Dialectics of Nature. Frederick Engels 1883

Notes and Fragments

Source: Dialectics of Nature, pp. 273-294;
First Published: by Progress Publishers, 1934, 6th printing 1974;
Translated: from the German by Clemens Dutt;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden, 2006.

Mechanics and Astronomy

* * *

An example of the necessity of dialectical thought and of the non-rigid categories and relations in nature; the law of falling, which already in the case of a period-of-fall of some minutes becomes incorrect, since then the radius of the earth can no longer without error be put= ∞, and the attraction of the earth increases instead of remaining constant as Galileo’s law of falling assumes. Nevertheless, this law is still continually taught, but the reservation omitted!

* * *

Newtonian attraction and centrifugal force – an example of metaphysical thinking: the problem not solved but only posed, and this preached as the solution. – Ditto Clausius’ dissipation of heat.[224]

* * *

Newtonian gravitation. The best that can be said of it is that it does not explain but pictures the present state of planetary motion. The motion is given. Ditto the force of attraction of the sun. With these data, how is the motion to be explained? By the parallelogram of forces, by a tangential force which now becomes a necessary postulate that we must accept. That is to say, assuming the eternal character of the existing state, we need a first impulse, God. But neither is the existing planetary state eternal nor is the motion originally compound, but simple rotation, and the parallelogram of forces applied here is wrong, because it did not merely make evident the unknown magnitude, the x, that had still to be found, that is to say in so far as Newton claimed not merely to put the question but to solve it.

* * *

Newton’s parallelogram of forces in the solar system is true at best for the moment when the annular bodies separate, because then the rotational motion comes into contradiction with itself, appearing on the one hand as attraction, and on the other hand as tangential force. As soon as the separation is complete, however, the motion is again a unity. That this separation must occur is a proof of the dialectical process.

* * *

Laplace’s theory presupposes only matter in motionrotation necessary for all bodies suspended in universal space.

Mädler, the Fixed Stars[225]

Halley, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, from the difference between the data of Hipparchus and Flamsteed on three stars, first arrived at the idea of proper motion (p. 410). – Flamsteed’s British Catalogue, the first fairly accurate and comprehensive one (p. 420), then ca. 1750, Bradley, Maskelyne, and Lalande.

Crazy theory of the range of light rays in the case of enormous bodies and Mädlers calculation based on this – as crazy as anything in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature (pp. 424-25).

The strongest (apparent) proper motion of a star=701" a century= 11'41" =one-third of the sun’s diameter; smallest average of 921 telescopic stars 8.65" some of them 4'.

Milky Way is a series of rings, all with a common centre of gravity (p. 434).

The Pleiades Group, and in it Alcyone, h Tauri, the centre of motion for our island universe “as far as the most remote regions of the Milky Way” (p. 448). Periods of revolution within the Pleiades Group on the average ca. two million years (p. 449). About the Pleiades are annular groups alternately poor in stars and rich in stars. – Secchi contests the possibility of fixing a centre at the present time.

According to Bessel, Sirius and Procyon describe an orbit about a dark body, as well as the general motion (p. 450).

Eclipse of Algol every 3 days, duration 8 hours, confirmed by spectral analysis (Secchi, p. 786).

In the region of the Milky Way, but deep within it, a dense ring of stars of magnitudes 7-11; a long way outside this ring are the concentric Milky Way rings, of which we see two. In the Milky Way, according to Herschel, ca. 18 million stars visible through his telescope, those lying within the ring being ca. 2 million or more, hence over 20 million in all. In addition there is always a non-resolvable glow in the Milky Way, even behind the resolved stars, hence perhaps still further rings concealed owing to perspective? (Pp. 451-52.)

Alcyone distant from the sun 573 light years. Diameter of the Milky Way ring of separate visible stars, at least 8,000 light years (pp. 462-63).

The mass of the bodies moving within the sun – Alcyone radius of 573 light years is calculated at 118 million sun masses (p. 462), not at all in agreement with the at most 2 million stars moving therein. Dark bodies? At any rate something wrong. A proof of how imperfect our observational bases still are.

For the outermost ring of the Milky Way, Mädler assumes a distance of thousands, perhaps of hundreds of thousands, of light years (p. 464).

A beautiful argument against the so-called absorption of light:

“At any rate, there does exist a distance from which no further light can reach us, but the reason is quite a different one. The velocity of light is finite; from the beginning of creation to our day a finite time has elapsed, and therefore we can only become aware of the heavenly bodies up to the distance which light has travelled in this finite time!” (p. 466.)

