Mao Zedong’s philosophical talk: Taking off from the physics of Shoichi Sakata
Mao Zedong’s philosophical talk: Taking off from the physics of Shoichi Sakata
Mao Zedong’s philosophical talk: Taking off from the physics of Shoichi Sakata
Mao Zedong’s philosophical talk: Taking off from the physics of Shoichi Sakata
Posted by kasama on August 6, 2011
Available online as pdf on marxistphilosophy.org. The original source is Long live Mao Tse-Tung Thought, a Red Guard Publication. “X’s” replace names and other information omitted original. Shoichi Sakata was a Japanese physicist sympathetic to by dialectical materialism. The article mentioned was a Chinese translation of one which appeared in a Soviet philosophy journal.
This talk is part of a ongoing communist discussion (including Engels’ Dialectics of Nature and Lenin’s EmpirioCriticism) in which developments in science are approached in terms of whether they confirm existing theses of materialist dialectics — i.e. focusing on the philosophical implications of science rather than its discoveries in their own right (including in cases where, like quantum physics, new scientific explorations challenge and potentially develop existing communist philosophy.)
This talk tool place in 1964 — almost half a century ago — so naturally reflects the scientific knowledge and assumptions of that time.
TALK ON SAKATA’S ARTICLE
By Mao Zedong August 24, 1964
Mao Zedong: I have asked you to come here today because I want to look into the article by Sakata [Shoichi]. Sakata says that basic particles are indivisible while electrons are divisible. In saying this, he is taking the stand of dialectical materialism.
The world is infinite. In both time and space, the world is boundless and inexhaustible. Beyond our solar system are numerous stars which together from the Milky Way. Beyond this galaxy are numerous other galaxies. Regarded broadly the universe is infinite: regarded narrowly, the universe is also infinite. Not only is the atom divisible, but so too is the atomic nucleus and it can be split ad infinitum.
Chuang Tzu said:
“One can take away half of a hammer measuring one foot long daily, but there will still be no end to it even after ten thousand generations.”
This is true. Thus, our cognition of the world is also infinite and inexhaustible. Otherwise, the science of physics would not develop any further. If our cognition were finite, we would already have recognized everything, and what would there be left for us to do?…
Man’s cognition of things must undergo a great many repetitions, and there must be a process of accumulation. A large amount of emotional data must be accumulated in order to induce the jump from emotional cognition, to rational cognition. As to the reasons for the leaps from practice to emotion, and from emotion to reasoning, neither Marx nor Engels discussed it very clearly.
Nor did Lenin discuss it very clearly. In his Materialism and Empiro Criticism, Lenin elaborated only on materialism, without elaborating upon the theory of cognition. Recently, Ai Ssu-ch’i [Ai Siqi] discussed this point at the Higher Party School and he was correct in doing so. Even the men of the ancient past in China, including Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, did not explain it clearly. Mo Tzu did discuss some things concerning the theory of cognition, but not very clearly. Others like Chang Tsai, Li Chuo-wu, Wang Ch’uan-shan and T’an Ssu-t’ung also did not explain it clearly. What is philosophy? Philosophy is the theory of cognition, nothing else. I wrote the first ten articles of the Double Ten Articles [Shuang-shih T'iao], I discussed how substance changes into spirit and spirit into substance. I also said that the time devoted to teaching philosophy must not be too long, one hour at most. The more one talks about it, the more confused one becomes. I also said that philosophy ought to be liberated from classrooms and studies. My words touched the soft spots of some people who thereupon came out with “combining two into one” to oppose me….
At present our cognition of many things is still rather unclear. Cognition is always developing. With a large telescope, we will be able to see more stars. In regard to the solar system and the earth, we have not as yet overthrown Kant’s nebular hypothesis that both the earth and the sun were formed by the contraction of extremely hot gases. Our earth is most probably still in its youth, and it is growing larger steadily because many things such as meteorites and sunlight, are falling on it every day. The sun has most probably reached its middle age, and it is no longer as hot as before. If the sunshine on the earth’s surface is so strong as to reach 100 degrees, how can human beings withstand it? The temperature of the sun’s surface is 5,000 or 6,000 degrees, and there is a layer on the surface with a temperature of some 1,000 – 3,000 degrees. If we say that we do not understand the sun too well, it goes without saying that we also are none too clear about the enormous space between the sun and the earth. Now, with the satellites, our understanding in this field has been considerably enhanced. We are not too clear about climatic changes on the earth, and we must study them. In regard to the glacial problem, scientists are still arguing it out. Li Szu- kuang maintains that there is a glacial period every one million years. Whenever this happens, drastic changes occur in the biological world. Ancient dinosaurs became extinct because they could not withstand the frigid cold of the glacial age. Man was produced in between the two recent glacial periods. When it comes to a later glacial age, it would become a problem to mankind, and one must be prepared to cope with the advent of the next glacial period.
X X X: The Chairman just mentioned something about telescope which reminds me of a question: Can’t we generally categorize such things as telescopes and satellites as being “tools of cognition?”
Mao Zedong: What you say about the concept of “tools of cognition” seems very plausible. The tools of cognition should comprise such things as the axe, machinery, etc. Man s cognition stems from practice. We use the axe and machinery to transform the world, and our cognition, is thus deepened. Tools are extensions of human organs. The axe is an extension of our arms while the telescope is an extension of our eyes. The human body and its organs can all be extended. Franklin said that man is the animal that creates tools. The Chinese say that the human being is the wisest of all creatures. Animals have their own pecking order, but the ape does not know how to fashion sticks to knock fruit off the trees. There are no concepts in the brains of animals.
XXX: Philosophical works usually only take the individual as the subject of cognition, but in practical life, the subject of cognition is often not an individual, but a collective. Are we right to regard our party as the subject of cognition?
Mao Zedong: A class is the subject of cognition. In the beginning, the working class was a class in and of itself, and it had no knowledge of capitalism. Later, it developed from a class in and of itself into a class that existed for itself, and by that time, it began to understand capitalism. This was a case of the development of cognition based on class as the subject…
There was no water on the earth in the beginning. In earliest times, the earth’s temperature was so high that it was impossible to have water, for it would have exploded to become hydrogen and oxygen. There was an article two days ago in the Kuang-ming Daily which says that it took millions of years for hydrogen and oxygen to combine and form water. Fu Ying said that it would take tens of millions of years. I don’t know if the author of that article has discussed it with Fu Ying. Only after there was water was it possible for hying things to emerge from the water. Man evolved from fish, and there was a developmental stage in which the human embryo resembled fish…
All individual and all specific things have their births, development, and deaths. Every person must die, because he was born. Man must die, and Chang San [i.e., any Tom, Dick or Harry] being a man, Chang San must die. None can see Confucius who lived 2,000 years ago, because he had to die. Mankind is born, and therefore mankind must also die. The earth was born, and so the earth must also die. Nonetheless, when we say that man kind will die and the earth will die, it is different from what Christians say about the end of the world. When we talk about the death of mankind and the death of the earth, we mean that something more advanced than mankind will come to replace it, and this is a higher stage in the development of things. I saw that Marxism also has its birth, its development and its death. This may seem to be absurd. But since Marx said that all things which happen have their death, how can we say that this is not applicable to Marxism itself? To say that it won’t die is metaphysics. Naturally, the death of Marxism means that something higher than Marxism will come to replace it….
Things are continually in motion. Concerning the theory that the earth revolves around the sun, thus forming a day by self-orbit and a year by complete orbit, there were only three persons in the time of Copernicus in Europe who believed it, namely Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler. There was not a single person in China. However, there was a Hsin Ch’i-chi of the Sung dynasty who said in his poem that when the moon went down from us here, it would be shining somewhere else . Chang Hua (courtesy name: Chang Mou-hsuan) of the Chin Dynasty wrote in one of his poems: “When T’ai-i [a constellation] moves in its orbit, heaven will return and earth will travel.” That poem is found in the Sources of Ancient Poems (Ku-Shih Yuan)…
All things are both constant and inconstant. The universe was constant, but later, the Chinese scientists Li Ch’eng-tao and Yang Ch’en-ning who live in the United States said it is not constant. Does this also apply to the constancy of mass and energy? There is nothing in the world that absolutely does not change. Changing and unchanging, then changing and unchanging combine to form the universe. Constancy and inconstancy, this is both equilibrium and disequilibrium. There is also the case where the equilibrium is completely disrupted. A generator is a good example to illustrate movement and transformation. What kind of movement is there when the coal is burning?
