Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington OM (28 December 1882 – 22 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 confirmed predictions made by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity.
- 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
- ...The present revolution of scientific thought follows in natural sequence on the great revolutions at earlier epochs in the history of science. Einstein's special theory of relativity, which explains the indeterminateness of the frame of space and time, crowns the work of Copernicus who first led us to give up our insistence on a geocentric outlook on nature; Einstein's general theory of relativity, which reveals the curvature or non-Euclidean geometry of space and time, carries forward the rudimentary thought of those earlier astronomers who first contemplated the possibility that their existence lay on something which was not flat. These earlier revolutions are still a source of perplexity in childhood, which we soon outgrow; and a time will come when Einstein's amazing revelations have likewise sunk into the commonplaces of educated thought.
- The Theory of Relativity and its Influence on Scientific Thought (1922), p. 31-32
- 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.
- We do not argue with the critic who urges that the stars are not hot enough for this process; we tell him to go and find a hotter place.
- The Internal Constitution of Stars, Cambridge. (1926). ISBN 0521337089
- 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 (1935) Ch. IV The End of the World, p. 62
- It is impossible to trap modern physics into predicting anything with perfect determinism because it deals with probabilities from the outset.
- New Pathways in Science (1935) Ch. V Indeterminacy and Quantum Theory, p. 105
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- The quest of the absolute leads into the four-dimensional world.
- Ch. 2 Relativity
- 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 law that entropy always increases, holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. 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.
- The whole subject-matter of exact science consists of pointer readings and similar indications.
- Ch. 10 The New Quantum Theory
- 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
Science and the Unseen World (1929)
- I think it is not irreligion but a tidiness of mind, which rebels against the idea of permeating scientific research with a religious implication.
- There is another passage from the Old Testament that comes nearer to my own sympathies—"And behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. ...And behold there came a voice unto him, and said. What doest thou here, Elijah?"
- Wind, earthquake, fire—meteorology, seismology, physics—pass in review, as we have been reviewing the natural forces of evolution; the Lord was not in them. Afterwards, a stirring, an awakening in the organ of the brain, a voice which asks "What doest thou here?"
- If to-day you ask a physicist what he has finally made out the æther or the electron to be, the answer will not be a description in terms of billiard balls or fly-wheels or anything concrete; he will point instead to a number of symbols and a set of mathematical equations which they satisfy. What do the symbols stand for? The mysterious reply is given that physics is indifferent to that; it has no means of probing beneath the symbolism. To understand the phenomena of the physical world it is necessary to know the equations which the symbols obey but not the nature of that which is being symbolised. ...this newer outlook has modified the challenge from the material to the spiritual world.
- We are no longer tempted to condemn the spiritual aspects of our nature as illusory because of their lack of concreteness.
- We have travelled far from the standpoint which identifies the real with the concrete. Even the older philosophy found it necessary to admit exceptions; for example, time must be admitted to be real, although no one could attribute to it a concrete nature.
- Matter and all else that is in the physical world have been reduced to a shadowy symbolism.
- It is an astonishing feat of deciphering that we should have been able to infer an orderly scheme of natural knowledge from such indirect communication.
- The chairs and tables around us which broadcast to us incessantly those signals which affect our sight and touch cannot in their nature be like unto the signals or to the sensations which the signals awake at the end of their journey.
- Physics most strongly insists that its methods do not penetrate behind the symbolism.
- Mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience; all else is remote inference.
- It remains a real world if there is a background to the symbols—an unknown quantity which the mathematical symbol x stands for. We think we are not wholly cut off from this background. It is to this background that our own personality and consciousness belong, and those spiritual aspects of our nature not to be described by any symbolism... to which mathematical physics has hitherto restricted itself.
- Our story of evolution ended with a stirring in the brain-organ of the latest of Nature's experiments; but that stirring of consciousness transmutes the whole story and gives meaning to its symbolism. Symbolically it is the end, but looking behind the symbolism it is the beginning.
- The problem of experiences is not limited to the interpretation of sense-impressions.
- As truly as the mystic, the scientist is following a light; and it is not a false or an inferior light.
- The desire for truth so prominent in the quest of science, a reaching out of the spirit from its isolation to something beyond, a response to beauty in nature and art, an Inner Light of conviction and guidance—are these as much a part of our being as our sensitivity to sense impressions?
- Study of the scientific world cannot prescribe the orientation of something which is excluded from the scientific world.
- The scientific answer is relevant so far as concerns the sense-impressions... For the rest the human spirit must turn to the unseen world to which it itself belongs.
- Consciousness is not wholly, nor even primarily a device for receiving sense-impressions. ...there is another outlook than the scientific one, because in practice a more transcendental outlook is almost universally admitted. ...who does not prize these moments that reveal to us the poetry of existence?
- Our system of philosophy is itself on trial; it must stand or fall according as it is broad enough to find room for this experience as an element of life.
- Our environment may and should mean something towards us which is not to be measured with the tools of the physicist or described by the metrical symbols of the mathematician.
