Page:Our knowledge of the external world.djvu/12

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mathematical physics. I have been made aware of the importance of this problem by my friend and collaborator Dr. Whitehead, to whom are due almost all the differences between the views advocated here and those suggested in The Problems of Philosophy.[1] I owe to him the definition of points, the suggestion for the treatment of instants and “things,” and the whole conception of the world of physics as a construction rather than an inference. What is said on these topics here is, in fact, a rough preliminary account of the more precise results which he is giving in the fourth volume of our Principia Mathematica.[2] It will be seen that if his way of dealing with these topics is capable of being successfully carried through, a wholly new light is thrown on the time-honoured controversies of realists and idealists, and a method is obtained of solving all that is soluble in their problem.

The speculations of the past as to the reality or unreality of the world of physics were baffled, at the outset, by the absence of any satisfactory theory of the mathematical infinite. This difficulty has been removed by the work of Georg Cantor. But the positive and detailed solution of the problem by means of mathematical constructions based upon sensible objects as data has only been rendered possible by the growth of mathematical logic, without which it is practically impossible to manipulate ideas of the requisite abstractness and complexity. This aspect, which is somewhat obscured in a merely popular outline such as is contained in the following lectures, will become plain as soon as Dr. Whitehead’s work is published. In pure logic, which, however, will be very briefly discussed in these lectures, I have had

  1. London and New York, 1912 (“Home University Library”).
  2. The first volume was published at Cambridge in 1910, the second in 1912, and the third in 1913.