Adam Lovasz: Updating Bergson: A Philosophy of the Enduring Present

Updating Bergson: A Philosophy of the Enduring Present Book Cover Updating Bergson: A Philosophy of the Enduring Present
Lexington Books
Lexington Books
Hardback 49,00 €

Reviewed by: Giorgi Vachnadze (KU Leuven)

Henri Bergson paints a fascinating, slightly fear-provoking and highly counter-intuitive yet incredibly beautiful picture of the world greatly reminiscent of the Heraclitean universe. A world where one cannot step into the same river twice, where repetition is but an illusion, a temporary shell for the human mind surrounded by the eternal flux of becoming and a place where intuition reigns supreme over both reason and instinct. Adam Lovasz pays great homage to Bergson by reconstructing his thought, adding his own particular flavor to the style and defending the Bergsonian world from the most unrelenting critical attacks. Philosophy, if it is to approach the demiurgic vibration of the real, must resist the temptation to build cathedrals” writes Lovasz (16). Defending the continental tradition against vicious assaults from both the analytical camp as well as from those who seek answers exclusively from fact-minded scientists is no easy task. Despite being slightly repetitive at times Upgrading Bergson is a wonderful read, executed in the most beautiful literary style and showing incredible depth of comprehension in fields as seemingly distant as Einsteinian relativity theory and modern evolutionary biology. Not to mention the philosophical legacies of Bergson and Gilles Deleuze alike.

The book is made up of 5 chapters, an introduction and a conclusion. Chapter 2: Completing Relativity should pose the most difficult challenge to most readers, as it gets into the nuts and bolts of relativity theory. Lovasz however goes much further, attempting to reconcile two diametrically opposed worldviews of Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson, shedding a new light on the famous Bergson-Einstein debate and attempting a thorough renaissance of the Bergsonian position concerning the philosophical interpretation of time according to, as well as against – Einstein’s theory of relativity. As far as alternative narratives are concerned, Bergson via Lovasz offers us one of the most profound counter-ontologies.

Instability is a semantic attractor-state for Bergsonian philosophy. Chapter one of Adam Lovasz’ work is dedicated to Bergson’s La Penseé et le mouvement, often translated as Thought and Instability. A treatise on time and the flux of human experience. How does mind make sense of temporality in a real and material sense? Material patterns invoke new modes of thought, without presenting us with any general image or form(Lovasz 2021, 15) writes Lovasz. The absence of an ideal image is precisely what points to instability. The fact that entities persist in time is understood by Bergson as a variety of the miraculous. We have here the deconstruction of universals par excellence. Even scientific theories, according Bergson (via Lovasz), are subject to the constant change in virtue of their underlying methodologies. Behind the apparent unity; the stability of a scientific theory, there lies an ever-present, turbulent and hybrid-form of the method, it’s concrete manifestation in practical performance.

Reality does not offer itself up to mind, there is no one-to-one correspondence between mind and matter. Lovasz shows that Bergsonian cosmology has no room for the idea of progress or a meaningful teleology. History and human activity in the aggregate, have no finality nor a determined goal. Instead, the idea of a purpose-driven universe is only a useful fiction constructed for the purpose of avoiding collective despair and pessimism. Moreover, the deluded thinking which renders the past a servant to the present (or the present to the future) is the direct symptom of universalizing speculative thinking that Bergson aimed to challenge.

Such retrograde thinking serves a distinct political function of means-ends justification. It is often referred to as the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, or the retrospective movement of truth.” The essence of such wishful thinking and ideological manipulation is once again, the failure to admit the underlying instability of reality, an unmanageable substratum of contingency and chaos. This is a profound connection with serious epistemological and political implications. Bergson wants to underscore the importance of contingency simultaneously at both levels of immediate human experience and history. One might venture as far as to say that the very idea of progress itself is a form of ideology.

There is an internal excess within every object of immediate experience which can never be understood or analyzed completely. The TFP, which stands for the True-First Perception, refers to the uniqueness of an image generated by consciousness during every act of perception, each irreducible to the former and the next. Reality is in essence a perturbation. This way, Bergson is swimming against the current of traditional western philosophy, side-stepping or dissenting from, an enormous corpus of philosophical knowledge, the aim of which is to uncover the essence and the underlying foundation of reality. This leads us closer to the central argument. Bergsonian epistemology unpacks a phenomenological interpretation of time. Time as a duration is contrasted with time as displayed by the clock or time as seen through the eyes of a physicist. Bergson has little interest for the spatialized time of discrete units where every moment is identical to the next. Bergsonian duration is non-quantifiable.

The translation of the flow of time into discrete units instantiates a suppression of duration. It cannot be the case that the time of the clock measures real temporality (Lovasz 2021, 19-20).

