Jimena Canales, historian of science, tells about her discovery of an explosive 20th century debate that changed our view of time and destroyed a reputation.
‘I was very shocked to go to the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy’s entry of time and see that Bergson was not even mentioned,’ says Canales. ‘It’s an incredible reversal. April 6, 1922 was the day that started that downward fall.’
‘The fact that women read Bergson was used as evidence against him; that his theory was light and unsophisticated. [It was believed that] women couldn’t follow Einstein’s science because physics was masculine. Bergson and philosophy were feminised. ‘
Bergson still inspires great intellectual respect, and his notions of duration and of elan vital are studied and debated in a scholarly context, but his power to influence the time debate has been greatly diminished.
Or has it?
Just when Einstein thought he had it worked out, along came the discovery of quantum theory and with it the possibility of a Bergsonian universe of indeterminacy and change. God did, it seems, play dice with the universe, contra to Einstein’s famous aphorism.
Some supporters went as far as to say that Bergson’s earlier work anticipated the quantum revolution of Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg by four decades or more.
Canales quotes the literary critic Andre Rousseaux, writing at the time of Bergson’s death.
‘The Bergson revolution will be doubled by a scientific revolution that, on its own, would have demanded the philosophical revolution that Bergson led, even if he had not done it.’
Was Bergson right after all? Time will tell.