Marxism and modern science: Dialectics of Nature

Date: Sunday 26th July
Time: 13:00 - 16:30 (London time)

On the anniversary of Engels’ birth, we will highlight one of Engels’ greatest works, Dialectics of Nature. With his masterful grasp of dialectics, Engels pre-empted scientific discoveries like the equivalence of matter and energy and the role of labour in the development of modern humans. In this talk, we will show that modern science serves as a continuing validation of the Marxist method of dialectical materialism, revealing a world in a constant state of motion, flux and revolution. Our speaker, Ben Curry, is a leading activist of Socialist Appeal, the British section of the IMT.

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Ben: Ok well, good morning to comrades on the west coast of America and good evening to comrades on the Indian subcontinent, and thank you for spending your Sunday at a talk on science. So, as James remarked, this year represents the 200th birthday of the great collaborator of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels. And Engels himself is somewhat unfairly been regarded as having played the second fiddle to Marx and this is in no small part down to the modesty of the man himself. He was keen to downplay his own role and to highlight the incomparable role and the irreplaceable role of his comrade, Karl Marx.

But whilst Marx spent the greater part of his life on his great treatise Capital, analysing the dynamics of the capitalist mode of production, Engels wrote works applying the same fundamental method as Karl Marx but applying them to a whole variety of fields. He wrote The Peasant War in Germany after the defeat of the 1848 revolution in Germany. He made an analysis of the revolution in Germany, historically, he wrote a work on the – a very famous work called The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State on the transition from class society – from classless to class society, and he started preparation on a work on the history of Ireland. Unfortunately, he didn’t get very far past the preparatory material and the first chapters. But he also wrote a number of books laying out clearly the philosophy of Marxism and he took a particular interest in the natural sciences.

Writings such as Anti-Dühring, which I’ve got a copy here, you can get from Wellred Books, and also the unfinished manuscript which James mentioned called the Dialectics of Nature. And in this book, Engels explains that for him and Marx, dialectics wasn’t something they simply invented. It wasn’t something that they simply sucked out of their thumbs. Rather, it was something to be discovered through nature. Engels describes it – dialectics – in the following way in Dialectics of Nature. He said, “It is from the history of nature and human society that the laws of dialectics are abstracted, for they are nothing but the most general laws of these two aspects of historical developments as well as of thought itself.” So Engels made no distinction between the laws governing human thought, or logic, and the laws of nature as such. And for us as materialists, obviously, we see that all the – we say that all that exists is matter in motion, and thoughts and minds, it’s just one of the modes of motion of matter, basically. So human society and the human mind are just part of this material universe and the – they relate to the rest of nature as the part relates to the whole.

So for us, as Marxists, the laws governing human society and the laws governing the human mind are merely a specific case, actually, of the more general laws of nature and of the motion of – of matter in motion. Well, in elaborating things in this way, some of the detractors from Marxism, or some of Engels’ detractors, in particular, think that Engels made a mistake. They think that Marx was correct to apply the dialectical method to human society and human thinking, but by extending it to nature, Engels basically turned Marxism into a dogma, into an article of faith. So I’m thinking of so-called Marxists such as Althusser and Lukash in this category. And so you have the good Marx and the bad Engels, and the bad Engels was responsible basically for Stalinism and the turning of Marxism into a dogma. But besides, of course, being an idealist explanation for the rise of Stalinism, it wasn’t a bad idea which led to the rise of Stalinism. It was the isolation of the Russian revolution and its surrounding by hostile imperialist powers.

This whole point of view is a retreat, basically, from materialism to the point of view of dualism. The dialectics applies to thought, but these laws have nothing to do with the general laws of motion, of matter. The two are separate – the laws of thought, the laws of matter. It’s a retreat from materialism. So as Marxists, we’re by no means indifferent to the philosophical underpinnings, if you like, of science, and the philosophical struggles that take place in the sciences in one field after another. And in the whole of human history, science and philosophy themselves have been key battlegrounds in the class struggle.

This is something that Engels in particular keenly understood. And for the revolutionary bourgeoisie, science was one of the weapons with which they actually fought the old feudal system. It was necessary for this revolutionary bourgeois class, not only to smash the dictatorships of the feudal monarchies but also to smash the spiritual dictatorship of the church, which dominated the minds of the masses of Europe. And this struggle took place over a number of stages, which roughly corresponded to the stages of development of the bourgeoisie as a class, and of their struggle within feudal society and against feudalism.

So first of all, with the rise of merchant capital, you had a much greater increase in international commerce, and at the same time, of course, greater exchange of intellectual information as well with the rise of the earliest merchant capitalists. And it was in the same centuries, in the 12th and 13th centuries, that you saw the foundation of a powerful federation of trading cities – the Hanseatic League in northern Europe, and you saw the foundation of the first Italian city-states in the south of Europe. At the same time, it was at this time that you saw the great chartered universities beginning to spring up and demand a certain amount of elbow room for themselves within the concept of feudal society and a certain right to exercise a certain freedom of thought. And here’s an example of the dialectic in practice, of how things turn into their opposites, because these universities were originally formed as schools of the – attached to the monasteries of Europe, so their original function was precisely to train a new generation of clergymen who were to be the ideological support, basically, of the feudal system, and the – and they were to justify and defend the feudal system. But with a growing enrichment of the bourgeois class, they began to take on more and more students from this rising bourgeois class.

And you had a series of other developments, which spurred on developments of science towards the end of the Middle Ages. You had the Reconquista in Spain and the Crusades in the Levant which basically revealed to Christian Europe that they stood on a far lower cultural level than the Islamic world. So whilst in western Europe, ancient Greek as a language had been almost entirely forgotten and the – you know, the medieval clergymen had written the lives of saints over the great manuscripts of ancient Greek knowledge, this knowledge had been preserved amongst the Muslims and now, for the first time, was being brought back to Europe. You had translations of the ancient Greek text from the Arabic and you also had refugees fleeing the fall of Byzantium and bringing the original ancient Greek texts back with them. And this opened up a whole new world. A whole new vista was opened up to the thinking peoples within Europe.

