22 December, 2015

Interdisciplinary Research – Dance

What is to be Done: IV
The essential tasks for the Marxists of today

Many years later, I was developing Multimedia Resources for the Teaching of Dance (mostly Ballet and Modern Contemporary Dance). The main reason for this methodology was that we considered that the very best exemplars should be used at every level, and these could only be available in recordings. We also needed to intervene in any recording with perfect control plus easy and accurate access. A teacher HAD to be able to go directly to the movement she was teaching, and once at that moment to sensitively control its playing, with repeats and loops and slow motion. The DYNAMICS of each and every movement had to be precisely delivered, whatever way we were allowing its manipulation.

We therefore could NOT use Video Tape as the necessary access and control was too tedious and frankly impossible to effectively use. So we used Laser Disk technology. These contained a series of concentric tracks, each one containing a single 1/25th of a second frame. BUT, vitally these frames had been captured in an Analogue way. Moments from EVERY part of that 1/25th of a second were present within each and every frame. We had chosen Laser Disk for its controllability, but we had also chosen the ideal medium for delivering perfect movement dynamics.

We devised sophisticated and powerful Access & Control methods, which our users picked up in seconds and used with great power and subtlety to reveal the very essence of the movements.

The system worked like a dream and we won a British Interactive Video Award (BIVA) in Brighton in the Autumn of 1989.

The system worked extremely well, but we didn’t know why until we were required to do the same sort of processes using the “latest thing” – Digital Video. It turned out to be impossible!

I had to STOP the authoring of the new Multimedia Pack and find out why it didn’t work. I wonder if you can guess the reason for its inadequacy? It was Digital, hence though it still built movement out of 1/25th of a second frames, these were very different. They were each frozen STILLS. There were a series of such stills, each of which were held for 1/25th of a second and then replaced by the next still. All dynamics had been lost. Such a technology was fine for animation and fantasy, but Reality in movement was IMPOSSIBLE. After a long diversion researching the problem I was able to reveal the reasons for failure resided precisely in the “new” technology. It just could not cope with detailed analysis of movement. Indeed the movement NOT covered by the separate individual frames – indeed totally absent from the recording amounted to over 97%, and a fast moving hand could move (totally unrecorded) almost a yard between frames. I checked on sports events using digital cameras, and was amazed at the record of Paula Ratcliffe winning the New York marathon – there were only THREE positions of her arm in the record of a single swing, and, of course, such a movement was particularly slow. Imagine trying to study the dynamic detail in a delivery by a fast bowler with such an inadequate technology! Slow motion was a farce, and the dynamics of subtle movement always totally absent. No wonder it didn’t work!

You will have noticed, of course, the occurrence of the very same problem as I have mentioned several times already. Once again, we have a pragmatic solution to representing movement in terms of descrete moments – Descreteness was being used where Continuity turns out to be essential!

The information delivered by Digital Video for human vision and interpretation, which was to be used to recreate actual movement was clearly totally inadequate to the task. The only interpretations possible were crude and simplified extrapolations between inert stills.

But Dance, like Music is packed with subtle accelerations and decelerations, which deliver the Art involved, and these were crucially entirely absent!

So, why did the old alternative, Analogue Video, work so well, while Digital Video was useless?

Without going into the fairly complex detail of the results of my work, what I discovered was that elements from the whole of the 1/25th of a second duration of a frame were indeed present in the analogue version as a sort of “smeared still”. But, when you looked at such a frame in isolation, it appeared confusingly blurred and seemingly entirely useless. The Digital Frame in comparison was completely crisp and clear.

The universal consensus was (and still is) that ONLY the clear, focussed images available via Digital stills could facilitate the serious study of movement. And of course, in one respect they were correct. For while accurate, positional information could be extracted from a Digital Still, no such useable positions were possible from the smeared, Analogue alternative. But the myth was that widely spaced crisp positional information was sufficient to deliver the actual dynamics of the movement involved.

It wasn’t and never can be.

It was the age-old myth that precise numeric information is everything. In movement, that is never the case. The subtle variations in functional movement – the DYNAMICS – is what delivers the real content, and Analogue “smeared stills”, when delivered as a MOVIE, was the only way to deliver that. The very fact that each and every smeared still contained something from every moment of the frame period made it possible for the human Eye/Brain system to correctly interpret the movement. There can be no doubt that the analogue version was ideal for delivery in sequence, and also that our human facilities were ideally equipped to extract the maximum from that seemingly blurred and useless record.

I could go on and explain what could be delivered by slow motion, by looping and by many other techniques, but suffice it to say that on ALL these counts Digital was useless and Analogue was supreme.

Though, I have to admit, that I am in a minority of ONE in taking this position. The voluminous data from digital frames stills seduce the majority of “experts” in this field.

Do you recognise the SAME problem as we saw earlier in the Calculus and in Zeno’s Paradoxes?

It was, and is, the problem of Continuity and Descreteness once more!

Believe it or not, we solved the problem.

I will NOT burden you here with all the details, but suffice it to say that we, that the work led to the appropriate delivery of dynamics and even to the design of an entirely NEW camera for recording and studying movement, which I have called the Twin Movement Camera.

This may seem a long way from Marxism, but it is at the philosophical heart of it!

No-one else had even noticed what was being lost, and still the Digital avalanche continues unabated, and experts use Digital cameras to analyse movement in Sport and many other areas without discovering the inadequacy of their chosen means.

In contrast, a Marxist working alone, without either funds or facilities, cracked the problem, while literally thousands of scientists working in this field world-wide have failed to do so.

The legacy of this research continues in the current work by Bedford Interactive, and their pioneering software FORMotion.

If you think that the correct interpretation of movement in Ballet is resoundingly unimportant, may I change tack completely and go on to questions concerning the Nature of Reality and the universally accepted methods of Science to further my case?

This post is the fourth in a new blog series entitled "What is to be done?" on the crises in both Marxism and Science, and how a revolution is necessary in both. This body of work will eventually be published in Shape Journal as a Special Issue. Watch this space!

This post is the fourth in a new blog series entitled "What is to be done?" on the crises in both Marxism and Science, and how a revolution is necessary in both. This body of work is AVAILABLE NOW as a Special Issue. Read it all here!

14 December, 2015

Professional Research

What is to be Done: III
The essential tasks for the Marxists of today

Let us consider a couple of my research areas.

When I was teaching “A” Level mathematics in the late 1960s, I had to teach what is called The Calculus. This was a series of techniques independently and more or less simultaneously invented by both Isaac Newton and Leibnitz to deal with the mathematical study of Rates of Change. These covered all such situations in Reality, but are most clearly and accurately encapsulated by the series of relations involving Distance, Time, Speed, and Acceleration.

These are a closely related set: the rate of change of Distance with Time being termed Speed, and the rate of change of Speed with Time giving us Acceleration. Now relations between pairs of these variables could be experimentally studied, and the results fitted to standard forms available from Mathematics. But, it was soon clear that scientists needed to move between these various variables at will, and some natural relations required different selections from the set to deliver what was required. For example air resistance is related to speed, and so MUST involve that Rate of Change in its descriptive formula. So though Scientists and Mathematicians could manipulate the separate equations, they couldn’t convert one form into another. Such a process was NOT mere manipulation. A whole new level of conversion was found to be involved, but these involved the plotting of the pair of related variables onto Graph and thereafter to construct lines on the graphs which could deliver (by calculation) the required rate-of-change values. Various frigs (or short cuts) were found, but these just had to be remembered. What was needed was general method of doing these tasks covering ALL possible equations. AND, most important it had to be the job of a teacher to explain why these tricks worked, and even to supplying a general way of doing it for ALL possible cases.

The classic route is to plot out the given equation as a graph. For pairs of variables this was very easy to do, and students could follow the processes as demonstrated, but for any number of variables above two, the graphical method was at first difficult, and then impossible.

Needless to say most students did NOT like this area of Mathematics.

Let us see what was involved for just two variables, and then see how Newton and Leibnitz then cracked it for ALL cases. What was required was to find out the rate of change of one of the variables with respect to the other.

For example we might require the change in Distance with Time - we were requiring the Speed!

Now such things were easy when speeds were constant, but if these were changing moment by moment they were seemingly unobtainable. It had long been the practice of Mathematicians to construct a straight line addition onto the graph at the point where we need the rate of change.

Obviously, such a construction has to try to match the “slope” of the graph accurately, and a right angled triangle constructed with this line as its hypotenuse. The Tangent of the angle of slope would give us our required Rate of Change.

