PART THREE: Heidegger on Science

By way of introducing this part, recall that for Heidegger modern science is essentially both applied modern technology and inherently impositional.  First, science is applied modern technology in that as a manner of disclosive looking, the essence of modern technology apriori subtends in the modern era of Being all Dasein’s relationships to and commerce with beings.  Therefore, as one possible mode of commerce with beings within that era—specifically, as a “knowing comportment”[1]—modern science must abide under the essence of modern technology; it must, like all actual technology within that era, be com-posing.   As Rojcewicz notes, modern science “from its very start is in service to modern technology.”[2] Second, as abiding under the essence of modern technology as com-posing, modern science is inherently impositional.   In other words, instead of coming to nature with an aptitude for apprehending the self-emergence of essences as they reveal themselves in native experience, modern science brings to nature a pre-conception that apriori forecloses nature from revealing itself. Again, as Rojcewicz interprets, instead of allowing nature to reveal itself, modern science imposes on nature a “preconceived theory about the nature of nature, about the essence of things in general.”[3]  So again, modern science is essentially modern technology, and as modern technology it is inherently impositional.  Science (and the qualifier “modern” will be dropped for the most part) as developed in the modern era is a com-posing mode of “knowing comportment” toward beings as such (i.e. toward nature).  As such it challenges nature by imposing a preconception of its essence, one in which nature is revealed as nothing more than storehouse of disposables to be ravished and hoarded solely for human use.   Science, as an application of com-posing in knowing nature, is inherently impositional applied “technology.”

This raises an obvious question: what, according to Heidegger, does science impose?  What conceptual imposition does science bring to nature, as opposed to letting nature reveal itself as it really is, in its essence?  Heidegger is quite clear on this point, and Rojcewicz faithfully elaborates it.  As Heidegger says, the “impositional attitude of man is embodied first in modern, exact, natural science, whose way of representing is a posing in advance or setting up of nature as a calculable nexus of forces.[4] He then elaborates noting that science “already constrains nature in its very way of posing nature, constrains nature to present itself as a calculable nexus of forces, and that is the reason experiments are then imposed upon nature, namely for the sake of seeing whether and how nature, already posed in a certain way, will report itself.”[5]  Furthermore, as Rojcewicz points out, in addition to imposing on nature this apriori constraining conceptual scheme, “a calculable nexus of forces,” science further determines the scheme as “a mathematical manifold”.[6]  In other words, for science nature is reveled within the framework—a framework supplied in advance—of “mathematization,” a framework which by its very nature enables “the step back from things that makes it possible to impose on them with all the more force.”[7]  For Heidegger, science imposes on nature the pre-conceptualization of “calculable nexus of forces,” one understood in terms of a mathematical manifold; therefore natural things are revealed in their basic way of being as being subject to mathematically determinate natural laws, laws that don’t represent nature as it really is but instead merely see it as an ob-ject of science’s own imposing projection.[8]

Now an immediate problem within this account of imposition apparently arises, for “imposition” can be understood in two senses, both potentially applicable to the way in which science “imposes” a concept like “a calculable nexus of forces” as a “mathematical manifold” onto nature.   With these two senses, Heidegger seems to be saying either something rather benign or something rather pernicious, but both senses only suggest a way of understanding Heidegger’s thought that fails to take into account how his  characterization of essence, science, and com-posing are necessarily linked together.  That is, this apparent problem of two senses of “impose” ironically enough conceals, rather that reveals, the problem Heidegger sees with science.

In the first sense of “impose,” science can be said to ‘impose’ onto nature an “artificial essence” (“a calculable nexus of forces” as a “mathematical manifold”) in the benign sense in which any linguistic conceptualization can be said to ‘impose’ order on the way we understand the everyday world.  That is, most physicists would agree that nature itself is not intrinsically mathematical,[9] any more than the world is intrinsically English or German for being describable in either language.  Mathematics, they would say, provides a particularly powerful formal language for describing natural processes, so seeing nature as “a calculable nexus of forces” subject to a “mathematical manifold” is no more “impositional” in science than English or German is impositional for being good languages for describing and bringing order to commerce with each other and things in everyday reality in everyday terms.   In fact, under this interpretation of “imposition,” mathematics could even be said to have a disclosive power to reveal natural processes in a way that ordinary language can’t; that is, it could be said to reveal relations not evident in the ordinary way of talking about things.  So “imposition” in this sense, while admittedly artificial as the scientists would say, would be completely benign, and perhaps even beneficial in so far as it reveals nature in a way that other conceptual ‘impositions’ like natural languages don’t.  Understood in this way, Heidegger’s criticism of science would simply have no force at all because “imposition” wouldn’t really impose anything, at least not in any relevant sense, and it might even be said to reveal instead of conceal.  Heidegger clearly rejects science as “impositional” in this benign sense.

In the second sense of “impose”—closer to the sense Heidegger intends—science could be “impositional” such that the imposition conceals, rather than reveals, the essence of nature and natural processes.  Under this stricter sense of imposition, science’s preconception of nature as a “calculable nexus of forces” definable in terms of a “mathematical manifold” conceals an essence of nature like “lumber” conceals the natural essence of a tree, or “anemo-pressure” conceals the natural essence of the wind, and so forth.   Under this stricter sense of imposition of a calculable nexus of forces, nature could even, as Rojcewicz interprets, conceal its essence, “putting on a false front,” as it were, one in which nature only shows itself in a “deficient way.”[10]  So imposition in this stricter sense is the opposite of imposition in the first sense, and it is clearly the sense Heidegger intends.  Science as imposition of an artificial essence—i.e. a preconception through which nature is framed—prevents nature as such from being understood in its authentic sense as nature.

To understand the import of raising this apparent problem created by the dual sense of “imposition,” it is important to note that Heidegger is not making two distinguishable claims about science and com-posing, i.e. he is not simply saying that science imposes (in either in the benign sense of a language or in the stricter sense of concealing an essence) and that science is also com-posing.  In other words, for Heidegger science doesn’t first impose an artificial essence onto nature and then in that imposition become com-posing—in other words, after the imposition nature is seen merely as a storehouse of disposables to be ravished and hoarded solely for human use.  Instead, the reverse applies: science imposes onto nature the artificial essence ”a calculable nexus of forces” because nature is first understood as a storehouse of disposables, then the imposition of science facilitates seeing nature in this way.  In other words, the manner of disclosing looking of com-posing is first imposed on science so that science can make it more likely to see nature as nothing but a storehouse of disposables.  This is why science for Heidegger is the “harbinger” of modern technology: as a way of knowing nature in terms of disposables, i.e. com-posing, science paves the way for technological implements to act on nature in a challenging, impositional and ravishing way.   It is also why Rojcewicz’s interpretation is literally true: science serves the essence of technology, not the other way around.  Science is com-posing first, then as com-posing science imposes on nature.  This order of priority is critical because it shows that Heidegger is not making distinguishable claims about imposition and com-posing, as though one can exist without the other.  For this reason any sense of imposition, benign or not, without concurrent com-posing simply cannot apply.

With this sense of “imposing” in science as dependent on com-posing in technology, a short path to a criticism of Heidegger’s characterization of science presents itself that could, but won’t, be taken.  That is, it bears pointing out that science need not be com-posing any more than any other modern technique or technology is or is not com-posing because, as already suggested, com-posing is not the essence of modern technology.  As show in Part One, as the essence of modern technology com-posing fails to describe actual modern technologies, as it must, even as it purports to be the only essence under which these technologies can abide, i.e. the only meaning under which these technologies are intelligible as technologies.  Since this is simply not true of com-posing—that is, since there are modern technologies that don’t fall under it and ancient ones that do—there is no reason to believe that science is essentially com-posing either just because it too falls within the era of modern technology, especially when nothing in the historical record of the development of science suggests, either in intent or in execution, that nature was or is conceived as a storehouse of disposables to be ravished and hoarded soles for human uses.   Simply put, by jettisoning com-posing as the essence of modern technology, so goes any necessity, as Heidegger maintains, of science being com-posing as well.  This is the short answer as to why science need not be, and almost certainly is not, com-posing, as Heidegger understands com-posing as the essence of technology.