That light, decreasing in intensity according to the square of the distance, must reach a point where it is no longer visible to our eyes, however much the latter may be strengthened and equipped, is quite obvious, and suffices for refuting the view of Olbers that only light absorption is capable of explaining the darkness of the sky that nevertheless is filled in all directions with shining stars to an infinite distance. That is not to say that there does not exist a distance at which the ether allows no further light to penetrate.

* * *

Nebulae. Of all forms, strictly circular, elliptical, or irregular and jagged. All decrees of, resolvability, merging into total non-resolvability, where only a thickening towards the centre can be distinguished. In some of the resolvable nebulae, up to ten thousand stars are perceptible, the middle mostly denser, very rarely a central star of greater brilliance. Rosse’s giant telescope has, however, resolved many of them. Herschel I enumerates 197 star aggregations and 2,300 nebulae, to which must be added those catalogued by Herschel II in the southern heavens.

The irregular ones must be distant island universes, since masses of vapour can only exist in equilibrium in globular or ellipsoidal form. Most of them, moreover, are only just visible even through the most powerful telescopes. At any rate the circular ones can be vapour masses: there are 78 of them among the above 2,500. Herschel assumes 2 million, Mädler – on the assumption of a true diameter equal to 8,000 light years – 30 million light years distant from us. Since the distance of each astronomical system of bodies from the next one amounts to at least a hundredfold the diameter of the system, the distance of our island universe from the next one would be at least 50 times 8,000 light years=400,000 light years, in which case with the several thousands of nebulae we get far beyond Herschel I’s 2 million ([Mädler, loc cit., p. 485-]492).


The resolvable nebulae give a continuous and an ordinary stellar spectrum. The nebulae proper, however, “in part give a continuous spectrum like the nebula in Andromeda, but mostly they give a spectrum consisting of one or only very few bright lines, like the nebulae in Orion, in Sagittarius, in Lyra, and the majority of those that are known by the name of planetary (circular) nebulae (p. 787).

(The nebula in Andromeda according to Mädler, p. 495, is unresolvable. – The nebula in Orion is irregular, flocculent and, as it were, puts out arms, p. 495. – Those of Lyra are ring-shaped, only slightly elliptical, p. 498.)

Huggins found in the spectrum of Herschel’s nebula No. 4374, three bright lines, “from this it follows immediately that this nebula does not consist of an aggregate of separate stars, but is a true nebula, a glowing substance in the gaseous state” [p. 787].

The lines belong to nitrogen (1) and hydrogen (I), the third is unknown. Similarly for the nebula in Orion. Even nebulae that contain gleaming points (Hydra, Sagittarius) have these bright lines, so that star masses in course of aggregation are still not solid or liquid (p. 789). The nebula in Lyra has only a nitrogen line (p. 789). – The densest place of the nebula in Orion is P, its whole extension 4’ [pp. 790-91].

Secchi: Sirius:

“Eleven years later (subsequent to Bessel’s calculation, Mädler, p. 450) ... not only was the satellite of Sirius discovered in the form of a self-luminous star of the sixth magnitude, but it was also shown that its orbit coincides with that calculated by Bessel. Since then the orbit also for Procyon and its companion has been determined by Auwers, although the satellite itself has not yet been seen” (p. 793).

Secchi: Fixed stars:

“Since the fixed stars, with the exception of two or three, have no perceptible parallax, they are at least” some 30 light years distant from us (p. 799).

According to Secchi, the stars of the 16th magnitude (still distinguishable in Herschel’s big telescope) are 7,560 light years distant, those distinguishable in Rosse’s telescope are at least 20,900 light years distant (p. 802). Secchi (p. 810) himself asks:

When the sun and the whole system are extinct, “are there forces in nature which can reconvert the dead system into its original state of glowing nebula and reawaken it to new life? We do not know.”

* * *

Secchi and the Pope.

* * *

Descartes discovered that the ebb and flow of tides are caused by the attraction of the moon. Ile also discovered simultaneously with Snell the basic law of the refraction of light [In the margin: “Contested by Wolf, p. 325."[226]] and this in a form peculiar to himself and different from that of Snell.