Thus, the instantaneous Rate of Change, at the given moment, was extracted from the graph. Also, it is clear that for every point where we required this information, this whole process would have to be repeated. This is a tedious process and needed to be replaced with something more accurate and quick.

What Newton did was to correctly assume that this crucial slope could be directly derived from the original equation WITHOUT all this geometrical construction and trigonometry. His researches discovered a manipulative technique wherein the “slope” of (say) y = x3 was shown to be 3x2 at every point on the curve (i.e. for every situation covered by this equation). This led him (and Leibnitz quite separately of course) to a general form where for y = xn, the slope would be nxn-1 This general process was given the name Differentiation, and was expanded to cover all known formulae.

But why did this (and the following related techniques) work? Remembering such a trick was useful but NOT really informative.

Both inventors attempted to establish their manipulations by geometrical proof. It amounted to drawing a Chord between two points A and B, on the curve of the equation, and setting up a right angled triangle with these two points giving the hypotenuse of that figure.

The coordinates of the points at A and B could easily be used to find the lengths AC and BC and a very inaccurate estimate of the required slope (at A) could be obtained from that of the chord AB.

What happened next was philosophically very interesting. Both inventors assumed that perfect Continuity pertained for the given equation, and B could be brought closer and closer to A. As this happened, the calculated slope of AB would change, until it STOPPED at a final and accurate value just as the point B became coincident with A. At that precise moment, the slope of the chord AB would be identical with the slope of the curve at A.

But, there was a problem.

At this final situation the triangle used to calculate the slope completely vanished, so that the slope at A (the Tangent of the angle at A) became BC/AC which was 0/0 (A and B were the same point). But surprisingly the slope didn’t vanish too. It actually reached its correct finite value. But how could we find it from 0/0. Both inventors were able to establish, theoretically, the final form of each Differentiation from this construction, but it certainly posed important questions. Their modified versions after differentiation worked well, but they had only demonstrated rather than proved why this was the case. The whole idea of 0/0 being all sorts of different and finite things seemed WRONG. Our mathematicians had come up against the consequences of the assumption of Continuity.

Indeed, this anomaly was merely swept under the carpet, and students were told just to remember the frig to get the right answers. But, it was, of course, very unsatisfactory. The mathematicians had used an argument, which they had taken to The Limit, and without a clear justification conjured up the Right answer out of a simple Frig. The students naturally wondered why I had bothered to point out this situation. “Surely”, they insisted, “if the correct answer was obtained, then what could possibly be amiss?”

So, I asked them to consider the division of things in general into smaller and smaller pieces. “Could this go on forever?”, I asked. The answer was clearly, “No!” So I proposed that the assumption of Continuity was only OK, so long as we remained within the limits of Applicability of an equation. Indeed ALL equations had this limit, and would fail if it were transgressed. They began to see that Mathematics was NOT absolute but conditional and limited.

It was an important lesson. All philosophies that attempted to construct an absolute picture of Reality based on Mathematics were simply wrong. Mathematics was NOT the essence of Reality, but a pragmatic and limited bag of practical frigs.

Now, for many years a similar discussion had been going on in Science (or more precisely in Physics) as to whether everything studied was similarly perfectly Continuous. But researchers kept finding descrete particles, which could never be shoe-horned into a conception of total and universal continuity.

The assumptions of Newton and Leibnitz could be wrong! The assumption that perfectly continuous equations covered all of Reality came into question.

Now, this everyday pair of assumptions: “Reality is Continuous” and “Reality is made up of Descrete fundamental units”, had been first revealed 2,500 years ago by Zeno of Elea (in ancient Greece). Zeno was so taken aback by the consequences of these two assumptions that he designed a series of Logical Paradoxes to show that BOTH of these assumptions led to contradictions when used in the study of Motion. No-one was able to refute the towering logic of his case. Indeed, they didn’t even know what his purpose was! They thought that he was saying that Logic is impossible, whereas, of course, he was saying NOTHING about Logic as such (indeed he himself was using it to make his points). He was, on the contrary, attempting to draw attention to our underlying, everyday assumptions that were the basis for subsequent logical arguments and derivations. He proved that the Foundations for our Logic were both man-made and inaccurate.

Needless to say, I taught Zeno to my A Level students and Mathematics was set alight!

This post is the third in a new blog series entitled "What is to be done?" on the crises in both Marxism and Science, and how a revolution is necessary in both. This body of work is AVAILABLE NOW as a Special Issue. Read it all here!

13 December, 2015

Issue 41 of SHAPE: Quantum Disentanglement

This edition is a collection of essays and reviews on Quantum Entanglement, and why the concept is almost certainly nonsense. I have been working on picking apart these ideas for several months now, and a Special Issue is in the pipeline for early 2016, with the working title Entangled Universe, which will aim to debunk this area of “Physics” once and for all.

Until then I thought it would be a good idea to collate here my earlier attempts to tackle this mess, many of which have already been published on the blog and in previous issues, as an introduction to this work, and for many, an introduction to the concept of Quantum Entanglement itself.

11 December, 2015


Having now watched many of Professor Richard Wolff’s video offerings on the current crisis in Capitalism, and, in particular, his position on Social Democracy, he certainly seems to be positioning himself in a new place politically.

He is, of course, an archenemy of Capitalism, but he certainly isn’t a Stalinist – he abhors what happened in Russia and China, and he only mentions Trotsky in passing.

So, where exactly does he actually stand? What is his recipe for bringing about the demise of Capitalism?

He is well aware of his responsibility in this regard, and he clearly proves conclusively that Social Democratic regulations, imposed from above, upon a still Capitalist Economic System will inevitably fail to effect such a transition. He makes it absolutely clear that, in his opinion, an alternative to Capitalism involving Workers’ Ownership and Control of the means of Production, Distribution and Exchange is vital. He even relates what happened in Russia, during the Revolution, with a certain relish, when immediately after the taking of power by force and the Congress of Soviets, the Stock Exchange was closed forever, and the stock documents ripped up as so much waste paper, and the Banks occupied. The Soviets – Workers’ Councils, everywhere and in every possible context took control.

Yet Wolff doesn’t call upon the organisation of parties to fight for such a Revolution – which is exactly what was necessary in both Russia and China!

What he does concentrate upon are Workers’ Cooperatives, such as the Cooperative Wholesale Society as established in my own City of Manchester, which grew to be enormous, and even sponsored Labour candidates in British General Elections, and describes in detail the major such Cooperative, currently in existence, in the Basque Region in Northern Spain.

Now, as a supporter of that sort of organisation in Britain, myself, he clearly has a point,

But, exactly how these should inter-relate isn’t clear, and the British experience was that the supporters of Cooperative Organisations, left the question of the switch to Socialism entirely to the Social Democratic Labour Party, which in spite of its courageous effort following the Second World War, in the end failed completely, and all its gains are now dismantled.

What is clear is that no matter how things started in the Russian Revolution, they were soon emasculated by an emerging bureaucracy within the hierarchies of the national Soviet System, with the crucial reins in the hands of Stalin and his cronies.

And, as Lenin and later the Trotskyists insisted, Socialism could not be established in a single country, as the Capitalist Ruling classes across the globe would work tirelessly to isolate and undermine any state which managed to remove Capitalism entirely.

Yet, in the flux of Revolution, as was related by John Read in his book, Ten Days that Shook the World - the natural and crucial initial functioning of the Soviets was clear to see. The Smolny Institute (home of the Congress of Soviets) was thronged with many delegates from Soviets all over Russia. And, a constant stream of messengers from these far-flung Soviets, were constantly being validated. What they were carrying were updates and mandates as to how their delegates had to vote, along with replacement credentials for newly appointed representatives to replace current ones who had lost the confidence of the majority of representatives back home in their Soviet.

These messengers, almost invariably, had the new delegates accompanying them. Instant Recall & Replacement was the rule: no waiting for another General Election.

Clearly, the credentials of the messengers were crucial, and these people were invariably Bolshevik Party members, or someone else who both the sending Soviet itself, and the officers of the Congress, could trust.

This gathering at Smolny was for every single Soviet across the country, and all shades of opinion were represented there. But, as always the Social Democratic organisations were invariably dominated by educated middle class delegates, while the majority of Soviets were not so dominated. Discussions at the Congress were across the whole range of approaches. 

