The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate that Changed Our Understanding of Time

The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate that Changed Our Understanding of Time

Jimena Canales / Nov 19, 2019

The Physicist and the Philosopher Einstein Bergson and the Debate that Changed Our Understanding of Time On April in Paris Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson publicly debated the nature of time Einstein considered Bergson s theory of time to be a soft psychological notion irreconcilable with t

  • Title: The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate that Changed Our Understanding of Time
  • Author: Jimena Canales
  • ISBN: 9780691165349
  • Page: 126
  • Format: Hardcover
  • On April 6, 1922, in Paris, Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson publicly debated the nature of time Einstein considered Bergson s theory of time to be a soft, psychological notion, irreconcilable with the quantitative realities of physics Bergson, who gained fame as a philosopher by arguing that time should not be understood exclusively through the lens of science, criticiOn April 6, 1922, in Paris, Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson publicly debated the nature of time Einstein considered Bergson s theory of time to be a soft, psychological notion, irreconcilable with the quantitative realities of physics Bergson, who gained fame as a philosopher by arguing that time should not be understood exclusively through the lens of science, criticized Einstein s theory of time for being a metaphysics grafted on to science, one that ignored the intuitive aspects of time The Physicist and the Philosopher tells the remarkable story of how this explosive debate transformed our understanding of time and drove a rift between science and the humanities that persists today.Jimena Canales introduces readers to the revolutionary ideas of Einstein and Bergson, describes how they dramatically collided in Paris, and traces how this clash of worldviews reverberated across the twentieth century She shows how it provoked responses from figures such as Bertrand Russell and Martin Heidegger, and carried repercussions for American pragmatism, logical positivism, phenomenology, and quantum mechanics Canales explains how the new technologies of the period such as wristwatches, radio, and film helped to shape people s conceptions of time and further polarized the public debate She also discusses how Bergson and Einstein, toward the end of their lives, each reflected on his rival s legacy Bergson during the Nazi occupation of Paris and Einstein in the context of the first hydrogen bomb explosion.The Physicist and the Philosopher reveals how scientific truth was placed on trial in a divided century marked by a new sense of time.Jimena Canales holds the Thomas M Siebel Chair in the History of Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, and was previously associate professor of the history of science at Harvard University She is the author of A Tenth of a Second A History.Review In illuminating a historic 1922 debate between Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson about the nature of time, Canales marks a turning point in the power of philosophy to influence science Publishers Weekly Sparks both incendiary and illuminating fly from the collision of two giants Booklist, starred review This fascinating, scholarly, readable look at physics and epistemology will interest readers of science, history, philosophy, and biography Library Journal, starred review Whether or not you agree, this humane and melancholy account of how two talents misunderstood each other will linger in the mind New Scientist Canales weaves a tale around Europe and to America Her subject raises important core philosophical issues, like the scope of philosophy itself Michael Ruse, The Chronicle of Higher Education This fascinating book traces a debate about the nature of time Canales has done a masterful job of research and explication Her account of the debate is lively, the background of it is interesting, and the debate s ramifications as filtered through other minds are downright exciting Anyone interested in physics or philosophy will have a field day with this book Kelly Cherry, The Smart Set Canales does sterling work investigating these engagements A stimulating book Graham Farmelo, NatureEndorsement The Physicist and the Philosopher explores the nature of time, the meaning of relativity, and the place of philosophical thought in a scientific age Canales aims to reposition Einstein s work in a field of disputation and give Bergson back the significance he had in his contemporaries minds Cathryn Carson, University of California, Berkeley

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    351 Comments

    1. Einstein's block universe takes Time out of the universe. Time after Einstein can be said to be an illusion, time is that which exist so that everything doesn't happen at once. Henri Bergson, probably the most famous 20th century philosopher that most people have never heard of, but almost everyone has heard of his arguments ('elan vital', 'creative evolution', 'intuitive time'), wanted to put man and his intuitive understanding of time back into the center stage of the universe. If I were to wr [...]


    2. สนุกจัง เพิ่งรู้ว่าดีเบตระหว่างไอนสไตน์กับเบิร์กซงมีความสำคัญหลายอย่าง เป็นต้นว่า มันเป็นการถกเถียงครั้งใหญ่ที่สุดระหว่างนักปรัชญากับนักวิทยาศาสตร์เกี่ยวกับแนวคิดเรื่อง [...]


    3. Solid presentation of the issues that Bergson and others (Whitehead, for example) brought to bear in criticism of the naively self-justifying mechanical picture of time that Einstein promoted into the popular understanding. And speaking of "promotion," I very much liked that Canales was unafraid to talk about Einstein's own relentless, self-promoting pursuit of acknowledgment. Far from the sainted icon of scientific pursuit, which is how Einstein is almost universally portrayed, Einstein was a m [...]


    4. There were a few stylistic elements to the book that I did not like. The two most prominent were the repeated, iterative listing of questions used to introduce sections and chapters, and so much skipping around time-wise (I'm fine with non-linear narrative, but it needs a bit more sign-posting.)I also found the debate itself irritating. Have you ever come across a years-old comment thread online and, reading through it, shaken your head at how groups of people could sustain for so long in comple [...]


    5. ensuingchapters/2015/07/02This wonderful revisitation of the relativity debate was released on June 17. Or was it? Time is relative, of course, as Einstein taught us a century ago. While relativity is the rule these days, it wasn’t a slam-dunk sell in the early 20th century, and philosopher Henri Bergson appeared to have the upper hand in the debate. The notion that time can move differently for two people not in uniform motion (or that events can occur simultaneously — or not — depending [...]


