Part 5

The Law of Conservation of Energy

by Frederick Engels Icon

Motion in the most general sense, conceived as the mode of existence, the inherent attribute of matter, comprehends all changes and processes occurring in the universe, from mere change of place right up to thinking.

The theory of motion began as from the simplest change of place and the mechanics of heavenly bodies and terrestrial masses.

  • It was followed by the theory of molecular motion, physics, and immediately afterwards, the science of the motion of atoms, chemistry.

For a long time, mechanics adequately explained the motions from:

  • muscular contraction in the animal body, and
  • non-living bodies

But the physico-chemical establishment of the other phenomena of life is still at an infancy.

Hence, in investigating the nature of motion, we must leave the organic forms of motion out. We must restrict ourselves to non-living motion, in accordance with the state of science.

All motion is bound with some change of place.

  • The higher the form of motion, the smaller this change of place.

Therefore, this change of place has to be investigated before anything else.

The nature we see shows a system that is an interconnected totality of material bodies, from stars to atoms.

These bodies are interconnected. This is proven by the fact that they react on one another.

  • This mutual reaction that constitutes motion.

Thus, matter is unthinkable without motion.

  • If matter cannot be created nor destroyed, then motion also cannot be created nor destroyed.
  • This is the conclusion as soon as we said that the universe is a system, an interconnection of bodies.

This had been reached by philosophy 200 years before natural science was developed.

  • Natural science also concluded that motion cannot be created nor destroyed.

Descartes’ principle is that the amount of motion present in the universe is always the same. Its only formal defect is applying a finite expression to an infinite magnitude.

On the other hand, two expressions of the same law are at present current in natural science:

  1. Helmholtz’s law of the conservation of force
  2. The law of conservation of energy
  • This is newer and more precise

The one is the exact opposite of the other. Each of them expresses only one side of the relation.

When two bodies act on each other to create a change of place of one or both of them, this change of place is only an approach or a separation. They either:

  • attract each other or
  • repel each other.

Mechanics says that the forces operating between them are central, acting along the line joining their centres.

This happens throughout the universe without exception.

Helmholtz (Erhaltung der Kraft [The Conservation of Force], Berlin, 1847, Sections 1 and 2) has provided the mathematical proof:

  • that central action and unalterability of the quantity of motion are reciprocally conditioned
  • that the assumption of other than central actions leads to results in which motion could be either created or destroyed.

Hence, the basic form of all motion is approximation and separation, contraction and expansion - in short, the old polar opposites of attraction and repulsion.

Attraction and repulsion are not regarded here as “forces”.

Instead, they are simple forms of motion, just as Kant had already conceived matter as the unity of attraction and repulsion.

All motion consists in the interplay of attraction and repulsion.

Motion, however, is only possible when each individual attraction is compensated by a corresponding repulsion somewhere else. Otherwise in time, one side would get the preponderance over the other and then motion would finally cease.

Hence, all attractions and all repulsions in the universe must mutually balance one another.

Thus, the law of the indestructibility and uncreatibility of motion says that:

  • each movement of attraction in the universe must have an equal movement of repulsion as its complement, and vice versa.
  • the sum of all attractions in the universe is equal to the sum of all repulsions.

However, there are still 2 possibilities for all motion to cease at some time or other, either:

  • by repulsion and attraction finally cancelling each other out in actual fact, or
  • by the total repulsion finally taking possession of one part of matter and the total attraction of the other part.

For the dialectical conception, these possibilities are excluded from the outset.

Dialectics has proved from the results of our experience of nature so far that all polar opposites in general are determined by the mutual action of the two opposite poles on one another, that the separation and opposition of these poles exists only within their unity and inter-connection, and, conversely, that their inter-connection exists only in their separation and their unity only in their opposition.

Thus, there is:

  • no final cancelling out of repulsion and attraction
  • no final partition between the one form of motion in one half of matter and the other form in the other half

Consequently, there can be no mutual penetration or absolute separation of the two poles.

It would be equivalent to demanding in the first case that the north and south poles of a magnet should mutually cancel themselves out or, in the second case, that dividing a magnet in the middle between the two poles should produce on one side a north half without a south pole, and on the other side a south half without a north pole.

The impermissibility of such assumptions follows at once from the dialectical nature of polar opposites. But nevertheless, thanks to the prevailing metaphysical mode of thought of natural scientists, the second assumption at least plays a certain part in physical theory.

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