But the Scientific Revolution owed a tremendous amount, actually, to the development of industry in the cities, and actually, Engels makes the point that science owes a lot more to industry in a lot of cases than industry owes to a lot of the sciences. Yeah, I mean, you had new material provided for the sciences by, for example, the discovery of the polished lens, which led to the development of optics and at a later date, obviously, the development of astronomy and other fields. And you had a lot of indirect effects upon the sciences by the discoveries in industry, such as, for example, a key turning point within human biology, within anatomy, was the discovery of the printing press. Yeah, so I should say, sorry, the invention of the printing press in 15th-century Germany allowed for the first time drawings of dissections to be printed in large numbers in textbooks extremely accurately whereas previously they had to be copied by hand, and therefore you had all sorts of errors introduced into the textbooks of Europe. And this led to, for example, in the 16th century, the great discovery by William Harvey of the circulation of blood and other anatomical discoveries by people like Servetus, who was actually burned to the stake by Calvin, so it wasn’t just the Catholic Church that persecuted scientists.

So in its earliest form, science was essentially developed, however, in the kind of immature shell of medieval scholasticism, and as long as it developed in that outmoded shell, it was always hampered in its development. Yeah, I mean, in the words of Thomas Aquinas, philosophy and therefore also natural philosophy was basically the handmaiden of theology. It served to glorify the greater good of God’s creation, essentially. That’s the role that science played for the feudal epoch. Yeah, so it’s only going to be by laying down a revolutionary challenge to the church and its domination over people’s minds that science was really going to be set free.

And eventually, it broke out of that shell in a revolution that was actually begun by Copernicus from his deathbed when he declared that the Earth itself moves, which completely shattered the old feudal cosmology which placed the Earth at the centre of the universe, the centre of God’s creation, and which said that the heavens were immortal unchanging spheres of perfection, which is where God resided. It completely shattered that. It shattered a completely ideological prop of the feudal epoch. And besides, the revolution has to be thought of, basically, as part and parcel of the great bourgeois revolutions and as being part of that wave of revolutions, it also gave its fair share of – or more than its fair share of martyrs of the liberation of human minds from the church and the domination of mysticism. I mean, I’ve mentioned Servetus. There’s Galileo Galilei, who suffered persecution for his entire life for his adherence to Copernicanism, and others like Giordano Bruno were even burned at the stake by the church.

But once it was liberated from the shackles of theology, science began making gigantic strides forwards, and this also had its effect on the predominant philosophy of the time. It began to affect the way that people saw the world and saw their relationship with the world. So in England, this was reflected in the rise of philosophical materialism represented by people like Bacon, Locke, and Hobbes. And when this materialism was once more imported into France, it became a revolutionary weapon in the hands of the 18th-century French materialists, who also brought science in to sort of – to bolster that materialism which they used against the old regime and everything it represented. And Engels described the Scientific Revolution as being part of “the greatest progressive revolution that mankind has so far experienced. A time which called for giants and produced giants. Giants in power of thought, passion, and character. In universality and learning.”

So I want to compare this picture now to the picture of the sciences today. And I’m going quote, unfortunately, a little bit at length from an article from the Scientific American from an article from November 2019, so just last year. I a long time contributed to that journal and it’s called ‘Jeffrey Epstein and the Decadence of Science’. It’s a long quote, but I don’t think I could have painted more vividly the picture of the degree of science’s degeneration with the degeneration of bourgeois society itself. So he says:
“Science I fear has entered its decadent phase. Signs of its decline abound. First, as I have pointed out, the productivity of applied science has slumped over the past few decades. Research effort is rising substantially while research productivity is declining sharply.”

I mean, comrades will know we’ve talked many times about how capitalism, in general, is suffering from a productivity crisis. He goes on:

“Then there is the replication crisis. The fact that many peer-reviewed claims cannot be reproduced. Science has become less reliable because competition among researchers for publications, grants, tenure, and other rewards is intensified. As researchers have a harder time generating useful results, they become increasingly desperate and prone to confirmation bias and fraud.”

He then actually goes on to lament the fact that within the sciences, there has been a wholesale retreat from materialism. Now, materialism for us is – yeah, I’ve already explained what materialism is, but in many ways, consciously or unconsciously, materialism forms the philosophical basis of all genuine science and scientific investigation. Science is driven by the idea that there is a material world, it is independent to us, and it can be effectively investigated and understood. But this is how the article from the Scientific American describes the situation as far as that goes. He says:

“The so-called pure sciences aren’t so pure either. Prominent physicists persist in promoting glitzy but unconfirmable ideas like string theory, inflation, multiverse theories, and the anthropic principle.”

The anthropic principle is basically the idea that the universe is – it’s an idea that’s taken seriously in cosmology, that the universe is the way it is because we observe it. It’s a return to subjective idealism, basically. And he goes on:

“In mind-science, theorists advocate models based on quantum mechanics and information theory that make consciousness a fundamental component of reality. Like the anthropic principle, these mind-body theories reflect our narcissistic insistence that we are central to the cosmos.”

He then describes the Epstein scandal, which involved numerous scientists in its web. You had scientists flocking to his parties and very eager to take research grants from Epstein. But he asks is this really any worse than scientists taking money from the Pentagon or the Koch brothers or any other number of billionaires or corrupt individuals or organizations. Finally, although this guy is a science writer, he’s not a communist, nevertheless, he invokes Marx, he invokes Karl Marx, our old friend. He says:

“In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels acknowledged that capitalism had brought about extraordinary advances in the arts and sciences. But Marx prophesied that capitalism, by devaluing everything except profits, would inevitably self-destruct, dragging the rest of bourgeois culture down with it.”

So this is from the horse’s mouth. This is not one of our articles, this is from the science writers themselves and popular science journalists. And it shows that the bourgeoisie are completely seeped in pessimism, basically. They no longer see a way forward and they’ve lost confidence in themselves, they’ve lost confidence in their system, and they’ve given up on the idea of progress. And as they’ve turned their back on the idea of progress, they’ve also turned their back on the idea of scientific progress. And their retreat from reality has also been reflected in a retreat from reality in the sciences themselves, although this, of course, only paints one half of the picture. I mean, there are plenty of scientists who are completely aware of the crisis of capitalism and who are even fighting to overthrow capitalism. And there are many scientists who are engaged in one way or another, and in one field or another, in a rear-guard struggle against the encroachment of mysticism and idealism.

