Essence and Appearance

Some useful preliminary reading on philosophy that helps with understanding the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Maksakovsky can be found in Ed George’s Other Blog at “Essence and Appearance”. Download the pdf file – it is only 5 pages.

I will write more on this and other very interesting items from Ed George’s two blogs later, but cannot take time off before getting this site ready. Meanwhile it is far easier to critique than develop so I will just make one correction:

“There is nothing prima facie intrinsic to the movement of the sun across the sky that leads us to draw the conclusion of a geocentric universe: this was the predominant view in the pre-copernican west, but heliocentric depictions were hardly rare in the ancient world; it was only with the development of more sophisticated means of observing the movements of heavenly bodies did geocentricism become scientifically untenable (although ideological affinity for the notion would persist well beyond its refutal in scientific knowledge.” (p3, which also includes the footnote 11).

Actually it wasn’t just Church dogma (“ideological affinity”). More sophisticated observations played no part whatever in the overthrow of geocentrism. Ptolemaic astronomy with epicycles on epicycles continued to provide better models for scientifically predicting seasons, eclipses, planetary conjunctions etc with amazing accuracy far beyond what was needed. This remained true long after Copernicus proposed a heliocentric model. Copernican models fitted the best astronomical data, collected by Tycho Brae, only with more complex epicycles and less accuracy than the accepted geocentric Tychonic system (with only the other planets revolving around the sun) .

It was only when Kepler got access to Tycho Brae’s raw data and fitted it to his purely speculative model based on ellipses rather than circles around the Sun that heliocentrism produced a model that worked better in practice. Only then did geocentrism became scientifically superior. It was the mystical notion that the movements of heavenly bodies around anything must be circular that prevented heliocentric models fitting the known astronomical facts better. The apparent absurdity of imagining that the very ground we stood on was spinning at thousands of kilometres per hour without us noticing was not the only obstacle.

Kepler’s worldview was astrological and mystical, not scientific in a modern sense. His planetary orbit ratios were based on analogies with the regular solids and his aim was to predict plagues, wars etc with better astrology.

Later Newton, an alchemist, made an enormous advance towards modern science with his theory of universal gravitation.

Later still, Einstein, a modern scientist, explained gravitation as related to curvature in space time. This 20th Century physics is still far less widely understood, even among scientists and engineers, than 17th Century Newtonian physics.

Today 21st Century physics still has no consensus on how to resolve various known contradictions between astronomical observation and current cosmological models. For example there is no consensus on whether certain gravitational anomalies should be explained as due to most of the mass of the universe being “dark matter” invisible to astronomers and whether most of that is itself “dark energy” that also has completely unknown properties other than a mysterious propensity to explain gravitational anomalies! As for the basics, forget three dimensional space with a fourth dimension of time as taught for 2 millenia!

The relevance of this for understanding Marx and Maksakovsky lies in the notorious joke that marxists have successfully predicted 12 out of the last 4 crises. (Numbers and their ratio vary in different versions. I think Simon Clarke had some documentation on actual figures for predictions by Marx and Engels themselves).

Maksakovsky explained the inevitability of the capitalist business cycle with its successive phases including crises, after a long crisis free period and just before the Great Depression. He also explained that crises are normally followed by recovery and another cycle based on a higher level of technology rather than revolutionary collapse. That is precisely what happened following the Great Depression and second world war.

But one reason for his explanation having disappeared almost without trace may be related to the fact that it just does not fit the post-war data. There has indeed been a regular business cycle, but nothing like the Great Depression has occurred in three quarters of a century since. Only since 2007 are people really starting to wonder again whether Marx might have been onto something, as it becomes very clear that the church of mainstream economics has no clue at all. It was clear that the “marxians” had no clue for many decades.

I would suggest this analogy. Marx developed a model of capitalism that could be compared with understanding that there is some force of gravitation which continuously accelerates planets towards the sun while they are simultaneously speeding tangentially away from it and that this contradictory pair of motions somehow resolves itself into a periodic orbit about the sun.

