[OPE] Richard Levins on contradictions (re Lichtenstein)

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Sat Oct 03 2009 - 18:44:12 EDT

My discussion about Rosa Lichtenstein's furore against dialectics attracted
a comment from Richard Levins http://www.marxmail.org/msg67902.html which I
will crosspost:

The following considerations might be helpful:
1. "contradiction", in its etymology "speaking against" was a process
unfolding in time, negating a proposition in order to get beyond it.
2. Formal logic removes the temporal dynamic aspect to make it a formal,
structural relation.
3. The formal logical statement "implies" is a static, set-theoretic
relation but is a detemporalized equivalent to "leads to" (in time).
4. In real systems, variables change(except at equilibrium, a set of measure
0!). That is, A leads to not-A. If there is an eventual equilibrium, this is
equivalent to proof by contradiction. In living systems, social systems,
eco-systems etc there is permanent change ( A always leads to (implies!)
not-A.These may be periodic or chaotic . The terror of early computer
programmers was to get into an endless (and expensive) loop, which was
equivalent to contradiction in the program.
In formal logic, you may not (but can) hold to contradictory propositions at
the same time . In dialectical logic, two propositions may be separately
false but jointly true; health is socially determined, and you are
responsible for your health. Either one alone can result in passivity but
jointly can result in self-care and collective action...
5. You can create formally disjunct mathematical sets, but with real things
no division of a whole world into mutually exclusive categories really
holds. Environmental/genetic, physical/psychological, biological/social, etc
interpenetrate, and furthermore it is when we recognize their
interpenetration that we get the exciting new insights.
All of these and other aspects of contradiction make it an important tool in

Richard Levins <humaneco@hsph.harvard.edu>

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Received on Sat Oct 3 18:45:55 2009

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