But, in the midst of a crucial debate, Lenin was able to announce that the Winter Palace had been taken and the whole of the Provisional Government arrested. The whole atmosphere in the Congress changed. The general reaction was rejoicing, but the Social Democrats denounced it as a Coup by the Bolsheviks, and withdrew en masse from the Congress.

The mood of the Congress, however was clear, and fell silent as Lenin, now elected leader of the Congress, approached the rostrum and announced, “We shall now construct the Socialist Order!”

10 December, 2015

Anti-Revisionist or Marxist?

What is to be Done: II
The essential tasks for the Marxists of today

Political Stance, Campaigns and Theory

We were supposed to be Marxists! And that meant that though we could not ignore the enemy within, the esoteric arguments were simply insufficient to equip us for the many more important fights to come. The main theoretical strategy MUST be, what it has always been - that is to be active present day Marxists, advancing the body of Theory, and continuing to outstrip all major non-Marxist tendencies in interpreting ALL aspects of the World, and on the basis of this, formulating the correct paths to further work.

There was a major disadvantage however.

England had been a major imperialist power for centuries, and, as with present day Americans, this led to an anti-theoretical, and self-confident pragmatism, which really was very impatient with Theory. The idea of locking yourself away in the British Museum Library to crack important theoretical questions was certainly anathema to the British socialists I knew. In addition, it was certainly very difficult to recruit the best minds, and keep them, when our Theory was not trouncing the opposition with its mainline to Truth. It must be admitted, we didn’t have the people for the job! There were many good and committed comrades, but clearly no-one of the intellectual power of a Lenin or a Trotsky to help.

We had, quite correctly, turned to the only potentially revolutionary force within Society – the Working Class, and its vanguard – the Youth, but we won their respect with our energy and activism, and NOT by our penetrating and inspiring Theory. Most members seemed to get by totally without any discernable Theory, requiring only a clear task list to keep them busy. The decline of the organisation was inevitable. It didn’t deliver what it seemed to promise.

In spite of a series of excellent campaigns, such as the support of strikes throughout the country, these never coalesced into anything bigger.

I well remember my own intervention at a factory near Leicester, where most employees were Indians, and could only keep their jobs by paying off the foreman. I got a full report into the paper, and sold it outside from early in the morning till the whistle blew for the end of the shift. Workers were coming out in droves to buy the paper, and all hell had broken loose within the management. The foreman was sacked and the protection racket ended. But, this excellent intervention led to no new recruits or support for our other ventures in the city. Our activism did NOT have an effective transition strategy: it was an end in itself!

The Workers’ Aid campaign, to support the miners of Bosnia-Herzegovina, though conceived of and organised by a Serbian colleague, did not develop into a continuing movement. We seemed to be slipping into single-issue politics like everyone else. The party began to lose its famous members and generally shrink and even split. In the end most of the best people had left, and at the present time, it has effectively ceased to exist.

I was involved actually in political work in and around this organisation from 1959 to 1986, but for the last 10 years of this period I was no longer a member. In Scotland in the 1980’s I set up Youth Training course for unemployed youth in Brigton, Glasgow, with the support and occasional presence of Vanessa Redgrave, then still involved with the Party, but it was a yet another one-man show, and when I left Scotland for another job, it seemed to fade away.

And it had by then been long evident that there had been NO development of my personal grasp (or use) of Marxism. I was even occasionally reprimanded for asking questions at education classes, with the criticism that I obviously hadn’t read the appropriate texts. I had, of course, but they had multiplied the questions, not addressed them – quite as it should be, if you think about it. The conception that you only have to read the words of the Master to completely understand things, is Error Number One, in the process of attempting to understand something. Indeed, I had probably read a great deal more than anyone else in the room. My library at the time was around 600 books, and has expanded at a similar rate ever since. But you don’t learn Marxism as a “given thing”, you must “create” it, day in, day out! Theoretical activity is the most powerful weapon that we can have, and handed down formulae are insufficient. You have to “light up” the problems with constantly replenished Truth. But, such a conception was not evident to me within the organisation, and sadly within any of the other Trotskyist tendences either (for I did read their stuff).

The period of the Thatcherite Reaction more or less put paid to the revolutionary tendencies as a force in Working Class politics. The citadels of working class strength – the Coal Industry, Heavy Engineering and Car Manufacture were dismantled, along with the rights of the organised working class. The power bases of the Class were deliberately dismantled, as long fought for Rights were taken away, and replaced by a “Tory-inspired democracy”, and, finally, the capitalist, globalisation boom of the New Labourites seduced most workers into a frenzy of consumption.

But such periods are not unknown in history. They happened to both Marx and later on to Lenin. And what did they do, when faced with such periods? They used the lull in activity to concentrate on sharpening their essential weapons. They stepped up their theoretical work to being THE all-consuming task!

And, we must do the same!

Now, you might with justice respond with, “Are you doing this? What contributions have you made?” To which I must reply by saying that these are the right questions. And I must respond to them, and justify my position before I go any further.

Well, I wasn’t well trained in this endeavour. I was aware of its necessity, but you always assume that others are much more able and qualified to take on such important tasks. So, my initial contributions were fragmentary.

Then, slowly at first in the 1990s, and thereafter, beginning to accelerate over the next decade, the tempo increased until today I work on theoretical questions 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. It is now all I do, and I have been working at this level now for over three years (by 2005 ed.).

Though my initial contributions were limited to my specialist areas, the experiences of the last couple of decades have forced a widening of my accepted remit, such that my work today is clearly interdisciplinary, and has led to some significant contributions.

Now, the activist will certainly still admonish me with, “So, you haven’t been active in politics for twenty years, and yet STILL presume to be able to make a contribution to Marxism? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? Are you not just a classical bourgeois philosopher, criticising the World from the comfort of your “armchair-and-slippers” retirement?”

Well, no!

Perhaps I have missed out a few things in the trajectory of my life, which are perhaps relevant to this discussion. First, I have been a teacher, lecturer and finally a professor in London University, in a career spanning 32 years. I was a qualified physicist, but went on to teach Mathematics, then Biology, then Computer Science at levels ranging from Primary schools to Universities, in cities such as Leicester, Hong Kong, Glasgow, Bedford and London. 

If you know about computer software, it may interest you to know that I wrote a Machine-independent Fortran compiler in the 1970’s. In that same decade I built the first Community Computer Centre at a Further Education College in Leicester, which ended up teaching ONE THIRD of the city’s Secondary Schools pupils for FREE, via Link Courses. I also in the same period set up the organisation CURE, which acquired and delivered (all for FREE) 25 mainframe computers to educational establishments throughout the UK. Meanwhile, I was also pursuing mathematical researches into Re-entrant tilings, and invented an infinite 3D strand, with re-entrant faces, which stacked together to completely fill space. This strand also was shown to possess great similarities with the general double helix for of DNA, and could be used as a former to replicate itself.

This work was appreciated enough for me to finally make the leap to Higher Education, when I secured a job at Hong Kong Polytechnic, and within a year had been promoted to Senior Lecturer. On my return to the UK in the 1980s, I secured a post in what is now Glasgow Caledonian University, where once again within 2 years I was promoted to Principal Lecturer and proceeded to set up a support arrangement for researchers, which supplied tailor-made software for their research objectives, and which transformed the use of computers in control in research at that institution. My computerisation of a Gas, Liquid Chromatograph elicited requests for reprints from over 60 countries across the World. I also set up a dedicated educational system on a new mainframe computer, which facilitated submission, correction and return of written work by students, made possible by a secure system on the mainframe and the straight-forward access of innumerable PC computers to the shared mainframe. To those who in 2008 consider this commonplace, may I point out that this work was completed by 1986.

On moving to Bedford, this time as Computer Manager for the institution which included Teacher Training, Degree level courses and Further Education within a single College. I started working with Jackie Smith (now Dr. Jacqueline Smith-Autard) to develop and publish Multimedia Resources for the Teaching of Dance, for which we received a BIVA award in 1989, and which has since led to 12 separate products, sold all over the world to all sorts of institutions ranging from Primary Schools to Universities. On moving to London University, where I was the Director of Information Technology (a professorial level post) at a College world famous for its teaching of the Arts, I was immediately in charge of, and commissioned, the first Campus-Wide Fibre-Optic Network anywhere in the University. This was up and running by 1992.

Now, this has been my academic grounding. You may baulk at my long gone 27 years in active politics, and you may also feel somewhat hostile to my obviously purely academic career, but I know what I can do and have done it to the best of my ability throughout that career. I make NO apologies for the 46 years I have spent in teaching and research.

