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

Jimena Canales. Princeton Univ, $35 (464p) ISBN 978-0-691-16534-9
In illuminating a historic 1922 debate between Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson about the nature of time, Canales (A Tenth of a Second: A History) marks a turning point in the power of philosophy to influence science. At the time, Bergson was “one of the most respected philosophers of his era”; he was far better known, even outside of his native France, than the upstart German physicist, and his insistence that relativity was merely a “metaphysics grafted upon science” carried weight—to the point that Einstein worried about whether their disagreement would cost him the Nobel Prize. Canales recreates an intellectual world in which disagreements were settled by civil discussion. Einstein was determined to describe the universe objectively and to explain its laws in the “simplest possible way.” He had no patience for Bergson’s mysticism and anti-rationalism. They were opposites in nearly every respect, from their views of the natural world to those of religion, politics, and social values. Canales draws an intriguing picture of the times while revealing the influences of other historical figures on the Einstein/Bergson argument. In the end, Einstein’s “dilated time,” so disdained by Bergson, proved its worth in a century of technological advances and more than earned its place as a cornerstone of modern physics. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/20/2015
Release date: 05/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 488 pages - 978-0-691-17317-7
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