[OPE-L:8042] Re: Re: Heisenberg, Marx and the uncertainty principle

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Sat Nov 23 2002 - 08:34:44 EST

Cologne 23-Nov-2002

gerald_a_levy schrieb Fri, 22 Nov 2002 22:12:55 -0500:

> Re Paul C's [8038]:
> > *  In particular, could the HUP have application when examining
> > the systematic connections between a mode of production and
> > (non-human) nature?
> > ---------------------------------------------------------
> > No. To think that it does is to fall for the most vulgar
> > idealist interpretations of quantum mechanics
> Oh my -- well I certainly wouldn't want to do that.
> I see the HUP as just one of a number of  perspectives in the natural
> sciences related to uncertainty and indeterminacy that might have
> extensions for comprehending the present mode of production.
> E.g. chaos theory, complexity theory,  and the theory of relativity.
> As suggested by  a previous post,  uncertainty is a characteristic and
> necessary feature of  the value  process and the production and circulation
> of  surplus value and capital.  Hence it seems reasonable  to ask whether
> postulates concerning uncertainty in other disciplines have relevance for
> comprehending a specific social system that is characterized by uncertainty.
> A connection of a more concrete historical nature relates to our
> understanding of  the possible social consequences of nuclear power and
> other forms of energy which capital and the state in their arrogance
> have ignored.   Let us not forget that Werner Heisenberg after
> developing the "Indeterminacy Principle" in the 1920's later
> conducted research for Germany during WW2 on their nuclear fission
> program.  Also, in the US the research on nuclear energy progressed
> in ways that could not have been fully anticipated by theoretical
> physicists like Einstein.  Even Oppenheimer -- late in his life -- realized
> that nuclear power posed unquantifiable and unimaginable horrors for
> the future.  The social implications of the HUP were all to real to
> Oppenheimer and his generation of physicists -- and it was for speaking
> out against the uncertain consequences of nuclear energy that the US
> government blacklisted him.
> As I understand it, you also take a principle from physics -- laws of
> thermodynamics -- and attempt to develop extensions related to
> political economy. Isn't that right?
> In solidarity, Jerry

The question whether principles or laws of physics can be applied to social
phenomena is one of whether violence is thereby done to the phenomena.

Isn't Heisenberg's uncertainty principle a consequence of Schroedinger's
equations having two simultaneous solutions? Quantum physics is still
_mathematical_ physics.

The basic manual for science in the modern age was written by Descartes, an
early work called _Regulae_. This work is a real eye-opener for how the ground
rules for what counts as knowledge were cast by a thinker.

According to Descartes, certain knowledge is attainable only through intuition
and deduction, i.e. through the only reliable actions of understanding for
finding the truth (Rule 3). Descartes also laid down the “rule” in his _Regulae_
according to which everything to do with beings has to be brought into the form
of proportions and equations. And only that can be brought into the form of an
equation “which admits of a more or less, and all this is comprehended under the
term ‘magnitude’“ (Rule 14.4 “nisi quod recipit majus et minus, atque illud omne
per magnitudinis vocabulum comprehendi” R. Descartes _Regulae ad Directionem
Ingenii_ in: Descartes. Philosophische Schriften Meiner, Hamburg, 1996 S. 121.).
The upshot of this, according to Descartes, is that “we no longer think of
involving ourselves with this or that subject, but only in general with
comparing certain quantities among themselves” (Rule 13.1 “non amplius cogitemus
nos circa hoc vel illud subjectum versari, sed tantum in genere circa
magnitudines quasdam inter se comparandas”). The import and consequences of this
casting of the criteria for scientific knowledge in the modern age can scarcely
be underestimated.

Later scientists and thinkers all worked within the Cartesian mould or casting,
the most famous of course being Newton who explicitly posited axioms of motion
(Axiomata, sive leges motus). And Newton's spectacular success inspired many
later scientists and thinkers to emulate his "laws of motion", including Karl

Marx writes in the preface to the first edition of _Das Kapital_ Volume I from
1867 that “it is the ultimate purpose of this work to uncover the economic law
of motion of modern society” (MEW23:15). Marx understands this economic law of
motion in the first place as a law of historical development of societies in
which the capitalist mode of production gains a foothold and comes to dominate
the entire economic life of those societies. Thus he writes in this vein that
modern society “can neither skip over natural phases of development nor decree
that they disappear” (MEW23:16). And Marx has generally been read in the Marxist
tradition as inaugurating a theory of law-like historical development of
capitalist society.

