Science & Technology

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Marxists seek to understand the laws governing society so as to be able to carry out revolutionary change, in the same way that natural scientists seek to uncover the laws of nature so as best to increase our control over nature. In this sense, Marxism is a scientific endeavour. Indeed Marx and Engels referred to their outlook as “scientific socialism”.

The key to the Marxist method is the philosophy of dialectical materialism. Marx’s lifelong collaborator, Engels, described this philosophy as “the most general laws of motion of nature, society, and human thought.” At root, this philosophy is a philosophy of change, which has found itself confirmed in a hundred and one ways by the latest discoveries of modern science.

Today capitalism in decay threatens the sciences from multiple angles. Cuts in research spending and the casualisation of labour are grinding the sciences down. At the same time, the capitalist class funds all kinds of obscurantist movements. The extremes to which capitalism has extended the division of labour has also begun to threaten the sciences. A divorce exists today between theoretical and practical sciences. The result has been an increasing trend towards speculation that eschews “mere” experimentation. This has led to a revival, on the intellectual peaks of capitalist society, of mystical, idealist trends dressed up in very “scientific-sounding” phrases.

At the dawn of the capitalist epoch the sciences were a key battleground in the struggle against the rubbish of the feudal era. The same is even truer today and all revolutionaries should take an interest in these struggles.

50 years ago on 4 October 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite into space - Sputnik 1. The launch came as a complete surprise, even to the US intelligence community which was caught completely unawares. The launching of the satellite not only shocked the world, it completely changed it by ushering in a new age - the Space Age.

The way the computer industry functions today is a perfect illustration of all the faults and massive inefficiencies of capitalism, where the primary goal is not serving the interests of society. Developing, improving and distributing software takes place only where big profits can be made. This stands in sharp contrast to free software, where human knowledge and the produce of human labour is used to the advantage all of society.

In the course of human history new discoveries, particularly in the fields of science and medicine, have challenged established thought. This is now happening again with stem cell research. What could lead to curing many diseases that up to now have been fatal is coming under a barrage of criticism because of religious and reactionary prejudices.

Marx and Engels took a great interest in science, for the same dialectical processes of change that exist in society, economics and politics also exist in natural processes. Here our oil industry correspondent demonstrates how this is true even in the use of sound signals to find new oil fields. He also emphasizes how in private hands new technology does not enhance life but instead destroys it.

In 2005, we published an article on the 'Crisis in Cosmology' by Harry Nielsen, which provoked some comment from readers. In addition to the original article, we publish as appendixes a letter that defends the main theories dominant in contemporary physics. This is followed by a reply that points out that the latest observations should at least lead scientists to question the validity of the Big Bang theory, a theory that dominates the thinking of mainstream physicists in spite of the all evidence. We also publish a second letter, supportive of Nielsen, commenting on the Olbers' paradox (explained in another

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Quantum mechanics has given scientists and engineers a new and deeper understanding of physical reality. It explains the behaviour of electrons, atoms and molecules, the nature of chemical reactions, how light interacts with matter, the evolution of stars, the bio-chemistry of life and the evolution of mankind itself. Despite its successes it remains an intensely controversial theory. It suggests that very small objects such as electrons or photons behave in ways that contradict the common sense ideas. Yet many scientists to this day refuse to accept the fact that contradiction is an essential part of all matter.

Even those who accept the theory of evolution frequently draw reactionary conclusions from the evidence provided by science. In Darwin’s day, natural selection was presented as a justification of capitalism and its dog-eat-dog morality. The fact that such ideas have no basis in what he actually wrote is conveniently ignored. A recent BBC documentary attempts something similar in trying to establish that the violence of human males is genetically determined and can be proved by looking at the behaviour of chimpanzees. Alan Woods explains why this theory is flawed.

On Sunday April 27, the British Channel 4 broadcast a documentary which went into detail into "how far drug companies are prepared to go to get their drugs approved and get the prices they want". Basing itself on four different cases, the program made a very powerful case for its main conclusion: "if the Big-Pharma powers remain unchecked soon many more people will be dying for drugs."

On Monday, May 20, the famous American palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould died of cancer at his home in New York. Gould made a major contribution to development of modern science with his theories on evolution, and challenged some of the accepted views of bourgeois science.

When Reason in Revolt was published seven years ago, it was greeted with enthusiasm by many people, not just by Marxists but those who were interested in the new scientific theories of chaos and complexity. But some readers found the authors' opposition to the theory of the Big Bang hard to accept, after all it seemed that the whole scientific community accepted the theory without question. But last week Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok published a paper in Science in which they propose an alternative model to the Big Bang theory. They suggest that the universe goes through and endless cycle of big bangs, expansion and then stagnation. Their ideas are at an early stage

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Nearly 40 South African pharmaceutical companies are taking the South African government to court in order to defend their massive profits, even if this means the death of millions of people who are HIV positive. The case opened at the Pretoria High Court on March 5th. This article examines how the profit motive of the pharmaceutical multinationals prevails over the lives of millions of people.

Once every century or so great scientific breakthroughs grip the imagination of the world. With the publication of the results of the human genome project, we stand on the threshold of such a breakthrough. Science is now poised to understand the forces behind evolution, explode racial myths, change the way doctors diagnose disease, and try to help people live longer. The new approach - looking at systems of genes rather than individual genes - will transform biologists' view of the human body. Alan Woods explains how this discovery proves amongst other things that there is no scientific ground for racism or genetic determinism, and analyses the significance of this discovery from a

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On June 26 this year Clinton and Blair made a joint statement saying that the human genome had been sequenced. Rikard Erlandsson looks at the scientific implications of this development.

Science is big business, and none more so than genetics. The Human Genome Project, the deciphering of the make up of human DNA has already resulted in some startling breakthroughs. But, while our scientific understanding of life attempts to race ahead, once again we find ourselves hemmed in by the enormous waste of capitalism. In this field, as in any other, competition plus profit equals waste.