From the perspective of the twenty-first century it may seem strange to devote an entire book to the central figures discussed here. The physicist, Albert Einstein, quite rightly remains a cultural icon, renowned the world over for his revolutionary work in physics. The philosopher, on the other hand, Henry Bergson, is unlikely to be familiar to many of the general readers for which this book is written. This was not, of course, always the case, as is evidenced by the fact that both men were Nobel Prize Laureates, albeit in very different fields; Einstein received the Prize for physics in 1922 and Bergson for literature in 1927. In this book Jimena Canales successfully analysis just how important and influential both figures were in the first half of the twentieth-century as well as why Bergson’s fame subsequently dwindled whereas Einstein’s remained solid. However, the book also shows why, regardless of his current status, many of Bergson’s views are still just as important as those of Einstein.
The ‘debate that changed our understanding of time’, and the context in which it arose, is largely set out in Part One of the book and began at a meeting that occurred in Paris on 6th April 1922. It was hosted by the Société Française de Philosophie and Einstein had travelled from Germany especially for the event. In the audience were both physicists and philosophers who had been invited to hear Einstein speak about his general theory of relativity. The meeting was as much politically as intellectually motivated, for at that time there was great tension between France and Germany. He was thus invited to France ‘with the express purpose that his visit would serve to restore relations between German and French scholars’ (17). In many respects, as the book shows, this intended purpose was not achieved. The meeting took place only three years after Arthur Eddington had sailed to the island of Principe to measure the position of stars during a total solar eclipse, the result of which lent great weight to the truth of Einstein’s theory and made him a legend overnight. All facets of the theory were discussed but one particular aspect, its concept of time, was to cause great controversy and it is the ensuing debate on this topic that forms the core of this book.
In the audience that day was the famous French philosopher, Henry Bergson, who did not actually intend to speak. Like many other intellectuals of the day he fully understood the revolutionary nature of the scientific aspects of the theory of relativity and was astounded by the experimental results that lent it such strong support. However, Bergson did have a problem with Einstein’s conception of time, one that he considered was narrowly concerned with clocks and measurements. He thought that this conception was unnecessary for the science and was rather a dangerous ‘metaphysics’. When Einstein proclaimed that ‘there remains only a psychological time that differs from the physicist’s’ and ‘the time of the philosophers does not exist’ Bergson could remain silent no longer (5). Much of the remainder of the meeting centred upon this aspect of Einstein’s theory and whether ‘the time of the philosophers’ really does exist.
For Bergson this dualism regarding time was an inadequate description of reality, for although there was the time measured by clocks, and the time as experienced, these could not be separated as easily as Einstein proclaimed. As Canales notes, ‘Bergson’s perspective on time measurement could not be more different from Einstein’s. The philosopher was convinced about the importance of the unquantifiable aspects of time, whereas the physicist was equally convinced of the opposite’ (252). Bergson developed this view in his book Duration and Simultaneity published later that year.
In terms of the debate, most physics thought Einstein had won and that ‘rationality’ had triumphed over ‘intuition’. However, many others took Bergson’s view much more seriously as evidenced by what occurred at Einstein’s Nobel Prize ceremony, which occurred later that same year. Although it was by far the greater achievement, Einstein was not actually presented with the Prize for his work on relativity but rather for that on the photoelectric effect. One of the reasons given for this was that relativity ‘pertains essentially to epistemology and has therefore been the subject of lively debate in philosophical circles. It will be no secret that the famous philosopher Bergson in Paris has challenged this theory.’ So Einstein failed to secure the prize on the merits of his work on relativity not because of any scientific shortfall but because of the alleged ‘metaphysics’ coupled to it. Subsequently, however, Bergson’s view was discredited by most scientists because of what appeared to be a total lack of understanding of relativity. Bergson claimed that the central message of his book Duration and Simultaneity was to ‘explicitly prove that there is no difference, in what concerns Time, between a system in motion and a system in uniform translation’ (25). This is fundamentally at odds with the theory of relativity and can be empirically proven to be false. Bergson did, however, subsequently state that he did accept the effects of time dilation but claimed that this had no effect on his conception of time.
In Part Two of the book Canales takes us beyond the actual meeting that occurred in Paris and introduces us to the lives and ideas of many of the significant scientists and philosophers of the age who became embroiled in the debate. Amongst them are Paul Langevin, Henri Poincaré, Hendrik Lortentz, Albert Michelson, Ernst Cassirer, Martin Heidegger, Hans Reichenbach, Rudolph Carnap, Jean Becquerel, Arthur Eddington and Bertrand Russell. Some of these supported Bergson whilst others Einstein and in a few cases neither. For each of these Canales provides biographical information, explains how they were associated with Einstein and Bergson, and how their views influenced the debate concerning the nature of time. The sheer number of figures that are introduced is testament to how important this debate became as well as to the breadth of this study. In addition Canales examines how the Catholic Church as an institution reacted to this debate as well how Einstein and Bergson dealt with the emergence of the new science of quantum mechanics, many proponents of which felt that it somewhat rescued Bergson’s conception of time.
Part Three ‘focuses on the debate by taking us beyond the men, asking instead what drove them to fall into such a stark impasse in the first place’ (242). Canales takes us on a journey through the development of technologies that occurred during the twentieth-century and explores the effect these ‘things’ had on the two conceptions of time, noting ‘what do we find when we look even more carefully behind the scenes of the debate? We stumble upon certain things that drove ‘adversaries’ into absolutely opposite positions’ (241). The ‘things’ that she considers include clocks, the telegraph, the telephone and radio communications, cinematographic cameras and film, atoms and molecules. In each case she explains at length the effect they had on Einstein and Bergson and their theories of time. She claims that ‘Einstein and Bergson disagreed about the meaning, use, and importance of all of these things’ and ‘they played a central role in the twentieth-century divisions often associated with Bergson and Einstein’ (241).