- Objections to religious mysticism lose their force if they can equally be turned against natural mysticism.
- We should not argue with the blind man who maintained that sight was an illusion to which some abnormal people were subject. Therefore in speaking of religious experience I do not attempt to prove the existence of religious experience...
- What I may attempt is to dispel the feeling that in using the eye of the body or the eye of the soul, and incorporating what is thereby revealed in our conception of reality, we are doing something irrational and disobeying the leading of truth which as scientists we are pledged to serve.
- Materialism in its literal sense is long since dead. ...It is ...belief in the universal dominance of scientific law which is nowadays generally meant by materialism.
- Natural law is not applicable to the unseen world behind the symbols, because it is unadapted to anything except symbols, and its perfection is a perfection of symbolic linkage. You cannot apply such a scheme to the parts of our personality which are not measurable by symbols any more than you can extract the square root of a sonnet.
- To those who have any intimate acquaintance with the laws of chemistry and physics the suggestion that the spiritual world could be ruled by laws of allied character is as preposterous as the suggestion that a nation could be ruled by laws like the laws of grammar.
- The essential difference, which we meet in entering the realm of spirit and mind, seems to hang round the word "Ought."
- Even if religion and morality are dismissed as illusion, the word "Ought" still has sway.
- The laws of logic do not prescribe the way our minds think; they prescribe the way our minds ought to think.
- The mind has an outlook which transcends the natural law by which it functions.
- However closely we may associate thought with the physical machinery of the brain, the connection is dropped as irrelevant as soon as we consider the fundamental property of thought—that it may be correct or incorrect. ...that involves recognising a domain of the other type of law—laws which ought to be kept, but may be broken.
- If God is as real as the shadow of the Great War on Armistice Day, need we seek further reason for making a place for God in our thoughts and lives? We shall not be concerned if the scientific explorer reports that he is perfectly satisfied that he has got to the bottom of things without having come across either.
- We do not want a religion that deceives us for our own good.
- Ninety-nine people out of a hundred have not seriously considered what they mean by the term "exist" nor how a thing qualifies itself to be labelled real.
- Theological or anti-theological argument to prove or disprove the existence of a deity seems to me to occupy itself largely with skating among the difficulties caused by our making a fetish of this word [existence].
- The exploration of the external world by the methods of physical science leads not to a concrete reality but to a shadow world of symbols, beneath which those methods are unadapted for penetrating.
- Physical science comes nearest to that complete system of exact knowledge which all sciences have before them as an ideal. Some fall far short of it. The physicist who inveighs against the lack of coherence and the indefiniteness of theological theories, will probably speak not much less harshly of the theories of biology and psychology. They also fail to come up to his standard of methodology. On the other side of him stands an even superior being—the pure mathematician —who has no high opinion of the methods of deduction used in physics, and does not hide his disapproval of the laxity of what is accepted as proof in physical science. And yet somehow knowledge grows in all these branches. Wherever a way opens we are impelled to seek by the only methods that can be devised for that particular opening, not over-rating the security of our finding, but conscious that in this activity of mind we are obeying the light that is in our nature.
- If in a community of the blind one man suddenly received the gift of sight, he would have much to tell which would not be at all scientific.
- We have to build the spiritual world out of symbols taken from our own personality, as we build the scientific world out of the symbols of the mathematician.
- Science has an important part to play in our everyday existence, and there is far too much neglect of science; but its intention is to supplement not to supplant the familiar outlook.
- If the kind of controversy which so often springs up between modernism and traditionalism in religion were applied to more commonplace affairs of life we might see some strange results. ...It arises, let us say, from a passage in an obituary notice which mentions that the deceased had loved to watch the sunsets from his peaceful country home.. ...it is forgotten that what the deceased man looked out for each evening was an experience and not a creed.
- It is perhaps difficult sufficiently to emphasise Seeking without disparaging its correlative Finding. But I must risk this, for Finding has a clamorous voice that proclaims its own importance; it is definite and assured, something that we can take hold of —that is what we all want, or think we want. Yet how transitory it proves.
The finding of one generation will not serve for the next. It tarnishes rapidly except it be reserved with an ever-renewed spirit of seeking.
- You will understand the true spirit neither of science nor of religion unless seeking is placed in the forefront.
- If our so-called facts are changing shadows, they are shadows cast by the light of constant truth. So too in religion we are repelled by that confident theological doctrine... but we need not turn aside from the measure of light that comes into our experience showing us a Way through the unseen world.
The Philosophy of Physical Science (1938)
- 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.
- 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.
Quotes about Eddington
- Our sense experience has to be supplemented by all kinds of images and formulas to tell us much about the outer world, just as we learn something about the nonphysical one from mythical images tested out in experience. Arthur Eddington has discussed at length the strange way that man receives his knowledge of the physical world in Science and the Unseen World. Mythological thinking is not as strange as some people think once they begin to see the total universe as it is.
- Morton Kelsey, Myth, History & Faith: The Mysteries of Christian Myth & Imagination (1974)