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Arthur Eddington

Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882-1944)
Born 28 December 1882(1882-12-28)
Kendal, England
Died 22 November 1944 (aged 61)
Cambridge, England
Residence England
Nationality English
Fields Astrophysicist
Institutions University of Cambridge
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Manchester University
Academic advisors Robert Alfred Herman
Doctoral students Leslie Comrie
Known for Eddington limit
Eddington number
Eddington-Dirac number
Influences Horace Lamb
Arthur Schuster
John William Graham
Notable awards Royal SocietyRoyal Medal (1928)
Smith's Prize (1907)
RAS Gold Medal (1924)
Henry Draper Medal (1924)
Bruce Medal (1924)
Knights Bachelor (1930)
Order of Merit (1938)

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, OM, FRS (28 December 1882 – 22 November 1944) was a British astrophysicist of the early 20th century. The Eddington limit, the natural limit to the luminosity of stars, or the radiation generated by accretion onto a compact object, is named in his honour.

He is famous for his work regarding the Theory of Relativity. Eddington wrote a number of articles which announced and explained Einstein's theory of general relativity to the English-speaking world. World War I severed many lines of scientific communication and new developments in German science were not well known in England. He also conducted an expedition to observe the Solar eclipse of 29 May 1919 that provided one of the earliest confirmations of relativity, and he became known for his popular expositions and interpretations of the theory.

Contents

Biography

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Early years

Eddington was born in Kendal, Cumbria, England, son of Quaker parents, Arthur Henry Eddington and Sarah Ann Shout. His father taught at a Quaker training college in Lancashire before moving to Kendal to become headmaster of Stramongate School. He died in the typhoid epidemic which swept England in 1884. When his father died, his mother was left to bring up her two children with relatively little income. The family moved to Weston-super-Mare where at first Stanley (as his mother and sister always called Eddington) was educated at home before spending three years at a preparatory school.

In 1893 Stanley entered Brynmelyn School. He proved to be a most capable scholar particularly in mathematics and English literature. His performance earned him a scholarship to Owens College, Manchester in 1898, which he was able to attend, having turned 16 that year. He spent the first year in a general course, but turned to physics for the next three years. Eddington was greatly influenced by his physics and mathematics teachers, Arthur Schuster and Horace Lamb. At Manchester, Eddington lived at Dalton Hall, where he came under the lasting influence of the Quaker mathematician J.W. Graham. His progress was rapid, winning him several scholarships and he graduated with a B.Sc. in physics with First Class Honours in 1902.

Based on his performance at Owens College, he was awarded a scholarship to the University of Cambridge (Trinity College) in 1902. His tutor at Cambridge was the distinguished mathematician R.A. Herman and in 1904 Eddington became the first ever second-year student to be placed as Senior Wrangler. After receiving his M.A. in 1905, he began research on thermionic emission in the Cavendish Laboratory. This did not go well, and meanwhile he spent time teaching mathematics to first year engineering students. This hiatus was brief.

Astronomy

In January 1906, Eddington was nominated to the post of chief assistant to the Astronomer Royal at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. He left Cambridge for Greenwich the following month. He was put to work on a detailed analysis of the parallax of 433 Eros on photographic plates that had started in 1900. He developed a new statistical method based on the apparent drift of two background stars, winning him the Smith's Prize in 1907. The prize won him a Fellowship of Trinity College, Cambridge. In December 1912 George Darwin, son of Charles Darwin, died suddenly and Eddington was promoted to his chair as the Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy in early 1913. Later that year, Robert Ball, holder of the theoretical Lowndean chair also died, and Eddington was named the director of the entire Cambridge Observatory the next year. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society shortly after.

