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Ilya Prigogine „Science, Reason and Passion”

„Leonardo”, Vol. 29, No. 1 (1996) pdf

What does it mean to think if there is no flow of time? And do we not know today that the brain is actually a time-oriented organ? The future, our plans for tomorrow, are processed in a different part of the brain than the one that stores our memories. Oddly enough, Boltzmann’s defeat was considered a triumph. A triumph of nontemporal vision. Did Einstein not repeatedly say, „Time [as irreversibility] is an illusion”?

This brings us to the personality of Einstein, who I believe illustrates better than anyone else the conflict between reason and passion. Why did he try at all costs to eliminate time as irreversibility from the fundamental equations of physics? He knew well enough that, like everyone else, he was getting older day by day. What did it mean for him to say that time is an illusion? Perhaps he was expressing his faith in our symbols: if there was no time direction in the relativity equations he wrote, that was because there was no time in the Universe. But this does not explain why it was so important to eliminate time. […]

Doubtless Einstein best embodies the ideal that defines this vocation of physics – the ideal of a knowledge that strips from our conception of the world every- thing that he saw as merely the sign of human subjectivity. The ambition of certain mystical practices has always been to escape from life’s bonds, from the torments and disappointments of a changing and deceptive world. In a way, Einstein took this ambition to be the physicist’s vocation and, in so doing, translated it into scientific terms. Mystics seek to experience the world as an illusion; Einstein intended to demonstrate that it is indeed no more than an illusion, and that truth is a transparent and intelligible universe purified of all that affects human life: nostalgia or painful memory of the past, dread or hope of the future. […]

Sometimes we live mainly on the heritage of the past, and explore its wealth; this is when science is „reason.” At other times we seek new perspectives, and try to guess what direction we are going to take. These are the times when passion and reason mingle inextricably.

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