X X X: It is the energy emitted by the outer layer of electrons of the atoms of the compound when they change their orbit of motion.
Mao Zedong: The transformation of its form in which the water expands and becomes steam is what produces the movement.
X X X: The movement of the molecules produces energy.
Mao Zedong: But this also causes the rotor of the generator to turn. This is mechanical movement which eventually generates electricity which flows into the copper and lead wires.
Everything in the world is changing, physics is changing, Newton’s laws of physics are changing. The world has evolved from one in which there was no Newtonian theory to one in which there was, and thereafter, from Newton’s theory to the theory of relatively.
This is dialectics in itself.
Things are always happening in unexpected ways. Sun Yat-sen originally studied medicine, but he later became involved in politics. Kuo Mo-jo also started out studying medicine, but he later became a historian. Lu Hsun also studied medicine, but he later
became a great writer. I myself have engaged in politics step by step. I studied the Confucian classics for six years, attended seven years of school, became a primary school teacher, and later taught middle school I did not even know then what Marxism was; nor had I heard of Marx or Engels. I knew only about Napoleon and Washington. It was also like this when I found myself involved with military affairs. I served as director of the propaganda department in the Political Department of the National Revolutionary Army, and I also stressed the importance of fighting at the Institute of the Peasant [Movement], but I never thought that I myself would ever undertake military affairs and fight in battle. Later, I led my own men to fight and went to Ching-kang-shan. While at Ching- kang-shan, I had a small victory at first, but this was followed by two disastrous defeats. I then summed up my experiences and summarized them into a set of guerrilla war tactics:
“When the enemy advances we retreat; when the enemy rests we harass; when the enemy is tired we fight; when the enemy retreats we pursue.”
Thanks to Generalissimo Chiang who gave us these lessons; thanks to some of those in the party who said that I did not even have a modicum of Marxism and that they were 100 percent Bolsheviks. Nonetheless, it was also these 100 percent Bolsheviks who caused the party in the white area to suffer 100 percent losses, and the party in the Soviet area to suffer 90 percent losses.
Chairman: We produce neither food grains nor machinery, but what we produce are lines and policies. Line and policy are not produced from within a vacuum. For instance, we did not invent the “four cleanups” or the “five antis,” but it was the common people who told us about them. We must thank a counter-revolutionary in Kwangtung for the emergence of the “four clean- ups” and the “five antis.” He wrote to X X and X X to get me to abdicate political power and hand over the armed forces.
The scientists should align themselves with the masses; it behooves them to form close links with the young workers and the veteran workers. Our brain is a processing factory. Factory equipment must be renovated, and so our brains must also be renovated. The various cells of our body are being renewed continuously. The cells in our skin are no longer those with which we were born, but have been changed innumerable times.
There are several types of Chinese intellectuals. Engineering and technical personnel have accepted socialism more satisfactorily. Next come those who study science, while those who study liberal arts are the worst. I can see that this Feng Ting of yours must be a revisionist, because what he wrote in his books is all Khrushchev’s stuff…
Ts’ao Hsueh-ch’in’s Dream of the Red Chamber was intended to patch up the heaven–the heaven of feudalism.
Nonetheless, what Ts’ao Hsueh-ch’in wrote was about the decline of feudal families, and this may be regarded as a contradiction between Ts’ao’s world outlook and his creation. Ts’ao Hsuch- ch’in’s family fortune declined during the reign of Emperor Yung-cheng. Emperor K’ang-hsi had a number of children among whom Yung-cheng was one. Yung-cheng used his secret service operation to oppress his adversaries, and dubbed two other sons of K’ang-hsi, possibly it was the 9th and 10th, as pig and dog…
Dissection is rather important. It is like the cook butchering a cow [''Chung Tzu" parable; very skillfully done]. When Engels mentioned medicine, he paid special attention to dissection. Medicine is built upon the foundation of dissection.
We should study the origins of cells. The cell has its nucleus, a mass of protoplasm, and a membrane. The cell is organic, and so there must have been noncellular forms [cytooes] before there was the cell. What was there before the cell was formed? How was the noncellular form changed into the cell? There is a woman scientist in the Soviet Union who has been studying this problem, but no result has been reported.
X X X: After China reported to the International Surgical Conference in Rome about the rejoining of a severed hand, Americans said that they could not assess the ability of China’s science and technology, and they were a little scared of us.
Mao Zedong: It is good that they were scared; it would be bad if they were not We are afraid of America because America is our enemy. When America is afraid of us, it means that we are her enemy, and also a formidable enemy. In science and technology, we should pay attention to security so that they won’t be able to assess our secret capability.
1. [A lyric piece, written to the tune]
“Mu-lan-hua Man:” At a party with the wine drinking close to dawn, some guest stated that among the poems written by men of old, there were some which spoke about waiting for the moon to arise, but none about bidding farewell to the moon. Thus, this poem is about the direction taken by the moon: Pity the moon of tonight, wither does it go, and will it be gone forever? Is there another world which will see it, with its bright shadow in the east? Out beyond the vastness of heaven are there long winds to send off the mid-autumn moon? Who can fasten the rootless mirror flying, and if the Moon Goddess never marries, who can tie her down?
2. A reference to the “leftists” under the leadership to Wang Ming, who claimed themselves to be 100 percent Bolsheviks, and who opposed Comrade Mao’s line during the period 1931-35.
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2 Responses to “Mao Zedong’s philosophical talk: Taking off from the physics of Shoichi Sakata”
August 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm
excellent piece. this physicist Sakata is a big influence on superstring theory; and this conversation shows the links between Dialectical materialism and its relevance to contemporary physics.also, Mao’s great knowledge in the Chinese tradition of philosophy, and the way that philosophy and science interact. there is a tendency amongst some western marxists to basically depict Mao as a kind of ignoramus, but you can see in this piece the quality of his mind.
jim sharp said
August 8, 2011 at 12:54 am
Shoichi Sakata, June 1968
Posted: 2011-08-20 15:28 |
Shoichi Sakata, June 1947
Theoretical Physics and Dialectics of Nature
Source: Supplement of the Progress of Theoretical Physics, No. 50 1971;
First published: in the October issue of the journal Chõ-ryü in 1947.
Transcribed: for the Marxists Internet Archive by Andy Blunden.
Theoretical Physics and Dialectics of Nature
Philosophy and Methodology of Present-Day Science
Shoichi Sakata, June 1947
Theoretical Physics and Dialectics of Nature
Source: Supplement of the Progress of Theoretical Physics, No. 50 1971;
First published: in the October issue of the journal Chõ-ryü in 1947.
Transcribed: for the Marxists Internet Archive by Andy Blunden.
Theoretical physics in our country has been known all over the world by the brilliant achievements of H. Yukawa. How could the theory of elementary particles have freely developed in such a society where the feudal system remained for a long time ? J. D. Bernal of London University made the following criticism and prospect of the Japanese science in a book written just before World War II. “It is over-elaborate, pedantic, and without imagination, and unfortunately, in many cases, it is also uncritical and inaccurate. It is unfair to blame the Japanese scientists for this. In a country where dangerous thoughts are being persecuted with increasing severity, originality in science will hardly be at a premium. Where science is used more openly and cynically even than in Europe for purposes of war research and for trying to find the absolute minimum of food on which factory workers can exist, it is unlikely to attract the best minds to do the best work. Of recent years there has been a notable though underground reaction against this official and military science. The younger Japanese scientists are beginning to be aware of the social implications of their work, and are thinking for themselves outside the orbit of the imperial and military myth of Shinta, or of its more violent modern forms such as Kõdõ. If, in the revolutions that threaten East as much as West, the Japanese people should ever acquire any peace of freedom we may expect here also a great improvement in the quality of scientific work”.