But this crisis in the sciences shows why scientists themselves need a conscious philosophy, not only to guide them in the struggle against this encroachment of this mysticism, but also in order to sort of tie this struggle for the preservation of the sciences, for the future of the sciences, to the revolutionary class in society, to the overthrow of capitalism and to the socialist revolution. So it was in Dialectics of Nature, Engels takes aim at the fact that for most scientists, most scientists don’t have a conscious philosophy, actually. And if you look at what passes for philosophy on university campuses, and even worse, what passes for the philosophy of science on university campuses, you can barely blame them when it’s postmodern garbage and this sort of stuff. But despite the fact that people often regard scientists as these white lab coat wearing geniuses who are immune to the prejudices of the rest of society, scientists are themselves very much human beings and they are just as likely to be infected with those prejudices as anyone else and without a conscious philosophy, scientists will simply take on board the scraps of philosophy that they find floating around in the society around them.

Now, I’ll just give you one example of where a popular and widespread prejudice, which expresses itself crudely within society, pops up in simply a more refined form within the sciences. I mean, most comrades will have heard at some point, the argument, when you say “we need socialism” – “What about human nature?” And in this question, the very posing of the question, whether it’s conscious or not, exists a deep-seated philosophical prejudice at the base of it. It says that there is some permanent, unchanging human nature, and this isn’t simply, actually, a statement about society. This is a statement about the sciences. It’s a statement about our biology. It imagines, first of all, that society itself is nothing more than the sum of its parts. Society is made up of a collection of human beings, a collection of human individuals and the nature of that society is determined by the nature of the individuals. So the human nature determines the social relations and everything else we have around us. And the individual, in turn, is nothing more than the sum of their parts. They are nothing more than the direct expression of their genes and they are acting upon genetic necessity. So if we see war, racism, nationalism, the market economy, the domination of Amazon in the society around us, these are all presumably to be found somewhere in our genetics.

But we understand, as Marxists, the distinguishing feature of human beings as a species is that we don’t simply take nature as it is. We cultivate nature, we manipulate nature to serve our ends. This is precisely what sets us as human beings apart from the animal kingdom. But in the process of satisfying our needs, we create new needs. We create new means of satisfying our needs. We create new social organizations, new modes of production so that human society never has a finished form. And as materialists, understanding that it is material conditions that form our consciousness, by constantly changing our material conditions, our social organization, we are constantly changing our consciousness.

We are constantly changing our human nature. So our nature has gone through numerous transformations. There was a time when slavery in ancient Greece and ancient Rome would have been regarded just as natural as the bourgeois economists regard the market economy today. And yet, despite what I’ve said, in fields like socio-biology and evolutionary psychology, the human nature argument basically finds support from respected scientists. So just to give you one quote from the so-called biologist, Richard Dawkins, this is from The Selfish Gene, 1976 I think it was written. He says the following, he says:

“Conceivably, racial prejudice could be interpreted as an irrational generalization of a king-selected tendency to identify with individuals physically resembling one’s self and to be nasty towards individuals different in appearance.”

I mean, this – even a cursory sort of familiarity with the history of racism and nationality would tell him that these concepts of race and nation are a result of capitalism. They have not existed for the whole of human history and yet here he finds a genetic basis for them. I mean, I think it hardly needs to be stated how reactionary, actually, the conclusions are which flow from this outlook, or how well it fits in, obviously, with the ideology of the ruling class, of the bourgeois, who, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union, have been going on an offensive against any idea that there is any other possible system other than capitalism. This system is the most natural system, it corresponds to the law of the jungle, and it’s essentially in our genes and therefore, give up is the message. And in this point of view, the bourgeois are expressing a philosophy of change, of basically change itself is impossible, or as is more commonly the case these days, of that change, where it is possible, is only possible in the form of decay, disintegration, backsliding – only bad things can happen from change.

So Marxism, in the first instance, therefore, is first and foremost a philosophy of change and a method of analysing social and natural history. So contrary to the bourgeois philosophy, or the dominant philosophy, it sees everything as being in a constant process of development – this is the method of dialectics I’m referring to, the philosophy of Marxism – sees everything in a constant process of development and change. And in contrast to this genetic reductionism, this very mechanical view of the world, it sees everything not as being simply the sum of its parts, but as more than the sum of its parts. It sees things in their interconnection, that development takes place through this sort of constant process of the whole interconnected in its parts.

And this isn’t an especially new idea. This was an idea that was known to the ancient Greeks and was summed up in the following way by a guy called Heraclitus. He was known as Heraclitus the Dark because he wrote a lot of aphorisms and other things that were quite difficult to penetrate and understand but I think we have – the following aphorism makes sense when we reflect on it a little bit. He says, “Everything both is and is not if everything is in flux.” Now, I think that’s quite a curious statement. How can everything both be and not be at the same time? This defies what we would, I suppose, call common sense. Common sense says that everything either is or is not. I am me. I am not not me. A pound of sugar is equal to a pound of sugar. And of course, human nature is human nature. But to give this common-sense its proper name, what we would call – we would call it formal logic, of course, it does have a certain applicability. I mean I’m – if my pound of sugar when I’m at the shop, at the supermarket, I’m not going to argue with the checkout assistant if it’s a few grams under or a few grams over. But of course, on closer examination, we would see that that logic would break down. A pound of sugar is not simply – a pound of sugar is never a pound of sugar, actually.

On closer examination, you will see the limits of these fixed categories. And modern biology, in particular, is replete with examples of where fixed static categories completely break down. So for millennia, for example, common sense has told people that species are essentially static. One species is what it is. A dog is a dog. A cat is a cat. A bird is a bird. It should be said that the ancient Greeks had a pretty sentiment, actually, their thinking being informed by dialectics, that actually species weren’t so static. Anaximander, for example, I believe it was, actually had a theory of evolution and he suggested that human beings were descended from fish, which was a correct anticipation.

But of course, the ancient Greeks stood on a far lower technical level to us today and they didn’t have the means of actually fleshing out this idea of dialectics with the scientific content, with all of the richness of the discoveries of science. They had only their minds, basically, to – this was ingenious guesswork. The result was that dialectics was for the most part forgotten about for several millennia until it was rediscovered in the 18th and 19th centuries but now filled out with a far richer scientific content by people like Hegel, Marx, and of course, Engels in his Dialectics of Nature. So you can say that the history of the dialectic itself, the history of science, has also followed the dialectical process of development.