The Bergsonian variety of essentialism is quite paradoxical. And understandably so, given Lovasz’ insightful and accurate reflections on the subject. For Bergson, change itself is the underlying structure; the substance of reality. Duration, in all of its heterogeneity, remains nonetheless a given throughout and for all reality. Higher levels of complexity are introduced in Bergsonian ontology, where the reader is confronted with multiple forms of differential durations, which nonetheless exhibit a certain level of invariance. A Bergsonian take on the theory of evolution arranges beings according to the kind of duration they belong to. Material duration refers to inanimate matter, organic duration to the realm of animal species and conscious duration to human temporal interiority.

The deconstruction of the atomistic, abstracted interpretation of time and the universe is followed by a positive theory of human intuition.

We are enjoined to return to a condition of immediacy before the colonization of thinking by ready-made concepts and fixed, static ideas. Intuition is a passive, reverent posture concerning the complexity of being/s that is nevertheless resolutely creative (Lovasz 2021, 27).

Intuition is a spiritual form of comprehension, which reaches into a pre-conceptual mode of understanding. For Bergson via Lovasz, concepts operate as distancing mechanisms, they obstruct the mind’s capacity to relate to the object directly without mediation.

Another element of Bergson’s process philosophy extends his epistemology, his ontology and his theory of time to a very unique account of free will. Without a doubt, one could see its potential emergence and attempt to reconstruct Bergson’s thought along the lines of an indeterminist position concerning freedom. A Bergsonian account of freedom and the conditions for its realization would most likely involve, first and foremost, the recognition of one’s ignorance by acknowledging the occlusion of reality by an invented conceptual framework. The deconstruction of universals and retrograde thinking would then be followed by more positive and active techniques for uncovering the hidden durations and temporalities of the universe thereby fostering one’s intuitive faculty for creative reasoning. One could therefore potentially identify both negative (critique of rigid conceptual systems and the illusion of stability) and positive (developing the intuitive forms of comprehension) forms of freedom in Bergson.

Completing the circle of the first chapter and returning to the question of thought and instability, we can see now how a Lovaszian reading of Bergson advocates for a destabilization of thought, with the purpose of uncovering a more spiritual, but also a finer and more accurate form of intuitive reflection. Bergson’s True Empiricism is a mystical anthropomorphism of inanimate matter and the environment. A mystical form of apprehension which listens to entities in a way that classical empiricism would find childish and pseudo-scientific. An intensified form of listening, as opposed to the indifferent gaze of an impartial bystander.  

The debate between Einstein and Bergson concerning the theory of relativity and the interpretation of time has been strangely neglected by history. At least as far as the Bergsonian view is concerned. The physicist’s conception of time has come to dominate the modern scientific paradigm. Time as duration on the other hand, has been entirely relegated to the realm of the subjective, artistic and the emotional. Lovasz believes that Bergson’s book Duration and Simultaneity, where Bergson offers a critique of specific metaphysical interpretations of Einsteinian relativity, despite all the accusations levelled against it; as being “unscientific” — deserves a second look. A much needed and overdue renaissance for the continental tradition. The purpose of the second chapter is to seek out a reconciliation, if any, for Bergsonian metaphysics and the theory of relativity.

Lovasz offers a shockingly original interpretation of relativity theory, perhaps much to the detriment of many superficial “post-modernists”. The view, which according to Lovasz was shared by Einstein, is that modern science, far from tackling universal truths and eternal verities, is only a useful convention used to solve particular human, all too human, problems. The position is largely reminiscent of Wittgenstein’s view of mathematics. Wittgenstein describes mathematics as a collection of various techniques of calculation — language games, in essence — the purpose of which is to solve particular mathematical problems. There is no overarching Truth or even a stable continuity of calculating practices across either the history of mathematics or within the internal development of any particular axiomatic system. Radical conventionalism has been around as an epistemological theory for a while now, but Lovasz seems to be one of the few people who ascribes this position to a famous revolutionary scientist.

No longer may we talk of absolute movement, mobility having no independent existence in the Einsteinian view. It is always a particular, relative development we talk of when we speak of change (Lovasz 2021, 83).

The larger point is that conventionalist methodological approaches imply the suppression of passions, emotions or other personal investments during the construction of scientific systems and this is what tends to draw a line between Bergsonism and relativity. However, the existence of multiple heterogeneous timelines and the constant discrepancy between clocks travelling at different speeds within different inertial frames of reference seems to hint at a universe that isn’t that different from Bergson’s!

Time itself is a heterogeneous multiplicity of temporal interrelations and mutual causalities. Does this not in itself resemble the Bergsonian affirmation of multiple durations? Real simultaneity is distorted by gravitational effects. Time has no relevance outside of a particular body of reference (Lovasz 2021, 83).

Lovasz’s project is little short of ambitious as he seeks to reconcile two enormous and radically divergent metaphysical systems.

