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Eddington’s Two Tables

(A) One Way to Structure the Puzzle…1

1. Tables are complex systems whose ultimate constituents are “charges” and
“fields of force” (Scientific realism)

2. Everyday properties [color, solidity] are not logically implied by properties of


“charges” and “fields of force” (Anti-reductionism)

3. Tables have the everyday properties of color, solidity, etc. (Anti-eliminativism)

4. The only properties a complex system has are the logical consequence of
properties of its ultimate constituents (Anti-emergence)

Thus, by premises 1 and 4:

5. The only properties a table has are the logical consequence of properties of
its ultimate constituents—i.e., properties of “charges” and “fields of force”

Thus, by premises 3 and 5:

6. The table’s everyday properties [color, solidity] are logical consequences of


the table’s constituents’ properties—i.e., properties of “charges” and “fields
of force,”

But this contradicts premise 2. So we need to reject one of the boxed four premises.
Which one?

(B) Four Strategies for Resolving the Puzzle:

The first two strategies involve dismissing one of our “two tables”:

• Reject Premise 3: On this view, our everyday talk, while psychologically


necessary to us, only describes how the world appears to us. Physics, on the
other hand, describes the world, not as it appears, but as it is. (Compare: a child
cries because he sees a ghost in his darkened room. The parents turn on the light,
revealing the ‘ghost’ to be a pillow. “See?” the parent might console, “the ghost
was nothing but a pillow…”)

Eddington can be seen as flirting with this idea: “modern physics has,” he writes,
“…assured me that my scientific table is the only one which is really there.”

1
My framing of this issue owes a debt to James Van Cleve (“Mind-Dust or Magic? Panpsychism versus
Emergence” Philosophical Perspectives 4 (1990): 215-226, at 215-216).
• Reject Premise 1: On this view, our talk about “charges” and “fields of force”
shouldn’t be taken literally. (Compare: statisticians might tell us that “the
Average Husband has 2.2 children.” This would seem morbid if we were naïve
with respect to statistics.) In particular, talk about “charges” and “fields of force”
is, like talk about “2.2 children,” a metaphorical device we use to summarize great
amounts of experimental data.

Physicist Richard Feynman once described electrons in this way: “The electron is
a theory that we use; it is so useful in understanding the way nature works that we
can almost call it real….[B]y analogy[…] no one has ever seen the inside of a
brick. Every time you break the brick, you only see the surface. That the brick has
an inside is a simple theory which helps us understand things better. The theory of
electrons is analogous.”2

Eddington seems to also have sympathy with rethinking the relationship between the
“two tables’” properties, rather than dismissing either table: “no doubt,” he writes, the
two tables “are ultimately to be identified after some fashion.” Our remaining two
strategies suggest two such “fashions”:

• Reject Premise 2: On this view, we suggest that there is a deduction to be had


from atomics features of the table to everyday features of the table. The pivotal
question is: what do the “missing lines” look like in the following derivation?

Premises describing Atomic features of Table #2


“Bridge Laws” correlating atomic features with everyday features

Premises describing everyday features of Table #1

Philosophers of science through the 1950s were optimistic of such a possibility of


“reducing” biology to chemistry and chemistry to physics (cf. the Unity of Science
hypothesis). Contemporary philosophers of science are more circumspect.

• Reject Premise 4: On this view, everyday features (like color, solidity) are said to
be “emergent properties.” Whenever the right combinations of “charges” and
“force fields” arrange themselves, then—voila!—color, solidity, etc. arise Why?
They just do.

2
Richard Feynman, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Bantam Books: NY, 1989), ch. 9 (emphasis
mine). Robert M. Pirsig puts the point more dramatically in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
“Modern man has his ghosts and spirits too, you know…. I predict that if you think about it long enough
you will…finally reach only one possible, rational, intelligent conclusion. The law of gravity and gravity
itself did not exist before Isaac Newton. No other conclusion makes sense….and what that means is that
that law of gravity exists nowhere except in people’s heads! It’s a ghost!”