For we must remember that Marxism was never merely a series of recipes for political action. It was, and still is, a world embracing philosophy, absolutely necessary for addressing ALL issues in every sphere of human endeavour. Indeed, it was exactly that aspect of Marxism which conquered the World towards the end of the 19th century. It recruited minds of the very top quality into its ranks – because it delivered. Can we honestly say that it still does this today? It SHOULD! There is nothing to stop it, but it doesn’t happen because Theory on the Global and multi-discipline scale is no longer addressed by those who profess to be Marxists. All work is put into the overtly political areas, and the rest of our energy is consumed in political activism.

The final realisation of this crucial lesson was generated out of the problems that I encountered in a whole series of my non political researches. Let me show how what might be seen as totally irrelevant areas were lit up and made available for solution via the Philosophy of Marxism – or to put it more generally by Dialectical Materialism.

This post is the second in a new blog series entitled "What is to be done?" on the crises in both Marxism and Science, and how a revolution is necessary in both. This body of work will eventually be published in Shape Journal as a Special Issue. Watch this space!

This post is the second in a new blog series entitled "What is to be done?" on the crises in both Marxism and Science, and how a revolution is necessary in both. This body of work is AVAILABLE NOW as a Special Issue. Read it all here!


What is to be Done: I
The essential tasks for the Marxists of today

Epiphany, Activism, Election and Expulsion

Having become a sort of Marxist on purely intellectual grounds, aged 19, while a student at Leeds University, it was clearly immediately necessary for me to learn a great deal more, and, of course, to actually find out what such a conversion, and indeed commitment, would entail politically. It wasn’t immediately evident what I should do as I was totally unaware of what politics was, and did not arrive at my decision for political reasons, but as I have said, for purely intellectual ones. I considered that I had merely “found” a means whereby I could begin to understand the World, and commence the necessary ascent to make full sense of things, and why these were the way they were.

I, of course, read crucial texts such as “The Part played by Labour in the Ascent from Ape to Man” by Engels; “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism” by Lenin, and “Ten Days that Shook the World” by John Read, and anything else that seemed appropriate. I was hooked! But what then must I do?

I joined the Communist Party!

Where rather surprisingly, I wasn’t asked to DO anything! There were discussion groups and votes in the Students’ Union, but little else. It didn’t seem to be a very active sort of commitment. So, off my own bat I persuaded the local “Librarian” of the Party to supply me (on sale or return) with some books to sell on a weekly stall within the Union Building. After a slow start the interest began to pick up, and assuming most political people were like me, I filled the stall with whatever I thought would interest my fellow students.

In a very short time the stall had expanded and was doing good business. I obviously had read what I was selling, and could advise potential customers as to what they may read. A typical example was “A Painter of Our Time” by John Berger, which had been remaindered, but of which I spoke so highly that I was able to sell all the stock that the Party could supply. But as to real political activity, there was none!

Now, the clients for my stall were by no means all Party members. Indeed, there wasn’t that many among the students. The majority were Socialists and many professed to being Marxists, but they certainly had differences with the Party itself. I’m afraid I was in no position to either inform them, or to argue with them, so the conversations around my stall were mostly about the books available there.

Among my “customers”, another tendency began to take my eye. They were also Marxists, through and through, but insisted that they were the true inheritors of Marxism. They were Trotskyists. And it soon became clear that there was no shortage of political activity within that Grouping, though it was still limited to the Student Body only.

At an important Debate in the Student Union, which was, as they say, “totally packed out”, the speaker for these Trotskyists trounced all other participants with his arguments and political position. This was more like it. I, thereafter, went around saying that I was a Trotskyist. Please remember I was only 19 and had never come across any of these things before. My parents never mentioned politics (but voted Labour), and not a word was mentioned by anyone at the Grammar School that I had passed my Scholarship to attend.

My idea of political activity was to support these Trotskyists on votes within the Union, but I didn’t join! No body even asked me to, and I knew no-one among my fellow students who even professed to be a member.

The surprising thing was that though activity within the Union was prodigious it was also remarkably limited in scope– so much so that any Tories that were about had to hide, or pretend that they were some sort of Socialist. [It was, after all, the first generation of Working Class youth to get to University in any sort of numbers, and Leeds was an obvious place for these “new students” to be accommodated. And they certainly dominated proceedings there. What had been the sole privilege of the Middle and Upper Classes was now open to the “cream” of the Working Class and they grasped it with both hands. The Vice President of the Students’ Union was a Communist, and he had been elected by the Student Body, and captured their support, so Left Wing Politics were everywhere and seemed to include everybody. This was 1959.

But, not a single worker was in sight.

On finishing my Degree and moving to Leicester to do what was termed a Cert. Ed. (after which I would be able to work as a teacher), I was pleased to have two political friends from Leeds there along with me. One was a close friend who had been in the same “digs” as myself for the last two years at Leeds, and the other, it turned out, was a committed, and well informed Trotskyist. He KNEW what had to be done.

His group had developed a position to recruit working class youth into politics, and the method had been worked out as the so-called Entry Tactic. This involved entering the Labour Party (as the usual party of the British Working Class) and there to build its youth section – the Young Socialists into a Marxist and Revolutionary Youth Movement.

We quickly joined him in this endeavour, joined the Labour Party AND became members of the Trotskyist tendency – the Socialist Labour League.

Starting initially with tiny meetings at Labour Party Headquarters in the City, we soon moved out to where the Youth were situated. The tactic was extremely successful, and how could it be other? We worked exclusively on the working class estates and provided facilities that no-one else would. We were soon running Youth Club type meetings all over the city, providing Dances and Football matches, but with a clear unapologetic anti-Tory standpoint, and obviously commitment to the Working Class.

By 1964 we had grown nationally to have as elected members of the National Committee of the YS, 10 out of 12 of the country’s Regions, and the National Secretary was also one of us. And a General Election was nigh!

In the Election Campaign we gave the Tories hell. We followed them about the city disrupting their meetings and condemning their policies. They couldn’t get a word in edgeways. We regularly sold our newspapers outside Factories at the crack of dawn, and spent most evenings doing the same in Working Mens’ Clubs and in pubs.

Within a short time we were all expelled from the Labour Party, for such reprehensible and underhand activities. But they were too late! We took the bulk of the Young Socialists with us. Interestingly, all other Trotskyist tendencies were not expelled, neither did they join us outside the Labour Party, they remained in what had to be renamed as the Labour Party Young Socialists. Of course, you can see why. The Young Socialists was now clearly the Youth Movement of the SLL, and the other tendencies were not going to subordinate themselves to that organisation.

Within a short time the SLL became the WRP (Workers Revolutionary Party) and managed to produce a Daily paper – the Workers Press, while continuing to build the Young Socialists. By 1968 we had organised a major intervention in the International Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Liege, Belgium, and even raised sufficient money to hire a ferry and a train to take a large body of youth to this significant Demonstration.

But, in spite of so-called Education Classes, little or NO further development in Marxism took place. A same-age peer of mine from Leeds University soon came to the fore as the Economics expert, but he had had the same “education” as I and though he was a great bloke, you could not say that he was advancing Marxism (just as I wasn’t of course!).

On the other hand, the theoretical preoccupations of the Party were understandable, but deadly. They were essentially retrospective and defensive against Revisionism. The failures of the First, Second and Third Workers’ Internationals had been due to this middle class cancer, and were just too pernicious to allow to flourish yet again. So in the Fourth Trotskyist International, there was no doubt that the latest variety was in danger of repeating the demise of that organisation too. The biggest party in the world was the American Party, and it had focussed in on a “Hands off Cuba” Campaign, which left most of the crucial tasks unattended. Single issue politics were rapidly growing and they decided to join the rush.

But, internecine fights could NOT be the answer to the necessary theoretical developments of the Party in the UK....

This post is the first in a new blog series entitled "What is to be done?" on the crises in both Marxism and Science, and how a revolution is necessary in both. This body of work is AVAILABLE NOW as a Special Issue. Read it all here!

09 December, 2015

What is to be done parts 1 and 2

Due to a technical error What is to Be Done part 1 has disappeared from this blog. Both part 1 and 2 will be published here tomorrow.

What is to be done: 1 has now been republished.