Let’s go back to the question of evolution. I said that a bird is a bird, but in that case, what is an Archaeopteryx? Well, first of all, it’s an extinct species that died of tens of millions of years ago, but just to give you a few of its features, it was – well, it had feathers and it could fly very much like what we would think of as most birds, though of course, not all birds can fly. But it had a bony tail and a toothed jaw and even claws on its forelimbs, which is quite unusual for a bird. So the question – was it a bird or was it a theropod dinosaur? There is no easy answer to that question. It both was and was not a bird at the same time.

I mean, the virus even defies the categorization into life or not life. I mean, it’s able to replicate, as we’ve found to a cost in the recent period, very much like life, but it has no independent metabolism, unlike all other life forms. So in a sense, it both is and is not life at the same time. It is a contradiction. And dialectics resolves this by saying that precisely contradiction is part of motion. When you see things in their motion, contradiction is a part of their existence. It doesn’t try to eliminate contradiction, contradiction in that sense. Individual organisms, species, and groups of species are precisely coming into existence and going out of existence. And in their – and in its change, matter is constantly – in a process of change, nothing is fixed and nothing is permanent. In fact, the simplest form of motion from A to B is precisely contradiction. Motion itself implies that something both is and is not in the same place at the same time.

Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was precisely the discovery of the operation of dialectics in organic nature, in the history of life and the whole theory bases itself, actually, on the reality in the contradiction in nature. I mean, one of its pillars is the idea of inheritance, that an organism, an offspring, looks like its parents and inherits the characteristics and features of its parents. But contradicting this tendency is the tendency toward natural variation. Offspring diverge as well from their parents. And if both of these opposing tendencies, these contradictory tendencies, didn’t form a unity, there would be no such thing as evolution. If inheritance dominated so that each generation looked exactly like its parents, evolution would obviously stop and in fact, before the evolution of sexual reproduction, asexual reproduction tends to be far more dominated by inheritance and therefore evolution was a very slow process. And of course, if the opposing tendency of variation was the only tendency that existed, then you could have no viable embryo. You’d have simply a miscarriage.

Yeah, and I think that – I mean, we can describe Darwinian evolution as probably confirming the most fundamental law of dialectics, which I would say is the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. And I would say at first glance, of course, this natural variation that we see in nature of course is first and foremost quantitative. Fur is darker or lighter, claws are longer or shorter, the femur is heavier or lighter, and so on and so forth. But after – by – after a number of generations, of course, you have this accumulation of quantitative changes that lead to a point where a population is no longer able to interbreed with the population from which it descended. You have speciation – two separate species emerge. In the language of dialectics, we would say that quantity has transformed into quality. A revolution has taken place. But Darwin was also a product of his time, just like the most mediocre scientist, also the greatest scientists are also affected by the philosophies and ideas which predominate in their time.

Now, Darwin imagines this process of evolution as taking place in a slow, gradualistic manner. You have the slow, gradualistic emergence of species like the slow emergence of branches from the trunk of a tree. And this reflected the prejudices of his time, which Darwin was living in, specifically the gradualistic reformist prejudices of the English middle class in the 19th century. So yes, you can have change in nature, but there are no leaps. There are no discontinuities. The problem for Darwin was that actual – actually the discoveries of paleontology, of the fossil record, didn’t actually bear out this view of the world. There are all sorts of gaps in the fossil record.

Now, for the most part, Darwin believed that this was – and there’s an element of truth in this – he thought this was due to the incompleteness of the fossil record. Only a certain number of complete skeletons are preserved and only a certain number have been discovered, but over time, we will make discoveries that will fill in the gaps. However, there was one event in particular in the fossil record which was so sudden and revolutionary that it – that conflicted so violently with Darwin’s theory, which he even held it up as a legitimate counterargument to his entire theory of evolution. And what this was was if you go back more than 550 million years ago, the only fossils that exist in any great number are what we call stromatolites. And these are basically big maps of algae, single celled organisms that formed big blobs, basically, all throughout the coastal areas and the shallow oceans of this sort of – of this period. And then, yeah, sometime around 550 million years ago, there was a – something happened that caused an explosion of complex multicellular animal life, almost out of – in an instant, in geological terms. There were creatures which were given names like Hallucigenia because they look like the product of like a hallucination. They are so weird and wonderful that some of these look like alien creatures.

But the speed with which they took – they evolved – was phenomenal. In one layer of rock, there’s nothing like this, in the next layer of rock, complex multicellular life all over the world’s oceans. And in – it wasn’t until the mid 20th century, that two scientists, Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Elredge actually came up with a hypothesis to explain this sudden appearance. A new model of evolution that also explains this Cambrian explosion, as it has come to be known. And they started out because they understood that when you’re studying the evolution of vertebrates, the fossils – all the bones get mixed up. You very rarely find large numbers of preserved vertebrates, so they looked at trilobites instead. I believe it was trilobites.

Yeah, these trilobites, they exist all over the planet for tens of millions of years and what they found is that – what they found is in layers of rock, for tens of millions of years, they all look the same and then suddenly, there’s a point in the rock after which there’s an adaptation and now all of them look the same again, but there’s no continuity, a complete discontinuity between what came before and what came after. And to explain this, Gould and Elredge basically came up with a new theory of evolution, according to which for the majority of their existence, species actually remained outwardly fairly unchanged. They remained in a certain equilibrium. Equilibrium does exist in nature.

However, equilibrium, and we understand this in dialectics, exists only within limits and there are – it doesn’t mean that there is no change. There was change going on within ecosystems, geographical changes, climactic changes, genetic changes. Yeah, and these changes accumulate, eventually reaching a tipping point, when this equilibrium is punctuated by the sudden appearance of adaptations, by sudden extinctions, mass extinctions, and acts of speciation. And the whole history of life, in fact, is a history of such revolutions. Long periods of nothing much happening and then sudden discontinuities, catastrophes, crises, revolutions. In fact, the origins of life itself only became possible when a quantity transformed into quality, when a tipping point was reached at which the cooling Earth was able to support liquid water and a complex chemistry was able to emerge. The Earth was obviously far hotter at that time and ultraviolet waves were able to get straight through the atmosphere because there was no oxygen and no ozone either, but this created a very rich chemistry. And at a certain stage, this would’ve included complex sets of self-sustaining, self-replicating chemical reactions. The first elements of life although would have looked nothing like we understand it today, of course. And you would’ve probably had a huge length of time before these reactions were contained in the most primitive cell membrane. And although this environment would have been very hostile for us, some of the most primitive life, like cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, would have been – would have preferred the fact that there was no oxygen, actually, because oxygen was a poison for these tiny little organisms.

