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Thread: Quantity to Quality.

  1. #1
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    Howdy chaps.

    I recently attended Socialism 2007 and in particular a meeting on dialectics. I went there with a view to basically figuring out what it actually is, simply. I confess I went there slightly sceptical; Any idea which is talked about so much and is so notoriously difficult to explain earns my suspicion straight away. And I might have found it boring and irrelevant, a little bit. Still, I went with an open mind, and hoped that since the meeting featured scientists and the editor of the socialist, I would at the very least get a clear and concise statement of what dialectics actually was.

    I managed to gather this:

    1) It attempts to create a "Science of Change". Great, but that doesn't really tell me an awful lot. I mean, all three natural sciences already talk about change, but yeah, perhaps dialectics is specifically about change.

    2) Things are always changing, and the change has something to do with three "Laws".

    3) Nothing else.


    Why is it so damn hard to explain? Am I being stupid? Anyway, I thought that I had managed to grasp the Quantity to Quality one best of the three, by means of the apparently famous kettle analogy. I still had reservations though, because the analogy didn't stack up as far as I could see. I asked a slightly hostile question about it, which was met with stony silence for a few seconds, a snigger from the chair and then a kindly looking lady and a few science-types tried to explain it to me. I couldn't make head or tail of it, it flew straight over my head - So after a while I just stopped asking, it was clear I'd been disrupting the meeting a bit.

    So I'll ask my questions to any RevLeft dialecticians.

    The analogy says that by increasing quantity of heat, you change the quality of the water, right? Here's my criticism. If you have a pan of water that you want to boil on say, a gas hob, how do you go about it? You light the gas. No way around that. Lighting the gas, though, is a quality change, surely. So the entire thing is flawed. You can't just increase the heat energy without first initiating a quality change. So the chain of events, contary to dialectical materialism, does not run like this:

    Quantity-Quality.

    But like this:

    Quality-Quantity-Quality

    Secondly, it is not as if there are no qualitative changes before the boil. The water molecules vibrate faster and faster, the whole body of water bubbles and moves around, etc. It seemed at that meeting as if they were saying nothing happens until the quantity of heat reaches some weird kind of critical mass of a 100 degrees. That ain't true.

    Third, the water, when it boils, is not significantly different to the water pre-boil. Steam, when all is said and done, is still good ol' H20. Again, the dialecticians seemed to be equating water boiling with a socialist revolution! All that's changed with the water, as far as I know from my pathetic knowledge of science, is the bond structures.

    Fourth, an actual quantity change would be to simply pour more water in to the kettle. Water is what you've got, so altering it's quanity is to add more water. Adding 100 degrees of heat is qualitative.


    Any clear, concise answers are totally welcomed. Any obscure re-statements are not.

    -Alex

    P.S. Rosa, I know you will make a witty comment and direct me to an essay. Since I do not actually subscribe to dialectics, perhaps you can save your conversionist efforts for greater battles. I'm mainly interested in what the "other side" has to say.
    The walls pull back, they are transparent and they pull back... love can create this feeling, or art; it is rare to feel it in society, where one is almost always confronted with a kind of obligatory inertia, where the activity one pursues goes almost always hand in hand with the painful feeling of its limitations. But during the strike, we could touch it with our fingers, rub our hands across its back.

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    Burn, good luck on receiving a reply from the mystics, but you will first of all need to say what you mean by 'quality' -- or rather, you will need to get them to say what they mean by it.

    Hegel called it 'determinate being' (eh?). :wacko: :wacko:

    Engels did not say, neither did Plekhanov or Lenin and Trotsky...

    You will find a very brief attempt to say what it is in the work of a few Russian dialecticians (CP hacks), but they use Aristotle's 'definition', which does not work.

    Without a clear idea, as you can see from my 'debate' with Zurdito in the 'Stalin and materialism' thread, DM-fans use this notion entirely subjectively, and inconsistently

    So, they use it in the boiling water example -- but only for phase changes (liquid to steam, for instance), even though either side of that phase change you still have H2O (that, incidentally, violates the Aristotelian 'definition'), but they refuse to use it for the change from cold water to hot water (surely a qualitative change if ever there was one).