17 November, 2015

New Blog Series

Man & Reality - now available on the Shape Journal

The Man & Reality blog series is now available in full, in a new issue (40) of Shape Journal. Click the cover above to read the PDF. Our new policy of serialising older unpublished work seems to be working, as it provides a good introduction to the broad philosophical stance of this theorist, without the necessary layers of added complexity present in later works.

While Man & Reality offered a robust philosophical criticism of Mathematics from a Marxist standpoint, so our new series does the same for Science.

What is to be Done?
Developing Marxism Today; Introduction

Our new 12 part series was written as a single, 15.000-word paper back in 2008, and preceded literally all the later significant theoretical developments by this Marxist theorist.

Nevertheless, it was, and still is, an attempt to deliver a comprehensive approach, by a modern-day Marxist, to the significant problems that were then considered to be still outstanding in both Philosophy and Science.

The credentials of this writer, that you may consider are appropriate to the task are that I am a professional scientist, in fact, a retired Professor from London University, and a lifelong, active revolutionary socialist. So, the subject will be treated professionally, and its validity will be proved by the analytical power revealed by its wholly new contributions.

It will not be an historical narrative, but a current, urgent development of Marxist Theory!

The paper was always an important attempt, in spite of its evident omissions, because, nevertheless, its completion went a long way to defining, "What is to be Done!" But, of course, it will only be by the subsequent successes of the new approach that it will, and should, be judged.

For the author's Theory of Emergences was only formulated two years after the completion of this paper. And the scientifically significant Theory of the Double Slit Experiments in Sub Atomic Physics was also only begun during the writing of this paper, and finally formulated the following year.

So, why not just deliver those completed theories?

Well, they certainly require some sort of grounding, without which they will not inform and empower the reader. This chosen paper is being serialised here, because of what it does achieve in establishing the necessary agenda and ground. The intention was not to merely add the current “Works of the Masters”, but to encourage potential Marxists to actually join the fray. For the task, being applied to a living, changing World, is clearly never ending!

The contents of the new series are as follows. The aim is to publish one a week for the next 12 weeks.

What is to be Done



I. Epiphany, Activism, Election and Expulsion

II. Political Stance, Campaigns and Theory

III. Philosophy, Researches & Zeno

IV. Inter-disciplinary Studies, Dichotomies & Eye-Brain Interpretations

V. Technology, Science’s Source & Method, Plurality and Holism

VI. Hegel, Contradiction and Abstraction

VII. Explanation-or-Use, The Crisis in Physics, Reality Evolves

VIII. Revolutionary Change, Marx & Hegelian Dialectics

IX. Outstanding Tasks, The Holist Stance

X. Emergences, Breaking from Old Ideas, Tackling the Problems

XI. Universally Applicable Theory, Science, Explanation above all

XII. The Fight Back, a Physical Ground

Part I will be published here on Monday. This body of work is AVAILABLE NOW as a Special Issue. Read it all here!

16 November, 2015

New Special Issue: Thinking About Thought

This work is part of a long study, primarily into Sub Atomic Physics, but also, necessarily, taking a detailed philosophical look at the trajectory of ideas over significant stages in its recent history, which have, finally and irrevocably, moved it over, bodily, from a steadfast materialist standpoint to an almost completely idealist one.

This initial preoccupation has led to further research into specific extra areas, which are not the usual ground for Philosophy, but here, in this truly, momentous Crisis in Physics, they have become absolutely paramount. The Ground of Science is addressed particularly in its underlying key – The Principle of Plurality, but also in its congenital feature of Pragmatism, and its beliefs, taken from Mathematics, as well as its many purely pragmatic tricks, always justified by “If it works, it is right!”

The trigger for this set of papers was a criticism by David Deutsch in his paper, “Definitely not Maybe” in the New Scientist magazine (3041), about the role of Probability in the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory. And, this inevitably pulled in more general assumptions too. Clearly, this Special needs to be taken along with the whole extended body of work, by this philosopher, – all of which are available in the SHAPE Journal, Blog and Youtube Channel.

The Boundaries of Thought

Halo Rose - Bauhaus - Selbstportrait

The Self-imposed Limits of Human Thinking

When attempting to understand Reality, Mankind is always presented with an extremely puzzling set of apparently ubiquitous features, which seem to continually undermine such efforts. And, these problems usually stem from two sources.

The first is the complex, confusing and sometimes seemingly contradictory Nature of Reality itself. And, the second, as you have no doubt already guessed, is the Nature of Mankind itself.

You wouldn’t think that such would be the case, seeing as Man was created by, and is certainly a part of Reality, but, nevertheless, it is quite definitely so! Reality is not only incredibly complex, but it is also creative: it not only develops in complexity, but also, and crucially, it evolves, regularly, delivering wholly new and unique creations, and the only tool for revealing that nature is its own remarkable product of Evolution – Man himself!

Now, this paper will not be some dazzling literary effort, designed, expressly, to both entertain and beguile the reader, but, instead, is an important and informative attempt to inform that person, both about himself, and also the unavoidable diversions that Mankind inevitably takes in his efforts to make sense of his world.

And, most important in such a task, have to be the conditions that Mankind had to cope with, and which played a crucial formative role in his thinking. For they certainly made him, and developed him in ways appropriate to his means of life. And, that means that Mankind would be congenitally, ill-equipped by Natural Selection to undertake the quite different task of understanding things, and, consequently, of being able to explain them. Man was selected-for, throughout the vast majority of his existence, to be a hunter/gatherer, requiring very different mental processes to today. By the time he had turned to further paths, the forces of Natural Selection, and gene adaption, were over.

Man could NOT depend on his “appropriate genetic makeup” in dealing with the new problems he had begun to set himself. The usual forces of evolution no longer worked to equip Man in his new roles. Man had somehow, to do it for himself!

And, it has to be said that this has by no means been straightforward. Indeed, the forces of Natural Selection are never principled or planned, but entirely pragmatic – “If it works, it is right!” To this day it is the most important element in Man’s nature, and particularly in his thinking.

He is the epitome of pragmatism. And, the application of his undoubtedly superior intelligence is inevitably directed by this. He solves problems pragmatically, and often brilliantly, and clearly does it much better than all other known animals.

Now, that isn’t to say that Man, or at least some among his species, did not turn to tackling other questions. But, because of his nature, involving both his intelligence and his pragmatism, progress was neither direct nor easy. Indeed, though he found many physical pragmatic solutions to aid him, his explanations were, initially at least, very wide of the mark!

To begin to have any chance of doing that, he had to massage Reality in order to get any kind of a handle upon it. He just had to simplify it – ignoring all anomalies, and concentrate upon subsets that seemed to conform to extractable forms. The consequences, as you would imagine, were “temporarily useful”, but ONLY in chosen conditions. In the short term they could be pragmatically useful, but in the long term were bound to fail.

He had begun to make “conceptual bricks”, but they could only build the most flimsy of “explanatory erections”.

Indeed, Man was constantly prevented, by his own self-devised methods, or of getting a general grip upon Reality – for though encouraged by the successes he achieved, he was also bewildered by their failures, and the seeming contradictions that always came up. Of course, it isn’t easy “pulling yourself up by your own bootlaces”!

Let us be clear. Mankind initially made very slow progress for the vast majority of his existence as a separate species: yet modern man is exactly the same animal. That slow progress was not because he was unintelligent, but because he was too pragmatic: there just had to be a revolution in how he Thought! No recent new endowment has enabled his recent enormous developments, and his selected-for abilities, which were prodigious as a hunter/gatherer, but useless as a philosopher – as a thinker about himself and his World.

But, he did begin to re-invent himself, to a degree, by using his undoubted intelligence in new ways. What were essential for his future success, included thinking that could be adapted to other tasks, and perhaps the most helpful were ideas about Religion. Explanations could be put down to an all-powerful deity “on our side”, and such made the achievement of remarkable, and energising, common purposes in believers.

Of course, there were other crucial changes in his mode of life, which were vital in generating new thinking. The so-called Neolithic Revolution, wherein the cultivation of crops, and the rise of animal husbandry, allowed groups of human beings to not only stay where they were, but also to do it with other families. Then larger groups, and more diverse discussions, especially in a new or better way of life, were the trigger for a great deal of new thinking.

But, to see how he got to where he is now, and how he could go forward from here, he will certainly have to understand himself – what he presently does, how he thinks about, and what he must do to progress further.

For, the crises and impasses, in his understanding are by no means over yet. Without another, major revolution in his current thinking, he will grind to yet another crucial halt. 