With the foreclosure of this short path to criticizing Heidegger goes another short path, one opened up by the first, namely, the reference already made to the benign way in which mathematics as a particularly apt formal language “imposes” on nature a “mathematical manifold” applicable to a “calculable nexus of forces.”  Although the overwhelming view in science today is that mathematics is simply the best, most reliable means for describing natural processes,[11] not a literal transcription of ‘the book of nature’ written in the language of mathematics, with mathematics reflecting immutable properties, this observation will not be marshaled as a criticism of Heidegger’s understanding of science either.  In other words, although few scientists today think nature is a mathematical manifold or a calculable nexus of forces, only that for purpose of reliable knowledge it is useful to think so, this pragmatism in science—as opposed to the metaphysics Heidegger implies—will  also be ignored.[12]

Instead of either short cut to a critique of Heidegger’s characterization of science, the possibility that Heidegger may be right to characterize science as inherently impositional in a foreclosing sense will be deepened by examining a related debate to which Heidegger can plausibly be said to have thrown in a stake, namely, the relationship between scientifically determined reality and reality in the everyday sense.  Rojcewicz seems to understands Heidegger in this way,[13]as throwing his hat into the ring, as opposed to merely standing at the edge and caring for science only in so far as it is the “harbinger” of modern technology.  Whether this is what Heidegger actually intended—and it is pretty clear he did not—the contest over two senses of “real,” the natural and the scientific, is similar enough to what Heidegger does claim about science to see Heidegger’s view of it in that light.  So instead of either short path to a criticism of science as com-posing, a longer path through the question of science and reality vis-à-vis “imposition” will be taken.   On it will be seen whether Heidegger has anything useful to say about science, or whether science as com-posing is in fact as bereft of explanatory power as it com-posing as the essence of modern technology (as opposed to being a mere human attitude possible within it).  Accordingly, this Part is structured as follows.

First, in Chapter 7 the terms of the ‘rivalry’ debate between the ‘everyday’ and the ‘scientifically’ real are laid out, with Eddington’s ‘paradox’ of the two tables as the guiding example and Sellars’ problem of ‘rival images’ as the conceptual frame.  With terms of the issue made clear, a pragmatic resolution of the ‘paradox’ and ‘rivalry’ is offered, then the question of “the two realities” is reframed into terms that deepens yet again Heidegger’s understanding of science as “imposition.”  Specifically, the very idea of a “natural essence”—what Heidegger would put in place of scientific imposition—is explored (Chapter 8), and the idea that nature reveals itself in native, perceptual experience as any such “natural essence” is challenged (and by extension so is Heidegger’s emphasis on poiesis as either the only or the best way of apprehending that essence).   “Imposition,” it is asserted, is relative, and with this challenge in place, Heidegger’s conception of science as projection is examined (Chapter 9), with “projection” here related to the problem of imposition.  In the discussion the functional versus the ontological meaning of scientific conceptions is established, particularly with reference to the different “projections” in ancient and modern science, and under the functional interpretation any pernicious sense “imposition” alleged in science is put to rest.  Once put to rest, the possibility of apprehending “natural essence” through poiesis is taken up again (Chapter 10), and the ‘poetic reliance’ on a “natural essence” of nature is shown to be as much an imposition as anything like ‘nature as a calculable nexus of forces’.  As such, poiesis as Heidegger and Rojcewicz understand it, e.g. its contrast to science, is dismissed, and in its place is offered science as authentic poiesis.  To that end, Torricelli’s invention of the barometer and its role in his discovery of atmospheric pressure is used as an illustration of both the relationship between science and technology and as authentic poiesis.  From there the short step is taken to show that modern science, not ancient, should be emulated as a way of authentic knowing.  As a concluding note, a characterization Rojcewicz makes on Heidegger’s behalf—‘humanism’ as chauvinism—is examined (Chapter 11), and there it is suggested that ancient science, not modern, is the “chauvinistic” approach to nature, i.e. that despite all its pretense to and emphasis on the self-emergence of being, ancient science, not modern, relies on a constricting, “chauvinistic” human perspective.   A concluding transition to the final Part of this essay is then offered.

Chapter 7: The ‘problem’ of the two tables

Eddington famously proposed the ‘problem of two tables’ in his 1928 Gifford Lectures and subsequent book, The Nature of the Physical World.  In both he proposed that while in perceptual life one table exists, as a scientist he knows in fact there are ‘two tables,’ one as a correlate of natural perception and the other as a correlate of physical knowledge.  To illustrate this difference, he describes how both appear.  First he notes that in native perception “the table” exists as a solid substance.  It is an article of furniture, right there to be perceived, and it is perceived as having fixed properties like a size, shape, color, texture, solidity, etc.  He doesn’t specifically discuss the functional properties the table might have—i.e. as an instrument for writing or eating on; and he doesn’t stress at all any emotional qualities for the perceptual table—like its central place for family gatherings.  But presumably he would readily admit that these functional ‘properties’ and emotional ‘qualities’ are as real in their own way as is the perceptually real, substantial table.

To this perceptually real table he contrasts “the table” as it is known to physics.  That table, he notes, is nothing ‘substantial’; it is mostly empty space.  The minimal actual ‘substance’ occupying this space itself is scarcely even substance in the normal sense.  Rather the  electrons, protons and neutrons taking up this space exist primarily as electric charges in fields of force, so the physical ‘substance’ of the table of physics, such as it is, is really point charges zipping around in space, cohering as a ‘thing’ only because of their reciprocal laws of attraction and repulsion.  He goes on to conclude that however the table of physics is conceived—as material, as magnetic field, as geometric figure—it exists for the physicist primarily “as measures,” i.e. “our scientific information is summed up in measures”[14] So for Eddington there are essentially ‘two tables,’ one that exists primarily in experience as a solid, perceivable, substantial reality and one that exists primarily in thought as a ‘summary’ of measures (or as “schedule of pointer readings,” as he soon says).  Nevertheless this conceptual object of physics somehow corresponds to the perceptual object in the real world.

Now contrary to most references to his ‘problem of two tables,’ Eddington does not quite say that the two tables exist as separate, ontological realities, even if he does suggest that the table of physics is more real than the table of native perception.  Instead, in response to whether the two realities are actually “separate worlds” or “two interpretations of one and the same world,” he answers “yes, no doubt they are ultimately to be identified after some fashion” in one reality, but what that “reality” might mean in this context is left up to the philosophers, not the physicist.  In place of this necessary philosophical inquiry into ‘the ultimately real’—the unifying sense of “real”—he simply admits that “the whole scientific inquiry starts from the familiar world and in the end it must return to the familiar world,” but despite this ultimate ‘origin’ and ‘final’ reference, the physicist tries to construct a “world” that no longer borrows from this familiar world in its working concepts.  In other words, in place of substance, color, shape, etc. the physicist uses symbols like “electron,” “quanta,” “potentials”, to construct a “world” that will “be symbolic of the world of common place experience.” [15] This world is designed to be so unlike the commonplace world of perceived things that “there is no familiar electron, quantum or potential parallel”[16] corresponding to these symbols; that “we [the physicists] do not even desire to manufacture a familiar counterpart” because all attempts to do so have been “entirely mischievous.”[17]  So for Eddington properly understood, the ‘problem of two tables’ is not precisely the question of two ontologies, one for the objects of the world of physics and another for the commonplace objects of the familiar, perceptual experience.  Rather it is one where a ‘symbolic construction’ without pretensions to ontological reference ultimately starts from and returns back to the world of familiar experience, but nevertheless explains that familiar world in some way.   So naturally the question arises: how is one to tease out the ontological commitments, either stated or left implied, in the ‘two tables’ paradox?  Or rephrased slightly into Eddington’s terms, how is the relationship between the symbolic of science to the real of everyday experience to be understood?