    So, be prepared for some pretty sloppy answers (if you get any), and also watch out for Mickey Mouse Science.

    Mickey Mouse Science is highly superficial science; kindergarden science, if you like.

    For example, from a few cliched examples (check out the ones Criticise Everything tried to use in the 'Stalin and Materialism' thread), and very few details, they derive fundamental Laws applicable everywhere in the entire universe and for all of time.

    Now, I do not know if you have ever seen a genuine science research paper (in say, Physics, Chemistry or Geology), but the amount of detail scientists have to go into to alter even tiny areas of knowledge, let alone make significant changes to theory, is quite daunting. They have to be very thorough and pay close attention to detail, and loads of it!

    But dialecticans hope to convince us that their 'laws' work based on a few paragraphs (or if you are lucky, a few pages) of cliched, anecdotal, and trite examples, no original data, compounded by an extensive lack of attention to detail.

    For example, they refuse to define 'quality' or 'node'/'leap' (I tried to get Zurdito to do so, just as I have tried to get others to do so now for nigh on 20 years); deadly silence there.

    Also, they will not tell you if the changes they envisage are in open or closed thermodynamic systems (in fact, I work out all the possible combinations and options at my site -- for the first time ever in this field -- they refue even to read it!).

    They not only ignore significant details like this, they give you a hard time for doubting their sacred 'laws' -- just like creationists do.

    And as if to top that, they ignore cases where their 'laws' do not work (and there are loads of those).

    And yet they expect us to take their science seriously.

    Can you imagine genuine scientists refusing to do this, or operating with such ill-defined terms?

    Mickey Mouse Science, as I said.

    Minnie Mouse Philosophy, too.
    Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein; 11th January 2008 at 11:39.

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    It is instructive to comapre the paucity of detail offered by dialecticians in this area of Marxism, with the extensive and well-researched detail they give in economics, history and politics.

    Which just goes to show that historical materialism is a science whereas dialectical materialism is a joke.

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    Originally posted by BurnTheOliveTree@November 23, 2007 01:08 pm
    Third, the water, when it boils, is not significantly different to the water pre-boil. Steam, when all is said and done, is still good ol' H20.
    In case anyone was wondering what happens there ... the Van der Waal's (cohesive) forces between adjacent H2O molecules fall off so rapidly with distance, not according to the inverse square law, but with the _seventh_ power of the distance. When a surface molecule reaches the escape velocity, it becomes completely detached from the liquid. There is an abrupt change from having considering bonding with one's neighbors to having virtually none.

    Fourth, an actual quantity change would be to simply pour more water in to the kettle. Water is what you've got, so altering it's quanity is to add more water.
    The quantity referred to in this case isn't the amount of water, but the mean value of the kinetic energy of the water molecules.

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    We ought to remember that, around the time of Marx and Engels, it was then very recent news: that properties of a compound are determined by the kinds and amounts of the elements in it, and the elements are combined in definite proportions (Dalton) ... that periodic properties of elements can be understood by listing them in a table in a certain order (Mendeleev) ... that thermal energy isn't some kind of "fluid" but a measure of the motion of particles (Maxwell and Boltzmann). Such discoveries being so recent, it must have seemed as though it was being found that "number" is the basic building block of everything, almost in the Pythagorean sense. Also, it's understandable that many people of that generation would have had expectations that we no longer have about everything, including society and thought, soon becoming quantitative sciences.

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    Mikelepore, I am not sure whether you are defending Engels or not, but if you are you need to address the points I raised which refute his entire 'theory'.