In the final part, Canales examines the last comments that the physicist and the philosopher made about each other. We find that, whilst Bergson did not deny his genius, he considered Einstein to be a relentless self-promoter. Canales presents some fascinating comments Einstein made about himself, and also describes aspects of his behaviour which suggest that there was some truth in this. Bergson’s last thoughts on Einstein’s conception of time, in his book La Pensée et le mouvant, show that he held firm to his own view when he writes ‘with regard to Time attached to Space, to a fourth dimension of Space-Time, it has no existence . . . other than on paper’ (335). Furthermore, ‘the reality of [Einstein’s] Space-Time is purely mathematical, and one cannot transform it into a metaphysical reality, or into ‘reality’ tout court, without giving to this word a new meaning’ (335). Einstein, who outlived Bergson by over a decade, similarly held steadfast to his view of time up until the day he died. Writing to a friend shortly before he died he said ‘you cannot get used to the idea that subjective time with its own ‘now’ should not have any objective meaning. See Bergson!’ (338).
In this book Canales shows that the apparent difference between ‘the time of the universe’ discovered by Einstein, and ‘the time of our lives’ associated with Bergson, had a major impact on the views of subsequent scientists, humanists, and philosophers that is still felt to the present day. She cleverly demonstrates why this is the case whilst at the same time providing interesting biographical background of the main characters as well as presenting it in the context of the social and political upheavals that raged across the world during the first half of the twentieth-century. Her writing style and composition makes the book an enjoyable read and her clear exposition renders some difficult concepts in physics and philosophy easily accessible. The book will be of great interest to both the specialist and the general reader.
O nome do físico alemão Albert Einstein (1879-1955) é bem conhecido pelo público em geral. O do filósofo francês Henri Bergson (1859-1941), nem tanto. No entanto, em vida, ambos tiveram amplo reconhecimento. Einstein recebeu em 1922 o Prémio Nobel da Física e, Bergson, em 1927, o Prémio Nobel da Literatura e a Grã-Cruz da Legião de Honra (1930). Na época, enquanto a reputação de Bergson já era elevada, Einstein ainda começava a aparecer nos circulos académicos.
Mas mesmo para quem conhece ambos é estranho pensar que, realmente, com o passar do tempo, enquanto Einstein continua a ter uma presença no imaginário de muitos enquanto cientista (ou mesmo enquanto ‘o cientista’), Bergson não. Sendo ambos intelectuais de peso, porquê os destinos diferentes? Existem razões que possam explicar a recepção calorosa de Einstein e a relativa indiferença a Bergson?
Jimena Canales faz um trabalho extraordinário esclarecendo esta e muitas outras questões. Ainda que o enquadramento narrativo do livro seja descrever os acontecimentos que precederam, e que se seguiram, ao único encontro público entre Einstein e Bergson (a 6 de Abril de 1922, em Paris) é um facto que, ao fazer isto, Canales esclarece o leitor acerca do pano de fundo que contextualiza a investigação científica de todo o século XX. Soando ambicioso, a fluidez e naturalidade com que Canales desenvolve a sua obra, torna este livro faz com que este livro não se torne banal. Ao público em geral, torna um assunto complexo, acessível. Ao especialista, dada a amplitude de áreas e nomes que Canales inclui, oferece uma visão verdadeiramente multidisciplinar do panorama científico tornando a leitura ávida.
Durante o encontro de 1922, Einstein e Bergson tinham por assunto discutir cada uma das suas propostas relativamente à questão: “o que é o tempo?”. A escolha de um e de outro, para o debate, cumpria vários objectivos. Por um lado, como refere Canales, aproximar a França e a Alemanha que, num contexto pós-Primeira Guerra Mundial (1914-1918), tinham relações tensas (Capítulo 2). Por outro lado, Bergson tinha nome e era da área da Filosofia; Einstein era um jovem professor que muito rapidamente tinha assumido um lugar de destaque dentro da universidade, leccionando a recém-criada disciplina de Teoria Física, na Alemanha, e começando a ganhar fama nos círculos científicos. O que poderia acontecer se a “ciência primeira”, a Filosofia, entrasse em confronto com uma das mais recentes ciências, relativamente a um conceito central para ambas?
A propósito de confronto entre Filosofia e ciência, e oferecendo um contexto que o livro não oferece, relembramos Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), matemático e filósofo, cujo trabalho tem duas fases. Uma primeira em que a base do seu trabalho assenta na reflexão sobre elementos da Matemática e uma segunda fase, em que se percebe haver uma transição no pensamento de Husserl, que o torna particularmente focado em questões metafísicas. Para uns, a segunda fase é lamentável, evidenciando um Husserl que perdeu a orientação; para outros, essa mesma fase é um desenvolvimento natural da primeira, em que as suas reflexões ganham clareza, maturidade e lucidez.
Isto para dizer que, num contexto de século XX, o lugar da Filosofia face às várias novas ciências emergentes no início do século, é um tema central para compreender o confronto Einstein-Bergson que está também presente no trabalho de Husserl, que virá a criar uma das correntes filosóficas mais influentes, a Fenomenologia (base do que é conhecido hoje, no mundo Anglófono como Filosofia Continental). O confronto entre Filosofia e Ciência é, portanto, de grande relevância não apenas em diversos outros autores, mas até mesmo para a compreensão de um autor do século XX que é, não por acaso, incontornável.
