MEANING OF A WORD
The meaning of a word is determined by the implications of the various contexts in which it is used. Once we learn how to read and use dictionaries, we often determine the meaning of a new or problematic word by looking it up in a dictionary. But how did we ever discover the meanings of the thousands of words we learned before we could read? In a few cases it was by asking somebody else, but in most cases it was simply through our own deductions from the contexts in which those words were used, both the real life contexts and the linguistic contexts (the other words around it). Dictionary makers use the same methods, though usually more carefully and systematically. There are, however, some technical words which are simply defined by fiat when they are first introduced by someone.
[For a more extensive discussion of this topic see chapter 2, section 5 (“Determining What a Word Means”), of my work in progress, The Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Class Interest Theory of Ethics at https://www.massline.org/Philosophy/ScottH/MLM-Ethics-Ch1-2.pdf. —S.H.]
See also: DEFINITIONS, ETYMOLOGICAL FALLACY
MEANS OF PRODUCTION
The totality of the material elements of economic production, including the factories, mines, machinery, tools, raw materials, land, buildings, means of transport, etc. (Human labor is not included in this category; the means of production together with the application of the human work force to these material elements are collectively known as the productive forces.)
See also: INSTRUMENTS OF PRODUCTION
The ability to measure the characteristics of things is of enormous significance in many sciences, most notably physics and chemistry, but also often in the biological sciences too. Such measurements, and advances in measurement techniques, have often led to important scientific discoveries, principles or theories. So important is measurement in many sciences that Galileo is said to have advanced the maxim: “Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.” [Scientific American, Nov. 2017, p. 63.]
On the other hand, there are other sciences where measurement is for the most part not so central to their investigations and theories, and sometimes not even relevant at all. This includes not only most of the social sciences, but even some areas of the physical sciences such as biology. Darwin’s basic theory of evolution, for example, is not really a result (for the most part) of any detailed measurements of nature. Similarly, Marx described his basic approach in the analysis of capitalism as depending on the method of scientific abstraction, rather than from any empiricist obsession with precise economic measurements.
So perhaps we should add an addendum to Galileo’s maxim: “Measure where you can, and where it is important to do so; but also recognize that science can often be advanced even where measurement is irrelevant or impossible.”
MEASUREMENT — Concept of in Quantum Mechanics
The unexplained, ultra-mysterious, and so far totally unknown process which is said to cause a wave function to “collapse” (or be “updated”), according to the crazy, philosophically idealist, Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics.
See also: SCHRÖDINGER’S CAT
“Nothing is more embarrassing to physicists than our complete inability
to define what we mean by measurement. We chuckle when we teach about Schrödinger’s
cat, but deep down we know it is not a laughing matter. When we have no good response to
a student’s questions about the cat, we excuse ourselves; we are only following [Richard]
Feynman’s advice to avoid thinking about it, lest we go down the drain.
“There are books, chapters of books, conferences, and essays on the ‘theory of measurement.’ Google gives 239 million hits.... These results might give the misimpression that there is such a theory. If you look hard, you’ll discover that what we really have is a collection of thoughts, many of which disagree with each other, and none of which have yet led to a satisfying conclusion.
“One possibility is that for a valid measurement, a human must be involved—a sentient, self-aware, thinking soul. That idea was the very one that Schrödinger was attacking by putting a cat in the picture. Can you really believe that the cat is both dead and alive until a human peers into the box?” —Richard A. Muller, American bourgeois physicist, in his book Now: The Physics of Time (2016), pp. 214-5.
[The quandary of contemporary idealist physicists is in fact for them no laughing matter no matter how much they try to laugh it off, and no matter how much we materialists enjoy laughing at them. Their philosophical idealist theories make absolutely no sense, and sometimes (as in this passage) even they have to admit this. —S.H.]
A crude and simplistic form of materialism which views all nature as being constructed on basic mechanical principles such as those which govern old-fashioned clocks. This is the most common sort of naïve materialism.
See also below, and: BOURGEOIS MEDIA, NEWS SOURCES, NEWSPAPERS, FAKE NEWS
MEDIA — Conservative Attitudes Towards
While the overwhelmingly dominant character of the media (newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, major Internet sites, etc.) is solidly bourgeois in the United States and all capitalist countries, it is a curious thing that there is at present a lot of hostility toward the media by American conservatives, right-wingers, and rightist “populist” movements such as the Tea Party adherents. Ironically, one of the loudest sources of continuing diatribe against the “liberal media” is on right-wing talk radio, which seems to almost totally dominate that particular branch of the media!
