This article is an improved version of the original Russian article submitted to the Russian journal "The Issues in the History of Science and Technology" on January 5, 1978. The article was prepared according to the requirements of the journal, one of which was to cite Marx and Engels as much as possible.

On a Type of the Internal Contradictions of Progression of Technology

Y. B. Karasik
Copyright © 1978-2008 Yevgeny Karasik

The issue of the internal contradictions of progression of technology is not new. Numerous examples of emerging and resolving contradictions in the course of technology evolution were first presented and analyzed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] back in XIX century. More recently modern examples were provided by S. V. Shookhardin, A.A. Zvorikin, I. Ya. Konfederatov, etc.[6, 7, 8, 9]. However, in all cases attention was exclusively paid to contradictions of the following types:

  1. Contradictions between advantages and disadvantages of technical systems;
  2. Contradictions between the opposite trends of technology betterment;

With all due respect to the importance of contradictions of the above types, there is at least one more, which was missed by the above researchers. They are contradictions stemming from co-existence of two somewhat opposite sub-systems inside a system. Opposite in a sense that they either play opposite roles in the same process or have opposite relationships with a third sub-system of the system.

For example, information, which computer deals with, is subdivided into instructions and data. Their opposite role in the computing process is obvious: the former modify and the latter get modified.

The purpose of this article is twofold:

  1. show that such opposite subsystems are dual, i.e.
    1. can turn into each other (partially or completely);
    2. can be present in each other (partially or completely);
    3. one and the same object can be both of them (partially or completely).
  2. show that shortcomings/contradictions arising because such opposite subsystems are separated get eliminated as soon as they get merged (partially or completely).

1. Duality of tool and product, or, more generally, of object that exerts an action and object that the action is being done to

In English such objects are expressed by active and passive voice respectively: painting - getting painted; inflating - getting inflated; processing - getting processed; etc. The very names, "active" and "passive", indicate the opposite role of objects, which these voices signify.

Contradictions between opposites are eliminated through their synthesis. It is a general law of any evolution. Let's analyze the specifics of how opposites of the above type get synthesized in the course of progression of technology.

Instructions and data of computer are examples of such opposites: the former modify the latter whereas the latter get modified by the former. Let's consider their evolution. In the first computers data were stored in the memory but instructions were fed into computer from punch cards or tapes as computation progressed. In 1945 Von Neumann proposed another computer architecture where instructions were kept in the memory as well, which made them modifiable too. Thereby computer code acquired the ability to modify self [10]. Thus, improvement was achieved when one class of objects became subclass of the opposite objects.

Consider now an example of evolution of another pair of opposite subsystems: the cooling and the cooled. When polishing lenses with the help of polishing rings cooling liquids are required to prevent lens from overheating during polishing because it may affect its optical properties. But liquids do not penetrate well between the ring and lens where heat is generated, which limits their effectiveness. The improvement was achieved when polishing ring was made of frozen cooling liquid with embedded abrasive particles [11], in other words, when one of the opposite subsystems became part of the other.

Ultimately, what is the ideal product ? It is the one, which is manufactured by itself, i.e. contains all tools of doing it in itself.

2. Duality of source and sink

Source and sink play opposite roles in any circuit. But they can also turn into each other. Here are examples of such conversion.

In 1894 Herman Frasch developed a method of sulfur mining, which uses two coaxial pipes lowered into the holes drilled down to the sulfur deposits. The outer pipe is used to bring superheated steam down to sulfur which melts. The internal pipe is used to pump the molten sulfur out from the underground to the surface.

Frasch process has many shortcomings: high water and energy consumption, but chiefly toxic hydrogen sulfide resulting from water-sulfur interaction. To eliminate them V. Zh. Arens proposed to melt sulfur by electric field rather than steam. To this end two additional holes are drilled, into which graphite electrodes are lowered, between which high frequency electric field is generated. Interaction of high frequency electric field with sulfur results in heat generation in it. This heat melts sulfur, which is pumped out as in Frasch process [12].