Eddington also investigated the interior of stars through theory, and developed the first true understanding of stellar processes. He began this in 1916 with investigations of possible physical explanations for Cepheid variables. He began by extending Karl Schwarzschild's earlier work on radiation pressure in Emden polytropic models. These models treated a star as a sphere of gas held up against gravity by internal thermal pressure, and one of Eddington's chief additions was to show that radiation pressure was necessary to prevent collapse of the sphere. He developed his model despite knowingly lacking firm foundations for understanding opacity and energy generation in the stellar interior. However, his results allowed for calculation of temperature, density and pressure at all points inside a star, and Eddington argued that his theory was so useful for further astrophysical investigation that it should be retained despite not being based on completely accepted physics. James Jeans contributed the important suggestion that stellar matter would certainly be ionized, but that was the end of any collaboration between the pair, who became famous for their lively debates.

Eddington defended his method by pointing to the utility of his results, particularly his important mass-luminosity relation. This had the unexpected result of showing that virtually all stars, including giants and dwarfs, behaved as ideal gases. In the process of developing his stellar models, he sought to overturn current thinking about the sources of stellar energy. Jeans and others defended the Kelvin-Helmholtz mechanism, which was based on classical mechanics, while Eddington speculated broadly about the qualitative and quantitative consequences of possible proton-electron annihilation and nuclear fusion processes.

With these assumptions, he demonstrated that the interior temperature of stars must be millions of degrees. In 1924, he discovered the mass-luminosity relation for stars (see Lecchini in #External links and references ). Despite some disagreement, Eddington's models were eventually accepted as a powerful tool for further investigation, particularly in issues of stellar evolution. The confirmation of his estimated stellar diameters by Michelson in 1920 proved crucial in convincing astronomers unused to Eddington's intuitive, exploratory style. Eddington's theory appeared in mature form in 1926 as The Internal Constitution of the Stars, which became an important text for training an entire generation of astrophysicists.

During World War I Eddington became embroiled in controversy within the British astronomical and scientific communities. Many astronomers, chief among them H.H. Turner, argued that scientific relations with all of the Central Powers should be permanently ended due to their conduct in the war. Eddington, a Quaker pacifist, struggled to keep wartime bitterness out of astronomy. He repeatedly called for British scientists to preserve their pre-war friendships and collegiality with German scientists. Eddington's pacifism caused severe difficulties during the war, especially when he was called up for conscription in 1918. He claimed conscientious objector status, a position recognized by the law, if somewhat despised by the public. In 1918 the government sought to revoke this deferment, and only the timely intervention of the Astronomer Royal and other high profile figures kept Eddington out of prison.

Eddington's work in astrophysics in the late 1920s and the 1930s continued his work in stellar structure, and precipitated further clashes with Jeans and Edward Arthur Milne. An important topic was the extension of his models to take advantage of developments in quantum physics, including the use of degeneracy physics in describing dwarf stars. This precipitated his famous dispute with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who was then a student at Cambridge. Chandrasekhar's work presaged the existence of black holes, which at the time seemed so absurdly non-physical that Eddington refused to believe that Chandrasekhar's purely mathematical derivation had consequences for the real world. Chandrasekhar's narrative of this incident, in which his work is harshly rejected, portrays Eddington as rather cruel and dogmatic, and is at variance with Eddington's character as described by other contemporaries. Eddington's criticism seems to have been based on a suspicion that a purely mathematical derivation from quantum theory was not enough to explain the daunting physical paradoxes that were apparently part of degenerate stars.

Relativity

During World War I Eddington was Secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, which meant he was the first to receive a series of letters and papers from Willem de Sitter regarding Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Eddington was fortunate in being not only one of the few astronomers with the mathematical skills to understand general relativity, but (owing to his internationalist and pacifist views) one of the few at the time who was still interested in pursuing a theory developed by a German physicist. He quickly became the chief supporter and expositor of relativity in Britain. He and Astronomer Royal Frank Watson Dyson organized two expeditions to observe a solar eclipse in 1919 to make the first empirical test of Einstein’s theory: the measurement of the deflection of light by the sun's gravitational field. In fact, it was Dyson’s argument for the indispensability of Eddington’s expertise in this test that allowed him to escape prison during the war.

