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New from Princeton: The Physicist and the Philosopher

cover image for The Physicist and the Philosopher

Science historian Jimena Canales recounts the epic debate on the nature of time between Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson in The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate that Changed Our Understanding of Time.

“Sparks—both incendiary and illuminating—fly from the collision of two giants!”
— Booklist, starred review

“This fascinating, scholarly, readable look at physics and epistemology will interest readers of science, history, philosophy, and biography.”
Library Journal, starred review

“In illuminating a historic 1922 debate between Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson about the nature of time, Canales marks a turning point in the power of philosophy to influence science.”
Publishers Weekly

On April 6, 1922, in Paris, Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson publicly debated the nature of time. Einstein considered Bergson’s theory of time to be a soft, psychological notion, irreconcilable with the quantitative realities of physics. Bergson, who gained fame as a philosopher by arguing that time should not be understood exclusively through the lens of science, criticized Einstein’s theory of time for being a metaphysics grafted on to science, one that ignored the intuitive aspects of time. The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate that Changed Our Understanding of Time (Publication date: June 24, 2015; $35.00), by science historian Jimena Canales, tells the remarkable story of how a collegial debate between adherents of two competing schools of thought about the nature of time became an explosive argument that carried beyond the event. The resulting rift between science and the humanities still persists today.

Canales introduces readers to the revolutionary ideas of Einstein and Bergson, describes how they dramatically collided in Paris, and traces how this clash of worldviews reverberated across the twentieth century. She shows how it provoked responses from figures such as Bertrand Russell and Martin Heidegger, and carried repercussions for American pragmatism, logical positivism, phenomenology, and quantum mechanics. Canales explains how the new technologies of the period—such as wristwatches, radio, and film—helped to shape people’s conceptions of time and further polarized the public debate. She also discusses how Bergson and Einstein, toward the end of their lives, each reflected on his rival’s legacy—Bergson during the Nazi occupation of Paris and Einstein in the context of the first hydrogen bomb explosion.

The Physicist and the Philosopher reveals how scientific truth was placed on trial in a divided century marked by a new sense of time.

“Is time too important to be left to the physicists and their measuring devices? That was the issue at stake in a 1922 debate between Albert Einstein and philosopher Henri Bergson, celebrated at the time and wonderfully recovered in Jimena Canales’s new book. A fascinating look at a pivotal moment in how we think about one of the most fundamental features of the universe.”
Sean Carroll, author of From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time

About the Author:

Jimena Canales holds the Thomas M. Siebel Chair in the History of Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and was previously associate professor of the history of science at Harvard University. She is the author of A Tenth of a Second: A History.

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

Cloth $35.00 • £19.95 | ISBN: 978-0-691-16534-9
474 pp. | 6 x 9
eBook ISBN: 9781400865772

Publication Date: June 24, 2015

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10445.html