No início do século XX, muito rapidamente, as ciências sociais emergem, resultado de um cruzamento entre as Humanidades (Filosofia e Artes) e o Positivismo (aqui entendido no sentido enunciado por Auguste Comte (1798-1857)), procurando não mais o “porquê” mas sim o “como”, submetendo a imaginação à razão. Objectividade é a palavra de ordem. O recurso à Matemática, aos números, torna-se assim elemento indispensável, marca de um verdadeiro conhecimento científico. Ainda hoje, números, estatísticas, gráficos são sinónimo de credibilidade. Isso é ciência.
Na altura do debate Einstein-Bergson, como Husserl viria a discutir pouco depois em A Crise das Ciências Europeias e a Fenomenologia Transcendental (1936), já se estava em plena crise das ciências. Entre as muitas perguntas que se levantavam, encontrava-se uma central: Qual o papel da Filosofia perante a emergência de uma nova concepção de ciência, positivista, e perante a emergência de novas ciências, ditas, sociais?
Como lembra Canales, nas palavras de Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), devemos assumir que a Filosofia é uma forma especial de ciência, “a ciência primeira”, sendo isso suficiente para reclamar a sua relevância? (Capítulo 11) Não. Heidegger, discípulo de Husserl, discordava de Husserl em vários aspectos, mas ambos estavam de acordo com o diagnóstico de que a Filosofia estava em uma época em que se encontrava ameaçada, precisando reafirmar sua legitimidade. O que fazer?
O encontro de Einstein e Bergson anuncia as duas posições que se virão a extremar cada vez mais ao longo do século, sendo que em 1922, a situação era já evidente: a decadência da Filosofia e o triunfo da ciência. (p.6) O encontro tornou-se, com o passar do tempo, cada vez mais significativo, porque simbólico de um “velho mundo” da ciência (Bergson) e de um “novo mundo” da ciência (Einstein). De lembrar que, em 1750, Denis Diderot (1713-1784) ainda considera “filosofia” e “ciência” como sinónimos. (p.40)
Acentuando ainda mais este contraste entre “velho” e “novo”, Bergson, toda a sua vida, permaneceu em França (mesmo durante a ocupação alemã, em 1941) enquanto Einstein nos anos 30, se mudou para o “novo mundo”.
Einstein, tendo visitado os Estados Unidos da América (EUA) pela primeira vez em 1921, com a subida de Hitler ao poder, em 1933, sabendo que não podia regressar à Alemanha, encontrou posição na universidade de Princeton (New Jersey). Tendo obtido cidadania americana em 1940, viveu nos Estados Unidos até ao fim da sua vida. (Boyer e Dubovsky 2001, 218) De reconhecido académico passou a celebridade científica.
Bergson, por sua vez, tendo feito conferências no Reino Unido e nos EUA, tendo vários trabalhos seus traduzidos em várias línguas e sendo amplamente reconhecido, não se tornou celebridade.
No dia do encontro, em 1922, Bergson tinha 62 anos e Einstein 43. Ambos se mencionaram mutuamente por várias vezes, ao longo de vários anos, talvez por perceberem que os tempos urgiam ao constante relembrar da sua diferença de posições. “O que é o tempo?”. Que posição defendia cada um?
Para Bergson, a teoria da relatividade explicava o tempo, do ponto de vista da Física, mas o que havia para saber acerca do tempo, nem de perto nem de longe, acabava aí. A Filosofia, sim, tinha uma contribuição a fazer que podia ser relevante para esclarecer a pergunta de forma mais completa.
Para Einstein “o tempo dos filósofos não existe” (p.19), acreditando que existem acontecimentos objectivos que são independentes dos indivíduos e que o dever da ciência é identificá-los. (p.20) A definição de tempo de Einstein assentava em medições e em relógios. Para Bergson, a ideia era aberrante. (p.42) Não que Bergson “não acreditasse” em relógios. Mas para ele, os relógios ajudavam a notar simultaneidades. No entanto, isso dizia ainda pouco acerca de ‘o que é o tempo’. Mais ainda, os relógios não medem a duração, dizia Bergson, permitem apenas “contar simultaneidades, o que é muito diferente” (p.43). Para Bergson, na duração há uma “perpétua criação de possibilidade e não apenas de realidade.” (p.44) O seu livro Duração e Simultaneidade (1922) é uma resposta ao conceito de tempo de Einstein. (p.14)
O contraste entre ambos é extremo. Einstein procurava a unidade do universo e leis imutáveis, Bergson procurava desencobrir a dinâmica incessante criadora. Einstein procurava consistência e simplicidade e Bergson, inconsistências e complexidades.
Para Einstein, havia um tempo psicológico (o da Filosofia) e um tempo físico (da Física), sendo que ao psicológico nada de concreto correspondia (p.47). Esta ideia repelia Bergson, em primeiro lugar, a dualidade apenas já não fazia sentido nenhum (p.5) Einstein dizia que Bergson (ainda que tivesse formação de base em Matemática) não percebia nada de Física e não compreendia os cálculos. A resposta de Bergson a Einstein foi largamente ignorada, tendo sido acusado de espiritualista, anti-ciência, contra o mecanismo e revivalista do oculto (p.9, 13)
Certo é que, para Bergson, o Tempo (capitalizado, como Bergson escrevia) nunca poderia ser inteiramente captado por números, instrumentos (relógios ou instrumentos de gravação) ou fórmulas matemáticas. (p.24)
Einstein queria salvar a relatividade da metafísica e, por isto, a perspectiva da Filosofa podia, e devia, ser evitada. Mas para Bergson, a questão do tempo mostrava como, mesmo a física, não podia escapar a relacionar o problema com a experiência humana. (p.48) A teoria da relatividade, para Bergson, dizia respeito à Epistemologia e não à Física e tinha de ser percebida, prioritariamente, à luz da Filosofia. (p.4) Ou seja, o que estava em causa era o método, ou seja, qual a forma de acesso em jogo na teoria da relatividade? Um acesso, sim, mas limitado, restrito, ao qual a realidade vivida do humano escapava por completo.