Not only time, but extension itself becomes something relative with Einstein; as objects accelerate they change their shape and become elongated, mass and energy become interchangeable magnitudes, and reality itself becomes akin to a mathematical equation where objects morph and transform into one another according to fixed proportions and measurable quantities.

Momentously, relativity constitutes an upheaval that liquifies all constants by paradoxically utilizing a constant value—the speed of light—to decompose a previous cosmology (Lovasz 2021, 85).

The dissolution of object-identity in Einstein via Lovasz is absolutely fascinating. We spoke of an object-excess, with Bergson, where we can never conceptually grasp reality, but only describe its surface appearances. There seems to be a very similar situation with Einstein where things are not what they are per se; instead, things are what they do i.e. how fast and in which direction they travel, at what speed, how other things are behaving in their vicinity and so forth.

Lovasz takes things further. Much less than attempting to “excuse” Bergson’s critique of relativity theory, he levels his own criticism against Einstein, who, Lovasz claims, remained a crypto-absolutist by utilizing the concept of the speed of light as a constant invariant across space and time. But the weakest link in Einstein’s theory remains for us the famous Twin Paradox. The dissolution of objects qua objects, their mathematical intersubstitutability can be restated as an equivalence between space and time. In an Einsteinian universe time exhibits the properties of space, that is, time is entirely spatialized. The faster one travels the more time one “gathers”. One can monopolize on temporality by increasing the level of acceleration. “Aging is a matter of movement” (Lovasz 2021, 99). If a man is launched into space, traveling fast enough for an (un)certain amount of time, while his twin remains on earth, once he returns to earth, the second twin will have aged considerably more than the first. The problem arises when we decide to choose between the two (seemingly arbitrary) frames of reference. Whichever twin remains “motionless” ends up aging more than the other. What lies, to my mind, at the core of the insurmountable problem is the irreducible difference between Biology and Physics. As Lovasz clearly explains, the world of the physicist is a world of reversible processes, whereas the world of the Biologist, and to a certain extent the Bergsonian subject, both inhabit an irreversible timeline, where the same path cannot be taken twice nor travelled backwards. The essence of the problem then, in very blunt and oversimplified terms, is the artificial imposition of a quantitative universe of interchangeable magnitudes upon the lived and the real experience of time that Bergson aims to bring to our attention. Lovasz dedicates an entire section to the problem, one that is satirically and most adequately termed: The Tyranny of the Clock.

Physics is overwhelmingly concerned with an objective definition of time. Ironically, such a striving to get a handle on the physical reality of time drives Einsteinian relativity into a forgetfulness of time’s indivisible, enduring being. The accelerations and transformations of real processes cannot remain characterized by their relationships with clocks. Measurement invariably tends to decompose duration into a set of spatialized instances (Lovasz 2021, 106).

The main takeaway here is that time cannot be measured. And the obsessive compulsive intuition of the physicist is what lies at the root of the twin paradox. Duration is not, nor can it be made to be discrete. Time dilation which results in the desynchronization of clocks is precisely the result of the spatialized interpretation of time. Space becomes “parasitic” upon time and quite literally steals duration. Bergson via Lovasz argues that this is nothing but pure fiction: “Time dilation is an abstraction that does not correspond to physical reality. It is not unlike mistaking the distancing of a person from us with a real reduction in stature” (Lovasz 2021, 110).  The problem lies in the fact that choosing different inertial frames places us into different kinds of universes, where it is no longer a trivial matter which of the two twins’ position we adopt, as it will decide which one of them is accelerating. In a way, the chosen frame will also add more reality to one of the twins, leaving the other to suffer the consequences of Einstein’s abstractions.

Chapter 3 contains the core argument of the book and an abridged presentation of the entire Bergsonian corpus: Being is becoming. The point was already made earlier in different terms, when we spoke of change being substance, and of reality as essentially impermanent and unstable. Any kind of stability or order encountered in the world is the result of the activity of the mind and is therefore, entirely a construct. Our construct. Lovasz refers to Bergsonian ontology as organic temporality (Lovasz 2021, 121). The chapter also aims at investigating the question of whether Bergson was a monist or a dualist. That is, whether life and matter are in effect the same thing, or if there is a significant distinction that makes living beings stand out ontologically from the background of inorganic matter. Bergson’s book Creative Evolution offers a beautiful literary combination of evolutionary biology and abstract metaphysics, often referred to as philosophy of life.

The phenomenology of Bergsonian becoming is repeatedly compared to a mounting snowball, an analogy used by Bergson himself. The snowball, as it becomes larger tends to get increasingly impure and polluted with assimilated matter. Our experience of duration resembles this process. At any given moment the entire memory of our journey is reflected in our present moment, the path is present as a miniature map within the physiognomy of the actual.