One of Eddington's photographs of the total solar eclipse of 29 May 1919, presented in his 1920 paper announcing its success, confirming Einstein's theory that light "bends"

After the war, Eddington travelled to the island of Príncipe near Africa to watch the solar eclipse of 29 May 1919. During the eclipse, he took pictures of the stars in the region around the Sun. According to the theory of general relativity, stars with light rays that passed near the Sun would appear to have been slightly shifted because their light had been curved by its gravitational field. This effect is noticeable only during eclipses, since otherwise the Sun's brightness obscures the affected stars. Eddington showed that Newtonian gravitation could be interpreted to predict half the shift predicted by Einstein. (Somewhat confusingly, this same half-shift was initially predicted by Einstein with an incomplete version of general relativity. By the time of the 1919 eclipse Einstein had corrected his calculations.)

Eddington's observations published the next year[1] confirmed Einstein's theory, and were hailed at the time as a conclusive proof of general relativity over the Newtonian model. The news was reported in newspapers all over the world as a major story. Afterward, Eddington embarked on a campaign to popularize relativity and the expedition as landmarks both in scientific development and international scientific relations.

It has been claimed that Eddington's observations were of poor quality and he had unjustly discounted simultaneous observations at Sobral, Brazil which appeared closer to the Newtonian model[2]. The quality of the 1919 results was indeed poor compared to later observations, but was sufficient to persuade contemporary astronomers. The rejection of the results from the Brazil expedition was due to a defect in the telescopes used which, again, was completely accepted and well-understood by contemporary astronomers.[3]. The myth that Eddington's results were fraudulent is a modern invention.

Throughout this period Eddington lectured on relativity, and was particularly well known for his ability to explain the concepts in lay terms as well as scientific. He collected many of these into the Mathematical Theory of Relativity in 1923, which Albert Einstein suggested was "the finest presentation of the subject in any language." He was an early advocate of Einstein's General Relativity, and an interesting anecdote well illustrates his humor and personal intellectual investment: Ludwig Silberstein, a physicist who thought of himself as an expert on relativity, approached Eddington at the Royal Society's (6 November) 1919 meeting where he had defended Einstein's Relativity with his Brazil-Principe Solar Eclipse calculations with some degree of scepticism and ruefully charged Arthur as one who claimed to be one of three men who actually understood the theory (Silberstein, of course, was including himself and Einstein as the other two). When Eddington refrained from replying, he insisted Arthur not be "so shy", whereupon Eddington replied, "Oh, no! I was wondering who the third one might be!"[4]

Popular and philosophical writings

During the 1920s and 30s Eddington gave innumerable lectures, interviews, and radio broadcasts on relativity (in addition to his textbook The Mathematical Theory of Relativity), and later, quantum mechanics. Many of these were gathered into books, including The Nature of the Physical World and New Pathways in Science. His skillful use of literary allusions and humor helped make these famously difficult subjects quite accessible.

Eddington's books and lectures were immensely popular with the public, not only because of Eddington’s clear and entertaining exposition, but also for his willingness to discuss the philosophical and religious implications of the new physics. He argued for a deeply-rooted philosophical harmony between scientific investigation and religious mysticism, and also that the positivist nature of modern physics (i.e., relativity and quantum physics) provided new room for personal religious experience and free will. Unlike many other spiritual scientists, he rejected the idea that science could provide proof of religious propositions. He promoted the infinite monkey theorem in his 1928 book The Nature of the Physical World, with the phrase "If an army of monkeys were strumming on typewriters, they might write all the books in the British Museum". His popular writings made him, quite literally, a household name in Great Britain between the world wars.

Cosmology

Eddington was also heavily involved with the development of the first generation of general relativistic cosmological models. He had been investigating the instability of the Einstein universe when he learned of both Lemaitre's 1927 paper postulating an expanding or contracting universe and Hubble's work on the recession on the spiral nebulae. He soon became an enthusiastic supporter of an expanding universe cosmology, pointing to the nebular recession as evidence of a curved space-time. However, he never accepted the argument that an expanding universe required a beginning. He rejected what would later be known as Big Bang cosmologies as 'too unaesthetically abrupt.' He felt the cosmological constant must have played the crucial role in the universe's evolution from an Einsteinian steady state to its current expanding state, and most of his cosmological investigations focused on the constant's significance and characteristics.