This right-wing hostility toward the media is a reflection of contradictions within the bourgeoisie itself. As the economic, social and political crisis of capitalism steadily worsens, different sections of the ruling class become more and more at each other’s throats about what to do about it all. In order to keep the masses under control many sections see the need to more strongly encourage racism, discrimination, hostility to immigrants, and attacks on other scapegoats such as women and the LGBT community. And while the ruling class is pretty much united now on the “need” to drive the working class down with neoliberal attacks, there are still huge disputes within their ranks about just how vicious to be in doing so. The liberal wing of the bourgeoisie thinks their class can maintain control with only a slow shift in the direction of fascism; the right-wing wants more immediate and drastic action in that direction.
The ironic thing, of course, is that the American media does in fact deserve to be strongly and totally condemned, but from the left and not the right; that is, from the point of view of the people’s interests and not from the point of view of the interests of any section of the capitalist ruling class. The media is in fact owned by and representative of the interests of the capitalist ruling class, and that goes for the more rightist Fox News corporate segment of it at least as much as for the more “liberal” New York Times corporate section of it.
“The Heartland’s Hatred of the Media
“For most conservatives, said Rich Lowry, ‘the media has become what the Soviet Union was during the Cold War—a common, unifying adversary of overwhelming importance.’ Donald Trump remains popular among Republicans largely because he’s ‘a righteous, unyielding warrior’ against the primary enemy, which is not ISIS or the Taliban, but CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. ‘The Right’s hostility toward the media is long-standing,’ and has deepened as the cultural divide between ‘the heartland’ and the coasts has grown more pronounced. With his showman’s sense of what excites an audience, Trump made scorn of the media a centerpiece of his long-shot 2016 campaign, and ‘rode his mutual enmity with the media to the White House.’ Many Republicans are willing to overlook the ‘indefensible things’ Trump says as long as he stands up to the mob of ‘braying reporters’ from New York and Washington. Trump’s constant attacks on them only lead to more negative coverage—perpetuating the cycle. This president may struggle to fulfill his campaign promises, but what counts most for his supporters is that he has ‘the right enemy.’” —Rich Lowry, posting on the right-wing NationalReview.com website, as summarized in The Week magazine, Sept. 8, 2017, p. 12.
[Right-wing demagoguery by Trump and others portrays the media as the enemy of the people. The media is in fact the enemy of the people! But the views of Trump and his allied right-wing forces are also totally opposed to the interests of the people, and are just as dangerous for them, if not more so. —Ed.]
MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME
See: HOUSEHOLD INCOME
“‘Notice to Reassure the Public.’ Notice of meetings should be given beforehand; this is like issuing a ‘Notice to Reassure the Public’, so that everybody will know what is going to be discussed and what problems are to be solved and can make timely preparations. In some places, meetings of cadres are called without first preparing reports and draft resolutions, and only when people have arrived for the meeting are makeshifts improvised; this is just like the saying ‘Troops and horses have arrived, but food and fodder are not ready’, and that is no good. Don’t call a meeting in a hurry if the preparations are not completed.” —Mao, “Methods of Work of Party Committees” (March 13, 1949), SW4:380; also in Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (1966), ch. X, pp. 112-3.
1. [As the term is most commonly used today:] An image with text overlay which is most often posted or spread on the Internet. In other words, a little image with text added onto it which promotes an idea or point of view. (See the example to the right, of Malcolm X warning people not to allow themselves to be brainwashed by the ruling class media.) “Memes” in this sense are highly useful in promoting serious progressive or revolutionary viewpoints, and—unfortunately—are also sometimes all-too-“useful” in promoting reactionary or nefarious viewpoints. However, it is also true that most memes on the Internet today are of little importance. Many are meant to be just transient jokes or snide passing comments.
2. [Earlier, and now much less common:] An idea or viewpoint that spreads from one person to another person (or “from one brain to another brain”) in a way which is supposedly similar to how genes spread among individuals in biological reproduction. This quite shallow and weak analogy was cooked up by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his book, The Selfish Gene, whose erroneous basic theme—that genes and not complete organisms are central in biological evolution—is also quite hokey. In the case of memes (in his original sense), Dawkins went so far as to proclaim a whole new field of study about memes which he grandiosely called “memetics”. This silly “science” has been taken up by others who also lean toward superficiality in their intellectual analyses, such as the bourgeois philosopher Daniel Dennett.
The main reason why “memetics” is such a falsely “profound” subject is that we have long been familiar with categories, concepts and ideas, and that they can and do spread from person to person. Even the dullest intellect knows this! Talking about memes in the grandiose fashion of Dawkins and Dennett adds nothing whatsoever to what we have always known.
“The word [‘meme’] was coined by the British ethnologist Richard Dawkins
in his 1976 book, ‘The Selfish Gene,’ as a way to conceptualize the transmission of
culture in biological terms. For Dawkins, a meme, shortened from the Greek mimeme—‘an
imitated thing’—was a unit of culture, a building block of our mental architecture. ‘Just
as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or
eggs,’ Dawkins wrote, ‘memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain
to brain.’ They could be as small and short-lived as a tune or a catchphrase, he explained,
or as large and consequential as ‘God’ and ‘eternal damnation.’