According to Lovasz, process philosophy does not automatically entail holism. The statement concerning either the substantiality of change or the conceiving of reality as a series of hybrid durations, does not necessarily entail a holist-reductionist metaphysics. However, other difficulties come to light. For instance, the reality of individual objects and living beings becomes undermined. To take the theory of evolution as an example:

Movement alone is real, but if this is the case, then the individuation of species represents a halt and hence, an unreality” (Lovasz 2021, 128). And further on: “the privileging of processes and relations involves a slippery slope, leading inevitably to the negation of individual objects. Without individual substance, the very basis of individuation is supposedly endangered (Lovasz 2021, 128).

Bergsonian process ontology privileges change, immobility and movement, which results in a horrifying view of reality where all entities, including human or animal species have neither essence nor reality. What seems most beneficial to the species in the classical Darwinian axiology: their individuation, seems to be the beginning of the end, from the vantage point of process metaphysics.

Lovasz does not offer us a teleological Bergson, but he does aim to rescue him from the accusations of pessimism and holistic reductionism. One of the most common notions in Bergsonian philosophy used to argue in favour of an holistic interpretation is the vital impetus, or vital force. The elan vital was supposed to capture the essence of living beings; exhibiting a mysterious property that constantly eludes proper empirical investigation.

Lovasz argues one should not even speak of the vital force in the singular, but rather see it as a multiplicity of vitalisms, each with its own particular ontology. The functionalist-vitalist account of life relies only on identifying a particular form of arrangement, regularity or a set of relations that are found throughout nature indicating the presence of organic life-forms. There is no singular chemical reaction that would account for the emergence of life. Such indeterminist positions concerning the nature of living organisms has been widely confirmed throughout the sciences. More so, the irreducible complexity of living entities is used by Bergson as an epistemic contribution to his account of free will. Life as indeterminacy is also the very condition for the freedom of living beings. Duration is not a blanket term with Bergson, there is no overarching form of duration that could subsume all the others.

Returning to the question concerning science and its tendency to exclude time as duration in order make sense of reality. The scientific method proceeds in a way that is similar to the human cognitive process: It abstracts a significant portion of reality in order “discover” a handful of variables and identify a set of relations among them. In order to do so, it must operate through fixed concepts. Science, by spatializing time, in fact constructs an artificial edifice; a theory, the purpose of which is in effect to exorcise change and instability. If scientists operated through Bergsonian ontology and the epistemic “commitments” of process philosophy, then science would be in a permanent Kuhnian paradigm shift, an ongoing and ceaseless revolution in methodology. It would be the end of science as we know it.

Only fictional extracts, as molded by scientific or practical activity, have a relative immunity to the bite of time’s fangs, and even these are affected by longer term historical transformations of knowledge and society. Time is not a quantity but a quality (Lovasz 2021, 134).

And nonetheless, reality is not some insane muddle of pure difference, at least not unless we undergo a kind of traumatic limit-experience, which one could argue to be a form of revelation or direct insight into the mystery of substance as pure change. The reason we at least experience reality as relatively stable at moments is due to the variable, but nonetheless patterned distribution of durations. It is indeed the case, as we mentioned before, that the Bergsonian universe is essentially a collection of actions and processes, but there are similarities among them. Reminiscing once more, another Wittgensteinian notion; that of family-resemblances, we could say, despite the fact that no two durations are identical, that there are similarities which tend to crisscross and overlap without pointing to any comprehensive unity or universality. “An object exists to the extent that it endures, but this persistence is qualitative and not quantitative” (Lovasz 2021, 134).

An interesting hierarchy is present in Bergson via Lovasz. Scientific-analytical constructs borrow from, and are built upon the primal level of durations; not the other way around. For a classical philosopher of science, it would be very counter-intuitive to speak of foundation as something less fixed and more turbulent then the construction; more fluid then the facts themselves. Bergson is not exclusively concerned with the world of the scientists. His aim is to reconcile the everyday with the analytical. Bergson is not, properly speaking; a philosopher of science, despite the fact that he was always very careful to square his views with the latest developments in the natural sciences. Instead, Bergson brings the conceptual edifice down to the level of perturbations, demonstrating that theories, concepts and paradigms are subject to the same flux and constant change as the very objects they try to fix.

Bergson’s book Creative evolution is incompatible with either a mechanistic or a teleological world-view due to its insistent emphasis on the role of novelty in all becoming. It is entirely opposed to an unfolding of a pre-determined structure of being. Nothing is set in stone, nothing follows a plan (neither material nor divine) and there is no final end to the striving of turbulent durations. Whatever limited finality an organism might have, it is only an attempt to cling to a false and invented individuality, only to disperse once again into a whirlwind of pure change either in the act of reproduction or its own final termination. Let us conclude this part by quoting Bergson via Bergson this time:

That is why again they [scientists] agree in doing away with time. Real duration is that duration which gnaws on things, and leaves on them the mark of its tooth. If everything is in time, everything changes inwardly, and the same concrete reality never recurs. Repetition is therefore possible only in the abstract: what is repeated is some aspect that our senses, and especially our intellect, have singled out from reality, just because our action, upon which all the effort of our intellect is directed, can move only among repetitions (Bergson 1998, 52).

