Lessons From I. Bernard Cohen’s “Revolution in Science”

Contents

  1. Introductory
  2. The Need For Brilliant Colleagues;  Discovery, Appreciation, Communication, and Empirical Verification
  3. Propagations in a “Field”
  4. A Revolutionary Way of Understanding the World

.1. Introductory 

In his scholarly Revolution in Science [Cohen, 1985],  I. Bernard Cohen traced how both the Faraday-Maxwell-Hertz Electromagnetic Field Theory and Einstein’s Special Relativity Field Theory came to be appreciated as revolutionary, though the appreciation was not immediate.  Critical to the two theories’ gaining popularity was, first, the recognition of their revolutionary scientific significance by brilliant and eminent scientists; second, the verification of the hypotheses by experimental scientists; and finally the conversion of the physicist community at large to their new ways of thinking about the world.  In the Faraday-Maxwell case it was Heinrich Hertz’s experiments which made the critical difference; and in Einstein’s case it was first and chiefly Max Planck, then Max von Laue, Max Born, Hermann Minkowski, and astronomer Arthur Eddington.  Planck was the first to understand Special Relativity’s scientific significance and Eddington became “the chief agent for dissemination and acceptance of Einstein’s ideas.” [Cohen, 1985, 416]

Similarly, the revolutionary significance of Bernard Lonergan’s Macroeconomic Field Theory was first grasped by Philip McShane, a theoretical physicist and philosopher, and by Peter Burley, a brilliant economist, and now it awaits further understanding and econometric verification by colleagues in academia, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and/or the Federal Reserve Bank.

To supplement what we say herein, we refer the reader to four other entries on this website:

.2. The Need For Brilliant Colleagues;  Discovery, Appreciation, Communication, and Empirical Verification

The general acceptance of a new and better theory requires several brilliant, respected  colleagues to deliver the good news.  A widespread acceptance often takes time — as it did in the case of Faraday-Maxwell-Hertz’s electromagnetic theory and Einstein’s special relativity.

We quote from I. Bernard Cohen’s Revolution in Science. Here is a copy of the back cover:

Re Faraday-Maxwell-Hertz:

Maxwell’s ideas were developed in a series of papers dated 1855-1856. 1861-1862, 1864, and 1865 and were given a more or less final form in his Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism in 1873.  But for some years thereafter, this revolutionary new doctrine remained no more than a revolution on paper and did not become a revolution in science until the work of Heinrich Hertz in the years up to 1888.  For this reason, the revolution is sometimes known as the Faraday-Maxwell-Hertz revolution. [Cohen, 1985, 303]

So, we may understand the importance of the experiments of Heinrich Hertz, conducted in the years up to 1888, which ultimately confirmed the predictions of Maxwell’s theory.  Hertz not only produced electromagnetic waves and found their speed (by measuring the wavelength of standing waves of known frequency): he showed that these waves were like light in the properties of reflection, refraction, and polarization, and that they could be focused. [Cohen, 1985, 305-6]

Maxwell’s theory was difficult to accept for a number of reasons. First, it was conceptually new, with radical notions such as the ‘displacement current’.  Second, Maxwell presented the theory not merely as a mathematical elaboration of new principles but in terms of physical models. [Cohen, 1985, 306]

Hertz’s contribution was not merely to devise and to execute a clever experiment, great as that achievement was, He showed also how his experiments were significant as the “first demonstration of the finite propagation of a supposed action at a distance.” (McCormmach 1972, 345) . [Cohen, 1985, 306]

Poincare explained how Hertz’s experiments provided the ‘experimentum crucis’ between Maxwell’s theories and its rival. [Cohen, 1985, 307-8]

In any event, later experiments (first by Sarasin and de la Rive) proved conclusively that Maxwell’s theory was correct.  This marked the end of theories based on instantaneous action at a distance, and the beginning of a general acceptance of field theories in the Maxwellian mode, with finite speed of propagation equal to that of light. [Cohen, 1985, 308]

Re Einstein:

Einstein proposed the special theory of relativity in 1905, in a paper published in the Annalen der Physik.  It was followed by a supplement in that same year in which the first form of the mass-energy equivalence was stated for radiation.  In 1907, Einstein put forth a comprehensive paper on relativity , containing the general result E = mc2.  His radical paper set forth new concepts of mass, space, and time and challenged the apparently simple notion of simultaneity. [Cohen, 1985, 406]

Einstein’s theory was met with “icy criticism.”

