Engels and Complexity II

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tradiherethe scientistístay and philosólies in the work of Friedrich Engels

Complexity sciences present some recurrent themes: the emergence of qualitatively new behaviors in dissipative systems out of equilibrium, the apparent tendency of complex systems to be located on the edge of phase transitions and bifurcation points, historical dynamics that present punctuated equilibrium, an attempt to complement ideas of Darwinian evolution with certain ideas of progress (increased computational capacity) etc. Such themes, in fact, belong to a long scientific and philosophical tradition and, curiously, already appear in the work of Friedrich Engels in the 70s.

The dialogue between Norman Yoffee and Chris Langton

An anthropologist at the University of Arizona and an expert on the dynamics of state formation, Norman Yoffee described the history of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, modern Iraq. “State formation always happens quickly. States are presumptive and predictable. Chris Langton immediately reiterated what he had said about phase transitions in physics and their analogy to other systems, including changes between different levels of social complexity. "I see everything through the lens of phase transitions," he admitted. (…) But Chris had in mind something more than simple analogy, something more than mere pattern coincidence. – Perhaps there is something basically the same in the two systems, so that the patterns are the same no matter what the details of the system [Lewin, 1994].

At low levels of technological development, we can think of the economy as being in a steady state corresponding to the steady state of a layer of fluid subjected to weak heating. (...) At higher levels of technological development, or warming, we can expect periodic oscillations. In fact, approximately periodic business cycles have been observed. At even higher levels of technological development, we could have a superposition of two or three different periodicities, and economic analysts have seen such things.

Finally, at sufficiently high levels of development, there should be a turbulent economy, with irregular variations and a sensitive dependence on initial conditions. It is still reasonable to say that we currently live in such an economy. (…) But if we try to make a more quantitative analysis, we immediately come across the fact that cycles and other fluctuations in the economy occur against a general background of growth. There is a one-way historical evolution that we cannot forget. Moreover, economic cycles have their own historical character: each one is different, we are not simply witnessing the monotonous repetition of the same dynamic phenomenon. (…) I think, however, that our script is not entirely false and that its value is not merely metaphorical. Why? Because we do not use certain very subtle properties of dynamical systems, but, on the contrary, robust basic facts. (…) Our script, even if it has little quantitative value, can therefore be qualitatively reasonable [Ruelle, 1993].

This is what Engels says in the book The dialectic of nature:

"In Nature, in a manner fixed exactly for each individual case, qualitative changes can only take place by the quantitative addition or quantitative subtraction of matter or motion (the so-called energy). If we imagine any non-living material being cut into smaller and smaller pieces, at first no qualitative change takes place. But this has a limit: if we manage, for example by evaporation, to get the separated molecules in a free state, then it is true that we can usually divide them further, but only with a complete change of quality. The molecule is broken down into its individual atoms, which have properties very different from those of the molecule. (…) the free oxygen atoms are easily able to accomplish what atmospheric oxygen atoms, bound together in the molecule, can never achieve.".

"But the molecule is also qualitatively different from the mass of the body to which it belongs. It can develop movements independent of this mass while the latter remains apparently at rest, that is, [presents] thermal vibrations; and through changes in position and connection with neighboring molecules it is possible to change the body into an allotrope or a different state of aggregation. Thus we see that the purely quantitative operation of division has a limit at which it turns into a qualitative difference: the body consists only of molecules, but it is something essentially different from the molecule, just as the latter is different from the atom.".

"A minimum current intensity is required to make the platinum wire of an electric incandescent lamp glow; and each metal has its glowing and melting temperature, each liquid its definite freezing and boiling points at a given pressure (…); finally, every gas also has its critical point at which it can be liquefied by pressure and cooling. In short, the so-called physical constants are for the most part nothing more than designations of the nodal points at which quantitative addition or subtraction of motion produces a qualitative change in the state of the body under consideration, at which, therefore, quantity is transformed into quality.".

