Eddington and the Real World

Arthur Eddington has been on my reading list for a decade or two, since he was so often cited as the person who had first gotten to grips with the new physics and its communication to a wider real-world audience, beyond those minds engaged at Copenhagen / Paris and in the Solvay conferences.

I happen to be reading his 1928 “The Nature of the Physical World” since I spotted in the previous holding post that, like so many important thinkers, this was based on his 1927 Gifford Lectures.

It’s very good.

I had to stop annotating when I was reaching my almost-as-much-annotation-as-original-text state. Noticeable that in terms of accepted physics, he notes that many of his interpretations and perceived problems were very much live debates amongst the main players at the very time he was lecturing and that undoubtedly some of his guesses we now know turned-out not to be the case. But, that doesn’t in any way detract from the quality of his thinking and explanation. A great voice too; it reads like he’s talking to you.

Love that he talks quite naturally of the aether and, without using the word emergence, he talks of possible layers, including a sub-aether for example, as well as the naturally evolved layers of living biology and sentient consciousness.

Love that, although he follows the scientists’ party-line that non-scientific philosophy is there to be the butt of jokes, he clearly has a lot of respect for Whitehead’s contemporary thinking.

Love his Einsteinian emphasis – multi-dimensional, curved space-time – that geometry is very much part of the fabric of reality itself and that, like the ancients, saw geometry as quite distinct from – more fundamental than – the mere human toolsets of the rest of mathematics and logic. Reality, time & causation; fluid-flow metaphors; mind-stuff, will & volition; it’s all there.

[Posted more on this Eddington read here.]


One example geometric argument:

The number 10.

Recall I kept getting a strange feeling when 10 turned-up in Katoi’s mystical numerology musings – how can the base of our 2 x pentadactyl integer counting convention be significant in fundamental physical constants – it can’t, can it? The significance – if any – must be the other way around.

10 is significant geometrically long before we chordate vertebrates evolved our standard pattern of limbic symmetry.

We find it reasonably easy to think of the fabric of reality – the aether – in 4D terms, 3 of space and one of time. Even in 3D space we have trouble shifting our “surface” idea of curvature from 2D to 3D, but we indulge Einstein’s imagination in projecting the curvature concept into 3D space as a model of gravitation. But 10? And “i” as the square-root of -1 is everywhere as a ruse to symbolise the dimensions beyond those we can envisage in our plane of representation.

(Aside – not difficult to see how knotted strings arise as a way of compactifying or pointifying additional “curved” spatial dimensions above the 3 we can readily envisage. So maybe no coincidence that 10 turns up as the minimum number of dimensions in string theories, long after Eddington’s time? 2nd level interrupt – digression – 4 bases in DNA maybe has a fundamental geometric origin – seen that somewhere before? Long before Crick & Watson [& Franklin] Eddington is musing on the Mendelian atoms of biological evolution. Whoop, whoop, whoop – pull-up, pull-up, pull-up before we crash and burn. (*) See note on mystical numerology below.)

Back to the geometric significance of 10 in the fundamental fabric of reality – geometric series as well a geometry per se?

Eddington is explaining Euclidian & non-Euclidian (E / nE) geometry after several reminders that the whole of nature appears to be defined by 10 principal coefficients – all of which are values of relations, ratios or products – the coefficients are not things in themselves. He dwells at length on the Planck constant “h” being a product of energy and time (erg seconds) a recurring quantum of space-time or “action” – stuff happening.

2D (curved surface) nE geometry plus 1 relation = 3D E.
4D (curved space-time) nE geometry plus 3 +2 +1 relations = 10D E.

Eddington’s world model is relational – objects (relata) are simply intersections of the more fundamental relations. A relational world of 10 dimensions in the sub-aether.

He comes to bury Whitehead, not to praise him, methinks? The whole thing, despite appearances for the sake of his scientific colleagues, is a commendation of Whitehead?!?



    • Quotes on Whitehead p236 etc after earlier “jibes”
    • Instinctive awareness p17
    • McGilchrist master <> servant geometry metaphor! p161

“The pure mathematician is under the impression that geometry is a subject that belongs entirely to him.

The pure mathematician, at first called in as servant, presently likes to assert himself as master”

[Posted more on this Eddington read here.]

[(*) Mystical Numerology? I’m making a distinction here with geometric relations that appear in the metaphysical foundations of physics itself, versus other geometric – mystical numerology – relations in other evolved levels. I only mention the number 10 and its relation to our human experience of maths (with base 10 counting) because maths itself has such a hold on foundational thinking (as per that final quote above). Any causal significance is reversed. Eddo points out – as I only hinted – that mystical numerology and the number 10 do in fact turn up at at higher evolved levels too. Not least the golden ratio (phi) and Fibonacci relations in the human aesthetics of wider nature where phi really is cosine (circle/10), a geometric relation whose expansion includes root(5). Starting from an earlier tweet:

The base post here is not about mystical numerology – there are lots of interesting relations – we’ve done the golden ratio et al, before and will no doubt come back to them again at the DNA level 🙂 ]

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