Dialectical Materialism (A. Spirkin)
Prev Chapter 2. The System of Categories in Philosophical Thought Next

The Motion of Matter

Motion and its forms. The world is in constant motion. It has no "days-off". It never gets tired. The billions of stars that we admire on a clear night and that seem motionless to the naked eye are moving at colossal speeds. Every star is a sun with its own ring of planets. The stars and the satellites circling round them also revolve on their own axis and participate in the turning of the whole galaxy around its axis. Moreover, various parts of the galaxy have different cycles. Our galaxy moves in relation to other galaxies. And there is no end to these whimsical courses of the universal round about.

At a certain stage in their evolution some stars explode and flare up like huge cosmic fireworks. Our Sun is a blazing fiery hurricane. Its whole surface is in a state of bubbling, erupting agitation. Colossal fiery waves pass over the turbulent solar surface. Huge fountains of flame—the protuberances — spurt to heights of hundreds of thousands of kilometres. The gigantic streams of internal heat that come to the surface are poured forth into space in the form of radiation. Many thinkers have perceptively noted the astonish ing activity of matter, its tremendous internal energy. As Francis Bacon, for example, put it, "matter, surrounded by a sensuous, poetic glamour, seems to attract man's whole entity by winning smiles".[1] In view of this indefatigable activity of matter it would hardly be possible to create an unbridgeable gap between its living and inorganic forms. Apparently they have more in common than is visible to the eye.

Motion is the mode of existence of matter. To be means to be in motion. The world is integrating and disintegrating. It never attains ultimate perfection. Like matter, motion is uncreatable and indestructible. It is not introduced from outside but is included in matter, which is not inert but active. Motion is self-motion in the sense that the tendency, the impulse to change of state is inherent in matter itself: it is its own cause.

The forms and kinds of motion are manifold. They are connected with the levels of the structural organisation of matter. The basic forms are motion of elementary particles, appearance and interaction of atoms and molecules, the chaotic displacement of particles in the form of heat motion, the mechanical motion of macroscopic bodies, the biological motion with all its diverse manifestations, the life of human society and, finally, a quite conceivable metasocial form of motion in the shape of extremely intricate connections between various civilisations on a cosmic scale. Every form of motion has its "vehicle"—substratum. Thus elementary particles are the material vehicles of the diverse processes of intermutations. The elements of the atomic nucleus are the material vehicles of the nuclear form of motion, the elements of the atom, of intra-atomic form of motion, the elements of molecules and molecular compounds, of the chemical form of motion, and so on up to the social form of motion, which is the highest of all known forms.

The motion of any thing occurs only in relation to that of another. The motion of a separate body is an absurdity. Essentially motion is nothing but the interaction of things as a result of which they change. "Is it permissible to consider the motion of only one body in the entire universe? By the motion of a body we always mean its change of position in relation to a second body. It is, therefore, contrary to common sense to speak about the motion of only one body."[2] In order to study the motion of any object one must find another object in relation to which one can consider the motion that interests us. This other object is known as the system of reference.

Motion is intrinsically contradictory. It is a unity of change and stability, of disturbance and rest. Thus any change in structural elements, properties or relations takes place along side the conservation of certain other elements and every conservation takes place only through motion. In general, in the endless flux of ceaseless motion there are always moments of stability, expressed above all in conservation of the state of motion, and also in the form of equilibrium of phenomena and relative rest. No matter how much an object changes, it retains its own particular character for as long as it exists. A river does not cease to be a river because it flows. Flow is, in fact, the very thing that makes a river what it is. Possessing absolute rest means ceasing to exist. Everything in a state of relative rest is inevitably involved in some kind of motion and ultimately in the infinite forms of its manifestation in the universe. Rest always has only an apparent and relative character. Bodies may rest only in relation to a given system of reference, conventionally regarded as motionless. For example, we are motionless in relation to a given building and it is motionless in relation to the Earth. But we are continuously moving with the Earth and the Earth, together with its environing air ocean, is revolving on its own axis and around the Sun.

The unity of matter and motion. Motion was not always regarded as an inseparable attribute of matter. In the history of philosophy and natural science there existed two opposite points of view: one of them, energism, absolutised energy, the other, mechanism, regarded matter as a passive principle with no intrinsic activity. In order to set it in motion there had to be a "divine first push". In various sciences this doctrine took the form of notions of hidden forces, "minor ghosts" (the life force, spirit, etc.). This was a search for non-mechanical causes of various phenomena. The idealists maintained and still maintain that spirit is the active, creative principle, while matter is inert.

The absolutising of energy was expressed in the conception of energism. The German scientist Wilhelm Ostwald believed that there was nothing in the world but energy. What did any person feel when he was struck with a stick—the stick or the energy? Only energy, said Ostwald. And wherever people were accustomed to feeling and seeing matter, according to Ostwald, they were feeling and seeing only "pure energy". The discovery of the law of the conservation and transformation of energy and the successes of thermodynamics as applied to numerous natural phenomena encouraged thinkers to turn "pure" energy into an absolute, the ultimate content of everything that exists. But pure energy is an abstraction. Energy is one of the characteristics of the intensity of the interaction of material objects; energy is motion, which is impossible without a material vehicle, just as thought is impossible without a thinking brain or blueness without something that is blue.

In the process of scientific research one often has to single out the energic aspect of processes and disregard their vehicles. This is a justifiable abstraction. While the real structure of elementary particles, for example, is unknown one has to confine oneself to an energic description of interconversion processes. But this absolutisation leads to energy, as a quantity surviving in all these processes, being sometimes interpreted as indestructible, as a stable substance from which elementary particles, as it were, are "made". Sometimes photons are identified with "pure energy". The discovery of light pressure showed that photons (light) are infinitely small accumulations of matter possessing not only energy but also mass. The law connecting the mass and energy of material objects is sometimes interpreted in the spirit of energism. Erroneously identifying mass with matter, the energists assume that matter may turn into a concentration of pure energy. It is well known, however, that mass is not matter, but only one of its properties. And the meaning of Einstein's energy equation E=mc2 is that as mass increases, so, too, does energy, a material object possesses a certain mass and a corresponding amount of energy. Matter cannot change into any of its properties: it is the vehicle of all their infinite diversity. Mass is the measure of such properties of matter as inertia and gravitation, while energy is the measure of its motion. So the mass-energy law reflects and proves the inseparability of the properties of matter and motion. Motion has both a spatial and temporal character.



See K. Marx and F. Engels, "The Holy Family", Collected Works, Vol. 4, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, p. 128.


Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, The Evolution of Physics. The Growth of Ideas from Early Concepts to Relativity and Quanta, Simon and Schuster, N.Y., 1942, p. 222.

Prev Home Next
Matter as the Substance of Everything That Exists Up Space and Time