Fundamental theory

During the 1920s until his death, he increasingly concentrated on what he called "fundamental theory" which was intended to be a unification of quantum theory, relativity and gravitation. At first he progressed along "traditional" lines, but turned increasingly to an almost numerological analysis of the dimensionless ratios of fundamental constants.

His basic approach was to combine several fundamental constants in order to produce a dimensionless number. In many cases these would result in numbers close to 1040, its square, or its square root. He was convinced that the mass of the proton and the charge of the electron were a natural and complete specification for constructing a Universe and that their values were not accidental. One of the discoverers of quantum mechanics, Paul Dirac, also pursued this line of investigation, which has become known as the Dirac large numbers hypothesis, and some scientists even today believe it has something to it.

A somewhat damaging statement in his defence of these concepts involved the fine structure constant, α. At the time it was measured to be very close to 1/136, and he argued that the value should in fact be exactly 1/136 for epistemological reasons. Later measurements placed the value much closer to 1/137, at which point he switched his line of reasoning to argue that one more should be added to the degrees of freedom, so that the value should in fact be exactly 1/137, the Eddington number. Wags at the time started calling him "Arthur Adding-one". This change of stance detracted from Eddington's credibility in the physics community. The current measured value is estimated at 1/137.035999679(94).

Eddington believed he had identified an algebraic basis for fundamental physics, which he termed "E-frames" (representing a certain group - a Clifford algebra). While his theory has long been neglected by the general physics community, similar algebraic notions underlie many modern attempts at a grand unified theory. Moreover, Eddington's emphasis on the values of the fundamental constants, and specifically upon dimensionless numbers derived from them, is nowadays a central concern of physics.

He did not complete this line of research before his death in 1944, and his book entitled Fundamental Theory was published posthumously in 1948. Eddington died in Cambridge, England and is buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge.

Eddington number (cycling)

Eddington is credited with devising a measure of a cyclist's long distance riding achievements. The Eddington Number in this context is defined as E, the number of days a cyclist has cycled more than E miles[5][6]. For example an Eddington Number of 70 would imply that a cyclist has cycled more than 70 miles in a day on 70 occasions. Achieving a high Eddington number is difficult since moving from, say, 70 to 75 will probably require more than five new long distance rides since any rides shorter than 75 miles will no longer be included in the reckoning.

The construct of the Eddington Number for cycling is identical to the h-index that quantifies both the actual scientific productivity and the apparent scientific impact of a scientist.

Honours

Awards

Named after him

Service

Bibliography

  • 1914. Stellar Movements and the Structure of the Universe. London: Macmillan.
  • 1918. Report on the relativity theory of gravitation. London, Fleetway press, Ltd.
  • 1920. Space, Time and Gravitation: An Outline of the General Relativity Theory. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-33709-7
  • 1923, 1952. The Mathematical Theory of Relativity. Cambridge University Press.
  • 1926. Stars and Atoms. Oxford: British Association.
  • 1926. The Internal Constitution of Stars. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-33708-9
  • 1928. The Nature of the Physical World. MacMillan. 1935 replica edition: ISBN 0-8414-3885-4, University of Michigan 1981 edition: ISBN 0-472-06015-5 (1926–27 Gifford lectures)
  • 1929. Science and the Unseen World. U.S. Macmillan, UK Allen & Unwin. 1980 Reprint Arden Library ISBN 0-8495-1426-6. 2004 U.S. reprint - Whitefish, Montana : Kessinger Publications: ISBN 1-4179-1728-8. 2007 UK reprint London, Allen & Unwin ISBN 9780901689818 (Swarthmore Lecture), with a new foreword by George Ellis.
  • 19nn. The Expanding Universe: Astronomy's 'Great Debate', 1900-1931. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-34976-1
  • 1930. Why I Believe in God: Science and Religion, as a Scientist Sees It
  • 1935. New Pathways in Science. Cambridge University Press.
  • 1936. Relativity Theory of Protons and Electrons. Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • 1939. Philosophy of Physical Science. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-7581-2054-0 (1938 Tarner lectures at Cambridge))
  • 1925. The Domain of Physical Science. 2005 reprint: ISBN 1-4253-5842-X
  • 1948. Fundamental Theory. Cambridge University Press.

