The Interrupted Irruption of Time: Towards an Integral Cosmology, with Help From Bergson and Whitehead

Above is my talk for the Jean Gebser Society conference held at the California Institute of Integral Studies the weekend of October 16th.

Title: The Interrupted Irruption of Time: Towards an Integral Cosmology, with Help from Bergson and Whitehead

Abstract: Gebser suggests that the world-constituting reality of time first irrupted into Western consciousness with the publication in 1905 of Einstein’s special theory of relativity. This was the first indication of an emerging mutation from the three-dimensional, Copernican world of the mental structure into the four-dimensional world of the integral structure. My presentation will critically examine Einstein’s role in this evolutionary initiation by situating his concept of a space-time continuum within its early 20th century context.  While Einstein’s relativity theory played a central role in the 20th century revolution in physics, revisiting the debates he was engaged in with thinkers like Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead reveal that his perception of time was still obscured by the residue of the mental structure’s spatializing tendency. As Gebser remarked, we are “compelled to become fully conscious of time—the new component—not just as a physical-geometric fourth dimension but in its full complexity” (EPO, 288, 352). During his controversial debate with Bergson in Paris in 1922, Einstein argued that the former’s understanding of time as “creative evolution” was merely the subjective fantasy of an artist, and that, as a hard-nosed scientist, he was concerned only with the real, objective time made manifest by the geometrical reasoning of relativity theory. Bergson, for his part, argued that Einstein had mistaken a particular way of measuring time (i.e., clock-time) for time itself. Whitehead’s meeting with Einstein shortly after this debate with Bergson, though not as public, was no less significant. Whitehead similarly argued that the philosophical implications of Einstein’s brilliant scientific theory must be saved from Einstein’s faulty interpretation. My presentation will review these early 20th century debates about the nature of time in light of Gebser’s prophetic announcement of the birth of a new structure of consciousness. More than a century after Einstein’s theory was published, mainstream scientific cosmology still has not fully integrated the immeasurably creative character of qualitative time. I will argue that Bergson and Whitehead’s largely neglected critiques and reconstructions of relativity theory help show the way towards the concrete realization of Gebser’s integral structure.

Bergson, Henri ; philosophe français (prix Nobel de Littérature 1927) ; Paris 18.10.1859 - 4.1.1941. Photo, v. 1928. Année de l'évènement: 1928 Année de l'oeuvre: 1928 © akg-images

gravity-works-3 whitehead


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Roy Smith says:

    Great subject for a paper, Matt. It elucidates the necessity for dialog between Science and Philosophy that has been lacking in our culture. I’ve found that the science professions are filled with men and women who don’t even recognize the validity of philosophy, not realizing that the very presuppositions by which they proceed with their work are philosophical in nature. You could fit their ability to question their own assumptions into a container the size of a pea. As long as only average thinkers can become scientists these days, many meaningful breakthroughs will remain in limbo. We haven’t yet weened off the classical prejudices, 90 years after the arrival quantum mechanics.

  2. The question of time is intimatly linked to the notion of evolution, not only the biological evolution but the evolution of all that exist. In the second half of the 19th century many natural philosopers proposed cosmological evolutionary theories. In 1859, Darwin had shaken the world with his theory of biological evolution. The modern notion of time in physics had been invented by Galileo. He is the first to think of including the time of a clock (he design the first mechanical clock) into an equation with position. He created space time which will become the platonic realm of dynamic equation when calculus will be invented. The invention space time had provided a way to immobilize movement and so to geometrize dynamical systems. In these equation, t is like the other spatial parameters. All the phenomena that can be expressed by differential equations end up frozen in space time. Around 1880, Bergson realized that the time of physics was only parametrizing predicting changes which in space time where fixed and so saw for the first time that physics was describing a frozen block universe in space time and thus that the time of physics was not describing real change, change that cannot be predicted, in other word: creative events, what drive evolution. The time of physics is conceptual, it exists into a conceptual space time. Real time, real change is not conceptual, it cannot be conceptualized. It is a lived time.

    The NOW is absent in space time while it is all that exist in lived experience.

  3. PeterJ says:

    Hi Louis – re. the Now. Hermann Weyl is the man on this one. He makes a clear distinction between the mathematical and experiential continuum. Weyl is fortunately not one of those average thinkers that Roy mentions.

  4. Roy Smith says:

    Einstein realized that the speed of light is absolute, the same for all observers, whatever their speed. Space and time are not a constant but vary with the speed of the observer. So Einstein realized something called the space-time continuum, out of which both space and time appear. This continuum is neither space nor time; it is the noumenon, something we don’t know or describe. All we know is the space and time it gives rise to.

    What Einstein also showed is something called the “interval,” which is the subtraction of the square of space and time, or the square root of time, and this turns out to be a constant, too. The distance in space-time never changes, although what we experience as time changes. So, this leads to more discoveries about light.

    What happens if you actually travel at 100% of the speed of light? Light experiences itself as traveling NO distance in NO time. From light’s point of view, which is the only way to understand light, light does not actually exist in space and time. The birth and death of a photon are the same moment. There is no “locality” for light. From light’s point of view of the space-time interval, light does not have a speed (186 kmps). The “C” of E=MC2 is actually a constant ratio of the manifestation of space and time.

    Kant was on to this 200 years ago. He said space and time are the framework with which the mind is a constrained to construct its experience of reality. He didn’t see that space and time were part of the “external world.” They were part of the mind. Another way of looking at this is that the pure consciousness that mystics experience has the same description as light, in that pure consciousness has no experience of time, space, locality, duality, etc.

    The above agrees with Whitehead saying that sensory forms, matter, space, time, particle-wave, etc., are just qualities of the mind. Taking this heresy a step further, we may say that these qualities of the mind are mistakenly assumed to apply to the “external world.” They don’t. In the “out there,” we just have “perturbations of the absolute” which consciousness congeals into the “material world”, and then believes it. I think I’ve said enough for now, but if you need further explanation I would be happy to oblige. Cheers.

  5. Astrotometry says:

    Never too late to find a good translation of Timaeus, 😉 if you do, please let me know. From the ones i’ve read, I believe Plato’s account of the world-soul (genesis) may have been as erudite as the later scientific treatises. Plato’s prose may have even expressed a superior understanding which was lost in translation… Makes footnoting tricky. :-/

  6. PeterJ says:

    Hi Louisbrassard – ” Real time, real change is not conceptual, it cannot be conceptualized. It is a lived time.

    The NOW is absent in space time while it is all that exist in lived experience.”

    Are the future and the past not always conceptual? How can change happen in the NOW? I would want to argue that time is always conceptual. Ie. no consciousness, no time.

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