Posed in as the question of the relationship of the symbolic to the real, the ‘problem of two tables’ is eminently solvable.  Posed ontologically as two separate realities competing for status as the ultimately real, with one being the reality of which the other is based, the problem is unsolvable, principally because it is posed in the wrong way, i.e. its very starting point is fallacious.  To see how and why this is the case, it is important to develop more clearly the ontological version of the problem, i.e. the formulation of the ‘two tables’ problem that sets them up as two competing realities vying for ontological priority, with one as the truly real version and the other as illusion.  Only then will the false paradox posed by the ‘paradox of two tables’ be rendered clear enough to afford its proper solution.  To that end, three approaches to the problem are discussed: Sellars, Eddington himself, and Dewey.  In these three thinkers one sees a progression from the completely wrong way to formulate and resolve the paradox, a candid formulation and attempted resolution that is intellectually honest but misguided, and a true ‘solution’ to the paradox that shows how the paradox itself is an illusion born of methodologically confused ontological commitments, commitments that ignore the functional, as opposed to the ontological, nature of scientific concepts.  With the final account in hand, the question of the relationship between the ‘symbolic of science’ and the ‘real of perception’ can be addressed directly and the solution to the two tables problem fully obtained.

Wilfred Sellars’ concept of the “rivalry” between the “manifest” and the “scientific” images is perhaps the clearest version of the ‘two table’ paradox that turns it an unsolvable theoretical problem, in that Sellars unabashedly sets up a rivalry between the “manifest image”—the commonplace world of everyday experience—and the “scientific image”—the macro- and micro-entities of science;  then he proposes that the problem is to accept both image and bring them together into “a stereoscopic view,” one in which the scientific image determines that the manifest image is an illusion, i.e. the ‘reality’ of the former is based on the ontologically prior reality of the later, such that without this prior reality, the appearance of everyday reality simply would not exist; therefore in the strict sense it does not exist.  The rendition and ultimate futility of his approach can be seen in the simple progression of Sellar’s conclusions across three interrelated essays in Science, Perception, and Reality.

Sellars sets up the rivalry between the manifest and the scientific image by noting that although “each theoretical [i.e. scientific] image is a construction on a foundation provided by the manifest image, and in this methodological sense pre-supposes the manifest image,” the manifest image is not substantively prior to the scientific.[18]  Instead, the scientific image only “presupposes” the manifest image in so far as scientific explanations both 1) have their start and finish in the objects and events of the manifest image (scientific explanations are explanations of the manifest image) and 2) borrow some of their conceptual subject matter from those objects and events in postulating new entities (‘electrons’ as theoretical entities in the scientific image exist ‘analogously’ to the macro-entities of manifest image, just as ‘micro-entities,’ not ‘macro’ entities, i.e. like manifest objects, electrons are actual particles, and so forth).  This presupposition, though—however important for the progress of science—remains at first only methodological:  substantively speaking, the entities postulated and then discovered in the scientific image[19] assume priority once they are formed and found.  After the initial methodological commitment, the objects of science become, in effect, more real, in that “substantively” they assume ontological priority, once their existence is confirmed.  Once confirmed, Sellars emphasizes, the ontological priority of the scientific image takes priority to such an extent that it can be said science makes “available a more adequate framework of entities which in principle, at least, could serve all the functions, and, in particular, the perpetual functions, of the framework we actually enjoy in everyday life.”[20] Stressing this point, he notes that the substantive and ontological priority goes so deep that “the assertion that the micro-entities of physical theory really exist goes hand in hand with the assertion that the macro-entities of the perceptible world do not really exist,”[21] culminating in: “speaking as a philosopher, I am quite prepared to say that the common sense world of physical objects in Space and Time is unreal—that is, that there are no such things.  Or, to put it less paradoxically, that in the dimension of describing and explaining the world, science is the measure of all things, of what is that it is, and what is not that is not.”[22]   So although the scientific image might begin methodologically in the manifest image as the source of its problems and many of its working concepts and end there as the target of its explanations, the entities revealed in the scientific image eventually render illusory the everyday reality of objects manifest image—i.e. render illusory everything we colloquially call ‘the world.’  Ontologically speaking, then, for Sellars the scientific “table” is the only real table, while the commonplace “table” of everyday experience is an illusory table ultimately based on a rendition of that real table by our sense organs, however that rendition is conceived.

The details of how the real entities of science are rendered into the manifest but illusory realities of everyday life are not important for the ‘two tables’ problem.   Instead, two immediate and rather obvious problems with this view arise, both are which fatal to its articulation and indicative of its futility.

Regarding the first problem, none of the entities in the scientific image can be apprehended in unaided perceptual experience.  That is, “micro-entities” like electrons, protons, and neutrons can’t be perceived in native perceptual experience; they can only be detected using instruments.  Now, it must be assumed that these instruments reliably detect these micro-entities, otherwise what basis could there be for knowing them, and if they do, it must be asked: how can these instruments accomplish this?  For these instruments, as commonplace objects of the manifest image, are not truly real; they are an illusion, and they are in fact revealed as an illusion by the ontologically prior real entities they detect.  But how can an illusory instrument, it might be asked, detect a real entity?  What possible reliability can it have being itself unreal?  How could we ever tell that the results of these instruments are reveling reality and not more illusion… the infinite regress of pointless questions just goes on and on.  In the end, absent positing information as the only truly real reals of the universe—“real” meaning that our ability to detect the information and the existence of the information itself transcends the question of the reality of what it’s information of—there is simply no sense to be made of denying the reality of the very instruments by which all real relations among real entities are obtained.   Since proposing “information” in this way is itself intolerably paradoxical (for who apprehends it, and how, and how is both the apprehension and the information itself related to ‘reality’ as we experience it—the problems simply recur on a new level…), the original problem of illusory instruments providing the basis of their own illusory nature though obtaining real knowledge is best just dismissed as a nonsense, pseudo problem.

Regarding the second problem, if our sense organs are themselves composed of micro-entities like the fundamental particles making up the manifest image both as what it is and illusory, why don’t these organs themselves simply produce real objects, i.e. a real, perceived table?  That is, why doesn’t the interactions of two real objects—the micro-entities of the world and the micro-entities of the sense organs in that world—produce, in that real relation, a real object?  To say that this interaction doesn’t is tantamount again either to absurdity, or to saying that real relations only produce information for perceivers, the reality of which transcends the question of the reality of entities which it is information of.  For what else could the interacting real micro-entities produce but transcendingly real information about themselves, if they are not producing real entities—and more to the point, if this information is produced, who or what apprehends it, and how?  And so forth all over again.  Once again, it simply makes no sense to say that the real interactions of real particles produce (experience of) illusory objects.  If the rest of the universe is real, including the sense organs through which we interact with it, why is not our apprehension real too, composed as we are of real particles?  The answer can only be as silly and ‘paradoxical’ as the formulation of the question itself.

So much for Sellars and the wrong way to formulate the ‘two tables’ problem in terms of two rivalrous “tables,” one ontologically subjugating the other into an illusion.  Saying the real “table” of physics renders the “table” of ordinary perception into an illusion is nothing more than a conceptual dead end into a non-sequitur or paradoxical nonsense.

As a middle ground between Sellars’ ontological formulation that renders the ‘two tables’ paradox unsolvable and a functional formulation where the problem simply disappears—or better stated, never arises in the first place—Eddington’s own formulation can be revisited.  For with the intellectual honesty characteristic of a first rate scientist, Eddington sticks to terms he can operationally define, even as he suggests and tries to resolve the deeper philosophical implications of those operational definitions.   Therefore discussion now turns to his account as a ‘middle ground’ between a dead-end formulation of the ‘two tables’ problem and its eventual solution.

In one respect, Eddington’s account of the two tables is like Sellar’s rivalry between the “table” in scientific image and the “table” in the manifest image, in that like for Sellar’s the table of normal perception is an illusion.  Eddington is quite clear on this.  Recurring to the separate but related example, for Eddington the poetic rendition of the “gladness” of sunlight ‘dancing over windswept waves’ is, once the differential equations for air acting over water are understood ,“of course…an illusion.”[23] For him, differential equations describe the reality of wind sweeping over the surface of the water more faithfully than the poetic expression of ‘gladness dancing,’ and he even goes on to describe in terms of physics precisely what happens when anyone sees the “visual scene,” complete with “the warmth of the air, the scent of the grass, the gentle air of the breeze,” adding that with these perceptions “the mind is set to work to weave an impression out of the stimuli,” as though a “great storehouse of associations” could “cloth the skeleton” of actual physical experience.[24]  While he admits that these differential equations don’t themselves provide reality as such but only the “skeleton of reality,” that skeleton nonetheless is real in a way that the visual, much less poetic, experience of the perceptual situation is not.  In other words, for Eddington, science, not native experience, is the only access to the ‘truly’ real that we have, even though this access itself is limited to a “skeleton” of reality much like “the bursar’s accounts bear to the activity of the college.[25]”  But despite this skeletal account, science discloses the real table in a way that exposes the perceptual experience of the table as an illusion.