In chapter 4 Lovasz discusses another famous work by Bergson: Matter and Memory displaces the mind-body problem entirely and offers its own deconstructive version of the unnecessary dualism. The key to uncovering Bergson’s position lies in his theory of perception. The image is contraposed to representation, with the former exhibiting emergent and novel features irreducible to the latter, which in turn is always incomplete. In addition to the mind-body problem and in relation to it, Bergson via Lovasz simultaneously aims at dismantling the debate concerning the opposition between materialism and idealism.

Matter cannot be represented. Nor is it in any other way separate from the way it is uniquely, that is discontinuously perceived. Matter just is a multiplicity of images. There is neither a pure materiality; objective and inert, nor an ideal point of perception that could unite all individual durations into a whole. Neither subjectivism nor objectivism can dominate the Bergsonian metaphysic. Analogously, consciousness with Bergson is an emergent and highly dependent property of the brain, while simultaneously being irreducible to mere neurochemical processes. Memory, according to Bergson, is the meeting ground for mind and matter, the point of reconciliation and the central point of departure for his theory of subjectivity.

Movement is primary, while individual perception is but a sampling of images. What Bergsonism allows for is the introduction of pure, undomesticated mobility into philosophy. Nothing exists apart from images or movements (Lovasz 2021, 186).

We might add that the aforementioned ontology of mobility is further used to occupy a peripheral space between ideality and materiality, a space, it seems, where memory, intuition and images – present central oscillating points for the rest of the Bergsonian philosophy of the process.  

The closing chapter returns to the question of agency and free will in Bergson tending to the famous essay on Time and Free Will. The work aims at a similar project of rescuing duration from quantification, except; instead of challenging leading breakthroughs in modern physics, its purpose is to resist the temptations of psychophysics, neuroscience and other (what today we would term) cognitive sciences to reduce human subjectivity to a set of calculable problems and chemical processes. The project is similar to what is often encountered in classical phenomenology, where the reader is called on to return to “the things themselves”; her immediate given data of consciousness, in order discover a primordial presuppositionless way of seeing that has been covered up by the “natural attitude”. Such a return to immediacy would be consonant with the injunction to think differently, to train one’s intuitive faculty and thereby see through the veil of stability and structure.

Bergson does not, however offer a clear, distinct and positive definition of freedom. It is very difficult to apply his ideas to practical conduct and determine whether this or that course of action was self-determined. If duration is pure heterogeneity and each moment is intertwined with the next, there is no clear way of separating off the stimulus from the agent, the action from the reaction. Where in the chain of interpenetrating images could one separate oneself off and state without hesitation the moment she began to act, as opposed to the moment she was affected by something else? In many ways, Bergson plays on our ignorance, on human ignorance in general, equating freedom with contingency and pure spontaneity. Freedom is the irreconcilable eruption of agency amidst overdetermined necessity; an epistemic break in the series of concepts that bind us to an artificially assembled reality. Concepts, which just like everything else, are vulnerable to the tides of fluctuating perturbations. Our blind spots are effectively the source of our autonomy.

Adam Lovasz’s Upgrading Bergson is an exciting and difficult journey through a cosmology that is both beautiful and terrifying. It presents a real challenge to reassess our worldviews in a radical, almost pathological manner. A world where becoming determines being and order gives way to chaos. A thoroughly anti-Platonic vision, which dares to undermine our most cherished belief in the indisputable authority of modern science and Einsteinian relativity in particular. A turbulent universe of scaled difference, multiple durations and heterogeneous temporalities. And finally, an outstanding contribution to the much neglected field of Bergsonian scholarship. Upgrading Bergson deserves its own shelf-space in every continental philosopher’s personal library.


References & Bibliography:

Bergson, Henri. 1998 (1911). Creative Evolution. Trans. Arthur Mitchell. Mineola, NY: Dover.

Dupré, John, and Stephan Guttinger. 2016. «Viruses as Living Processes.» Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 59: 109-116.

Kuhn, Thomas. 2021. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Princeton University Press.

Lovasz, Adam. 2021. Updating Bergson: A Philosophy of the Enduring Present. Lexington Books.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 2010. Philosophical Investigations. John Wiley & Sons.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 2013. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Routledge.

