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EVOLUTION - FROM NATURE TO MECHANICS

Mach wrote a reflection on 'mechanics' which argued that the whole history of human thought could be understood as a struggle with the chaos of sensations, an attempt to order it according to human needs, that is to say, to reduce the unpredictable and irregular to the predictable and regular, hence converting nature into mechanics. Bogdanov wrote two novels - The Red Star and The Engineer Menni - which envisage life on Mars as a Utopia in which, I quote 'Peace reigns among people, it is true, but not with nature: and there can be no peace with nature. It is such an enemy that even in its defeat it is still a threat.' [2] (p.92)


[2] A. A. Bogdanov: L’Etoile Rouge, Lausanne, L’Age d’Homme, 1985, p.92. There is an English translation - The Red Star, Indiana University Press, 1984.


Empirio-Monism has not to my knowledge been published in English but in his later book, The Philosophy of Living Experience [3], he defines 'matter' as 'resistance to effort' (p.45):

'If we found ourselves in a world where everything was arranged according to our wishes, without requiring any effort on our part, then we would perceive that world as immaterial.' (p.43) But 'all resistance presupposes something that experiences its resistance and a world in which there is nothing but matter would be no better than a walking stick with only one end.' (p.46)


[3] Alexander Bogdanov: The Philosophy of Living Experience, translated, edited and introduced by David Rowley, Leiden, Boston (Brill), 2016. Available on the internet at https://monoskop.org/Alexander_Bogdanov. The book was originally published in St Petersburg in 1913, republished in Moscow, 1920 and 1923.


With regard to the discoveries of scientific research that might seem to go beyond immediate sensory experience:

'for precise knowledge there is no need to understand that light is a wave-like movement of ether; it is sufficient to assert that certain mathematical formulas can be applied to the phenomenon of light which are consistent with formulas that could be inferred by a mechanic for the transmission of vibrations in solid, elastic bodies. This gives us a practical orientation towards light, and nothing more is needed.' (pp.140-141)

Bogdanov sees the Universe as 'an uninterrupted chain of development of forms that proceed along a path of struggle and reciprocal action from the lowest forms of organisation to the highest. Logically and in theory, this universal chain of progress would have originated in complete lack of organisation - pure chaos of the elements of the Universe. The highest level achieved up to the present is the human collective with its objective - regular organisation of experience, which it works out in its labour - world building.' (p.235)

Our direct perceptions are themselves symbols created by our sensory mechanism, but, even more obviously, our mathematical calculations, ideas of the constitution of the atom, of molecular structure etc are symbolic. Their value is that they 'work', they find practical applications, but they do not represent an absolute truth. Indeed, following the argument of both Mach and Bogdanov, far from bringing us closer to 'nature' - the world as it is independent of our perception of it - they represent a struggle with nature, an ordering, a reduction to regular repeatable formulae of what is fundamentally disordered and unrepeatable (a view of 'nature' or 'matter' that in turn echoes the classical philosophical idea of matter as 'hyle' - chaos).

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