In another and more important respect, however, Eddington’s account of the two tables is unlike Sellar’s rivalry between the ontologically prior scientific “table” over the illusory perceptual “table,” in that unlike Sellars, Eddington does not assert that “entities” as described by physics—be they the macro-bodies of mechanics or the “micro-entities” making up the atomic structure of matter—are more real than the perceptual table.  That is, the objects declared by physics—extended bodies with mass on the macro-scale and electrons, protons and neutron in electric fields on the micro-scale—are not “real” in a substantial sense, as they are for Sellars.  In fact, for Eddington, any attempt to give real substance to the “external world” though scientific entities like ‘extended massive body” or “atomic particle” is also an illusion.  He is just as clear on this point as he is on the illusory nature of the perceptual experience itself, for he asks why not “get back to the solid substance of things, to the material of the material of the water moving under the pressure of the wind and the force of gravitation in obedience to the laws of hydrodynamics”?[26]   In response, he first points out that “the solid substance of things is another illusion;” then he notes that even attempting to get down to the atomic structure of that solid substance—like the electrons, protons and neutrons—simply won’t suffice for science because physics has given up trying to give its “micro-entities” substantial reality analogous to the apparent substance of everyday things.   Once, Eddington admits, physics sought to do define its objects in this way; at one point it put concepts like atomic particles, mass, and fields of force on a “waiting list” that would “one day take on their rightful relation to conceptions of the familiar world.”[27] But physics, he asserts, “gradually awoke to the fact that the scheme of treatment of quantities on the waiting-list was becoming more precise and more satisfying that our knowledge of familiar things,” therefore it gave up defining them as realities with any “linkage to familiar concepts,” saying instead that their true nature as reality could be “left in suspense,” while their symbolic representations as measurements could be used to make predictions and to coordinate observations.[28] So for Eddington—and most unlike for Sellars—even the so-called “reality” of entities as dealt with in science is an illusion—or to put it in Sellarsian terms, the substantiality of “the scientific image” as he formulates it, for all its explanatory micro-entities, is just as illusory as the manifest image.

Since both the perceptual “table” as an object of native experience and the scientific “table” as composed of real electrons, protons, and neutrons occupying mostly empty space in fields of force are equally illusory, what is left for Eddington?  That is, what is science even working with under Eddington when it investigates the nature of the “table,” if the entities it works with (like electrons, protons and neutrons in fields of force) are not any more substantially real than the perceptual table itself, a table revealed by scientific explanation to be an illusion?  If those scientific entities are not real, substantial things like they are for Sellars (his “micro-entities), what for Eddington is the nature of entities as dealt with by science

For Eddington, “the kind of knowledge which is handled by exact science” is not knowledge of real, substantial bodies, whether those bodies are the macro-objects of the everyday world or the micro-entities of the atomic structure of matter.  Instead, science works with quantitative measurements understood simply as readings on instruments—or as he calls them, “pointer readings.”   To illustrate this as Eddington does, consider the problem of an elephant sliding down a grassy hillside.[29]  First, Eddington notes that the elephant of everyday perception is not the object of science.  Instead, the “elephant” is a mass, “two tons” to be exact, and even as a “mass” it is “merely the reading of a pointer when the elephant was placed on a weighing machine”[30]  “Mass” in any other sense is left undefined.  Furthermore, this “mass” doesn’t slide down a hill.  It moves down a sloping line of 60 degrees…and “similarly for the other data of the problem.”  In all cases, i.e. for all aspects of the problem, the salient ‘facts’ of the commonplace world of everyday experience are substituted with some kind of “pointer reading” from a measuring instrument, ultimately to be related to one another through a precise set of laws, the known laws of physics.  As Eddington notes, “the triumph of exact science in the foregoing problem”—and by extension in the formulation of all its problems—is “establishing a numerical connection between the pointer reading” on one instrument and a “pointer reading” on another that also measures the ‘object’ or the ‘course of events’ in some way.  “The whole matter of exact science,” therefore, “consists of pointer readings and similar indications”—not real entities examined in light of their inner nature or intrinsic reality.  In fact, far from investigating the intrinsic nature of the entities it describes, exact science doesn’t even speculate as to how entities as dealt with by science relate to the objects familiar in commonplace experience, to which they ultimately refer in some way.  Instead, “quantities representing the results of physical measurement” must be put in place of “definite conceptions of objects in the external world.”[31]  As illustrated by his elephant example, science for Eddington works with symbols and “pointer readings,” the ontological reference for which remains indeterminate, and in so doing it can predict and coordinate observations, not to penetrate ‘into nature’ to ‘reveal the reality’ of the objects with which it deals.

Now at this point two questions naturally arise. First, if “pointer readings” are put in place of real entities like “extended bodies with mass” or “electrons, protons and neutrons” (Sellar’s macro- and micro- entities), and if these “pointer readings” ultimately provide knowledge of a “skeleton” of reality (as they do for Eddington), how does this subsequent real knowledge relate back to ordinary objects at all, much less explain them away as illusions?  That is, how does Eddington go from ‘readings on measuring instruments’ to ‘a skeleton of reality’ and then back again to everyday objects in the first place, much less in a way that ultimately reveals illusory nature of those objects?  Second—and recurring to the problem as formulated by Sellars—if these “pointer readings” do in fact lead to an ontologically prior “reality” in some way, and that discovered ‘skeleton of reality’ reveals the illusory nature of the commonplace reality of perceptual experience, doesn’t Eddington end up at the same conceptual dead end as Sellars, with illusory instruments leading to the real basis that establishes their very illusory nature?  That is, doesn’t Eddington’s account of science put him in the same intolerable position of claiming that science reveals the ontologically prior real that exposes the everyday real as an illusion, even as this discovery is made using everyday instruments (the source of “pointer readings”) declared unreal by the discovery?  Reiterating both questions: 1) how does one go from the objects of ordinary experience to scientific entities in order to get knowledge of “reality,” and then back again to ordinary objects as the explanatory target of this real knowledge, and 2) as described by Eddington, doesn’t this passage at the end of the day amount to real knowledge of real entities acquired by illusory means, and doesn’t that place him at the same conceptual dead end as Sellars?

Regarding the second question first, it would seem so: by claiming access by scientific means (be it by “pointer headings” or substantially real “micro-entities”) to a reality more fundamental than the everyday world that both is accessible only though the agency of that world and calls into question that agency as real, Eddington, like Sellars, forces science, perception and reality into, as Dewey noted, a “strange world” in which “the conception of the real has to be corroborated by reference to that reality of which is made dubious by the conception.”[32]  In other words, both Eddington and Sellars reduce the perceptual “table” to an illusion, even as instruments as illusory as the table itself are the sole means for doing so.  Again, how is this even possible?  How can illusory means reveal reliable knowledge of the very reality that fundamentally makes those means illusory, as well as the ultimate object of real knowledge?  The questions and paradoxes entailed in relating “illusion” to “reality” in this way are simply intolerable, and they need not be addressed and dismissed in any more detail than they have already been addressed with respect to Sellars.

Regarding the first question, however, Eddington’s proposed answer actually indicates why the questions and paradoxes entailed by the second are in fact intolerably pointless, in so far as this ‘answer’—or perhaps better stated, his approach to the underlying problem—reveals that the very basis for declaring the everyday world illusory is undermined by the “touchstone to the actual” implied in the declaration itself.  In other words, Eddington himself offers the clue as to why it simply makes no sense to declare the perceptual “table” illusory based on knowledge of the scientifically real “table,” a clue evident in his discussion of the question “What is Mr. X?”  This discussion is what makes Eddington’s approach to science, perception and reality a ‘middle ground’ to the eventual solution of the ‘two tables’ problem, so it should be discussed in detail.