Thus, sulfur from sink of heat in Frasch process became both source and sink of heat in Arens process. Hence the duality of source and sink.

One might think that:

  1. systems, where source and sink are merged are advantageous over systems, where they are separated;
  2. evolution of systems with sink and source of anything goes in the direction of their merging.
But this conjecture is wrong. Although dual opposites "tend" to merge, this is not the only "force" that drives their evolution. There could be other contradictions in system (not stemming from existence of source and sink as separate entities), resolution of which requires pushing source and sink further apart.

Consider, for example, evolution of mechanical power supply circuits for machine tools. Initially every machine tool had its own source of mechanical power - the human that operated it. This source was limited. That is why when steam engines came into being attempts to use them as source of power for machine tools commenced. But steam engines were too big, too expensive and too powerful to use them just for one machine tool. These "forces" were pushing the new source of mechanical power further apart from its sink in machine tool. As result one steam engine started to be employed by several machine tools located pretty far from it and connected to it via long and complex belt transmissions. This, of course, exacerbated contradictions arising due to opposite subsystems being far away from each other. But their exacerbation was outweighed by mitigating contradictions arising due to incompatibility of steam engine and a machine tool from the standpoint of size, cost and power. There exist contradictions between contradictions and resolving one of them may exacerbate the others.

With advent of electrical motors small enough to fit the housing of a machine tool and powerful enough to drive it, the source and sink of mechanical power got close to each other again. They became even closer with invention of micro-electrical motors driving tool directly without transmission. The next step would be merging of source of power and its sink tool.

3. Duality of causing and facilitating mechanisms

Any process has its causing mechanism. It may also have a facilitating mechanism. The role of the first is to cause the process to start and continue. The role of the second is to reduce resistance to it. The first exerts the useful action. The second reduces the harmful ones. Thus, their role is opposite. We will show that they are also dual, i.e. can turn into each other.

Consider, for example, such a causing mechanism as propelling mechanism. In carriages it was horse. And facilitating mechanism/agent was wheels. But in steam engines and automobiles wheels became part of the propelling mechanism. They were called driving wheels.

4. Conclusion

We have considered some important classes of opposite technical subsystems and have shown that they are dual (i.e. can turn into each other, etc.) and that contradictions stemming from co-existence of two such opposite subsystems within one and the same system get eliminated through their merging (i.e. by making one object to be two in one). This shows inventors the direction to go. Besides, it gives the measure of the degree of ideality of an invention. The ideality can now be evaluated by the degree of merging of opposite objects causing the problems addressed by invention.

R E F E R E N C E S:

  1. Karl Marx, "Capital", v. 1, chapter XIII.
  2. Karl Marx, "Machines: use of forces of Nature and of science".
  3. Friedrich Engels, "Artillery" (in "The New American Cyclopedia" , D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1857-1866).
  4. Friedrich Engels, "Navy" (in "The New American Cyclopedia" , D. Appleton & Co, New York, 1857-1866).
  5. Friedrich Engels, "The history of the rifle" (in "The Volunteer Journal, for Lancashire and Cheshire", October 1860 - January 1861).
  6. A. A. Zvorikin, N. I. Osmova, V. I. Chernishev, S. V. Shookhardin, "History of technology", 1962 (in Russian).
  7. P. S. Koodryavtsev. I. Ya Konfederatov, "History of physics and technology", 1960 (in Russian).
  8. Yu. S. Miloshenko, "Technology and the laws of its progression", 1970 (in Russian).
  9. S. V. Shookhardin, "History of science and technology", v. 1, 1974; v.2, 1976 (in Russian).
  10. Clarence B. Germain, "Programming the IBM-360", Prentice-Hall, 1967.
  11. The USSR invention authorship certificate # 192658.
  12. "Chemistry and Life" magazine, 1976, #2, p. 50 (in Russian).