Einstein, according to the recollections of his sister (Pais 1982, 150-51),”imagined that his publication in the renowned and much-read journal would draw immediate attention.”  Of course, he anticipated “sharp opposition and the severest criticism,” but he was “very disappointed” by the lack of response, the “icy criticism.”  In time he received a letter from Max Planck asking questions on some obscure points in the paper which was the cause of “especially great” joy since Planck was “one of the greatest physicists of that time.”  Planck’s early and deep commitment to relativity was a major reason for the very rapid spread of interest in the new topic among physicists (Pais ibid.).  In the year following the publication of Einstein’s paper, Planck began to lecture on the theory of relativity in Berlin, not on Einstein’s presentation but on Laurentz’s theory of the electron. [Cohen, 1985, 406]

Others then followed Planck’s lead.

Planck’s assistant, Max von Laue (later a Nobel Prize winner in physics), published a paper on relativity in 1907. …  Von Laue went to Berne as a skeptic to visit Einstein and found it hard to believe that this “young man” could be the “father of the relativity theory.” [Cohen, 1985, 407]

Max Born recognized its greatness and also the necessity for formal generalizations.”  It was Infeld’s judgment that Born’s own work on relativity theory, produced much later, “became one of the important early contributions to this field of science.” [Cohen, 1985, 407]

In the following year, 1908, Hermann Minkowski published a radical transformation of of Einstein’s theory into mathematical form, beginning the “enormous formal simplification of special relativity.”  (Pais 1982, 152) By these stages, the revolution on paper was becoming a revolution in science. Pais (1982, 152) dates the rapid growth of Einstein’s reputation and influence from 1908.  [Cohen, 1985, 408]

While this experimental evidence was coming in, the theory itself was undergoing a fundamental reconstruction at the hands of Hermann Minkowski. … in 1908 Minkowski published a paper introducing the concept of a single four-dimensional ‘‘space-time’ to replace the separate conceptual entities of three-dimensional space and one-dimensional time.  He also gave relativity theory its modern tensor form.  … introduced new technical terms into relativity, and made it evident from the point of view of relativity that the traditional Newtonian theory of gravitation was not adequate (Pais 1982, 152) [Cohen, 1985, 409]

Max Born’s discussion of his first reading experience of Einstein’s papers reminds us how difficult the Einsteinian conception was, even for those who had no problem with the mathematics.  In 1907, when Loria directed him to Einstein’s publications,  Born had been a member of of Hermann Minkowski’s university seminar, and so –- he writes (1969, 104-105) -– “quite familiar  with relativistic ideas [presumably Lorentz’s] and the Lorentz transformations.”  Even so, he recalled, when he read Einstein’s papers, “Einstein’s reasoning was a revelation to me.”  As an intellectual creation, Born found that “Einstein’s theory was new and revolutionary.”  Einstein’s presentation had “the audacity of challenging Isaac Newton’s established philosophy, the traditional concepts of space and time. In retrospect Born recognized the force of Einstein’s intellectual revolution and the revolution on paper, but he saw clearly that there was not yet a revolution in the sciences. .… … …Einstein’s theory was in fact radical – so “new and revolutionary,” he wrote much later – that an effort was needed to assimilate it.” … … …The Einsteinian revolution in science required a general acceptance of Einstein’s fundamentally new way of dealing with the physical world. [Cohen, 1985, 410-11]

By about 1911 Einstein’s special theory of relativity had gained enough adherents to constitute a revolution in science. In that year, Arnold Sommerfeld announced that the theory of relativity was “already so well established that it was no longer on the frontiers of physics.” (Miller 1981, 257)  Early in 1912 Wilhelm Wien, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics for 1911, proposed that Einstein and Lorentz be awarded the coveted prize.  From a “logical point of view,” he wrote (quoted in Pais 1982, 153), the principle of relativity “must be considered as one of the most significant accomplishments ever achieved in theoretical physics.”  There was now, he said, clear “confirmation of the theory by experiment.”  Lorentz, he concluded was the first to find “the mathematical content of the relativity principle,” but Einstein “succeeded in reducing it to a simple principle.” [Cohen, 1985, 412]

The new theory led to three testable predictions.  The first was the advance of the perihelion of the planet Mercury, the phenomenon … … … The second prediction was that light should be bent in a gravitational field. … … … The third prediction was what is known as the “red shift” of spectral lines that are part of the stellar radiation … … … Here were three tests that could be made of the theory. [Cohen, 1985, 415-16]

The English astronomer Arthur Eddington … became the chief agent for dissemination and acceptance of Einstein’s ideas.P. A. M. Dirac has recorded, as one example, how he first learned of relativity, … by reading Eddington.  Even more important, immediately after the succession of hostilities, Eddington in 1919 organized a British eclipse expedition to test the predicted bending of light during a total eclipse of the sun.  The confirmatory result electrified scientists and non-scientists alike all over the world. [Cohen, 1985, 416]