But, yeah, and in fact these blue-green algae would have produced oxygen as a waste product and as they spread across the globe, the levels of oxygen began to rise and a point was reached again where quantity was transformed into quality. There was a crisis, a mass poisoning, and the world’s first mass extinction. But it was out of this mass extinction, which threw life backwards, that space was created and the necessity was created for the evolution of more complex life forms which were actually able to use oxygen. Our own ancestors. So life has gone through many of these revolutions, but it’s not a straight line. Evolution has always been punctuated by tremendous setbacks. Through crises, you’ve had advances in the complexity of life. And out of these more complex single cellular life forms, eventually, 550 million years ago, a new tipping point was reached and you had the explosion of multicellular animal life. And among these first multicellular animals was a little creature which wouldn’t have looked like much. It looked something between a worm and a fish. This was the class of creatures called the Chordata and these creatures, although unassuming, they had a body plan unlike other multicellular life forms, in that their whole body was organized around the central nervous system, with a – what would become the primitive spinal cord at its centre and a head – a primitive head and brain at one end. And, yeah, here, nerves would have ceased to simply transmit information from the sense organs to the primitive reflexes. Rather, they would’ve started to make connections with themselves.

These creatures eventually begin reflecting upon the world around them and that obviously came with certain evolutionary advantages. And over time, the brain became larger and larger, finding its highest expression amongst the mammals and, of course, our ancestors, the great apes which at some point, five million years ago, we would have begun the process of descending from the great apes. And finally, yeah, as I say, in east Africa, somewhere five million years ago, a small band of these apes would have descended from their forest environment and tried to make their life out on the grasslands. And living in the grasslands, they had to adopt an upright posture, which of course freed up their hands for other uses. And through transforming the world, through primitive labour, our earliest ancestors evolved more and more nimble hands capable of more and more precise operations and evolving alongside that, they developed the need for communication and abstract thought in order to communicate their ideas, to develop, to change the world in their minds before they then change it in nature. And this was actually a fact that was a hypothesis that Engels himself independently developed in a fantastic little article, which is part of the Dialectics of Nature, called ‘On the Part Played by Labour in the Transition From Ape to Man’.

But despite Engels’ brilliant hypothesis, the archaeological community essentially continued to labour under the false idea that the decisive step in the direction of the evolution of humankind was actually not the upright stance but the evolution of the brain. That that came first. It was only decades after Engels’ death that this correctness of his position was recognized, something which Stephen Jay Gould himself recognized as a brilliant hypothesis. I think this is a small example of how an incorrect philosophy can actually waylay the path of science in a certain direction. And as Engels explains with the evolution of humankind, we enter the realm of history proper. The growing complexity of human society, the bringing under control of one natural force after another, and the transmission of that knowledge via human culture has, to a certain extent, supplanted genetic evolution, something that of course the genetic reductionist that I mentioned previously failed to understand.

And yet, to what extent have we really succeeded in raising ourselves above the natural world as a species? Under capitalism, we are emitting carbon dioxide with the same apparent lack of control that blue-green algae were emitting oxygen two and a half billion years ago into the atmosphere and if we’re not lucky, with potentially the same results as well. And despite the fact that we’re able to send a man into space, we’re able to analyse and decode our own genome, our entire civilization has been brought to its knees by the most primitive of organisms, the virus. I mean, of course, we, through the discoveries of natural science, know how to stop both of these catastrophes in their tracks, from a natural point of view, from a scientific point of view. The only – I mean, we have the material means to do so. The only barrier is our social organization, the domination of the market, which appears to rule over us like an unstoppable force of nature.

But Marxist theory has precisely revealed the dialectic of human development in the same way that Darwin revealed the dialectic of organic life. And in its revolutionary method, Marxism, of course, equips us with the tools to solve the problem, too. So I’ll just finally end with a little quote from Engels himself on his 200th birthday, nearly. So he says:

“Only conscious organization of social production, in which production and distribution are carried out in a planned way, can lift mankind above the rest of the animal world as regards the social aspect in the same way that production in general has done this for mankind in a specific biological aspect. Historical evolution makes such an organization daily more indispensable but also with every day more possible. From it will date a new epoch of history in which mankind itself, and with mankind, all branches of its activity, and particularly natural science, will experience an advance that will put everything preceding it in the deepest shade.”

Thank you very much.

Interventions

Alex: Thanks, everybody. It’s amazing that some people think that dialectics applies to society, but not nature, or the other way around when there are numerous examples of this in science and history. And there’s one fantastic example of the dialectical law of negation of negation and that is the new science of epigenetics, which is – in some ways is a bringing back of Lamarckism. Now, Lamarck is traditionally taught in high schools as a wrong idea. Lamarck taught the inheritance of acquired characteristics, and this was the dominant idea in the 19th century. But this idea was negated in the 20th century with the development of genetics, which put in place the central dogma that said you go from DNA to RNA to protein and you can’t go from protein to DNA. So proteins can adapt in an organism, but they don’t affect the genetic sequence. And actually, this is a little bit unfair to poor old Lamarck because his theory was the only scientific theory in the 19th century.

Darwin was a Lamarckist. Engels was a Lamarckist. Actually, there’s some parts of Dialectics of Nature where Engels applies Lamarckism incorrectly. Actually, Engels implies it – applies it correctly, but comes to incorrect conclusions from an incorrect premise. But the new science of epigenetics has seen Lamarckism come back in. This is negation of negation. Lamarckism was negated by the central dogma and the central dogma has been negated by epigenetics. So while – what epigenetics says is while organismal adaptations do not change DNA, but organizational adaptations can change the regulation of DNA. For example, in a long, hot summer, you’re – it’s more – you can more look and take care of the heat at the end of the summer than at the beginning because you’ve adapted for your sweat glands to be more active. Similar with winter – winter feels colder in December than it does in March. And an organism that is always in a cold environment will have its cold adaptation genes turned on and its hot adaptation genes turned off. And that gene regulation can get into the egg so the offspring has a similar regulation to the parent. So I think it’s a pretty good – a cool example of negation of negation and that the genuine scientific method isn’t any dogma.