Development of the Yukawa theory might certainly be an incident and good fortune. One may assert that in the field of science, such as theoretical physics where contemplative faculty plays a leading role, social conditions do not have much influence. However, it was actually shown by the Nazism in Germany that even the innermost part of modern science could be affected by superstition and barbarism. If there had been no conscious efforts to get rid of the mythological viewpoint of the world and, its narrow-minded method of thinking, the theoretical physics in our country, too, would have followed a miserable path.
In recent years, theoretical physics have experienced a bewilderingly rapid development. It may certainly be said that the fruits obtained in the last half century surpass to a great extent the development in the passed several centuries. The world of physics by Newton and Maxwell which had been believed to be firm and unshakeable, was overthrown by the advent of the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics. The metaphysical view of matter based on immutable elements and indivisible atoms was radically changed. While most physicists did not yet fully understand the new theories, the spearhead of physics further invade the interior of atomic nuclei and development began in the theory of elementary particles. The true character of cosmic ray is to be clarified also. In such an unprecedented revolutionary age, even a scientist who has already accomplished his great work cannot follow the new development. Planck, who found the clue to quantum theory, and also Einstein, who constructed the theory of relativity, could not correctly understand the foundation of quantum mechanics. Physicists who felt uneasy about the basis of their own beliefs expressed their interests in philosophical problems and began to discuss problems such as “the role of science,,, “the reality of externality” and “the problem of causality.” They are making efforts to get the world view on which they never lose their own confidence even if they are faced with the revolutionary age and to acquire methodology useful for their own studies. But this is not necessarily an easy task. The reason is that philosophy is a science influenced strongly by social restrictions as it is said to be even a partisan science. It is not only the world of physics that is overtaken by the revolutionary age. In this century all the world was frequently astonished by many great upheavals such as World War I, the Russian Revolution, the financial panic, the rise of fascist’s nations and World War II. Physicists were to a great extent affected directly by these events. Also, these indirect influences were not small ones which were brought about from philosophy reflecting social unrest, philosophy guiding the Russian Revolution, philosophy trying to justify the ideology of fascists, etc.
It was during the period from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of this century, that physicists increased their interest in philosophy at first, while the discoveries of radium, electrons, etc., first shook the foundation of classical theories. As Poincaré stated in Value of Science, a whole of the fundamental laws of old physics such as “Newton’s principles”, “Mayer’s principle”, “Lavoisier’s principle” and “Carnot’s principle” stood on the brinks of their collapse and “crisis of mathematical physics” occurred. Physicists who lost their confidence in the old theories could no longer believe anything other than their own experiences. Among them such empiricistic and positivistic tendencies were prevalent that science is not any copy of the objective reality, but merely a product of human consciousness, and that the role of science is to faithfully describe experiences and not to explain the essence of nature. Mach, Kirchhoff, Ostwald and Poincaré were representative scientists with these opinions. On the contrary, there appeared scientists such as Boltzmann and Planck who held fast to their viewpoint of realism, and controversies were raised frequently between the two groups of scientists. In the meanwhile, there were tragedies such as the suicides of Boltzmann and Drude. All of the above views of the world, however, were not sufficient to grasp the points of “the crisis of physics.” It was Lenin who correctly analysed these problems, whereas among physicists at that time, only a few knew of his investigation.
Remarkable development of physics in the subsequent period has been attained mainly on the basis of the atomistic viewpoint of matter contrarily to expectation of the positivists. Studies on the structure of the atom were remarkably increased by invention of “the Geiger counter, which counts the number of particles invisible to the naked eye such as electron and a-particle, and by device of “Wilson’s cloud chamber” which indicates the paths of the particles. In 1911, a model of an atom like the solar system was established by Rutherford. In this case, however, the old theory faced a crisis also. This model, in fact, could not offer any explanation of the stability of the atom and the regularity found in the series of spectrum. In 1913, Bohr proposed the so-called old-quantum theory by introducing quite a daring hypothesis in which Planck’s concept of quantum was adopted. This theory has an eclectic character which admits, on the one hand, Newton’s and Maxwell’s classical laws and on the other hand, two assumptions being quite incompatible with them. The contradiction of this dualistic character became more serious as the more complicated systems were treated, and then the way to the reconciliation could not be found even by Bohr’s “correspondence principle.”
At that time an astonishing fact was found: Matter as well as light has dual character. It was clarified that both matter and light were “particles” and “waves” at the same time. This was the problem which could no longer be solved merely by partial modification of classical physics. From many experiences before that time, it had been known that an electron is a particle with a certain amount of electricity and mass and that something like a “fragment” of an electron can never exist. Nevertheless it was found that an electron is also a wave and it passes simultaneously through two or more lattice points of a crystal and causes a diffraction phenomenon. Since a particle treated by Newtonian mechanics occupies a certain point in space at a certain time and moves along a certain orbit with a certain velocity as a particle of the ordinary concept, it is absolutely incompatible with the concept of wave which spreads over whole space. Obviously such contradictions was quite an intolerable matter for traditional physicists. Lorentz, an aged physicist who had studied the theory of electron and had built the basis of relativity, talked in despair, “Today, people assert just the opposite to what they said yesterday. In such a time, criterion of truth any longer could not be maintained and it is hard to understand what science is. I regret that I did not die five years ago before this contradiction was born”.
Physicists became sceptical again and some of them went into positivism, some into agnosticism and some into mysticism. However, in 1925, a new theory “quantum mechanics” was born brilliantly. Nevertheless, philosophical confusion among physicists still continued concerning the interpretation of quantum mechanics. These confusions were spurred by the fact that pioneers of quantum mechanics often carelessly emphasised their positivistic opinions. For instance, Heisenberg said the following; “physicists are to describe formally, only the relations among perceptions,” “with modern physics we do not treat the reality or the structure of atoms, but only phenomena which we perceive in making observations of atoms” and so on. Consequently, in its early days quantum mechanics was often expounded from the standpoint of positivism and operationalism of its modern version. The book by S. Kikuchi, which was published rather early in our country, is a typical example reflecting the above viewpoint. He said for example, “It is possible to consider that generally the law of nature describes in a given experimental operation the relation among indications of meters attached on instruments. It is not such as to grasp the entity behind phenomena through investigation of them”.
However, as my respected friend M. Taketani frequently advises, physics itself should be strictly distinguished from the interpretation given by physicists. In many cases, scientist acts differently from what he says. In his book The Structure of Matter Kikuchi says that the materialistic viewpoint, that the external world exists independently of human consciousness, is a naive standpoint of human beings living in a world of common sense and has no connection with the standpoint of highly advanced science such as quantum mechanics. Nevertheless, in the same book, he thoroughly returns to that standpoint of naive realism when he explains the diffraction of electron, the scattering of neutron, etc., on which he produced very brilliant achievement. This proves that in his laboratory he always stands on the viewpoint of naive realism.
The relation between science and view of the world cannot be clarified without historical investigation of the origin and development of science. However, a scientific specialist frequently includes a dogmatic interpretation within his narrow field of vision. Now we part from the theoretical physics for the time being and turn to these problems.
It is concluded that about a million years have passed since the beginning of mankind on the earth. Presumably tens of thousands of years have elapsed since the appearance of homo sapiens. Meanwhile man produced various materials for life and lived by consuming them. Life of man, unlike that Of an animal, is carried on with a certain program; the characteristic is that he has tried to change the nature that surrounds him so as to adapt it to his own needs. If one may call this practical, then life of mankind is originally practical. To effect the practice, however, we must admit the following: Nature (externality) exists independently of our consciousness and is projected into consciousness through our senses. This is the point of view always entertained by man in performing his daily rituals, therefore, it has been called naive realism. Philosophically it is the materialistic point of view.
Man’s practice results in success in accordance with the prearranged plan, only when the image of externality made through our senses, namely, our knowledge about nature is not wrong. Through success and failure of man’s performance, he discovers the objective structure and the law of nature to which his desire and volition cannot do anything. Science has advanced as the organisation of knowledge about the objective law that is cognised through the above mentioned practice. Therefore, scientific knowledge guarantees the validity of man’s performance, while the truthfulness of his cognition should always be verified by practice. Considering the intimate relation between science and practice, we find that science should be constructed on the basis of “standpoint of practice,” that is to say, materialism. Thus we can understand the relation such that the progress in science and the success in practice continuously proves the validity of materialism. In this respect materialism is no longer a naive point of view, but a scientific view of the world which is supported by all the fruits of modern science. Then we may conclude that any standpoint which denies materialism obstructs the progress of science.