We must bury forever the myth that amassing knowledge will be sufficient. What must also be developed is Understanding - knowing why.

And, that must be applied not only to the Reality he confronts, but also to himself!

Around 2,500 years ago, two new trends in thinking appeared, which have been crucial in the developments that Man has made in understanding his World. But, they seem to be mutually exclusive alternatives.

In Greece, the rationalist or reason-directed way of thinking – based upon the Principle of Plurality was established, and led to both Geometry and Formal Logic. Though, crucially, this naturally led to the assumption of eternal Natural Laws, which then summed to produce all consequent productions and behaviours. Such a stance meant that Reality was everywhere just a complication of unchanging Laws.

Meanwhile, in India, the philosophical methods of the Buddha took things in a very different direction, by conceiving that “everything affects everything else” – based upon the Principle of Holism.

Clearly, these two approaches were totally incompatible, as presented, and different cultures chose one or the other exclusively. These were, clearly, opposite to one another in many important ways, yet BOTH contained some aspects of the truth of situations – what we have come to call Objective Content. Neither was sufficient in itself, but, nevertheless, which led to significant progress in thinking – though each only in its own self-defined contexts. And, progress in either of these routes was compromised by Mankind’s built-in pragmatism, which crucially meant that Man could keep all that he found - including contradictory pairs of concepts, and could merely switch between alternatives, pragmatically, until he found the one that best fitted the given situation.

Now, though this pragmatic approach did, indeed, lead to the solving of many problems, it was anathema to the requirement of developing consistent, coherent and comprehensive understanding. It was very damaging indeed!

Now, worshippers of Logic, or even Science, will vigorously disagree, but I’m afraid that they will be wrong. Let us take the supposed “God of Understanding”, namely Logic, and see how that holds up.


It was, of course, the achievement of the Greeks, and was, without doubt, both a brilliant and an essential development. But, it was only made possible by a strict and vigorous filtering of Reality in order to reveal its essences. In other words, Reality was NOT dealt with “as is”, but was processed by both simplification and idealisation to highlight certain then extractable features, which could then be directly investigated in their own terms alone, to attempt to formulate explanations of the phenomena involved.

This expression – “in their own terms alone” is crucial. For it took, what seemed to be, permanent features and assumed that they were always the same – whatever the context would be.

The expression, “The Greeks had a name for it” encapsulates this approach very well. For, by affixing a name, it made the named thing a “constant” component – as if naming it said what it was, and therefore how it would dependably behave. [You know what I mean – if someone can stick a label upon what you are, they assume they have a reliable handle on how you will behave: it is a very ancient “wisdom”]. And, of course, over a quite extended period, such a simplification would indeed suffice!

NOTE: To this day, there are those who will correct your attempts to explain something, with the interjection – “Oh, you mean colloquialism” (or some such contribution), assuming that the name, in Greek or Latin, for a phenomenon - inferring that its meaning is fully encapsulated in that name. It isn’t!

It showed itself constantly, for example, in the belief that all animal or plant species were immutable, and could not change into something else!

And, perhaps the epitome of this approach resides indubitably, in Mathematics – particularly in that lauded Greek achievement of Euclidian Geometry, where, at its very heart were Numbers which, by definition in “Counting”, cannot be but totally fixed. Indeed, Number is often the target, and essence, of simplification and the idea of eternal, unchanging things to be studied in the “fixed” terms alone!

But, in addition, the essential founding principle of such an approach can ONLY be that of Plurality! And, this is because, that Principle rejects evolutionary changes, and even developing Laws. And, it explains all differences in terms of various additive mixes of producing fixed components.

It led, inexorably, to the concept of Eternal Laws, on the one hand, considered incremental additional quantities as solely delivering emerging Quality, on the other. Formal Logic is entirely pluralistic!

Now, earlier in this paper, I compared Plurality with that of Holism – the stance of the Buddha, both of which originated at about 500 B.C. And, it was immediately clear that these stances could not be more contradictory!

The Constants, appearing in pluralist equations of phenomena, were the very same things as the ever-changing factors, of a holistic explanation. Clearly, one stance built the World ultimately out of fundamental eternals, while the other saw it as an evolution of components to ever new entities, properties, laws and Levels.
Now, posed like this, it is clear that the choice of Plurality – dominating for 2,300 years, and is still in charge today, and appears to be indisputable! Yet, Darwin’s Origin of Species was unavoidably holistic, as was Fred Hoyle’s Theory of the Evolution of Stars. And, we should not leave out Stanley Miller’s experimental investigation into the Origin of Life itself.

Even Yves Couder’s brilliant “Walker” Experiments, while not only completely holistic, for the first time breeched the Copenhagen dominance in Sub Atomic Physics.

Clearly, Holism had something crucial to offer.

And, believe it or not a holist stance has long been woven into Science - even though it seemingly arose entirely out of Plurality. Quite apart from the objective of finding formulateable pluralist laws, the equally important search for theoretical explanations of phenomena could never be delivered, materialistically, from mere formal descriptions. And, the only way to seek out such aspects of Reality had to be finding Causes in terms of entities and their evident properties – such clear materialistic incentives forced an alternative route to accompany the pluralist one. And, as it was also always extending the generality of things to ever wider areas, the particular limitations of pluralist relations, very quickly proved inadequate. Coherence, Consistency and comprehensiveness forced Theory into a holistic stance.

A dichotomous pair of contradictory stances grew up alongside one another, without, necessarily, blowing Science apart. A switching of ground (a very pragmatic method) managed to allow a surprising, yet fruitful marriage!

And, hence, perhaps less surprisingly, a third distinct stance arose within Science and grew in strength all the time. WE would call it Pragmatism, except that it was, to an extent, limited to the achievements of Science alone, where it was about effective use of the achievements of Science, and became known as Technology!

The practitioners involved, who came to be called Engineers, did not have to discover, but they had to successfully use the Laws of Science in productive ways!

Man & Reality VI


If mathematics is being considered as the essence of reality, perhaps the time has arrived when the question, “What is Form?” is clearly addressed. The problem arises because it seems to be independent of reality! Form itself cannot be said to derive from situations in reality because few, if any, such cases of our versions seem to exist there in isolation. I must not allow this conclusion to obscure the fact that the realisation that Form exists could only initially have come from investigations into reality, but the point of my previous statement is that nowhere in reality could any of the forms be seen in total isolation from any other integrated “mixed-in” features. We can therefore say that NO pure forms exist in nature.

Note: a few trivial exceptions can be put forward without in any way invalidating these conclusions. These are to do with extremely quality-less things such as “counting numbers”, and even examples of these can be undermined by the decay of individual items into multiple something-elses.

But Form, though within a richer mix is found to be “extractible”. With sufficient “farming” of the context, and rigid control, quite clear examples can be revealed. But, it is never, in this real world, part of a complex whole that is investigated together including the example of Form. Quite the reverse, the form is always surgically removed from that concrete ground in reality, and placed pristine and eternal in an invented, pure absolute world, which I am impelled to call Ideality. Once there, the Form can be safely manipulated, analysed, graphed and re-structured to the mathematician’s content. Once extracted, it is found to be universal, in that other occurrences in quite different matrixes of real world configurations can be readily discovered, such that once it also has been extracted and totally divorced from its real world matrix, can be seen to be exactly like the first Form, along with many others like it. I cannot stress enough the difference between the concrete occurrences in nature and the idealised version in Ideality. The former can, and do, develop and change into a variety of subsequent structures and forms, whereas the later extracted versions have no past and no future. They seem eternal, but they are not. Reality itself indicates when a given extracted perfect form is no longer applicable, and must be dumped and replaced by another.

The mathematician thus becomes the guardian and expert on universal form, and takes on the mantel of being in touch with something approaching “essence” of the world (!) The spell must be broken of course. Form, is the most abstract thing that can be derived from reality, and as such it has no permanent activity. It cannot be said to explain processes and events, and certainly not predict significant qualitative change. Indeed though it is regarded as the basis for computer models used for prediction, the “foretelling” of the future is purely retrospective – effectively extrapolating from multitudinous past occurrences to statistical predictions of similar outcomes. Functional explanation for significant change has nothing to do with mathematical form, which is generally about stable, or equilibrium conditions. The most important changes – those that deliver the entirely NEW, produce ZERO out of a hundred in effective prediction by mathematical form. These points may seem very dismissive, but that doesn’t stop them from being true. The one excellent contribution to real understanding that mathematical form can provide is in its “flagging” of analogous situations in entirely different contexts, which can direct researchers to the explanations that may be available in the parallel situation. Thus we can say that the extension of effective scientific explanations to give a model for use in quite different, but formally identical situations can help considerably. In such cases the quality-less, mathematical form is a good indicator accompaniment to the quality-full scientific explanations associated with equivalent forms elsewhere.