For Eddington, “What is Mr. X?” represents both a ‘stopping point’ and ‘starting point’ of sorts at which all scientific explanations find both their origin and their final resting place, in that “Mr. X” is the self-conscious scientist who acts as the “guarantor of actuality,” providing, as it were, a “touchstone of actuality” linking the ‘real’ external world to the “pointer readings” as the sole object of physics.[33]  For Eddington notes that “at the end of the synthesis [of pointer readings] there must be a linkage to the familiar world of consciousness,” and he adds that this “linkage” necessarily requires a “triple correspondence” between the actual world and the “background of consciousness.”  In other words, this “triple correspondence” is necessarily involved in reducing the ordinary objects of the familiar world “to a schedule of measures,” even as it insures that that reduction will apply back to the familiar world in some way.  In this process, first there must be a “mental image” in our minds, an image which simply is what it is, as undoubtable.  Second, there is some ‘inscrutable counterpart’ to this image in the external world, the existence of which can always be called into doubt and the ultimate nature of which remains unknown.  And third, there is a set of “pointer readings” related to both, i.e. the pointer readings are related to both the mental image in the mind and the inscrutable object actually existing in the external world.  In this tripartite way, the objects of physics as a reduction of the objects of everyday experience are both derived from and relate back to the ordinary world.  In other words, scientific explanations of the “table” ultimately relate back to the perceptual “table” because the self-conscious investigator indubitably experiences the actual table—“there is no question about consciousness being real or not”—even as he constructs in place of it “a schedule of pointer headings” through which to discover a ‘skeleton’ of its reality.  It is through the indubitable nature of conscious experience that subsequent real knowledge of the actual table begins with the “table” itself (once appropriately reduced to a ‘schedule of pointer readings’) and ends there again as an explanation of it (the ‘skeleton of reality’ revealed through those pointer readings refers back the “table”)—even as, paradoxically, that real knowledge of the “table” reveals it to be an illusion.

Now although he never says as such (presumably because he was unaware of it himself), Eddington’s account of how the objects of science both begin and relate back to the objects of ordinary experience through the self-conscious experience of the scientist himself and its “touchstone to actuality” affords the clue that undermines his own (and Sellar’s) claim that the perceptual “table” is illusory and that the scientific “table” is the solely real.  For on one hand Eddington admits that the perceptual experience of the table is in some sense indubitable, i.e. it cannot be doubted as a real experience, even as on the other he asserts that it is a real experience of an illusion.  But it can and should be asked: on what basis is the table as experienced as real undermined by knowledge of the table?  That is, if on the one hand the table is experienced as indubitably there as actual to self-consciousness—i.e. if that experience as such cannot be doubted in its reality—why on the other does knowledge of ‘what the table is’ undermine that reality, i.e. why should knowing that the table is more than it appears undermine the reality of the table?  In short, why should knowledge of the real “table” make the experienced “table” an illusion—or the rephrase the issue in the terms to come, why should the result of a cognitive experience undermine the very non-cognitive basis from which that cognitive result began?

To better appreciate the full import of this question and the bearing its answer has on the genuine resolution of the ‘two tables’ problem, Dewey’s distinction between the ‘object’ as experienced and the ‘object’ as known is now discussed.  For in this basic distinction lies a solution to the ‘two tables’ problem that both preserves the intuitive, everyday sense that the “table” as perceived is real, even as it accounts for how the “table” as known in science is real in a way entirely foreign to native perception.  In other words, for Dewey both the scientific table and the perceptual table are real, just real in different ways, and they are both real because the “table” as a terminal object of scientific cognition answers a question initiated by problematizing the “table” as originating in ordinary, non-cognitive experience.  So naturally, in so far as the stimulus to problem is real, so will be the answer regarding it—the dialectical reply really is just that simple.  In the final analysis the scientific “table” as real ‘relates’ to the perceptual “table” as real simply as ‘real’ answer relates to a ‘real’ question—in other words, and the so-called ‘problem of two tables’ is solved by not understanding them as two ontologically distinct realities somehow standing in relation to one another, but rather in understanding them as functionally related as the initiation and commensuration of an inquiry (or more generally, as cognition taken in the broadest sense).  By making the distinction between the two tables functional instead of ontological, Dewey makes the problem of “relating” them back to one another simply disappear altogether.  The “perceived and used table” turns out to be the only table, even as the scientific account contextualizes that table within the framework of its broader interactions outside of its direct perception and use.  This functional solution is worth examining in detail.

Dewey’s functional solution is laid out in three basic steps.  First, the distinction between “existences” immediately and non-cognitively experienced as given is distinguished from “existences” taken as occasions for inquiry into their conditions and causes.  Thus the difference between givens (qualities and ‘object’) in experience and takens as objects for and after inquiry is made.  Second, with this distinction in place, “the table” as a proper noun designating an object in ordinary experience is discussed relative to the “table” as an object of controlled scientific cognition.  Both are considered terminal objects of a sort, and once understood as such both the continuity and the difference between the “tables” as objects is proposed.  Third, once the ordinary and the scientific objects are seen as continuous terminal objects relative to kinds of use and knowledge, i.e. as both being ‘final’ objects in the context in which they are apprehended, the manner in which they relate to each other as equally real can be appreciated.  In the end, the scientifically real “table” is real in so far as it acts as the answer to a question initiated by asking about the real, perceptual “table” in the first place, so the question ‘which one is real versus which one is not does not even arise.  Both “tables,” once understood functionally, are real, especially since the real table of ordinary experience marks both “the beginning and end” of the knowledge obtained about it, i.e. of the questions asked about it.  In these three steps the so-called ‘problem of two tables’ dissolves, and once solved the originating question at the start of this section, i.e. the question of the relationship between symbols and the realities of perceptual experience, can be re-examined in its proper light.  For that relationship is the origin of the ‘problem’ of two tables in the first place.

Discussion begins by noting the difference between existences given to be known in non-cognitive experience, and objects—experienced or not—instituted though cognitive acts like doing and knowing.   As an example of this distinction, consider a ‘table’ as Eddington first describes it in the introduction to The Nature of Physical Reality, with the example modified here in an important way.

As a first consideration, take the table as a ‘this thing,’ as something simply given there, not yet identifiable as “a table” as such (i.e. not yet identifiable as a determinate, much less functional table); instead take it as just minimally an occasion in which a relatively stable perceptual object appears against a background of other shapes and colors, a background itself possessed of qualities like color, texture, and shape.  Note as well that both the ‘this thing’ and the background are composed of qualities immediately apprehended as simply being the qualities that they are.  To be sure, to anyone who already knows what a table is, ‘this thing’ in question wouldn’t appear that way; it would be immediately understood as something determinate to sit at, to eat at, to write on, etc.  But assume for the sake of argument that someone doesn’t know what a table is, that they have never even seen a table, or anything like it.  How would the ‘this thing’—the particular experienced just as a particular that it is in the here and now—be experienced?

To be sure, as a first consideration the ‘this thing’ would be experienced as ‘having’ perceptible qualities like color, solidity, shape, and texture in a field of other qualities.  Perhaps too it would appear as an isolated, stable particular ‘this’ separated from the visual field of ‘that’s’, possessing all the qualities just mentioned.  But in any case, absent any prior knowledge of what the ‘table is as such’ is, the ‘this table’ would simply be given as something to be known or acted upon—or as Dewey put the distinction, “existences” like the ‘this table’ “are immediately given in experience” simply as the existences they are.   Furthermore, existences like the ‘this thing’ that are immediately given “are not given to experience” per se; rather “their giveness is experience” itself,[34] and it is in this immediate, non-cognitive sense that a ‘this thing’—absent any prior knowledge of what it is or can be—would be given.  As a perceptual event, this indubitable sense of experienced givenness acts as (or can act as) the occasion[35] for subsequent acts doing and knowing, without itself being cognitive in the sense required by either.[36]