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    Rosa, I'm not so good at responding on my own to a book-length study of something, and I usually respond to individual sentences as I come accross them. I can say this much: Engels sneaked the dialectics into conjuction with Marxian topics, somewhat while Marx was still around to yell at him, but much more after Marx died - just as he waited until Marx was dead before he did a lot of his overdone myth-making about how idyllic the early the tribal societies were. Some of the dialectics is mystical in a Taoist sense -- the "interpenetration of opposites" is I Ching style magic. Engels' playing around with the square root of negative one and the other mathematical curiosities is a big "so what?", and there either he's practicing numerology or else he exhibits attention deficit disorder, because it has no relevance to social science, or none that he is prepared to point out. His use of Hegel's idea of "contradiction" merely repeats Hegel's error. Give me Boolean algebra and De Morgan's theorem any day to really understand how opposites interact. His emphasis on the structure of the very small, like electrically charged particles, and implication that this enlightens us about human society, seems to be the comission of the fallacy of composition, as if to say: if the bricks of which a building is made are rectangular, that explains that a buiding must be rectangular. I believe it would be proper if dialectics were used all the while the people using it were aware that it's only a hunch generator, as the exercise of automatic writing in a trance may be used as a hunch generator. The problem is that people think dialectics is a kind of logic, indeed, a superior branch of logic, as described in the book George Novack, _Dialectics of Marxism_. It must be made clear that dialectics in not capable, in even one case ever discovered to date, of distinguishing unambiguously between a true proposition and a false proposition -- some hell of a logic system, huh? It's poetry, not logic. Occasionally one of the metaphors may generate a eureka moment. In no case is it reliable to expect that in advance.

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    Thanks for clarifying that; there's not much in what you say with which I would want to disagree.

    I was of course referring to the comments I have posetd here, in this and another recent threads, not my Essays, but since we are in almost total agreement, you can ignore my earlier comment.

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    One area where we may disagree, I wonder .... I think the quantity and quality argument is both correct and necessary when debating conservative people who continue to say, for example, if some of anything is good then more must be better still. The laissez faire capitalism movement would say, for example: if it advances human expression that the printing press and radio were invented, then it must be a whole lot of free expression that a U.S. corporation owns a thousand radio corporations, and now the socialist has to try to explain to them that one corporation owning a thousand radio stations is more censorship, not more free speech. I believe that quantity truly does tranform into quality. Changing the numbers can make something flip to its opposite. It was liberating to invent the tool, but oppressive that the capitalist has millions of such tools. To realize that private ownership of a garden shovel is socially different from private ownership of a large industry is a quantity-quality consideration. I criticize Engels' version of it because he thought he was helping to prove the point by reciting irrelevant examples from nature such as methane, ethane, propane, butane. Engels' thought that the relationship in world events comes from the relationship in the constituent particles. Taking us from the formation of the solar system to the socialist revolution, Engels makes a dharma-like all-is-one argument.

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    Well, it's not much of a principle if we only use it when it suits us.

    It certainly cannot be a 'law'.

    And, it's not a very good principle, either -- since the term 'quality' is impossible to define, as is 'node'.

    And it has so many exceptions, you'd only be able to win an argument with it when faced with a rather dim oponent.

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    BurnTheOliveTree:

    What about nuclear fusion as a better analogy? Atoms of hydrogen undergo gradual tremendous changes in pressure, temperature, gravity and a new element is created (helium) and on and on up the periodic table.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_fusion#Hot_fusion
    "The essence of all slavery consists in taking the product of another's labor by force. It is immaterial whether this force be founded upon ownership of the slave or ownership of the money that he must get to live" -Leo Tolstoy

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    RIP Ian Tomlinson (victim of UK police brutality)

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    It is just a problem with the analogy then dissenter, not dialectics as a whole? If it's just a problem with the analogy then why is it used so much, and if not then surely you can answer the questions on the kettle analogy?

    I say this because nuclear fusion is way over my head and beyond me. Keep it simple!

    -Alex
    The walls pull back, they are transparent and they pull back... love can create this feeling, or art; it is rare to feel it in society, where one is almost always confronted with a kind of obligatory inertia, where the activity one pursues goes almost always hand in hand with the painful feeling of its limitations. But during the strike, we could touch it with our fingers, rub our hands across its back.

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    Both of you seem reluctant to grasp the nettle (not the kettle): this 'law' is far to vague for anyone to be able to decide if it is correct/useful or not.

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    Rosa:

    That's right, it's not a law, and it has many exceptions. It's just a point about "this sometimes happens", to be made because we have an opponent in a debate who asserts that "this never happens."

    That dim-witted opponent is, unfortunately, not a rarity. It's quite common for people to say that my possession of my shirt is exactly the same thing as the capitalist's right to own society's means of life.