* * *

Mayer, Mechanische Theorie der Wärme, p. 328. Kant has already stated that the ebb and flow of tides exert a retarding pressure on the rotating earth. (Adam’s calculation that the duration of the sidereal day is now increasing by 1/100 second in 1,000 years.) [227]


Impact and friction. Mechanics regards the effect of impact as taking place in a pure form. But in reality things are different. On every impact part of the mechanical motion is transformed into heat, and friction is nothing more than a form of impact that continually converts mechanical motion into heat (fire by friction known from primeval times).

* * *

The consumption of kinetic energy as such in the field of dynamics is always of a twofold nature and has a twofold result: (1) the kinetic work done, production of a corresponding quantity of potential energy, which, however, is always less than the applied kinetic energy; (2) overcoming – besides gravity – frictional and other resistances that convert the remainder of the used-up kinetic energy into heat. – Likewise on reconversion: according to the way this takes place, a part of the loss through friction, etc., is dissipated as heat – and that is all very ancient!

* * *

The first, naïve outlook is as a rule more correct than the later, metaphysical one. Thus already Bacon (and after him Boyle, Newton, and almost all the Englishmen) said heat is motion[228] (Boyle even said molecular motion). It was only in the eighteenth century that the caloric theory arose in France and became more or less accepted on the Continent.

* * *

Conservation of energy. The quantitative constancy of motion was already enunciated by Descartes, and indeed almost in the same words as now by? (Clausius, Robert Mayer?) On the other hand, the transformation of the form of motion was only discovered in 1842 and this, not the law of quantitative constancy, is what is new.

* * *

Force and conservation of force. The passages of J. R. Mayer in his two first papers to be cited against Helmholtz.

* * *

Force. – Hegel (Geschichte der Philosophie, 1, S. 208) says.

“It is better to say that a magnet has a soul” (as Thales expresses it) “than that it has an attracting force; force is a kind of property that, separable from matter, is put forward as a predicate – while soul, on the other hand, is this movement itself, identical with the nature of matter.”

* * *

Hegel’s conception of force and its manifestation, of cause and effect as identical, is proved in the change of form of matter, where the equivalence is proved mathematically. This had ‘already been recognised in measurement: force is measured by its manifestation, cause by effect.

* * *

Force. If any kind of motion is transferred from one body to another, then one can regard the motion, in so far as it transfers itself, i.e., is active, as the cause of motion, in so far as the latter becomes transferred, i.e., is passive, and then this cause, the active motion, appears as force and the passive as its manifestation. From the law of the indestructibility of motion, it follows automatically that the force is exactly as great as its manifestation, since indeed it is the same motion in both cases. Motion that transfers itself, however, is more or less quantitatively determinable, because it appears in two bodies, of which one can serve as a unit of measurement in order to measure the motion in the other. The measurability of motion gives the category force its value, otherwise it has none. Hence the more this is the case, the more are the categories of force and its manifestation usable in research. Hence this is so especially in mechanics, where one resolves the forces still further, regarding them as compound, and thereby often arriving at new results, although one should not forget that this is merely a mental operation; by applying the analogy of forces that are really compound, as expressed in the parallelogram of forces, to forces that are really simple, the latter still do not thereby really become compound. Similarly in statics. Then, again, in the transformation of other forms of motion into mechanical motion (heat, electricity, magnetism in the attraction of iron), where the original motion can be measured by the mechanical effect produced. But here, where various forms of motion are considered simultaneously, the limitation of the category or abbreviation, force, already stands revealed. No regular physicist any longer terms electricity, magnetism, or heat mere forces, any more than substances or imponderabilia. When we know into how much mechanical motion a definite quantity of heat motion is converted, we still do not know anything of the nature of heat, however much the examination of these transformations may be necessary for investigating this nature of heat. To conceive heat as a form of motion is the latest advance of physics, and by so doing the category of force is sublated in it: in certain connections – those of transition – they can appear as forces and so be measured. Thus heat is measured by the expansion of a body on warming. If heat did not pass here from one body to the other – the measuring rod – i.e., if the heat of the body acting as a measuring rod did not alter, there could be no talk of measurement, of a change of magnitude. One says simply: heat expands a body, whereas to say: heat has the force to expand a body, would be a mere tautology, and to say: heat is the force which expands bodies, would not be correct, since 1. expansion, e.g., in gases, is produced also by other means, and 2. heat is not exhaustively characterised in this way.