It is commonly said that the distinctive character of modern science resides in its positiveness. This is correct in the sense that it manifests a phase of the above mentioned relation in that the criterion for the truthfulness of scientific cognition lies in “practice.” Natural-scientists, however, emphasise only this positiveness unilaterally and are apt to be oblivious of or to deny intentionally its materialistic premise. This viewpoint is what is implied by the positivism previously mentioned. This can be regarded as a reflection of the restlessness of scientists who are not able to rely on anything other than their experiences when they are faced with the revolutionary stage. A positivist says, “Science is to observe nature in itself”, and an operationalist with the new form of the positivism says, “A physical quantity is a symbol of the operation of a certain measurement, and has not any relations with objective reality”. But scientists always stand on “the standpoint of practice” in their laboratory. This is because “experiment” is one form of “practice.” On the one hand they say, “Physics is to describe formally only the relation among perceptions”, but on the other hand they study the structure of atom which cannot be observed through their direct experience and reveal the property of elementary particles. The reason why physicists could and did discover atom and reveal its structure is not because they observed nature in itself. But, it is because a man takes “the standpoint of practice,” that a human cognition can go over the limitation of the sense and reveal the essential relation lying behind phenomena although his cognition starts from the direct experience in the beginning. It is based on the success of human practice forcing atomic energy to he released, that all human beings, now, have been made to recognise the existence of atom.
In spite of the inseparable relation of the natural science to materialism, why do theoretical physicists lean towards positivism and empiricism whenever they are faced with revolutionary ages? The view of the world governing natural-scientists for a long time, until the last century, was the metaphysical materialism (mechanical materialism), in which the world is regarded as being constructed with individual, fixed and invariable objects being observable one by one independently. This is the viewpoint universalised on the basis of a view of nature obtained from the early development of natural science such as Newtonian mechanics, that is “Nature remained as it was as long as it continued to exist.” The planets and their satellites, once set in motion by the mysterious “first impulse,” circled on and on along their predestined ellipses for all eternity, or at any rate until the end of all things. The stars remained forever fixed and immovable in their places, keeping one another therein by “universal gravitation.” The earth has remained the same without alteration for all eternity or, alternatively, from the first day of its creation. The “five continents” of the present time had always existed, and they had always had the same mountains, valleys, and rivers, the same climate, and the same flora and fauna, except in so far as change or transplantation had taken place at the hand of man. The species of plants and animals had been established once and for all when they came into existence; “like continually produced like”. A form of materialism, however, has to change also as science develops. Subsequently remarkable development of science did require a change of the materialism. After the hypothesis on the formation of the solar system was presented by Kant and Laplace, it became an influential point of view that nature does not just exist, but comes into being and passes away. There appeared “the evolutionism” in every sphere of science. The thought of Heraclitus was revived that all nature moves in perpetual flow and circulation, and “the dialectic view of nature” was established. Following the above, materialism had to emerge to dialectic materialism. Physicists, who had believed in the firmness of Newtonian mechanics, were bound to the metaphysical materialism and were thinking in the framework of formal logic. This can be regarded as an evil that modern science falls into this excessive specialisation. When the discoveries of the new phenomena began to rock Newtonian mechanics to its foundation, they began to notice the brittleness of their views of nature and plunged into confusion. They could not understand that the narrow-mindedness of their views of the world was not due to its “materialistic character” but its “metaphysical character.” Thus, they erroneously recognised the break-down of some essential principles directly as the negation of a whole of the-objective legitimacy, and threw out the baby with the bath-water. This is the process that frequently leads physicists to the positivism in revolutionary ages.
It is said that scientists can make themselves understood and co-operate with each other, even if they have different views of the world. The reason for this is firstly that they usually wear their philosophies only as ornaments and always take “the standpoint of practice” in actual research, and secondly that the content of science is, in a sense, a faithful reflection of the law of nature independent of their interpretations. However, progress in research must be made at quite a different rate, accordingly as they are clearly conscious of “the materialistic dialectics"-the supreme standpoint founded on the whole results of modern science-, or they are tied unconsciously to a standpoint of the naive realism, or an erroneous view of the world. This can be said about any branch of science. Especially in the theoretical physics, which has been highly developed and deals with fundamental concepts and laws, they are exposed to continual dangers of taking an incorrect turn unless they are on the supreme standpoint and make researches using the logic of high quality. Physicists in the past have relied solely upon the positivistic method, and made their advances by studying the correct directions from nature itself, with the rule of trial and error. They had blindly believed it to be the only right method. However, now that the great fruits of modern science have proved the validity of “dialectics of nature” and therefore revealed that the cognition of nature is made through the dialectic processes, we must intentionally apply the dialectics of nature as a compass which shows the way of our research.
Recently, the number of scientists who are conscious of the validity of this viewpoint has gradually increased. It should be noted that Russian scientists are studying the dialectics of nature with extraordinary enthusiasm. In other countries, scientists of the first rank, as J. D. Bernal (British chemico-physicist), J. Needham (British biologist) and P. Langevin (French physicist), have published excellent treatises on the dialectics of nature. Furthermore, I have been told, F. and I. Joliot-Curies, the discoverers of “the artificial radioactivity,” and P. M. S. Blackett, the discoverer of the cosmic-ray shower,” who are the greatest scientists, support it, and moreover R. Oppenheimer,
who is one of the greatest American theoretical physicists and played an important role in the production of “the atomic bomb” is studying it. In our country, M. Taketani, one of my respected friends, has published excellent articles” on the interpretation of quantum mechanics and on the process of the establishment of Newtonian mechanics, where he has developed the new stage (so to speak the quantum-mechanical stage) of the dialectics of nature. Recently, H. Yukawa') said that the course of development of theoretical pliysics is “dialectic” and that its basis is “materialistic.”
Next, let us briefly mention about the fundamental character of the dialectics of nature-"the logic of nature"-extracted from the dialectic view of nature based on the totality of the results of modern science. First, “it is necessary to understand that nature is by no means an accidental collection of objects and phenomena which are mutually separated, isolated and independent, it consists of one thing that is mutually related, dependent, restrictive and connected. The all of nature, from the smallest element to the largest, has its existence in eternal coming into being and passing away, in ceaseless flux, in unresting motion and change.” Secondly, the laws on development and motion of nature have the same form as those found by Hegel as the laws on development of thought. Namely they are: “The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa; the law of the interpenetration of opposites; the law of the negation of the negation,” etc.
Let us explain these in a slightly concrete way. Current science has found that in nature there exist qualitatively different “levels"-the form of motion — , for example, a series of the levels such as elementary particles — nuclei — atoms — molecules — masses — heavenly bodies — nebulae. These levels form various nodal points which restrict the various qualitative modes of existence of matter in general. And thus they are not merely related in a straightforward manner as described above. The “levels” are also connected in a direction such as molecules — colloids — cells — organs — individuals — societies. Even in the same masses, there exist “levels” of states corresponding to solids-liquids-gases. Metaphorically speaking, these circumstances may he described as having a sort of multi-dimensional structure of the fish net type, or it may be better to say that they have the onion-like structure of successive phases. These levels are by no means mutually isolated and independent, but they are mutually connected, dependent and constantly “transformed” into each other. For example, an atom is constructed from elementary particles and a molecule is constructed from atoms, and conversely the decompositions of a molecule into atoms, an atom into elementary particles can be made. These kinds of transformations occur constantly, with the creation of new quality and the destruction of others in ceaseless changes. Even the elementary particles, which have been regarded as the simplest and the ultimate constituents of matter, no longer have the metaphysical character of eternally invariable “atom” such as postulated by Democritus. For instance, a meson produced in the atmosphere by cosmic rays transforms into an electron and a neutrino with such a short life of 2 x 10-6 see.