In popular culture

Eddington was portrayed by actor David Tennant in the television film Einstein and Eddington (duration 89 minutes), a co-production of the BBC and HBO, broadcast in the UK on Saturday 22 November 2008, on BBC2.

See also

References

  1. ^ Dyson, F.W.; Eddington, A.S., & Davidson, C.R. (1920). "A Determination of the Deflection of Light by the Sun's Gravitational Field, from Observations Made at the Solar eclipse of May 29, 1919". Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. A 220: 291–333. doi:10.1098/rsta.1920.0009. http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1920RSPTA.220..291D. 
  2. ^ Not Only Because of Theory: Dyson, Eddington and the Competing Myths of the 1919 Eclipse Expedition by Daniel Kennefick
  3. ^ D. Kennefick, "Testing relativity from the 1919 eclipse- a question of bias," Physics Today, March 2009, pp. 37-42.
  4. ^ As related by Eddington to Chandrasekhar and quoted in Walter Isaacson "Einstein: His Life and Universe", page 262
  5. ^ PhysicsWorld Archive » Volume 18 » Cycling record
  6. ^ Tlatet: Eddington number
  7. ^ a b c d Who's who entry for A.S. Eddington.

External links and references

Obituaries


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

We used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two. We are finding that we must learn a great deal more about "and".

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, OM (28 December 188222 November 1944) was Plumian Professor of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge. He was arguably the most important astrophysicist of the early 20th century, and was also a successful populariser. He became world-famous in 1919, when his observations of the bending of starlight near the eclipsed sun proved the correctness of Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.

Contents

Sourced

Physics has in the main contented itself with studying the abridged edition of the book of nature.
  • We have found a strange footprint on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories, one after another, to account for its origins. At last, we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the footprint. And lo! It is our own.
    • Space, Time and Gravitation (1920)
  • Physics has in the main contented itself with studying the abridged edition of the book of nature.
    • "A Generalization of Weyl's Theory of the Electromagnetic and Gravitational Fields" in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A99 (1921), p. 108
It is reasonable to hope that in the not too distant future we shall be competent to understand so simple a thing as a star.
  • At terrestrial temperatures matter has complex properties which are likely to prove most difficult to unravel; but it is reasonable to hope that in the not too distant future we shall be competent to understand so simple a thing as a star.
    • The Internal Constitution of Stars, Cambridge. (1926). ISBN 0521337089
    • Paraphrased variants: It is sound judgment to hope that in the not too distant future we shall be competent to understand so simple a thing as a star.
      It is not too much to hope that in the not too distant future we shall be competent to understand so simple a thing as a star.
  • I think that science would never have achieved much progress if it had always imagined unknown obstacles hidden round every corner. At least we may peer gingerly round the corner, and perhaps we shall find there is nothing very formidable after all.
    • Stars and Atoms (1927); lecture 1
  • To the pure geometer the radius of curvature is an incidental characteristic — like the grin of the Cheshire cat. To the physicist it is an indispensable characteristic. It would be going too far to say that to the physicist the cat is merely incidental to the grin. Physics is concerned with interrelatedness such as the interrelatedness of cats and grins. In this case the "cat without a grin" and the "grin without a cat" are equally set aside as purely mathematical phantasies.
    • The Expanding Universe. (1933) Ch. IV The Universe and the Atom
  • There once was a brainy baboon,
    Who always breathed down a bassoon,
    For he said, "It appears
    That in billions of years
    I shall certainly hit on a tune".
    • New Pathways in Science (1939)
  • It is also a good rule not to put overmuch confidence in the observational results that are put forward until they are confirmed by theory.
  • We used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two. We are finding that we must learn a great deal more about 'and'.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991) by Alan L. Mackay, p. 79