Jürgen Renn, Hanoch Gutfreund: Einstein on Einstein: Autobiographical and Scientific Reflections, Princeton University Press, 2020

Einstein on Einstein: Autobiographical and Scientific Reflections Book Cover Einstein on Einstein: Autobiographical and Scientific Reflections
Jürgen Renn, Hanoch Gutfreund
Princeton University Press
Hardback $35.00 / £30.00

Yuval Dolev, Michael Roubach (Eds.): Cosmological and Psychological Time

Cosmological and Psychological Time Book Cover Cosmological and Psychological Time
Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science 285
Yuval Dolev, Michael Roubach (Eds.)
Springer International Publishing
Hardcover $129.00
XIV, 218

Reviewed by: Esteban J. Beltrán Ulate (University of Costa Rica)

In their debut text Cosmological and Psychological Time, Yuval Dolev of Bar-Ilan University and Michael Roubach of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, guide readers through topics concerning Relativity Theory, Transience and Experience, Temporality and Phenomenology in an engaging series of 12 chapters. In this review, I outline the main ideas purported in each of the chapters with the aim of bringing the reader closer to the understanding the relevance of the chapters to the field of time and philosophy, without pretending to purport a total synthesis of the work.

The motivation of Dolev and Roubach’s text is described in the introduction, where the central character of time is captured, from two visions: continental and analytical. From the perspective of continental philosophy, which assumes that time is intimately bound up with the notions of consciousness and subject, an assumption exists that there is an independence between the mind and experience. In the middle of this bifurcation of continental and analytic philosophy, there is also a tension as to the conception of time as Presentism or Eternalism. Within the framework of this tension is a working group of representatives of both analytical and continental currents. From a series of academic meetings at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, the text is derived, in order to contribute to the discussion of time from a double glance.

In the first section, “Relativity Theory”, there are four studies: “Physical Time and Experienced Time”, “Relativity, Global Tense and Phenomenology”, “Why Presentism Cannot Be Refuted by Special Relativity”, and “Einstein’s Bergson Problem: Communication, Consensus and Good Science”.

In “Physical Time and Experienced Time”, Denis Dieks assumes that the image of the Universal block is compatible with the human experience. By adopting this assumption, Dieks concludes that the human experience is detached from the critical view of the senses; thereby, breaking the sphere of experience as the way to reach information that will be confirmed by relativity. In this case, phenomenology is an intellectual tool that permits reflection and offers ideas that have been scientifically endorsed by relativity theorists. In sum, Dieks’s chapter is an analysis about A-Theory and B-Theory, the problems between both theories in relation to perception, and the dichotomy of understanding between how the naturalist-scientific and physic-psychological may converge. The author outlines several considerations about time from Newtonian physics and from relativity theory, with a special interest to the focus of flux time.

In “Relativity, Global Tense and Phenomenology”, Yuval Dolev confronts Dieck’s ideas developed in “Physical Time and Experienced Time”. Therein, he assumes that any task of interpreting relativity, absent a phenomenological approach, is inappropriate. Therefore, a global tense and the passage of time are immovable from experience. Concurrently, a phenomenological analysis of passage time establishes a framework of relativity; whereby, the inclusion of experience forces the abandonment of both Theory A and Theory B of time. Dolev disagrees with Dieck’s phenomenological analysis, his thesis about the block universe, as well as his assessment of the tension existing between the block universe and experience. He further postulates that relationship between the conditions of the local observer and the distance of the event that happens is problematized, suggesting the impossibility of any strict simultaneity between the event and the experience of the same, “The experience takes place not where the flares are igniting, but where the observer is located” (p. 26). Finally, Dolev assumes the there is a possible compatibility between Global Now with the relativity theory only after reflecting on a series of challenges he took as reference to the Now of Andromeda.

In “Why Presentism Cannot Be Refuted By Special Relativity”, Yehiel Cohen presents a third way to respect relativity theory in confronting the idea of a relationship existing between presentism and relativity. He also proposes that e-Lorentz transformations assume the notion of absolute simultaneity. Therein, Cohen confronts both, the conventionality of simultaneity and the relativity of simultaneity. The first part of the chapter develops a refutation of presentism by special relativity, taking note of Putnam’s thesis that, «there are no privileged Observers» (p. 42). Cohen then explains the notion of Conventionality of Simultaneity, where he describes how Sklar refutes Putnam’s thesis, and rather argues for Reichenbach’s synchronization of two clocks.

Midway through the text, Cohen adheres to a language that echoes Hinchliff’s terminology, deepening the notion of Point Presentism and Cone Presentism. This adherence extends first from an analysis of R(point) and the problem of now, and second from a scrutiny that concludes the untenable character of R(bcone). In summary, both R(point) and R(bcone) are assessed as flimsy, as Cohen conceives, because both are constituted by separate space-like events. Cohen’s work factually illustrates how an e-Lorentz transformation might be sustained, and concludes that, «presentism is not refuted by special relativity!» (p. 50). Cohen then culminates his chapter by confronting the problem of the Now as an open question.