Some chemists speak also of chemical force, as the force that makes and maintains compounds. Here, however, there is no real transference, but a combination of the motion of various bodies into a single whole, and so “force” here reaches its limit. It is, however, still measurable by the heat production, but so far without much result. Here it becomes a phrase, as everywhere where, instead of investigating the uninvestigated forms of motion, one invents a so-called force for their explanation (as, for instance, explaining the floating of wood in water by a buoyancy force – the refraction of light by a refractive force, etc.), in which case as many forces are obtained as there are unexplained phenomena, the external phenomenon being indeed merely translated into an internal phrase.[229] (Attraction and repulsion are easier to excuse; here a number of phenomena inexplicable to the physicist are embraced under a common name, which gives an inkling of an inner connection.)

Finally in organic nature the category of force is completely inadequate and yet continually applied. True, it is possible to characterise the action of the muscles, in accordance with its mechanical effect, as muscular force, and also to measure it. One can even conceive of other measurable functions as forces, e.g., the digestive capacity of various stomachs, but one quickly arrives ad absurdum (e.g., nervous force), and in any case one can speak here of forces only in a very restricted and figurative sense (the ordinary phrase: to regain one’s forces). This misuse, however, has led to speaking of a vital force. If by this is meant that the form of motion in the organic body is different from the mechanical, physical, or chemical form, and contains them all sublated in itself, then it is a very lax manner of expression, and especially so because the force – presupposing transference of motion – appears here as something pumped into the organism from outside. not as inherent in it and inseparable from it, and therefore this vital force has been the last refuge of all supernaturalists.

The defect: (1) Force usually treated as having independent existence. (Hegel, Naturphilosophie, S. 79.)[230]

(2) Latent, dormant force – this to be explained from the relation of motion and rest (inertia, equilibrium), where also arousing of forces to be dealt with.

* * *

Force (see above). The transference of motion takes place, of course, only in the presence of all the various conditions, which are often multiple and complex, especially in machines (the steam-engine, the shotgun with lock, trigger, percussion cap, and gunpowder). If one of them is missing, then the transference does not take place until this condition is supplied. In that case one can imagine this as if the force must first be aroused by the introduction of this last condition, as if it lay latent in a body, the so-called carrier of force (gunpowder, charcoal), whereas in reality not only this body but all the other conditions must be present in order to evoke precisely this special transference. –

The notion of force comes to us quite automatically in that we possess in our own body means for transferring motion, which within certain limits can be brought into action by our will; especially the muscles of the arms through which we produce mechanical change of place and motion of other bodies, lifting, carrying, throwing, hitting, etc., resulting in definite useful effects. The motion is here apparently produced, not transferred, and this gives rise to the notion of force in general producing motion. That muscular force is also merely transference has only now been proved physiologically.

* * *

Force. The negative side also has to be analysed: the resistance which is opposed to the transference of motion.

* * *

Radiation of heat into universal space. All the hypotheses cited by Lavrov of the renewal of extinct heavenly bodies (p. 109)[231] involve loss of motion. The heat once radiated, i.e., the infinitely greater part of the original motion, is and remains lost. Helmholtz says, up to now, 453/454. Hence one finally arrives after all at the exhaustion and cessation of motion. The question is only finally solved when it has been shown how the heat radiated into space becomes utilisable again. The theory of the transformation of motion puts this question categorically, and it cannot be got over by postponing the answer or by evasion. That, however, with the posing of the question the conditions for its solution are simultaneously given – c’est autre chose. The transformation of motion and its indestructibility were first discovered hardly thirty years ago, and it is only quite recently that the consequences have been further-elaborated and worked out. The question as to what becomes of the apparently lost heat has, as it were, only been nettement posée since 1867 (Clausius).[232] No wonder that it has not yet been solved; it may still be a long time before we will arrive at a solution with our small means. But it will be solved just as surely as it is certain that there are no miracles in nature and that the original heat of the nebular ball is not communicated to it miraculously from outside the universe. The general assertion that a the total amount (die Masse) of motion is infinite, and hence inexhaustible, is of equally little assistance in overcoming the difficulties of each individual case; it too does not suffice for the revival of extinct universes, except in the cases provided for in the above hypotheses, which are always bound up with loss of force and are therefore only temporary cases. The cycle has not been traced and will not be until the possibility of the re-utilisation of the radiated heat is discovered.

