At least for Dutch astronomer Anton Pannekoek (1873–1960) , also a Marxist thinker, and council communist:
In the many drawings that Dutch astronomer, Marxist thinker, and council communist Antonie (“Anton”) Pannekoek (1873–1960) made of the Milky Way over the course of his life, it is not immediately clear what we are looking at. The band of stars appears like a smudged backbone, sometimes in “true” colour (white stars on a black background), and sometimes inverted, with the stars as dark points and the “milk” of the Milky Way made inky. They are simultaneously vague and precise — something between a charcoal rubbing and an X-ray.
In fact, the drawings are not technically of the Milky Way at all, because according to Pannekoek, such a thing was not actually accessible as a purely objective entity. While it was widely understood in Pannekoek’s time that even highly-skilled astronomers fall prey to observational bias during stargazing (a phenomenon known as “the personal equation”), Pannekoek went further, theorising that what we perceive as the Milky Way is actually a visual trick that emerges at the intersection of the stars and the people on earth who perceive them. During an article published in an 1897 issue of Popular Astronomy, Pannekoek discussed the well-known problem of the Milky Way’s ocular inconsistency, wondering if “the character of the galactic phenomenon precludes its being fixed by delineation”.2 This was not just a failing of observational science; it reflected what the Milky Way actually was: a kind of optical illusion that changed its shape depending on the lived experiences of the observer, their historical period, and how these experiences informed the patterns that the mind constructed out of the fluid nature of reality. Pannekoek’s drawings, then, are of the act of perception itself — an approach informed by his political beliefs.
Like Marx and Engels — who drew on Feuerbach, Hegel, and Heraclitus — Pannekoek understood material reality to be a “continuous and unbounded stream in perpetual motion”.3 He also believed that the human brain had a tendency to generate fixed, abstract patterns from this fluidity, patterns that are always socially and historically contingent.Lauren Collee, “Marxist Astronomy: The Milky Way According to Anton Pannekoek” at Public Domain Review (October 27, 2021)
Pannekoek would have been a stalwart, had he lived in our day, in the war on math.
You may also wish to read: Further dispatches from the war on math (September 14, 2021) Discussions of social policy where math is relevant can be useful. But a student who does not understand how an equation works will fail at both math AND social policy.