From: "Stephen Taylor" <steve- at>

Subject: Dialectics and Nature

Date: Thu, 7 May 1998

Andy wrote: For me, dialectics is an extension of the concept of Logic beyond the limits within which formal logic is adequate; that is, when the objects referred to are "not equal to themselves" or when the complexity of the relations between them transcend a qualitative limit. I think it may be called alternatively "the logic of development".

(swt): I agree that dialectic is an extension of the concept of Logic beyond the limits within which formal logic is adequate. Noting your apology for the scanty nature of your response I wish to raise some points for elaboration (please correct me if I go astray). My question is, "does this 'going beyond' imply more of the same, or does it cross a threshold into new territory?"

Also, I am sure you will agree when I say that, besides the two mechanisms you mention in 'going beyond' (objects not equal to themselves, and complexity transcending a limit), a further specification is necessary in describing the logic-to-dialectic transition. But first, do I correctly grasp your first step, "when the objects referred to are "not equal to themselves"?

I assume this means that they reveal themselves upon logical examination to be self-contradictory. Any number of examples of this can be found in Hegel because it is the burden of his method. But I wondered if we couldn't extend the example-pool to physics, for instance to the widely known duality of particle and wave, where subatomic logical entities prove to be:

(a), internally contradictory, corpuscular and undulatory at the same time, and

(b), self-repelling in refusing to have their moments exist together within the limits established by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

The problem, besides shortcomings in the philosophy (subatomics didn't exist for Hegel), is that physicists are not as a rule philosophers, nor philosophers physicists. It's a pretty big swallow to manage both. Add to this the reflection that the entire content of subatomic theory consists of empirical results, that, 'after the fact', have to be fitted into the imaginative understanding, each result being guided into place only by (1) logic, and (2), mathematical formulation. Is it not clear that the pattern being built up in the course of subatomic physics is nothing but the logical syntax of our thinking? There is nothing in the atom but historically compressed mathematically modelled human reason.

No body with its own eyes ever saw electrons flying around a nucleus, or an electromagnetic wave collapsing. Such visions are as rare as real Father Christmases, though the fake kind everywhere abounds. In physics we have the spectacle of matter 'sprung apart', not behaving in the manner we expect of our familiar world, but in accordance with a rhythm of its own, that looks suspiciously like a dialectical dance. Yes! We have found the belly, the underside of our dialectical beast. We have solved the problem of the man with an odd pair of socks, one yellow, one blue, who remarks, "Funny, I've got another odd pair just like it!"

I will now venture an example that will lay a claim on math, granted the claim is no stronger initially than that of capturing a wild beast by gently resting a hair on its back. We teach '1+1=2' to children. They chant it, but do they understand it? They will if we also teach them that 1+1#2 (read # as 'does not equal').

We should teach them both, saying, "1+1=2 *because* 1+1#2."

They enjoy the joke, and quickly understand it, because it is easy to see that 1+1 and 2 are different. Seeing that the mathematical reality of 1+1=2, to say nothing of 2+2=4, rests upon a logical 'not', throws them back upon the realisation that the meaning of math resides in their own minds, in their way of looking at something, the point of view they adopt, and prepares them for the later insight that contradiction is the lifeblood of math. It is the spirit of understanding coursing through its veins.

As you can see I am claiming that all math and all physics falls within, and belongs to the domain of the Hegelian dialectic, but excuse me, I have wandered off and haven't even come to your second point: "when the complexity of the relations between them transcend a qualitative limit."

I have to admit that I don't understand the specifics of this limit and I would appreciate any discussion that would clarify it for me. I do know that the dialectic requires us to have two initial steps, the second arising out of the first, and though I don't see the outline, I can see beyond to the third step which I have described (paragraph 3), as 'a further specification'. To deal with this right away, it is that the logic-to-dialogic transformation depends upon logic's turning its searchlight upon itself as object.

This inversion and only this inversion brings the contradiction into view as a creative factor, a springboard for the intuitive leap required in the Hegelian progression. Emerging as a wall of difficulty it then fuels the advance, driving the whole process forward. If the dialectic of identity and difference is Hegel's lever, this logic, which in swallowing itself becomes a self-moving contradiction (the mechanism in knowing), is his fulcrum.

As an aside, this makes the Hegelian advance a revelation, though one metered in a thousand small steps. Its every step is not a 'learning', in the sense of adding something new to the pile, but a retreat onto one's own inherent power of knowing. Hegel calls it the power of the negative, or negation, and negation of the negation.

Andy, later you say, "In defining dialectics as logic one could easily draw the conclusion that therefore dialectics is indeed something to do only with human thought." This is precisely the pit for those who, having come to the chasm's edge find themselves unable to proceed a step further, unable to see the difference between 'only thought', and thought that, like Kekule's snake, grasps itself in a comprehension that jumps the chasm, gaining an objectivity in subjectivity that proceeds to mature into a subjectivity in objectivity.

Understanding, however, is only the beginning of our task. Those who understand, and this applies in every field, must go beyond this, must make it their business, their burden, to make it intelligible, not only to themselves, but to others, rendering it simple, even to children.

We must work with the Hegelian philosophy until it becomes the intelligence of the world. We must expunge error, letting nothing pass that is not lucid to self and others. We must go the extra mile to make it so. With the net to help us I think that this is possible for the first time in history. We have the tools and the team and a world of work to accomplish. Recurring to your first paragraph, I was going to suggest that a correct formulation in proportionality (a is to b, as c is to d), would be:

The relation between the dialectic and ordinary logic is as subatomic physics to ordinary physics.

This prepares the student for the idea that dialectic (whose process is dialogic), is an explanatory depth. Logic is the ice upon which conversation skates. Beneath the ice are subconscious and unconscious depths. This picture helps draw the main areas, philosophy and physics, science and mind-in-consciousness, into comprehensible related but distinct blocs. The plan as a whole is drawn into the design-area of history. As physics has an explanatory depth in subatomics, so too knowledge in general (philosophy), has a depth. This, on one side, is the reality of thought within consciousness; on the other metabolising flesh within gene-based individuals. The dialectic is an essential step in approaching the syntax of that depth.

Our task is to explain our point of view. We need make no apology for its difficulty, or for our shortcomings in its comprehension, provided only we remain firm in our belief that it can be fully apprehended, and that that is our task, our duty and our determination----to render it, intelligible and accessible to all, including children, in the not-too-distant future. That history need not repeat itself in ever more destructive lessons.

As logic resides within thought, the dialectic resides within logic, and this 'inner of the inner', in total inversion, is on one hand the external world before us, on the other the spirit in consciousness aware of itself as freedom within the domain of absolute knowledge. The dialectic is therefore something comprehended within thought, but it is also that which encompasses and generates thought. Its full elucidation is difficult but the stakes are high, and the human spirit, if it would transform in keeping with the need of its own nature, must slay the dragon of incomprehensibility.

My thanks to Cyril for, in his words, "stirring things up a bit."


(Footnote: Kekule, 1829-96, German chemist, elucidated the concepts of valence in single, double and triple bonds. He could not fit the benzene molecule into his system for some years until one night he dreamed of a snake that, before his mind's eye, turned and swallowed its own tail. When he woke he sketched out the circular benzene ring.)