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3.0 out of 5 stars a good introduction to ideas of time, 4 Oct 2010
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This review is from: Time and the Instant (Philosophy of Science) (Paperback)
This book is a book of essays by some very well known philosophers and scientists on the subject of time. This includes: Henri Poincare, Henri Bergson, Lee Smolin, Gaston Bachelard, Julian Barbour, Robin Durie, Keith Ansell Pearson, John G Cramer, David Webb, Dean J Driebe and David Wood.

As usual the first essay is an introduction by Robin Durie to what will be discussed in the book, this starts off with a discussion of time by Parmenides and then diversifies into all of the main aspects of the problem: is time continuous or discrete? These two aspects form the basis for any discussion of time and the various partcipants in these sets of essays stress one or the other of the two approaches.

Henri Poincare, stresses the aspect of duration within time and how difficult it is to define and measure. Henri Bergson's well known article on false recognition, although interesting appears to bear little on this subject. It is surprising that this article of his was chosen rather than another such as his concept of duration which is of course far more applicable.

Gaston Bachelard stresses the concept of the instant, i.e. discrete time, although does not describe how all aspects of time are dealt with in this regard including the sense of duration experienced in psychological time, how memory is able to connect instants together or how, in fact, one instant leads to the next. Julian Barbour on the other hand does not dismiss the notion of continuous time so easily. He considers many views including Bergson's and discusses the difference between the discrete approach used in science and that of the process philosophers such as Whitehead and Bergson. Barbour eventually leads into the idea that time is in fact some kind of illusion and that physics can get by without it in the expression of the laws of nature, other than as a parameter to indicate the progression of a natural process.

Lee Smolin, being a physicist, discusses Barbour's ideas and also stresses the lack of need of time at all within cosmological theories of the universe. It is unfortunate that some of his ideas would be inaccessible to non-physicists/mathematicians as some of the concepts used cannot be understood without a good grounding in mathematics. He goes on to challenge the idea of a time-free cosmology through discussion of observables and complexity in deterministic chaos and biology.

Keith Ansell Pearson pursues the continuous time approach using the arguments of Bergson and Deleuze. This approach does allow the discovery of duration within personal time as well as allowing a combined heterogenous continuity as Bergson describes it. This is a very difficult idea to conceptualise as concepts eventually become fixed in some way and such an idea must remain a process. The intellect is not designed to think process but rather static structures or movements which may be separated into a set of static structures. He also goes on to deconstruct Daniel Dennett's argument for a form of natural selection which is fully mechanistic but also wholly algorithmic in its function. He shows that Dennett's arguments are in fact as metaphysical as any of his opponents.

John Cramer also approaches the problem of time within a scientific viewpoint, that is through the ideas of quantum mechanics and general relativity. He attempts to arrive at the concept of the arrow of time, i.e. why time only runs in one direction, this allows him the possibility of a non-deterministic form of time so that freedom is still possible within it.

David Webb, discusses in some detail the ideas of Bachelard, Levinas and Lucretius about time. He in fact does a much better job of expressing the essence of Bachelard's ideas on time than Bachelard did in the earlier essay. Whereas Bachelard did not actually describe his own view in any detail Webb does. This leads one to truly appreciate the subtlety of Bachelard's ideas on time and how the instant can be used to construct it faithfully.

Dean Driebe, approaches the concept of time from a scientist's perspective, notably through the ideas of irreversibility and some of the work of Prigogine in this field, especially how random motions and probability allow the expression of entropy from a statistical perspective of atomic particles. The essay by David Wood, however, completely escapes me. I mean that I cannot discern his meaning or the objective of it. This maybe for other readers to discover.

All in all, a good introduction to what the idea of time means to both philosophers and scientists.
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