tisdag 10 maj 2016

Time Again for Bergson vs Einstein

                    Who was more clever? Who was a better physicist? Who was a better philosopher?

The debate at Societe Francaise de Philosophie in Paris on April 6 in 1922 between the German physicist Albert Einstein and the French philosopher Henri Bergson represents a critical moment deciding much of 20th century physics and philosophy. Bergson articulated strong criticism of Einstein's theory of relativity, in particular its new concepts of time dilation and time inseparable from space during a long presentation, and was met by only a short statement by Einstein that Bergson's philosophy time was not Einstein's physics time and so all Bergson's arguments could be dismissed without consideration.

Einstein's tactics was necesserary because Bergson was very clever, much more clever than Einstein, and even better, it worked. Bergson was defeated, although his criticism was instrumental for the decision by the Nobel Committee to award the 1921 Nobel Prize to Einstein explicitly not for relativity theory but instead for "the discovery of the law" of photoelectricity and then explicitly not for Einstein's derivation of the law from an idea of light as a flow of particles. Evidently the Committee had a hard time finding a reason to avoid not giving Einstein the prize.

So Einstein won the game to physics with tactics quickly adopted by the physics community which have been dominating the debate into our time: As physicist you have the priority whatever criticism is expressed by anyone outside the inner group of physicists, to simply dismiss the criticism as being based on misunderstanding of a basic question which was settled long ago.

This is what happened when the Bergson-Einstein debate resurfaced in the 1990s in the form of an assault by Bricmont representing physics on postmodern philosophers including Deleuze again claiming exclusive priority to questions about space and time to physicists.

The string physics Lubos Motl expresses this attitude on his blog in ultimate defense of quantum mechanics as settled once and for all and thus beyond any form of criticism by anybody except Lubos himself.

All of this is very unfortunate, because Bergson was very intelligent and knowledgable and so was Deleuze and many other people outside the inner group of physicists, and to kill debate as Einstein did, always stops progress of science.

The result today of lacking constructive debate is an extreme form of modern physics, which paradoxically is beyond the most speculative philosophy and parapsychology as multiversa and string theory way beyond any thinkable observation.

It is clear that it is necessary for Bergson to restart the debate and thereby open for physics of the 21st Century which is connected to both realities and to human perception and understanding.

The between Bergson and Einstein is described in detail in the recent book by Jimena Canales The Physicist and the Philopsopher.

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