As a second consideration, however, the ‘this thing’ given as an occasion in immediate experience can be (or at least can become) more than just a simple given of a ‘this here,’ whatever that ‘this’ may be.  Instead of being simply experienced as the experience it is, the ‘this thing’ can be taken up, as it wer; it can be taken up as ‘a something’ to be known or acted upon in some way, as something to be cognized.  In this elementary act of cognition—an act that probably subtends all cognitive life—‘this thing’ becomes ‘the thing,’ a common noun designating a determinate object of some sort, however indeterminate as of yet its properties might be.  In other words, instead of being experienced simply a ‘this thing’ with immediate qualities, anyone can ask: what is this ‘this thing’?  What can I do with it or know about it? For someone who has never seen a table, ‘the thing’ might stand out as something potentially usable.  Its hard flat surface might suggest a handy resting place for implements that need to be kept at waist height, or it might even suggest ‘standing around’ as a central place for mutually examining objects—the particular potential and actual uses do not matter.  What matters for the transition from non-cognitive experience to cognition proper is that ‘this table’ as a potential determinate object is inquired into, either as to what kind of object it is (how it feels to the touch, what material is it made of, is it sturdy, etc.) or as to what kind of uses to which it can be put (will it support this heavy object, how many will fit around it, etc).  In all these cognitive inquiries about the perceptual ‘this thing,’ the ‘table’ given as immediate experience is taken up as an “object” to be cognized in some way, and the goal of which—either with respect to its properties or its potential uses—is to establish the perceptual ‘this thing’ into “the table”—i.e. to establish it as some kind of object, minimally a common noun.  In other words, from a ‘this thing’ as a perceptual event emerges “the table” as some kind of cognitive object, meaning some kind of object with determinate properties that makes it the object that it is come to the fore.  As Dewey notes regarding the transition from non-cognitive to cognitive experience, “immediate qualitative experience” fulfills “none of the logical conditions of knowledge and objects qua known.  When inquiry [cognition] occurs, these materials are given to be known—a truistic or tautological statement, since inquiry is the subjection of the given experience to operations of inquiry with the intent of institution of objects as known.[37]  As a consequence of these operations of inquiry—however incidental and slight the cognition might be—“the table” as an object possessed of such and such determinate (or determinable) properties beyond its immediately apprehended perceptual qualities is instituted—or created, derived from, born of…whatever term suits.  This process of determining objects from out of immediate perceptual givens as experienced is cognition in the proper sense of the term.

So to summarize, for Dewey there are two kinds of experience: non-cognitive experience in which immediately apprehended qualities, and perhaps qualities abiding in ‘things’,[38] are given as the “data”[39] or materials that they simply are (i.e. merely as occasions potentially to be understood as something) and cognitive experience proper in which these qualities as data or material are taken up and used or known in the institution of objects in the everyday sense.  No claim is made here for the former acting as an “epistemic foundation” for the latter, in that one justifies the inferences of the other.  Rather, the question is a genetic one, a genesis not so evident in adult experience that almost always takes for granted familiar, instituted objects (objects born of prior cognitive acts), but almost certainly one descriptive of the genesis of those objects from out or pre-cognitive life—and in any case, a genesis certainly possible when an entirely new existence is encountered, one not encumbered with the familiarity of prior cognitive accomplishments.  So prior to cognitive acts of knowing and doing, something must be given non-cognitively, however indeterminate that something might be, and this giveness and immediacy is primary experience itself.  Non-cognitive and cognitive experience, then, are reciprocally founding and founded, with the former acting as the stimulus to the later, even as the later in turn becomes ‘objects’ for the former.   This founding/founded relationship is captured most clearly in the distinction between a ‘this thing’ (a ‘table’) as a mere perceptual (non-cognitive) event and ‘the thing’ (the table) as a bona fide cognitive object.
The difference between ‘this thing’ as a simple, perceptually given occasion with such and such qualities and “the thing” as a known (or knowable) or determinate (or determinable)object is important because with this genetic understanding of the later out of the former, the continuity between the “the table” as an object in ordinary perception, i.e. as a common noun, and “the table” as an object of scientific inquiry, i.e. as “a collection of atomic elements bound by fields of force,” can be seen, requiring only two simple steps.

First, as Dewey notes, “the table,” as an ordinary, everyday object, is perceptually and existentially not a permanent, abiding substance in which qualities inhere but rather “the constancy” of an “indefinitely multiple and varied series of ‘thises’” given in perceptual life.   As a “multiple” and “varied series,” “this table” is constantly subject to change, and is changing.  Some of these changes are attributable to the act of perceiving as such, such as when one moves around it, the profiles change, and perhaps the color changes too with the lighting…and so forth.  But even so attributed, ‘this table’ itself can still change position, etc., and in any case, even if stationary, it is still imperceptibly but nonetheless changing with time (“wearing with age,” as it were).   To be sure, as an “instrumental means for certain consequences”—say eating, writing, etc.—the existential changes ‘this table’ undergoes can be dismissed as “negligible,” and the perceptual changes are immaterial in any case.  In place of both kinds of change a stable, single ‘”the table” can be posited and apprehended.[40]  But “the table,” as an ordinary object, is—strictly speaking—an abstraction, just “not a vicious one.”[41]  For something like a table, “the table” is both perceptually and existentially stable, but it need not be so, and taking it as such by rendering the “indefinitely and multiple series of ‘thises’” into an object like “the table”—or “the furniture,” or “the attractive article,” or anything else—is in the final analysis to “select relations to things which, with respect to their modes of operation, are constant within the limits practically important” (one could add “cognitively important” as well).[42]  In short, instead of identifying an abiding substance with inherent properties, by instituting “the table” as an object, “a group of properties is set aside, corresponding to the abiding end and single mode of use which form the object, in distinction from the ‘thises’ of unique experiences.”[43] “The table” as Eddington describes it in ordinary perception, is therefore s not quite the “given” he takes it to be; rather it is itself a cognitive accomplishment, a taken rather than a “given,”  i.e. an object reified from out of a constantly fluctuating series of ‘this thing’ given in immediate, non-cognitive experience.[44]

Second, with this concept of the cognitive object as based in and instituted from primary, immediate (and non-cognitive) experience, the continuity between “the table” as an object of ordinary experience and “the table” as an object of scientific inquiry becomes evident, for “the table” as an object of science “marks an extension of the same sort of operation[45] that institutes from the originating “this thing” of primary (non-cognitive) experience the terminal object “the table” of ordinary, everyday (cognitive) experience.  In other words, science, as an elaborate and controlled form of cognition, is an extension of the same basic cognitive operations that establish the determinate objects of ordinary experience with which science begins, only with science, the cognitive operations are geared toward understanding the object “in a wider environment and free from any specified set of uses.”[46]  So for natural cognition, “the table” is ‘for eating,’ is ‘a broad flat surface to set things on,’ is ‘an article of furniture for the house, is ‘ a brown wooden object that looks right next to curio cabinet,’ etc.  It can even be taken out of its functional context and apprehended simply as a perceptual object with such and such properties.  But for scientific cognition, “the table” is brought into relations with surrounding objects and relations such that it is all of these things, but not necessarily any one of them, for as a scientific object it is taken in “connection with an indefinite variety of unspecified” but possible “standardized relations of interactions,” including those having nothing to do with human perception or use.[47]  “The table,” as the object of science regards it, might stand in relation to any other local or remote object that is in, or could come into, relations with it, regardless of whether or not any human perceiver is there to witness the relations and event.  In this way, “the table, as not a table but a swarm of molecules in motions of specified velocities and accelerations, corresponds to a liberated generalization of the purposes [and relations] which the object may serve [or participate in].”[48]  As such, far from not relating to “the table” of ordinary perception, “the table” of scientific understanding isthe table” extended to include its natural insertion among other objects, irrespective of any specific relation or use, but instead one generalized to include virtually any possible relations.   As a generalized and ‘idealized’ object, though, this scientific “table” is functionally continuous with—not ontologically separate from—the ordinary table.  It is simply the table, just taken out of its everyday, functional or perceptual context and understood instead as an explanans in cognitive acts that abstractly place it into a nexus of possible relations with other objects also taken as such.  In any case, the operations that establish is as an explanandum are extensions of the operations that establish it as the table in the first place.

Understood in this way—functionally instead of ontologically—the question of the reality of the scientific “table” vis-à-vis the ordinary “table” of natural perception simply disappears, and in its place the scientific table ‘relates’ to the ordinary table more like an answer relates to the question it answers, rather than as one “reality” relates to another “reality.”  For in an important sense, “the table” as an object of scientific cognition answers the question: ‘what is the table?’, or perhaps more precisely, ‘what is the table as such, in its general possible ways of being the table that it is?’—meaning, in other words, ‘in what way can the table be understood in its most general state,’ one non-specific to any particular relationship with other objects but instead indicative of the broadest spectrum of possible relations it can enter into.  “The table” as a ‘collection of atomic particles’ potentially standing in relation to other objects taken as ‘collections of atomic particles’ represents perhaps the most generalized answer to the question, ‘what is the table as such,’ for the principles by which atoms and object composed of atoms inter-relate with one another can be very well specified—or in any case, specified much easier than can the various human perceptions and uses to which “the table” as an ordinary object can be put.  In this way, a “standardized constant, the result of a series of operations and expressing an indefinite multitude of possible relations among concrete things,”[49] functionally corresponds to the specific, ordinary “table” as an answer corresponds to a question asked of it—or to put it equivalently, as a consummating product corresponds to the process of inquiry out of which it was born.  Understood in this functional way, there is simply no question as to whether this consummating answer is real, for of course it remains as real—but no more real—than the reality of the object proposing the question and prompting the inquiry in the first place.