It is difficult to recapture today the scientific excitement of 1919. … In the autumn of 1919 the data had been analyzed and on 6 November 1919, at a joint meeting of the royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Society, the Astronomer Royal announced that “light is deflected in accordance with Einstein’s law of gravitation. … J. J. Thomson was in the chair and declared this to be “the most important result” in relation to “the theory of gravitation since Newton’s day, ”the highest achievement of human thought.” … On November 8, the Times ran a second article on revolution, this one headed “The Revolution in science”: “Einstein vs. Newton,” ”Views of Eminent Physicists.” … H. A. Lorentz published an article in a Rotterdam newspaper on 19 November, which was at once translated and printed in the New York Times.… on 14 December. Einstein’s picture appeared on the cover of the weekly Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, with a caption which declared not only that Einstein has made “a complete revolution in our concepts of nature” but that he had produced insights comparable to those of Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton (Pais 1982, 308).  On 4 December in Nature, E. Cunningham wrote that Einstein’s thought was revolutionary.”  [Cohen, 1985, 416-17]

 For similar ideas regarding the recognition by “physicist-economists” of Lonergan’s Macroeconomic Field Theory as a radical, revolutionary, whole new way of “looking at”macroeconomics, yet still requiring broader acceptance and verification by “physicist-economists” in academia, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the  Federal Reserve Bank, we refer the reader to the Editors’ Introduction in Lonergan’s Macroeconomic Dynamics; … (CWL 15) – in particular pages xxv-lxxii.

Here are the contents of that Introduction:

Editors’ Introduction, Frederick G. Lawrence / xxv

  1. Lonergan’s Entry into Economics, 1930-1944 / xxvi
  2. Democratic Economics: An alternative to Liberalism and Socialism / xxxii
    1. Liberalism and Socialism as Economistic Ideologies / xxxv
    2. Free Enterprise as an Educational Project
  3. Lonergan’s Reentry into Economics, 1978-1983 / xxxix
  4. Lonergan’s Interlocutors in Economics / xliii
    1. Lonergan and Marx / xlvi
    2. Lonergan and Marshall / xlvii
    3. Lonergan and Keynes / xlviii
    4. Lonergan, Kalecki, and Others / li
    5. Lonergan and Schumpeter / li
  5. Macroeconomic Dynamic Analysis as a New Paradigm of Economic Theory / liv
  6. The Systematic Significance of the Fundamental distinction between Basic and Surplus Production and Exchange
    1. Profit / lxiii
    2. Interest / lxvii
    3. Lonergan’s Critique of ‘Supply-Side’ and ‘Demand-Side’ Economics / lxvii
  7. Lonergan’s Critique of Secularist Ideologies: The Need for a Theological Viewpoint / lxix

.3. Propagations in a “Field”

Acknowledging that electromagnetics and economics are distinct field theories involving propagations at very different speeds, we nevertheless wish to strike some comparisons to emphasize to economists the ideas of a) fields and field theory, and b) propagation at a speed.

scientific field: n: a region or space in which a given verifiable, objective effect (such as magnetism or economic acceleration) exists

field theory: n: a theory of the invariant relations of explanatory conjugates among themselves rather than to an external force or other external element.

 propagate: vb: to transmit (as waves of sound or light and surges of economic advancement) through a medium, including a “field”); vi to travel through space or a material or a field – often used of wave energy (such as light, sound, audio waves, or economic surges)

Michael Faraday developed the idea of a set of coherent, explanatory relations verified as “existent” and explanatory, and comprising what may be called a distinct “field” of relations.  The Faraday-Maxwell electromagnetic field-theoretic hypothesis and Hertz’s experimental verification of that hypothesis resulted in the replacement of the idea of instantaneous action at a distance by the idea of a field constituted by the propagation of electromagnetic waves at a finite speed.  Previous isolated insights into the static and dynamic magnetic and electric fields were finally unified into a single coherent set of equations explaining electromagnetic phenomena.  The immanent intelligibility of the static and dynamic phenomena was formulated in Maxwell’s equations in which all phenomena are understood as interrelated and solidary with one another.

Certainly Faraday’s contribution was of tremendous importance, including the significant conception that a magnetic field is composed of lines of force, as well as the extraordinary insight that electrical and magnetic actions are not transmitted instantaneously but require time[Cohen, 1985, 302]

Furthermore, Maxwell, a pioneer in dimensional analysis, showed that the factor linking two systems of electrical units, electrostatic and electromagnetic, was a velocity and in fact had a numerical very close to the velocity of light. [Cohen, 1985, 305]

 Hertz’s contribution was not merely to devise and to execute a clever experiment, great as that achievement was. He showed also how his experiments were significant as the “first demonstration of the finite propagation of a supposed action at a distance.” (McCormmach 1972, 345) . [Cohen, 1985, 306]

