The Physicist & the Philosopher

The Physicist & the Philosopher

Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time

Book - 2015
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Princeton University Press

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 tells the remarkable story of how this explosive debate transformed our understanding of time and drove a rift between science and the humanities that persists today.

Jimena 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 is a magisterial and revealing account that shows how scientific truth was placed on trial in a divided century marked by a new sense of time.

Book News
Canales cites the debate on the nature of time between philosopher Henri Bergson and physicist Albert Einstein in Paris on April 6, 1922, as the opening of a veritable can of worms that lasted for many decades. While investigating the controversy, she found that the outcome of the confrontation was not as clear cut as previously portrayed, but she persevered although told to ignore the vast differences. Twenty-nine chapters are divided into four parts: the debate; the men; the things; the words. Chapters are: untimely; “more Einsteinian than Einstein”; science or philosophy?; the twin paradox; Bergson’s Achilles’ heel; worth mentioning?; Bergson writes to Lorentz; Bergson meets Michelson; the debate spreads; back from Paris; two months later; logical positivism; the immediate aftermath; an imaginary dialogue; “full-blooded” time; the previous spring; the church; the end of universal time; quantum mechanics; things; clocks and wristwatches; telegraph, telephone, and radio; atoms and molecules; Einstein’s films; Bergson’s movies; microbes and ghosts; one new point; Bergson’s last comments; Einstein’s last thoughts. Annotation ©2015 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

Publisher: Princeton : Princeton University Press, [2015]
ISBN: 9780691165349
Branch Call Number: 530.11 C16p
Characteristics: viii, 479 pages ; 25 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

There are no comments for this title yet.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at SJCPL

To Top