Segundo Bergson, Einstein explica alguma coisa acerca do tempo, mas não tudo, o que é estranho, para uma teoria que reclama a unidade de um todo e que toma isso mesmo, por princípio. É um paradoxo epistemológico e é aqui que reside o problema. Mais ainda, Einstein refere-se a si próprio como sendo “um físico de fé” (p.339). Einstein procede assim de forma dedutiva, a partir de um princípio de fé, como o próprio admite, e Bergson usa um método indutivo e daí o foco em avançar caso a caso. Não é de estranhar que à dada altura, Bergson tenha acusado Einstein de ser Cartesiano (apesar de Einstein ter acusado Bergson do mesmo).
Indo ainda mais longe, e apontando uma diferença epistemológica essencial, para Einstein, o universo não depende de qualquer observador, humano ou de qualquer outro tipo. Para Bergson, a componente humana é inescapável, mesmo quando se trata de ler um instrumento, sem a qual, este, não seria lido. (p.323)
Sobre o que terá contribuído para a separação entre ‘filosofia’ e ‘ciência’, Canales diz-nos que circa 1830, o termo “cientista” é usado como substituição de “filósofos da natureza”. Pouco depois, em 1840, aparece o termo “físico”, para descrever aquele que estuda a “força, matéria e as propriedades da matéria”. (p.40) Isto significa que primeiro o conceito de natureza deixa de estar associado à Filosofia e pouco depois o conceito de força também. Bergson, pretende recuperar os dois, captando a manifestação do tempo, de forma dinâmica, na experiência do vivido (segundo a natureza humana), dinâmica a qual depende de um impulso, de um motor vital, em constante movimento. Fortemente influenciado por Bergson, Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) assume o conceito de força como central no seu trabalho, sendo um autor que fortemente contribuiu para uma redescoberta de Bergson.
Como mostra Canales, a mecânica quântica (que questiona a relatividade), a teoria do caos e a cibernética tornaram o trabalho de Bergson relevante outra vez. Bergson, tendo outrora aparecido como o representante de uma “velha ciência”, ressurgiu como relevante para compreender, por exemplo, as novas tecnologias (telégrafo, telefone e rádio — Capítulo 22) considerando que a comunicação excede a comunicação de sinais, como Einstein entendia. O que torna a comunicação significativa inclui imaginação e interpretação. (p.271)
Tendo por elemento central a disputa entre Einstein e Bergson, que na verdade é um evento que se viria a tornar símbolo do arquétipo epistemológico das duas posições nos círculos académicos, no século XX, Canales contextualiza o trabalho desenvolvido por Henri Poincaré (1854-1912), Albert A. Michelson (1852-1931, Prémio Nobel da Física, 1907), Hendrik Lorentz (1853-1928), Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945), Husserl, Heidegger, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), León Brunschvicg (1869-1944), Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962), Franz Kafka (1883-1924), Deleuze e Bruno Latour (n.1947). Contextualiza também ambos os paradigmas epistemológicos relativamente ao esforço para estabelecer um calendário, ao esforço de medir de forma exacta o tempo, à reacção por parte da igreja católica a ambos os paradigmas, à passagem dos relógios de bolso para os relógios de pulso, (capítulo 21), ao cinema (Capítulo 24 e 25), e à microbiologia, que Einstein desconsiderava e que Bergson queria incluir na sua filosofia (capítulo 26).
Todos estes elementos, aparentemente dispersos e “secundários” têm um papel determinante, historicamente, para determinar a recepção e reputação de Einstein e Bergson. É esta riqueza, e clareza, de personalidades e eventos secundários, lidos à luz do encontro de Einstein e Bergson, que torna o livro de Canales inteligente, estimulante e relevante para muitos. É por isto que, certamente, muitos procuram este livro e espera-se que o venham a encontrar. Historiadores, filósofos, físicos, cientistas, interessados, especialistas em cada um dos autores referidos, poderão encontrar aqui uma contextualização simples e valiosa, que vinga por não ser simplista.
No tempo do debate, as posições de Einstein e Bergson eram entendidas como “ou-ou” (p.7) e para Caneles, hoje, não tem de ser assim, podemos viver com as duas. No fundo, a autora favorece a sugestão de Heidegger que, perante a dicotomia (nas suas palavras), entre “o tempo do relógio” e “o tempo vivido”, encontrava no ‘quotidiano’, o foco que resolvia a dicotomia entre ambas, visto que aí, os seus contornos tornavam indiscerníveis. (p.147)
Certo é que “[p]ara o melhor ou para o pior, o debate entre Einstein e Bergson não acabou, e provavelmente nunca irá acabar.” (p.39)
Boyer, Paul S. and Melvyn Dubofsky. 2001. The Oxford Companion to United States History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lawlor, Leonard and Valentine Moulard Leonard “Henri Bergson”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Acedido a 6 de Dezembro 2016.
Bourdeau, Michel, “Auguste Comte”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Acedido a 6 de Dezembro 2016.
In her ‘Doing Time’, Lee Carruthers provides a clear and accessible discussion that will be relevant to a range of readers: philosophers of time who are interested in a novel account of temporality and temporal experience as it is represented in film; philosophers of film looking for a fresh approach to the topic, in this case a comprehensive exploration of a hermeneutic approach to how we understand filmic texts; and those engaged in Film Studies and film theory who enjoy a fillip of philosophy in their reading. It is a work grounded in hermeneutics and phenomenology, and while philosophers working in the Analytic tradition may find the book interesting and informative, it is not intended for this readership.
