metal.
The rock and the butter are more difficult to explain. Rock seems to melt gradually, however this is not the case. Rock consists of a range of different kinds of crystals and the composition differs from rock to rock. The melting of a rock is difficult process. To put it most simple: different crystals melt at their own melting temperature. When a rock melts it is thus a mixture of solids and liquids.
Butter is a water in oil emulsion. In other words, very tiny bubbles of water which are enclosed by the milk proteins are spread through the solid oil. These bubbles are one of the reasons why butter is as easily spread if we exert force on it. However, this doesn't make it a liquid yet. If you put the butter in the pan and heat it you'll see the oil melt, the water boil away and the proteins will probably disintegrate because of the heat. Though a multitude of reactions happen, both chemical and physical, the melting itself stills happens nodal.
For plastics I cannot provide an answer, simply because this term is far to vague and covers a wide range of materials.
In all the above examples, we can clearly see that the quantitative addition of heat results in a qualitative sudden change: melting.
Let's continue to see what Rosa has to say:
Here Rosa shows she even manages to confuse between on the one hand change and on the other difference. Not any sane dialectician would claim that things can't differ even though they have the same material and energetic properties. Rosa proves this in the quote above. However, the first law of dialectics is not about difference but about how things become something different, in other words: how the change.And not every change in quality is produced by quantitative differences (contrary to what Engels said):
"...the 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 (1954), p.63.]
There are in fact countless changes in quality that are not determined in this way. For example, there are certain molecules that have exactly the same material content and energy levels as one another, but are qualitatively dissimilar because of the different spatial arrangement of their constituent atoms. These are called 'Stereoisomers'.
So, here we have a change in quality produced by change in geometry, not quantity.
For a certain sterioisomers to change in another one, we would still have to add energy to break bonds before the atoms of this molecule could get a different spacing. Ironically Rosa her own example turns against her.
I hope I was able to show in this post that Rosa Liechtenstein in order to show that the laws of dialectics were imposed upon nature, she made grave scientific errors. In the end it even turns out that the dialectic law was observed after all.
In her essays many more of these scientific errors can be found. I'm willing to post them and correct them if people are interested.
Last edited by Vogelman; 4th July 2011 at 21:24.
Rosa was recently banned from the forum, but she does have a website if you want her to be able to respond to your post.
Thanks for the heads up, I'll contact her soon.
Why was she banned?
I don't really see how what you write here contradicts the gist of her argument that lots of processes are not nodal. What is the gist of your argument, is it that pure things change nodally, and that gradual change is a result of things being mixed? But things being mixed is not a theoretical construct. Peanut butter exists in reality, so universal dialectics is wrong :P
My favourite nodal change "example" from dialectical thinkers collected by Rosa was about numbers and goes like this: You write down numbers, 1-2-3-4-5 and so on, 6-7-8-9 and BAM! Now you need 2 digits, a little change in quantity totally changed the quality, told you about nodal changes, duuude. All around us, in reality. Yeah, great example, except that where these "nodal changes" happen when counting depends on which base you use.
I guess we can all agree that some things change in a very sudden fashion. If this applies to some aspects of society, why isn't that reason enough to use theories of how sudden change in society happens (not limiting ourselves to dialectics here)? Nobody says Keynes was wrong because of quantum redshift WHICH HE NEVER MENTIONED IN HIS "GENERAL" THEORY OMG or whatever, why does Marx or some strained interpretation of him have the duty to explain the whole universe?
Firstly, i've never heard Admins being known as 'The BA', and secondly, that's not true. In fact it was moderators and admins that voted on it, and the former implies that it was an admin-only decision when it wasn't.Originally Posted by Red Anarchist
Sorry for pedantry and derail.
Coalition of Resistance - Fight Back Against the Cuts!
"As for the lad "Sam_b", I've been reading this forum for a while and I don't think I've ever seen him contribute anything of any value. Most of the chap's posts seem to be confrontational and snarky digs at other posters. Thankfully, most other contributors do not seem to behave in this manner." - Some Guy
She was also accused of....gasp!!...!!!!Dishonest Argument!!!