"In biology, as in the history of human society, the same law holds at every step, but we prefer to base ourselves here on examples taken from the exact sciences, since here the quantities are accurately measurable and can be followed. Probably the same gentlemen who have hitherto described the transformation of quantity into quality as mysticism and incomprehensible transcendentalism will now declare that it is actually something quite self-evident, trivial and commonplace, which they have employed for a long time, so that nothing new was put in them. But having formulated for the first time in its universally valid form a general law of the development of nature, society and thought, will always remain an act of historical importance.".

transitiontionit's phase and fenôless emerging social.

Simulation is a way of doing thought experiments. While the assumptions may be simple, the consequences may not be obvious. The large-scale effects of agents interacting locally are called the 'emergent properties' of the system. Emergent properties are often surprising because it can be difficult to anticipate all the consequences of even simple forms of interaction [Axelrod, 1997].

The study of social dilemmas provides insight into a central question of behavior: how global cooperation between individuals faced with conflicting choices can be secured. These recent advances show that cooperative behavior can indeed emerge spontaneously in social situations, provided that groups are small and diverse in composition and that their constituents have long-term [interaction] perspectives. Even more important, when cooperation appears, it happens suddenly and unpredictably, after a long period of stasis [Glance & Huberman, 1994].

From the interaction of the components down here comes a kind of global property up here, something that couldn't have been predicted from what is known about the component parts,” continued Chris Langton. “And the global property, this behavior that comes up, feeds back, influencing the behavior of the individuals down here who produced it. The resulting order of a complex dynamical system was as Chris described it: global properties arising from the gregarious behavior of individuals [Lewin, 1994].

Below are excerpts from Engels on this point:

“History makes itself in such a way that the end result always comes from conflicts between many individual wills, each of which, in turn, is shaped by a set of particular conditions of existence. There are innumerable forces that intersect, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces that give rise to a resultant: the historical fact. This, in turn, can be considered as the product of a force that, taken as a whole, works unconsciously and involuntarily. For each individual's desire is thwarted by another's, and what results is something no one wanted. This is how history takes place as if it were a natural process and is subject, too, to essentially the same laws of motion”.

“But the fact that the diverse individual wills — each of which desires what the physical constitution of individuals and external circumstances impel it to do (whether personal or of society in general, which are ultimately economic) — do not achieve what they want, but are based on a collective average, on a common resultant, one should not conclude that their value is equal to zero. On the contrary, each of these individual wills contributes to the resultant and, to that extent, is included in it. I would ask you to study this theory further in its original sources and not in second-hand sources. Marx rarely wrote any work in which she did not play a role, but especially The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte is an excellent example of its application” (letter from Engels to Konrad Schmidt, 18/5/8).

“Thus, for example, in Marx's Capital, the entire section 4a, dedicated to the study of the production of surplus value relative to the scope of the corporation, the division of labor, and the manufacture of machinery and large industry, contains numerous cases of simple quantitative changes that transform the quality of things.( …) We have, for example, the fact that the collaboration of many people, the fusion of many forces into a single total force, creates, as Marx says, a new power of forces that differs, in an essential way, from the sum of forces associated individuals” (Anti-Dühring, Chap. XII).

“Only after (...) substantiating the fact that any small sum of value is not enough to convert it into capital, but that, for that, a whole period of evolution and a whole branch of production must exceed a certain limit At the very least, only after all this and in relation to these facts does Marx advance: 'Here, as in the natural sciences, the truth of the law discovered by Hegel in his Logic is proved, according to which, when reaching a certain point , merely quantitative changes become qualitative variations” (Anti-Dühring, Ch. XII).

The interpenetration of opposites: Order versus disorder, stability versus instability and the crest statesíticos.

1 – Langton—The old view of the world of nature was that it hovered around simple equilibria. Complexity science says this is not true. Biological systems are dynamic, not easily predictable, and are creative in many ways. (...) In the old balance view of the world, ideas about change were dominated by the action and reaction form. It was a mechanical world, boringly predictable to the max. In that kind of world, you couldn't have avalanches of extinctions and speciations of all magnitudes caused by the same magnitude of environmental change, for example, as we see in complex dynamical models [Lewin, 1994].

