Arthur Eddington, fully Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington

Eddington, fully Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington

British Astrophysicist, Contributed to the Theory of Relativity, The Eddington Limit (luminosity of stars) named in his honor

Author Quotes

An electron is no more (and no less) hypothetical than a star. Nowadays we count electrons one by one in a Geiger counter, as we count the stars one by one on a photographic plate.

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.

Just now nuclear physicists are writing a great deal about hypothetical particles called neutrinos supposed to account for certain peculiar facts observed in ß-ray disintegration. We can perhaps best describe the neutrinos as little bits of spin-energy that have got detached. I am not much impressed by the neutrino theory. In an ordinary way I might say that I do not believe in neutrinos... But I have to reflect that a physicist may be an artist, and you never know where you are with artists. My old-fashioned kind of disbelief in neutrinos is scarcely enough. Dare I say that experimental physicists will not have sufficient ingenuity to make neutrinos? Whatever I may think, I am not going to be lured into a wager against the skill of experimenters under the impression that it is a wager against the truth of a theory. If they succeed in making neutrinos, perhaps even in developing industrial applications of them, I suppose I shall have to believe—though I may feel that they have not been playing quite fair.

Schrodinger's theory is now enjoying the full tide of popularity, partly because of intrinsic merit, but also, I suspect, partly because it is the only one of the three that is simple enough to be misunderstood.

The quest of the absolute leads into the four-dimensional world.

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.

An ocean traveler has even more vividly the impression that the ocean is made of waves than that it is made of water.

In science we study the linkage of pointer readings with pointer readings. The terms link together in endless cycle with the same inscrutable nature running through the whole.

Let us draw an arrow arbitrarily. If as we follow the arrow we find more and more of the random element in the state of the world, then the arrow is pointing towards the future; if the random element decreases the arrow points towards the past... I shall use the phrase 'time's arrow' to express this one-way property of time which has no analogue in space.

Schrodinger's wave-mechanics is not a physical theory but a dodge—and a very good dodge too.

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 favorite device that mathematical equations resort to, when we propound stupid questions.

We do not defend the validity of seeing beauty in a natural landscape; we accept with gratitude the fact that we are so endowed as to see it that way.

Asked in 1919 whether it was true that only three people in the world understood the theory of general relativity, [Eddington] allegedly replied: 'Who's the third?'

In the most modern theories of physics probability seems to have replaced aether as 'the nominative of the verb to undulate'.

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 systematize what it reveals. He arrives at two generalizations: (1) 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 generalization 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!

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 understanding between a non-technical writer and his reader is that he shall talk more or less like a human being and not like an Act of Parliament. I take it that the aim of such books must be to convey exact thought in inexact language... he can never succeed without the co-operation of the reader.

We have found that where science has progressed the farthest, the mind has but regained from nature that which the mind has put into nature. We have found a strange foot-print on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories, one after another, to account for its origin. At last, we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the foot-print. And Lo! it is our own.

This astonishing change in outlook has been brought about by assuming that, of all the elements of our total experience, only those elements which acquaint us with the quantitative aspects of material phenomona are concerned with the real world. They alone refer to an objective world. None of the other elements of our experience, our perception of colour, etc., our response to beauty, our sense of mystic communion with God, have objective counterparts. All these things, which are ultimately products of the motions of little particles, are illusory in the sense that they do not acquaint us with the nature of objective reality.

It is a primitive form of thought that things either exist or do not exist.

Life would be stunted and narrow if we could feel no significance in the world around us beyond that which can be weighed and measured with the tools of the physicist or described by the metrical symbols of the mathematician.

Science is one thing, wisdom is another. Science is an edged tool, with which men play like children, and cut their own fingers. If you look at the results which science has brought in its train, you will find them to consist almost wholly in elements of mischief. See how much belongs to the word 'Explosion' alone, of which the ancients knew nothing.

It has hitherto seemed that physics comes down heavily on the side of predestination. The quantum theory has entirely removed this bias. Whatever view we may take of free will on philosophical grounds we cannot appeal to physics against it.

In the mystic sense of the creation around us, in the expression of art, in a yearning towards God, the soul grows upward and finds fulfillment of something implanted in its nature.

I ask you to look both ways. For the road to a knowledge of the stars leads through the atom; and important knowledge of the atom has been reached through the stars.

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Eddington, fully Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington
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British Astrophysicist, Contributed to the Theory of Relativity, The Eddington Limit (luminosity of stars) named in his honor