Lunch Bunch: The Einstein-Bergson controversy over time

​Lunch seminar by Professor emeritus Aant Elzinga, University of Gothenburg


When Einstein in 1922 was finally awarded the 1921 there was something funny about the citation, it was not for relativity theory. It was "for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect". Inserted was also a phrase that the award was independent of however the theory of relativity might later be assessed. In other words relativity was explicitly excluded, a most unusual formulation. Svante Arrhenius’ introductory words moreover said that relativity theory belonged to the realm of epistemology, not physics. He noted, “ /I/t will be no secret that the famous philosopher Bergson in Paris has challenged this theory…”. The reference is to a famous dialogue 6 April, 1922 when Henri Bergson and Albert Einstein crossed swords. Bergson meant that the clock-time used in physics was fine for science but it is not the whole story regarding time. It is arrived through disembodiment and geometrisation as ideal.
For philosophy and the humanities time is something deeper, subjectively contingent and related to a continual flow in lived experience that cannot be quantitatively parsed into small bits. Also it has to do with memory as in Marcel Proust’s novel À la recherche du temps perdu. Einstein countered saying that there was objective physical time and then psychological time and the former was correct. As for philosophers’ time it does not exist. In my talk I will take up this discussion that had repercussions in a divide between science and the humanities. And some aspects in the controversy will be teased out.

Photo: Aant Elzinga at Röda Sten with Gothenburg harbor in the background.
Photographer: P.O Alfredsson
Category Public lecture
Location: PJ, lecture hall, Fysik Origo, Fysik
Starts: 16 March, 2018, 12:15
Ends: 16 March, 2018, 12:45

Published: Wed 20 Dec 2017. Modified: Tue 06 Mar 2018