“Genes, Dawkins argued, do not aim to propagate a species; they seek only to propagate themselves. Memes, he believed, were similarly selfish. ... If a meme is to dominate the attention of a human brain,’ Dawkins wrote, ‘it must do so at the expense of “rival” memes.’...
“[T]he things we call ‘memes’ today are largely just joke formats—mechanisms for the efficient production of humor.” —Willy Staley, “Brain Candy”, The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 20, 2019. [We would remind the simpleton Dawkins that memes or concepts themselves do not “aim” or “seek” to do anything; it is conscious entities like people and groups of people who seek to do things. —Ed.]
The human memory system is the ability of the brain to reproduce or recall what has previously been learned and retained, especially through complex associative mechanisms. While we do all remember a great many things, and often quite accurately, our memory system is by no means as infallible as is generally assumed. Some things we believe we remember did not in fact happen or at least did not happen in the way we later think they did. This is something which, ironically, it is important for all of us to remember!
See also: CONFABULATION
“• Our memory is an accurate, objective record of the past.
“Our memories are anything but objective. The truth is that every time you pull out the ‘file’ that contains a memory, you have to ‘rewrite’ the whole story. And your current beliefs and emotional state affect how that memory gets rewritten and stored once again.”
—Indre Viskontas, Professor of Psychology at the University of San Francisco, summarizing one of many points covered in her course Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience (c. 2016).
MENGER, Carl (1840-1921)
Economist at the University of Vienna who was the founder of the so-called “Austrian School” of bourgeois economics. Along with William Stanley Jevons in Manchester and Léon Walras in Lausanne, Switzerland, Menger was also a creator of the erroneous marginalist theory in the 1870s.
The reformist social-democratic wing (in the present bourgeois sense) of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party, as opposed to the Bolsheviks, who were the revolutionary Marxist wing of the RSDLP. At the Second Party Congress of the RSDLP in 1903, the Bolsheviks were in the majority on most issues while the Mensheviks were in the minority. (In Russian, bolshevik means someone in the majority while menshevik means someone in the minority.)
The Russian Revolution was almost as much a struggle between the political lines of the revolutionary Bolsheviks and the wavering or opportunist Mensheviks as it was a struggle by the RSDLP and the masses against the Tsarist aristocracy and capitalism.
See also below.
A minority faction of the revisionist Menshevik trend in Russia during World War I who often agreed with the Bolsheviks and other revolutionary Marxists about the class and imperialist nature of the War and who strongly opposed giving any support to the Russian Tsarist ruling class in carrying out that War. Most of them were associated with the journal Novaya Zhizn [“New Life”], and their leaders included L. (Julius) Martov and Pavel Axelrod. In general this group was to the left of the Menshevik majority, though not always consistently so. However, in August 1917 some of them (though not Martov and Axelrod) did join the Bolsheviks. After the War was over, some “Menshevik Internationalists” (including Martov, this time) took part in organizing the short-lived “Second-and-a-Half-International”, in opposition to the Third International (or Comintern).
1. [In the Russian Revolution:] The political line, policies and theories of the Mensheviks (see entries above).
2. [Since then, and elsewhere:] Similar reformist and opportunist political lines, attitudes and activities.
See: SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE, OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCES
Mesons are one of the two families of hadrons (particles composed of quarks) in particle physics. Mesons are made up of one quark and one antiquark. The pion is one example. All mesons are unstable and decay into other particles and energy.
[Spanish: “mixed”] A term used in Latin America to refer to people who are of “mixed” ancestry; that is, usually specifically part European and part Native American ancestry.
METADATA or META-DATA
Data (or information) about other data. If we call the content of a message delivered over the phone or by email the “data”, then the metadata is the information about that message other than its content: such as, who sent it, who it was sent to, when it was sent, the length of the message, and so forth. Sometimes government agencies such as the NSA do not bother monitoring phone calls or emails directly unless the metadata suggests to them that the message might be of “concern” to them in maintaining the class rule of the bourgeoisie. And a lot of important information about who people are in contact with, and when, can come even from just the metadata alone, and even if the content of the message is encrypted.
Discussion of the principles which should lie behind ethical theories, and by which ethical theories and specific systems of morality should be evaluated.
1. [In Marxist usage:] Views which are opposed to dialectics, such as views which deny the unity and connections which exist among things in the world, or which deny the struggle of opposites that exist within processes and things, or which take a static view of the world or parts of it and deny the possibility of any change or development.