You see phase transitions all the time in the physical world,” said Chris Langton. Did you know that cell membranes are just balanced between liquid and solid state? Give it just a slight tug, (…) let a single protein molecule bind to a receptor on the membrane, and you can produce big changes, biologically useful changes. I asked if he was saying that biological membranes are on the verge of chaos, and not by accident. - I am. I'm saying the edge of chaos is where information gets its foot in the door of the physical world, where it exerts control over energy. Being at the transition point between order and chaos not only gives you fine control—small stimulus/big change—but it also allows information processing to become an important part of the system's dynamics [Lewin, 1994].

Engels' position on this topic:

“In the living organism, we witness an incessant movement of all its smallest particles, as well as of its main organs, which results in a continued balance of the organism as a whole during the normal period of life and which, however, always remains in balance. movement, the living unity of movement and balance” (Dialectics of Nature, Notes).

“Balance is inseparable from movement (…). The possibility of a body remaining in relative equilibrium, the possibility of temporary states of equilibrium, is the essential condition for the differentiation of matter, and therefore, of life. (...) On the surface of the Sun there is an eternal movement and restlessness, dissociation. On the Moon, balance seems to prevail exclusively, without any relative movement. On Earth, movement has differentiated, and the interchange between movement and balance has been established: individual movement tends towards balance and movement, as a whole, destroys individual balance once again. (…) All equilibrium is only temporary and relative”. (Dialectic of Nature, Grades).

The interpenetration of opposites: Memólaugh versus mutationthe, traditionaltion versus innovation and evolution to the edge of chaos.

[In my ecological computational model] if I increase the mutation rate, the system should become chaotic and die out. At a lower rate, possibly nothing interesting will happen. Between these two speeds, a rich ecology should be produced – Tom Ray told me of his Tierra system [Lewin, 1994].

[In the quasi-species model of molecular evolution] the Darwinian process of out-of-equilibrium organization presents a clear parallel with order/disorder phase transitions. In our case, a value of q tiny [q 0, high-fidelity gene copying] leads to a single type of molecule (a uniform viral population), whereas high error rates (q → 1) leads to a set of totally random molecules without any biological identity. (…) An abrupt transition is observed for a certain value of q, known as an error catastrophe. (…) Experimental evidence clearly shows that retroviruses are typically self-organizing very close to error catastrophe. In this sense, the wide spectrum of mutants makes evolutionary optimization faster [Solé et al., 1996].

A passage where Engels addresses this question:

“The theory of evolution demonstrates, starting from the simple cell, how each progress towards a more complex plant, on the one hand, and towards man, on the other, obeys a continuous conflict between inheritance and adaptation. On the face of it, it is evident how little applicable to such forms of evolution are categories such as positive and negative. Inheritance can be conceived as something positive, conservative; and adaptation as the negative side, which continually destroys inherited qualities; but adaptation can also be considered as a creative, positive activity, and inheritance as a resistant, passive, negative activity. (...) The Darwinian theory is the practical proof of the intimate connection between chance and necessity as defended by Hegel” (Dialectic of Nature, Grades).

The interpenetration of opposites: Competitionthe versus cooperatestion and cooperationthe competitive.

The notion of using ecosystems as a metaphor for economic systems may seem bizarre. After all, the ideal company has long been thought of as a smoothly running machine being driven towards specific goals under the direction of an omniscient, omnipotent chief executive officer (CEO). The metaphor of companies as species — feeding on consumers' money and interacting as an ecosystem — brings some important changes. First, CEOs will have to get used to thinking of their companies not as machines but more as organisms living in communities, which changes the nature of their economic views.

Second, CEOs will have to realize that they have far less control over the fate of their companies than they would like to believe. This shift in the way business leaders view their world parallels strikingly recent shifts in thinking among ecologists. Basically, it's a departure from the view that sees the world as simple, predictable and moving towards balance; it is a recognition that the world is complex, unpredictable and far from equilibrium. It is also an overcoming of the view that head-to-head competition is the fundamental force that shapes ecological and business communities. Most businesses are successful if others are successful. Competition is part of the picture, of course, but far from the only part. Cooperation and building mutually beneficial networks are important as well. Brandenburger and Nalebuff describe this joint strategy with the term co-opetition, which is also the title of their book [Lewin, 1997].

