Tuesday, 20 September 2016

John Banville's review of Canales' book on the Bergson- Einstein debate on the nature of time


But who now reads Bergson apart from a few lonely specialists? He is remembered by Proust scholars - Proust was Bergson's cousin-in-law, and the best man at his wedding - since a la recherche du temps perdu was said to have been influenced by Bergson's theory of time. But very few contemporary philosophers consider him of any importance, and it would be rare schoolboy nowadays who would know his name.
(from John Banville's review (What do clocks have to do with it?)of The Physicist and the Philosopher by Jimena Canales in The London Review of Books pub.24/7/16)

Of course John that would be the case, inasmuch as the best way not to remember the work of any thinker is never to have read his work. That makes forgetting effortless. Bergson was dismissive of Einstein's view of time regarding it as merely the time of timetables. That was not a wise move rhetorically. The time of Bergson was evolutionary and personal. For Einstein a la Bergson it was a series of instants with gaps that could be elongated as in The Twins Paradox.

Banville's review was worth reading. He is interested in philosophy though he never read it in University never having been there which unusual in a major modern writer. He is much more than the average igger (intelligent general reader) but inevitably nudged by the prevailing scientistic ambience which pits vague dreams and speculation against hard measurable facts.

Bergson was seeking above all to assert the human dimension of experience, the validity of our intuitive sense that the world can be measured not only against scientific fact but also by way of our actions, thoughts, emotions. Einstein, more hard-headed, or at least wedded to a hard-headed interpretation of reality, preferred to put his trust in the empirical certainties, as he saw them , that science offered.
(Banville's review)

Yes true, sort of, with the qualification that Duration is the primary lived experience that gives rise to the concept of time and that the mathematization of time and space or space/time is the source of the scientific theory. This is Bergson's real point so to a degree in that debate in 1922 they were talking past each other.

At some point I may have to read Canales' work. Her special interest as a physicist is in time and measurement. Banville writes:

The Physicist and the Philosopher is an extraordinarily rich and wide-ranging work. Canales has rescued from near oblivion a fascinating , highly significant debate that is still relevant in an age which has begun to question the hegemony of science, and its uncontrollable child, technology.

5 comments:

john doyle said...

Synchronicity! In my intermittent reading that has spanned more than a decade by now, I arrived this evening at Chapter 3 of Proust's Cities of the Plain. Marcel begins by contrasting the clock-time that gauges the waking world with the radical variability of dreamtime. And now here comes Bergson stepping onto the stage, vicariously through the remembrance of the Norwegian philosopher, who had it from M. Boutroux:

"soporifics, taken from time to time in moderate doses, have no effect on that solid memory of our everyday life which is so firmly established within us. But there are other forms of memory, loftier, but also more unstable. One of my colleagues lectures upon ancient history. He tells me that if, overnight, he has taken a tablet to make him sleep, he has great difficulty, during his lecture, in recalling the Greek quotations that he requires. The doctor who recommended these tablets assured him that they had no effect upon the memory. 'That is perhaps because you do not have to quote Greek,' the historian answered, not without a note of derisive pride."

Sadly, Marcel cannot say whether this conversation between M. Bergson and M. Boutroux is accurately reported. He wonders whether the Norwegian philosopher might have misunderstood. For his part, Marcel has found the opposite result:

"The moments of oblivion that come to us in the morning after we have taken certain narcotics have a resemblance that is only partial, though disturbing, to the oblivion that reigns during a night of natural and profound sleep."

Now it's time for supper. I may return with further elaborations from Marcel, as well as my own memories associated with Banville, even though I may have written about them on my blog at some earlier time.

ombhurbhuva said...

Hi John,
As one who is oft constrained to get up in what Springsteen calls ‘the wee wee hours’, 5 am. this morning, I have the deep unconsciousness or the dark samadhi of dreamless sleep and when I go back to bed later catch up on my dreaming which is technicolour, vivid, and closely plotted. I met Kirk Douglas the other morning and told him - I have enjoyed your work all my life. I particularly liked ‘The List of Adrian Messenger’.

I don’t find my memory impaired by this split shift but that is not the same naturally as bromide induced slumber though I am tempted to resort to valerian potions to be able to say to my gude wife that happy news of the young parents - ‘baby slept through the night’.

Up to the present though ‘Recherche’ has been in my path I have managed to avoid it, finding a multitude of ways to perdu my temps, chiefly noodling.

Banville, the writer’s writer, a judgment that no publicist allows to appear on a cover with its implication of preciosity but is really an indictment of his weakness as a fabulist. Instead he turns to texture and elegance and no wonder he has taken up the writing of detective stories under the name Benjamin Black. We admire but do not buy the clever and the elegant.

john doyle said...

Proust is an effective sleep aid: ten minutes at bedtime and you're out like a light. "Boring Banville," one of Bolaño's savage detectives calls him, but he doesn't hold a candle to Proust. Wrote Maugham: "A great deal of course was exquisitely boring, but I would sooner be bored by Proust than amused by anybody else." My reading and brief review of Banville's The Infinities figure prominently in a high-melodrama interpersonal encounter just before Christmas 2012, the recounting of which I'll spare you for now. Later I read Benjamin Black's Black-Eyed Blonde, which was plenty trashy enough even without the copy-editing failures.

I'll queue up Adrian Messenger for tonight's viewing if I can find it online, making sure to give Kirk your regards.

skholiast said...

Personally, I've found Joyce to be the best bedtime reading. A page and a half of Finnegan's Wake per night did great things for my dreams.

Now that I think of it, Bergson has an essay on dreams too. But it's been a while since I read it.

skholiast said...
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