Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Many Tables?

Graham Harman has a recent post in which he wonders about tables:
Because of something I had to write I was going over A.S. Eddington’s The Nature of the Physical World (or over the Introduction, anyway, which was the relevant part for my purposes). This Introduction is famous for its discussion of the “two tables”: the scientific table that is mostly empty space and made up of rushing subatomic particles, and the table of everyday life (which Eddington confusingly names the “substantial” table, but never mind that).

I find that I have no sympathy for either of those two tables. The real table is the third table that is neither scientific nor everyday.

Under Eddington’s schema, both tables are dissolved into nearby sets of relations– either into their tiny little components detectable by the sciences, or into their effects on humans.
I’ve not read Eddington’s introduction, but only the single page that shows up in the Google Books preview. But that leads me to suspect that the situation is worse the Harman’s suggested.

The scientific table seems to be the quantum-mechanical table of sub-atomic charged particles, where those particle are not little itty bitty grains of sand, but even smaller; they’re something else. I suspect that Eddington’s “substantial” table is a conflation of all those various appearances (sensual objects in Harman’s terminology) the table presents to human perception and action with the classical table as defined in various respects by Descartes, Gallileo and Newton. It's the table of classical mechanics. If we count all those appearances as one table, that gives us three tables, two scientific tables (quantum and classical) and one everyday table (appearances). Harman’s real table is a fourth. It, presumably, is what holds those other tables together or, if you will, it is what spawns them.

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