And this brings us to the scientific method of Marxism. Ben mentioned Richard Dawkins. He can be quite an entertaining guy, but he has this sort of a central methodological failure and that is reductionism and formalism. For example, that example of selective racism – all that Dawkins did was postulate it might be true by ignoring society, history, or any data. And this brings us down to the method of Marxism. The US comrades produced a fantastic book on dialectics, collective writings of great works. Alan Woods wrote a new introduction to that book, which really goes into the question of the Marxist method, which is different from the formalist method that is dominant in academia. You have the method of hypothesis and then test. This isn’t a terrible method, but the question is, who picks the hypothesis? Who funds the hypothesis? Is it oil corporations? Or tobacco companies? These things inherently influence the selection and testing of hypotheses. And a genuine scientist should – hypotheses should arise from reality.

And Alan Woods talks about the dialectical relationship between induction and deduction. Induction being the creation of generalizations from accumulated data and deduction is the interpreting of data on the basis of general theory. And academia strongly emphasizes the deductive method, a formalist deductive method, without understanding the societal bias, the capitalist bias, in what they are testing. But a much more powerful method is to start from induction. When you are looking at a new phenomenon, then you have to start from the data at hand. This is what Marx did for capital. This is what Lenin did for imperialism and the state. This is what Trotsky did for fascism and Stalinism. So what do I know about the thing I am looking at? Where did it come from? Where is it? Where is it going? The accumulation of enough historical and material data allows you to come to general conclusions and then you take those general conclusions and re-analyse the facts on the ground. From induction to deduction and back to the data. From reality to theory to interpret reality. And if there’s a contradiction between your theory and reality, you have to throw away the theory. This is a method that can help us in politics and it can help the scientists come to better hypotheses. Thank you.

Joe: Thank you, comrades. So as Ben explained in his leadoff, modern science and technology represent a phenomenal victory of humanity over nature. They’ve freed millions, tens of millions, from misery, suffering, and early death. But capitalism is taking us backwards and as Ben explained, the COVID-19 pandemic has made this very clear. We are actually living through a record occurrence of global pandemics. And scientists have been warning about this for years. The causes are all rooted in modern capitalist production – factory farming, mass transport, environmental destruction, etc., which would all be regulated, rationalized, or even abolished altogether under a planned economy. This latest coronavirus pandemic was predicted in 2009 by scientists researching the SARS outbreak at the time. But even though modern science saw this disaster coming, the influence of the capitalist system means it seemed to catch humanity by surprise and now 13 million people have been infected and 300 thousand have died, at least according to official figures.

This did not have to happen. The system is to blame. Far from promoting innovation, as its defenders claim, the so-called “free market” actually cripples pharmaceutical production and R&D. In 2017, the fifty biggest pharmaceutical laboratories earned 1.2 trillion dollars between them. But despite the profits, research on vaccines has been stagnant since the 1960s. The two biggest fetters on human civilization, the nation-state and private property, are also the biggest impediments to the development of medical science. The majority of research on new medicines is paid for by the state but private companies sweep in to buy up the patents and gobble up the profits on these medicines. Companies like Pfizer and Novartis also have a stranglehold on the means of production, on raw materials and manufacturing processes, which means they can dictate the prices of essential medicines. In other words, they privatize the profits and socialize the risks. And from a capitalist perspective, developing new medicines is high risk compared to pumping out derivatives on old drugs. And developing drugs for academics is even riskier because when an outbreak stops, the market dries up. In 2009, the US government cut funding on research for a SARS 1 vaccine that might, with small tweaks, have been effective against the new coronavirus.

Today, dozens of companies are racing to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, again basing themselves mostly on state-funded research. The US biotech firm Moderna is promising a working product by the end of this year. This is an unprecedented deadline with implicit risks. Moderna is already getting fast-tracked approval from the FDA and it described monitoring trail participants’ oxygen levels as a hassle that could slow down development. Well, that may be, but it’s also an indicator of dangerous side effects. Market-driven medicine production also creates a huge amount of waste. For instance, the British government secured a deal for 90 million doses of two different candidate vaccines. This was by BioNTech and Pfizer. And it already has 100 million doses secured of another vaccine being researched by Oxford University. In effect, it’s hedging its bets on several different drugs at different stages of testing at great expense to the public purse. This is totally irrational and inefficient while thousands are dying and millions are getting infected. And of course, all the imperialist countries, led by the USA, are scrambling to secure a patent on a working vaccine so they can benefit at the expense of their competitors and as a result, they’re jealously guarding their research.

But as Alan Woods explained yesterday, the virus knows no borders and the lack of an international coordinated response hampers our ability to deal with the pandemic and develop a working cure. Recently, the Tory government in Britain accused Russia of stealing data about the Oxford vaccine. But surely all research on a vaccine should be public domain and shared by scientists all over the world. But capitalism doesn’t care about public health. It cares about protecting its patents, profits, and political interests and this is clearest in the poorest parts of the world. Many essential drugs are the intellectual property of private companies. Their prices are too high for poorer markets and they resist attempts to produce cheaper derivatives. Millions have died and will die needlessly as a result. The only value that the private farmer capitalists see in poorer countries is as a testing lab to outsource its clinical trials. In the 1990s, Pfizer tested an anti-meningitis drug called Trovan on hundreds of Nigerian children without written consent and all of these children got terrible side effects and some of them died. This is only one example.

I can’t think of a better argument for expropriating these parasites and placing their resources under democratic workers’ control. The state of medical science under capitalism and its state of senile decay is barbarism. Science provides the means to avert millions of deaths, but the capitalists’ need to produce profit makes this impossible. Under a planned economy, all the resources and ingenuity of humanity could be marshalled to contain and to cure disease. The epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, which is his real name, said – this was the scientist who led the fight against smallpox – said that outbreaks are inevitable, but pandemics are optional. He was right. Once we free science and technology from this rotten system, the outbreaks of disease that come, and they will come, can be dealt with via a united front of humanity’s best scientists and best minds and we will be able to elevate humanity to new heights. Thank you.

Maral: Many scientists today have a contempt for philosophy. They believe philosophy is unnecessary in the sciences, or even harmful. That we should not make any assumptions about the world that have not been proven through experiments and observation. We should not combine theory and observation to understand the world. We should only limit ourselves to observation. Unfortunately, for these scientists, this contempt for philosophy is itself a philosophy – the philosophy of empiricism. On the surface, the philosophy of empiricism seems to be the most consistently materialist worldview. Human thought is imperfect, so we should keep it out of science and just let the facts speak for themselves.