Carruthers’ aim throughout this book is offer us a deeper understanding of how we ‘live’ in and through time, via her interpretation of a selection of relevant films. Her approach to this task, a kind of philosophical, phenomenological hermeneutics, is, as she puts it: ‘…a way of being thoughtful about our contact with cinema’s temporal forms, and the time we take to interpret them’ (14). The hermeneutical approach she adopts is informed by the work of Paul Ricoeur, who in turn draws from the works of Heidegger and Gadamer (15). Her discussions of temporality and film are also influenced by the work of André Bazin and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (17-32 passim.).
The work of Gilles Deleuze, often associated with the analysis of film, is explicitly excluded from her discussion (7). Unlike Deleuze, Carruthers does not use the films she analyses in this book as a means of articulating concepts, her aim is the articulation of temporal experiences, her focus is on how we ‘do’ time in films, on how a viewing a film can be a means of living in, and through, different experiences of time.
Throughout her discussion Carruthers emphasises the word ‘timeliness’ (16), linking the word to Heidegger’s ‘Dasein’ and identifying it as particularly relevant to her hermeneutics of cinematic time (11, 16). ‘Timeliness’ has connotations of activity; it captures her view that in films time is ‘actively mediated by films and viewers’ (16). She also emphasises the importance of the Heideggerian idea of the ‘immersiveness of lived experience’, the sense that we are engaged in interpreting our experiences of time in a dynamic way as time unfolds around and within us. Put simply, watching a film and being immersed in a film is taken to be an exemplary ‘experience of temporal duration’ (13). Carruthers adopts the Heideggerian idea that understanding occurs ‘within this situation’ of immersiveness rather than being abstracted from it, or (as we saw in the reference to Deleuze, above) conceptualised (15).
This ‘understanding’, based on our immersion in the temporality of a film, allows Carruthers to demonstrate that films are relevant to studies of how we are affected by time more generally. She argues that by manipulating the temporal aspects of the films we view, we are able to add to our understanding of the relationship between our perception of time and our lived temporal experience, a relationship that we subjectively experience as viewers.
Her Heidegger-Gadamer informed hermeneutics privileges understanding above all else. For Gadamer, ‘Hermeneutics turns out to be universal, not merely in regard to knowledge…but to all understanding and, indeed, to philosophy itself’ (Malpas, 2016), and Carruthers also seems to be making the connection here between the universality of time and temporal experience, and the universality of hermeneutics. However, as she notes, ‘Doing Time’ aims to better understand the importance of time in film, but the understanding of film thus gained is not itself fixed in time but remains revisable in the future (15). Cinema ‘…allows us to see the world anew…’ but in a contrived way (18-19), a way that is not necessarily like any real world event we can experience. A film can manipulate the ‘clock time’ within a movie and thus our subjective experience of the time as it is represented within the film (17), but not, of course, the time in which we are viewing the movie. As I see it, this process of reflecting on the understanding we gain after our immersion in a film seems to be somewhat analogous to working through a philosophical thought experiment, or doing ‘armchair philosophy’. Carruthers argues that looking at film is the ‘best’ way of experiencing time; in doing so we are getting to ‘know temporality better’ (16-17). So, filmic time may not be like our lived experience of time, but perhaps it’s better, for we can go back into that constructed filmic world, relive it and analyse it in a way we cannot do in real life. However, it’s not so clear how the information we glean from this kind of analysis can be generalised (or tested).
‘Doing Time’ is interesting in the context of recent work that explains our lived experiences of time in terms of it being projected and constructed by our mind, rather than simply a direct response to physical properties of time. We are passive perceivers of (some of) the temporal aspects of a film, its formal, objective properties, but we are also constructors of our subjective temporal experience of the films Carruthers discusses, with some of this construction and projection presumably happening below the level of consciousness. However, as Carruthers does not develop this line of enquiry, I will simply note this book’s relevance to current work in this area.
Having set out her main aim in writing this book, and explained her influences and her methodology, Carruthers offers four case studies to demonstrate different ways in which we can be immersed in ‘filmic time’ and the interpretations that can be drawn about time and temporal experience from each study. In each case this involves interpreting the narrative of the film and understanding the temporal aspects of this narrative, subjectively, as we view it; as well as experiencing its affective influences: how the objective temporal forms within the film makes us feel and think about time.
The first case study is centred on Steven Soderbergh’s ‘The Limey’ (1999). Carruthers uses this film as a means of foregrounding our ability (or otherwise) to see ‘elements of the past’ as features (‘aspects’) of our present situation and as ‘determining factors’ of the future (39). The film moves back and forth between scenes which are set in earlier or later times and places and not ordered in temporal sequence, nor are visual cues or conventions used to make the temporal order clear. The viewer is faced with the task of discerning a linear order and narrative from a series of repetitions in the film that form a pattern for the astute viewer to latch onto (45). The work of temporally ordering these temporally diverse scenes brings to the fore our capacity to see the shadows of the past in the present, and (more controversially) as determining the (our?) future. Yet in the end Carruthers argues that this insight is less important than ‘The Limey’s’ other contribution to our understanding of time. This contribution is the idea that the past events of our lives inform the present but they do this because the past occurs ‘through us’ and this ‘…is an aspect of the present that we so often fail to see…’(56). Put simply, we are not always in control of our current beliefs about the past, nor can we always control how (or if) we remember past events.
The second case study is Francois Ozon’s ‘5×2’, (2004), a study of time reversal. The focus is squarely on the past and present: the future is not part of our experience, within the film. The reversed temporal order of scenes and events in ‘5×2’ allows the viewer to become aware of the work we need to do to make sense of a narrative that begins in the present and works its way backwards, a time order that is strange and unfamiliar to us (83). In doing this work we are forced to notice time. Interestingly, while we are explicitly noticing time because it is so unfamiliarly ordered, and it feels so strange, we still feel the normal emotional responses to the events and situations portrayed by actors within a scene (72, 84), even while we strive to work out where that scene fits in the overall temporal order of the film. This, I think, is the key point made in this case study — our normal emotional responses are not affected by our immersion in a strange and unfamiliar temporal experience where the past, present and future are presented in unfamiliar ways (84).