But there is another reading of the sense of “economic law of motion of modern
society” which is more pertinent to an economic science of society, and this
reading concerns the concept of value that constitutes the cornerstone of Marx’s
entire _Critique of Political Economy_ in _Kapital_. The law of labour value is
not a law of historical development, but a quantitatively conceived law that is
said to underlie, directly or indirectly, the exchange relations of commodities
in a capitalist economy, in a way precisely analogous to how the movement of a
physical body obeys Newton’s second law of motion f = ma. This quantitative law
of value is supposed to be the fundamental principle through which the movement
of capital itself, on its various levels of abstraction right down to the
concrete levels of the intertwining of individual capitals in reproducing a
capitalist economy, is progressively theoretically graspable by means of
conceptual mediation, just as the Newtonian laws of motion, with successive
elaboration of the theory of mechanics, account for increasingly complex
movements of natural bodies in particular circumstances resulting in theories of
hydrostatics, hydrodynamics, aerodynamics, and so on. When Marx introduces this
quantitative law of value, it is no accident that he refers specifically to one
of the laws discovered by Newton, namely, the law of gravity:

"It requires completely developed commodity production before the scientific
insight grows out of experience itself that the private labours which are
performed independently of each other, but which depend all-round on each other
as naturally emerging members of the social division of labour, are continually
reduced to their socially proportional measure because, in the contingent and
constantly fluctuating exchange relations of their products, the labour-time
socially necessary for their production violently asserts itself as a regulating
law of nature, like the law of gravity, for instance, when a house tumbles down
over your head. The determination of the magnitude of value by labour-time is
therefore a secret hidden beneath the phenomenal movements of the relative
values of commodities. " (MEW23:89)

Marx’s law here, which is a reformulation of Ricardo’s law of value (although
also supplemented by a thorough philosophical and thus ‘qualitative’ or
‘metaphysical’ analysis of the value-form), is subject to the same
metaphysico-mathematical demand as announced in Descartes’ _Regulae_. A _reason_
is _rendered_ (Leibniz: "rendre raison" _Principes de la Nature et de la Grace,
Fondés en Raison_  Para. 11) for the exchange relations of commodities, and
these relations are themselves conceived from their quantitative aspect amenable
to mathematical treatment, for which a sufficient, quantitative reason is sought
and found to reside in labour-time under a definite qualification of being
“socially necessary”. It cannot be said, however, that the law of value has been
empirically underpinned in the way that this can and has been asserted for
Newton’s second law of motion which initially drew its evidence from the
movements of celestial bodies. Furthermore, the debate among economists which
Marx’s theory of labour value inaugurated has led to it being largely rejected,
for neither empirically nor through deductive reasoning is it possible to shore
up such a quantitative law for magnitudes of exchange-value regulating the
exchange relations between commodities, even very indirectly through steps of
conceptual mediation. If established, such a quantitative law would have indeed
provided the foundation for a ‘theory of motion’ of capitalist economy and
allowed reliable, predictive mathematical calculation of its movements.

So, where does the problem lie? First of all, the paradigm of natural laws as
laid down by Descartes and spectacularly exemplified by Newton cannot be
transferred without further ado to other areas of phenomena. This has long since
been recognized, e.g. by Dilthey's efforts to say what historical and social
science can be.

Specifically, with respect to Marx and political economy, the problem lies in
the circumstance that the phenomena under investigation encompass roughly two
areas, production and exchange, whose social relations are investigated. Let's
leave aside for the moment the big philosophical question of what a social
relation is and have a quick look at the phenomena of production and exchange.

The former phenomenon has been philosophically taken apart carefully since Plato
and Aristotle. The paradigm is _technae_ or know-how. _Technae_ is the know-how
of how to bring something forth, to pro-duce it. Thus know-how is an _archae_, a
starting-point which governs the mutation into something else (in the language
of pol. ec.: the transformation of means of production into a product). This
paradigm serves Aristotle also as the source for his central metaphysical
concepts: _dynamis_, _energeia_ and _entelecheia_.

The paradigm of knowing an outcome is also the model for all of Western science,
for it provides predictable, precalculable knowledge of how to _bring about_ a
result or at least how to _foresee_ an outcome.

The phenomenon of exchange (which Aristotle also analyzes in his Nicomachean
Ethics, Book V, Chapter v) is completely different, since there is no single
starting-point for the exchange relation, but at least two, i.e. two exchangers.
A market is a multitude of starting-points, an economy a myriad of
starting-points (whether these be individuals or firms or multinationals or

The upshot? The simple exchange relation as the "cell" social relation in
societies based on generalized commodity production -- i.e., as one could say,
dominated by the capitalist mode of production -- is a relation of uncertainty.
The negating prefix "un-" here signifies a withdrawal from the grasp of
fore-seeing, pre-dicting (fore-saying) and thus from constituting a predictive
law of exchange. The key phenomenon of capitalist economy is price. This is
because all phenomena in a capitalist economy are money-mediated. But
uncertainty nestles in the phenomenon of price and withdraws the ground from any
attempt to give a reason (cf. Leibniz' famous grand principle: nihil est sine
ratio "Nothing is without reason"). Capitalist economy is groundless, fathomless
or abysmal in the literal sense.

Economic theories are therefore theories of regularity. In Aristotelean terms,
they are knowledge _epi to poly_, i.e. knowledge that works "for the most part".
That's why an economic theory may work very well for a time and then suddenly go
horribly wrong.

My apologies for the length of this.

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_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

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