    Changing the numbers in a process will sometimes make something become fundamentally different. Teaching that point is useful. Actually using terms like quantity and quality in a public debate is not necessary.

    (When I say "debate" there I mean any introductory article, speech, pamphlet, FAQ document, organization's declaration of principles, etc.)

    The famous witticism by Anatole France is a point about a numerical change causing something to become fundamentally different: "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

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    Originally posted by BurnTheOliveTree@November 24, 2007 04:56 pm
    because nuclear fusion is way over my head
    Two protons tend to repel each other electrically because they're both positively charged, but if they are moving toward each other so fast that, despite their repulsion, they manage to get within 10^-15 meter of each other, then the attractive nuclear force suddenly snaps on, and then they are pulled together to bond.

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    M:

    That's right, it's not a law, and it has many exceptions. It's just a point about "this sometimes happens", to be made because we have an opponent in a debate who asserts that "this never happens."
    If it's not a law, then how do you know it is not just coincidental, or a false partial generalisation (like many we have seen in the history of science)?

    And the way you use it is entirely subjective -- i.e., when you choose to do so.

    Changing the numbers in a process will sometimes make something become fundamentally different. Teaching that point is useful. Actually using terms like quantity and quality in a public debate is not necessary.
    Only because, like others who accept this vague idea, you refuse to (or cannot) tell us what a 'quality' is.

    So, it is in fact no more use than "An apple a day keeps the doctor away...".

    Or a stopped clock telling the right time twice a day.

    And what is the 'quantity' added in your proton example?

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    Originally posted by mikelepore+November 25, 2007 01:42 am--> (mikelepore @ November 25, 2007 01:42 am)
    BurnTheOliveTree
    @November 24, 2007 04:56 pm
    because nuclear fusion is way over my head
    Two protons tend to repel each other electrically because they're both positively charged, but if they are moving toward each other so fast that, despite their repulsion, they manage to get within 10^-15 meter of each other, then the attractive nuclear force suddenly snaps on, and then they are pulled together to bond. [/b]
    Thats actually the 'strong nuclear force' you are describing there. More on dialectical materialism later, I haven't the time right now.
    "The essence of all slavery consists in taking the product of another's labor by force. It is immaterial whether this force be founded upon ownership of the slave or ownership of the money that he must get to live" -Leo Tolstoy

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    John Dewey

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    Yes, but what is the 'quantity' added here, and what exactly is a 'quality'?

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    Look, it's really not that hard.

    "Faster and faster" is not a qualitative change really, it's a quantitative change.

    It's a quantitative increase, that we can see at the level of individual particles. In the case of the actual boiling, and the transformation to a gas, that's a qualitative increase that is generalized, and really noticeable in terms of the entire system, the entire container of water, and not as much in terms of individual particles.

    Water molecules are the same, moving in different ways and at different speeds, in the different forms of water, ice, liquid and gas. But they remain, individually, water molecules. The real change is at the collective level.

    Small changes at the level of individual particles, changes that do not signify revolutionary change in and of themselves, translate into massive change if enough particles are involved. At a certain point, the individual particles taken together reach a tipping point where they crystallize in relation to each other, or turn into a gas, etc...

    This is a generalized change that happens through a tipping point when enough individual particles are modified, hence quantity into quality. Dialectics deals with that tipping point, slow evolution giving birth to revolutionary changes.

  20. #20
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    Originally posted by Rosa Lichtenstein@November 25, 2007 04:13 am
    tell us what a 'quality' is
    That problem is there is any case. There's always a decision to be made about when we want to announce that we have something that's fundamentally different from something else, and we want to apply a different name to it. It's like the microorganism that's an animal due to its flagellum and is also a plant due to its chloroplast. Or the crocodile which might have been called a small dinosaur, if a different classification system were in use, except that a new name was chosen for it. Or the amorphous solid that some people prefer to call a liquid which happens to be flowing very slowly. But whenever people do decide that they see something fundamentally different over there compared to what's over here, what has happened is that some measurable variables were changing incrementally until something abrupt took place. The definition will be somewhat arbitrary.

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