We should keep a totally open mind. There’s nothing wrong with keeping an open mind. Marxists are some of the most open-minded people. But as Carl Sagan said, “If you keep your mind too open, your brain just might fall out.” And unfortunately, this was the fate of many great scientists who ascribed to empiricism. Engels provides a few examples of this in his book Dialectics of Nature, the most notable being Alfred Wallace. For those who don’t know, Wallace put forward the theory of natural selection at the same time as Darwin and independently of him. He’s one of the most important biologists of the last two hundred years. But Wallace, this great scientist, became a firm believer in mystical ideas, including phrenology and spirit conjuring. He would attend séances where you go to a house – yeah, you go to a house, you pay a lady, and she makes a ghost appear after you’ve paid her. Wallace fell for the worst forms of mysticism, and he was not the only important scientist to do so. This was a bit of a trend among natural scientists in Britain and America, where empiricism was dominant. Purely empirical reasoning cannot disprove mysticism because it demands we take experiences at their face value. So even if 99% of those who claim that can talk to spirits are exposed as charlatans, a true empiricist cannot just assume that the other 1% are also frauds without doing their own investigation first. Every display of spirit conjuring, magic, signs from God, must be taken at their face value until every single one is disproven, for the empiricist. And they will never all be disproven.

Today, empiricism continues to be one of the important trends in science and when you read about new scientific discoveries, you can tell when the article is written by an empiricist. They’re very careful to not make any assumptions that have not been proven by direct observation. Now, as dialectical materialists, we emphasize the importance of experiment and observation, as Alex explained, but we also make a few not insignificant assumptions about material reality. This is the role of theory. We assume that the universe is infinitely big and infinitely old. That time has always existed and existence has always existed everywhere. We assume that the particles that makeup existence are infinitely small and go on forever. That every time we discover a new set of tiny particles, they are made of even tinier particles, going on infinitely. Will the human race ever gain the ability to observe infinite time and space? Probably not. On this point, Engels once said, “The infinite is just as much knowable as unknowable.” And that is all we need. If we never observe infinity, then the empirical method has no room for it. From the empiricist perspective, we should assume that the smallest set of particles we can observe today are the smallest units of matter that exist. That the farthest our telescopes can see today are the outer limits of the universe itself. Earlier today, I Googled “How big is the universe?” out of curiosity, and the top result is a BBC article from 2016 that’s called “It took centuries, but now, we know the size of the universe”. This is the sort of statement that only a vulgar empiricist could make and there are many like it today.

Empiricism is supposed to remove human subjectivity from science, but by limiting all that is possible to the limits of human experience, this perspective mistakes the limitations of human knowledge to be the limitations of existence itself. And this narrow view of the world continues to create room for mysticism to this day because where the natural world ends, the supernatural world can begin. If the universe is not limitless in space, there is room for heaven and hell and if the universe had a beginning, it must have had a creator because after all, something cannot come out of nothing. The empiricist cannot address these criticisms.

Now, Marxists do not pretend that dialectical materialism as a philosophy can summarize all truths. Our philosophy does not give the last word on human knowledge, by any means, but it allows us to see much farther than any other philosophy available to us today. It is this method that Engels used 100 years ago to predict the transition – or sorry, it’s this method that Engels used to predict the transition from ape to man 100 years before most biologists. This is the method Engels used to outline the process of life that Ben explained – the process of life coming about. And that ____ developed later and popularized. They were also dialecticians. And it is with dialectical materialism as our guide that we will end capitalism.

Sum up

Ben: Well thank you, everyone. I thought it was a good discussion. It’s a shame that we can’t get in more contributions but I enjoyed all of the contributions. And yeah, I think a couple of – well, Maral and Alex’s contributions both focused on this importance of having a philosophy in regard to the sciences. And in Dialectics of Nature, there’s some very funny parts by Engels where he talks about Wallace and these other scientists who believe in ghosts and believe in – I think it was called mesmerism. Basically, you could hypnotize someone to do whatever you want and this proved God, basically. All sorts of mysticism. I remember yeah, there was one where Engels recounts that this hypnotist even claims that they found by touching someone at any point on the head, they could relate it to phrenology. They could make someone do anything they wanted in this hypnotic state. And they found one point on the head where this hypnotized woman would get down on her knees and begin praying and therefore, they proved the existence of God and I mean, how can you argue with that? Empirically, it’s there. It’s happening. There’s someone getting down on their knees and praying to God. It works. And Engels had a great deal of interest in the natural sciences, so he took an interest in hypnosis and he managed to reproduce the same thing, except I think it was someone’s little finger he managed to make the holy point in their body and he managed to get them to do many more ridiculous things than simply praying and so – that’s the – empiricism is not mutually exclusive with a mystical idealist outlook. And of course, empiricism bases itself on the idea of the facts. It’s all about the, you know, the facts. The surface-level appearance of things, basically. If the facts tell you something is true, it’s true.

But of course, we can never know all of the facts. That’s the problem. I mean, the famous example is the statement “all swans are white”. I mean, we could never in our whole life see all swans, can we? And eventually, it came to be known by Europeans that in fact there are black swans. And all knowledge, I think, is based upon this dialectical contradiction between the finite nature of our knowledge and the infinity of the universe. And to acquire any knowledge, we have to bring thought, theory to basically the question of science.

Everyone has a theory and everyone has a philosophy. And in fact, all knowledge, as Engels explains in Dialectics of Nature, is the recognition of the infinite in the finite. You have the universal expressing itself through the particular. And this is the nature of knowledge. It involves contradiction and it involves a process of development from the less to the more true perception of nature through a process of development. Knowledge itself is a process of development. And yeah, I think, yeah, comrades have mentioned a number of other points. I think that the example was given by Alex, of this idea of the negation of the negation expressing itself very, very beautifully through this modern idea of epigenetics. The Lamarckian idea was displaced quite a long time ago by the, yeah, this idea of inheritance, of genetics. But more modern discoveries have actually shown that there was a kernel of truth, what was perhaps a relative kernel of truth in the idea of Lamarckism if you like.

