Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Gospel According To...

In Poul Anderson's Perish By The Sword (New York, 1959), Michael Stefanik, translating a Russian text, thinks:

"...better include a critical note, warning the reader to allow for Marxism. Soviet work nowadays seemed less influenced by dogma than formerly, but Stefanik remembered that the gospel according to Karl postulated agriculture had evolved from nomadism (the reverse is actually the case) and this might well bias even a scientific report." (pp. 12-13)

In reality, of course, there is no "...gospel according to Karl..." If Marx thought that agriculture had evolved from nomadism but the reverse is the case, then Marxists have to accept this like everyone else. The Omniscience and Infallibility of the Founder is a religious, not a political, doctrine. However, Stefanik refers not to a group of thinkers and enquirers applying and developing Marxist theory and analysis, for whom "dogma" would be anathema, but to a group of bureaucrats misruling a country, using Marxist ideas, instead of the older Orthodox beliefs, as their ideology and indeed as a "dogma." These are as far apart as a theological conference or a Bible study group is from an Archbishop blessing Imperial troops!

It is fortunate that scientists were able to communicate even across the Iron Curtain, thirty years before the collapse of the Bureaucratic State. Science is universal. When, with a group of other Careers Advisers, I visited UMIST, the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, the Admissions Tutor told us that he needed to know of any course applicant, "Does he speak the language we speak? That is the language of mathematics. And does he obey the laws we obey? Those are the laws of physics." A school leaver usually showed this by achieving high grades in public exams in the relevant subjects. A third exam pass with high grades was also needed but could be in any subject: History, Literature etc. (Cultured scientists are a greater social asset than uncultured ones.)

The scientific background of Perish By The Sword is more detailed than in some hard sf novels:

"The time isn't too far distant when you'll specify the properties you want in a metal and some engineer will design an alloy for you. Right now, of course, there's still a lot that isn't known, a great deal which has to be worked out by empirical methods. That's what D & C does. Partly it solves problems handed it by other outfits which don't have facilities for such specialized research. Partly it carries out independent investigation, with an eye to discovering something patentable and profitable." (p. 43)

So this detective novel is like a prequel to any number of "the day after tomorrow" sf novels.

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