An excerpt from Engels' work:

“Before Darwin, what was emphasized by his followers today was precisely the harmonious cooperative workings of organic nature, as the plant kingdom supplies animals with food and oxygen, and animals supply plants with manure, ammonia, and carbonic acid. But soon after Darwin's theories were generally accepted, these same people changed course and began to see everywhere as nothing more than competition. Both views are justified within certain limits, but both are equally one-sided and narrow. The interaction of bodies in non-living nature includes both harmony and clashes; in living beings, both conscious and unconscious cooperation and conscious and unconscious competition. Therefore, as far as Nature is concerned, it is not acceptable to fly only the unilateral flag of struggle. It is also entirely puerile to pretend to summarize all the manifold richness of historical evolution and complexity in the meager and one-sided phrase 'struggle for existence'”' (Dialectic of Nature, Grades).

The interpenetration of opposites: chance versus necessity and deterministic chaos.

At first glance, Laplacian determinism leaves no room for chance: if I toss a coin, the laws of Classical Mechanics determine, in principle, with certainty, whether it will land heads or tails. As chance and probabilities, in practice, play an important role in our understanding of Nature, we might be tempted to reject determinism. Indeed, as we shall see, the chance/determinism dilemma is largely a false problem.

First, there is no logical incompatibility between chance and determinism, since the state of a system at the initial instant, instead of being precisely fixed, can be arranged according to a certain law of chance. If so, at any other instant, the system will also have a random distribution, and this distribution can be deduced from the distribution of the initial moment, thanks to the laws of mechanics. In practice, the state of a system at the initial instant is never known with perfect precision, that is, a bit of chance is always assumed in the initial state of the system. We will see that this little bit of chance in the initial moment can provide a lot of chance (or a lot of indeterminacy) at a later moment. We thus note that, in practice, determinism does not exclude chance. At most it can be said that — if you want to — there is a way to present Classical Mechanics without ever talking about chance. We will see later that this is no longer true for Quantum Mechanics. Thus, two different idealizations of reality can differ greatly from a conceptual point of view, even if their predictions are practically identical for a wide class of phenomena [Ruelle, 1993].

A selected excerpt from the book Dialectics of Nature:

“Another opposition that is entangled with metaphysics is that of chance and necessity.(…) Common sense and, with it, the majority of men of science, treat necessity and chance as determinations that mutually exclude each other and forever. A thing, a relationship, a process, is either accidental or necessary; but not both things simultaneously. In view of this, both exist side by side in Nature; it contains all kinds of objects and processes, among which some are accidental and others necessary. What matters, therefore, is not to confuse both classes. In a position contrary to this opinion, there is determinism, which was transferred from French materialism to science and which seeks to liquidate chance, ignoring it. (...) The fact that, tonight, at four in the morning, a flea bit me, and not at three or five, and precisely on the right side of the shoulder and not on the calf of the left leg: all these facts are produced by an irrevocable concatenation of cause and effect, by an irremovable necessity, and certainly in such a way that the gaseous sphere from which the solar system originated was already constituted in such a way that these facts would have to be verified in this way and not in any other way. mode. Contradicting both conceptions, Hegel appeared with propositions, hitherto unheard of, according to which (...) chance is necessary, that necessity determines itself as chance and that, on the other hand, chance is, perhaps, a absolute necessity. Science simply continued to ignore these propositions (…) and theoretically persisted, on the one hand, in the mental vacuities of Wolff's metaphysics according to which a thing is either accidental or necessary, but not both at the same time; or else, in that slightly less empty mechanical determinism: that which denies chance, generally by means of words, to end up recognizing it in practice, in each particular case” (ENGELS, Friedrich. Dialectic of Nature, Grades).

*Osame Kinouchi is a professor at the Department of Physics at FFCLRP-USP.

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