The Nature of the Physical World (1928)

The frank realization that physical science is concerned with a world of shadows is one of the most significant of recent advances.
Published versions of his Gifford Lectures delivered in the University of Edinburgh (January - March 1927)
  • The idealistic tinge in my conception of the physical world arose out of mathematical researches on the relativity theory. In so far as I had any earlier philosophical views, they were of an entirely different complexion.
    From the beginning I have been doubtful whether it was desirable for a scientist to venture so far into extra-scientific territory. The primary justification for such an expedition is that it may afford a better view of his own scientific domain.
It is not at all necessary that every individual symbol that is used should represent something in common experience or even something explicable in terms of common experience.
  • Science aims at constructing a world which shall be symbolic of the world of commonplace experience. It is not at all necessary that every individual symbol that is used should represent something in common experience or even something explicable in terms of common experience. The man in the street is always making this demand for concrete explanation of the things referred to in science; but of necessity he must be disappointed. It is like our experience in learning to read. That which is written in a book is symbolic of a story in real life. The whole intention of the book is that ultimately a reader will identify some symbol, say BREAD, with one of the conceptions of familiar life. But it is mischievous to attempt such identifications prematurely, before the letters are strung into words and the words into sentences. The symbol A is not the counterpart of anything in familiar life.
  • In physics we have outgrown archer and apple-pie definitions of the fundamental symbols. To a request to explain what an electron really is supposed to be we can only answer, "It is part of the A B C of physics".
    The external world of physics has thus become a world of shadows. In removing our illusions we have removed the substance, for indeed we have seen that substance is one of the greatest of our illusions. Later perhaps we may inquire whether in our zeal to cut out all that is unreal we may not have used the knife too ruthlessly. Perhaps, indeed, reality is a child which cannot survive without its nurse illusion. But if so, that is of little concern to the scientist, who has good and sufficient reasons for pursuing his investigations in the world of shadows and is content to leave to the philosopher the determination of its exact status in regard to reality. In the world of physics we watch a shadowgraph performance of the drama of familiar life. The shadow of my elbow rests on the shadow table as the shadow ink flows over the shadow paper. It is all symbolic, and as a symbol the physicist leaves it. Then comes the alchemist Mind who transmutes the symbols. The sparsely spread nuclei of electric force become a tangible solid; their restless agitation becomes the warmth of summer; the octave of aethereal vibrations becomes a gorgeous rainbow. Nor does the alchemy stop here. In the transmuted world new significances arise which are scarcely to be traced in the world of symbols; so that it becomes a world of beauty and purpose — and, alas, suffering and evil.
    The frank realisation that physical science is concerned with a world of shadows is one of the most significant of recent advances.
    • Introduction
The quest of the absolute leads into the four-dimensional world.
  • The quest of the absolute leads into the four-dimensional world.
    • Ch. 2 Relativity
The stuff of the world is mind-stuff.
  • Motion with respect to the universal ocean of aether eludes us. We say, "Let V be the velocity of a body through the aether", and form the various electromagnetic equations in which V is scattered liberally. Then we insert the observed values, and try to eliminate everything which is unknown except V. The solution goes on famously; but just as we have got rid of all the other unknowns, behold! V disappears as well, and we are left with the indisputable but irritating conclusion —
0 = 0
This is a favourite device that mathematical equations resort to, when we propound stupid questions.
    • Ch. 2 Relativity
  • Shuffling is the only thing which Nature cannot undo.
    • Ch. 4 The Running-Down of the Universe
The mind-stuff is not spread in space and time. But we must presume that in some other way or aspect it can be differentiated into parts. Only here and there does it arise to the level of consciousness, but from such islands proceeds all knowledge.
  • If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.
    • Ch. 4 The Running-Down of the Universe
  • Never mind what two tons refers to. What is it? How has it entered in so definite a way into our exprerience? Two tons is the reading of the pointer when the elephant was placed on a weighing machine. Let us pass on. ... And so we see that the poetry fades out of the problem, and by the time the serious application of exact science begins we are left only with pointer readings.
    • Ch. 7 Pointer Readings
  • Schrödinger's wave-mechanics is not a physical theory, but a dodge — and a very good dodge too.
    • Ch. 10 The New Quantum Theory
No one can deny that mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience, and all else is remote inference
  • The universe is of the nature of a thought or sensation in a universal Mind... To put the conclusion crudely — the stuff of the world is mind-stuff. As is often the way with crude statements, I shall have to explain that by "mind" I do not exactly mean mind and by "stuff" I do not at all mean stuff. Still that is about as near as we can get to the idea in a simple phrase. The mind-stuff of the world is something more general than our individual conscious minds; but we may think of its nature as not altogether foreign to feelings in our consciousness... Having granted this, the mental activity of the part of world constituting ourselves occasions no great surprise; it is known to us by direct self-knowledge, and we do not explain it away as something other than we know it to be — or rather, it knows itself to be.
    • Ch. 13 Reality
  • The mind-stuff is not spread in space and time. But we must presume that in some other way or aspect it can be differentiated into parts. Only here and there does it arise to the level of consciousness, but from such islands proceeds all knowledge. The latter includes our knowledge of the physical world.
    • Ch. 13 Reality
  • Consciousness is not sharply defined, but fades into sub-consciousness; and beyond that we must postulate something indefinite but yet continuous with our mental nature. This I take it be the world-stuff.
  • It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character. But 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.
    • Ch. 13 Reality
  • Proof is the idol before whom the pure mathematician tortures himself.
    • Ch. 15 Science and Mysticism