    6. Fantastic book. I've become enamored with Bergson lately because of his perspective on the emergence of novelty into the universe. This book reenforce my sense that he was largely misunderstood after his debates with Einstein about the nature of time. My sense is he was far more pragmatic in the Peircean sense than people give him credit for. Anyway this is an eyeopening look at an important philosopher whose work deserves a second look.


    7. I was really looking forward to this book, but I'm giving up on page 102. The author has clearly done the necessary research but has no idea how to untangle a mess of detailed notes into a readable whole. The timeline jumps all over the place, and there is a tendency to discuss the importance of events/ experiments without actually explaining the events/ experiments themselves.



    8. An interesting read.I have to admit, I was perhaps a biased -- I might say "critical" -- reader of this book: I was born well after relativistic (and quantum) concepts were first proposed, and even well after they had been subject to extensive experimental verification. The Bergsonian resistance to Einstein's concept of time, informed by his theories of special and general relativity, seemed antiquated and even Victorian to me from page one. It never really managed to grow on me, even by the end [...]


    9. I had difficulty finishing this tome. The subject was interesting though somewhat obscure. Indeed, the author admits in the Acknowledgments:"“The entire Debate (and its over-arching significance) came as news to me,” wrote one of the first reviewers of my manuscript, who then dutifully “checked the usual biographies of Einstein to see what had been reported there.” He found almost nothing. Did the scarcity of references in the Einstein scholarship mean that this episode should continue t [...]


    10. Stopped reading this 100 pages in because I was looking for something that would enlighten me more as to the actual understanding of time espoused by these two peeps from their different perspectives and fields of knowledge, but it's more about the nitty gritty details of the debate and all the people involved; there isn't enough description of the actual philosophical and scientific themes as regards time, and there's too many rhetorical questions interlaced throughout that just seem unnecessar [...]


    11. A compelling, if sometimes journalistic, rehabilitation of some of the philosophical reservations about the broader implications of Einstein's Relativity for conceptions of time. While the book struggles at times to liberate itself from the structure of interlocutors talking past each other and clearly sides with postmodern sensibilities about the relevance of science, it provides a useful overview of Bergson and his heirs.


    12. An outstanding book. Very important specially for those who think the Sun in physics rises and sets with Einstein, and for those like me who believe Einstein played fast and loose with ideas which he made into dubious theories which don't mesh with quantum mechanics.


    13. Contra el dogmatismo.Logra un difícil equilibrio entre entre dos posturas igualmente atractivas e imposibles de discernir. Una invitación para superar el dogmatismo.


    14. Great book my review will be out in Australian Book Review in November 2015 - a centenary celebration of the General Theory of Relativity.


    15. What a splendid, erudite. pellucid and "timely" book. A cri de coeur for the humanities to resume its engagement with science and technology.I do not think that I am too much of a materialist or positivist, or too sciencetistic: at least I hope I am not, but I must go with Einstein here, at least for practical matters.Re: Jacques Maritain, "The book argued that Einstein confused reality with measurement and that the physicist simply dealt with mathematical time, whereas common sense and philosop [...]


    16. This book,while well referenced and filled with interesting tidbits on important philosophical and scientific ideas, is really a barely concealed attempt to resurrect the reputation of a second rate philosopher while trying, parri passu, to diminish the status of easily the most creative scientist of the 20th century.It seems to be written for someone with only a cursory knowledge of physics or philosophy. It presents timelines in a scattered way and is fiiled with trivia. I’m sure everyone wi [...]


    17. A lot of interesting, for me at least at times new, information on and around the topic and on and around personalities involved in the 'debate'. The books is well written and easy to flow, although, the way the book is organised, there is lots of repetition involved, as individual chapters, mostly very short, reads like as if they stand on their own. The real disappointment for me was the lack of depth, the author instead of going deeper into the debate, spread it horizontally, and from the per [...]



    18. The first few chapters were interesting, but after that, this book is basically just a list of contemporary philosophers and scientists, and whose side of the Einstein/Bergson divide they were on


    19. It would have helped to understand relativity theory and philosophies better, but a deep understanding is not necessary. Stay the course and plow through the book and the essence of the debate emerges. Such is a qualitative approach that Bergson might have approved.It strikes me that the fact we still do not know what consciousness is, and probably never will, makes a large portion of the argument for Bergson. The Copenhagen interpretation quantum physics boys marveled at consciousness's role in [...]


    20. It's been awhile since I dove into a book containing either hard-core science or hardcore philosophy, and this book pursues both. It's based around a particular moment in time, when Albert Einstein (who everybody knows) and Henri Bergson (who everybody should know) found themselves in a public debate about the nature of time. From that conflict, the book goes both ways: back into the directions of science and philosophy that led up to the debate, and the pendulum swings of both since. It gave me [...]


    21. The impact of Einstein's theories on philosophical conceptions of time. The challenge of relativity on metaphysics was similar to that of evolution on religion: it threatened to undermine its very raison d'être.Is time something constructed by human minds or is it a physical dimension measurable by clocks? Einstein insisted on the latter while claiming that philosophers were speculating on a topic that belongs strictly within the domain of science.The book focuses more on the personalities invo [...]


    22. An awesome book on the history of Time itself, how it is defined philosophically, how it is to be understood in relativistically and the great debate on Time and Duration between the two giants and their devoted and detracted followers. While Einstein’s arguments focus mostly on the scientific (rather relativistic) aspects of Time, Bergson’s focuses on psychological and psycho-physiological aspects of Time and especially the notion and experience of Duration felt by individuals. Worthy read. [...]


    23. A great book! Bergson is greatly misunderstood and underappreciated due to the entrenched dualism between objective time and subjective time, and we need to keep looking for ways to bypass this dualism.


    24. Very comprehensive analysis of different aspects of Einstein's and Bergson's philosophy, the questions and definitions / measurements of time, etc. including views of a number of other contemporary philosophers and physicists.






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