These types of transformations among different “levels,” the creation of new qualities and their eventual destruction, obey “Hegel’s law.” Some physicists may object to the above statement with the assertion: “The law for the construction of atoms. is quantum mechanics, while the one governing the solar system is Newtonian mechanics”. Quite right, each level is governed by a law inherent to the respective ones. Just for this reason, one needs individual sciences. It is the “dialectics,” however, that is commonly found as the universal law in “quantum mechanics, Newtonian mechanics, the law of evolution of living organisms, the law of evolution of societies” and even “in the law of development of thought.” Therefore, it may be regarded as “the logic of nature.” In view of this fact, quantum mechanics, Newtonian mechanics, and indeed every science can be understood only by the logic of dialectics. The confusion brought about on the interpretation of quantum mechanics had its main origin in the fact that physicists did not have the logic of dialectics. This point will be discussed again later.
The very law such as “the law of transformation of quantity into quality” is already well accepted in present day natural science. This law states that “a rapid transformation from one of the levels to another does not happen accidentally, but is based on a law and it occurs as a result of accumulation of gradual quantitative changes.” In physics, every change is the transformations of quantity into quality. For example, in order to create an electron pair, the energy of about 106eV are required and similarly, for meson production, the energy of 108eV is needed. As is well known, recent developments in nuclear physics have been made taking an opportunity of the completion of the high voltage power supply of 8 x 105 volt due to Cookcroft and Walton. And it may be unnecessary to quote an example, to explain that chemistry is a science for the qualitative change of substance caused by the quantitative change of its components. On one occasion, Engels said, in an ironical tone, “And if these gentlemen have for years caused quantity and quality to be transformed into each other, without knowing what they did, then they will have to console themselves with Moliers’s Monsieur Jourdain who had spoken prose all his life without having the slightest inkling of it”.
The second law of dialectics states that every level consists of a unification of “the opposites” and, by the struggle of the opposites, they develop themselves into higher “levels.” Here, let us quote only one example from elementary particle physics. A nucleus is constructed from protons and neutrons. The Yukawa theory clarified the mechanism of how a nucleus is made of these. The essential point of this theory is that a neutron has the property of transforming into a proton and a negative meson. However, one cannot conclude that, simply because a neutron is transformed into a proton and a negative meson, the former is constructed from the latter two. For, this relation is of a reciprocal character and thus a proton can be transformed into a neutron and a positive meson. Accordingly, neutron and proton are both “elementary” and at the same time 66 composite,” i.e., they can be said to he the syntheses of both “elementarily” and “compositeness”. Furthermore, this opposition acts as a motive force in the process of constructing a nucleus-"a new quality"-from elementary particles.
In nature, the creation and the destruction of various “levels” occur ceaselessly and they form a history of nature. Now let us quote part of an excellent description of the evolution of cosmos from a famous work, “The Birth and the Death of the Sun”, by J. Gamov of George Washington University. “The story begins with space uniformly filled with an unbelievably hot and dense gas, in which the processes of the nuclear transformation of the various elements went on as easily as an egg is cooked in boiling water. In this ‘prehistoric’ kitchen of the universe, the proportions of the different chemical elements-the great abundance of iron and oxygen and the rarity of gold and silver-were established. To this early epoch also belongs the formation of the long-lived radioactive elements, which even at the present time have not yet quite decayed.
Under the action of tremendous pressure of this hot compressed gas, the universe began to expand, the density and the temperature of matter slowly declining all the while. At a certain stage of the expansion, the continuous gas broke up into separate irregular clouds of different sizes, which soon took on the regular spherical shapes of individual stars. The stars were still very large, much larger than they are now, and not very hot. But the progressive process of gravitational contraction diminished their diameters and raised their temperatures. The frequent mutual collisions among the members of this primitive stellar family led to the formation of numerous planetary systems and in one of these encounters our earth was born.
While the stars grew hotter and hotter, and their planets-being small and unable to develop the high central temperatures necessary for thermonuclear reactions-covered themselves with solid crusts, the stellar gas’ uniformly filling all space continued to expand, and the distances between the stars began to approach their present values.
At another stage of the expansion, corresponding to the average concentration still to be found within individual galaxies, the ‘stellar gas’ broke up into separate giant clouds of stars. While these stellar islands were still close to one another, their mutual gravitational interaction led in many cases to the formation of the odd-looking spiral arms and supplied them with a certain amount of rotational momentum.
By that time most of the stars that made up these receding stellar islands had become sufficiently hot in their interior regions to start off various thermonuclear reactions between hydrogen and other light elements. First deuterium, then lithium, beryllium, and, finally, boron were turned into ‘ashes’ (nuclear ‘ash’ being the well-known gas helium); and, passing through these different phases of ‘red giant’ development, the stars approached the main and longest part of their evolution. When no other light elements were left, the stars began to transform their hydrogen into helium through the catalytic action of the phoenix-like elements, carbon and nitrogen. Our Sun is in this stage now”. And furthermore, J. Gamov mentions the fate of our sun.
The earth, which was born in a certain stage of the evolution of the cosmos, was gradually cooled down and its surface was covered with the atmosphere and the hydrosphere. During the evolution of the earth in several hundreds or thousands million years, the organic matters with simple structure was first synthesised from various elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. In the next stage, the protein and the other substances were composed, which are required to construct living organisms. Then they formed the coacervate with more complex organism, and at last the protista was generated. On these matters a Russian biochemist, I. A. Operlin has given full details of them in his work Origin of Life, and they will increasingly be clarified with the further development of biochemistry, geochemistry, etc. The evolution of life from the protista to mankind was revealed by C. Darwin in his work The Doctrine of Evolution, and with this very stage of the appearance of human being, it runs into the genuine domain of history. The above description is a brief sketch of the dialectic view of nature which has been clarified by modern science.
Although the contents of the dialectics of nature as mentioned above are supplemented by the remarkable progress of individual sciences, they are not essentially different from those stated by Engels at the end of the last century. The contents of the dialectics of nature must be enriched constantly in the future by the development of science, but the essential features such as discussed previously, will never be lost through all ages. Because, it is “the logic of nature.”
Let us again return to theoretical physics. Newtonian mechanics was the law which governs objects of a visible size, that is, “macroscopic world.” Therefore it is no wonder that, when the object of physics turned on the 4 6 microscopic world” of atoms and electrons, which are quite distinct quantitatively from the “macroscopic objects,” a “new law” being qualitatively different from “Newtonian mechanics” was discovered. This may be nothing more but again to prove “the law of transformation of quantity into quality.” And one needs not become desperate of the fact that an electron is a “wave” and at the same time can be a “corpuscule.” For this predicts only that there would be discovered, behind those phenomena, a more fundamental relationship which unifies opposites; “corpuscular character” and “wave character.” In fact, there had been two different currents of development in the establishment of quantum mechanics; one was “matrix mechanics” developed by the Göttingen school, Heisenberg was its leader, the other “wave mechanics” developed by de Broglie and Schrödinger. Although these two were considerably different in their appearances, they have later been proved to be mathematically equivalent to each other and unified into a rational theory as it is presently formulated. C)n the interpretation of quantum mechanics, after much meandering all scientists have arrived at almost the same view'), except for the problem such as the observation problem which is closely connected with their own philosophies. Then the so-called “Copenhagen spirit” that contains Bohr’s “correspondence principle” as its main content constantly played a leading role, and also a confrontation between the realistic trend of the wave mechanics school and the positivistic trend dominating the Gbttingen school was a remarkable feature.
The Göttingen school, which employed as a guide the principle of positivism, i.e., physics should be constructed on directly observable quantities only, avoided the introduction of quantities such as orbit and velocity of electron in an atom and attempted to describe atomic phenomena in terms of only frequency and intensity of light emitted from an atom. People of the school built up the matrix mechanics on the basis of this view and of Bohr’s correspondence principle.