NOTE: An important contradiction was the obvious existence of clear, purely abstract relations at the very heart of man’s most sophisticated concrete discoveries. Now, these were mathematical relations, the most abstract possible relations that could exist, and whereas functional (causal) relations could be seen as concrete properties of matter itself, abstract relations could not – they were disembodied! So the step from the concrete to the spiritual was involved - as it had been throughout man’s history in his religious ideas. Non material “things” had directed the material world! Now it could be possible to see these quantitative relations as being part of the properties of matter and due entirely to functional imperatives within matter itself. But, that was not what was happening. The mathematical relations were considered “fundamental” (or primary) – They directed the whole show – like a spiritual, non-material God!

Mathematical rules such as symmetry were put forward as “explanations” of phenomena. Not “such and such a phenomenon showed symmetry because of the following causes”, but, on the contrary, “these phenomena had these features BECAUSE of symmetry”.

The Deep Blue Sea

So, we have dealt with the Toolbox and the Godhead in regard to mathematics – what on earth, then, is “The Deep, Blue Sea”?

Well, it isn’t Mathematics! But all of mathematics is part of it!

The Deep Blue Sea is what it sounds like - an enormous, all-enveloping mantle of richness and potentiality from which all life came. It is the constructor of rocks, and the creator of climate. It is the source of all things on our earth, and through its productions, of everything in the Universe. Instead of Pragmatism of the Toolbox, and the self-worship of idealist mathematics, we have before us, Reality! That is the Deep, Blue Sea, and its study, using all the disciplines of mankind is our real purpose.

This is the sixth (and last) part in a new series exploring philosophy and mathematics: Man & Reality. These papers are now available on the Journal as Issue 40.

10 November, 2015

Man & Reality V


So, mathematics is a great deal more than a mere toolbox. It is not just a rag-bag of pragmatic techniques. Then what is it?

My admission that I can spend major tracts of my life doing pure mathematics, doesn’t gel very well with it being a theory-less, quality-less and mightily abstract, yet man-made construction, does it? So, let us leave the pragmatic, head-down, carpet-fitting behind us and climb into the high uplands to breathe in the grandeur of true mathematics. To realise its qualities we have to reveal exactly what mathematics is really about.

Mathematics is the Science of Form!

Quite distinct from subject-centred studies such as Physics, Chemistry, Biology and the rest, it is not concerned with the causality of the world. It is concerned with disembodied Pattern! It isolates significant pattern from reality, or even from our own inventions, and finds its universal formal properties. It is the Logic of Pattern.

This isolating process refines the patterns to their minimal configurations, their ubiquitous essence, and allows their study without the confusing and inessential clutter of multiple overlays that abound in nature. Thus the idealisation of relations into mathematical forms (or formulae) is its essential feature. It is no wonder that Plato and other Greek philosophers waxed lyrical about ideal shapes and forms. Reality, as is, does not give up its secrets easily. They are hidden in a confusing matrix of contending forces, and a fog of what we would today call “noise”. But, nevertheless, constant glimpses (to tempt the curious) of significant relations were always being momentarily revealed and the extraction of these “truths” became, in time, an enticing mistress.

Exactly what these relations were caused by was not clear, though throughout mankind’s conscious history it has always been the question.

Nonetheless, millennia rolled by in which these magical relations were put down to gods and devils, and the never-ending detours of ritual appeasement of these forces were embarked upon. The clear social advantages of such co-operative and consensus beliefs entrenched the explanations, and mankind’s techniques and current knowledge always seemed incapable of an alternative approach. “You can’t pull yourself up by your own boot-laces”, as they say!

Antony Gormley - Another Time XII - 4

The Role of Belief

The processes involved were by no means scientific. The consensus belief system “seemed” to be confirmed by the society’s continued success and growth, but the coherence involved in a shared belief system was perhaps more significant than the contents of these beliefs in ensuring continued confidence and co-operation, and thus success in their endeavours. What always amazed me about the situation in the Second World War was the dedication and valour of the Japanese and Germans. In spite of seemingly insupportable reasons for going to war, and a twisted and reprehensible fascist ethos in both these countries, their soldiers sacrificed themselves in inordinate numbers for “Der Fuhrer”, or “The Emperor”, or even the “Fatherland”. How could this be? I think the answer is contained in my initial point about the strength and confidence imbued by a general and elitist belief system. Other examples litter history. The aggressors are invariably more radical in the way they carried out the business of war, and more confident, while the aggressed against fall away in disarray. All, I believe for the same reasons - a belief system. A primitive society exposed to the world for the first time, in a way that has its ideology, religion and self-belief shattered, dissolves into mediocrity and weakness. “Any coherent, confident belief system is better than none” - from a survival point of view.

However, by the time of the ancient Greeks things began to change. They were the first to see the possibility of another way. Without any of the modern techniques of scientific investigation, they nonetheless made profound gains. And where did they make them? In Mathematics! As a boy just started in Grammar school, I was introduced to the Geometry of Euclid, and was seduced by it. It was a surprising entity! Totally impossible abstractions were refined out of an “imperfect” reality, and studied in an ideal form. Circles were perfectly round, made of lines of zero thickness, while planes were perfectly flat and extended in all directions to infinity. Yet, a coherent structure could be erected on a handful of such assumptions. Mathematics had its first triumph! Form had been extracted and studied and shown to be good! And, all you needed to study it was paper and a pen (or in the Greek’s case – a sandy floor and a bit of twig). Yet, these same Greeks, also saw the pitfalls from the outset. It was Zeno who clearly revealed the dangers of idealised assumptions, and the consequences of their application to the limit. In spite of their epoch-making contribution, the Greeks could not develop their inventions without restriction. They were, so to speak, ahead of their time, and quickly found themselves in the same morass of spiritual causes as everyone else. Profound contributions were a long time coming after the Greeks.

NOTE: As each new abstraction was distilled from reality, and then investigated as an ideal system, the richness contained within what at first seemed to be quite modest assumptions, thrilled the practitioners and seduced them into seeing all as evidence of a co-ordinating mind. Certain areas were remarkable in that they did not seem available in nature at all. Figures, derived by mathematicians, such as the dodecahedron and the icosahedron were breathtaking constructions of order and beauty, yet they didn’t exist in nature. But surely, they couldn’t be pure invention. They had to express some profound, but hidden aspect of the world. Thus the mystification of mathematics was unavoidable, and the Pythagoreans spent lifetimes explaining the world in terms of their figures and forms.

In a surprising way, it was the emergence of proper measurement and experiment that allowed the breakthrough. These techniques revealed significant relations at every turn, and produced an avalanche of forms for mathematicians to extract and study. Though these developments led initially to the Sciences, they also “created” both Mathematics and mathematicians, and it was the latter who seemed to be dealing with the nitty-gritty of reality. Give them an inch and they regularly took a mile.

They had the advantage of not being shackled to demanding experiment and long-winded collection of data. Once delivered of a form, they could investigate the idealised version to their heart’s content. They even took to “creating” forms to investigate, and quickly showed that such studies were indeed possible. From quite early on, they embarked upon Number Theory – the most abstract aspect of mathematics, which studied Number itself, and led to the definition of Prime numbers, and the formulation of “rules” such as Fermat’s Last Theorem. Perhaps the most important feature of their “artificial” flights of fancy of mathematics, was their subsequent role in “fitting” these to new, “inexplicable” relations revealed by scientific experiment. Areas that were generally considered to be total inventions were found to “map” onto aspects of reality. This inversion of the normal relationship between maths and reality posed a new question. Could mathematics be the true essence of the Universe? 

Mathematicians soon became so confident in their ability to supply forms for every situation, that they embarked upon what can only be called maths-based speculation. They worked FROM maths forms to attempt “explanations” on a Cosmic Scale. The famed “Theory of Everything” is the current pinnacle of this line of work. From basic forms to do with oscillations of all kinds, arose the conception of “Strings”. These would be physically existing entities would could take on almost any oscillating mode. Like the old Fourier Analysis, it was postulated that these “entities” could then come together to produce the Universe, all by themselves! Now this aspect is not the only one in a breath-takingly broad phenomenon. In addition, maths formulae began to replace scientific explanation over an increasing range of situations. In particular, where analogous explanations seemed very difficult, or even impossible, they were immediately replaced by “reliable” formulae. “I don’t know why, but I certainly know how!” “I can tell you exactly what will happen in a given situation! Do I need an explanatory theory? Are they not always constructs anyway?”