The third case study, Tsai Ming-liang’s ‘What Time Is It There?’ (2001) focuses on our experience of duration. Using the method of ‘slow cinema’, objective time is ‘bracketed’ so that time has no direct role in explaining and understanding the world within the film. We, the audience, are invited to focus on the different ways in which time is represented within the film and are meant to discern what these different representations of time might explain about the role of time in the internal narrative and in the ‘world’ portrayed in the film itself (86). In fact, while clocks and watches are described and used numerously and obsessively throughout the film they ultimately seem to serve no real purpose within the film’s internal world (95-97). It is the viewer who, having privileged information divulged in the film but unknown to the film’s protagonists, is invited to seek and find meaningful correlations between the slow moving representations of time portrayed within the film, and the film’s narrative (98-99). The message of the film seems to be that in our own lives our perspective on time and our grip on time are very limited, just as it is for the characters of the film (113), who despite attempting to keep, own and control time in the form of timepieces (clocks, watches), inevitably find any control over time eludes them.
The final case study is based on Terrence Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life’ (2011). This film uses a technique described as a ‘montage system’ (127-129), where images, shots and footage are cropped, juxtaposed, cut abruptly, and importantly, subject to ‘chronological rupture’ (131) defined as a chaotic temporal ordering.
Time, in this film, proceeds holistically rather than incrementally (132). In order to convey what this means, and to bring out what is of particular interest in this film, an analogy is drawn between time and music: the artistic techniques used in the film present temporal experience as ‘…a shared flow of sensation that shows us temporal experience as something embracing — something that surrounds us like music, or carries us forwards in its dance’ (134).
In summary, ‘Doing Time’ offers a well-researched and penetrating discussion, developed within a Continental philosophy framework, but with something to offer curious Analytic philosophers and other academics (and an interested general readership). Phenomenological hermeneutics is revealed to be an appropriate and interesting way to approach the analysis of film. The book focuses on time and temporality in film, but the theme and discussion of ‘timeliness’ is the real focus here and it yields interesting ways of interpreting filmic texts that resist any final reading, they remain open and up for new interpretations and revisions. It outlines a number of interesting ideas and directions that could be taken up and developed in the future. The book is very accessible, and provides interesting examples that may be of use to philosophers and other writers interested in time and temporal experience. There are many more positives that space does not allow me to set out in detail here, and I heartily recommend this book.
Malpas, Jeff, “Hans-Georg Gadamer”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
One indication that a book deserves to be read is that it opens up a new way of looking at a problem or person. Adam Berg’s book, which compares the theories of Mach, Husserl and Boltzmann on the nature of scientific description and observation, especially the manifold difficulties that emerge in trying to describe the phenomenon of time, accomplishes such a feat. Berg takes us back to the turn of the twentieth century and places us in the middle of some of the most complicated and compelling debates of the day on the nature of scientific description and the capacity of science to conceptually represent the inner workings of reality. In tracing the distinct contributions of Mach, Husserl and Boltzmann to these debates, exploring the cross-fertilization of their thoughts on observation, sensation, causality and time, Berg manages to reinvigorate our appreciation for the resourcefulness of these three thinkers and their continuing relevance for understanding some of the most perplexing problems in science and philosophy.
My review will highlight what I take to be Berg’s three most important contributions; first, charting the overlap and gradual differentiation of phenomenology from phenomenalism as forms of observation and description; second, explaining the key insights of Mach, Husserl and Boltzmann on the question of time, particularly its asymmetry, and third, whether Husserl’s account of internal time-consciousness can incorporate a naturalistic (evolutionary/computational) interpretation while still retaining its core insights. I draw my review to a close by pointing out some organizational shortcomings of the book; in particular, the text’s peculiar outcome of having provided a rich exegesis of three distinct positions on time without clearly indicating to what extent these positions move us forward in understanding the larger phenomenon of time.
As Berg mentions, although there has been active interest in Husserl’s development as it relates to the rise of analytic philosophy and positivism, less attention has been paid to understanding how the notion of phenomenology comes into clarification through contrast with phenomenalism and the latter’s focus on precise observation and description. (2-3) Given that Husserl, like Mach, Boltzmann, and Brentano, shared a similar formal education, were interested in understanding perceptual observation and its link to sensation, and all employed the terms phenomenology or phenomenological to describe their investigative efforts, unpacking the differences between phenomenalism and phenomenology is more nuanced than many scholars typically note. Berg cites Spiegelberg’s influential The Phenomenological Movement as an example of someone who assumes the differences between Husserl’s notion of phenomenology and the term’s use by Mach, Stumpf, and Boltzmann, at least circa 1900, is more clear-cut than is actually the case. (36)
Although it is true from the standpoint of terminology that these thinkers did clarify the sense in which they employed the term, Berg is more interested in the shared conceptual heritage of phenomenalism and phenomenology as two intertwined trajectories at odds over the nature of scientific description and the basic elements of sensation. According to Berg, the tension and overlap between these two methodologies comes into its fullest focus when seen against the on-going efforts of Mach, Husserl and Boltzmann to adequately describe the apparent unidirectional flow of time.
Already in the Logical Investigations Husserl criticized Mach for misunderstanding the self-evidentiary character of logical concepts. Like Mach, Husserl wanted to focus on description and exclude metaphysical hypotheses from getting in the way, but from early on Husserl came to realize no account of perceptual experience could be epistemologically informative if it remained tied to describing sensation alone. In a similar vein, Mach’s attempts to show the dependence of concepts on sensory elements, through a kind of parallelism, only postpones the problem of how knowledge is generated because the level of descriptive analysis is confined to seeing everything in terms of external relations. (36-48) Such a position can tell us little about the reciprocity between concepts (what solidifies meaning), and sensation, which for Husserl requires a specific notion of intentionality to be comprehensible.
