Re: [OPE] Dialectics for the New Century

From: Ian Wright (
Date: Thu Apr 03 2008 - 16:29:32 EDT

> All aspects of social relations of production can not be
> be expressed as 'calculi'.  That is, in part, because there
> are essential aspects of  those relations  which can not
> be expressed  as *magnitude*  and are 
> comprehensable merely through formal/mathematical calculi.
> How, for instance, is the changing 'balance of power'
> among (and within) contending classes under capitalism calculated?
> If class struggle is  calculi, can't it (at least in principle) be
> expressed as a quantitative *formula*?

I can understand how it seems to require an enormous imaginative leap to
accept the possibility that *all* phenomena, whether physical, mental or
social, are in fact manifestations of the same underlying substance
subject to the very same abstract and general laws.

But this kind of imaginative leap is also what is required to understand
the ontological premise of the concept of "dialectic".

Computer programs are specified in a language. It is a kind of talking.
Numerical computations, or "calculi", are merely one kind of process
that can be instantiated. More generally computer programs are symbol
processing systems, which can represent all kinds of qualitative
information. Indeed, the concept of a real number, which is part of the
foundation of Newton and Liebniz's "calculi", turns out to be quite
challenging to properly represent in computational terms.

So computation is not really about computers, and it is also not really
about numbers. For example, you are forced to represent real numbers as
a list of "qualities" (that is, a set of physical states), and their
properties arise from rules that manipulate those qualities; that is,
quantity derives from quality.

My motive in raising computation vs. dialectics, or computation and
dialectics, is based on my belief that the theory of computation is the
modern manifestation of the "dialectic", or what those thinkers, such as
Leibniz, Spinoza, Hegel and Marx and Engels were trying to grasp. The
theory of computation is, in my view, a better theory of the "dialectic"
than those previous attempts.
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