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The Enigma Of The Universe : Physical Knowledge

Published: 02.12.2014
Updated: 02.07.2015

Now, we come to physical knowledge. As we have seen, according to Eddington, physical knowledge (which is the structural knowledge) is derived from the sensations or sensory impressions, which are considered to be 'the raw material' for the knowledge.[1]

This would mean that physical knowledge is also partly subjective and partly objective. But, according to Eddington, not all physical knowledge is such. Distinguishing between a priori knowledge and a posteriori knowledge he writes: "We may distinguish knowledge of the physical universe derived by study of the results of observation as a posteriori knowledge and knowledge derived by epistemological study of the procedure of observation as a priori knowledge."[2] He states that epistemological knowledge is near enough akin to a priori knowledge which means knowledge which we have of the physical universe prior to actual observation of it.[3] Eddington believes that all the fundamental laws and constants of physics can be deduced unambiguously from epistemological or a priori considerations and are, therefore, wholly subjective.[4] He states: "All the laws of nature, that are usually classed as fundamental can be foreseen wholly from epistemological considerations. They correspond to a priori knowledge and are therefore wholly subjective."[5] The argument given by him is; "Whatever is accounted for epistemologically is ipso facto subjective: it is demolished as part of the objective world."[6] Further, he distinguishes between the 'laws of nature' and 'special facts'. He states: "We have found that the supposedly fundamental laws are wholly subjective. It is only reasonable that the part of our knowledge which is wholly subjective should be of a recognizably different type from that which involves the objective characteristics of the universe......

"The special facts, on the other hand, cannot be inferred from epistemological considerations and are not wholly subjective. [7]

"But the physical universe, as it affects us day by day, is not just a bundle of laws of nature, and the special facts are as important to us as the laws...... "

The special facts are partly subjective and partly objective, depending partly on our procedure in obtaining observational knowledge and partly on what there is to observe."[8]

Further, Eddington distinguishes the laws of objective universe and subjective one, calling them "laws of Nature" and "laws of nature" respectively. According to him, a "law of Nature" is a law emanating from the world-principle outside us, which we often personify as Nature; while a "law of nature is a regularity which we find in our observational knowledge irrespective of its source. A "law of Nature" is a law of the objective universe, but all recognised "laws of nature" are subjective.[9] The methods of physics are incapable of discovering fragments of absolute (objective) truth about an external world, and this assertion, according to Eddington, concedes his main point that the knowledge obtained by them is wholly subjective.[10]

Thus, Eddington takes it as axiomatic that the external world must have objective content but according to his conclusions, the laws of physics are the property of the frame of thought in which we represent our knowledge of the objective content, and thus far physics has been unable to discover any laws applying to the objective content itself.[11]

Finally sorting out the subjective and objective elements, Eddington states: "Much of the difficulty disappears if we keep in mind that pure subjectivity is confined to the laws-the regularities-of the physical world. The variety of appearances around us is primarily an objective variety. That a subjective distortion is introduced in our apprehension of things is no more than physicists have been a accustomed to admit. We have tried to carry farther than hitherto the sorting of the objective and subjective elements-with perhaps surprising results. But we admit an objective element in the special facts which constitute a large part of our knowledge of the universe around us."[12] We may put Eddington's classification of subjective and objective elements as follows: -

(a) The External World-the original structures outside consciousness.
Wholly objective
(b) The Physical World (or the World of Physics)-the structures of sensations in consciousness.
Partly subjective, partly objective
(c) The Physical Knowledge: (I)  Special facts (ii) Laws of Physics (nature and Constants of Physics
Partly subjective, partly objective Wholly subjective


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Title: The Enigma Of The Universe Publisher: JVB University Ladnun English Edition: 2010 HN4U Online Edition: 2014

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  1. Consciousness
  2. Eddington
  3. Science
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