Although coming at the problem from a different direction, Boltzmann had similar reservations with Mach’s “phenomenological physics.” Berg explains that Boltzmann employed the term “phenomenology” in at least three distinct ways, all of them in contrast to Mach’s belief that phenomenological description follows the complexity of sensations, their types and continuity (49-64.) Boltzmann believed such a narrow view of scientific description conflates what is “fact-like” with what is “law-like” and pushes many of the more recent types of scientific explanation, like that of statistical mechanics, which relies on probability, outside the domain of scientific description. (64)
What distinguishes Berg’s book is the patient exegesis he provides of how the respective notions of phenomenological description embraced by Mach, Husserl and Boltzmann shape their accounts of time: how the flow of time is intuited, the extent of its causal dependence on sensation, and, most importantly, why it appears asymmetric or irreversible. The problem of time’s irreversibility, Berg notes, is the key perplexity that unites the work of Mach, Husserl and Boltzmann as each one struggled to find an adequate description that could capture the dynamic processes at work in the phenomenon of time. Berg formulates the difficulties as follows:
“The problem of irreversibility in relation to time can be understood in two principle ways. The first in connection with the apparent contradiction between scientific descriptions of time-symmetry in physics and biological and thermodynamical process which are time-asymmetric. The second arises when we attempt to account for the experiential and phenomenological perception of time which place time in subjectivity in contrast to the ontological objectivity of time.” (xii)
Mach’s account of time, with his strict focus on sensation, appears at first glance to follow the methodological tenets of his phenomenalism. He insists that understanding the asymmetric character of time, which allows past, present and future to be differentiated, rests, in part, with the physiological order of sensations themselves. Although this approach would seem to follow his phenomenalism, Berg points out the complexity of Mach’s view, which embraces physical, physiological, and psychological aspects. Similar to Husserl, Mach recognizes memory or the internal consciousness of time as a crucial part of our concept of time but derives the irreversible and unidirectional force of time “not from any relational or causal, necessary conditions, but from the ‘principle of continuity’.” (101) Berg argues that even Mach himself is not that clear on what precisely is meant by reference to such a principle. What is clear, however, is that for Mach the experience of time is ultimately derived from, or reducible to, raw sensations, which themselves are atemporal, and it is the physiological internalization of these sensations within a living organism that gives rise to the asymmetric character of time. (102)
Rather than set up Mach’s account as simply a poor cousin to Husserl and Boltzmann, Berg provides a considerate and patient reading of his contributions and aptly shows how Mach’s position does not readily fit the traditional characterizations of time; it is not causal, relational, or physicalist, and parts with Newton’s view of time and space as “absolute” features of the universe. Thematically, Berg locates the challenges posed by Mach’s phenomenalistic account of time, and the many irresolvable perplexities it creates, as the foil for Husserl’s and Boltzmann’s views. Although both approached the question of time with different pressing problems foremost in mind, Mach’s insistence that the analysis of time restrict itself to sensations themselves and their consequent physiological transformations in biological organisms, was perceived by Husserl and Boltzmann as an explanation that had to be challenged and reworked.
Berg explains that Boltzmann’s reflections on time centered on the problem of entropy, thermodynamics, and the so-called “arrow of time”. From a cosmological standpoint, the development of physical structures (complicated states of matter) requires that time is both “(ir)-reversible” and (ir)-recoverable (that physical processes cannot be rewound). For Boltzmann and his interest in statistical mechanics, the underlying explanatory matrix of explanation is thermal equilibrium and the disequilibrium that gives rise to complicated (organized) states of matter. Thus, the difficulty is one of aligning micro-state and macro-state changes in order to explain the fundamental ordering principles of nature. Describing micro-states changes is impossible, since the direct observation of these states and the second-tier order they create contain so many variables that any direct description (from moment to moment) is ruled out, and thus probability theory must be employed to bridge the gap. As a result, any account of time that limits itself to the description of sensations alone and their continuity will completely gloss over the larger natural processes that generate physical materiality in the first place. For Boltzmann, the asymmetry of time is not something we impose thanks to our biology, but an ontological component of the universe and its cosmological dynamics of expansion.
Now it would seem that Boltzmann and Husserl share little in common in their respective approaches to time; one begins from the horizon of cosmology and the dynamics of physical systems, and the latter from subjectivity. Arguably the most novel aspect of Berg’s book is his facility for showing the overlapping connections between Boltzmann’s and Husserl’s descriptions of time, in particular, their concern for understanding the asymmetry of time as a defining component of its objectivity. Like Boltzmann, Husserl’s account shows the different levels or sediments that structure our experience of time, moving from the micro-level (sensations –primary impressions– and their organization through intentionality) to the macro-level (persisting objectivities and the absolute flow of time). From Husserl’s perspective, what is required to understand time is an account that explains not only how a multiplicity of discrete objects maintain distinctive, while nevertheless changing, identities throughout our experience within any given period, but also how we can access those self-same objects (via memory); and such “dual-intentionality” must be explained without reducing our experience of time to a causal dependency on physical sensation. (116-134)
It is precisely when we look to an account like Husserl’s, and his attempts to articulate the multifarious levels of synthesis that must be noted if one is to adequately explain the phenomenon of time, that the limits of phenomenalism become progressively clearer. Berg explains that Husserl’s approach, in line with his phenomenological methodology, relocates the analysis outside the metaphysical terminology of what aspects are “real” and which “ideal,” and configures the process through the lens of noetic-noematic constitution, where intentional acts work to unify manifold elements into one cohesive, on-going experience. (119) Berg deftly shows how this approach avoids the most common pitfalls of temporal analysis: reducing time to nothing but language, positing the now-point as the only reality, anchoring continuity of perception to casual association of sensations, assuming time is only a construction of the mind, or hypothesizing time as an intuition of pure duration.
