The projection of DM-theses onto nature is not just an aberration of modern-day dialecticians; every DM-classicist has indulged extensively in the sport. For example, it can be found right throughout Engels's writings; indeed, in his classic text Socialism: Utopian and Scientific
, he had this to say:
"Nature works dialectically and not metaphysically." [Engels (1892), pp.407, repeated in Engels (1976), p.28.]
To this may be added the following comment:
"Dialectics…prevails throughout nature
…. [T]he motion through opposites which asserts itself everywhere in nature
, and which by the continual conflict of the opposites…determines the life of nature." [Engels (1954), p.211. Bold emphases added.]
But, how could Engels possibly have known all of this? How could he have known that nature does not operate "metaphysically", say, in distant regions of space and time, way beyond the edges of the known Universe of his day? Indeed, how could he have been so sure that, for example, there are no changeless objects anywhere in the entire universe? How could he have been so certain that the "life of nature" is in fact the result of a "conflict of opposites" -- or that some processes (in the whole of reality, for the whole of time) were not governed by non-dialectical factors? Where is his "carefully" collected evidence about every object and event in nature, past, present and future?
Notice that Engels did not say that "all the evidence collected" up until his day supported these contentions, or that "those parts of the world of which scientists" of his day were aware behaved in the way he indicated; he just referred to nature tout court, without qualification (i.e., "throughout nature" and "everywhere in nature"). In line with other DM-theorists, Engels signally failed to inform his readers of the whereabouts of the large finite set of "careful observations" upon which these wild generalisations had been based.
To be sure, he did say that nature itself confirms DM, but that looks more like a manifesto claim than a summary of the evidence -- especially if the 'evidence' he actually bothered to produce does not in fact support his theses, as we will see in later Essays.
And Engels didn't stop there; he made equally bold statements about other fundamental aspects of nature:
"Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be
…. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself; as the older philosophy (Descartes) expressed it, the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same
. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transmitted….
"A motionless state of matter therefore proves to be one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas…." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphases added.]
"The great basic thought that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but a complex of processes
, in which things apparently stable…, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away…." [Engels (1892), p.609. Bold emphases added.]
"Dialectics is the science of universal interconnection
"The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa…[operates] in nature, in a manner fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or quantitative subtraction of matter or motion….
"Hence, it is impossible
to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion…. In this form, therefore, Hegel's mysterious principle appears not only quite rational but even rather obvious.
"Motion in the most general sense, conceived as the mode of existence, the inherent attribute of matter, comprehends all changes and processes occurring in the universe
"Dialectics, so called objective dialectics, prevails throughout nature
…. [M]otion through opposites which asserts itself everywhere in nature
, and which by the continual conflict of the opposites…determines the life of nature….
"The whole theory of gravity rests on saying that attraction is the essence of matter. This is necessarily false
. Where there is attraction, it must be complemented by repulsion. Hence already Hegel was quite right in saying that the essence of matter is attraction and repulsion
"The visible system of stars, the solar system, terrestrial masses, molecules and atoms, and finally ether particles, form each of them [a definite group]. It does not alter the case that intermediate links can be found between the separate groups…. These intermediate links prove only that there are no leaps in nature, precisely because nature is composed entirely of leaps
." [Engels (1954), pp.17, 63, 69, 211, 244, 271. Bold emphases added.]
Once more, Engels forgot to say how he knew all these things were true. For example, how could he possibly have known that:
"Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be
…. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself…." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphasis added.]
Neither matter without motion nor motion without matter is inconceivable, contrary to what Engels says. In fact, the contrary doctrine that matter is naturally motionless was itself imposed on nature by Aristotle; Engels's obverse imposition is no less unimpressive, and no less Idealist.
And here is another a priori deduction based only on the 'concepts' involved:
"[A]s soon as we consider things in their motion, their change, their life, their reciprocal influence…[t]hen we immediately become involved in contradictions. Motion itself is a contradiction; even simple mechanical change of place can only come about through a body being both in one place and in another place at one and the same moment of time, being in one and the same place and also not in it. And the continual assertion and simultaneous solution of this contradiction is precisely what motion is." [Engels (1976), p.152.]
Clearly, Engels possessed a truly remarkable skill: that of being able to say precisely what the fundamental features of reality are for all of space and time based on the alleged meanings of a few words. Indeed, Engels's claims about motion are all the more impressive when it is recalled that he made them in abeyance of any supportive evidence -- let alone a significant body of evidence. As it turns out (this will be demonstrated below), evidence would have been unnecessary anyway.
As we have already seen, all that an aspiring dialectician like Engels needs to do is briefly 'reflect' on the supposed meaning of a few words, and substantive truths about fundamental aspects of nature, for all of space and time, spring instantly to mind. Or, more honestly, all he/she has to do is copy such thoughts from Hegel. As we will also see, this is a key feature of ruling-class forms-of-thought, imported into the workers' movement by incautious non-workers like Engels.
Surprisingly then, the only 'evidence' that supports Engels's interpretation of motion is this highly compressed argument, which is itself based on a consideration of what a few innocent-looking words must mean. Pressed for a justification of this line of reasoning, all that Engels could possibly have offered by way of substantiation would have been a rather weak claim that this is what the word "motion" really means. Clearly, such a rejoinder would immediately give the game away since it would reveal that substantive truths about motion had indeed been derived from the meanings of words, and nothing more.