The closest he got to a working “toy model” of “pure capitalism” was in the reproduction schemes. Expanded reproduction involves a contradiction like that between planets rushing away from the Sun and falling towards it. Just expanding by accumulating with the same technology would require more labor power and eventually choke off profitability with rising wages. There has to be an increasing organic composition of capital and that has to be driven by changes in relative prices which themselves must result from disproportions in demand and supply in the relations between the production of means of production and their consumption. Those contradictions were ignored or totally misunderstood by “marxians”. Marx would have taken the contradictions as a starting point for further ascent from the abstract to the concrete with a completed theory of the business cycle and crises.

Maksakovsky took the reproduction schemes, and the rest of Capital, and filled in essential details such as the force being inversely proportional to the square of the distance, thus resolving the “some sort of orbit” into an elliptical orbit at distances from the sun having a definite relation to the relative masses of each planet that can be calculated by integrating the inverse square force over the spherical shape of the planet and proving that this could be simplified as though the mass of each planet was concentrated at its center.

Newton did not publish until he had solved that bit because it made the difference between a Copernican hypothesis and a Keplerian model that actually fitted the data with a simpler theory.

Marx did not publish a systematic theory of the crisis either. He was still working on it and two incomplete volumes of Capital were published by Engels postumously. As Maksakovsky said, Marx provided all the elements of the rich totality of determinations needed for a solution but did not succeed in bringing them together systematically.

We need to take that enormously simplified model of “pure capitalism”, in Maksakovsky’s unfinished postumous work and develop it several layers further until it can actually be fitted plausibly to the concrete data of actual capitalism. This will need to include adequate theorization of the role of the State and competition on the world market, which Marx considered essential preliminaries to understanding the concrete business cycle. We have vastly better econometric data and tools for analysing it than Marx did, but have made no advance in theory.

Maksakovsky’s discussion of finance in Chapter 3 provides important hints on on how the sort of Keynesian measures that Hilferding thought could stabilize “organized capitalism” did in fact only postpone crises while also intensifying them.

We need to penetrate more deeply to the essence, including the modern financial system with central banks as Maksakovsky certainly did not expect crises to be postponed (and intensified) as long as they have been.

I’ll leave it there, but just wanted to recommend this article as helping understand what Marx and Maksakovsky were doing.


3 thoughts on “Essence and Appearance

  1. Three additioanal points to be integrated with above:

    1. Although “scientifically untenable” after Kepler, Engels mentioned that Copernican was still considered a remote possibility (odds of thousands against) until Newton’s laws were verified by Leverrier’s explanation of minor pertubations by the existence of an unknown planet which was then found where he said to look. This vividly illustrates that it was NOT improved observations as that planet had in fact been observed before but it had been assumed to be a star with the discrepancies in its position on different dates assumed to be errors. We cannot perceive what we cannot conceive. Hence the dialectical repeated cycles between theory and practice essential for moving closer to truth.

    2. There is some suggestion (from Ernst Thaelmann) that Hegel to some extent prefigured Einstein’s General Relativity in his discussion of space, time and matter at start of Philosophy of Nature. (Curiously Hegel’s section number for discussion of this is the first reference from Science of Logic to a section of the Encyclopedia in Miller translation, omitted from version apparantly due to footnote 1 being mistaken for an apostrophe).

    3. An interesting exercise would be to provide some machine learning students with Tycho Brae’s data (which is available online). Relabel the data so they don’t know it is astronomical observations but don’t obscure that the data for Sun and Moon (renamed) are particularly significant and distinguish labels for planets and stars?

    Record all efforts to get a model to fit. See whether they try circles and ellipses and when.

    Can anything as good or better than ptolemy be found by the machine learning algorithms WITHOUT explicitly telling it to look for conic sections or equivalent?


  2. Typo in comment 1. “Engels mentioned that geoocentric (Tycho Brae’s version, not actually Ptolemy’s) was still considered a remote possibility…” NOT Copernican (I think from Engels on “Feuerbach”)


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