Eddinton, Arthur. Science and the Unseen World. 1929.
This is a Quaker book that I had been trying to track down for a long time. Soon after getting in to star-gazing I realized that it had a fairly strong connection to reverence and awe. Quakers tend to think a lot about Light, and I wanted to know what a Quaker oberservational astronomer and astrophysicist had to say about the Light. Unfortunately, that just was not in the Swarthemore lecture that Eddington gave in 1929. He focused on other interesting things, but I did not find what I had been looking for in his lecture. That said, I will try to track down more of his writing because I'm still curious about these issues and his writing is pleasant to read.
He does make some very pleasing arguments, or explanations, that I will keep coming back to for a long time. For example, if you and a friend are sitting together you might run the risk of being intruded upon by a wild philosopher. The reason crazed man might convincingly argue that neither you nor your friend exist. You would put up with the fellow, but once he left you and your friend would simply laugh it off. It would seem quaint and strange, but the verbal arguments of the philosopher could never dissuade you from the reality of the experience of your friend. Eddington concludes, "The most flawless proof of the existence of God is no substitute for it; and if we have that relationship the most convincing disproof is turned harmlessly aside. If I may say it with reverence, the soul and God laugh together over so odd a conclusion."
Occasionally Eddington shows himself as the academic. He describes the various levels of "purity" among the sciences, snuffing the sociologists and lifting up the mathematicians. He practically writes out a descrption of the famous xkcd comic on this theme. Sometime this training shows in a beautiful turn of phrase: "In the world, seen or unseen, there is place for adventure as well as for triangulation." One over riding theme that came out in the lecture was an attempt to sway the audience away from their preconceptions about science. He really hammers home the point that the theories of physics were rapidly becoming disconnected from reality in any concrete sense. His audience in 1929 probably would still have held a very Cartesian or Newtonian world view where physics describes the evolution of systems by precise deterministic rigid means. In academic reality however, physicists were coming to grips with statistical mechanics and quantum theory. All sorts of people had to leave behind the rigid billiard balls in a void model and Eddington wanted to point out that contemporary physical theories are just refined mathermatical symbolisms modelling the world for reasons that we know not why.
The closest that Eddington came to answering my searching was the following, delivered with a long passage of sensitive writing : "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." Eddington then discusses various hypothetical letters to the editor that get sent in to set the poor dead fellow straight. A writer, called A, writes in something. Then B corrects his myopic world view. C rises to the charge. Letters keep advocating either sciene, or theology, or an appeal to the wise pagan ancients. It is a total mess. Each writer stumbles on to the podium, steps on everyone's toes, and falls off. "And so it goes on. And the simple reader feels himself in an age of disquiet, insecurity and dissension, all because it is forgotten that what the deceased man looked out for each evening was an experience and not a creed."
Note: The letter writers go on until H. They could go indefinitely, I'm sure.