 … , later experiments (first by Sarasin and de la Rive) proved conclusively that Maxwell’s theory was correct.  This marked the end of theories based on instantaneous action at a distance, and the beginning of a general acceptance of field theories in the Maxwellian mode, with finite speed of propagation equal to that of light. [Cohen, 1985, 308]

Similarly, textbook Walrasian Macrostatics is destined eventually to be replaced by Lonergan’s Macroeconomic Field Theory of the propagation at a speed of initial incremental point-to-line productive velocities into later accelerations of point-to-point production activities.  The verified propagation of effects constitutes the intelligibility of, and the very existence of, the double-circuited macroeconomic field.  Mere macrostatics, on the other hand,  — with its trappings of separated graphs of shifting curves —  suggests a dynamics, but fails to be a science explaining completely the dynamic propagation at a finite speed of incremental point-to-line velocities propagated into point-to-point accelerations.  As an electric current induces solidarily a magnetic intensity, or a varying magnetic intensity effects solidarily an electric intensity, so we say that incremental point-to-line activities  “induce” a point-to-point acceleration in the “macroeconomic field.”

See on this website:

Right at the start Lonergan makes precise analytic distinctions between point-to-point vs. point-to-line velocities and formulates their propagational relations; and, upon these “foundational” interrelations, he builds a superstructure of relations comprising an explanation – not a mere description – of the objective economic process.  With the combination of the field-theoretic relations with concrete determinations occurring in the non-systematic probabilistic seriation of economic events, Macroeconomic Field Theory connects and formalizes a) the velocitous invention and installation of new and better machines and methods, — aided as needed by credit to bridge the gap in time between payments made and payments received — , b) the thus temporal propagation of expansion of basic production and sale, which sets the stage for c) the resulting development of greater leisure and higher culture.

Macroeconomic Field Theory is the general immanent intelligibility, in the form of a lagged technical expansion, of a system of “propagation” or “transmission” of improvements in the economic process.  MFT is a coherent and comprehensive system of abstract, purely-dynamic, purely-relational equations.  It is a normative theory explaining both dynamic equilibrium and dynamic disequilibrium.  This theory explains the conditions of continuity, equilibrium and the equilibrated propagation of higher productivity through phases of a normative pure cycle of expansion.  Just as electromagnetics is a field theory of the propagational interrelations of electric and magnetic phenomena among themselves, so Lonergan’s Monetary Field Theory is a field theory of propagational relations between point-to-line (“surplus”)and point-to-point (“basic”) phenomena in the macroeconomic field.  The theory’s differential equations of velocity and acceleration specify and explain the economic field in which humans interact.

In Lonergan’s Macroeconomic Field Theory, the concepts and the conditions of concomitance, continuity, and equilibrium — present as vital normativities throughout the “somewhat-fluid” process of phased expansion — constitute the normativity mandated by the Diagram of Rates of Flow below on the left.  The concepts of gradient, curvature, divergence, curl, probability and possible deviation from the ideal gestation of capital and the propagation of acceleration are embedded in the diagrams below on the right. (Click here)

The economic process – like the oscillation of a pendulum, the parabola of a missile, the elliptical motion of a planet – is a concrete process.  Because the economic process is a concrete system of interconnected dynamical flows of goods and payments, the basic terms of Functional Macroeconomic Dynamics are interrelated, interdependent velocities and their changes.  And, again, the process is constituted by a finite propagation unto states of greater “kinetic economic energy” from the invention and investment in new and better capital through to the acceleration of basic, more bounteous production.  The propagation is stated in general terms in the lagged technical accelerator. (CWL 15, 37)

k[fn(t-a) – Bn] = f”n-1(t) –An-1

The finite speed of propagation from level n “down to” level n-1 is indicated by the symbols for earlier (t-a) and later (t) time intervalsThe magnitude of the propagation unto acceleration in the lower circuit n-1 is symbolized by the constant k, which could be replaced by a mathematical function expressing the phenomena of a) saturation and diminishing returns of capital, and b) the competition for funds from increasing repair and maintenance.

In the macroeconomics of the concrete process there is no instantaneous action at a distance. Propagation is at a finite speed.  The horizontal axes in the right columns above represent Galilean time and its passage.