Jimena Canales concludes the first section with the chapter, “Einstein’s Bergson Problem: Communication, Consensus and Good Science”. Here, Canales focuses on the Bergson-Einstein controversy; whereby, both men held differing opinions as to the possibility of physical time and a separate human existing apart from physical time. While the article does address both views, it also questions how the future of the debate may be shaped. Canales relates the origin of the controversy by describing the meeting between Einstein-Bergson in 1922. She also offers a short list of authors that represent opposing views concerning time in XX century. The opposing views she addresses regard physical time and the others regards psychological, yet she finds that, “neither of these labels do justice to the contributions of each men” (p. 57). Instead, Canales shows how Bergson is differs from Einstein, by evidencing their contrast through a comparison of the differences arising from their journals and the Letters of Einstein, which were the center the attention in the CIC meeting in Geneva (25 July, 1924). She further notes that it was in Geneva that Bergson and Einstein continued their debate, and critics to Bergson amalgamated, because, “[When] Einstein offered his official response…Bergson had not understood the physics of relativity” (p. 59).

Conversely, Cannels notes Bergson’s assumption that Einstein could not comprehend him because his lack of philosophical training—a point given heed by Bergson based on his supposition that the German (Einstein) did not read his book Duration of Simultaneity. Canales finishes the chapter by describing a third way the two men differ, favoring neither Einstein nor Bergson. Instead, she centers her attention on notion of communication, “science is replete with rhetorical strategies of nondialogue” (p. 69), Canales’ goal with this chapter is show a need for the perpetuation of improved rhetorical, argumentative, and persuasive practices, so as to benefit scientific communication practices and to establish a normative ideal of investigations. By instituting these two practices, a higher plane of communicatory practices can be established, providing the linchpin for garnering more of a consensus by generalists and specialists alike.

The Second Section, “Transience and Experience”, begins with a chapter written by Barry Dainton titled “Some Cosmological Implications of Temporal Experience”. The chapter illustrates constraints existing between the cosmological and phenomenological tradition. Therein, Dainton focuses his attention on the implications of temporal experience in metaphysical theorization regarding time. Dainton also defends Existentialism from objections and discusses the relationship between Existentialism and Cosmological conception, via block universe, presentism et al. He then adopts the notion of “extended presentism” as the most promising option for cosmology.

After observing the implications of motion, that Zeno, Russell, Broad and Slezak have noted, Dainton then revels an alternative called the “Extensional model”. Dainton also considers the merits of the Retentional and Extensional models of temporal experience, using music examples (Successions C-D-E-F-G) whose results are favorable to the scholars, thereby giving reason to accept the Extensional alternative to the Retentional account. Dainton explains Overlap Presentism’s characteristics, and unveils the compatibility between Existentialism and Ovelap Presentism. Dainton finishes the chapter by analyzing Bolzmann Brains theory, incorporating some of the differences between Brentano and Husserl’s thesis about time and which gives Dainton pause to reason the necessity for new approaches.

In “From Physical time to human time”, Jenann Ismael offers thne possibility of non-contradiction between flow time and conceives the universe as a block as a strategy for linking time and space. Ismael also adopts the idea that events that are represented by temporal perspectives are invariant of Eternalism point of view, based on his belief of there being, “[a] gap between the time everyday experience and the time of physics” (p. 107). Ismael, also confronts the problem of time by suggesting that, «some of the most difficult unsolved problems are much closer to the human scale and have to do with reconciling the way that physics tells us universe is with that we experience it» (p. 107), Lastly, he considers that the problem between familiar time and Block Universe present echoes of Parmenides and Heraclitus’s debate.

Ismael does provide some arguments regarding the historical perspective of natural thought, describing it as a combination of contents of memory and perception within the epistemic asymmetries of time. However, he proposes that it is the task of the investigator to advance from thought inside time (natural thought of history) to a thought outside of time as way to reconcile the Parmenidean and Hereclitian vision of time, or A-series and B-series. Ismael’s chapter concludes by developing new questions about physics time.

Tamar Levanon’s “Relation, Action and the Continuity of Transition” inquires as to the problem that exists between temporal experience and internal variation. This particularly relates to the succession of moments, whereby Levanon scrutinizes William James and Alfred North Whitehead’s thesis by contrasting in with Bertrand Russell`s thoughts. Levanon goes on to present the negation of Russell and conforms it to being a transition to James` and Whitehead`s approach. However, this factor does not mean that both authors share the same ideas. On one hand, Whitehead replaces succession from causation, while James refuses the notion of abstract succession. On the other hand, Russell considers succession as immediate experience between parts of one sense datum. Levanon concludes with by an following enlightening thought, “The claim is that temporality is already immersed with in our phases inevitably brings us back to the passage of time itself” (p. 141).

Ulrich Meyer’s chapter “Consciousness and the Present” defends the thesis there being a non-existent connection between consciousness and presentness, Meyer rather conceives, “whether the phenomenon of consciousness allows us to make a principled distinction between the preset and other times” (p. 143). Meyer starts describing two issues of philosophers of time, first the tension of Analytics and Continental Philosophers in the problem of relationship between physical time and human time, and second with the status of present moment, throw the view of Eternalists and Presentists (including a growing block view).

