Lenin and the Physical Sciences

By Keldysh, Mstislav | UNESCO Courier, May-June 1986 | Go to article overview
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Lenin and the Physical Sciences

Keldysh, Mstislav, UNESCO Courier

Lenin and the physical sciences

ALL of Lenin's work--as a politician, statesman and public figure--is inseparable from science.

The turn of the century, as we know, was marked by a series of discoveries which were to lead to a complete revolution in physics, and eventually to the development of the physics of today. Thus, the advances in electrodynamics opened the way to the theory of relativity and the discovery of new and more precise space-time relationships. Research into the theory of opaque bodies and the photo-electric effect made possible the formation of the quantum theory.

These new ideas and theories, to which were soon to be added the discovery of radioactivity and radium, could no longer be fitted into the nineteenth-century concept of physics or into the electromagnetic concept of the universe that had succeeded the mechanical concept.

Serious difficulties arose. In particular, the conclusion of the classic electron theory, according to which electrons had mass and electromagnetic characteristics, was interpreted by many mechanistic and positivist physicists of the time as a veritable "disappearance of matter'. Research scientists spoke heatedly of "the big crisis in physics'.

In 1909, Lenin entered the scene with his work Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. This was his reply to the philosophical problems raised by the latest scientific discoveries. Lenin pointed out that the crisis in physics perceptible at the beginning of the century was just the first step challenging "the old laws and basic principles', and that the change affected the postulates of physics that had been thought unalterable.

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