* * *

Clausius – if correct – proves that the universe has been created, ergo that matter is creatable, ergo that it is destructible, ergo that also force, or motion, is creatable and destructible, ergo that the whole theory of the “conservation of force” is nonsense, ergo that all his conclusions from it are also nonsense.

* * *

Clausius’ second law, etc., however it may be formulated, shows energy as lost, qualitatively if not quantitatively. Entropy cannot be destroyed by natural means but it can certainly be created. The world clock has to be wound up, then it goes on running until it arrives at a state of equilibrium from which only a miracle can set it going again. The energy expended in winding has disappeared, at least qualitatively, and can only be restored by an impulse from outside. Hence, an impulse from outside was necessary at the beginning also, hence, the quantity of motion, or energy, existing in the universe was not always the same, hence, energy must have been created, i.e., it must be creatable, and therefore destructible. Ad absurdum!

* * *

Conclusion for Thomson, Clausius, Loschmidt: The reversion consists in repulsion repelling itself and thereby returning out of the medium into extinct heavenly bodies. But just therein lies also the proof that repulsion is the really active aspect of motion, and attraction the passive aspect.

* * *

In the motion of gases – in the process of evaporation – the motion of masses passes directly into molecular motion. Here, therefore, the transition has to be made.

* * *

States of aggregation – nodal points where quantitative change is transformed into qualitative.

* * *

Cohesion – already negative in gases – transformation of attraction into repulsion, the latter only real in gas and ether (?).

* * *

At absolute 0° no gas is possible, all motion of the molecules ceases; the slightest pressure, and hence their own attraction, forces them together. Consequently, a permanent gas is an impossibility.

* * *

mv2 has been proved also for gas molecules by the kinetic theory of gases. Hence there is the same law for molecular motion as for the motion of masses: the difference between the two is here abolished.

* * *

The kinetic theory has to show how molecules that strive upwards can at the same time exert a downward pressure and – assuming the atmosphere as more or less permanent in relation to universal space – how in spite of gravity they can move to a distance from the centre of the earth, but nevertheless, at a certain distance, although the force of gravity has decreased according to the square of the distance, are yet compelled by this force to come to a stop or to return.

* * *

The kinetic theory of gases:

“In a perfect gas ... the molecules are already so far distant from one another that their mutual interaction can be neglected.” (Clausius, p. 6.)[233]

What fills up the spaces between them? Ditto ether.[234] Hence here the postulate of a matter that is not articulated into molecular or atomic cells.

The character of mutual opposites belonging to theoretical development; from the horror vacui[235] the transition was made at once to absolutely empty universal space, only afterwards the ether.

* * *

Ether. If the ether offers resistance at all, it must also offer resistance to light, and so at a certain distance be impenetrable to light. That however ether propagates light, being its medium, necessarily involves that it should also offer resistance to light, otherwise light could not set it in vibration. – This the solution of the controversial questions raised by Mädler and mentioned by Lavrov [Lavrov].[236]

Light and darkness are certainly the most conspicuous and definite opposites in nature; they have always served as a rhetorical phrase for religion and philosophy from the time of the fourth Gospel[237] to the lumières of the eighteenth century.

Fick,[238] p. 9: “the law long ago rigidly demonstrated in physics . . . that the form of motion called radiant heat is identical in all essential respects with the form of motion that we call light."” Clerk Maxwell,[239] p. 14: “These rays (of radiant heat) have all the physical properties of rays of light and are capable of reflection, etc.... Some of the heat-rays are identical with the rays of light, while other kinds of heat-rays make no impression upon our eyes.”

Hence there exist dark light-rays, and the famous opposition between light and darkness disappears from natural science as an absolute opposition. Incidentally, the deepest darkness and the brightest, most glaring light have the same effect of dazzling our eyes, and in this way are for us identical.

The fact is, the sun’s rays have different effects according to the length of the vibration: those with the greatest wave-length communicate heat, those with medium wave length, light, and those with the shortest wave-length, chemical action (Secchi, p. 632 et seq.), the maxima of the three actions being closely approximated, the inner minima of the outer groups of rays, as regards their action, coming within the light-ray group.[240] What is light and what is non-light depends on the structure of the eye. Night animals may be able to see even a part, not of the heat-rays, but of the chemical rays, since their eyes are adapted for shorter wave-lengths than ours. The difficulty disappears if one assumes, instead of three kinds, only a single kind of ray (and scientifically we know only one and everything else is a premature conclusion), which has different, but within narrow limits compatible, effects according to the wave-length.

