Next Stop: Eddington


Eddingto two tables; Matrix two armchairs

On two worlds narrates Eddington in the introduction to his book “The Nature of the Physical World” (1927): the first being the familiar world, on its colors, odors, forms – and probably more important than all these – the people inside, you and… me.
On the other side of the curtain exists this second, alienated world, immediately recognized by us, the Matrix Generation: endless spaces of dark emptiness, with sporadic sparks and lights crossing the skies – the guts of a huge machine.

“Welcome to the desert of the real”, says Eddington, pointing at the two tables in front of him, the first – a solid, “normal” table coming from “our” world, declared herewith a fake imagery, illegally imposed on us, upon our senses; the second, although completely invisible and insubstantial, being nevertheless a respectful representative of the real world – the shadows’ world of the modern physics.

“Welcome to the desert of the real”, echoes Morpheus, signaling Neo to sit on the armchair beside him.

Two worlds, two tables; Yet Eddington’s goal is not just to describe the world revealed through the measurements of modern physics; this, says Eddington, is not but a necessary preamble, a scratch on the surface of the new philosophy of science. The fake, delusional world we’re living in and the dark, empty, real world we’ve discovered – this, says Eddington is nothing but a teaser.

A teaser for what?

Eddington mentions two post-revelation issues: the first, which I’ll call “Science for Science”, redefines the relation of Science and Society; the second, that can be called “Ecce Homo” reassess human nature in light of the changes to our understanding of the nature of physical world, “the world of shadows” as Eddington calls it.

Science for Science

If once Science was in the service of man, now things have changed. The moment it became apparent that our World is a phony one, Physics turned its back on it and started looking entirely at World 2 – after all, it is the ambition of Physics to find out the immaterial substance of “it all”, and if this something is to be found somewhere, it is definitely not in world 1, which “contaminates” the scientific measurements taken in the pure, real world 2.

“Science has at last revolted against attaching the exact knowledge contained in these measurements to a traditional picture-gallery of conceptions which convey no authentic information of the background and obtrude irrelevancies into the scheme of knowledge”, declares Eddington.

And yet, although for a furtive moment, he hesitates: maybe, Science has prematurely thrown away the illusionary world 1; maybe reality [world 2, the world of shadows] needs our familiar world 1, if only as a nice costume; maybe, like in Chamisso’s Peter Schlemihl, Science hastened to get rid of its shadow…

Chamisso’s Peter Schlemihl

Whatever. Eddington dismisses these doubts quickly enough, and goes on with determination to establish a total scientific independence from whatever world 1 constrains: politics, moral, sociology… briefly from whatever’s human.

“The path of science must be pursued for its own sake…; in this spirit we must follow the path whether it leads to the hill of vision or the tunnel of obscurity”.

Lyotard would have said that Eddington’ Science for Science is not less fictional than world 1: there’s no such thing as independence. Starting already with Descartes, explains Lyotard, science found itself tightly coupled with… money. Hading to overcome the innate limitations of the human body and to provide themselves with technical extensions in order to accurately generate and collect physical measurements, scientists have become entirely dependent on funding. And as science became the validator of truth, reality turned out to be a question of money.
Science for Science is, therefore, a delusion; Science, even more than any other thing, is enslaved to the economy of exchange.

Ecce Homo

The second issue mentioned by Eddington is the implications of the discoveries about the sunny yet falsified world 1 vs. the shadowy yet real world 2 on the nature of man. Certainly, says Eddington, there’re implications.

I can only imagine what kind of implications there are. McLuhan nicely describes it in his “Medium is the Massage”: Every media work us out completely. One day, Says Eddington, we will see the world as it is, without the mask enforced upon us by world 1. Indeed, one day there will be only darkness around us. And why? Because of the tools.

It’s a common understanding nowadays, that the observer changes, by the fact of being observing, the nature of the observed object; it is also commonly accepted that the tool used by the observer alters the outcome of the measurement. It is less accepted, though, and even so less discussed, maybe even oppressed, that the tool changes the observer himself/herself.

We’re living in an illusion that the tools are external to our body, obeying our will. Same for language – language is used by us, we believe, like any other tool. Yet with both tools and language, it appears that the situation is the opposite. Language controls us entirely, and the tools – they mold us to their own structure. Every media work us out completely. We translate our existence into the tool’s blueprints so it will be possible to transfer data using the tool. The Internet is a good example. Soon, if you would stay out of the virtual you would stay out of everything. Human life has been transformed into zeros and ones. The scientist observing the world of shadows is, thus, risking becoming a shadow of man.

One Response to “Next Stop: Eddington”

  1. ecko4inc Says:

    Shades of Nietzsche in the next-stop-eddington post. The wanderer and his shadow. Nietzsche askes: what will we sacrifice for science and to the will to truth? Of course it can never be forgotten Nietzsche went completely insane and died alone; apart from the somatic causes for his madness, his table of values, his joyful unreason, his gay science, also drove him into the sleep of reason for the last ten years of his life.
    Et in Arcadia ego.
    I am emale, a shadow of the man of letters. Then there’s the man of numbers – the physicists. This in itself is a cruel parody of the figure of the scientist. Richard Feynman was a very funny man, a Fool full of anecdotes and mischievousness (see “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!” by Richard Feynman).
    For every Eddington, there’s a Feynman (but I think Feynman the physicist would have agreed with Eddington when he said ‘the path of science must be pursued for its own sake’ – its in the essence of knowledge, to pursue truth in itself – but as Nietzsche says: why not untruth? Surely you must be joking, Mr Nietzsche), just like for every Descartes, there’s a Spinoza, and every Hegel will have a Kierkegaard…
    “This is the Night, the interior of human nature, existing here – pure Self – and in the phantasmagoric representations it is everywhere. We see this Night when we look a human being in the eye, looking into a Night that turns terrifying… Into the Night the being has returned.”
    Hegel (the humanist? – but is there really such a thing? aren’t all humans, humanists? the living idea of being[-human]?
    Would you say the virtual world – like Web 2.0 – is the end of history? I’m undoubtedly using a vulgar interpretation of Hegel, the dialectical representation of history. I think perhaps one day we will not look at what’s behind the man or woman in the daylight of (scientific, calculable) reasoning over the earth, but into his or her eyes and see the eternal Night that lies within… ourselves.
    “The instant of decision is madness.”
    The individual and God’s love is incommensurable with reality. And the fear and trembling in this (self-)knowledge exemplified in the gap, the difference between maths (the non-phonetic languages of the ‘hard’ sciences) and words (the phonetic languages of the humanities) will inform my decision as to which table I sit at and with whom I eat my dinner and drink my wine and make jokes and conversations: staring at a desirable woman across the table… Looking into the “I” of the subject making the decision – and thereby speaking, making a statement (hopefully one that will impress!) – I find a necessary fiction, a real phantasmagoria: the desiring machines.

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