Solid objects and empty atoms

Why everyday reality is not illusory but emergent

The popular view that physics has shown everyday reality to be an illusion is deeply flawed. Understanding how macroscopic phenomena emerge helps dispel this myth, writes Alexander Franklin. 


Popular science often tells us that we are radically deceived by the commonplace appearance of everyday objects and that colour and solidity are illusions. For instance, the physicist Sir Arthur Eddington distinguished in 1928 between two tables: the familiar table and the scientific table, while the former is solid and coloured, the scientific table “is nearly all empty space”. Eddington then makes the striking claim that “modern physics has by delicate test and remorseless logic assured me that my second scientific table is the only one which is really there”.1

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Ryan Leonard 22 June 2021

Interesting and really impressive! Thanks for exploring us around science in nature.

Ryan |

Iddo Wernick 11 June 2021

Excellent exposition and a compelling case for one way of diving the human perspectives. I offer however that the essay presumes something about what is 'real' early on that may in fact be a different axis about which one can see the debate occurring. Why should the measurable table be any more real than my perception of it a priori? Why would not the anguish in a lover's heart or the bravery in a warrior’s chest be any less real than the salinity of ocean water or the mass of an apple. By calling only those things that are measurable in the laboratory as real, you dismiss so much and betray a clear prejudice.

What occurs is that the problem is made to be entirely epistemological while the ontological questions have been answered. The ontology is the problem, shifting the argument always to an epistemological one is thus disingenuous. Is this an English trait? If so, Hume may represent the opposite stream in English thought. (Forgive this last speculation by a non-expert)