At one time, Schrödinger, independently of such an epistemology of positivism, established the wave mechanics by introducing “wave equation” on the analogy of mechanics with optics following de Broglie’s idea of “material wave.” He first considered the “material wave” as a real matter which should take the place of “particle picture” of the old mechanics to satisfy the demand of immediacy, but it had become clear that such a naive interpretation should not be acceptable. For, even if electron is a real wave such as water wave and propagates into the whole space according to the Schrödinger wave equation, the electron must be necessarily found at a space point due to its particle nature when one observes the position of the electron. This means that the wave suddenly contracts into a point by an observation and furthermore that this contraction arises discontinuously and non-causally. Thus, it is by any means impossible to interpret classically, the quantum phenomena as a continuous and causal change by assuming the matter wave as to be realistic.
On the other hand, the methodology of the Göttingen school which attempted to construct the theory only in terms of the directly observable quantities, also could not help disclosing their narrow-mindedness. In fact, in the present theory there are again contained the position and the velocity of the electron which the school thought to have been excluded from the theory, and it has been clarified that the central problem is not on the point of whether these quantities are “directly” observable, but whether these quantities can be observed “simultaneously.” What Heisenberg’s “uncertainty relation” has told us is that the position and the velocity of electron are “complementary” quantities which cannot he measured simultaneously. The characteristic feature in quantum mechanics is in the point that one recognised the existence of such complementary quantities. Consequently it becomes impossible to describe the state of the particle, as in the case of Newtonian mechanics, in terms of the values of its position and velocity at a moment, so that it is necessary to introduce a new concept of the state which is represented by a vector (wave function) in the Hilbert space. The reason that an electron exhibits a contradictory character of corpuscule and wave is due to the fact that behind these phenomenological forms exists a fundamental relationship understood in terms of the quantum-mechanical state. Furthermore, it should he stated here that the wave function with such a significant meaning is a quantity which can neither be observed “directly,” of course, nor “in principle,” and this implies that the present quantum mechanics has been developed by getting over the epistemology of the positivism.
Sometimes the development of quantum mechanics has been related as if it implies a success of the methodology of Machism. However, the positive role, in its true sense, played by the methodology of the Göttingen school is found in the point that it forbid- the application of “the concepts of daily life” to the microscopic region without criticism. And this point can be understood by the dialectics of nature, in which the law of transformation of quantity to quality is realised, more properly than by the positivistic epistemology. The discovery of the dual nature of the electron has enlightened us that the various concepts of Newtonian mechanics, which were taken from the macroscopic experiences, cannot strictly be applied to the microscopic region. However, the macroscopic and the microscopic regions should “not mutually be separated, isolated or independent,” but should “be correlated to, dependent on and restricted within each other.” Therefore one can never construct a new theory by merely being forbidden to apply all the ordinary concepts. It may be said that Bohr’s “correspondence principle,” which demands that, New theory should always coincide with the classical theory asymptotically in the boundary region”, puts this point into its consciousness. Heisenberg, too, eliminated at last the positivism and stated, “Even if one attempts to purify all the unclear concepts before all the science, one can do nothing but to resort to the ‘compulsion of experience’ since there is no standard to judge which concept is in doubt. To make the concepts clear beforehand is equivalent to prearranging the future development of science by means of a logical analysis of language”, and further “Since the law of classical physics holds in the limit of the action quantum being zero, the classical concepts corresponding to these quantum laws should be indispensable elements of the natural science”. The reason why the correspondence principle, as a guide in searching for an unknown law, has always played a leading role during the entire development of quantum mechanics from the stage of old-quantum theory, is due to the fact that it reflects in part the dialectics of nature. And though the Göttingen school was led by this misleading philosophy, it has well succeeded in establishing the matrix mechanics mainly due to the help of the correspondence principle.
If, however, theoretical physicists had been conscious of the dialectics of nature and learned the logic of high quality, they would have taken a more straightforward way to establish quantum mechanics. And it is no doubt that they would have arrived more quickly at the methodology, which Bohr and Heisenberg acquired at last through their excellent intuitions and their many years of struggles with nature, and would have given more adequate expressions for it. The methodology of Bohr and Heisenberg, though it worked well as an active weapon in constructing quantum mechanics, has frequently worked negatively in the recent development of theories of atomic nuclei and of elementary particles. This is due to the fact that the methodology consists of only a partial consciousness of the dialectics of nature.” Indeed, a misleading methodology, if one applies it extensively as a creed, is always transferred into the opposition, according to the well-known law of dialectics.
In the interpretation of quantum mechanics, it was the so-called “observation problem” that most numerous misunderstandings were spread, in connection with philosophy. In quantum mechanics, “state” of a microscopic system such as an atom, is expressed by “wave function” and develops continuously every moment according to Schrödinger’s wave equation. This is a causal change described in terms of the differential equation, and does not differ in quality from the change of state of macroscopic system. The characteristic feature of quantum mechanics, however, arises in the observation of such microscopic system; a measurement of the same physical quantity in the same state, does not always yield a definite result and we can only predict statistically a probability for getting a specific result. Moreover, the state of system or the wave function changes discontinuously and non-causally through the measurement, thus which state the system changes to depends on the measured result of the physical quantity. An example is the aforementioned “contraction of wave.”
The essential point of “the observation problem,” is to clarify the relation of these two changes, i.e., a continuous and causal change of the state of a closed system and a discontinuous and non-causal one which arises in the measurement of the system. Now consider the characteristic feature of the measuring process. An observation is an action on “an object” with the “measuring apparatus” to measure quantities concerning the former by, for example, reading a change of the scale appearing in the latter. Then, in quantum mechanics even if a combined system of two is as a whole in a pure quantum mechanical state, it can be proved that as for the sub-system, it is generally no longer in a pure state, but consists of a statistical mixture of a number of quantum-mechanical states.” This is a characteristic of quantum mechanics and indicates the dialectical relationship between the part and the whole and between the contingency and the necessity, which can never be understood by a formal logic. The discontinuous and non-causal change which arises in the measuring process, contrarily to the continuous and causal change of the state of the closed system, is a consequence of such an objective “quantum mechanical law of combination” between “object” and “measuring apparatus,” and has nothing to do with the so-called “action of the subject on the object.” The statement, which has hitherto frequently been made that quantum mechanics “rejects” the “objective reality of externality,” is based on a wrong understanding of the observation problem. This has been already pointed out by Taketani.
However, to sweep away such a misunderstanding it would be necessary to take note of another characteristic point of the quantum-mechanical measuring process. It is the fact that, while the object of measurement is microscopic, the main part of the measuring apparatus must necessarily be macroscopic. In other words, while the object is governed by the quantum-mechanical law, the measuring apparatus must be a device which amplifies a microscopic process arising within the apparatus into a macroscopic process. Therefore the microscopic portion within the apparatus has a close connection with the object, so that it may be difficult to determine to what part the observed object is extended and what part the measuring apparatus is. However, as Neumann has proved, using the above mentioned “law” of combination, quantum mechanics always gives the same result independent of the position of the cut-plane between the object and the measuring apparatus. This means that quantum mechanics is constructed quite ingeniously. Neumann stated, in the excess of emphasising the arbitrariness of the position of this cut-plane, that the object could he enlarged gradually to the limit that only the “abstract ego” remained as a cognisant subject; this is obviously going too far. For, the characteristic feature of the measuring apparatus is to contain the device which amplifies the microscopic process to the macroscopic one, thus we cannot push it into the side of the object. Moreover as the procedure that an observer reads a change of the scale, appearing in the apparatus produces no effect on the result of measurement, it is meaningless to involve the cognisant subject as well into the measuring apparatus. From the consideration of these points it will become very clear that the statistical nature arising in the quantum-mechanical measurement is a consequence of a “material interrelation” between the “object” and the “measuring apparatus”; both of which are of the “objective existence” and that the statistical nature is not due to the action of the subject on the object.
Though it has sometimes been argued that in the quantum mechanics “causality” should not be denied, the correct way to resolve this problem is found in the analysis of the measuring process as mentioned above. In quantum mechanics the concept of state is of essential importance and the state obeys the strict law of causality. On the other hand, the statistical law governs the phenomenal world which is concerned with the correlation among the observed values of physical quantities. However, as mentioned above, this statistical nature never denies the causality, but it is the “statistical nature” of the “portion” which is founded on the “causal nature” of the “whole system”. This relationship can be grasped only by the logic of dialectics which unifies the confrontations between the phenomenon and the essence, between the part and the whole, between the contingency and the necessity, and so on. And, much confusion which has been raised concerning the problem of the causality is due to the understanding of structural composition of quantum mechanics by means of a plane formal logic.”
From the standpoint of the dialectics of nature, M. Taketani has analysed in detail the logical structure and the process of the establishment of quantum mechanics and has developed a powerful methodology-three-stage theory-for the theoretical physics. How his methodology has played a great role in the development of the elementary particle physics in our country will be mentioned in another place.
Shoichi Sakata, July 1969
My Classics — Engels’ “Dialektik der Natur”
Source: Supplement of the Progress of Theoretical Physics, No. 50, 1971;
First published: as a speech for FM broadcast of NHK on July 30, 1969, published in March 1971 issue of Kagaku (Science), after Sakata’s death.
Transcribed: for the Marxists Internet Archive by Andy Blunden
Physics of atomic nuclei and elementary particles, which is my speciality, is entirely a new field of physics started more or less at the time when I was an undergraduate university student. Since one of our greatest concerns have been how to overcome the old, it may seem that we do not have much to do with the classics. But, creating new things through overcoming the old is the central problem in the method of science or methodology. In this sense, the classics are very important for us. As one of my classics, I want to quote Engels’ Dialektik der Natur (dialectics of nature), which has been continuously sending invaluable light into my studies of about forty years as a precious stone. Today, I would like to talk about how I encountered Dialectics of Nature and what influences it gave to my studies in physics.
Let me start with a brief introduction of Engels’ Dialectics of Nature. As you know, Engels was one of the most intimate friends of Marx and he himself is one of the greatest thinkers and philosophers of the nineteenth century. He constructed with Marx, the dialectic materialism, foundation of the so-called Marxism philosophy. He gave indispensable help to Marx for completion of Das Kapital (Capital), which is a new science to elevate the dialectic materialism as a methodology, and, from the early days, he was meditating over application of the same methodology to the natural science, researches on nature. At that time, there had been made in fields of the natural science a series of new achievements, for examples, discovery of the atom and molecule, discovery of cells in a living thing, establishment of the law of energy conservation and Darwin’s proposal of the theory of evolution. All of these achievements were causing bewilderment on the old picture of nature, the so-called metaphysical view on nature, but nobody had ever attained a new and comprehensive picture of nature correctly covering those discoveries. I may say that it was Engels who gave a light to the natural scientists, who had fallen into confusion before those new discoveries. A book published today under the title of Engels, Dialectics of Nature, is a collection of his manuscripts found after his death. A major part of the manuscripts was believed to be written by himself during a period between the early 1870’s and 1880’s, (1873-1882). In 1878, he published his famous book, Anti-Dühring, in which he described some fundamental problems of the natural dialectic. In 1882, he wrote a letter to Marx, saying that he was expecting to publish his natural dialectic in a short time. Because of a sudden change of the situation, the publication was postponed and never realised while he was alive. What I mean by a sudden change of the situation is the death of Marx in the next year, 1883. After Marx’s death, Engels had to put all of his efforts in the completion of Marx’s Capital. His life itself was finished in 1895, the next year after publication of the third volume of Capital. In this way, the manuscript of Engels’ Dialectics of Nature had to he left unpublished after his death. What made the case more unfortunate was that the manuscript was left in the hands of Bernstein of the German Social-Democratic Party, who had no ability for appreciating the value of the natural dialectic. Therefore, more than thirty years had to pass while the manuscript was relatively unknown and left unpublished. The publication was finally realised in 1925, when Lyasanov of the Soviet Union obtained a photo-copy of the manuscript and compiled German and Russian editions of the book.
The natural science accomplished still larger revolution after the death of Engels, and its whole system was shaken from the fundamental basis by the so-called three big discoveries at the end of the last century-X-rays (1895), natural radio-activity (1896) and the electron (1897). Reading, for example, the chapter “Crisis of the Mathematical Physics” in Poincaré’s book, La valour de la science in 1905, you will be able to find out what serious surprises those discoveries incited among those natural scientists who did not possess a new view of nature and a correct methodology. The physicists had to lose their credit on the classical theory including Newton’s mechanics and the chemists began to doubt persistency of elements and indivisibility of atoms. Many of them had fallen into the empiricism and the positivism, seeing that nothing could be more credible than experiences themselves. Mach and Ostwald were the representatives. On the other side, there were people, such as Boltzmann and Planck, who wanted to persist in the old view of nature, and violent disputes developed between the two groups. But, neither of the points of view were enough to seize the essence of the crisis of natural sciences at that time. The man who gave a correct analysis to the problem was Lenin with his view of the materialistic dialectic. His book entitled Materialism and Empirio-Criticism published in 1908, is being held higher and higher in esteem today, as one of classics of the methodology of contemporary sciences, together with Engels’ Dialectics of Nature.
Analysis of Lenin on contemporary sciences in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism is, in many respects, in perfect agreement with that of Engels. Since both analyses were made from the same point of view of the materialistic dialectic, it may be no wonder that they were in agreement. But, it is remarkable that Lenin did not know at all of the existence of !he manuscripts of Engels. As I mentioned before, his manuscript had been buried for thirty years in the hands of a revisionist, who has no estimation of the value of the work, and the publication was made only after the death of Lenin.
Let me now talk about how I happened to encounter Engels’ Dialectics of Nature. I entered Kyoto University for the study of physics after finishing seven-year-studies at Koh-nan High School. I was attracted to theoretical physics since my high school days, reading books of J. Ishiwara, A. Kuwaki, H. Tanabe and others. These authors described serious conflicts among the theoretical physicists who were in confusion caused by innovation of the relativity theory and the quantum mechanics. Among all, detailed introduction was given of controversies on such problems as methodology of sciences or a world picture, in particular, for the famous dispute between Mach and Planck. I was completely ignorant about Marxism in those days, but I happened to meet in the Esperantist Club, Tadashi Kato, who later became a translator of Dialectics of Nature. I became an intimate friend of him, for he himself was intending to become a theoretical physicist and his house was close to mine. He was very brilliant, and he was behaving like a competent scholar, though he was a high school student. In particular, he was linguistic genius and mastered a number of foreign languages. Afterwards, he gave up the study of theoretical physics and entered the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature of Kyoto University. It was about this time when he started to translate Engels’ Dialectics of Nature into Japanese. I happened to encounter the natural dialectic for the first time when he came back home on vacation and told me about the book of Engels. As I mentioned to you before, Engels’ Dialectics of Nature was first published in 1925 in the Soviet Union. The Japanese people were able to have access to the natural dialectic relatively early, because the Japanese translation was published as early as 1929, only four years after the original publication. You may compare the situation with that in England, where Engels himself lived for a long time. The English translation was published as late as in 1940. The reason why the translation was published so early in Japan was that Marxism became familiar in japan and publication was being made successively on translation of the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and others. But at the same time, we are deeply indebted to the genius of Kato, who mastered both fields of natural and social sciences and in addition was an excellent linguist. The translation of Dialectics of Nature was completed and published as one of the “Iwanami Library” under the joint translation of Kato and Yu-jiro Kako, his friend, though the larger part was made through the effort of Kato himself. The co-translator Kako, was his classmate in high school, and later became an assistant professor of the Faculty of Law of Kyoto University. He resigned his professorship together with Takikawa and other fellow professors at the moment of the famous Kyoto University incident, caused by the militarists, and died not long after while he was still young. Publication of the translation was made in the year I finished high school. I did not find any difficulties in understanding the natural dialectic, because I had already learnt the content directly from Kato in my high school days.
Later, I entered the Department of Physics of Kyoto University and started my studies on theoretical physics. As I began to understand the two revolutionary theories of the present century, the relativity theory and the quantum mechanics, I was gradually becoming aware of the importance of the dialectic view of nature, or the point of view of the natural dialectic. Above all, reading Lenin’s book of Materialism and Empirio-Criticism convinced me of the fruitlessness of the arguments between Mach and Planck at the beginning of the present century. I felt a strong stimulus deep in my heart, to accomplish a practical application in my real research of the natural dialectic as the methodology of contemporary sciences.
