Leo Michelotti: It Was about Time

by alexeyburov

November 9 and December 7, Leo Michelotti presented his 1st and 2nd parts of what he called a book report of Jimena Canales’ The Physicist & the Philosopher. The book is devoted to discussion on the problem of time; in the center are figures of A. Einstein and H. Bergson. Both times our room was as full as it rarely happened. Below, the abstracts and links to the slides are given for both parts. The part 3 is scheduled on Friday, January 4th, same time and place.

Part 1.

In the first of these sessions, Alexey Burov lamented the modern rupture between physics and philosophy, with special reference to the differences in overlap and attitude before and after World War II. It can be argued that the process of separation began in the 19th century, perhaps starting in 1833, when the word “scientist” was first used to distinguish a specific subset of philosophers from the rest. But it was in the decades preceding World War II that the split entered its “exponential growth” phase, gaining strength from international arguments between physicists and philosophers on the nature of time. The book “The Physicist and The Philosopher,” by Jimena Canales, recounts that era: the people involved, the ideas they defended or attacked, and how they were influenced by the time in which they lived. It identifies April 6, 1922 as the date on which this great debate was catalyzed. On that day Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson met in Paris to discuss time. In the author’s words, “The meeting had been planned as a cordial and scholarly event. It was anything but that.”

Slides to part 1


Part 2

“The Physicist and The Philosopher,” by Jimena Canales (2015), tells the story of scientists and philosophers engaged in international debates on the nature of time during the interbellum years between two World Wars. In my first talk, I quickly overviewed the book’s style and content, summarized the competing positions of Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson, and emphasized the roles played in sparking the controversy by Paul Langevin’s introduction of the twin paradox in 1911 and Einstein’s “incendiary” statement, made in the public debate of 1922, that “there is no philosopher’s time,” that time is nothing but what is measured by clocks. In this second talk, we shall examine some of the more prominent disputants highlighted in the book and their legacies. If the clock permits, we also shall touch upon the effect of quantum theory on these debates; if not, that discussion will be part of a third and final session.

Slides to part 2

Many thanks for all those who participated in these meetings and see you all at the 3rd part in the new year, Jan 4th.

Everybody is welcome.