As Berg sees it, Husserl’s breakthrough comes in his discovery that the riddle of time lies in the capacity of consciousness to constitute stable objectivities at multiple levels. First, the intentional acts of retention and protention describe how objects within our field of attention keep their identity within a distinct horizon of change; consider the experience of listening to a melody. It is not the sensation or content that establishes we are listening to the same melody, since that content changes from moment to moment, but the type of continuous alteration the melody expresses. There would be no such “continuity of change” without constant intentional activity (retentions and protentions). (127) Husserl distinguishes the type of continuity objects establish in direct perception, where primary impressions are given, from acts of memory. The capacity to retrieve the object, once it is no longer directly given in perceptual consciousness, is yet another type of temporal objectification. Rather than stop the analysis here, however, Husserl sees both levels of intentionality as encompassed within the temporalizing character of consciousness itself, that consciousness continually frames all of its intentional acts within one all-embracing flow. Berg formulates the advance this way:
“Husserl’s conception of time does not follow either a reduction to “experienced time” (either as sensation in the phenomenalistic sense or duration, or intuition in Bergson’s phenomenological sense) or to “objective time” as an illusion or logical fiction (McTaggart’s refutation of time). Instead, Husserl’s phenomenology undertakes a radical approach in explaining “time-consciousness” through “levels of objectivity.” (128)
Berg stresses Husserl’s reluctance to admit definitive claims about the nature of time “as such” and so in reference to the unidirectional flow of time, its asymmetric character, Husserl does not posit a concept of the Now or assume an ineradicable principle of becoming to explain our experience of temporality. Time is unidirectional, and so asymmetric, but the explanation for this is to be found with the intentional supplementation of “primary impressions,” whether as an “adumbrative continuum” that continually fills out the parameters of given identities through “retentions” and “protentions” or as hyletic content in which “recollections,” “perceptions,” “anticipations” are sufficiently internally differentiated to constitute an intersubjective world of a shared time-order. (152) As far the irreversibility or irrecoverability of time, Berg points out that Husserl would deny both claims as blanket descriptions; first, because fantasy allows us to reverse any order of events and, second, because memory allows us to access time past.
Berg closes his book by pursuing the intriguing question of the extent to which Husserl’s approach can fit into contemporary, more naturalized models, of time, especially work done in cognitive science that uses probability, computation and cognitive modeling to explain our experience of time (for example, the work of Varela, Petitot and Van Gelder). Similarly, can Husserl’s investigations into internal time-consciousness help us understand why time is asymmetric at the macro level, (the arrow of cosmological time) while symmetric at the micro level (the level of particle interaction)? Berg has an extensive grasp of the debates in this field and considers a variety of models, most of them very appreciative of Husserl’s work on time. Yet as Berg explains, it is unclear how the explanatory primacy of intentionality could remain in these new models coming out of cognitive science and evolutionary biology. Similarly, first-person experience is an indelible part of our consciousness of time and there remains a qualitative component to the constitution of temporal objectivities that resists any physicalist-causal explanation. Berg finishes his book considering whether there might not be some way of tying in Husserl’s phenomenological approach with scientific theories like that exemplified in the work of Boltzmann on probability and thermodynamics, perhaps through developing a more expansive notion of causality.
Much of my review has been spent explicating some of the highpoints of Berg’s discussion, and on this score the book is an embarrassment of riches. His familiarity with the literature, not just on Husserl but also the manifold lines of contact Husserl’s work has established within the larger scientific community is impressive. Moreover, the direction his explication takes, putting Husserl in dialogue with Mach, Boltzmann and others in contemporary cognitive science, as opposed to the usual cohort of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, etc., is certainly one of the more commendable, and timely, features of the book. His treatment of Mach, Husserl and Boltzmann is measured and patient and shows the manifold conceptual resources each thinker still brings to the most pressing questions about time. The accessibility of this account, however, is a different story. As a theme, time is notoriously difficult to discuss and neither Husserl, nor Mach nor Boltzmann are celebrated for their clarity on these topics. One would hope the exegesis of such matters would make understanding them easier but Berg’s convoluted prose does little to aid the reader on that score. I think I can say with some confidence that if one is not already quite familiar with Husserl or at least had some extensive exposure to work on time from different perspectives, making headway with the text will be very difficult; brilliant as Berg’s exegesis is, it is not a text for undergraduate students.
In a similar vein, although there is no denying Berg’s extensive intellectual engagement with the problems and people he discusses, so many different positions are canvassed and at such levels of abstraction, that discerning a cohesive argument that ties the whole endeavor together never really manifests itself. It is not that Berg does not continually renew connections with earlier problems, because he does, but it’s not always clear which of these contributions opens up the discussion, which closes it off, what should be kept, and what should be let go. I can understand from a phenomenological perspective that one is tracking and describing varying contributions and so the point is not to demonstrate which account is the only one that works as much as it is to unfold the complexity of the contributions and see where they stick. At times this seems like Berg’s strategy, but at other times Boltzmann and Husserl are presented as two alternative explanations, that must be reconcilable to some degree at the end of the day. This too is an intriguing point, but one that requires much more explicit argument than Berg gives it. And so if one wants to cut their teeth on grappling with some of the most perplexing aspects of time, then please do read Berg’s book; just don’t expect it to be any easier to grasp than Mach’s, Husserl’s or Boltzmann’s own contributions to the topic.