10 Mar 2004 - 11 Mar 2004All dayCRASSH


Workshop sponsored by CRASSH (University of Cambridge) and supported by the British Academy

Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882 – 1944) was a distinguished astronomer, a successful communicator of science, and a committed Quaker. His work on the structure and evolution of the stars laid the foundations of modern astrophysics; he promoted Einstein's general theory of relativity among British scientists during the First World War, and subsequently helped to communicate it more widely through his bestselling popular works. Together he and Einstein sought to keep the international spirit of science alive during a period of nationalistic conflict and suspicion. Eddington's influence beyond astrophysics was substantial: his writings inspired poets, novelists and painters, his belief in a spiritual world alongside the physical world contributed to debates about the relations between science and religion, and his philosophy of science continues to inform arguments about the nature and limits of scientific knowledge.

Astronomers today stress Eddington's earlier work on stellar structure as forming his most significant, and lasting, scientific achievement. His later work on 'fundamental theory', and his popular characterisation of Einstein's law of gravitation as a vicious circle or 'put-up job', have not passed into mainstream cosmology. Eddington's rejection in the 1930s of gravitational collapse in massive stars has since been disproved, along with the ideas from particle physics that he enlisted in support of his position. And yet when we look at the engagement of literary writers, journalists, artists and philosophers with Eddington's work some of these less credible scientific ideas take on a renewed significance. This is also the case when we begin to explore the historical context of Eddington's science and the cosmological debates he was involved in. Those who pursue such studies of Eddington's 'alternative' ideas do not necessarily seek to reject the contemporary scientific assessment of his career. The historical, literary, aesthetic and philosophical uses of Eddington enrich rather than precluding scientific accounts of his work. But the integration of these different approaches is no simple matter. Must we resign ourselves to a kaleidoscope of Eddington images, or can these different facets be resolved into a coherent figure?

This workshop brings together experts from the history of science, philosophy, literary studies and the history of art, as well as physicists and astronomers. The aim is to explore Eddington's continuing significance for these various disciplines, and to engage in interdisciplinary discussion. Without seeking to reduce Eddington's work to a single explanatory theme, whether religious, scientific or aesthetic, we will be sharing information and perspectives as we try to gain a richer appreciation of the different aspects that constituted Eddington's life and work.

Contributed papers will be circulated in advance and all participants are asked to read these before coming to the workshop. The emphasis will be on structured discussion, and the contribution of those not supplying a formal paper is expected to be equally significant. Participants from any field with an interest in Eddington are welcome.

Papers have been received from Malcolm Longair, Steven French, Matt Stanley, Gavin Parkinson, Michael Whitworth, Robert Smith, Ian Durham, Alan Batten and Kate Price.

In conjunction with the workshop, and to commemorate the 60th year since Eddington's death, an exhibition of materials from Eddington's papers will be shown at the Wren Library, Trinity College. There is also the possibility of visiting the Observatory where Eddington lived and worked, and where some excellent photographs of Eddington are held.

The meeting begins with these visits on the afternoon of Wednesday 10th March, followed by a dinner that evening, with the main workshop all day on Thursday 11th. This will finish by 6pm to enable those who are attending the RAS commemorative Eddington meeting on Friday 12th to travel to London. Further information on the RAS meeting can be found on the RAS website, http://www.ras.org.uk/html/meetings/RAS2003.html#mar

Dr Kate Price, Homerton College, Cambridge
Eddington's papers are held at the Wren Library, Trinity College. A display from the papers has been curated by Dr David McKitterick and this is open to the public during Wren visiting hours. Workshop participants have this opportunity to view the display outside regular visitor hours. A further collection of Eddington materials, curated by Peter Hingley, will be on display in the CRASSH seminar room during the workshops.

The Cambridge Observatory, where Eddington worked and lived from 1914 until his death is on Madingley Road. Mark Hurn, the librarian at the Institute of Astronomy, has kindly offered us a tour of the Observatory, where there are some good photographs of Eddington to be seen.



Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk