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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hegel's logic as an ideal heat engine

Hegel's Logic as an Ideal Heat Engine

As neoliberal capitalism begins to eat itself, the middle class are about to discover that they too have always been urbanised peasants, confirming the insights of deep Marxism. No doubt shallow Marxists will realise this in due course as well. But could anyone -counterculturalist or Marxist have anticipated this outcome thirty or forty plus years ago? Put another way, did anyone correctly predict the future (our present) back then?

No, since such predictions are impossible. That the post-war consensus was likely to give way to a different socio-economic order could be anticipated but what that it would be replaced by neoliberalism could not be known. If it had been known, opposition to it might have been more focused and effective and prevented its success. So we would now be living in a different present. So a prediction that the future would be neoliberal made then would now turn out to be false.

On the other hand, if members of the counterculture could have developed skills of critical thinking and analysis as it became a culture of resistance, it would/might have become more effective as a source of alternative futures. Would/might have become the mainstream rather than the counter culture.

That thought is why I am writing this book. As an experiment to see if it is possible to work from a counterculture inspired perspective while thinking critically and analytically. Or at least to be as critical and analytic as I can without rejecting a countercultural perspective. Or at least not rejecting the countercultural perspective until I have thought about it critically. Since this is a work in progress, the possibility of such a rejection has to be remain available. At the same time, the possibility that critical thinking is a dead-end must also be available as an outcome. Finally there is action. Or does action precede thought?

In ‘The Problem of Dialectics’ Evald Ilyenkov connected the circularity of Marx’s commodity-money-commodity-money with Hegel’s word-act-word-act circularity. [The Ideal in Human Activity, California, 2009, p. 143-145]

At the risk of appearing rather stupid, these circularities seem similar to the chicken and egg problem. Which did come first? Thanks to Darwin and the palaeontologists, we know that chickens evolved from egg laying creatures- from dinosaurs. So there were eggs before there were chickens. Go even further back and there were living creatures which did not lay eggs. But if eggs are ‘things’, there were things (carbon and other chemicals) before there were any forms of life …

So there were acts before there were words/thought, commodities before there was money and eggs before there were chickens. Taken right the way back, we get the problem of how something emerged out of nothing. Hegel’s answer was that pure being comes before ‘something’ and that pure being is also nothing (or nothing is also pure being).

Pure being and nothing are both featureless with no internal content, continually fading one into the other and back again. Like a perfect heat engine, cycling between compression and expansion, expansion and compression with no output, no work done. A cycle of perpetual motion, which is also impossible so cannot exist.

For something to exist there has to be an additional factor. For Hegel this was ‘becoming’, the movement between pure being and nothing was the process of pure being becoming nothing and then of nothing becoming pure being. This process of becoming gives rise to determinate being- to something which is neither pure being nor pure nothing. With determinate being time and history begin.

Hegel’s Science of Logic was published between 1812 and 1816. In 1813, Peter Ewart’s paper ’On the measure of moving force’ was published in the Memoirs of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, in which Ewart asserted the equivalence of heat and work. This was a key step towards what was to become the new science of thermodynamics. Hegel’s logic can be modelled as a heat engine.

Peter Ewart was employed by Bolton and Watt to sell and erect steam engines in the Manchester region. In 1785/6 Ewart worked as an apprentice on the construction of the steam powered Albion Flour Mill in London. It burnt down in 1791 and its blackened ruins probably inspired William Blake’s poetic image of ‘dark, Satanic mills’.


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