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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: August 2014



There is another remark which suggests itself here and which physicists may find paradoxical, though the paradox will probably seem a good deal less than it did eighteen years ago. I will express it in much the same words which I used in 1922 in an address to Section A of the British Association. My audience then was composed almost entirely of physicists, and I may have spoken a little provocatively on that account; but I would still stand by the substance of what I said.

I began by saying that there is probably less difference between the positions of a mathematician and of a physicist than is generally supposed, and that the most important seems to me to be this, that the mathematician is in much more direct contact with reality. This may seem a paradox, since it is the physicist who deals with the subject-matter usually described as ‘real’; but a very little reflection is enough to show that the physicist's reality, whatever it may be, has few or none of the attributes which common sense ascribes instinctively to reality. A chair may be a collection of whirling electrons, or an idea in the mind of God: each of these accounts of it may have its merits, but neither conforms at all closely to the suggestions of common sense.