After explaining the dearth of independence between the issues cited, Meyer confronts the initial question, and bifurcates how consciousness could mark present through proposing that: (1) consciousness generates presentness or that (2) presentness brings about consciousness. This analysis is settled by George Myro’s theory and concludes with a reflection that divides the connection between consciousness and presentness.

Meir Hemmo and Orly Shenker’s chapter “The Arrow of Time” assumes that temporal directionality cannot be derived from science. Instead, the authors start with two uncontroversial facts: “we experience a direction of time”, and that, “we experience a direction of processes relative to this direction of time” (p. 155). The thesis of their chapter directs that physics is not the singular mode for analyzing time and that there are other modes for comprehending the direction of time. To support their claim, Hemmo and Shenker discuss the direction of thermodynamics, analyzing the argumentative structure from two points of view: (1) how to predict the increase of entropy towards future, and (2) from a historical analysis that proposes that entropy in thermodynamic retrodiction that entropy. Yet, for their claim to be properly contextualized, the authors introduce the reader to the notion of Past-Hypothesis. Their chapter concludes with the their submission that, “current physics is not complete, and its lacuna is in a very central and conspicuous place in the empirical data” (p. 156).

The third and final section, “Temporality and Phenomenology”, begins with Michael Roubach’s chapter “Heidegger’s Primordial Temporality and Other Notions of Time”. Therein, Roubach examines the notion of Heidegger’s “primordial temporality”, and reflects on this notion as the most basic form of time that is understood. Roubach delivers on his promise to argue for Heidegger’s claim of the existence of an, “ordinary notion of time [that] presupposes primordial temporality” (p. 165). Methodologically, Roubach explores the notion of primordial temporality (ursprüngliche Zeitlichkeit) in Being and Time, and assumes that some motivations arise to the problem or consciousness of time. In the middle of text, the authors invoke affinities between Heidegger and Brouwer’s intuitionism.

However, there are critics of Ricoeur and Blattner’s analysis of Heidegger’s thesis that  build an argument from Heidegger’s discussions of notion of time (futurity and finitude). Therein, a relationship between primordial temporality and consciousness of time and ordinary time is discovered. At the end of the text, Roubach rejects Ricoeur’s notion that “narrated time” precedes the Heideggerian perception of time, and rather considers the, “path [as] open for rethinking the relationship between conscious time and objective time” (p. 175), Roubach finishes evaluating the dichotomy between continental tradition and mathematical representation of time, and focuses on notion of primordial temporality as bridge between conscious and cosmological time.

The objective of Philip Turetzky’s “The Passive Syntheses of Time” is to describe Deleuze’s passive synthesis of time in order of its genesis. Turetzky’s chapter first compares lectures between how Husserl and Deleuze’s define and understand time, requiring a concurrent comparison from Hume’s influence. The text then discusses the idea of a non-unified field of the continental tradition based on a discussion of the Hursserlian topics of reductions, intentionality, genetic phenomenology and passivity. Turetzky’s then analyzes Deleuze’s three passive synthesis of time, concentrating on the third synthesis first, followed by the second and the first. Turetzky necessarily explains the notion of “caesura” and how it corresponds to Husserl’s notion of retention. Turetzky finishes his dense text by describing the project of Husserl in 1939 as “ground judgments in aesthetics” and demonstrating how the third synthesis is essential for second for Husserl’s conception of time (p. 201).

Dror Yinon concludes the text with his chapter “Change’s Order: On Deleuze’s Notion of Time”. Yinon’s chapter is based on the second chapter of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. He starts the chapter by analyzing the traditions that assume objective time is grounded on subjectivity and relating subjectivity with the transcendental structure of temporality. Yinon then deliberates about Deleuze’s three syntheses of time and focuses attention on Deleuze’s notion of change, concluding the chapter with McTaggart’s critique to time as change.

The ideas and underlying perceptions developed in Cosmological and Psychological Time denotes a great sum of learned reflection. Those scholars whose research concerns the nature of philosophy of time must access this text, as it brings a wide lens of analysis, and clarifies some important notions of the difficult topics discussed herein. In sum, I would submit that this text as a necessary addition to a researcher’s library, based on the depth it brings to the investigation of time and philosophy. The effort of the editors, Yuval Dolev and Michael Roubach, and all the contributors will, without a doubt, be recognized as relevant and timely.

Jimena Canales: The Physicist and the Philosopher

The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time Book Cover The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time
Jimena Canales
Princeton University Press
Paperback $24.95

Reviewed by: Stephen Chadwick (Massey University)

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.


Jimena Canales: 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 Book Cover The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time
Jimena Canales
Princeton University Press
Paperback $24.95

Reviewed by: Diana Soeiro (Nova University of Lisbon)

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.