Friday, October 10, 2014

Chapter 23 - Strange Footprints: Part 7 - Eddington

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

Other works seemed relevant here as well. Alfred had brought to La Jolla a number of books on relativity. But he had already found one of the most remarkable books on the subject, Arthur Stanley Eddington’s Space, Time, and Gravitation. Reading this work, Alfred had felt a confirmation of his own understanding of relativity crystallized in astonishingly beautiful prose. For Korzybski no one expressed better than Eddington the fundamental system of thought behind the revolution in physics. He had loaned the book to Miss Williams, but asked her to mail it back to him in January. 

Eddington had shown quite clearly how “the relativity theory of physics reduces everything to relations; that is to say, it is structure, not material which counts.”(26) And perhaps one of the most important relations the theory of relativity had revealed was the relation of the observer to the observed. When measuring events, the frame of reference (speed) of the observer moving in relation to the frame of reference of what is observed needs to be taken into account, especially as speeds approach the speed of light. According to Einstein’s special relativity, the maximum speed of light, approximately 186,000 miles per second, constitutes an unpassable limit. Strange results follow from accepting this along with the principle that the laws of physics remain invariant in every frame of reference. ‘Space’ and ‘time’ are no longer absolutes as they were considered in classical Newtonian physics. Furthermore, two simultaneous events in one frame of reference are not necessarily simultaneous in another frame of reference. And it does no good (indeed it makes no sense) to ask whether they are ‘really’ simultaneous or not. When the act of measurement is carefully taken into account, as Einstein did, simultaneity can no longer be understood as absolute but depends on the frame of reference which needs to be specified. Einstein’s general theory got even ‘weirder’ with its treatment of ‘space’ and ‘time’ as inseparable aspects of an undivided matter-space-time. Newton’s force of gravitation had become transformed into the curvature of the geometry of space-time. 
Clipped and pasted by Korzybski to front endpaper of his copy of
Eddington's 1928 The Nature of The Physical World

Eddington expressed this revolutionary view of physical science with unmatched eloquence. Would it ever be possible to achieve a fully ‘objective’ view of the world which eliminated the factor of the observer from science? Eddington was doubtful if this even made any sense. The greatest objectivity seemed to require always taking the observer-observed relation into account. Alfred specially marked with green pencil the final passage of Space, Time, and Gravitation where Eddington had written the following (in later years, Korzybski made this one of the quotes he used as a coda for the end of his seminars):
...All through the physical world runs that unknown content, which must surely be the stuff of our consciousness...we have found that where science has progressed the furthest, 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. (27)  
Russell, Whitehead, Einstein, Eddington, and others had all found strange footprints. Alfred had too. He felt that he had made some headway in reconstructing the creature that had made the footprints—‘man’ the time-binder. The stuff of human consciousness seemed central to this understanding. Alfred wanted to know how the stuff worked and how it could be helped to work better. Beautiful language, poetic or philosophical paradoxes, were not enough. He had to find something workable.

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
26. Eddington 1920, p. 197. 

27. Ibid., p. 200-201.

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