[In Our Time] Bergson and Time

Bergson and Time

09/05/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: http://podplayer.net/?id=70309049
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p078pwml.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and his ideas about human experience of time passing and how that differs from a scientific measurement of time, set out in his thesis on ‘Time and Free Will’ in 1889. He became famous in France and abroad for decades, rivalled only by Einstein and, in the years after the Dreyfus Affair, was the first ever Jewish member of the Académie Française. It’s thought his work influenced Proust and Woolf, and the Cubists. He died in 1941 from a cold which, reputedly, he caught while queuing to register as a Jew, refusing the Vichy government’s offer of exemption.


Keith Ansell-Pearson
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick

Emily Thomas
Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Durham University


Mark Sinclair
Reader in Philosophy at the University of Roehampton

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 2019-05-28


  • Every so often, a podcast episode comes up where I’m completely unable to focus on the information because I’m too busy giggling at the associated pop culture references. When In Our Time did their episode Jospehus, I was too busy thinking of the People’s Front of Judaea, and this time around, I kept thinking of “Wibbly wobbly timey wimey” and a whole bunch of Thief of Time quotes, especially “I know now that time was made for men, and not the other way around.”; and the “universal tick.”
  • It’s a shame, because whatever did sink through was fascinating and probably laid the groundwork for all the pop culture time travel stories to come; leave alone the high culture novels which the episode discussed.
  • Realising that my pop culture hijacked brain was going to reject this episode altogether, I declared cognitive bankruptcy, and added his PhD thesis, Time and Free Will, to my goodreads queue. I strongly suspect it will be a slog and that having a focused mind during the episode would have paid off much better than trying to read the source, but oh well.
  • I think the one serious thing that I did take away was that Bergson believed that duration was an intrinsic property of time and the human experience. Does that mean that he didn’t believe in a single quantum of time. Hmm.
  • And another thing was Bergson pointing out that all time is defined in terms of space, e.g. an hour is one twenty fourth of the time it takes for a point to complete a whole rotation on the earth. My first thought was “Well, that doesn’t really apply now that time is defined in terms of atomic vibrations” and then went “Oh, but it still does, because the vibration is occuring in space.” Damn. Need to check with physicists.


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