Eddington

“The Running Down of the Universe” from The Nature of the Physical World by Sir Arthur Eddington                                                                                     See below for PDF copy  ~13pages              
        Friday, mmm ddd, 2018, Time: TBD
        Location: TBD

In his heyday between the two World Wars, Arthur Stanley Eddington (1888-1944) was one of the first superstars of modern science, and his popular works were immensely successful and had a very wide sale.

The Nature of the Physical World was probably his most successful book of all. Eddington was the first English mathematician to understand General Relativity and to assimilate its ideas into his very bones, and here he gives a popular explanation that has never been surpassed in clearness. Then he proceeds to describing the ideas of modern quantum theory, which was developing rapidly even as he wrote. The book is a brilliant yet simple description of the efflorescence of theoretical physics in the revolutionary first three decades of the twentieth century, from the point of view of an insider. Eddington only uses two mathematical equations, one of which is "0=0".

This week's text is about entropy: "The Running Down of the Universe".  Physicists' understanding of entropy has evolved considerably over the past hundred years as thermodynamics (entropy increases and is a measure of disorder) merges with information theory (the amount of information needed to define the detailed microscopic state of the system, given its macroscopic description). Gain in entropy always means a loss of information. Our text (1928) is an excellent and understandable introduction to the subject. 

The Nature of the Physical World covers a much wider field than only science. Eddington was a committed Quaker, and his gentle yet radical religious philosophy illuminated his entire life and outlook. His religious beliefs were strengthened, not weakened, by his scientific career, and he synthesized science and religion in a unique manner, based upon his own idiosyncratic epistemological standpoint.

Eddington described his philosophy of the world as a blend of "Selective Subjectivism" and "Structuralism". He came to the opinion that what most of us call "objective" is really subjective, and vice versa. And he claimed to "find no disharmony between a philosophy which embraces the wider significance of human experience and the specialized philosophy of physical science, even though the latter relates to a system of thought of recent growth whose stability is yet to be tested."

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Philip Zawa,
Dec 15, 2017, 8:27 PM
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