* * *

Hegel constructs the theory of light and colour out of pure thought, and in so doing falls into the grossest empiricism of home-bred philistine experience (although with a certain justification, since this point had not been cleared up at that time), e.g., where he adduces against Newton the mixtures of colours used by painters (p. 314, below).[241]

* * *

Electricity. In regard to Thomson’s cock-and-bull stories, c.f. Hegel, pp. 346-47, where there is exactly the same thing. – On the other hand, Hegel already conceives frictional electricity quite clearly as tension, in contrast to the fluid theory and the electrical matter theory (p. 347).

* * *

When Coulomb says that “particles of electricity repel each other inversely as the square of their distance,” Thomson calmly takes this as proved (p. 358).[242] Ditto (p. 366) the hypothesis that electricity consists of two fluids, positive and negative, whose particles repel each other. It is said (p. 360) that electricity in a charged body is retained merely by the pressure of the atmosphere. Faraday put the seat of electricity in the opposed poles of the atoms (or molecules, there is still confusion about it), and thus for the first time expressed the idea that electricity is not a fluid but a form of motion, a “force” (p. 378). What old Thomson cannot get into his head at all is that it is precisely the spark that is of a material nature!

Already in 1822, Faraday had discovered that the momentary induced current – the first as well as the second, reversed current – “participates more of the current produced by the discharge of the Leyden jar than that produced by the voltaic battery” – herein lay the whole secret (p. 385).

The spark has been the subject of all sorts of cock-and-bull stories, which are now known to be special cases or illusions: the spark from a positive body is said to be a “pencil of rays, brush, or cone,” the point of which is the point of discharge; the negative spark, on the other hand, is said to be a “star” (p. 396). A short spark is said to be always white, a long one usually reddish or purplish. (Wonderful nonsense of Faraday on the spark, p. 400.) The spark drawn from the prime conductor [of an electric machine) by a metal sphere is said to be white, by the hand – purple, by aqueous moisture – red (p. 405). The spark, i.e., light, is said to be “not inherent in electricity but merely the result of the compression of the air. That air is violently and suddenly compressed when an electric spark passes through it” is proved by the experiment of Kinnersley in Philadelphia, according to which the spark produces “a sudden rarefaction of the air in the tube,” and drives the water into the tube (p. 407). In Germany, 30 years ago, Winterl and others believed that the spark, or electric light, was “of the same nature with fire” and arises by the union of two electricities. Against which Thomson seriously proves that the place where the two electricities unite is precisely that where the light is least, and that it is two-thirds from the positive and one-third from the negative end! (Pp. 409-10.) That fire is here still something quite mythical is obvious.

With the same seriousness Thomson quotes the experiments of Dessaignes, according to which, with a rising barometer and falling temperature, glass, amber, silk, etc., become negatively electrified on being plunged into mercury, but positively electrified if the barometer is falling and the temperature rising, and in summer always become positive in impure, and always negative in pure, mercury; that in summer gold and various other metals become positive on warming and negative on cooling, the reverse being the case in winter; that they are “highly electric” with a high barometer and northerly wind, positive if the temperature is rising, negative if falling, etc. (p. 416).

How matters stood in regard to heat: “In order to produce thermo-electric effects, it is not necessary to apply heat. Any thing which alters the temperature in one part of the chain ... occasions a deviation in the declination of the magnet.” For instance, the cooling of a metal by ice or evaporation of ether! (P. 419.)

The electro-chemical theory (p. 438) is accepted as “at least exceedingly ingenious and plausible.”

Fabroni and Wollaston had already long ago, and Faraday recently, asserted that voltaic electricity is the simple consequence of chemical processes, and Faraday had even given the correct explanation of the shifting of atoms taking place in the liquid, and established that the quantity of electricity is to be measured by the quantity of the electrolytic product.

With the help of Faraday, Thomson arrives at the law

“that every atom must be naturally surrounded by the same quantity of electricity, so that in this respect heat and electricity resemble each other"! [p. 454.]

Static and dynamic electricity. Static or frictional electricity is the putting into a state of tension of the electricity already existing in nature in the form of electricity but in an equilibrated, neutral state. Hence the removal of this tension – if and in so far as the electricity during propagation can be conducted – also occurs at one stroke, by a spark, which re-establishes the neutral state.