2. [In non-Marxist usage:] The branch of philosophy, or philosophical views, which are concerned with the ultimate nature of reality, about which sorts of things truly exist, about which things depend on the existence of other things, and with interminable totally obscure discussions about what it even means for something “to exist”, etc. The primary sphere here, which talks about “existence” in the abstract, is also called ontology. The more concrete sphere, about the nature of the universe and its contents is called cosmology, and is supposed to be much more “scientific”. However, most contemporary cosmological theories are still based at least in part on religious metaphysical notions, biases and speculations, such as that the universe must have “come into existence” at some particular time and before that time nothing existed at all—except maybe God! (See “Big Bang Theory”). It will still be some time before cosmology completely divorces itself from metaphysics and becomes a solid science.
See also: Philosophical doggerel about metaphysics.
“To the metaphysician, things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are
isolated, are to be considered one after the other and apart from each other, are
objects of investigation fixed, rigid, given once for all. He things in absolutely
irreconcilable antitheses.... For him a thing either exists or does not exist; a
thing cannot at the same time be itself and something else. Positive and negative
absolutely exclude one another; cause and effect stand in a rigid antithesis one to
“At first sight this mode of thinking seems to us very luminous, because it is that of so-called sound common sense. Only sound common sense, respectable fellow that he is, in the homely realm of his own four walls, has very wonderful adventures directly he ventures out into the wide world of research. And the metaphysical mode of thought, justifiable and and even necessary as it is in a number of domains whose extent varies according to the nature of the pariticular object of investigation, sooner or later reaches a limit, beyond which it becomes one-sided, restricted, abstract, lost in insoluable contradictions. In the contemplation of individual things, it forgets the connection between them; in the contemplation of their existence, it forgets the beginning and end of that existence; of their repose, it forgets their motion. It cannot see the wood for the trees.” —Engels, Anti-Dühring, MECW 25:22-23.
“The metaphysical or vulgar evolutionist world outlook sees things
as isolated, static and one-sided. It regards all things in the universe, their forms
and their species, as eternally isolated from one another and immutable. Such change
as there is can only be an increase or decrease in quantity or a change of place.
Moreover, the cause of such an increase or decrease or change of place is not inside
things but outside them, that is, the motive force is external. Metaphysicians hold
that all the different kinds of things in the universe and all their characteristics
have been the same ever since they first came into being. All subsequent changes have
simply been increases or decreases in quantity. They contend that a thing can only
keep on repeating itself as the same kind of thing and cannot change into anything
different. In their opinion, capitalist exploitation, capitalist competition, the
individualist ideology of capitalist society, and so on, can all be found in ancient
slave socity, or even in primitive society, and will exist for ever unchanged. They
ascribe the causes of social development to factors external to society, such as
geography and climate. They search in an over-simplified way outside a thing for the
causes of its development, and they deny the theory of materialist dialectics which
holds that development arises from the contradictions inside a thing. Consequently
they can explain neither the qualitative diversity of things, nor the phenomenon of
one quality chaging into another. In Europe, this mode of thinking existed as
mechanical materialism in the 17th and 18th centuries and as vulgar evolutionism at
the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. In China, there was the
metaphysical thinking exemplified in the saying ‘Heaven changeth not, likewise the
Tao changeth not’, and it was supported by the decadent feudal ruling classes for a
long time. Mechanical materialism and vulgar evolutionism, which were imported from
Europe in the last hundred years, are supported by the bourgeoisie.”
—Mao, “On Contradiction” (August 1937), SW 1:312-313.
METHOD OF EXHAUSTION [Mathematics]
A complicated and rather tedious method for finding the areas or volumes of geometrical figures by dividing the original figure into a great many subareas (or subvolumes) whose size can be easily determined. These methods were further elaborated during the early modern era just before the invention of the calculus.
See also: INTEGRAL CALCULUS [Gellert quote]
METHODS OF WORK
“...we are faced with the serious problem of methods of work. It is not enough to set tasks, we must also solve the problem of the methods for carrying them out. If our task is to cross a river, we cannot cross it without a bridge or a boat. Unless the bridge or boat problem is solved, it is idle to speak of crossing the river. Unless the problem of method is solved, talk about the task is useless.” —Mao, “Be Concerned with the Well-Being of the Masses, Pay Attention to Methods of Work” (Jan. 27, 1934), SW1:150.
METHODS OF PRESENTATION
See: PRESENTATION—Methods Of
Members of the “Mezhraionnaia” or “Mezhrayonka” or “Interdistrict Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party”, which was formed in St. Petersburg, Russia in November 1913. This organization initially represented a grass roots attempt to find a common ground between the rival factions (Mensheviks and Bolsheviks) in the RSDLP. In the summer of 1917 it began working closely with the Bolsheviks, and then merged together with them. At least some of the former members of this group seem to have preferred the leadership of Trotsky or Volodarsky and their focus on a revolution led by the Soviets (councils) rather than Lenin’s idea of a party-led revolution.
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