Last edited by ar734; 4th May 2011 at 03:45.
Here is a mundane example of quantity into quality: Practice makes perfect. Have you ever noticed, esp. in sports, when you practice day after day, and it seems you are making no progress, then suddenly you become aware that you have achieved a new level of expertise? Quantity into quality.
An example that Engels noted: By adding quantities of heat to water there is a point at which the water changes its quality from water to gas.
I think this is a really good example of dialectics: matter/anti-matter.
I will not state that law of quantity into quality is an absolute one but I'm convinced it's a very useful concept that has an application in a lot of situations. The most weak point of this law is probably the fact it doesn't mention any quantitative leaps.
The gist of my argument was actually to show how weak the examples of Rosa Lichtenstein actually were on a scientific level. It's actually simply nonsense to compare the melting of pure water and butter to show quantity into quality isn't doesn't happen. These are two quite qualitative different things. If she'd analysed the process of butter melting she would have had to agree there are several nodal points. The fact is that Rosa may be well acquainted with logic and philosophy but she actually doesn't know much about science.
No. Peanut butter exists in reality, so all-encompassing generalities cannot explain everything. The point is "the concrete study of the concrete case", which evidently isn't the same as philosophical speculation - be it of the "dialectical" or of the "anti-dialectical" varietyPeanut butter exists in reality, so universal dialectics is wrong :P
This example is evidently absurd, starting with the notion that things "change" when you count. So what?My favourite nodal change "example" from dialectical thinkers collected by Rosa was about numbers and goes like this: You write down numbers, 1-2-3-4-5 and so on, 6-7-8-9 and BAM! Now you need 2 digits, a little change in quantity totally changed the quality, told you about nodal changes, duuude. All around us, in reality. Yeah, great example, except that where these "nodal changes" happen when counting depends on which base you use.
Again, that would need concrete analysis. Merely blathering that things change accordingly to some abstract scheme doesn't explain anything. Conversele, merely arguing that things don't change according to a particular abstract scheme tells us nothing about change - what we need are theories of change, which are necessarily different whether we are talking about social change, or biological change, or chemical change, etc.I guess we can all agree that some things change in a very sudden fashion. If this applies to some aspects of society, why isn't that reason enough to use theories of how sudden change in society happens (not limiting ourselves to dialectics here)?
Indeed. Why would then loose our time trying to explain the whole universe, or trying to falsify a particular explanation of the universe, when what we should do is to explain the subject that directly interests us - social change - and the method we use to study it, which is necessarily different from the method people use to study "natural" processes?Nobody says Keynes was wrong because of quantum redshift WHICH HE NEVER MENTIONED IN HIS "GENERAL" THEORY OMG or whatever, why does Marx or some strained interpretation of him have the duty to explain the whole universe?
Now that I'm starting to finally get dialectical materialism/dialectics I have a question on the dialectical view on the theory of evolution. Do proponents of dialectics and dialectical materialism reject the gradualist view of evolution but instead support punctuated equilibrium? Because gradualism as a model of evolution always made more sense to me.
Please don't consider the bunch here as the final say on biology. I've a sympathy with punctuated equilibrium via SJ Gould and his book Wonderful Life, which is a wonderful read. Gould was clearly influenced by Lukacs, the most earliest and prominent heavily dialectical Marxist thinker to reject the dialectics of Nature.Do proponents of dialectics and dialectical materialism reject the gradualist view of evolution but instead support punctuated equilibrium? Because gradualism as a model of evolution always made more sense to me.
So far, once I was engaged in a debate with Rosa (regarding Dialectic Materialism of course), in those replies to my arguments, Rosa commented that laws of conservation of Mass, Energy and 2nd law of thermodynamics were "metaphysical" in nature and "many scientists doubted that".
So far, with my little understanding of DM, I just want to say that it's nothing more than just a compass to show the right direction. While anti-DM people are trying to prove that it's NOT some kind of magic stick.