The explosive debate that transformed our views about time and scientific truth 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, 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 is a magisterial and revealing account that shows how scientific truth was placed on trial in a divided century marked by a new sense of time.
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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 Like a stone cast on still waters, the Einstein-Bergson debate on the nature of time set off ever-widening ripples in physics and philosophy, but also in art, politics, and religion. In this fascinating book, Canales has written a kind of alternative intellectual history of the interwar decades of the twentieth century, one full of color and improbable conjunctions of people and ideas. --Lorraine Daston, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin Is time too important to be left to the physicists and their measuring devices? That was the issue at stake in a 1922 debate between Albert Einstein and philosopher Henri Bergson, celebrated at the time and wonderfully recovered in Jimena Canales's new book. A fascinating look at a pivotal moment in how we think about one of the most fundamental features of the universe. --Sean Carroll, author of From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time Sometimes past battles have repercussions that resonate long after memories have faded. In dramatic fashion, Jimena Canales demonstrates how a seemingly forgotten debate between Einstein and Bergson about the enigma of time changed the course of intellectual history. --Palle Yourgrau, Brandeis University Whether readers side with Einstein's physics or Bergson's philosophy isn't the most important thing: this book opens up new ways of thinking about the relationship between science and the humanities that unsettle both. --Gerald Holton, Harvard University This exciting, hugely interesting book opens out from a short but critical encounter between the philosopher Henri Bergson and the physicist Albert Einstein to consider their philosophies and the effects of their argument on the modern idea of time. Canales turns what is at first sight a limited debate into a major transatlantic encounter of profound implications. Well-researched, well-argued, and elegant, The Physicist and the Philosopher is a first-rate work of scholarship. --Stefanos Geroulanos, New York University The Physicist and the Philosopher is a lively and engaging account of the meaning of time in the twentieth century. Canales uses the 1922 debate between Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson as a starting point from which to discuss an astonishing array of thinkers, technologies, and cultural developments. The book is an innovative, rich, and almost encyclopedic exploration of a crucially important question. --Edward Baring, author of The Young Derrida and French Philosophy, 1945-1968