Clerk-Maxwell’s velocity of propagation in empty space of electromagnetic phenomena was the finite speed of light. And Einstein, in his treatment of relative velocities, needed to redefine time as a relativistic fourth variable in a 4-dimensional space-time with the symbol ict.  Functional Macroeconomic Dynamics’ time can be regarded as simple Galilean time.  And expansion takes a lot of it.  In addition, of course, the actual process conducted by unenlightened, self-interested, often feckless households and firms exhibits neither the rigidities nor the speed of electromagnetic and gravitational phenomena.  Though the economic process has invariant, universally-applicable field-theoretic norms of continuity, equilibrium and sectoral intensities for realization of conceived potential, because that actual economic process is operated by mistake-making and macroeconomically ignorant humans, there are possibilities of deviations from the norms of path and speed in the ideal pure phased cycle.  There may be effected excess investment and premature maxima in the surplus productive process, and a failure, or at least too-long delay, in the propagation of the acceleration of the basic process.  These non-normative occurrences can be explained by the mathematics of such as restorative force, variable pressure, ideal frequency and probability distributions, and standard deviations, rather than merely unscientifically described in everyday jargon as “booms” and “slumps”. The economic expansion, despite an exigence for normative realization, does not enjoy the rigidity of, say, ideal waveform motion at the speed of light.  And the actual propagation effected through Galilean space and time by efficient-causal, “forceful” combinations of motivated mind and muscle, skills, methods, materials, machines, warehousing and transport is not instantaneous.  Even a perfectly-executed normative expansion takes time (t-a).

Functional Macroeconomic Dynamics, also called Monetary Field Theory, is a general theory of circuit acceleration.

 … the general theory of circuit acceleration is that it takes place in a constrained and limited way when quantities of money in the circuits are constant, but without let or hindrance (but not necessarily an instantaneous runaway) when quantities of money are variable. Finally, provided (D’-s’I’), (D”-s”I”), G vary only slightly from zero, so that their action is absorbed by stocks of goods at the final markets, they exercise a stimulating effect in favor of positive or negative circuit acceleration; otherwise their action pertains either to superimposed circuits of favorable balances of foreign trade and deficit government spending, or else to the cyclic phenomena of booms and slumps.  (CWL 15, 64-65)

once long-term acceleration is underway, rates of production increase increasingly; their graphs are concave upward; but the curvature moves from being flatter to being rounder as the acceleration is generalized from one section (of the capital sector) to another throughout the productive process.  During this period of generalization, rates of production are not merely increasing in geometrical progression but moving from less to more rapid geometrical progressions. … This situation, however, is bound to be temporary; its existence is the lag between the generalized long-term acceleration of the surplus stage and that of the basic stage.  When that is overcome, dQ’/Q’ moves again to a peak and remains there; and by the same token, dQ”/Q” will begin to decline. (CWL 15, 126)

Technology advances over time.  To take a single example, it yields the cotton gins for cleaning raw cotton, the spindles for spinning it into thread, the looms for making the thread into cloth, and the sewing machines that change cloth into clothing. (CWL 15, 76)

Extraction machinery                       coal; iron ore

Blast furnaces                                    pig iron

Steel mills                                           steel

Machine tools                                    gins, spindles, looms, sewing machines

(CWL 15, 22)

There are three reasons for expecting a long-term acceleration to be a massive affair. … 1) long term planning … 2) as the increased demand for one (unit) justifies development in a series of productive units, so the increased demand for many justifies development in a series of series of units … 3) There is a third  consideration of a more abstract character. The emergence both of new ideas and of the concrete conditions necessary for their practical implementation forms matrices of interdependence: any objective change gives rise to a series of new possibilities and the realization of any of these possibilities has similar consequences; but not all changes are equally pregnant, so that economic history is a succession of time periods in which alternatively the conditions for great change are being slowly accumulated and, later, the great changes themselves are being brought to birth. (CWL 15, 36)

 .4. A Revolutionary Way of Understanding the World

We avoid arguing about the concepts and meanings of revolution vs. evolution.  We simply want to point out radical changes – whether properly called revolutions or evolutions – of ways of understanding phenomena in Electromagnetics, Special Relativity and Macroeconomics.  We wish the reader to view and understand Lonergan’s Macroeconomic Field Theory as a radically new systematics of the objective economic process, as radically new as once were Electromagnetics and Special Relativity.

Faraday and Maxwell were concerned with understanding the two static and dynamic phenomena of electricity and magnetism, and they found a new way of understanding them as solidary with one another as formalized in Maxwell’s set of coherent equations comprising Electromagnetic Field Theory.  Lonergan, likewise, sought to understand the system of two or more monetary circuits expansionary macroeconomics; and he found the explanation in his set of coherent equations which we call Macroeconomic Field Theory.