As a summary statement of Dewey’s ‘pragmatic’ resolution of the ‘problem of two tables,’ then, the question regarding the relationship between the symbolic as an instrument of scientific inquiry and the perceptually real as an object of ordinary perception can be re-examined, specifically with reference to Eddington’s question about “What is Mr. X” and the “triple correspondence” between the “actual” world of ordinary experience, the “background of consciousness” it supposes, and the object of scientific thought as “specified numerical relations” among a “schedule of pointer headings,” i.e. as a symbolic ‘reality.’   As an exemplar, Eddington’s discussion of the illusory nature of the poetic waves vis-à-vis the scientific explanation is revisited as well.

Recall that for Eddington, the consciousness of the scientist himself acts as a “touchstone to the actual” which gives scientific explanations both their starting point in objects of ordinary experience and their stopping point as the terminus for which those explanation are ‘explanations of.’  Although he himself was not as clear as he could have been about the significance of this touchstone, it was asserted that his “triple correspondence” relating the ordinary object to the experimental object (in his example, an elephant sliding down a grassy hill) offers a clue to the eventual solution to the ‘two tables’ problem.  That clue can now be appreciated in terms of the solution now obtained, in so far as the “triple correspondence” essentially poses the question of the relationship between the “symbolic” instruments of science and the “perceptually real” or ordinary experience.  That is, although Eddington deploys a naïve subjectivistic psychology (“mental image” in our minds, “external object” in the world), the “triple correspondence” he described suggests that scientific explanations always correspond to their explanandum as a symbol always corresponds to the perceptually real it represents.  To see this relationship, consider Eddington’s alleged debunking into illusion both the poetic description of the sunlight dancing off the windswept waves and the natural visual experience of that scene.  As a scientific account, he notes: “aethereal vibrations of various wave-lengths, reflected at different angles from the disturbed interface between air and water, reached our eyes and by photoelectric action caused appropriate stimuli to travel along optic nerves to a brain-centre.”   For him, this explanation of the poeticized visual experiences explains away the reality of that experience by offering access to a ‘skeleton of reality’ that is more fundamentally real.  In other words, though a “touchstone to the actual” is maintained (the poetic experience) and actually drives the scientific explanation as an explanation, somehow this “touchstone” is not real, even as it is also somehow “actual”.  This ambivalence raises a critical, if not the critical question of his account, and of any account of scientific explanation.

Specifically, where, it should be asked of the scientific account, does the debunking into illusion occur?  That is, how does the ‘skeleton of reality’ found as the explanans debunk the reality of the explanandum it purports to explain?  In the details of scientific description itself, in its symbolic abstractions and instrumental data?  But how there, for in all its reliance on reductions—i.e. to abstractions and data circumscribed from ordinary objects for the special purpose of scientific investigations—the scientific description still presupposes the actuality of the ordinary objects of natural perception both as the source of data (from the instruments, etc.) and as the explanandum of the explanation, just as a symbol both presupposes and recurs to the stable perceptual object or significance which it symbolizes.   The relationship of the “scientific object” to the “natural object”—the one “table” to the other—should be no more mysterious than this relationship.  In fact, all scientific explanations, as manipulations of abstracted “schedules of pointer readings” (or measurements and conceptualizations in the broadest sense) begin in ordinary objects and end in ordinary objects because that is precisely what they are scientific explanations of.  As such, it simply makes no sense to deny the reality of these originating and terminal objects because of the symbolic abstractions, any more than it makes sense to deny the reality of any perceptual object because of its symbolic representation.  For it remains a representation of that reality.  As Dewey noted almost a century ago—and almost as soon as the two tables problem was posed: it is the “height of absurdity to assert the reality” of explanatory relations among the symbolic objects of science “while denying the reality of the things between which they hold,” as explanandum of those explanans.  Why this disarmingly obvious solution posed so soon after the “problem” was posed has escaped philosophers and scientists is something of a mystery, but perhaps the motive for the omission can be made clear by considering how almost unbelievably effective science has become.  That is, perhaps something of the scope and power of science compels the illusion that the objects of scientific knowledge are somehow more real than the reality of the object of ordinary, everyday experience.

In light of its effects, science is admittedly compelling, perhaps more compelling than any other form of human inquiry.  With its abstractions and symbolic manipulations, science discloses relations and objects otherwise completely unknown and unknowable to natural experience, be that experience the immediacy of given qualities and ‘objects,’ or the higher cognitive experience of everyday objects like tables, chairs, people, plants, and houses—in short, everything included within the scope of our world.[50]  Since the objects in which scientific objects originate and terminate are indubitably real; since these experienced objects are the primary meaning for us of reality as such; naturally the objects and relations revealed by science—even and perhaps especially those inaccessible except by science—are disclosed as real as well.  For what else would those relations and entities be?  What else would “an atom” be—whatever its ultimate nature—but a “real something” in some way, if it is to be understood as a component explaining the composition of a real, ordinary thing, the reality of which we simply cannot ignore, and can only deny in particular instance, never as part of the ‘world all at once’?  How could a strictly symbolic “atom” comprise anything?  If it is only a symbol, how can knowledge of its behavior be used to make such accurate predictions?  The symbol must, it is thought, correspond to something real, otherwise the symbol wouldn’t enable manipulation, control, and prediction to such an extent.   In this way, native experience compellingly suggests, scientific objects are real.  Since the objects science explains are real, intuitively it just seems impossible to suppose that the entities it discloses through symbolic manipulation are not real as well.  Intuitively, it seems, and as it happens logically as well.

For both intuitive and logical reasons, science compels an almost unbelievable faith in its object, “faith” in the sense that though the means of knowing them is not as direct as ordinary means, it is nonetheless for wear equally real in some sense, however much on faith that sense must be taken.  In other words, scientific objects and relations so remote from native experience are deemed real precisely because the experienced objects to which they refer and through which they are derived (instruments) are themselves so real.  As such, scientific objects derive their reality from the insurmountable reality of the everyday world, not the other way around.  Thus the question guiding this Chapter recurs in full force: why the itch to explain away in the name of symbolic abstractions, the referent of which must be real in some sense, the concretely, experientially real things of the everyday world as illusory simply because those abstractions open up to objects far removed from normal, unaided experience?[51]  The itch is even less explicable when the ultimate reality of the scientific object is taken on a faith or sorts, as an extension one-knowns-not-precisely-how of the very designation real  so indubitably used (Eddington’s “waiting list”).  In the specific case of the ‘two tables,’ why assume smaller—almost infinitesimally smaller—‘particles/charges’ in ‘fields of force’ never detectable without abstractions and instruments are more real than the obviously real objects they compose?   To pose the same question in another field, who would, for instance, deny the reality of the human body as we live it simply because a microscope reveals it is composed of elements not natively seen either, i.e. cells?  Because of these cells, is the body as lived an illusion too because an instrument reveals it is more than the naked eye can tell?  Are the cells by extension illusions too because further and more elaborate operations of observation and discovery reveal those cells are composed of even smaller, less easily detectable ‘particles,’ to wit, “molecules”, and those molecules themselves are composed “atoms”, and so on all the way down to fundamental particles and fields of force?  The reductivist fallacy along the conceptual food chain is the same, yet no one has proposed “two human bodies,” the illusory one we live and the real one we see under the microscope.  So why not as with the body and cells, so with atomic particles with relations of force and the ordinary perceived “table”?  However tempting it is to say that the generalized ‘object as such’ of science, in its intentionally non-parochial scope, is more real than the object of ordinary purposes and experience on which it is based, that temptation is simply fallacy and illusion born of ignorance of the functional role the scientific object plays in an explanation.  In this functional role, the abstract and symbolic of science—whatever ‘real’ object or relation it might refer to—only makes sense in reference to the ordinary object it originated from and explains; therefore “more real” is neither here nor there because it can at most be as real, however difficult it is to conceptualize in what way that reality in common “is.”  This common conceptualization of “the real” is difficult but not impossible when understood functionally, as an answer to a question or a symbol to the real it represents, but it is as impossible as intractable when posited as an ontological rivalry, where one real is somehow more real than the other, with the more real explaining away the less.

