Some excerptsCanales had uncovered the transcript of a meeting that took place on 6 April 1922 at the esteemed Société Francaise de Philosophie in Paris. The protagonists were none other than Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson. In dispute was the very nature of time.
Bergson’s Creative Evolution, published in 1907, had put him on the map, and introduced perhaps his most enduring idea — élan vital. Through it Bergson attempted to explain the march of the universe in a non-Darwinian sense, the vital energy that drives all forward. Bergson understood this as a concept that science could grasp only imperfectly, and one that lies at the heart of the creative impulse.
‘I have to say that day exploded and it was referenced over and over again in the 20th century,’ says Canales. ‘The key sentence was something that Einstein said: “The time of the philosophers does not exist.”’
In some ways the pronouncement was to be expected; physics triumphalism dictates that at some point philosophy will exhaust itself and be unable to solve the mysteries that science seems to conquer in leaps. It’s been coming for a while; at least since the word science replaced natural philosophy a few centuries ago.
Einstein would say that time is what clocks measure.
‘He argued that if we didn’t have a prior sense of time we wouldn’t have been led to build clocks and we wouldn’t even use them ... unless we wanted to go places and to events that mattered,’ says Canales. ‘You can see that their points of view were very different.’
In a theoretical nutshell this expressed perfectly the division between lived time and spacetime: subjective experience versus objective reality.
... but what has any of this to do with translation?
Does any natural language make this distinction?