Our subtitle is A Revolutionary Way of Understanding the World.  Phrases relevant to this idea include:

Re Faraday-Maxwell-Hertz Electromagnetic Field Theory

  • a classical transformation of scientific ideas
  • (resulting in) a wholly new idea
  • one of the greatest triumphs of human intellectual endeavor
  • the field of a force has “an independent physical existence
  • marked the end of theories based on instantaneous action at a distance, and the beginning of a general acceptance of field theories in the Maxwellian mode, with finite speed of propagation equal to that of light
  • (Helmholtz spoke of) a “complete revolution”
  • Maxwell had reversed the natural order according to which theoretical physics evolves

Re Einstein’s Special-Relativity Field theory

  • ‘A new Copernicus has been born! Read Einstein’s paper..
  • fundamentally new ways of dealing with the physical world
  • a revolution in science
  • one of the most significant accomplishments ever achieved in theoretical physics
  • a new theory of physics
  • a new manner in which to look at the world
  • all modern theories of physics are based “ultimately on two great pillars,” of which one is “special relativity,”
  • general relativity implied the essential falsity or inadequacy of one of the most successful theories physics had ever produced

We display excerpts from Cohen’s Revolution in Science re Electromagnetics :

Here we may see the ingredients of a classical transformation of scientific ideas, resulting in a wholly new idea, that electricity may be “disseminated through space” and need not necessarily be only “a fluid confined to conductors.” … … … Maxwell conveyed the extraordinary quality of his result by using italic type.  We “can scarcely avoid the inference,” he wrote (1890, I: 500), “that light consists in  the transverse undulations of the same medium which is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena.”  [Cohen, 1985, 304],

 since then every optical phenomenon can be directly treated as an electromagnetic problem.”  For Planck, this must “remain for all time” one of “the greatest triumphs of human intellectual endeavor.” [Cohen, 1985, 305],

The Faraday-Maxwell conception that there can be no such “immediate action at a distance,” and that the field of a force has “an independent physical existence” was so strange and difficult to comprehend that the new theory, according to Planck, “found no foothold in Germany and was scarcely even noticed.” [Cohen, 1985, 307]

 This marked the end of theories based on instantaneous action at a distance, and the beginning of a general acceptance of field theories in the Maxwellian mode, with finite speed of propagation equal to that of light. [Cohen, 1985, 308]

 In a lecture given in 1888, the year in which Hertz sent to Helmholtz his final results of his experiments on electric waves, Helmholtz (1907, 3) spoke of a “complete revolution” (“eine vollstandige Umwalzung”) that the”Faraday-Maxwellian ideas” had brought about in theoretical physics  (”the theoretical physics of the aether”). [Cohen, 1985, 308]

 “Maxwell had reversed the natural order according to which theoretical physics evolves; [Cohen, 1985, 309]

 And we display excerpts from Cohen’s Revolution in Science re Special Relativity

Loria’s teacher, “Professor Witkowski in Crakow (and a very great teacher he was),” read Einstein’s 1905 paper on relativity and “exclaimed to Loria, ‘A new Copernicus has been born! Read Einstein’s paper..’”  “It turned out that neither Born nor anyone else there had heard about Einstein.”  According to Infeld’s story, they then “went to the library, took from the bookshelves the seventeenth volume of Annalen der Physik and started to read Einstein’s article.”  Immediately, says Infeld, “Max Born recognized its greatness and also the necessity for formal generalizations.”  It was Infeld’s judgment that Born’s own work on relativity theory, produced much later, “became one of the important early contributions to this field of science.” [Cohen, 1985, 407]

Both Maxwell’s system of electromagnetic equations and Einstein’s redefinition of spacetime were fundamentally new ways of dealing with the physical world. [Cohen, 1985, 410-11]. 

By about 1911 Einstein’s special theory of relativity had gained enough adherents to constitute a revolution in science. … … … From a logical point of view (Wilhelm Wien) wrote (quoted in Pais 1982, 153) the principle of  relativity “must be considered as one of the most significant accomplishments ever achieved in theoretical physics.”  There was now, he said, clear “confirmation of the theory by experiment.” … Einstein “succeeded in reducing relativity to a simple principle. [Cohen, 1985, 412]

It has been said that Einstein did for the gravitational field what Maxwell had done for the electromagnetic field. One of the intellectually spectacular features of general relativity was to reduce Newtonian gravitational forces to aspects of the curvature of four-dimensional space-time. [Cohen, 1985, 415]

 Steven Weinberg (1979, 22) holds that Einstein’s “most remarkable achievement” was that “he for the first time made space and time a part of physics and not of metaphysics.”  According to the mathematician Emile Borel (1960, 3), “Einstein has given us not only a new theory of physics but also has taught us a new manner in which to look at the world.”  As a result, “it will be impossible for those who have studied his theories to think as they would have thought had they not studied them. … Thus Einstein’s two theories of relativity inaugurated a revolution in philosophy along with a revolution in physics. [Cohen, 1985, 418],

 Steven Weinberg (1981-20) has pointed out that “all modern theories of physics that deal with matter at the most fundamental level” are based “ultimately on two great pillars,” of which one is “special relativity,” the other “quantum mechanics.” [Cohen, 1985, 418]

