Haunted by Eddington’s “Reality”

As noted in yesterday’s post, I’m reading Eddington. Whilst it was the Gifford Lectures association that was the proximate cause, it was clearly McGilchrist’s references to Eddington that had sown the seed. The parallels are already patent – as noted yesterday – but I need to check the specific references from McGilchrist … later. For now Eddington himself:

Our attitude to the whole scheme
of natural knowledge
must be profoundly modified.

Scientific determinism is an “ardent faith“.

He spends a good deal of his time elaborating what can we really mean by “reality” and “actuality” – using a lot of scare quotes, as do I, I might add.

There is still the tendency
to use the word “reality”
as a word of magic comfort
like the blessed word “Mesopotamia”.

(Remember WWI and its poets are raw memories here in the early 1920’s.)

Whilst defending the bounds of what can be considered “good science”, he warns that:

“The symbolic nature of the entities of physics are generally recognised; and the scheme of physics is formulated in such a way as to make it almost self-evident that it is a partial aspect of something wider.”

What lies beyond “good science” is no less real, not super-natural, merely super-metrical, super-symbolically-representable. Science cannot have it both ways, as I may have said before. It cannot say that the stuff it has discounted by design is therefore not real. This is “not a rejection of reasoning”, in fact “the same hiatus in reasoning” exists in the foundation of the physical world itself. There is no cosmic bootstrap.

After finally summarising the revolutions connecting Euclid & Ptolemy with Galileo & Copernicus, with Newton, Einstein and Heisenberg he concludes:

“The more it changes,
the more it remains the same.”

‘Twas ever thus, plus ca change.
“Nothing new under the sun” … as I so often say.

Plausibility is key, the counterfactuals of possibility.

“Proof is an idol.”

(And so much more. eg W K Clifford is a source too.)

The biggest reinforcement for me is in my information-based metaphysics of Epistemological Ontology. He makes a good deal of the distinction between symbolic and intimate knowledge – (the Connaitre <> Savoir or Wissen <> Kennen distinction) – and the triad they form with the real world “out there”. The idea of radical empiricism. He even gives it a name:

“The New Epistemological Outlook”

Eddington wasn’t just sharing the weirdness of quantum theory and relativistic gravity, with a non-expert audience, he was pointing out to the experts themselves that it really does undermine what counts as a scientific view of reality. The plausible conviction that there is a lot more to the real world than can be accounted for by scientific symbolism.


(PS – follow-up the reverse references from McGilchrist.)

McGilchrist emphasis is on Eddington quotes on the physical being more mysterious than the mental (all ones I already had marked even if not included above … excellent.)

“No-one can deny that mind is
the first and most direct thing in our experience
and all else is remote inference …

… inference either intuitive or deliberate.”

With no need of any Descartes references, simply Reinforced by Russell:

Physics is mathematical NOT because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little: it is only its mechanical properties we can discover. For the rest our knowledge is negative.

Mechanical? – real substance – Eddington would say “metrical”.

(McGilchrist’s “The Matter With Things” is so marvellously produced by Perspectiva – so thoroughly indexed and annotated – that checking references is a doddle for any scholar.)

[PPS on the strength of this Eddington reading I have now also acquired a second hand copy of his Philosophy of Physical Science – The 1938 Tarner Lectures (1939) – in McGilchrist’s bibliography, natch.]

One thought on “Haunted by Eddington’s “Reality””

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.