In 1932, I became a third year student and started a research in my speciality. The year of 1932 was an epoch-making period in modern physics for series of revolutionary discoveries. Above all, the discovery of the neutron by Chadwick of England was of the greatest significance for the future direction of the development of physics. I may say that a new field of physics on atomic nuclei and elementary particles was started at this moment.
Before the discovery of the neutron, matter in general was regarded as being composed of protons and electrons only. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Dolton showed that matter is made from atoms, and we knew by the three great discoveries made at the end of the last century, that the atom is not the ultimate constituent of matter but has a complicated inner structure in itself. Structure of an atom has been made clearer and clearer in the present century. It was discovered in 1911 that an atom is composed of a nucleus and surrounding electrons. Motion of an electron inside an atom was found similar to the planetary motion in the solar system, but the Newton mechanics could not be applied to the electron motion. Until the nineteenth century, the Newton mechanics had been esteemed as an ideal of exact sciences and regarded as one of the ultimate rules or the absolute truths, which governs motion of all existences in nature including motion of heavenly bodies as well as atomic motions. But, the mechanics was losing its almightiness, being not applicable to the world of an electron, or the microscopic phenomena. This fact caused a strong reaction to all of the physicists, as did the three great discoveries at the end of the last century. But, a new mechanics was successfully constructed in 1925 which governs the microscopic world. It is discovery of the quantum mechanics. Through establishment of the quantum mechanics, atomic physics mad-- remarkable progress in a short time interval. In this way, we were able to understand the microscopic world as well as the macroscopic world.
Before 1932, people still could not enter into the world of atomic nuclei, a sti ill finer world than that of an atom. Many of the physicists were expecting that the quantum mechanics could be applied to nuclear problems, under the assumption that an atomic nucleus is composed of protons and electrons. But the attempts were encountered with various contradictions, reasons of which were hardly understood. Then, Niels Bohr, a discoverer of quantum mechanics, proposed the idea that a new mechanics must be found, which governs the world of atomic nuclei in place of the quantum mechanics. But, he could not find any more fish under the same weeping willow.
Problems of atomic nuclei found the direction for their solution by the discovery of the neutron in 1932. Really, the atomic nucleus is a composite system of protons and neutrons. The reason of having kept us away from the understanding was that an unknown kind of particle-the neutron-the playing an essential role in the nucleus. Since then, a rapid progress was made in nuclear physics on the basis of the proton-neutron model of a nucleus.
We must notice here the methodological characteristics which can he found typically In “establishment of the quantum mechanics” and “development of nuclear physics”. I felt necessity of analysing those problems from a point of view of the natural dialectics. I tried the analysis in my thesis for bachelor’s degree, though it was not complete from the present point of view.
After graduation, I became an assistant to Yukawa at Osaka University. Yukawa was writing his famous paper on the meson theory. The meson theory was born from an investigation on the origin of the so-called nuclear force, a force putting protons and neutrons together into a nucleus. He made an assumption that a proton and a neutron are exchanging an unknown kind of elementary particle to be called the meson.
But, the society of physics at that time was deeply influenced by positivistic thought starting from Mach, and people were not willing to accept the Yukawa theory, which introduced an unknown elementary particle. At that moment Mituo Taketani developed a new methodology known as the three-stage theory, and it gave invaluable encouragement to the Yukawa theory. Taketani was my junior by one year in Kyoto University, but I had no chance to talk with him in my student days. When I was working in Nishina’s laboratory of the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research just after my graduation, he sometimes visited the laboratory and we became friendly with each other. After I started my studies with Yukawa at Osaka University, he frequently visited us there and we three began to collaborate on the study. He had profound knowledges in philosophy, science and art, and in addition he had very original opinions. So we enjoyed very much his visit to our laboratory. In those days he was a research assistant in Kyoto University, and he had a close circle of progressive young scholars, such as Shoichi Nakai, Takeshi Shimmura of the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature of Kyoto University and others. Their circle was publishing a journal with the title Sekai-Butika (World Culture). In 1936 he presented in this journal a paper entitled “Dialectics of Nature-on Quantum Mechanics”. It is an epoch-making contribution of a penetrating analysis on the quantum mechanics with a stereoscopic view of the materialistic dialectics. There, he was making a sharp criticism against the one-sided views of the Copenhagen interpretation of Bohr and others which contains strong positivistic tendencies. Through this work he attained “the three-stage theory” which should be placed at the highest level of the natural dialectics. His new methodology has been playing an important role like a compass in our collaborative study since then.
According to Taketani’s three-stage theory, a process of cognition of nature is to be carried out through the three stages: phenomenological — substantialistic — essentialistic stages.
The phenomenological stage is the one in which one observes and describes natural phenomena as they are. In the substantialistic stage, one investigates structure of the object. Finally, one finds physical rule governing the object in the essentialistic stage. He demonstrated that both of the quantum mechanics and the Newton mechanics were constructed through the above three stages. The positivists are often neglecting the importance of the second stage, while Taketani was defining the situation of nuclear physics at that time as a stage of searching for, a road towards the third stage, through analyses of the second stage. Importance of the discovery of the neutron and also of introduction of the meson can be understood from his point of view.
Experimental discovery of the meson in the cosmic radiation was proving the validity of the Yukawa theory, and at the same time it was showing power of Taketani’s methodology. Progress of our theory of elementary particles achieved in Japan since then and afterward is deeply indebted to Taketani’s methodology.
Concerning my studies, I made in 1942 the two-meson theory as a development of the Yukawa theory, proposed in 1946 the theory of mixed fields which opened a new way towards Tomonaga’s renormalisation theory, and constructed in 1956 the composite model of elementary particles. All of them were accomplished with Taketani’s methodology of the natural dialectics.
Engels is telling us in hi. Dialectics of Nature that nature is composed of various strata of different properties, on each of which the respective proper physical laws are operating. Those strata are neither isolated nor independent with each other, but are mutually depending and correlating among themselves. They are in the midst of generation, annihilation and also mutual transformation, and are constituting nature as the whole unified existence. The three-stage theory of Taketani is developing a methodology for cognition of the individual strata on the basis of such view of nature. Correctness of the dialectic view of nature has been made clearer and clearer by rapid progress of science after the death of Engels. On the old and fossilised metaphysical view of nature before Engels, one believes that nature is ultimately composed of atoms, which are eternal and indivisible, and their motion is governed by the Newton mechanics, which is a final law over the whole existence. But, such an old point of view had to be abandoned as sciences made remarkable progress. Still, there remain even today a number of. physicists who believe the elementary particles to be the ultimate constituents in place of atoms of old days, and wish to make a revival of the metaphysical picture of nature. There are, too, many of those with the positivistic point of view, who regard the concept of elementary particles as nothing but the so-called useful working hypothesis of Mach. It may be concluded that all of those people are remaining blind to the development of sciences after Engels, and do nothing but try to prevent a new step of cognition of nature beyond the stratum of elementary particles.
I used to keep on my desk a note with the following sentences of Engels. It says, “Essence of the modern atomism lies not only in its claim of discontinuity of matter, but also in its emphasis that those elements of the discontinuity, atoms-molecules-bodies-heavenly bodies and others, are the nodal points which restrict various qualitative mode of existence of matter in general.” In addition, I can never forget a famous phrase of Lenin in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, which says that even an electron is as inexhaustible as an atom is. Those are indeed encouraging me to confront the view of regarding elementary particles as the ultimate of matter and to concentrate on the study of the composite model, with a standpoint of the stratum of matter.
At the end, I would like to refer to the doctor thesis of Marx in its relation to Dialectics of Nature Dialectics. His thesis was entitled “On the difference between the atomism of Democritus and that of Epicurus.” I think that he is pointing out a difference of great significance. The atom of Democritus is a perfect existence created by God, so that it may be regarded as the intimate of matter. But, the atom of Epicurus is imperfect, because it contains accidental elements, which may be regarded as a stratum of matter. I think that the thesis should be highly appreciated, because it destroyed the current view that Epicurus was an Epigone of Democritus and it placed a proper estimation on Epicurus for opening a new road towards the dialectic view of nature.
Posted: 2011-08-20 15:33 |
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