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Friday, May 12, 2017

Soviet science and feeding Britain at war

Soviet science and feeding Britain at war | Podcast | History Extra

"Marxism was the acme of 19th century scientism. The belief that the sciences would eventually all be able to join up with each other and there would be a single, coherent scientific explanation of everything. A theory of everything.

So that for example you could explain one's psychological state through one's physiology, one's physiology according to the anatomy and histology of the brain. From there to the chemistry, from there to the physics and everything would join up seemlessly and Marxism was to be the earth science. The pinnacle of those different disciplines which had been split up essentially by capitalism and under socialism these sciences would cohere under the Marxist system, the system of dialectical materialism.

And so it was a state founded on the idea of scientific rationality and of course the tragedy of that is that it's founded as a rational scientific state at the very point at which scientists in a number of unrelated disciplines are turning around and saying the world isn't rational.

We thought it was rational because rationality has proved such a wonderful tool for unpicking so much of it, but we've actually hit a hard barrier here and it turns out that even though we can use the tools of mathematics and rationality, reason, to unpick a lot of the world, we've actually realised that the world is far wilder than that and there is a limit to what we can understand...

Einstein's theories of relativity and the quantum revolution... the more day to day problem of course is the one of psychology which is never successful, even to this day, ever successfully been able to explain itself in simpler terms, the terms of physiology or histology...

Joseph Stalin himself considered himself the last of the Great Philosopher Kings. He is the leader of a state that believes in science and believes it can be scientific. His scientific views are incredibly influential...

Someone's love of lemon trees and his belief that you can grow lemon trees in Siberia as Joseph Stalin did lead to the death of millions...

[During World War II] Stalin was involving himself day to day in the editing of speeches by certain scientific figures, not just correcting their political mistakes but correcting their scientific mistakes. And you know, now and again being absolutely right...

Ironically the one area that perhaps benefited most from the Soviet experiment was psychology. It had an incredible uphill struggle to explain itself... this is the point at which... not that long after William James famously decides there is no such thing as psychology. There're lots of little psychologies running around trying to put the evidence together and come up with a coherent picture, but it's nowhere near a science yet...

Marxist psychology was a remarkably broad church that produced a tremendous amount of interesting data. It was far and away the most interesting centre for developmental psychology...

These days we think of the Soviet system, we think of a country that had almost no grasp of mind, that throws political dissidence into the mental hospitals and one of the chief reasons why this happened was actually not ideological - it was to do with the way organizations worked under Stalin and under the Soviet system and that there was this increasing centralization bit by bit by bit so that different disciplines within psychology and within medicine would be stabbing each other in the back in order to get the paycheck in order to get the place to work in, in order to get the lab time"
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