Of course, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the uncovering of the human genome in the Human Genome Project. And before the genome was decoded, the human genome, it was believed that we would find hundreds of thousands of genes. It was thought that the human genome would be a huge genome. This mind-set, this idea, that because we are extremely complex, therefore what makes us up must be extremely complex, was completely shattered by the discovery that there are only 25 thousand or so genes in the human genome. And I think in this idea of The Selfish Gene and the ideas which dominated I think a long time before the Human Genome Project was complete, there was this idea, as Alex expressed, of a very simple process of cause and effect. One DNA strand, one RNA strand, one protein. There were these pathways. They were very simple. This was how the human organism was thought to work.

But the latest discoveries of science and genetics I think have completely confirmed the dialectical view and the boundary between cause and effect has been completely disintegrated. One passes into the other and not these antagonistic opposites that completely exclude each other. Huge portions of our genetic code, our DNA, do nothing whatsoever. They were referred to as junk DNA. Or it was thought they did nothing whatsoever. Some of these sections of junk DNA, however, play a very important role in actually catalysing the creation of certain proteins and they create the chemical environment for the creation of the activity of our genes. Some RNA strands are not responsible for creating any proteins. They’re involved in catalysing, however, other reactions. And so you have this complex web of relationships where every part interacts with every other part rather than simple reductionist lines of cause and effect.

All of that has been blown open by the discoveries of the Human Genome Project. And what this great discovery of – this great achievement of human ingenuity revealed is that the difference genetically between ourselves and our nearest ancestors – our nearest cousins, sorry – the bonobo apes, is as little as 1.2%. That’s the genetic difference between us and apes. And by comparison, the genetic difference between myself and anyone in this room or any of the comrades watching from home can be as great as 0.1%, so almost a tenth of the size of the leap between myself and an ape, which I think is quite big. And furthermore, this is – this discovery has revealed that the genetic differences between any two individuals is far greater, actually, than the genetic differences between the so-called “races”.

And of course, for us, dialectics is precisely about looking beyond the surface appearance of things. That race is a socially and historically evolved idea. It is not something that is built into our genetics. And yeah, I mean the theme of this whole school, really, is the importance of having one’s own philosophy, but to a certain extent, someone like Darwin, I can’t really blame him for holding the philosophy that he held. His philosophy was actually the philosophy of the whole period in which he lived and particularly of his class and it wasn’t simply biological evolution that was supposed to evolve in a very slow, gradualistic way. The friends and great geologist and a friend of Darwin, Charles Lyell, in fact, came up with a theory of geology very similar which was the small gradual changes in our landscape, the processes we see going on today, are responsible for the huge changes that we see in our geology of geological time. Actually, his idea, which has been referred to as uniformitarianism, for example, the idea that a river flowing very gently can carve an entire valley over millions of years, was a revolution in geology, actually, for its time. But this – his outlook was nevertheless that the Earth is only gradually – is more or less the same as it ever was, but is only gradually, gradually changing through these processes and this was an idea that Darwin took for granted. And Niles Eldredge, the evolutionary biologist who I mentioned in the talk, actually went through some of Darwin’s notebooks and there was one notebook, notebook E, where he found something quite interesting. Darwin basically put forward a theory of evolution that was very much like punctuated equilibrium, of rapid bursts of evolution.

But this – and this formed part of the basis of Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge’s theory – depended on the idea that geographical change and climactic change could separate populations within a species so they could evolve very rapidly as a small population. Because the dominant idea, at the time, was that our geography doesn’t change or only changes very slowly, therefore he dismissed this idea as possible, that you could have as a regular occurrence that populations could become separated from one another. So Darwin was a product of his time and we often say that consciousness is naturally quite conservative. People don’t adapt easily to new ideas and Darwin found that to his cost. At the time, he was persecuted obviously by the church and others rejected his ideas. And I think as Thomas Kuhn, I think it was, who said that old theories aren’t normally overcome by individuals. They normally die off with the people who hold onto those old theories. So yeah, I mean, Kuhn himself shows that the dialectic operates actually in the history of science. It’s become a bit of a – it’s become almost a cliché to talk about a paradigm shift, but it’s an idea that Kuhn coined. And according to this idea, everyone has a paradigm or a theory with which they analyse and understand the world.

As a scientist, every scientist has a paradigm. And unlike the empiricists who believe that one piece of information can falsify a theory, actually, a piece of data or a study that contradicts the theory is usually dismissed by the scientific community. And there can be a good reason for that. You don’t dispose of a very sound theory which has a broad explanatory power, such as the idea that the Earth is at the centre of the universe just because the planets don’t seem to follow the right motion, for example. It’s an accumulation of contradictions that leads to crisis within science, which led to a crisis in the pre-Copernican Earth-cantered universe went into crisis and eventually, it was overthrown by a revolution in science, the Copernican revolution. The development of science is not independent of the development of society. Crises in science is not independent of the crises in society.

And I didn’t have time to expand upon it, but a comrade brought to my attention recently a very popular theory in neuroscience. It’s referred to as integrated information theory and it is the idea that consciousness is simply the amount of information held within a system. And therefore, everything has a little bit of consciousness in it. A proton with an electron circulating around it. A stone is a little bit conscious. It’s a complete lack of theoretical thinking. A complete lack of philosophy on the part of these scientists and I think we have the right to say something about that. Of course, we have to be careful when encroaching upon the sciences. We’re not – not all of us are scientifically trained. We have to take these domains seriously and study the information seriously.

But in many of the sciences, we’re seeing the rise of these mystical ideas. In the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, you have the regression to the idea that we bring the world into existence by observing it and in the Big Bang theory, we have a new genesis story. And I think that this tendency, the International Marxist Tendency, is the only tendency which has confidence in its idea and its understanding of the philosophy and the theory that is prepared to continue the struggle that Engels started in the late 19th century, the struggle for philosophy in the sciences as well. And I think if we study these questions, if we study the philosophy, if we study the ideas and we take up this struggle, I think we’ll find a lot of sympathetic voices within the sciences. I think we’ll find many, many scientists who are open to revolutionary Marxist ideas.

So my ending – my final point is really to appeal to comrades to study the theory. Yeah. Starting with Engels’ Dialectics of Nature which I think is hard-going and some parts are outdated, but it’s very much worth study. There’s a lot of gold in there. Anti-Dühring, which I think is another great, another classic by Engels, and Reason and Revolt by Ted Grant and Alan Woods, which I think applies the same method to modern science and I think if you’ve enjoyed this discussion, continuing that by reading Reason and Revolt would be an excellent next step for comrades and you can get all of those from Wellred Books and a lot of them are also available online.