As noted above, an appeal to evidence would be irrelevant, anyway. This is because the examination of countless moving objects would fail to confirm Engels's assertion that they occupy two places at once -- no matter what instruments or devices were used to carry out these hypothetical observations, and regardless of the extent of the magnification used to that end, or the level of microscopic detail enlisted in support. No observation could confirm that a moving object is in two places at once, and in one of these and not in it at the same time. This, of course, explains why in Engels's day there was no scientific evidence whatsoever that supported his belief in the contradictory nature of motion, and thus why he listed none. This picture has not altered in the intervening years (indeed, no book or article on DM ever quotes any) --, and this situation is not likely ever to change.
It could be objected to this that if, say, a photograph were taken of a moving object, it would show by means of the recorded blur, perhaps, that such a body had occupied several places at once. In that case, therefore, there is, or could be, evidence to support Engels's claims.
However, the problem with this is that no matter how fast the shutter speed, a camera can't record an instant in time, merely an interval. Clearly, to verify the claim that a moving object occupies at least two places in the same instant, a physical recording of an instant would be required. Since instants (i.e., in the sense required) are mathematical fictions, it is not possible to record them.
Moreover, not even a mathematical limiting process could capture such ghostly 'entities' in the physical world, whatever else it might do in theory. But even if one could be found that did this, no camera (or radar device, or piece of equipment) could record it. Hence, even if an appeal to mathematical limiting processes was both viable and/or available, it would be of no assistance. No experiment could conceivably substantiate any of the conclusions Engels reached.
And that explains why he and those who accept these ideas have to force this view of motion onto nature.
[The many errors this passge contains are exposed here:
Consider another passage, this time taken from a letter written by Engels:
"The identity of thinking and being, to use Hegelian language, everywhere coincides with your example of the circle and the polygon. Or the two of them, the concept of a thing and its reality, run side by side like two asymptotes, always approaching each other but never meeting. This difference between the two is the very difference which prevents the concept from being directly and immediately reality and reality from being immediately its own concept. Because a concept has the essential nature of the concept and does not therefore prima facie directly coincide with reality, from which it had to be abstracted in the first place, it is nevertheless more than a fiction, unless you declare that all the results of thought are fictions because reality corresponds to them only very circuitously, and even then approaching it only asymptotically…. In other words, the unity of concept and phenomenon manifests itself as an essentially infinite process, and that is what it is, in this case as in all others." [Engels to Schmidt (12/3/1895), in Marx and Engels (1975), pp.457-58.]
There are several puzzling things about this passage (which will have to be left until later), but how could Engels possibly have known that concepts and things interrelate in the way he alleges? In fact, if he were right, in order for him to conclude what he does about "things" (with which he admits knowledge of his (or perhaps any other) day never coincides), he must have extrapolated way beyond the state of knowledge in the late nineteenth century -- and, as the next quotation below indicates, way beyond any conceivable state of knowledge.
Worse still: if things never "coincide" with their own concepts, then on that basis alone Engels could not have known that even this much was correct. Plainly, if he did know this, then at least one concept -- namely the one Engels was using -- would have coincided with its object.
Clearly, such semi-divine confidence could only have arisen from: (1) Engels's own imposition of this a priori thesis on to nature, and/or (2) from the a priori Idealist principles Engels admits he lifted from Hegel -- but not from perusing the 'book' of nature, or from collecting evidence, either "patiently" or impatiently.
As should seem obvious, if reality is permanently beyond our grasp then anything anyone says about 'it' must of necessity be imposed on 'it' (that is, if we insist on depicting things in such obscure ways).
The next passage from Engels simply underlines this point:
"'Fundamentally, we can know only the infinite.' In fact all real exhaustive knowledge consists solely in raising the individual thing in thought from individuality into particularity and from this into universality, in seeking and establishing the infinite in the finite, the eternal in the transitory…. All true knowledge of nature is knowledge of the eternal, the infinite, and essentially absolute…. The cognition of the infinite…can only take place in an infinite asymptotic progress." [Engels (1954), pp.233-35.]
But, if no concept (ever) matches reality fully, how could Engels have known any of this? How could he possibly know that "All true knowledge of nature is knowledge of the eternal, the infinite, or that it is essentially absolute..."? Either he was in possession of such absolute knowledge when he wrote this (which would have meant, once again, that at least one concept matched reality, namely this one), or he was himself infinitely wrong.
Of course, we know the answer to this question already: Engels was able to foist all this on reality because that is exactly what Hegel did, and it is exactly what traditional Philosophers have always done; he simply copied them.
However, no doubt the infinite (or even large finite) amount of evidence that Engels meant to include in Dialectics of Nature, which would have been necessary to justify these quasi-theological claims, and which has been mislaid in the meantime, will turn up one day.
Engels, F. (1888), Ludwig Feuerbach And The End Of Classical German Philosophy, reprinted in Marx and Engels (1968), pp.584-622.
--------, (1892), Socialism: Utopian And Scientific, in Marx and Engels (1968), pp 375-428.
--------, (1954), Dialectics Of Nature (Progress Publishers).
--------, (1976), Anti-Dühring (Foreign Languages Press).
Marx, K., and Engels, F. (1968), Selected Works In One Volume (Lawrence & Wishart).
--------, (1975), Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, 3rd ed.).