The Philosophy of Physical Science (1938)

Clearly a statement cannot be tested by observation unless it is an assertion about the results of observation.
  • For the truth of the conclusions of physical science, observation is the supreme Court of Appeal. It does not follow that every item which we confidently accept as physical knowledge has actually been certified by the Court; our confidence is that it would be certified by the Court if it were submitted. But it does follow that every item of physical knowledge is of a form which might be submitted to the Court. It must be such that we can specify (although it may be impracticable to carry out) an observational procedure which would decide whether it is true or not. Clearly a statement cannot be tested by observation unless it is an assertion about the results of observation. Every item of physical knowledge must therefore be an assertion of what has been or would be the result of carrying out a specified observational procedure.
The mathematics is not there till we put it there.
  • Let us suppose that an ichthyologist is exploring the life of the ocean. He casts a net into the water and brings up a fishy assortment. Surveying his catch, he proceeds in the usual manner of a scientist to systematise what it reveals. He arrives at two generalisations: No sea-creature is less than two inches long. (2) All sea-creatures have gills. These are both true of his catch, and he assumes tentatively that they will remain true however often he repeats it.
    In applying this analogy, the catch stands for the body of knowledge which constitutes physical science, and the net for the sensory and intellectual equipment which we use in obtaining it. The casting of the net corresponds to observation; for knowledge which has not been or could not be obtained by observation is not admitted into physical science.
    An onlooker may object that the first generalisation is wrong. "There are plenty of sea-creatures under two inches long, only your net is not adapted to catch them." The icthyologist dismisses this objection contemptuously.
    "Anything uncatchable by my net is ipso facto outside the scope of icthyological knowledge. In short, "what my net can't catch isn't fish." Or — to translate the analogy — "If you are not simply guessing, you are claiming a knowledge of the physical universe discovered in some other way than by the methods of physical science, and admittedly unverifiable by such methods. You are a metaphysician. Bah!"
  • The mathematics is not there till we put it there.

Misattributed

  • Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.
    • Though sometimes attributed to Eddington without citation, this seems to be derived from a statement by J. B. S. Haldane, in Possible Worlds and Other Papers (1927), p. 286: The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.
    • Variants: The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.
      The world is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.

External links

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