In the final analysis, then, Eddington was right to admit that ultimately the ‘two tables’ are “two interpretations of one and the same world,” to point out that the experience of the scientist himself provides an important “touchstone to actuality” for understanding scientific abstractions, and to indicate (however, obliquely) that the problem of ‘two tables’ arises in part because physical science has finally shed the need to define the reality of its objects in terms of the reality of everyday, commonplace things, i.e. it has finally shed the “waiting list” where its object as assigned  analogs to the everyday real.  But as right as he was about all three things, he was simply wrong to take the scientific objects on the never to be fulfilled “waiting list” as somehow more fundamentally real than the ordinary objects from which they originate and to which they ultimately refer.  That this fallacy is doubly a fallacy precisely because the reality of that which is suspended indefinitely ostensibly undermines the reality of something experienced as real almost without question could be noted, but it is enough to reiterate that seeing the naturally perceived table as an illusion, and the scientifically understood table as the ultimately real, is simply to confuse an ‘object’ with a functional role in an explanation with an ontological reality somehow outside it, thus competing with the object explained.  Once the functional role of the ‘object’ of science is appreciated, the “ontological reality” of the commonplace table is restored to its logically necessary place, and the proper relationship of the ‘two tables’ is seen more in terms of an ‘answer’ to a ‘question’ than competitively real alternatives—or alternatively and more specifically, it is seen in terms of a symbol relating to the reality it represents.  However problematic that later relationship might be—that is, however difficult it might be to conceptualize the relationship between a “symbol” and a “real thing”—that relationship of ‘symbolic correspondence to reality’ is eminently more tractable than the false and ultimately fallacious problem of bridging two ‘ontological realms,’ wherein illusory instruments are used to detect a reality revealing the illusory status of those instruments, as well as the illusory nature of objects explained by the detection.  Functionally the problem of ‘two tables’ dissolves, even as this functional understanding opens up a new approach to understanding how scientific explanations are explanations as such.  In light of this dissolution of the traditional ‘two tables’ problem (and by extension all its variants), it is proposed that “what is an explanation?” should replace the question “is water H20?” as the guiding question regarding the status of scientific objects.’[52]  The first question, though addressed loosely here,[53] may remain an open one, but the second one is simply a misunderstanding based in a fallacy only provoking a purely recreational problem.

[1] PIKCPR, 13.

[2] GT 115

[3] GT 112.

[4] QCT 9

[5] QCT 9-10, emphasis added.

[6] GT 112 pikcpr 22

[7] GT 122

[8] For a discussion of how an ob-ject is necessarily a creation of and imposition by a subject, see GT, pp.

[9] tegmark

[10] GT 113

[11] This instrumental understanding mathematics as providing the symbolic system substituted for the object of physics (or science generally) as ‘an analog of familiar things’ (“mass” as quantity of a substance like matter) is as old as Plank and Eddington (1918 and 1928) and persists today in virtually every college textbook on the subject.  It is no less prevalent for being unstated in explicit terms.  Instead, its prevalence is so strong that it simply doesn’t get stated because it doesn’t have to be in order to be recognized.  This nature and role of this ‘constructed symbolic world’ as the true ‘object’ of science, and the ‘problem’ of its relation to the commonplace world of everyday experience, is discussed shortly.


[13] GT, 120-121

[14] The Nature of the Physical World, xi.

[15] xiii

[16] BY “familiar electron” he means “when I think of an electron there arises to my mind a hard, red tiny ball”, but this picture, as a correlate to a familiar thing, is “absurd.”  The electron of physics does not exist in that familiar way.

[17] xiii

[18] 20

[19] That is, those that are postulated or constructed and later determined to be valid constructions or postulate in so far as they represent real entities.  Sellers is quite clear that scientific concepts refer to real things and are not simply instrumental.  See

[20] 97, partial emphasis added (“a more adequate framework” and “all the functions”)

[21] 96

[22] 173

[23] 160

[24] 160

[25]  139

[26] 160, emphasis added.

[27] 125

[28] 126-7, 146


[30] 127

[31] 129.

[32] QC, 193.


[34] Logic, 514

[35] Act as the occasion, or stimulus for future cognition, not as an epistemic foundation for products obtained in that cognition—just in case someone has epistemology in mind….

[36] It is important to stress here the hypothetical nature of this perception once all the meanings that accrue to objects have accrued to them in adult life.  Presumably pre-linguistic children (which we all were at some point) experience the world in this way, but in any case, something like this kind of indubitable, first-hand experience of givenness subtends even adult perceptual life, otherwise it becomes impossible to account for how the conceptual overlays within experience ever occurred, as well as how new conceptual overlays are possible when entirely novel experience is had.

[37] Logic, 514, emphasis added

[38] As a first level of cognition, each indeterminate some-‘thing’ can be experiences as a ‘the thing’’ in a proto-determinate sense, i.e. as an abiding thing or object possessed of basic qualitative properties, without being a yet be recognizable cognitive object like a proper noun with functional properties, i.e. like a “the table” as a object with a history of known functions or uses.  It could also be noted here that establishing “the table” as a cognitive object belonging to a kind “table” is a necessary step in the continuity of cognitive appreciation of objects because non-cognitive experience of ‘yet-indeterminate objects’ is unique and the properties non-recurrent.  This is not to say that in pre-predicative experience the ‘yet-indeterminate object’ won’t have stable and abiding properties of some sort, only that for the purposes of inferences drawn about them, a cognitive object recurring in experience as possessed of the abiding correlates of use and interest is required.  This higher level of interest requires establishing a cognitive object as described here.

[39] For a description of things as “data”, see The Quest for Certainty, pp. 79-83


[41] QC 190

[42] QC 190

[43] QC 190

[44] How this reification occurs is itself an important theme, perhaps one of the most important themes in cognitive life.  Husserl discusses it in some detail in both Experience and Judgement and Analysis Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis. Both those works treat the genesis of logical forms of judgement out of pre-predicative experience, but both also take up predication as the basic act of judgment—a basic act similar to the reification of a cognitive object described here.

[45] QC 190

[46] QC 190.

[47] 190

[48] 190

[49] 190

[50] “World” here taken in the Heideggerian sense as “that which one is into,” like the ‘world’ of poetry or the ‘world’ of sports.  In “world” in this sense, encounters objects and event are always already understood as being something, and this understanding reflects both natural and instrumental ways of knowing.

[51] Perhaps this itch is no better exemplified than in Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained, where the explanation why consciousness is not real ‘explains away’ the very distinction presupposed in the explanation.  That the book marshals copious (and accurate) evidence from neural science only lends force to its underlying silliness.

[52] It must be stressed here that the relationship of the “symbolic” to the “perceptually real” is not the relationship of the scientific object as a symbol to the reality that symbol represents, as how an “atom” as a symbol might relate to an atom as a real entity.  Rather the relationship between the symbolic and the perceptually real in question here is that of a symbolic explanation of science to the real object it explains.   So using the atom and the table example, it question isn’t ‘how does the symbolic “atom” relates to the real atom in the table’ but rather how does the symbolic atom as an explanation of the composition of the table relate to the real, actual table it explains.  This is perhaps not as clear as it could be in what is stated so far, and it leads naturally to the question (raised at the end): what is an explanation as such, particularly, what is an explanation that it can use a symbolic abstraction to relate a perceived actuality to an instrumentally disclosed one?  How does such an explanation work?

[53] David Deutsch, brilliantly to this author’s mind, points out that science yields real explanations, and he describes the most salient features of good and bad explanations, but he does not bring the idea of an “explanation as such” to philosophical clarity—assuming such clarity is even necessary (which it may not be).  In any case, it might be interesting to see what an explanation is relative to the philosophical commitments preceding it.

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