Dynamic or voltaic electricity, on the other hand, is electricity produced by the conversion of chemical motion into electricity. Under certain definite conditions, it is produced by the solution of zinc, copper, etc. Here the tension is not acute, but chronic. At every moment new + and - electricity is produced from some other form of motion. and not already existing ± electricity separated into + and-. The process is a continuous one, and therefore too its result, electricity, does not take the form of instantaneous tension and discharge, but of a continuous current which can be reconverted at the poles into the chemical motion from which it arose, a process that is termed electrolysis. In this process, as well as in the production of electricity by chemical combination (in which electricity is liberated instead of heat, and in fact as much electricity as under other circumstances heat is set free, Guthrie, p. 210),[243] the current can be traced in the liquid (exchange of atoms in adjacent molecules – this is the current).

This electricity, being of the nature of a current, for that very reason cannot be directly converted into static electricity. By means of induction, however, neutral electricity already existing as such can be de-neutralised. In the nature of things the induced electricity has to follow that which induces it, and therefore must likewise be of a flowing character. On the other hand, this obviously gives the possibility of condensing the current and of converting it into static electricity, or rather into a higher form that combines the property of a current with that of tension. This is solved by Ruhmkorff’s machine. It provides an inductional electricity, which achieves this result.

* * *

A pretty example of the dialectics of nature is the way in which according to present-day theory the repulsion of like magnetic poles is explained by the attraction of like electric currents, (Guthrie, p. 264.)

* * *

Electro-chemistry. In describing the effect of the electric spark in chemical decomposition and synthesis, Wiedemann declares that this is more the concern of chemistry.[244] In the same case the chemists declare that it is rather a matter which concerns physics. Thus at the point of contact of molecular and atomic science, both declare themselves incompetent, while it is precisely at this point that the greatest results are to be expected.

* * *

Friction and impact produce an internal motion of the bodies concerned, molecular motion, differentiated as warmth, electricity, etc., according to circumstances. This motion, however, is only temporary: cessante causa cessat effectus. At a definite stage they all become transformed into a permanent molecular change, a chemical change.


* * *

The motion of an actual chemically uniform matter – ancient as it is – fully corresponds to the childish view, widely held even up to Lavoisier, that the chemical affinity of two bodies depends on each one containing a common third body. (Kopp, Entwickelung, p. 105.)[245]

* * *

How old, convenient methods, adapted to previously customary practice, become transferred to other branches and there are a hindrance: in chemistry, the calculation of the composition of compounds in percentages, which was the most suitable method of all for making it impossible to discover the laws of constant proportion and multiple proportion in combination, and indeed did make them undiscoverable for long enough.

* * *

The new epoch begins in chemistry with atomistics (hence Dalton, not Lavoisier, is the father of modern chemistry), and correspondingly in physics with the molecular theory (in a different form, but essentially representing only the other side of this process, with the discovery of the transformation of the forms of motion). The new atomistics is distinguished from all previous to it by the fact that it does not maintain (idiots excepted) that matter is merely discrete, but that the discrete parts at various stages (ether atoms, chemical atoms masses, heavenly bodies) are various nodal points which determine the various qualitative modes of existence of matter in general – right down to weightlessness and repulsion.

* * *

Transformation of quantity into quality: the simplest example oxygen and ozone, where 2:3 produces quite different properties, even in regard to smell. Chemistry likewise explains the other allotropic bodies merely by a difference in the number of atoms in the molecule.

* * *

The significance of names. In organic chemistry the significance of a body, hence also its name, is no longer determined merely by its composition, but rather by its position in the series to which it belongs. If we find, therefore, that a body belongs to such a series, its old name becomes an obstacle to understanding it and must be replaced by a series name (paraffins, etc.).


224. Engels is referring to Clausius’s lecture “On the Second Law of the Mechanical Theory of Heat,” delivered in Frankfort-on-Main, September 23, 1867, at the 41st Congress of German Natural Scientists and Physicians, and published in book form in Braunschweig the same year.

225. This and the two following notes consist of extracts from the following books: J. H. Madler, Der Wunderbau des Weltalls, oder Populäre Astronomie, 5. Auflage, Berlin, 1861. (Sections IX and X); A. Secchi, Die Sonne, Braunschweig, 1872, Part III. Engels made use of these extracts in 1876 in the second part of Introduction to Dialectics of Nature.