 Furthermore, general relativity implied the essential falsity or inadequacy of one of the most successful theories physics had ever produced – the Newtonian theory of gravitation – and the introduction of a strange concept of  curvature of four-dimensional space-time to account for gravitational forces. [Cohen, 1985, 419]

And what we call Lonergan’s “Functional Macroeconomic Dynamics” or “Macroeconomic Field Theory” constitutes

  • A Copernican revolution in macroeconomics
  • A revolutionary new explanation — rather than a mere description — of the purely dynamic process of the propagation or transmission at finite speed of classes of productive economic energy
  • A set of aggregate velocities implicitly-defined by the relations in which they stand with one another – as in Hilbert’s geometry
  • An analysis constructed upon precise analytical distinctions upon which the superstructure comprising a complete theory is built
  • A purely-relational macroeconomic field theory which resembles in some respects of propagation-at-a-speed that of electromagnetic field theory
  • An invariant set of field-theoretic relations whose velocitous and accelerative variables may change in magnitude but whose explanatory relations remain invariant.

For an introductory discussion and preview of Lonergan’s ideas and their historical and scientific and explanatory significance – comparable to the degree of new thinking discovered by Faraday, Maxwell, and Hertz and by Einstein – please refer to the “Editors’ Introduction” of CWL 15, xxv.  Here is a Table of that Introduction’s sections:

Editors’ Introduction, Frederick G. Lawrence / xxv

  1. Lonergan’s Entry into Economics, 1930-1944 / xxvi
  2. Democratic Economics: An alternative to Liberalism and Socialism / xxxii
    1. Liberalism and Socialism as Economistic Ideologies / xxxv
    2. Free Enterprise as an Educational Project
  3. Lonergan’s Reentry into Economics, 1978-1983 / xxxix
  4. Lonergan’s Interlocutors in Economics / xliii
    1. Lonergan and Marx / xlvi
    2. Lonergan and Marshall / xlvii
    3. Lonergan and Keynes / xlviii
    4. Lonergan, Kalecki, and Others / li
    5. Lonergan and Schumpeter / li
  5. Macroeconomic Dynamic Analysis as a New Paradigm of Economic Theory / liv
  6. The Systematic Significance of the Fundamental distinction between Basic and Surplus Production and Exchange
    1. Profit / lxiii
    2. Interest / lxvii
    3. Lonergan’s Critique of ‘Supply-Side’ and ‘Demand-Side’ Economics / lxvii
  7. Lonergan’s Critique of Secularist Ideologies: The Need for a Theological Viewpoint / lxix

We print quotes re Lonergan’s Macroeconomic Field Theory as a new way of looking at and understanding economics.

Sufficient has been done here (to) provide a basis for a new paradigm of disequilibrium macrodynamics which, inter alia, responds to Schumpeter’s challenge that, … “has not taken any special cognizance of the process of creative destruction which we have taken to be the essence of capitalism.” (Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. P.104) [Burley, 1989, 120-21 ]

An analogy may help here.  Millenia of alchemy and descriptive chemistry preceded the breakthroughs of Mendeleev and Meyer in the 1860s.  There is nothing obvious about the relational structuring of elements that these two men brought into scientific being.  Nor was there a rush to accept it: but now the periodic table is part of our culture.  That shift in chemistry (the relational structuring of elements) stands out as the major paradigm shift in the field.  Is something similar possible in economics? [McShane, 2017, 8]

Lonergan pointed out that this differentiation of economic activities … is discussed by traditional economists such as S. M. Longfield (1802-1884), John Rae (1796-1872), Nassau Senior (1790-1864), Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk (1851-1914), and in the heavily disputed “Ricardo effect.” But Lonergan credits Piero Sraffa (1898-1983) as having clarified it most thoroughly in his famous essay, Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities (1960).  Yet even Sraffa does not use his sophisticated explanation of the “Ricardo effect” and the “roundabout” or “concertina”-like phenomena associated with it in the way Lonergan does. Lonergan is alone in using this difference in economic activities to specify the significant variables in his dynamic analysis… no one else considers the functional distinctions between different kinds of productive rhythms prior to, and more fundamental than, wealth, value, supply and demand, price levels and patterns, capital and labor, interest and profits, wages, and so forth….only Lonergan analyzes booms and slumps in terms of how their (explanatory) velocities, accelerations, and decelerations are or are not equilibrated in relation to the events, movements, and changes in two (or more) distinct monetary circuits of production and exchange as considered both in themselves (with circulatory, sequential dependence) and in relation to each other by means of crossover payments. [CWL 15, Editors’ Introduction, lxii]

“Functional” is for Lonergan a technical term pertaining to the realm of explanation, analysis, theory;  … Lonergan (identified) the contemporary notion of a function as one of the most basic kinds of explanatory, implicit definition – one that specifies “things in their relations to one another” … [CWL 15  26-27  ftnt 27]

