Physics, Marxism, and Clock Time

Despite egregious and inexcusable errors in matters of human historical judgment, the Marxist tradition occasionally produces some sharp, worthwhile, and rigorous engagement with science that is often lacking in other philosophical traditions. Take this page on Relativity Theory from Marxists.org discussing time, physics, Newton, Einstein, and philosophy. Here is a key quote:

Newton envisaged time as flowing in a straight line everywhere. Even if there was no matter, there would be a fixed frame of space and time would still flow “through” it. Newton’s absolute spatial frame was supposed to be filled with a hypothetical “ether” through which light waves flowed. Newton thought that time was like a gigantic “container” inside which everything exists and changes. In this idea, time is conceived as having an existence separate and apart from the natural universe. Time would exist, even if the universe did not. This is characteristic of the mechanical (and idealist) method in which time, space, matter and motion are regarded as absolutely separate. In reality, it is impossible to separate them.

Making Time
Making Time
The writer infers this conclusion based on Einstein’s theoretical advance which allows physics to conceive space, time, and energy on a ‘mediating’ continuum (the ‘fabric’ of space-time) instead of as mechanical parts in external relations.

Note too how the Marxist theorist is able to identify a relationship between the science of a period and its expression in social relations, that is, they can grasp (correctly, in my view) the connection between the Newtonian mechanical clockwork universe and the industrial revolution with its mechanical regulation of human life and work. Ours is still a world dominated by the mechanical clock and the uniform sense of time it imposes on us, even though our most current physics recognizes the constructedness or ‘error’ of this model of time.

Now, is it justified for the Marxist then to claim that “[i]n reality, it is impossible to separate [time, space, matter and motion]”? We can grant to him that the analytical formalist in logic and science does not account enough for (is often oblivious to) the actual conditions from which he abstracts to get his logical forms and methods. But how can the Marxist deny then that there is a reality to our ability “to separate [time, space, matter and motion]” conceptually even if this concept is not a perfect ‘mirror’ of nature?

The Marxist is eager to capitalize on Hegel’s profound insight that human conceptual abstraction is negative and creative and therefore an illusion, i.e., not a pure representation or mirror of nature. But clearly, by the Marxist’s own analysis of the connection between the Newtonian mechanical model of the universe and the industrial revolution in mechanical production, this supposedly human ‘error’ has profoundly affected the world. We can say then that Marxism is an attempt to turn Hegel’s Geisteswissenschaft or study of humanity into a form of positivism.

The full article is here:
http://www.marxist.com/science-old/relativitytheory.html

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