Could not the universal forms of mathematics actually be the essence of reality? A world encapsulated in pure mathematical formulae might well be the epitome of Science.

This is the fifth in a new series exploring philosophy and mathematics: Man & Reality. The conclusion, Part VI, will be published here next Monday.

02 November, 2015

Man & Reality IV

The Godhead! 

Pure Mathematics

Now, in my studies into Abstraction, the above techniques turned out to be a very small part of the area as a whole. The majority, and more important parts, of the system of processes were those concerned with modelling with a view to understanding reality. There seemed to be TWO main routes through to worthwhile results. Both of these were, of course, predicated on the initial steps in the processes outlined above. That is in the distillation of relations from the real world phenomena, and the attempts to fit these to some underlying form. When this was taken as answering the question “Why?” we move into this much wider area.

These two alternatives could be clearly categorised as Explanation and Mathematics.

Now the reader may feel that I have already covered something of mathematics with my discussions on Technology and Engineering, but the asking of “Why?” did NOT emerge at all in the methods studied there. If this question is taken to be central, the mathematics involved changes profoundly, and the philosophies implied by the two alternatives become significantly different, even contradictory. The wished-for myth stated by many scientists and mathematicians that the roles of scientific explanation and formulaic mathematics would turn out to be entirely complementary has only rarely been established.

Indeed, the “grounding” role of scientific explanation, on the stratospheric flights of idealist mathematics was a much more realistic picture. And, in the modern era, this role has been eroded to almost nothing in areas like Modern Physics. It would be much nearer the truth to say that idealist (Platonic) mathematics now dominates in these areas, and scientific explanation there is maybe in terminal decline.

What is Scientific Explanation? 

To correctly deal with the relationship between mathematics and its clear alternative – scientific explanation - in the processes of Abstraction, it is imperative that the nature of this scientific explanation be carefully investigated and established here. Without some understanding of the alternatives, how can they be effectively compared and related?

The initial, straight-forward description of scientific explanation could be that some analogy is found somewhere in the real world that can be said to fairly closely reflect the new area being studied. That is a sound, established situation from one part of reality is mapped onto another.

What would be the content of such an explanation? Well, the scientist does not pick any “old”, unsubstantiated analogue to use. That would not be explanation but speculation! Quite the reverse is attempted! An example is chosen because it immediately comes to mind as “resonating” with the new area, but also it must be “well established”, and in its own area generally accepted as an accurate description.. Now this requirement guarantees that embedded within it is an already undisputed “objective content”.

Now, Science is not like mathematics. Whereas a Mathematical Proof has to be a logically established, 100% certain truth, Science is more about the preponderance of evidence. If an experiment is repeated innumerable times, and always gives the exact same result, then the scientific community accepts the processes involved as established, and the situation is “marked down” as the “current” truth! Such “truths” are always provisional, and can be conceived of being modified, or even overturned, at some point in the light of new evidence.

But, in addition, scientists always want their “truths” to be bases from which they can build, so that they can take each well established situation as a GIVEN in their subsequent researches and theorising. Their “elements” must be capable of such constructions.

So, we have established that the carried-over analogy is backed with previous evidence and confirmatory experience. Then, it is applied in the new situation, first of all as a place to “start” from, and then carefully investigated to allow a sound fit. The thing being carried over is NEVER a quantitatively and precisely defined entity, and the mapping is never expected to be a case of absolute identity. NO, it is instead a case of the qualities and processes that are considered to be essential in the mapping. The dynamics of the situation, its developments and transitions, its stabilities and instabilities are the essential ingredients that are carried over.

This is crucial!

An explanation is NOT a one-to-one mapping in a tiny, precisely defined situation. It is a broad, system-type mapping, where the trajectories of change and the plateaus of stabilities are “mirrored” in the two situations. Explanation is FULL of experience from the world as already understood, and finds that qualities and their inter-relationships recur throughout reality.

The confidence in such a scientific explanation has TWO foundations. The FIRST consists of repeatedly revealed evidence in proper, scientifically set up experiments. And SECONDLY, in the coherence and consonance of qualitative dynamics and inter-relationships. Such resonances are NOT quantitative, neither can they be! The demands of an analogue model full of qualities and change will always PROHIBIT an exact quantitative match. The best that can be achieved is the identification of intrinsically similar systems in quite DISTINCT situations. Now, even when a scientific analogy has been achieved, the process is, as yet, incomplete! A qualitatively similar situation can give a sound feel for what is going on in the new situation, BUT, the physical features involved can be very different. To go from a suitable analogy to a Scientific Theory needs a series of extra steps to be taken.

The “elements” of the new situation, that are seen to have similar, corresponding “elements” in the original model, must be identified as real physical entities, and named. Gradually, a detailed version of the analogue is built up into a FULL theory to cover the new situation. Such a result is NEVER a mere speculation. It is imbued with “objective content” from both ends, and these have been established by rigorous experiment. The mappings are never identical, but the dynamics and feel of the situation are RIGHT. The new model or Theory is a significant step forwards.

Notice, at this point NO quantitative side has been established in the forms described above, and sometimes this is the unavoidable order of events. Frequently however, particularly in the latter period of scientific research (since Newton, say) the overarching theories do not come first! Observation can lead to inklings that quantitative relations are present in a given real world situation, and scientists will then structure a carefully designed experiment to constrain most variables and effectively reveal clearly the surmised relation (often between only two variables). The result is a quantitative relation, which can be turned into an accurate mathematical formula. Notice though that the mechanism here is very different from the one described above. Instead of broad area dynamics, we have a severely constrained quantitative relation.

At the heart of the process is a contradiction. The derived formula is NEVER all embracing and overarching. It is always narrow and particular. The so-called Laws that are erected based on such quantitative experiments are inappropriately named. They are not LAWS – surely that is much too grand a name. Consider, for example, Boyle’s Law PV = CONST. for gases. This relation is true in very rigidly constrained situations, but is scarcely a profound theory. It is a relation, crystallised into a useable quantitative formula, but to use it, the conditions of the area of application must be constrained exactly as in the original experiment. “No problem1”, I hear you say. “We can do that!” And you would of course be correct. The industrial revolution was precisely the process of setting up such situations – BIG! Relations could be used in manufacture, and thus become powerful tools in the hands of mankind. So, why do we need scientific theory too? Won’t simple relations turned into dependable and useable equations be quite sufficient?

The answer is definitely NO!

To follow the above policy, mankind would end up with an enormous bag of particular relations, and NO understanding at all would be involved. To go from PV = Const. and the inverse proportionality of the pressure and volume of a given mass of gas in quite controlled conditions to an understanding of “WHY?” requires a broader and quality-full context to be established. In the above case a whole “story” about what a gas is, what energy is, and what temperature is, is necessary to explain the above relation. So quantitative relations alone can only give rise to technology. To weld such particulars into a “general” understanding requires qualitative theories – requires scientific explanation. Now, no matter what present-day mathematical “scientists” may say about this, they cannot dispute that some form of wide, qualitative context is necessary. And, if that is not to be achieved by the above described method of scientific explanation, then what does provide it? The answer is that apart from enormous borrowings from past scientifically established entities, the modern answer is invariably Speculation! We will not go into the various forms of speculation at this point, because the issue here is clearly “What is the nature of Scientific Explanation?” It will be dealt with in detail elsewhere, BUT at this stage it is crucial to totally distinguish it from scientific explanation. Modern speculation is a trajectory from quantitative relations TO definitions of “possible” entities TO co-ordinating theories. An entirely different sequence to that for scientific explanation.

Indeed, throughout both Science and Technology, theory is essential! WHY? You can only take the cumulative effect of multiple quantitative formulae so far. All technologists and engineers, and so-called mathematical physicists NEED an overarching, comprehensive context for their wealth of particulars. They need a co-ordinating matrix to relate the parts to some whole. They need GROUND! That ground must be scientific explanation.

Let us return to the subject of Pure Mathematics...

This is the fourth in a new series exploring philosophy and mathematics: Man & Reality. Part V will be published here next Monday.