Taking into account past and (expected) future values does not constitute the creative key transition to dynamics.  Those familiar with elementary statics and dynamics will appreciate the shift in thinking involved in passing from (static) equilibrium analysis … to an analysis where attention is focused on second-order differential equations, on d2θ/dt2, d2x/dt2, d2y/dt2, on the primary relativities of a range of related forces, central, friction, whatever.  Particular secondary boundary conditions, past and future pricings and quantities, are relatively insignificant for the analysis of the primary relativity immanent in, and applicable to, every instance of the process.  What is significant is the Leibnitz-Newtonian shift of context. [McShane, 1980, 127]

Lonergan illustrates his basic meaning of ‘explanation’ by referring to D. Hilbert’s method of implicit definition:  Let us say, then, that for every basic insight there is a circle of terms and relations, such that the terms fix the relations, the relations fix the terms, and the insight fixes both. ‘Thus the meaning of both point and straight line is fixed by the relation that two and only two points determine a straight line.“ [CWL 15,  26-27  ftnt 27]

In Lonergan’s circulation analysis, the basic terms are rates – rates of productive activities and rates of payments.  The objective of the analysis is to discover the underlying intelligible and dynamic (accelerative) network of functional, mutually conditioning, and interdependent relationships of these rates to one another.  [CWL 15  26-27  ftnt 27]

In the formulation of  a dynamic process, velocities would be implicitly defined by their functional relations to one another; the relations would define the terms and the terms would define the relations.

The objective principles and laws, which explain the objective process would be independent of the subjective psychology of the participants and would be cast in a formalism isomorphic with the intelligibilities immanent in the data of the measurable dynamic flows of the process.

The explanation in scientific macroeconomics would yield an invariant, normative theory; i.e. a set of general, invariant, normative relations universally applicable.  Though the magnitudes of the variables would change, the relations among the variables would be invariant.  (Consider the variable magnitudes vs. the invariant set of relations in Clerk-Maxwell’s Electromagnetics and in Einstein’s Special Relativity.

… The analysis that insists on the indeterminacy is the analysis that insists on the present fact: estimates and expectations are proofs of the present indeterminacy and attempts to get round it; and, to come to the main point, an analysis based on such estimates and expectations can never arrive at a criticism of them; it would move in a vicious circle.  It is to avoid that circle that we have divided the process in terms of indeterminate point-to-line and point-to-surface and higher correspondences. [CWL 15, 28]

No doubt Keynes was an economist first and a methodologist second … … Lonergan, for his part, is perhaps a methodologist first and an economist second, but, as we shall see, he was able to push his economic reflections further than Keynes because he had a firmer grasp of the essentials of an effective theory.   [Gibbons, 1987]

But Functional Macroeconomic Dynamics is explanatory rather than descriptive.  Its basic terms are velocities of explanatory functionings.  Its terms are classes of velocitous functional flows mutually defined by the functional relations in which they stand with one another.  The terms are purely relational, and the theory is a field theory of explanatory functional relations among n objects. In a system of flows -– such as the flows of products and money — scientific and explanatory analysis is in terms of the functional relations of these flows to one another.  Prices, such as those of the IS-LM and AD-AS models, are not the primary analyzand.  And pretio-quantital expenditures must be interpreted in the light of the functional interrelations of the explanatory flows which they compose.

as to the notion of cause, Newton conceived of his forces as efficient causes, and the modern mechanics drops the notion of force; it gets along perfectly well without it.  It thinks in terms of a field theory, the set of relationships between n objects.  The field theory is a set of intelligible relations linking what is implicitly defined by the relations themselves; it is a set of relational forms.  The form of any element is known through its relations to all other elements. … Field theory is a matter of the immanent intelligibility of the object. (CWL 10, 154)

Paraphrasing (CWL 10, 154)  … as to the notion of cause, macroeconomists mistakenly conceive of subjective preferences as elements of formal causes, and they conceive of changes in subjective preferences as random external efficient-cause shocks.  Explanatory Functional Macroeconomic Dynamics drops the notion of subjective preferences; it gets along perfectly well without it.  It makes precise analytical distinctions and discovers functional variables of scientific, explanatory significance. As in Special Relativity, it operates at a deeper point of view and achieves a more profound and general insight.  It thinks in terms of a field theory, the set of relationships between ninterdependent, implicitly-defined functional activities.  The field theory of Functional Macroeconomic Dynamics is a set of intelligible functional relations linking functionings which are implicitly defined by the relations themselves; it is a set of relational forms.  The form of any functioning is known through its relations to all other functionings.  ….  The field theory of macroeconomic dynamics is a matter of the immanent intelligibility of the objective, dynamic functional process.