226. Engels is referring to Rudolf Wolf’s book Geschichte der Astronomie, München, 1877 (see Note 124). On p. 325 of this book Wolf asserts that the law of the refraction of light was discovered not by Descartes but by Snell who formulated it in his unpublished works, from which Descartes subsequently (after Snell’s death) took it.

227. Engels is referring to Julius Robert Mayer’s book Die Mechanik der Wärme in gesammelten Schriften, 2. Auflage, Stuttgart, 1874, S. 328, 330.

228. Francis Bacon, Novum Organum (Francis Bacon, The New Organon), Book 11, Aphorism XX, published in London in 1620.

229. Cf. Hegel’s remark that force “has no other content than the phenomenon itself” and that this content expresses itself only “in the form of into-reflected determination or force,” the result being an “empty tautology” (Hegel, Science of Logic, Book II, Section I, Ch. 3, Observation on the formal method of explanation from tautological grounds).

230. G. W, F. Hegel, Philosophy of Nature, § 266, Observation.

231. Engels is referring to Lavrov’s book Onum ucmopuu muclu (Attempt at a History of Thought), Vol. 1, published anonymously in St. Petersburg in 1875. On page 109 of this book in the chapter “The Cosmic Basis of the History of Thought,” Lavrov writes: “Dead suns with their dead systems of planets and satellites continue their motion in space as long as they do not fall into a new nebula in process of formation. Then the remains of the dead world be come material for hastening the process of formation of the new world.” In a footnote Lavrov quotes the opinion of Zollner that the state of torpor of extinct heavenly bodies “can be ended only by external influences, e.g., by the heat evolved on collision with some other body.”

232. See Note 224.

233. See Note 224.

234. Engels is evidently referring to page 16 of the above pamphlet, where Clausius incidentally mentions the ether as existing outside the heavenly bodies. Here again, on p. 6, it is a question of the same ether, though not outside bodies but in the interstices between the most minute constituent particles of the bodies.

235. Horror vacui, abhorrence of a vacuum. The view, dating from Aristotle, that “nature abhors the void,” that is, does not allow a vacuum to form, prevailed in natural science till the mid-seventeenth century. This “abhorrence” was given, among other things, as the reason why the water rises in a piston. In 1643 Torricelli discovered atmospheric pressure and thereby refuted the Aristotelian notion of the impossibility of a vacuum.

236. Engels wrote Lavrov’s name in Russian characters. Engels is referring to Lavrov’s book Onum ucmopuu muclu (See Note 231). In the chapter “The Cosmic Basis of the History of Thought,” Lavrov mentions the views of various scientists (Albers, V. Struve) on the extinction of light coming from very great distances (pp. 103-04).

237. Gospel according to St. John, 1.

238. Fick, Die Naturkrafte in ihrer Wechselbeziehung (The Interaction of Natural Forces), Wurzburg, 1869.

239. Maxwell, Theory of Heat, Fourth Edition, London, 1875, pp. 87, 185.

240. Engels is referring to the diagram on page 632 of Secchi’s book, showing the relationship between the length of the wave and the intensity of the thermal, luminar and chemical actions of the sunrays, the main portion of which is reproduced below:


The curve BDN represents the intensity of heat radiation, from the longest wave heat-rays (at point B) to the shortest wave rays (at point N). The curve AMH represents the intensity of light radiation, from the longest wave rays (at point A) to the shortest wave rays (at point H). The curve IKL represents the intensity of chemical rays, from the longest wave rays (at point 1) to the shortest wave rays (at point L). In all three cases the intensity of the rays is shown by the distance of the point on the curve from the line PW.

241. Engels is referring to Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, Berlin edition, 1842, § 320, Addendum.

242. Here and further on Engels quotes from Th. Thomson’s book, An Outline of the Sciences of Heat and Electricity, 2nd edition, London, 1840. Engels made use of these quotations in the chapter “Electricity.”

243. Here and in the following note Engels is referring to the book of the British physicist Frederick Guthrie Magnetism and Electricity, London and Glasgow, 1876. On page 210 Guthrie writes: “The strength of the current is proportional to the amount of zinc dissolved in the battery that is oxidised, and is proportional to the heat which the oxidation of that zinc would liberate.”

244. See Wiedemann, Die Lehre von Galvanismus und Elektromagnetismus, III, Braunschweig, 1874, S. 418 (see Note 95).

245. H. Kopp, Die Entwickelung der Chemie in der neueren Zeit, 1. Abt., München, 1871, S. 105.